I didn't get much sleep that night. Once I explained my brainstorm to Luna, she had seized on it with an enthusiasm that startled me to no end. After a lifetime as a middle-class American taxpayer from flyover country, having someone in power actually listening to me for a change was a shocking experience.
Not that I'm bitter about that or anything. But I digress.
We spend the night noodling over my concept, considering all the possibilities and variations we could think of, till the wee hours of the dawn. Luna had pulled aside one or two of her advisers to consult, but most of the work was hers and mine alone. Even now it seems her Court of the Moon is still rather small, and somewhat subordinate to the Court of the Sun. And even the smaller details of what I was suggesting were so monumental that even with the full backing of the elected government--- which we did not yet have--- they would require the approval and support of both ruling Princesses...
Let's be frank: we were preparing to try and get Celestia's approval.
I yawned over my breakfast and tried to blink the sleepiness out of my eyes. Luna, Celestia and I were, at Luna's request, sharing a private repast together (private, that is, not counting the servants whisking the serving plates back and forth, and the sour-faced royal guards at the doors and windows. Yes, windows. when one third of your population can fly, it's advisable to take alternative entryways into consideration.) Luna had reasoned that it would be best first to consult with Celestia in a more private setting early in the day, rather than trying to spring this idea on her in the middle of open court or the course of her daily duties. I personally suspected that the presence of coffee and breakfast pastries---and the absence of obnoxious courtiers--- would ameliorate things as well.
We dined in comparative silence for a few moments. After we had taken the edge off our appetites, Celestia set her coffee cup down and regarded us. "Well, it seems that you two are up to something," she said, eyes crinkling in amusement. "My sister tells me you have something important that you wish to present to me-- important enough to ask for a private audience at breakfast, no less. So, Arthur, what is it you wish to tell me?"
I rubbed wearily at my eyes. "Your Highness, you'll recall our discussions in the past about--- the consequences of your world and mine encountering one another."
Celestia nodded, her face turning sober. "Yes. And I am afraid to say that I must agree with your assessment... as do my advisors, especially my generals. If even a fraction of what you describe about your world is true... it would not go well for my little ponies should our worlds meet."
"And you'll also recall what I said about the inevitability of it," I said. "The truth always comes out, no matter how deep you bury it.... and once something has been discovered by one person, it's only a matter of time before it is discovered again by a second." I grimaced. "I suspect that the nature of my disappearance has probably already gotten people nosing about, looking for whatever rabbit hole I fell down."
"Pony hole, you mean," Celestia said, eyes twinkling as she sipped at her coffee.
I gave a huff of laughter. "Either way it raises eyebrows when a full grown man disappears into thin air from a busy shopping center in broad daylight," I said. "I'm literally noone back in my home world, but the authorities do investigate missing persons cases. To say nothing of paranormal researchers and alien encounter enthusiasts, the whole box of mixed nuts... even as nutty as they are, get enough of them nosing around--- and I'm getting off track here, sorry. Point made, from the moment the portal opened the clock started ticking. The technological and military disparity between my world and yours-- to say nothing of sheer human ruthlessness--- will make that inevitable encounter a bad deal for Equestria. Unless you have a way to reach parity with them."
"And I'm guessing that you have a suggestion as to how?" the princess of the Sun said, raising one eyebrow.
I nodded. "As Luna can attest, I had a sort of epiphany last night. I suppose I've been working under a bit of a mental block; I've been trying to figure out how Equestria could get up to speed with Earth on technology, industry, military power, all that... when that wasn't really the problem. The problem was finding a way to remove Earth's unfair advantage."
I paused. Sleep deprivation was getting away with me, but I had a full head of steam so I plowed on. "let me give you an illustration....
"an old master had an apprentice whom he was training in the art of kung fu. One day he set his pupil down at a table and set out a cup of tea before him, and right beside it, a bamboo cane. The master said 'This is today's lesson, my son: if you drink this tea, I will strike you with this cane. If you do not drink this tea, I will strike you with this cane.' "
Luna blinked, then huffed. "A cruel sport indeed! Are all such human lessons so cruel?"
"Wait, let me finish, "I said.
"A moment passed. When the boy finally left, he had drunk the tea, but the master had not struck him. In fact, he was so pleased with the boy that he gave him the day at his leisure.
The two alicorns looked at me, puzzled. Then Celestia's eyes twinkled. "I see. The apprentice took away the cane."
