“Yeah, Mom, classes are going well. Today? I’m probably going to hang with a friend. Oh, you don’t know her. She’s kind of shy, keeps to herself. A picture? Well, I’m sure she must have one somewhere. But don’t worry about me. I won’t be bored. OK, got to go. Love you. Talk to you soon.”
Karyn hung up the phone. Why had she answered honestly? She knew that her mother would ask pressing questions. What was she supposed to say? “Yeah, plenty of pictures. Just head to Ponibooru and she’s eleventh on the “Popular Tags” list. Derpy didn’t even realize how famous she was among humans. That was one of the reasons Karyn liked her, and hoped that she would arrive soon.
Karyn dawdled and fussed on the internet. She was anxious and eager to show off her new toy to Derpy, although it was only new to Karyn. One of her friends had gotten a replacement, and given the old one to her.
Finally she heard the tell-tale sound of Derpy appearing in her room. After hugs and hellos, she got down to business.
“I’ve got something cool to show you,” Karyn said.
“Ooh, something cool? That’s cool. By definition.”
“Remember how, last time we went out, we couldn’t talk to each other because other people would be weirded out? Well, I’ve got something to solve the problem. Check it out!”
Derpy looked at the small object Karyn was holding. It was like nothing she had ever seen. The closest frame of reference she had was a horseshoe for a pony with very messed-up feet. “What is it?” she asked.
“This is called a Bluetooth.”
“But it’s black.”
“Yes, but it has a blue light inside it. And looks vaguely like a tooth. Although they named it after some Viking lord, if I remember right.” Karyn put the strange thing on the side of her head, and somehow it stayed there. “If I walk around with it on my ear, everyone will think that I’m on the phone. I suppose it will be awkward if you have to talk or if I have to point something out, but for the most part people won’t pay attention, and if they do, they won’t have me locked up for being a crazy person.”
Derpy looked at her. “I’m not sure you’re not. Unless this thing is magic, which it’s not, there’s no way it’s going to alter people’s minds to make them think that you’re not talking to me.”
Karyn smiled. “Trust me. Get invisible and let’s go outside.”
Still skeptical, Derpy activated the invisibility spell and followed Karyn out on to the street. There were a few people walking by. As one passed, Karyn said out loud, “Now, today should be fun for you because you can watch me as I mess up, but I’ll be putting in practice time for something important. I’ll explain what when we get there.”
The other person looked at Karyn, wondering if she was talking to him, but she pointed at the thing in her ear and he smiled and nodded, then walked away. Derpy was forced to concede that the plan did seem to work.
Karyn started walking and said “It’s about a mile and a half down the road." Derpy fluttered after her. The last time she had been out in the human world, she had been singularly focused on the destination. Now she took the opportunity to observe more of the city.
The streets were of cobblestone, and she would have enjoyed the clip-clop sound she would have made walking them. But of course, she had to stay out of the way. The buildings were also of stone, and Derpy was impressed at how little the humans used wood in their architecture. But they only lined one side of the road. Opposite them, there was an area of green that reminded her more of home. A few roads passed through, just wide enough for a pony or two, and trees bloomed all over. Derpy concluded that they were on the edge of the town, and that soon enough they would expand the large buildings into the grassland, and she said as much when she was sure no one was around.
“Actually, it’s a park,” Karyn said. “We keep it around because plenty of people like trees and grass, and they want a place to play or relax.”
“Are we going to play or to relax?”
“No, as I said, I’m going to practice.”
They made their way around the park. On the other side, Derpy saw something she was amazed at. It was a completely flat area, all in black with a few yellow lines in a pattern she could not discern. It was as if a great square rock had been buried in the earth.
“This is the parking lot for people who drive in to use the park. Today, at this time of morning, no one will be using it. Which means that I can,” said Karyn.
She pointed to the other side of the lot, and there was what Derpy thought of as a giant, enclosed wagon. Karyn said, “There’s my car, or rather, my parents’.”
“What does it do?”
“It’s transportation. You get inside and you can go long distances at high speeds without wearing yourself out. But, the problem is that you have to learn how to do it. And before they let you, you have to pass a test.
"I took the test a few weeks back, and I failed. So my folks lent me the car to practice when the lot is empty. I should be doing that every day, but I haven’t. I have another chance at the test this week. So I thought that I could get that in and show you how it worked. We’d kill two birds with one stone."
