"Okay.... gun it!"
Scootaloo, her eyes closed tight, began to flap, her wings buzzing for all they were worth. I stood braced like a linebacker, holding her back with both hands by the shoulders as she tried to plow head on into my chest. The backdraft from her wings began to kick up a plume of dust from the road. "C'mon, give it all you got," I urged. I had to shout to be heard over the bumblebee roar of her wings.
That's what it all came down to, really. Bumblebees.
I'd watched Scootaloo struggle so hard to fly; I'd even caught her once, crying in frustration while she watched other pegasus fillies her age soar overhead. It was heartbreaking... and baffling. Was it wing size? Nonsense. Her wings were no smaller than any other filly her age. And look at that... that creature, Roid Rage!
And it certainly wasn't about power. Good grief, I'd seen her running around with that scooter and wagon of hers, towing easily five times her weight by wingpower alone. So what was keeping her grounded?
It wasn't until I saw her watching Rainbow Dash and trying to imitate her that it clicked. It wasn't that she couldn't fly... it was that she was trying to fly the wrong way. Rainbow Dash was like most Pegasi-- she "flew" like an airplane, all gliding and loops and wings. But Scootaloo, I didn't know if it was her wings or her magic, but she couldn't move the air around in the same way. Rainbow Dash was a Harrier jet; Scootaloo was a helicopter. Or more aptly, they were a falcon-- and a bumblebee.
And a bumblebee couldn't fly like a falcon. But it could fly.
I'd approached her and her friends and offered to help. But I hadn't told Scootaloo exactly what I was going to do. She was so desperate to be like Rainbow Dash it had subconsciously affected how she tried to fly. It was going to take a clever trick to shake her loose from that.
So here I stood with a pegasus foal butting her head against my chest, trying to push me off my feet by wingpower alone. I'd been right about her wingpower; I could barely see the road behind her for the dust plume. Sweetie Belle, Applebloom, and a cynical Rainbow Dash (I was taking precautions) were standing to the side, manes blowing back in the breeze. Despite my bulk and being braced, my feet were actually starting to slide! "Okay, whatever you do, don't open your eyes and don't stop flapping! Ready, on three! One..."
And I pushed up with my hand on her chin, pushed down with my other hand on her rump, and pirouetted out of the way.
Scootaloo, now re-oriented from horizontal to vertical and her wings still going full blast, shot into the air like a bottle rocket.
I landed on my ponderous butt in the dust and looked up. Scootaloo was already a rapidly shrinking orange and purple dot in the sky. Rainbow Dash and the other two thirds of the CMC stood next to me, gawping into the sky. "Hokey smokes, it worked," AppleBloom said. She and SweetieBelle started hopping about and squealing with glee.
"I don't believe it," Rainbow Dash said, her jaw hanging.
"Well don't just stand there," I yelped, "catch her before she hits the stratosphere!"
I needn't have worried. By the time Scootaloo reached cloud cover she'd opened her eyes and realized what had happened. As I'd hoped, by the time Rainbow Dash had caught up with her it had all "clicked". A few minutes later all of us down on the ground were celebrating as Scootaloo buzzed around us like a manic hummingbird, shouting "I'm flying! I'm flying! I'm FLYING!"
"And that was the story of how I taught a pegasus how to fly," I finished. I looked up from my seat to where Scootaloo was hovering overhead next to CloudWing. I couldn't help grinning at that little victory. "In all fairness though, I didn't 'teach' her anything. I just... had an idea, and tried it, and it worked. Scootaloo just taught herself from there on out."
We were in the wagon, already well on our way across Canterlot. It was a capacious thing, a long four-team cart with comfortable benches all the way down the sides. The canvas roof was currently pulled back so we could enjoy the breeze and the sunshine as we cantered along. Some of the pegasi foals, notably Scootaloo and Rumble, had taken to flying up to hover around CloudWing where he held position, much to the consternation of Cheerilee. I had to reassure her that CloudWing wouldn't let any of them wander off or fall behind before she could relax.
"Still, pretty clever," Hat Trick said. "I wonder if that's a thing with Pegasi? it could be that all those 'weak fliers' that drop out of flight school are just learning to fly in the way that's wrong for them." I blinked in surprise. The thought hadn't crossed my mind, but once said it made an awful lot of sense.
