The Three Whooves
by Paleo Prints
Chapter 1: The Unearthly Child
Years ago, in the magical land of Equestria...
The streets of the small hamlet were sloppily painted with shadows, and the nervous pony stuck to them. Small fireflies in the distance spoke of the ponies searching for him by candlelight. Quill Colthack pushed down his hat with a hoof and ran on through the alleyways. Working the crime beat teaches at least one useful skill, he thought with a sardonic smile.
The lonely pony hugged the walls as he held his breath; something was coming. Willing himself to be as flat as a page-twenty byline he pushed himself against the hard surface of safety. Tense eyes scanned the alley for minutes on end; when he was relatively certain he was alone he crept on.
Almost immediately two ponies silently appeared behind him. They moved slowly and deliberately after their quarry.
Colthack sighed with relief at the sight of town’s edge. He broke into a gallop as he spied a wagon being pulled down the road. The aging unicorn was panting as he reached his prospective rescue. The burly merchant stopped his pace at the sight of the terrified stallion.
“Mister, have you been running for a while?”
Colthack fought to catch his breath. “Have been… for years. Never seen anything… that made me want to run more.” He gestured to the merchant’s wagon. “Would you mind terribly if I caught a ride, my good pony?
As the traveler nodded Quill jumped into the cramped wagon. It was filled with lumber, carvings, and whittlings. The merchant pulled them forward as Colthack’s heart slowed down. He turned to the terrified pony. “So, what were you doing in Violet Springs?”
The reporter’s horn flashed as he cooled himself with his hat. “Missing ponies, my friend. Started out as a simple page-four sob story. After what I’ve seen this will get me the front page… above the fold!”
Quill scanned the area; they were in a large open field with nopony in sight. He reclined on his back with a sigh of relief. As he calmed down he found himself examining the variety of wares. “You don’t seem to have done much business lately, my good stallion.”
The merchant shook his head. “Actually, business is running so well I had to stop home for a resupply."
Revelation pulled open Colthack’s eyes. “That…that means you just came from…”
Colthack violently surged for the side of his cart. His frenzied hooves tried to pull himself out of the now-terrifying former sanctuary. As Colthack strained he suddenly felt a half-dozen hooves grab him from behind. The terrified reporter screamed into the darkness as he was pulled back into the cart.
The merchant ignored the noise and tilting of the cart; soon both stopped. He whistled a jaunty tune as he kept walking.
Today, on the last day of the magical land of Equestria...
Every child in Ponyville knew there were places the adults didn’t want you to go. Applebloom's farm had a shed filled with dangerous farming tools. Sweetie Belle knew that being found investigating the pile of mysterious paperbacks under her sister's mattress would mean the end for her.
For Dinky, it was the blue barn.
She had always wondered why her family needed a barn. Her mom was a mailmare, and her dad fixed things around town. Dinky spent a few years sincerely believing the barn was the office where letters go to die. One winter she tried to sneak in, thinking her letter to Celestia about what she wanted for Hearth’s Warming Eve was there. She had wanted to add on a present for her father.
When her parents found her messing with the door they seemed more scared than angry.
She thought for a while that it was where they had their luggage. Every so often her Mom would impulsively ask their neighbor Carrot Top to babysit as her parents would suddenly vanish for a few hours or days. They always headed in the direction of the barn when they were leaving.
The most embarrassing part happened a few years ago in Miss Cheerilee’s class. Silver Spoon had put Dinky and her friends on the spot; she had asked Dinky if she knew where babies come from. She had broken out laughing when Dinky said the blue barn in back of their house. Miss Cheerilee looked like she was about to say a funny joke but educational professionalism stopped her in time.
It wasn’t Dinky’s fault she couldn’t explain herself. She knew her parents would never want her to mention the night her sister joined the family. It was the middle of the night when the weird sound woke her up. Carrot Top had passed out on the couch downstairs; the unicorn filly was the only witness when her mom and dad walked out of the blue barn, surrounded by smoke, coughing, and covered in scratches.
They brought an older purple filly out of the barn with them. She looked like she had cried until she ran out of tears. Dinky remembered the mysterious girl had thrown her forelimbs around her mom; Ditzy Doo sat there quietly, holding her. The filly had said something Dinky couldn’t overhear, but her dad reacted.
“Nonsense,” he said as he gave the smile. Dinky always trusted her father’s ‘everything will get better smile.’ “This can be your home now. We’re your family, if you’ll have us. “
The next day Dinky found her family gathered around the breakfast table. Mom was cooking fiercely as her father sat at the table keeping a hoof on the new mare’s shoulder. He was whispering into her ear as Dinky walked down the stairs.
“Dinky!” Her father gave ‘the smile’ as she walked down. The purple unicorn teen looked at her with trepidation. “This is Sparkler! She’s going to be staying with us for a little bit. Well, for a while. Well, as long as she wants.”
The nervous filly extended a hoof to Dinky. “I am pleased to be meeting you,” she said with a weird accent. Uncertainty ran freely over her face.
Dinky trotted over to Sparkler and throw her hooves around her. “Welcome to the family.” She felt the older mare nearly collapse. The dinner table was very quiet until Dinky asked a question that stumped Sparkler and made her parents giggle nervously. How could a mare named Sparkler not know what fireworks were?
Her new sister did need some teaching. She didn’t know how to work the record player, or anything in the kitchen. She screamed the first time she saw a train. These things would eventually pass, but she never stopped giving distrustful looks to the mountains that bordered Ponyville.
So despite its mystery, Dinky always assumed the blue barn in back was a positive thing that only brought good into her family’s life. That stopped the day she heard the beeping.
‘The brown 'earth pony' his neighbors called John Smith’ looked back and forth, scanning his living room. Finally, a moment's quiet! Now’s my chance. He carefully pulled his sonic screwdriver out of his coat, smirking to himself. With everyone gone, no one is left to protect my quarry. Secrets, prepare to be unveiled!
He stepped forward with a flourish, aiming his tool at the object of his scorn and skepticism. His glasses gleamed, his tie flapped into the air dramatically, and his ever present trench coat flared, revealing the hourglass mark on his flank. 'John Smith' cut a heroic figure as he threatened his foe. Dinky chose that moment to walk in the front door. He stood stock still, like a deer in headlights, hoping she wouldn’t comment.
“Dad, why are you aiming the beepy thing at the record player?”
Nervous giggles drew up from her father’s throat. “Just doing a bit of science, Lil’ Muffin. Finding out how it works; always pushing the boundaries, I am!” His eyebrows rose. “Shouldn’t you be at school? Isn’t it ‘I-should-be-at-school-o’clock?’”
As if destiny decided to repeat a joke it found humorous, an apron-wearing Sparkler trod out of the kitchen. “Father, it is to be a half-day for the little ones. The teachers need their grading time, I am told.” She looked skeptically at the stallion of the house. “What are you to be doing?”
Barely concealing his disappointment, he hurriedly placed the screwdriver on the table. “Just showing a little curiosity here! Always be curious; that’s what I tell you girls. I want to know how that…running-singy thing works.”
Sparkler put a hoof on the Doctor’s shoulder. “You are first putting the record on, Father. Then the switches are pressed.”
Her long-suffering parent picked up the record player with both hooves. “But what makes it go? I mean there's a dam on the hill, fine. Hydroelectric power. Brilliant! How does it get in here?”
The sound of the door opening made him accept his defeat. “Hey everypony, I’m…” His wife stared at him with her right eye. He usually got a giggle out of her by referring to it as ‘the cuter eye,’ but he could see no levity in her now.