“We can do that later,” Derpy said. “I want to see the car move!” She positioned herself in front of it, and asked, “How exactly do you hitch this on?”
Karyn shook her head and pushed a button on her keychain. The horn beeped and there was a gust of wind as Derpy flew away. “Warn me when you’re going to do that!” she said.
“Sorry. But you don’t pull it. You get in it.” She opened the passenger side door and laid the seat back. “Headroom might be a little tight, but you should be able to see.”
Derpy still expected Karyn to propel the vehicle from the front, but watched Karyn get in beside her.
“So, how do you make it go?” asked Derpy.
“Well, first I’m going to put on this belt. If anything goes wrong, this should keep me in my seat. I don’t know if it would be right for you lying down. You do have an airbag that will go off if we crash. But I’m going to try not to have that.
“Now, can you see these three pedals down here? The right one is the gas pedal, the middle one is the brake, and the left one is the clutch.”
“OK, so far, I don’t get it,” said Derpy.
“There’s only two more things, really. This wheel here makes it go left and right, and this knob down here is the gear shift. That’s where I tend to screw up.” Karyn turned the key and the car sprang to life.
“Whoa!” said Derpy.
“Sorry, I keep forgetting that you’re not used to all this. I’ve been riding in cars all my life. So now I’ve got to push the clutch down with the brake, and I can shift into first gear. And if we’re lucky. . . “
The car stalled out. “Dammit!” Karyn said.
“What went wrong?”
“If I don’t give it enough gas, that’s what happens. Once I get up to speed, I’m fine. It’s this part that I can’t get down.”
“It’s too bad they can’t just change the gears for you.”
“Yeah, they have those,” Karyn said. “But this car doesn’t, and my folks insist on me learning to drive stick.”
Karyn started the car again, and accelerated into third gear. “OK, now it’s going. From here on out, it’s just a question of practicing enough so that I get the muscle memory necessary to pass the test.”
She tracked around the parking lot for a while, trying to explain to Derpy how she had to check her mirrors, look around, and maneuver, all at the same time.
“But if it’s not being pulled, and it’s not being pushed,” Derpy said, looking behind her to make sure, “then how does it go?”
“OK, I’m not an expert, but the father of one of my friends was always working on his car, so I picked up some of the basics. Imagine a long tube made of metal. And inside the tube, you put another piece of metal that can move up and down.”
“Like when I put my hoof inside one of Twilight’s little spell activators! If I had a metal hoof.”
“Exactly. Now, below that piece of metal, which is called a piston, you put this stuff called gas, even though it’s a liquid.”
“That’s silly,” said Derpy.
“Well, but it makes gas if you set it on fire.” Karyn didn’t think that Derpy was ready to learn about spark plugs yet. “And if you did that, the piston would move up. You attach it at the other end to a crank that uses some of the momentum to push it back down. That’s the basic concept of the engine.”
“OK, but what does that have to do with moving the car?”
“Well, once you’ve got the crank turning, it’s just a question of moving the power down to the axles, which turn the wheels. I don’t really know the ins and outs of the drive train, but it works. Oh, there’s a bit more to it—keeping the pistons lubricated, having brakes on the wheels, pumping the gas into the cylinders—but that’s the idea.”
“It seems complicated just to spin wheels. How do they go forward?”
“Oh, the tires are rubber. They grip the road fairly well.”
“Aha! Why didn’t you just say so? Split it into its vertical and horizontal component forces, make sure you get the right coefficient of resistance, and it makes sense!”
Karyn took her foot off the gas and laughed. “Derpy, once again you amaze me by how I can explain something to you, and you come out of it knowing more than me. How do you do that?”
“I don’t know. Things are always like that for me. It all seems like a fog, and then my eyes focus and I understand.”
Karyn had to swallow a remark about Derpy’s eyes focusing.
“So now that I get it, can I try driving?”
Karyn stopped the car. “OK, here’s the short version of the list of reasons why that’s a bad idea. One: you could crash and kill us. Two: if anyone saw a pony driving, they’d freak. Three: if anyone saw an invisible pony driving, they’d freak more. Four: you don’t have a license. Five: the car is built for hands and feet, not hooves. Face it, Derpy. There is no way on Earth or in Equestria that you’re driving this car.”
Derpy slipped behind the wheel. She had to sit human-style for this, which wasn’t comfortable, but she would make do.
Next to her, Karyn put on her seat belt, all the while wishing that it were one of the racing harnesses that professional drivers wore. “How do I let myself get talked into these things?” she said. “I mean, how do you even make invisible puppy-dog eyes?”