"It could be," Twilight said, warming to the topic. "I wonder if anyone's done any in-depth research into flying styles? There could be lots more 'hummingbird' fliers like Scootaloo, or maybe even long-range, gliding 'seagull' fliers, or--- Spike, take a note---"
"--- to stop by the Canterlot library later and pick up some books on pegasus flight, already on it, Twi," Spike said, rolling his eyes as he flicked a quill across a notepad he'd already drawn from his backpack. The little fellow was obviously used to Twilight's energetic rabbit trails.
Rainbow Dash was listening in. She grumbled a little and crossed her forelimbs. "I dunno, it sounds like a lot of hogwash to me," she said. "I mean if it were that simple, wouldn't us Pegasi have figured it out for ourselves ages and ages ago?"
"Nothing so permanent as an old mistake," Bright Dawn grunted. He was in the foremost seat, idly scanning the crowds around us. "Some hotshot flier a thousand years ago, everyone and their uncle wants their foal to be just like him..." he shrugged. "Next thing you know, everyone's learning to fly 'just so' because that's how it's always been done."
"Well yeah, but-- c'mon..." Rainbow Dash complained. "Really? A mistake lasting that long?"
I reflected on a few human mistakes--- relatively benign ones, but mistakes all the same --- that had lingered for millenia. "Oh yes," I said. "That long indeed. All it takes is for something to be broken, but not broken enough. So long as it works for most people it doesn't matter." I held up my hand. "for instance, you've probably never noticed that I'm left-handed." My hooved conversationalists looked at me oddly. "It means I write better with my left hand than with my right," I explained. "In fact I do most everything left-handed because I have better control." I wiggled my fingers. "Sounds like an arbitrary difference doesn't it? Shouldn't make too many problems... And it wouldn't, except for the fact that most humans are right handed. In fact, about ninety percent right handed."
"Ohhh. Ouch," Twilight said, obviously racing ahead mentally.
"What does she mean 'ouch?'" Applejack asked, puzzled.
"She means that a leftie like me, back on Earth, lives in a world where most everything is made for right handed people," I said. "And we humans do everything with our hands. Keyboards, control panels, musical instruments, scissors, vehicles, power tools... even writing pads and writing are right-hand biased." I mimed writing to illustrate. "Tableware is set up for right handed people as well, so I'm constantly bumping elbows with the person next to me--- unless I sit at the far left corner.... you get the idea. It's subtle, but it's everywhere. And it adds up."
"Adds up?" Rainbow Dash said, cocking an eyebrow.
"Spills. Trips. Fumbles. Accidents," I said. "a left handed person in a right-handed world is seventy percent more likely to have accidents--- in a workplace, dangerous or even lethal ones."
"Plus, it affects how people look at us. We look clumsy. And because we look clumsy people think we're stupid. It's untrue and it's unfair, but at nine-to-one odds, that's the way the social bias leans. Left to our own devices, and not forced to use right-handed tools, we're just as good as right-handed folks at anything. But again, we don't usually GET left-handed tools, or left handed everything else."
I shrugged. "It used to be far worse. There was actual anti-left-handed prejudice. Doing anything left handed, like writing, was "wrong." Left handed children were forced, on pain of punishment, to write right-handed... and then punished for their 'sloppy handwriting.' Some even claimed it was a sign of mental retardation or of rebelliousness and willfulness. Only God knows how many millions of children suffered through that nonsense, or how much it cost all of us in the long term."
"Now that's right unfair!" Applejack said."Didn't anybody put up a fuss?"
"Eventually,yes. I was lucky; I was born well after such cruelty fell into disfavor." I shrugged. "But even now, when we know better, everything is still made to favor right handedness. So left handed people go through their lives having a few more accidents, being thought of as a little more clumsy, a little less smart, and having a little more trouble-- or a lot, depending on the circumstances--- doing things than a right-handed person doing the same things. We're biased against without anyone even realizing they're being biased.
And it's so subtle that nobody really notices it until something disastrous happens," I said. "Like poor Gerald Ford. Former President... He got a reputation as a terrible klutz because he tripped and fell and fumbled with things---turns out it was all because he was left-handed, and kept turning left when most anyone else would have turned right. But how many people's opinion of his intelligence or confidence in him as a leader went down because he was forced to work everything in his life backwards?"