“Ditzy! Darling!” He held the record player over his head while his daughters tried to rescue it from his attention.
“Muffin, put it down.”
“Come on, love! It torments me so! I can hear it whispering in the night.” He wobbled it back and forth. “’Look at me! I’m an inexplicable breach of physics.’”
Sparkler quickly grabbed it out of his hooves. “Father, the last time you tried to be explicating this I was not to be listening to records for a month.”
‘John Smith’ sunk back onto the couch, admitting defeat. He took off his glasses and massaged the bridge of his nose. His wife walked behind him and place a hoof on his shoulder as the traditional rant began.
“Magic! Bah.” He waved a forceful hoof at the offending appliance. “I’ll get to the bottom of you one day. You haven’t won!”
His wife leaned in. “Remember what you always say, Muffin. It's science, just sufficiently advanced.”
“More advanced than me? Pah. So,” he said, changing moods rapidly. “Shall we get to our daily reports? Dinner is cooking, I smell.”
His family started into the kitchen. As the last one to leave the room, he thrust his hoof at the record player, and whipped it back and forth; he made sure it knew he was watching it.
Staring at the head of the table, Dinky saw her father’s grin open up. The Family Report was his favorite part of the day.
“Dinky, you go first! What did you get into today? Learning nuclear physics yet, are we?”
She shook her head. Ditzy gave her husband a disapproving look. He shrugged. “I was learning nuclear physics at her age. Ah, the way education has changed.”
“Miss Cheerilee had us make models of the Solar System. I got Diamond Tiara mad when I put on major asteroids and dwarf planets. She said I was showing off.”
Her father nodded. “And then…”
Dinky smiled. “I told the teacher I’d like to sit next to the window, and then Diamond had no pony to sit next to her during the math quiz, and she got a ‘D-‘!”
He nodded. “Excellent! That’s my girl, thinking ahead and looking for connections.”
Her face lit up. “Miss Cheerilee gave me an ‘A-.‘ I want Cheerilee to be my teacher forever!”
Whooves shook his head, “Out of the question. We are not moving to Old Canterlot.”
The girls stared at him. Ditzy sighed with a knowing smile. “Spoilers, Muffin. Be careful now. Anything else, Dinky?”
The filly nearly vibrated with excitement. “I’m doing a history project! I’m building a model of the city of Pombray with a working volcano!”
The sound of shattering glass filled the room. Ditzy walked up to Sparkler, who had dropped a full dinner plate on the floor. Dinky gave her father a look; she could sense that she had said something wrong. He just gave her a reassuring wink.
Ditzy massaged her older daughter’s shoulders. “Sparkler, I’ll take over the cooking. Why don’t you give your report?”
The slightly shaking teen sat down at the table. “I being…I ‘was’ at the market today. I spoke Equestrian perfectly in public, my dear parents." They beamed. "Great deals were given to me by Miss Applejack for dinner.” She cast her eyes morosely down for a fraction of a second. “I met my friends for a while.”
Ditzy looked at her questioningly. “Did you run into that Lemon Hearts again? She’s just jealous that you were picked for the Animal Team leadership while she wasn’t. Dinky, the pie's about to burn, check on it.”
Dinky nodded and made for the oven. She was used to her mother’s weird intuition.
Sparkler continued, her parent’s assurances bringing her out of her shell. “She does have a point, Mom. Our name doesn’t make much sense like other ponies. Why is Dad ‘John Smith’ if he’s not a blacksmith? Does he forge ‘Johns’?”
Her father nickered uncontrollably; Ditzy hushed him with a look.
“Dear, your father came from far away to reach Ponyville. That’s the name that most sounds like his name from back home. Dinky, we’re low on daisies, go pick some from the garden please. Sparkler, could you bring my cart in before dinner? It's going to rain tonight, I'm sure.”
Later on, Ditzy would remember that moment as the one that changed her life. She often said later if she knew what would come to pass she would have sworn off daisies forever.
As the children left the kitchen, Mrs. ‘Smith’ crossed her forelimbs and gave a mock angry look to her husband. He groaned. “This again. It was the best I could come up with!”
She sighed in amused exasperation. “Muffin, I’m glad you didn’t go with your first choice. I’d hate to be Mrs. Prefect.”
Years ago, in the magical land of Equestria...
On the edge of Canterlot was a classified building filled with eccentric machines and an even more eccentric pony. The determined mechanic struggled underneath a highly irregular chariot. His forceful voice echoed from beneath the vehicle.
“Miss Savory, please bring me the spanner, if you please.”
The only other occupant of the garage, a yellow-coated earth mare reading a magazine, laughed in amusement. “Certainly, Doctor. “ The scene was a wonderful contrast: the dignified voice of the Doctor set against the sight of his blue legs kicking out underneath the chariot.
She pushed the toolkit underneath with a hoof. She sighed as the smartest stallion she ever met rolled around on the floor. “Doctor, you’ve been having a go at that thing all day. I think the Brigadier would prefer it if you worked on the experiments he wanted rather than that ‘self-propelled chariot’ idea. “
An irate older blue unicorn fought his way out from beneath the car. Bits of black dirt clung to his white mane; smudges were visible on his dandified gentlecolt's attire. It would be hard to imagine a pony more different than "John Smith" of Ponyville. Miss Savory would doubtlessly laugh at the idea that they were the same stallion. It would of course absurd to think that any pony could regenerate a new body and personality at death. After all, Savory would point out, nothing born on Equestria acts in that way.
The Doctor wasn't born on Equestria.
The stallion fated to be "John Smith" rubbed his brow. “Miss Savory, listen here. I respect Brigadier Alabaster Steward quite a bit.”
The young country mare interrupted. “You mean you respect him as much as you respect anyone on this, how do you say it?” She switched to an imitation of his voice. “’This crass and rude little mud ball,” she quoted. Her eyes mocked the older stallion as he moved to his workbench.
He sighed. “I respect him as a gentleman and as the head of the Unicorn Intelligence Taskforce. He’s an admirable pony; not many others could have negotiated peace with the diamond dogs after that mining incident.” He slammed the table with a hoof. “I’d just like to see him respect my intellectual abilities enough to let me work on pure scientific curiosity rather than national security.”
His assistant rolled her eyes. “Sometimes Doctor, I think talking to you is like talking to the Mare in the Moon.” She walked to another part of the lab.
The white-haired gentlepony raised his eyebrows as she left his earshot. “You don’t know the half of it, my dear.” Suddenly the distinguished and dandified scientist's attention was captured by a beeping sound coming from the most unlikely of places. He sprang to his hooves.
“The TARDIS! The TARDIS is beeping!” He galloped to the mysterious miniature blue barn in the corner of his lab. His face was joyful like a child on Hearth’s Warming Morning.
Savory returned at the sound of the commotion. “Doctor, how can the TARDIS be working? I thought your own kind stranded you here in Equestria?”
He waved the question away dismissively. “Regardless of the Council’s opinion on my…’wanderings’ they must have changed their minds. I knew they’d see my way of things eventually.” He drew a device from his pocket and pointed it at the door to the small building; they swung open with compliance.
Savory called after him as he ran inside. “Doctor, where are you going?”
An answering voice rang out as if inside a large chamber. “Anywhere off of this mud ball, my dear, and you’re welcome to come along!”
She smiled with contentment as she cantered inside. “And to think, when my mother suggested government service she pictured me as a clerk.”