Derpy was concentrating more on the task at hoof than on Karyn’s fatalistic worries. She prepared to work all the levers and pedals she needed to do, then realized that she would need some help with step one.
“Can you do the key?” she asked.
“All right.” Karyn turned the key, half expecting to be plastered across the lot in the next moment. But Derpy was cautious, shifting it into first and giving it too much gas rather than stall out as Karyn had.
“See, I told you it was harder than it looked,” Karyn said.
The car jerked and shook, but eventually got some speed. With all her concentration, Derpy released the gas and shifted successfully into second, then got right back into the driving flow.
“I did it!” she said.
“Beginner’s luck,” Karyn replied. “Not that you don’t get credit for it. OK, let’s try a turn. Gently.”
Derpy was able to maneuver the wheel by sticking her hooves in the holes provided for lazy drivers. It would be difficult for a human to turn it that way, but Derpy made do.
Karyn kept giving instructions. “Keep your eyes a couple of hundred feet down the road. When you finish a turn, you can let the wheel return itself to center. No, don’t go into third gear just yet.”
Derpy didn’t say anything, but she was enjoying herself. After a few circuits, they heard a voice should, “Hey!”
She had a moment of panic, and took her hooves off of everything. The car lost speed. “It’s OK, Derpy!” said Karyn. “Just push the brake slowly until we stop. You did the right thing, letting go. Better than having you step on all the pedals.
The car stopped, and Karyn turned the key to shut it off. Up to the passenger side window a teenage boy ran up. He looked at Karyn and asked, “Is this one of those new self-driving cars I read about? Are you with Google?!”
Thankful that he had given her an excuse, Karyn said, “Pretty cool, huh?”
“Wow, you are so lucky to work on stuff like this. I knew they hired young. Hopefully I can get in there someday.”
“Hehe. Maybe we’ll be working together.”
“So listen, can I take a video on my phone to show my friends?” the young man asked.
Karyn wanted to avoid having her parents’ car all over YouTube. She tried to think of a way to get out of this. “You’ve got a camera phone?”
“Yeah, it’s an iPhone.”
“An iPhone? As in, an Apple iPhone? Yeah, I don’t think that’ll go over too well with my bosses. Anyway, I was just finishing this phase of the testing.”
“Hey, I thought they already were doing road tests. Why are you working in the lot?”
“We’re testing some voice-activation features. Watch this. ‘Derpy, please open your door.’”
Derpy caught on to the joke. She opened the driver’s side door and flew out.
“That is so cool!” he said.
“Yeah, you have to say please though, or it won’t work. We’re trying to bring some manners back to society.”
“OK, well, I’m going to let you keep going. Get these things on the road as soon as you can. I want one!”
Once the youth had gone, they got back in the car with Derpy riding shotgun. Karyn turned on the car and started practicing again.
“Well, that was nearly a fiasco,” she said. “But I enjoyed playing with him a little.”
“You were fine. I was just trying not to burst out laughing. That would have given everything away.”
“Yeah, you did a good job,” Karyn said. “Although he’s right. They should get the self-driving cars out on the road sooner. I mean, it’s not only that uncoordinated folks like me wouldn’t then have to waste their Sundays practicing when they could be having fun with their pegasus friends. It’s also about safety. And not just people being distracted while driving, but just all the things that drivers do wrong, the poor judgments they make. And we’ll have the added benefit of more time. I mean, there’s public transportation, and you know all about that, you’ve ridden in the train. But the problem with that is that it is public. Humans are very private people. Also they don’t want to gather at train and bus stations and leave on someone else’s schedule. When we get cars that everyone owns but that they don’t have to drive, it’ll be a big step forward.”
“How soon do you think they’ll be available?”
“Probably in a few more decades. Just long enough for me to be used to driving. If I can pass my test before then.”
“But, Karyn,” Derpy said, “all the time you were talking, you’ve been driving perfectly.”
Karyn realized that she was right. She had advanced through the gears without coming close to stalling, and neither had she wasted gas. Then she’d been cruising through the lot, taking the turns at the end of the parking lanes without realizing what she was doing.
“How did I do that?” she asked.
“Well, we don’t have driving in Equestria—I mean we do, we just call it pulling carts, or running trains, and that’s easier since you have the tracks to tell you where to go—but we do have tests, and every test is not just a test of skill, but a test of nerves. What held you back before was that you were trying. Don’t try to do it. Just do it.”