"Okay, that kinda sucks, but what's your point here?" Rainbow Dash demanded. "What does that have to do with Scootaloo?"
I pointed up at Scootaloo, who was buzzing around CloudWing like a small orange satellite. "Behold the left-handed pegasus," I said.
I cannot express the satisfaction I felt when I saw the light go on in several pairs of eyes.
"Okay, okay, I get it," Rainbow Dash said, grudgingly. "That just might be the case. Maybe. MAY-be. But what if you're wrong? What if we fliers are right and there is only one right way to fly? What happens if turns out that Scoots really is flying all wrong like I've said, and it messes her up? Like, she gets a growth spurt or something and she has to learn to fly all over again? That could set her back, like, forever."
I could appreciate that. It was in fact the very same riot act she'd read me back when Scootaloo had gone airborne thanks to my meddling. I was glad to know that Rainbow Dash was sincerely concerned about Scootaloo, rather than just sore that the Monkey from Space had taught Scootaloo to fly before she could. And there was that fact: I could very well have "messed her up" quite badly. I knew enough about athletics to know that mis-training and training before someone was ready could do long lasting harm.
"Then she'll cope," Applejack cut in. "Won't be the first time a filly's had to re-learn something she's done not-quite-right all her life. 'Sides, her parents are watchin' out for her-- they made a point of takin' her to a proper pegasus doctor to make sure she wasn't hurtin' her wings none."
"Yes, quite," Rarity said. "Everypony has to start SOMEwhere. And honestly, darling, can you look at how happy Scootaloo is now and sincerely say that flying poorly is worse than not being able to fly at all?"
Rainbow Dash ran a hoof through her mane. "Yeah..." she admitted reluctantly. "There is that. Better ploddin' through the clouds than pounding ground--- uh, no offense," she added for the benefit of the nonfliers.
" Rainbow, if you're worried about Scootaloo hurting herself or doing herself a bad turn, you could always spend a little more time with her," Twilight said. "Keep an eye on her, make sure she doesn't do herself any harm."
"Yeah," Spike said drolly. "Nopony better for that job than the pony who flies headfirst through buildings." There was a round of laughter at that. I looked to the end of the wagon to where a certain pale yellow pegasus sat, keeping the peace amongst the foals. Such large graceful wings, and yet such a weak flier. It did make one ponder.
A "butterfly" style flier, perhaps?
I suddenly noticed there was someone missing. I turned around in my seat, looking for a telltale frizz of pink. "Say, I can't believe I didn't notice," I said. "Where's Pinkie? Couldn't come along today?" I confess to mixed feelings about that; I was fond of the silly thing, and she could be a bundle of fun-- but then again she could be exhausting, in the way only someone who was an unending font of bubbly energy could be to anyone who wasn't.
Rarity waved a dismissive hoof. "Oh, she did come along," she said. "But when she heard that we were bringing you to the grand opening of the new museum wing, she simply bolted off on her own..."
A tiny warning bell in my mind went 'ding.' "Oh dear. Let me guess, someone told her it was a celebration..."
"Well it is, actually; it's the museum's 450th anniversary and... oh dear." Twilight's voice went flat as the coin dropped. "And to Pinky Pie, 'celebration' is just another word for 'party,' isn't it."
"An' there ain't no way Pinkie Pie is gonna let a party go down without having a hoof in it..."
"Surely the museum staff will keep her from doing anything... outrageous?" Cheerilee hazarded.
"I'd certainly hope so," Twilight said with a huff. "I know the museum director-- he's as tough as nails and completely no-nonsense. No way even Pinkie Pie will get away with anything with him there."
Our conveyance clattered to a stop in front of an enormous and rather ostentatious looking building. Really, on Earth or Equestria, if you've seen one museum you've seen them all. Greek columns, lots of steps... it could be any museum back home, except for the name carved in granite over the entryway--- "Equestrian Museum of Natural History."
Well that and the pastel ponies in fancy getup trotting up and down the stairway...
We all piled out and quickly sorted out into groups, a few foals to each mare, and every mare following me. My entourage took up their usual positions. I hesitated, quickly giving the front of the museum a once-over, looking for signs of Pinkius Pieus at work. There was a large banner over the doorway, stating in ornate lettering "GRAND OPENING: Wing of the Humanities." There were quite a few balloons as well; wouldn't that be more or less normal for a museum event....?