Moments later a white-coated unicorn in military regalia entered the room. “I say Doctor, are you there? The Princess has some paperwork she’d like you to help me with. Since you’ve become UNIT’s science adviser our cases have been…dramatic. She’d like an explanation on the thing with the yetis, and…”
The mustached military pony dropped the levitating papers in shock as he saw the glow coming from the familiar blue box. “Oh, bother!” He ran over to the disappearing structure and beat his hooves against it. “Doctor, come back here this instant!” A bizarre noise emanated from the box as it faded out of view.
The stallion smashed his hoof hard on the ground. “Blast it! Where could he have disappeared to?”
Today, in the sufficiently advanced enough as to be indistinguishable from magical land of Equestria...
Years later, Dinky was outside in her family’s garden near an structure identical to the one that bedeviled the Brigadier. As she moved along her mother’s rows of fruit and berries a strange sound began to come to her ears. She gently placed the basket on the ground and scanned for the source.
The blue barn had started beeping.
Dinky’s mind ran through certain jumps of logic; Cheerilee always said she was one of the quickest thinkers in her class. If the barn beeped it must be a machine. If it was a machine, than her dad must know how to use it; he could fix anything. Thus, if her dad were getting ready to use the blue barn again…
The Smith family was shocked into silence as the excited filly ran into the dining room. “We’re getting another sister!”
Far away from the magical land of Equestria...
Elsewhere and nowhere, the magnificent blue barn flew through the tunnels between whens and wheres. As that most fascinating of machines spun through space-time, its owner regaled his single passenger with suggestions. For this stallion, his time as "John Smith" was only a memory; his time as the UNIT Advisor seemed like a dream centuries away. Still, some behaviors stayed around from life to life.
“Just where shall we go now, Miss Ripple Pond?” The 'young' grey stallion in a bow-tie and top hat cavorted around the control center of his ship . “Which infinite sights of the universe shall I send us to today? The great Dragon-Alicorn Treaty dinner party? The Fourth Great and Bountiful Lunar Empire? Canterlot Station, perhaps? I promised you a tour of the cosmos, and I intend to deliver!”
His companion was a white earth mare with red speckles in her coat and a bright auburn mane; she rolled her eyes skeptically.
The Doctor stopped. “What is that look? That look, that ‘you’re not as cool as you think you are’ look, why is it there?”
The red-haired pony responded with a strong Coltland accent. “Do you mean where would I like to go, or where we’d end up. ‘Cause sometimes I really don't see a connection between the two, Doctor.”
The young-looking yet ancient traveler twirled his front hooves pensively. “We do go wherever you want, Miss Pond.” He held his hooves out in a shrug. “It’s just sometimes you don’t realize you want to be there until you’ve gotten there.”
She smiled as she pinched his cheek. “You’re a silly goose. I’d actually like to go…”
“BEEP,” he shouted in her face. She punched him in his shoulder. “Ow!” He massaged his smarting side and gave her a wounded look.
“What?" The assaulting mare looked offended. "You shouted in my face!”
“Ripple, I heard it go ‘BEEP’!” He cantered to the controls of his time-and-space machine. "The TARDIS went ‘BEEP!’ That means someone’s trying to contact me on an ancient frequency!”
The young pony from Coltland walked over to the controls, regarding them with suspicion. “So who’s around that knows that frequency?”
The Doctor quietly said, “Me. Just me, now.” He pushed switches and levers as he flung his ship into the time vortex.
“Buckle up, Pond. We’ve in for a reunion!”
She smiled as she feigned disappointment. “Of course, you get to pick the destination.” Her eyes gleamed with anticipation as she watched the main view screen, waiting for the next adventure to start.
Today, as time runs out for the magical land of Equestria...
“Dinky, what do you mean we’re getting a new sister?” ‘John Smith’ cast an analytical glance at his wife’s midsection. She tossed her head back and forth in affront.
“Dad, Mom, the blue box is beeping! The box that you took Sparkler from is beeping! Does that mean I get a new sister?”
Her parents stared at each other in shock. Wordlessly they both rushed out of the door. Sparkler looked at her sister with trepidation. “You saw me come out of the box?”
Dinky nodded. “Yup! So if it’s working again I’ll be happy if I get another sister half as good as you!”
The compliment barely seemed to register to Sparkler as she walked out of the house in dread. Dinky shrugged. Her horn briefly glowed for a moment; she picked up her daisy basket and followed her family.
Years ago but soon to change, in the magical land of Equestria...
“Confound this infernal contraption!” The stylishly-dressed blue scientist repeatedly abused his console verbally and physically.
Savory dropped onto her haunch. “Come now, Doctor. Don’t you say that violence is the last refuge of the incompetent?”
He turned to her in a huff. “Incompetent, my dear assistant, is exactly how I feel. My machine rebels at my very touch. The darn thing has a mind of its own.” He wandered to the edge of the control room platform.
Savory marveled at the size of the room she crossed now as she followed the Doctor. He always did say it was bigger on the inside. “Relax, Doctor. Surely the joy is in the travel instead of the destination?”
He gave her a fretful look. Exhaling slowly, he forced himself to calm down. “But I’m still not in control. Whether it’s at the hands of Celestia and the Brigadier or the Council of Time, I still swing through the universe on someone else’s string.” Savory raised an eyebrow. He sighed. "Fine, I meant to say 'somepony.'"
He cast a challenging glance at the view-screen of the TARDIS. “Once we get there, watch out. I refuse to be anypony’s puppet any longer.”
Today, in the last hour of the magical land of Equestria...
Ditzy Doo paced around the blue barn suspiciously. Looking at her face, Dinky was reminded of how her mother had once dressed down a fellow mailmare who lost a letter bag; reproachful and worried. “Muffin, you haven’t been doing anything with it lately, have you?”
Her husband shook his head emphatically. “No, no, she’s just been sitting here keeping watch over the garden.”
Sparkler gave her father a smirk. “She?”
“Well, ships are a ‘she.’ They’re female. Proud maritime tradition, that. I suppose it comes from not having many other females on board, or maybe just everypony missing their mommy.”
Dinky squealed with joy as she hopped up and down. “It’s a ship! We’ve got a ship!” Her eyes lit up. “Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon’s families don’t have ships!”
DItzy exhaled. “Darling, could you try for once to do damage control rather than explain things?”
Her husband adjusted his glasses. Then, thinking better of it he replaced them with a pair of flimsy-looking red-and-blue-lensed glasses. “Wow! Look at those neutrinos! They’re dancing like a troupe of drunk Stalliongrad ballerinas.”
“I want neutrino glasses!”
“Muffin, don’t encourage her.”
“Father, are those things to being back? Have they coming for me?”
The Doctor threw his head back. “EVERYBODY QUIET!” His family gave a reproached hush. “I’m thinking.” He spun on his hooves. “Tools! I need tools for this. Ditzy, be a dear and help me get the old assortment from the workroom.” As John Smith and his wife ran toward the house, he turned to his daughters. “You two! Don’t!”
Sparkler cocked her head. “Father, don’t what?”
He stuck his head out the back door briefly. “Just…don’t.”
The confused teen shrugged as her sister fished around in the daisy basket. “Well, now what do we do, Dinky?”
Dinky fished out her father’s sonic screwdriver. She levitated it toward the barn door; an intense look of concentration came over her face.
“Dinky! Father would not like you playing with his beeping thing!”
The door to the barn swung open. “Sis, ‘don’t’ can mean a lot of things. Like, ‘don’t stop being curious!’ What does Dad always say about curiosity?” Dinky’s eyes went wide with potential as she walked inside the gaping doors of the barn.
Sparkler shook her head. “I am sure we will be regretting this somedays.”