“That’s the best combination of Yoda, Morpheus, and Nike I’ve ever heard.”
“Never mind,” Karyn said. “Just some things out of fiction. Not real like you are. But it’s one thing to say those things. It’s another to sit in the driver’s seat.”
She drove around some more, this time with difficulty. Derpy tried to help by making idle chatter.
“I’m glad you could come out and see me do this,” Karyn said. “I think I am getting a bit better, and maybe I can pass the test next time.”
“And if not then, keep trying. Or, do they ever just say, ‘You’ve failed too many times. You’ll never drive’?”
“No, I can keep trying until I pass.”
“That’s good. For you, not necessarily for people who are such bad drivers.”
“But anyway, thank you.”
“No, Karyn. Thank you.”
“Thank me? What did I do?”
Derpy paused for a moment. “I have a filly, you know.”
“Of course. Dinky.”
“That’s right. She’s a unicorn. I’ve never said anything to her, and I wouldn’t change a single thing about her, honest I wouldn’t. But there are some times that I wish I could have taught my filly how to fly. Watch her make her first take-off, see the first time she flew without a cloud underneath to catch her, maybe get a job making weather. This has been kind of a substitute.”
“Aw, Derpy, don’t say that,” Karyn said.
“Because I have to keep my hands on the wheel, and I can’t hug you.”
“That’s OK. I’ll keep a ledger, and we’ll catch up on hugs when we get out of the car.”
Karyn got a funny image in her head of someone seeing her hugging the air. “Was it hard,” she asked, “raising a unicorn when you’re a pegasus?”
“Not at first. But I did have to get other unicorns to teach her how to use her magic. That hurt a little, because I hated to let her out of my sight.”
“Were you an overprotective mother?”
“I like to think I wasn’t. But Dinky might not agree.”
“My mom was,” Karyn said. “She didn’t even want me to learn to drive the car. But my father insisted, and I probably would have done so either way. I just want to get this test over with.”
“Do you want me to come for the test and hang out in the back seat?”
“Haha, no, thanks. That’s OK. But I’ll pretend you’re there. Maybe that will help.”
“And once you pass, you’ll be able to drive all over?”
Karyn paused. “Yes, but it’s more than that. It’s a rite of passage into adulthood. All the things you were talking about, the first solo flight for a young pegasus and such, they’re ways that we know we’re growing up. And that can be a little scary. A pegasus has to fear crashing into the ground, and I have to fear crashing the car. But I can’t live in fear. And once I’ve made it, things open up for me.”
“What kind of things?”
“I’ll show you. I’m going to take the car on the road. Not technically legal unless you’re a licensed driver, but we’re only going a block or two.”
Karyn pulled out of the parking lot and, carefully maintaining the speed limit, drove down the road and turned at a yellow and red sign.
Derpy sat in silence as they drove to a box standing in the ground, then she reached a state of awe as Karyn and the box had a conversation. They drove on to a window, where another human handed Karyn a bag in exchange for some money.
Back at the lot, Karyn took from the bag two small containers and handed one to Derpy. “They’re fried potatoes,” she said. “That was a drive-through. A way to get your food without ever having to leave the car. It’s a little bit of modern convenience to save some time. But you can’t do it without a car.”
Derpy munched on the potatoes. “Thanks, these are good.”
They ate in silence for a while, then Derpy said, “I wish we had something like that at home. A place to pick up lunch when I’m flying. There’s only one problem I see with it.”
“They’d never find a pole big enough to get that speaker box on it.”
Karyn laughed. Three days later, she passed the test.
Here's the previews of next week's chapter!
“Hi, Duh-be,” Karyn said. She was lying on the bed in her pajamas, wheezing and looking flush. “I’m sick. I caught a cold or the flu or something. I wish I could have called you and let you know.” She sneezed.
"I’m just glad I had my hair in a ponytail.”
“You did? Whose?”
“No, it’s just means pulling it back and holding it in place with a rubber band.”
“It makes you look prettier."
Karyn turned over onto her stomach, which she found more comfortable for sleeping. Normally, she loved being around Derpy because, even if she was exasperating, it was a fun kind of wearing out. She had heard the school of thought that said that the best thing to do with a cold was to work through it, pretend you weren’t sick, and let the body fight it off while you didn’t lose any time. She thought that was incredibly stupid. She just wanted to lie still until she was well again, and then have fun with Derpy.
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