"Something wrong?" Hat Trick asked.
"Oh, um, not really," I fibbed. "It just dawned on me that this is my first visit here, much less to the new wing--- oh well, I'll just have to ask directions of someone when we go in. Onward and upward!" I pointed with my cane, and our little mob began its ascent.
We poured in through the glass doors into the front lobby, an enormous circular room dressed out in fine stonework and capped with a high, illuminated dome. A marble kiosk with the words "Visitor's Service" in etched gold lettering sat on a raised dais in the center of the room, with the skeleton of an enormous dragon standing guard over it, jaws out, bony wings spread. I could see three or four broad hallways leading out of the room, with ponies of all walks of life streaming in and out.
The first sign that anything was wrong was the fact that there were WAY too many balloons. They were tacked to every corner of the information kiosk, scattered at benches and planters about the room, tied together in a giant rainbow arching over the dragon's back.... I think I spotted one bunch tied to a disgruntled museum guard's horn. The second sign was the enormous three-tiered sheet cake the approximate size of a river barge parked in front of the information kiosk. Third, the remains of the terrible and majestic dragon that had obviously once lorded it over these noble chambers had been desecrated. It was covered in streamers and had a jaunty little party hat perched on its once-noble brow, and an enormous banner stretched between its outstretched claws which read:
All this I absorbed in the brief few seconds of shock. I was so poleaxed by surprise, alarm, and mortification that I completely failed to brace myself for the grinning pink projectile hurtling my way.
For the second time that day I was borne to the floor by force of pony. She hit in an explosion of confetti and party horns. I landed with an awesome thud; thank God for my excessive padding. When I regained my senses I was flat on my back with a not immoderately heavy pink pony standing on my chest rattling away at me in a patented Pinkie Pie monologue---
"Hi you're finally here are you surprised I hope you were surprised the museum guards wouldn't let me shut off the lights so that we could surprise you properly I hope that didn't matter but it looks like you're really surprised at least your face went all--" she pulled a face that looked like Wile E. Coyote discovering a lit bomb in his pants--- " so I guess it's okay then...."
I looked up in irritation at Bright Dawn and Hat Trick. "This will not look good on your resume," I wheezed as the party pony prattled on. I suppose I shouldn't really blame them for being caught flatfooted. I'd once seen an entire armored division of the Royal Guard stunned to a halt in mid-charge by one of Pinkie Pie's party eruptions. Long story.
They got me back to my feet and helped me brush off the worst of the confetti. We were all looking shocked, stunned, amazed or confused as our natures took us.
Twilight in particular looked like someone had farted in church. And then lobbed a grenade in her lap. She gazed around her at the decorative mayhem polluting a precious institute of science in utter horror. "Pinkie.... what..... HOW...."
"It wasn't easy," Pinkie admitted. "I had to call in a lot of favors---"
"Are you out of your pink frosted mind?" the purple unicorn half-shrieked. "When Dusty Tomes sees this he's going to KILL you--- and then ME! He is the most influential museum director in Canterlot! One word from him could wreck my career! He would have thrown you out in a Manehattan minute if he'd seen this! He's STRICT, he's NO-NONSENSE, he's PROFESSIONAL---"
"He's over at the table having some cake," Pinkie supplied, pointing.
We couldn't help it. We all turned and looked. Standing by the cake was a white on grey earth pony in a formal jacket and tie with a cutie mark of two greek pillars and what had to be the most epic mustache in Equestria. I exaggerate not; he had a huge, swooping handlebar mustache of snowy white, waxed and groomed to perfection, that covered almost his entire face. It surely entered rooms before him to announce his presence. His snowy eyebrows were only barely second-place in their epicness, a pair of eaglet's wings, vying for dominance on his somber brow. A gleaming monocle was wedged in place over his nearly invisible eye. He was carefully coiffed and groomed from mane to hooves, and stood with stiff formality, as unwavering as Gibralter. Forty years of instinct around People In Authority told me quite clearly: Twilight was right. We were in trouble.