Inside his workroom John Smith threw his semi-organized shelves into chaos, dropping tools everywhere.
“Right, got to pack for a trip! Haven’t done this in ages.” A variety of bizarre objects passed through his hoof. “Multi-phasic spanner; check! Self-sealing stembolt; never used those much anyway.” He threw it over his shoulder. “Higgs boson detector, now where did I leave you?”
Ditzy turned him around to face her. “How can you pack as if our children aren’t out there waiting for a muffin peanut idle shower?”
She drew back her hoof to her mouth in shock. Her husband stopped rummaging. His wife’s aphasia hadn’t flared up this badly in years; the fact that she mixed up her sentence brought him out of his ebullience.
“Honey, I’m just going inside for a bit. I’ll see what the problem is, we may have a little trip, Carrot Top will babysit, and we’ll be back yesterday.” He smiled. “Yesterday was good, you got to admit that.”
Ditzy slipped into her husband’s embrace. “But she knows now, Muffin. I never wanted her to know.”
His hooves drew tighter around her. “She’s a bright, beautiful, and resourceful filly." He lifted her chin with a hoof. "She takes after her mum. She’d figure it out sometime; she already senses that we’re different than other families.”
As he held her something on his shelf went ‘ding. ‘ Dinky felt her husband go stiff. “What is it, Muffin? Maybe we should get Twilight Sparkle to help.”
Her husband grabbed his tool basket. With a wide and hurried swipe he dumped the entire contents of his workbench into the basket. “Right, maybe we should head out.”
His aggravated wife stomped in place. “I’m putting my hoof down. This time we send Twilight after it. We’ve got a good life now.”
The thing on the shelf went ‘ding’ twice. Mister Smith started to sweat.
“Love, I think we need to go. Now-ish. Like, nowishly now. Most nowingly now as now can be.”
“Twilight can handle this!”
His hearts broke as he saw the worry in his wife’s eyes. “Ditzy my love, I’m not saying Twilight couldn’t have handled this. I’m saying in approximately fifty-three seconds there’s not going to be a Twilight Sparkle! In fact, I have the strong suspicion there soon will have never been a Twilight Sparkle.”
To her credit, she didn’t gasp, stutter, or demand explanation. She had known him too long to dither when given a time limit. She voiced the only thought she had. “The children.”
While the Doctor tried to formulate a response, soothing words, and a plan of action simultaneously a sound broke the silence. The screeching sound of the TARDIS rang throughout the house.
Ditzy looked pensively into the triumphant grin of her mate.
“That’s my girls! Listen to that; they’re naturals! After them, Ditzy!”
As the two ponies galloped to their backyard, the open doors of the TARDIS had started to vanish. Ditzy grabbed her husband with her legs as she flapped for dear life. At the last second the two travelers made it through the archway as the blue box vanished.
The Smith family found themselves inside a huge room of mechanical devices and hexagon panels. Sparkler leaned against a bulkhead and gritted her teeth; the last time she had seen this place had been the worst day of her life. Her mother and father struggled to extricate themselves from the heap of limbs and tools; Ditzy’s patented landing never failed to leave a mess. Dinky bounced in place joyously.
“It’s big, Daddy! It’s bigger on the inside than the outside!”
Ditzy was about to admonish everyone in the room when she caught sight of her husband’s face. She had rarely seen such a look of pure joy.
“Yes, Little Muffin," he said as he lifted her over his head with his hooves. "It certainly is.” He stared at his youngest daughter, bathing in the moment.
He’s been waiting years to hear her say that, hasn’t he? She swallowed her concerns, letting the stallion she loved bathe in his moment.
John Smith gently placed his daughter onto the floor. “It’s called the TARDIS, Dinky. It means ‘Time And Relative Dimension In Space.’ It’s a spaceship! Well, it’s a time machine. It’s kind of a spacy-timey-go-there-and-fro-box.” He ran a hoof down the side of a wall tenderly.
Turning around, he saw Sparkler moving tools and gadgets around. “Oh Lovey, don’t touch those.”
She looked at him sorely. “Father, this room is being a mess! There are things everywhere!” Out of her element again, she had fallen back on familiar impulses.
“Yes love, but they’re my things, my mess, and my everywhere.” His eyes went wide. “Our everywhere, actually! Think of it, Ditzy; our first family trip in the TARDIS! I’ve always been rubbish on family trips; I skip to the good parts.” He spread his arms. “But we’ll be skipping together.”
As his enthusiasm crept into the children Ditzy place a stern hoof on his shoulder. “Honey, what’s wrong with Equestria?”
Mirth left his face. “It’s not.”
“It's not what?” Her brows knit in confusion; she could feel the words squiggling in her brain, threatening to run away from her. Oh Celestia, please don’t let me have an attack of the babbles in front of the children!
“It’s not…not. Just not. Not’s the only word you can use.” He turned the view screen on. Dinky’s excitement turned to disappointment.
“Dad, it’s just static.”
He nodded. “It is. Equestria is just static now, it's potential unwound.” He reached out toward his daughter and plucked his sonic screwdriver out of the air as he continued. “Every point in time has its alternative. You’ve looked into alternative time. Our present was somepony’s possible future; it’s no longer possible.”
Sparkler gasped in despair.“Ponyville is gone then. It's been wiped away by the lava of time.”
He looked down. “Yes.” He raised his head with a determined look. “Yes, but. Yes with a big but! It’s gone into a place we can get it back from! Come on, everyone!” He clapped his hooves loudly. His family stared at him without comprehension. "Fine, come on 'everypony.' Gah, how provincial. Ditzy, go to the secondary flow-dynamics console; you always had a way with the old girl. Sparkler, get to the bicycle pump; Dinky, jump to that chair and press the buttons I tell you to!”
He leaned over the console; its blinking lights highlighted a face filled with excitement.
“Right then; time for the Smith family to save time itself! I hope everypony went before we left!”
Somewhere in space and time, in the magical land of Equestria...
The peace over the small, unremarkable hilltop was broken by a series of loud noises. The animals in the area scattered from the loud screeching metallic sounds; they never saw the three blue barns fade into existence.
The first door to open produced a confused blue unicorn. The ornately-dressed stallion squinted at the two other blue barns. John Smith peered out with a smile that instantly ceased as eye contact was made. Both shared identical cutie marks.
The aged stallion gaped. “You…you must be…”
“You? Really? Here?” Ditzy's husband raised an eyebrow.
A grey stallion dressed in formal wear skipped out of the final TARDIS as its doors opened. His hourglass-decorated flank bounced out of the TARDIS door. “Come on, Miss Pond, we’ve a whole new…”
Ripple Pond’s companion’s eyes went wide. “You. You. Two yous. Well, three yous to be precise.” His faced crashed. An expression of foreboding settled over him as he looked at John Smith’s TARDIS. “If that you is ‘you’ you, then she’s with you…”
Mr. Smith’s eyes narrowed as he looked at the strange traveler. “Oh, no. Please, don’t let her see this.” His manner deflated.
The Unit Science Adviser stomped the ground. "Now listen to me!" He snorted as he stood between the two pensive stallions. “I know what you must be even if I don’t have the order right. I need answers if I’m to deal with this situation.”
The grey traveler in the top hat swayed back and forth nervously. He put a hoof on the side of the aged unicorn. “We really should get out before she comes out to look.”
The elder stallion pushed him away in irritation. “Unlike you gentlecolts, I cannot control my TARDIS. Now would someone please tell me why I was brought here?”
John Smith’s TARDIS door swung wide as his wall-eyed wife stepped out. “Honey, is it safe to come out? The kids are getting impatient.”