"Exactly!" I said, slapping my hand on the table for emphasis. A bit hard, I suspect; two of the guards jumped, and the poor serving maid spilled the coffee. " You take away the cane. Humans are tool-using animals. You are magic-using animals. The tools are what give humanity its edge in this situation; take away the tools, take away the edge."
"And how? Strip them naked as they come through the portal?" Celestia asked wryly. She was enjoying my antics far too much.
I shook my head, waving my hand in negation. "No, I have something better in mind," I said. "It's something of a dead horse trope...." I almost slapped my forehead when the words left my mouth. I could see puzzlement on both Celestia's and Luna's face.
"Prithee...?" Luna started to ask.
"Old human vernacular," I started to explain, redfaced. "It refers to beating a dead, uh...horse..." the puzzlement turned to a moue of distaste. I sputtered a bit in embarrasment.
Celestia held up a hoof, stopping me. "I believe you explained that one when you first arrived," she said. "Do continue."
"Moving on," I said. "a, ah, trope is another term for a plot device, in this case a badly overused and worn out one.... ahem. Any rate, it's a common plot device in fantasy stories from my world that technology and magic do not mix."
"A silly notion," Luna noted. "One only needest look about and see the mechanical gimcrackery of this age to know it a false "trope." Asides which, machinery doth operate upon the principles and laws of the cosmos. To have a world whence machines didst not work would be to have a world where life itself couldst not function!"
"Be that as it may," I averred.... honestly, we had thrashed this point about for hours.... "If you have anything in abundance in Equestria, you have an abundance of magic. I mean it practically seeps out of the ground when you step on it. Creating a self-sustaining magical effect to cover all of Equestria should be feasible."
"An effect such as....?"
"Such as a spell that thwarts the functioning of Human machinery, sister!" Luna said, clapping her hooves with glee. "What availeth all their tanks and flying machines if, once upon Equestrian soil, they no longer work?"
"A clever notion," Celestia agreed, but shook her head. "But I can think of several problems with it already. The first one you've already described, Luna: machines run on the laws of physics, but so do ponies. How can we cast a spell that prevents human war-machines from working that will not harm Equestrian tools and machines as well-- if not harm Equestrians themselves?"
"That may not be as hard as you think," I said. "Most human technology, especially anything built in, oh, the last fifty to a hundred years, especially the important stuff, has a common fatal flaw. I've seen it myself; Equestrian inventions run off steam, or clockwork, or musclepower--- or magic. Human inventions run off electricity. Or at least have components and peripherals that do. Even internal combustion engines have electrical components necessary for their function. And electrical power is very, very easy to make wonky."
"Best of all, the more advanced the electrical device is, the easier it is to throw off-kilter. A good powerful magnetic pulse can even fry most electronics permanently, and that's just off the shelf stuff. Have your wizards devise an area effect that disrupts electronics, and you could plunge most Earth armies clear back to the age of Napoleon. No computers, no electronics, no cameras, no spy drones, no missiles-- guided or otherwise, no radio, no telephone, no internal combustion engines either which means no jeeps, trucks, tanks, planes, ships...."
"And none of their medical marvels, either," Celestia said somberly.
I flinched. That was an angle I had considered, and had been avoiding mentioning--- it seemed a little ruthless for the palates of the ponies. "True," I admitted. "Many of their medical devices and diagnostic tools wouldn't work either. Which, considering we're trying to find a way to avoid warfare and keep them from needing them...."
Celestia nodded. "Fair enough. But what of their guns?"
That was an even better question. Save for fancy peripherals such as night scopes and laser sights, even the most advanced and rapid-fire gun operated on strictly mechanical processes.... spring drives hammer which strikes firing cap which detonates gunpowder, etc. No electric ignition to foul, there. "There are other options for dealing with those that I'd like to get into later," I said. "But keep in mind guns still require a delivery system to get them to the battlefield. And most of the more powerful guns are mounted on vehicles. They can have big guns but it avails them nothing if they can't be loaded, aimed, or driven into firing range. Soldiers will still have firearms but soldiers can march only so far... and with an anti-electronics edict they won't have transportation or a supply line. Or even a chow wagon."
Celestia nodded again. "So in essence, you are suggesting that we-- that is, Luna and I, and whatever unicorns we muster-- basically cast a spell on all of Equestria, making it inhospitable to your people... or at least to their more destructive toys...."