His perfect formality was somewhat undermined by the pink frosting decorating the lower fringe of his mustache. He clapped eyes (or at least monocle) on us and walked over, paper plate balanced effortlessly on one hoof. Two points for him; I'd rarely seen a pony who hadn't had to resort to putting the plate on their backs to keep their balance. "Ah, greetings and salutations---" A napkin appeared from nowhere and dabbed at his mustache. "Pardon. Greetings and salutations, Sir Arcturus. I am most pleased that you have deigned to come visit the latest addition to our museum. I'm sure your presence will add greatly to the prestige of this little soiree."
"....Indeed," I managed.
"I will confess I was a bit perturbed when the royal festivities planner---" he pointed to Pinkie.
"Royal festivities planner--- yyyes, we'll go with that," I mumbled. Twilight made a strangling sound. Thankfully he missed that.
".... arrived and insisted on making these... changes," he said the word as if it carried ominous implications in his own personal dictionary, "to the festivities. I had to put my hoof down and limit her alterations to the main lobby." He scowled a bit.
Pinkie pouted; clearly she had planned on redecorating the entire museum if she could have gotten away with it. "Nevertheless I can't say it's gone... too bad." He eyed the manic decor about him. "After all, she assures me that this sort of gaudiness--- no offense--- is quite traditional with human festivities, so I suppose it adds a lot of authenticity, wot?" He raised his eyebrows in sincere query.
I seized on that line like a drowning man. "Oh yes, this sort of thing IS quite common back home, very traditional," I stammered. At a six year old's birthday party maybe, I thought. Or a New Year's party, if Guy Lombardo exploded.
"Quite good then," Dusty Tomes nodded in approval. "So, then, where would you and your, ah, guests..." he addressed the mob behind me. "Care to begin the tour?"
"Oh, ah, we'll be taking our own pace, if that's all right," I said. "No need for a tour guide." It probably wouldn't have done for us to tie up one of their staff that way--- especially if I was standing there, more than likely correcting everything they said. I didn't feel like giving some poor minimum wage museum worker a nervous breakdown. And that one researcher had never quite forgiven me for telling him in front of his colleagues that his "electric salad bowl" was, in fact, a ceiling lamp...
"but for now... " I looked around at my little mob for moral support.. My guards looked stoic, Cheerilee looked strained, the kids all looked antsy, and the mane six alternatively looked shocked, befuddled, bemused, nervous, or (in Twilight's case) like the sword of Damocles was dangling overhead. "...how about we have some cake?" I finished weakly.
This was met with loud cheers from the foals. There was a brief knee-high stampede as the colts and fillies broke ranks and clattered for the cake table. Cheerilee, Rarity and Fluttershy trailed after, in a rudimentary effort to maintain order. Though I think Rarity was more involved with keeping Rainbow Dash from dive-bombing the cake. "So, Miss Sparkle," Tomes said, turning to the petrified purple scholar. "I hear tell that you have made quite something of yourself these days. Independent scholar, librarian in Ponyville..."
Twilight looked at him and gave him a watery smile. "Yes. Eheheheheheheh heheheh heheheh. Heh....."
Dusty Tomes raised one epic eyebrow and said nothing. "Well. Always nice to have you visit. If you'll pardon me... oh, and Miss Pinkamena? lovely job on the decor."
"Thanks!" Pinkie beamed.
"Deuced good cake, too...." he muttered to himself, trotting off to see to other matters about the museum.
Several of us let out breaths we didn't know we were holding. In the next instant Twilight whipped about and got nose-to-nose with Pinkie Pie. "Royal Festivities Planner? You told him you were the Royal Festivities Planner?? What possessed you to tell him THAT?" the expression on her face was right up in "lesson Zero" territory.
"Because I am," Pinkie said. She pulled a scroll out of her saddlebag and showed it to us. "I had to go to see the Princesses first to get it signed, then I came over here to set things up."
I scanned down the scroll; Hear Ye hear ye etc. Official Royal Festivities Arranger, etc. appointed to arrange an authentic human-style celebratory etc etc etc signed by Princesses Luna and Celestia.
We'd been punk'd by the Princesses.
Spike began tugging Twilight over to the table. "C'mon, Twilight, you'll feel a little better with some punch and cake in you..." he said. Twilight whimpered and let herself be towed. Pinkie hopped after her, humming to herself cheerfully.
"Well," I said. "At least we got through that okay."
"Don't git ahead o' yerself," Applejack said drily. "The night's still young."