The horned blue dandy sputtered with disbelief as the words fully registered. The stallion in the top hat leaned in to whisper in his ear. “You never listen to me. I should’ve remembered that.”
by Paleo Prints
Chapter 2: City of Death
The Ponyville doctor walked into the waiting room. The only things he found there were the sounds of the terrible storm outside and the sopping-wet stallion that had brought in Mrs. Doo earlier that night.
“I hear you both came from the direction of that fire. Terrible thing, that.” His tone was measured, obviously at ease from a career of asking similar questions. “Are you a friend of the young mother?”
The strange pony nodded. “Known her for years. Well, years for her; a day or three for me. Well…it’s complicated.”
The confused professional sat down next to the perplexing pony. “I’m her doctor.”
The bedraggled form in the trench coat smiled. “Really? Good luck with that.”
“We’re having an interesting time in the delivery room. I’ve never had a patient yell at me like that. ‘Clean hair milking machine purple stretch far.” I’m not sure if I should be flattered or offended.”
His patient’s mysterious savior turned weary eyes to him. “She has aphasia. It’s a neurological condition; she speaks fine in her head but sometimes it’s a babble stew of sentences out of her mouth. It’s probably related to the wiring that makes her eyes move independently.”
The medical pony nodded. “I’m familiar with her history. Are you the father?”
A long sigh dragged out of the Doctor. “No. Tried it once. Kind of got mixed results in the end. Never felt very good at it.”
Knitting his eyebrows, the hospital pony let the painful confession pass without comment. “Well, I understand Mrs. Doo’s husband recently passed. Peacefully, I hope?”
The ancient-feeling stallion shook his head. “No, but it still wasn’t as much as he deserved. He tried to bring a thing through into this realm that…” He stared at the physician. “Um…he cheated on his taxes. And bucked puppies.”
The physician nodded as he sat down in a nearby chair. “I’ve known Ditzy for a while; she’s been here for treatment a few times. She has the uncanny ability to fall down stairs.” He cocked his head. “Now, I always found that surprising for a pegasus. Especially considering that she lives in a one-story cottage.” He looked at the mysterious visitor. “I don’t think a single pony in this town will miss her husband.” He coughed into his hoof. “The poor mare’s giving birth on the night her spouse died. Do you know what that young widow is thinking about?”
“I can guess,” the stranger ventured with a slight nod.
The physician smiled. “The only thing that she could get out clearly was about you. She asked about you.” The surgeon lifted an eyebrow as he stood up. “Spoke as clearly as a summer day. When I asked you that question I suspected Ditzy’s husband was no longer with us. If I were you, I’d reconsider your answer. That young filly needs a father and her long-suffering mother needs a husband. Consider it for a minute.” He set down a clipboard full of forms on the table as he walked off.
A pleading word from the pensive stallion stopped the surgeon. “The foal; is it okay? I was worried that it might have been affected by what the father did…on his taxes.”
The doctor raised an eyebrow. “Well, she’s got a horn instead of wings. With two pegasi for parents and no history of unicorns in the family, that’s kind of irregular. That’s already made it a case for the journals.” Seeing the mysterious stallion from out of town tense, he raised a calming hoof. “In deference to Ditzy, I think I’ll misfile that form. The People around Ponyville can wonder; there’s no reason for hotshot Canterlot doctors to come down here looking for a career-making case study. If you’ll pardon me, I hear Nurse Redheart calling me.”
He walked on, leaving the Doctor alone in the waiting room.
The soaking stallion picked up the clipboard. A slow smile spread across his face. “It’s a filly.”
Years later for him and years earlier for Equestria, John Smith tried to superimpose himself between adventure and his family. “Girls, go back in the nice blue box. There’s grown-up stuff I have to do.”
Dinky looked past her father to the other travelers. A grey stallion in a top hat waved at her with an inviting smile as a blue aged unicorn looked at her in shock. She briefly wondered if she did something wrong.
And then there were the blue boxes.
Dinky was amazed. Three of them were here! “Dad, are these people in the same club as you? They have the same time machine! Do you know them?”
Ditzy watched her husband’s reaction turn from worry to embarrassment. He started scratching the back of his mane in discomfort. “I know both of them incredibly well. Well, mostly. Actually I don’t know one of them at all, just almost everything about him.”
While Smith discussed things with his daughter more forms walked out of the blue boxes. Savory took her place behind her Advisor, waiting patiently for orders. She contrasted sharply with the amused form of Ripple Pond, who was conspiratorially whispering into the ear of her companion while looking at Ditzy.
In a stage whisper, the Colttish youth whispered loud enough for the crowd. “Doctor, do you ever actually travel with,” she paused to blush, “boys?”
John Smith looked at his teen daughter, his face flush with embarrassment. Dinky may have worn a confused look, but his wife was bristling at the implication.
“Doctor,” Savory said with a mischievous leer, eyeing the mature unicorn. “I really didn’t think you had it in you.”
His ears burning, John Smith leaned down to Dinky. Her look of confusion disturbed him.
So, what do I say? Little Muffin, I’m an alien who lives forever? These gentlemen are just different versions of me from the past and future! Don’t worry, we’re just looking at proof that I’m going to buy it one day. It could be this evening, or long after you’re dead! Try not to think about it.
“Dinky,” he started, carefully considering his words. “I’m not from Ponyville.” As she looked on expectantly, Ditzy rolled her hoof in a ‘get on with it’ gesture. What, that’s not enough?
As John Smith’s mind flew through sentences, the elegantly-dressed elder walked over and kneeled down beside him. “Little one, your…’father’ is from a faraway planet. He and I are…” The horned gentlepony pursed his lips, looking for the right word.
The ancient traveler in the top hat pirouetted into place in front of his past incarnations. “Cousins! Distant cousins! I’ve very far removed from everyone.” He played with his fore hooves as he cast a downward glance towards Ripple. “She always tells me so, anyway.” He shuffled from hoof to hoof.
While the Doctors worked out an alibi, the young yellow UNIT mare casually approached Ditzy, who was pressing two comforting hooves on Sparkler’s shoulders to soothe the nervous teen.
Savory whispered into the older mare’s ear. “Whatever you managed to do, Love, a lot of girls before you tried.” The mailmare blushed angrily, her golden misaligned eyes flashing.
Dinky was looking at her father with a sense of wonder. “Dad, if you’re an alien how come you look like a pony?”
“I don’t look like a pony! You look like a Time Charger!” He bit his lip. “We did make that happen.”
The younger Doctor with the aged body regarded the inquisitive child’s interrogation of her father. Interesting. Most children her age would be asking more inane questions. His horn suddenly briefly flared in irritation. She’s a distraction! Deal with the situation.
Carefully controlling his frustration, the UNIT Advisor started pulling John Smith aside. “Pardon me, Little One. I have to discuss things with your ‘father.’”
As the two stallions walked away into animated conversation, Dinky felt a sense of uncertainty. Noting her worry, the unpredictable stallion in the top hat brought out a piece of paper with a flourish. The Traveler grinned. “Was this your card, madame?”
The amused filly smirked. “I didn’t pick a card yet, Mister.”
“Oh,” he responded with a crestfallen tone. The offending card was pitched over his shoulder. “Well, when it happens that’ll be the one! Mark my words.” Watching her guide pout put Ripple into a giggling fit.
The two remaining Time Chargers put themselves on the other side of the grassy hill from the collection of companions. Away from his family, John Smith’s apprehension at meeting his younger self returned. I don’t remember this part. Actually, I think I’m, starting to recall. I was…angry at something? How does this end, again?