I shrugged. "That's one possible implementation," I said. "There are other possible ways to do it."
"Indeed?" Celestia regarded me over the brim of her cup. "I must say, Arthur, for somepony who talks down his own value so much, you certainly have a lot of advice and ideas."
"Meh," I said. "I'd get somebody better to do this, but right now I'm all that I've got.... but like I was saying. One big blanket enchantment over Equestria is one way to do it. I don't know enough about your magic but it seems to me that it could have some possible drawbacks.... constant maintenance, probably. Or unintended side-effects on the environment." I shrugged. "Plus it puts all your eggs in one basket. There are other possible approaches that came to mind--- just noodling this stuff, by the way--- such as making it something that could be activated at need, like a, an invasion panic button. Maybe break it up so that each town has its own smaller anti-tech field, so it's decentralized. Or make a smaller, point and shoot weapon, mount it on a flying carriage or zeppelin... or perhaps a mix and match combination of the above...."
I shuffled through the papers I had. "Come to think of it you might have an anti-tech weapon already."
"We do?" Celestia and Luna said together.
"Well MAYBE. Possibly. Rainbow Dash. That weird rainbow effect when she pulls off a sonic rainboom.... it sort of reminds me of a really powerful EMP--- er, electro magnetic pulse. It'd have to be tested, but if that boom-wave effects electronics, she could probably flash-fry an entire army's surveillance, communications and more... It'd have to be tested, though, and I'm not quite sure how. "
"--oh, and there were other ideas I had.
A rusting spell of some sort, depending on how fast and how strong it was. Or weaponizing Poison Joak."
"Poison Joak, yes. Really it's a perfect non-lethal weapon. Armies run on uniformity and structure. Dust an enemy base with powdered Poison Joak and the whole chain of command would be higgledy piggledy. And they'd be so panicked that they'd surrender readily in exchange for the antidote.
"Most of my other ideas revolve around Guerrilla warfare tactics, which would be your best fallback position if worse came to worst. Weather as a weapon, or area denial.... a line of thunderstorms could cause some serious difficulty, maybe even generate an EMP pulse if the Pegasi timed their kicks just right.
"I had a note here somewhere about possibly using cockatrices as weapons as well, but there again you have the whole range-disadvantage thing ...." I flipped through my notes absently, my train of thought rattling loose on the rails.
I was still flipping through them when a rainbow mane obscured my sight. I felt a hoof resting gently on my arm. I stopped in my weary note-flipping and looked up into Princess Celestia's face. She smiled at me, all but radiating compassion, and bent down to nuzzle my cheek. "You've been suffering over this a long time, haven't you?" she said.
I didn't say anything. I was speechless. "Ever since you came here, you've been living in mortal terror," she continued. "Terrified that you'd destroyed everything just by coming here. And trying desperately to find some way out before everything broke. Isn't that right?"
It says much about my tired state that I didn't even try to contradict her. "Tis true, friend Arthur," Luna said. "All could see the cloud of guilt hanging over thine head. E'en the Elements of Harmony didst speak of it. Thou wearest thy guilt and fear like a shroud." She rose from her own seat and came around to nuzzle me from the other side. "Thou needest not bear that millstone, Arthur. Tis not thy fault that the worlds are as they are."
I didn't say anything. I couldn't. What could I say to that? I'd imperiled their entire world just by existing, and they freely forgave me for it. My vision blurred and I hastily wiped my eyes on my sleeve. Not for the first time these ponies' capacity for acceptance had left me bowled over.
I sighed and wordlessly indicated my thanks. "--- all the same...." I finally managed to say.
"Yes, all the same, your words of advice have wisdom in them, Arthur. and I think I would be remiss not to take them." Celestia stepped back and rang the bell by her chair with her magic. Servants appeared and quickly whisked away the remains of our meal. She took a moment to meet Luna's eye. "I think I am satisfied," she said. "And you, sister?"
"Yes," Luna agreed. "I didst think mine self satisfied far sooner, but this doth--- clinch it, I think is the phrase?"
I looked at them both, a bit mystified. "Pardon me?"
Celestia turned and began to walk out of the room; Luna fell in step beside her. "Please walk with us, Arthur," she said. "I think it is time we showed you something." I picked up my notes, stuffing them under my arm absentmindedly, and fell in step between them obediently.