“Now, let’s be serious for a moment,” began the lecturing blue scientist. “You’ve made the decision to stay in one place with children around?” He shook his head with a condescending style. “My dear boy, I can barely think of all the enemies I have now. I shudder to think how many new ones you added to the collection before setting up shop.”
Mr. Smith’s eyes snapped onto his "older" self. They flared with anger that had cowed dictators. “I made the choice to be happy. Believe me you’re going to want that someday.”
The blue unicorn me John’s anger with an exasperated sigh. “What we deserve and what others need of us are two ships that don’t meet, Doctor.” The determined dandy cast a glance around. “Let’s find a safe place to stow them and get to the bottom of this situation.”
The Unit Adviser was taken aback as Smith advanced on him, nostrils flaring. “I am not ‘stowing’ my family anywhere!”
On the other side of the hill, a nervous group turned away from the amusing failure of the traveler to draw a rabbit out of his hat. The sound of the arguing time travelers was loud enough for everypony to make out. Ditzy nodded in determination. “Children, watch the magic show. I have to get your father back on track before we sandwich blank sword comma normal.”
Sparkler gasped at the weird mess that her mother enunciated. As the mailmare walked off it was obvious to her children that their mother hadn’t even realized what she had said. Quickly seeing his audience walk away, the ancient traveler pulled a small device from his coat pocket and aimed a beam of light into his top hat. A blue tentacle reached out, squeezing his head with a wet sucking sound. Sparkler laughed and applauded, their parent’s troubles forgotten. As the three older mares watched the show, Dinky slipped off after her mother.
She saw her mother next to the old unicorn. Mrs. Smith had a scrunched-up expression; her daughter recognized it from every time Dad thought he was about to win an argument.
“Listen Sir, my family and I are not the problem here." She pointed a hoof into her opponent’s red dandy jacket. “He’s given us a wonderful life, and we’re ready to help him with the situation as soon as we genuflect umbrella.” She nodded with confidence.
John walked to his wife and rested his head and neck over his wife’s back. He gave a pleading look to his younger self, who breathed deeply.
“My dear,” began the weary gentlepony. “It must have been wonderful to fall in love while travelling the stars. I cannot imagine the epic sights you must have seen, the enemies you made, or the terrible things you must have run from.” He massaged his chin. “I wonder how many of those star-traveling fiends are still out there. Perhaps they’re just over that hill? I suggest you all wait in the TARDIS for your husband and I to return.”
Eavesdropping behind a tree, Dinky’s mind reeled. Dad has enemies? She could think of nothing that title could be appropriately applied to. Well, perhaps the toaster in his shop he’d try to repair for years. Quite possibly the mayor was an enemy; she was furious after Dad tried to fix the dam and made the river run backwards.
The young foal carefully walked to the group of raised voices and cleared her throat. The three adults regarded her.
“Mister Doctor Unicorn? I get that my Dad did something wrong. He does that a lot, but Mom always says he means well. Shouldn’t we be doing something about the fact that Equestria’s gone? I mean, it’s here now, but Dad says it’s going to go away later.”
A nervous shudder swept over Dinky. She realized that everyone was looking at her. Her father recovered first, clearing his throat and stepping in front of the taken aback azure adventurer.
“LISTEN HERE.” His aggravation was starting to come through. “My family is my problem.” As his wife and daughter stared, he waved his hooves. “Okay, not what I meant. What I mean is my family is not your problem. I doubt the Council of Time would send you both here to lecture me on settling down.”
The older unicorn considered this, staring at his future self for a good minute. “I don’t know; it seems like the perfect hobby for those busybodies. You’re right of course. Somewhere along that road is the problem at hoof. Now then, let’s brief your family on what they can expect.”
He turned to find Ditzy cheerfully passing out saddlebags to her daughters. “Remember girls, no talk of future things like Nightmare Moon or Discord. Pay for everything with the older bits in the bags. If anyone asks, say you’re from Croupwich. It’s far away enough that they’ll forgive any strangeness, and nobody ever goes to Croupwich, anyway.”
The unicorn in the red jacket stared in astonishment. John Smith only smiled. “She’s magnificent, isn’t she? Always bubbly throughout anything odd or bad, advertised right on that magnificent flank of hers.”
The tense atmosphere dispelled, the neurotic traveler gestured with a sopping sticky top hat and rose with a flourish. “Let’s go then, Madame! I can be your tour guide.” His soft smile contrasted with his determined tone. “I’ll keep you safe.”
Sparkler looked at her father. “Can we go with him, Dad? He’s a lousy magician but he’s funny.”
“Sparkler,” her father started. “Never, ever go with that stallion. I’ve known him longer than you can imagine. He’s…flighty. Impulsive. Erratic. He’s dangerous.” He raised a hoof as her eyes went wide. “Not on purpose, though! He’s not bad, he’s just careless. Flies to and fro without thinking about the people he leaves behind and the situations he puts them in.”
“Oh, I think you’re being too hard on him,” his wife interrupted. “He always means well.”
John’s shoulders fell as he relented. He looked his future incarnation in the eye and shivered. “You,” he began dramatically.
The gray stallion nodded as he bowed. “Yes.”
John raised his head with anger. “And…?”
The now-somehow clean hat was placed on the owner’s head. “Of course.”
Mister Smith smiled. “Then it’s decided!”
Ripple squinted at him. “Really? That was a decision?”
The white-haired Doctor paced past her. “Do try to keep up, young miss. Listen carefully next time.”
John paced on the edge of a dirt road. “I’ll go with the Doctor.” He gestured meaningfully to the older gentlecolt for the children’s benefit. “Ditzy, you and the children look around with…” He stared at the lanky grey Time Charger imploringly.
The skinny smiling stallion shrugged. “John Smith?”
Ditzy growled. “Absolutely not!”
The traveler rolled his eyes. “It’s such a good one, though. I call dibs next time. Children, Miss Pond, Mrs. Smith, call me Top Hat! I’ll be your guide today.” He gave a careful look to the mailmare. She nodded in approval as she pulled a picnic basket out of her TARDIS’s door.
The Doctor used his horn to nudge John. “In the meantime Miss Savory and we can investigate freely. We’ll get to the bottom of this; leave it to Uncle Doctor!” The aged adventurer started walking down the road.
John’s eyes narrowed at the retreating blue flank. “I’m six centuries old than you.” He ran to catch up with the motley group, coming up alongside ‘Top Hat.’ The Ponyville repairstallion rubbed his temples in irritation. “At least the Fourth didn’t show up. He’d send Mr. Well-Dressed into fits.”
His future self waved his hooves dismissively at the suggestion. “Nah, he never shows up for anything.”
Smith nodded in agreement, and then walked faster to give some words to his family. ‘Top Hat’ found himself alone with Ripple. She smiled. “So, Mister Hat is it? We had an even chance of ending up with Mister Bow Tie, didn’t we?”
Her traveling companion snorted. “Bow ties are cool.”
With a snicker she let the old argument drop. “So ‘Top Hat,’ you never seemed much like the marrying type to me.” She sighed. “I’m a fine one to talk, though. What’s it like to be hanging with your family?”
He was silent for a few seconds. “Like a hole in me with no bottom. Is there a word for that? Do holes need bottoms? I forgot the rules for holes.”
A small hamlet shortly rose in front of the explorers as they crested a hill. Nestled amongst dark and looming trees was a collection of quaint wooden structures. The village seemed well constructed, but the austere buildings unsettled John’s family. There were none of the decorative flourishes found in Ponyville architecture. On the opposite side of town a bulky stone building squatted protectively over a flowing river.
Ditzy regarded the signpost visible just down the road. “Violet Springs. The name’s the only thing there. They don’t even try to welcome us.”
UNIT’s Doctor clicked his tongue. “And what pray tell, students, does it mean when a town has no welcome sign?”
Dinky bounced in place. “They have something to hide?”
The smiling unicorn nodded. “Excellent! Full marks for you.”
Sparkler wandered over to her dad as the group gathered on the empty main street. “Father, I am feeling a sense of what comes before. I do not like this place.”
John placed a reassuring hoof on the quivering teen. “There’s nothing to worry my dear! Your old Dad’s here, isn’t he?”
The fretful young mare spared a glance at her sister and mother. “Last time, you were only able to save one of us, Father.”
John Smith tried to work his mouth and brain; neither listened to him at the moment.
‘Top Hat’ was standing in the middle of the square. He was moving his hooves in front of him like a conductor. “Can you feel it, Pond? The expectation building as the curtain starts to rise?” She giggled at his enthusiasm. Soon ponies started to peer out of windows and step out of doors. Everyone was staring at the strange group. A crowd of townsponies was starting to make its way toward the time travelers, walking down the main thoroughfare after appearing from behind a corner.
The Traveler grinned in anticipation. “The show begins, Ripple!”
A white-coated earth pony with a gigantic mustache and beard that seemed to be swallowing his face stepped ahead of the group. The other townsfolk stopped near instantly, watching intently. “Good morning, all. What brings you to Violet Springs?”
John Smith, Top Hat, and the Doctor all started talking at once. The two ‘earth pony’ Time Chargers looked at each other sheepishly. Their unicorn companion was nonplussed.
“Let me deal with this.” He stepped forward. “Good morning, mister…”
“Decks,” supplied the hairy representative. “Terrace Decks. I’m the head of the lumber mill.”
“Delightful, Mister Decks. Charmed, I’m sure. We’re travelers from a long ways away.” The blue stallion blinked. “Croupwich, as a point of fact.”
John Smith beamed proudly. “Like I said, magnificent.”
The genteel unicorn continued. “We’re here because we heard there were spaces available in your little colony! It’s so hard to find work these days in some places. I’m sure you’ve felt the recession here?”
The startled stallion was momentarily flustered. “I wouldn’t know about no recession. Things are fine here, and we don’t deal much with other towns.” He suddenly threw a suspicious gaze at the Doctors. “I don’t think we have any room for settlers, though.”
John stepped forward. “Come now, a bustling community like yourself? Colonizing the uninhabitable, spreading to every corner of the map. I love Ponies!” He threw a hoof around the neck of his distinguished gray-coated counterpart. “Surely you have space for my father and I?” He sudden leaned close to Decks. “Even if it’s just for the night? He’s not all right in the head, and sleepwalks if we can’t lock him up. Old age can be a terrible thing.”
The mortified Doctor tried to reclaim his dignity over the laughter he heard from behind him. Top Hat stepped to his other side and threw himself into the role. “Dotty as a fruitcake he is, you know?” The gray showman began playing with his lip. “Stip blip dribble,” he crooned, making a spinning gesture pointed at his head.
The distinguished dandy pushed them both away. “I am quite in possession of all of my faculties, gentlecolts!”
A commiserating tone sounded out from the crowd of townsfolk. “Isn’t that just something he’d say? Knockturn’s earth pony grandfather used to say the same right before he tried to fly.” The assembled crowd gave each other knowing smiles and glances.
The outpouring of misguided attention flustered the Doctor, but he was to the end a consummate actor. “Can you please show us some hospitality?” With a sigh, he flung himself into the role. “Ooby dooby scooby banooby.” He enunciated each syllable with care and as much dignity as he could muster.
Terrace rolled his eyes. “We could probably put you up for the night. I’ll tell the townsfolk to find you a place to stay.”
John nodded enthusiastically. “Great!” He turned to the maniacally grinning stallion in the top hat. “You keep an eye on the child while sister and I take Gran for his walk.” Savory and John carried the perplexed looking unicorn down the street.
Sparkler gave a start as the villagers surrounded the group, asking questions. Top Hat noticed the socially awkward teen turn in on herself. Suddenly flush with an idea, he turned to a nearby young foal. “You there! You look sick! I should know,” he claimed, pointing his hoof gently at the child’s face. “I’m a Doctor.”
Dinky walked up expectantly as the white foal her age stammered under the attention. “P-p-picket, sir. I’m Picket Post. Mister Decks is my dad.” He suddenly stopped in mid-introduction. “A doctor, you said? I thought you g-g-g-guys said you were s-s-settlers.”
The oldest stallion in the town leaned down with a conspiratorial whisper. “I’m a town doctor. I travel from place to place and fix towns.” He suddenly yanked his hoof away from Picket’s face. “And you, my dear lad, had an ear blockage of doubloons!”
The children moved away from Sparkler as a cloud of coins flew out of the surprised young colt’s ear.
As the lonely old stallion entertained the children, Ditzy attempted to strike up a conversation with the red-haired mare she found herself travelling with. “So, Miss Pond…where have you gone with your Doctor?”
The gleeful pixie-like girl grinned. “Oh, lots of different places. A little near the beginning of time, and little near the end of time. It’s a time thing, you know?”
The mailmare looked skeptical. “So, no trips to old Trottingham? He always loved the smog and the carriages. Space stations, maybe?”
Ripple snorted. “I don’t know what he sees in the stupid things. We always end up running down corridor after corridor.”
The golden-eyed time traveler leaned in with a whisper. “Did he ever take you to the Grand Galloping Gala? I’ve been trying to get him there for years.”
Having ignored the louder conversation the amateur magician turned at the latest whisper. “Oh, no. Never go to the Grand Galloping Gala. That’s my rule. My suggestion, really. I’ve never been very big on rules.”
Pond nodded. “I’ve never been able to get this old stuffy anywhere near a Gala. “ She switched from her Coltsland brogue to an impersonation of the Doctor’s clipped Trottingham accent. ‘What, we’ve found a black hole, fine, lovely. The Gala?Oh, never! Can’t deal with hors d'oeuvre, outright impossible.”
He gestured wildly. “The Gala’s always awful.” The Doctor hesitated. “They’re painful things.”
Just down a few blocks, Miss Savory kept a watched as the two Time Chargers conversed in an alley. The Science Advisor nodded at his future incarnation. “Now that the charade’s done with we can start investigating this place. That’s assuming of course that you can get your head in the game.”
Smith looked offended. “I am absolutely in on this.”
The Doctor shrugged. “I merely intimate that you of all three of us has a reason to be distracted.”
An angry hoof pointed at the dandy’s chest. “I suppose you’ve never felt the urge to try something stable. It’s not like us to travel alone, after all.”
John Smith was surprised as the calm and collected gentlepony suddenly became violently angry. “I remember what happened the first time we tried this!” The elder statespony was barely able to keep his voice out of shouting level. “I remember the pleading knocks on the door of the TARDIS that broke my hearts!”
The two Time Chargers turned to see Ditzy at the head of the alley. A small picnic basket had fallen out of her mouth to rest at her hooves.
Savory gave an embarrassed blush. “She brought you both lunch while you were having a row.”
Ditzy walked to her husband. At least, she assumed it was her husband. At the moment she couldn’t shake the feeling that the stallion she married under a diamond waterfall on Teclis 4 had taken off a party mask, and a stranger was staring back underneath.
“John? What’s he talking about?”
“I don’t want to talk about it.” The brown Time Charger turned his head.
Angry tears flared in her eyes as her hoofed lashed out, pinning her husband against the wall. He seemed not to feel it.
“I have accepted so many things! I’ve stared at the heat death of the universe. I kept to myself all the terrible sacrifices made in dark corners to keep this cosmos running done by good ponies only we remember. I accepted that muffins would never taste as good as they did on our honeymoon.”
She was heaving, tears flowing. “If I’ve accepted all of this, why won’t you purple empty lonely bubbles trust muffin?”
Savory’s eye goggled in shock at the verbal word salad, but her superior raised a hoof in front of her. His curious eyes implored her to give the Smith’s space.
The aphasia attack snapped her husband out of his funk. He rubbed a hoof down the side of her face. “Poor Ditzy Doo. So many feelings and thoughts. They just get in each other’s way sometimes, don’t they?” He placed his hooves around the sobbing mare. “I promise I will tell you as soon as we’re out of here.”
He slipped out of the hug, leaving his hooves on her shoulders. “Go to the children. They have a strong mother, a mum who never surrenders, and they’ll need her so.”
She nodded. Fishing a small bag out of the overturned basket, she left it at John’s feet. Sparing him a look, she only said, “Muffin.”
Then she walked away.
John shook his head. He turned to the Doctor and saw a sympathetic look. “Ponies think dying is hard, don’t they?” The blue unicorn nodded with compassion.
“Dying is like a waterfall,” John continued. “By the time you’ve started going over you plunge down, too surprised to think about it. It’s living that’s hard.”
A larger green foal nearly smacked into Dinky as Top Hat the Magnificent pulled another coin from the ear of the crowd. As the child pushed his way forward, the Time Charger's nimble hoof reached into the leaf-colored ear, dragging out a brass triangle eight feet in length.
The mysterious magician paused. “Hm. A Triganic Pu. I had wondered where I put that.”
A young foal next to her laughed in Dinky's ear. “He's so awesome!”
The irritated time traveler’s child scowled. “I don't think he actually knows what he’s doing. He kinda reminds me of my dad.”
The crowd applauded as Top Hat waved a blanket in front of his bowing red-coated assistant. As he removed the blanket, Ripple Pond was nowhere to be scene. Ignoring the applause, the unpredictable traveler scratched his head, scanning the square as if looking for something.
Dinky sighed. “My Dad’s funnier, though.” Looking to the side, she noticed Sparkler was clapping on the floor animatedly. Her sister from afar had always enjoyed more childish things then other Ponyville teens. Dad explained that it was a difference in culture. He never stopped reminding her that her people “basically invented the theater!”
John Smith’s youngest daughter started to extricate herself from the crowd. At school she usually spent her time on the fringes of the playground, drawing in the dirt or reading Miss Cheerilee’s Big Book of Astronomy. Now the inquisitive foal found herself more interested in searching the strange town than staying in any group of ponies.
She walked away until the show was well out of sight. Oddly shaped shadows started to throw themselves across her path as the sky darkened. Dinky shivered as she looked up at the moon, finding the shape of a sinister alicorn gazing back at her. I guess time travelling can bring back the bad things, too.
Dinky stared at the stars, her eyes searching for familiar shapes. Quite literally spacing out for several minutes, her observation was broken by a high-pitched voice. “Are you looking for something? I can point out a few things.”
Dinky slowly dropped her head. She was startled, but fought to remain calm as she remembered her father’s advice. Never look scared, even if you are scared! That way you’ll be able to deal with scary things. In the dark she caught sight of a white spotted young colt. He reminded her of her friend Pip.
“I’m looking for the Seven Sisters. I always liked those.” She scanned the skies. Suddenly a white hoof poked into her vision.
“That way! Just by Orion. You can barely make him out through the clouds.”
Suddenly, the pointing young filly lost his balance. Dinky gave out a laugh of embarrassment as he fell onto the cobblestones. She offered him a hoof up.
“I’m Dinky. You must be Picket, right?”
He saluted. “Y-y-yes. Golly, you like the stars too?
She gave an appreciative nod. “My Dad always told me it was important to understand how the big stuff works. You realize that every one of those is a sun, maybe with its own planet with alicorns and ponies on it?”
Picket’s eyes went wide. “Wow! Your Dad sounds cool. Mine never wants me to talk about stars. I don’t think anypony else in town actually looks at them either.” He jumped onto his feet, brimming with ideas. “Would you like to meet him? I could invite you over for dinner if you’d like.”
His fragile enthusiasm was heart-breaking. Dinky thought that he’d be the kind of colt who’d hang out with her Crusaders friends and dodge Silver Spoon at lunch. He looks like he could use a friend. “Sure, Picket. I’d love to meet your family.”
He punched the air, falling over again. “Yes! I’ll go ask now.” Dinky smiled as she watched him disappear from view.
A few minutes and several streets later an eager young head popped into the Decks residence. “Hey, Dad! I met one of the settler ponies, and she’s real nice and smart. Can we please have her over for dinner?”
Inside the living room his Father was setting plates on a table that completely lacked silverware. A pile of ripped apart logs sprawled on a large plate. To the side of that a covered basket of bunnies sat. The bunnies thrashed against the bars of their wicker jail, straining in terror.
Terrace Decks patted his son on the head. “Well, you can try, but she may have a different diet than we do. They’re strangers, son. You never know what a stranger’s like. You can ask her though.” Picket beamed. He spared one hungry glance at the basket of struggling rabbits before he ran away.
Mister Decks sat down at the end of the room, eyeing the feast he’d set. His eyes caught a few empty plates, and he snickered. “There’s always space for one more at the table, after all.”
As night sprawled across the secluded town John Smith and his companions found themselves within a few streets of the gigantic lumber mill. It was a sprawling structure, showing apparent years of maltreatment.
The perceptive unicorn snorted. “I say, there’s no way a town would treat the source of their livelihood like that.”
His creamy-coated companion nodded, grinning in anticipation of adventure. “So, there’s where they’ll hide the monsters or bodies or the world-destroying machine, right Doctor? Shall we sneak in?” Savory looked positively overjoyed at the promise of danger.
John stared in admiration. “I had forgotten how fearless dear Miss Savory was.” He smiled as they carefully snuck around a corner.
The Unit Advisor rolled his eyes. “Believe me, I myself am constantly surprised. Then again, I just remember her familial relations.”
The working mare from Trottingham stopped. “My family? Doctor, who exactly are you talking about?” She looked with confusion at the two stallions.
As the refined gentlepony searched the area for clues he scolded his charge. “Come now, Savory. We shouldn’t listen to spoilers.”
She huffed unappreciatively. “Well, if we’re going to wander aimlessly we could at least nip into a bakery. You need to keep your company in mind, Doctor.” She stepped closer to the attractive brown Time Charger. “Your other self seems to have learned how to treat a girl.”
As the Doctor leaned over a patch of grass he shook his head in irritation. “My dear, it does neither of us any good to consider our futures. Come over here and look at this pastry I had in my bag.”
Excited, she galloped over just in time to watch the Doctor drop it onto the ground. He turned to her with an expectant smile. “Oh, Doctor,” she said with a crestfallen expression. “You certainly do know how to tease a girl.”
He clicked his tongue. “That’s not the idea, Miss Savory. Why wouldn’t you want to grab that custard from the ground?”
She threw her head back in irritation. “Doctor, it’d be covered in ants!”
His eyebrows rose. “Really? I’d take a look, if I were you.” He floated his glowing sonic screwdriver over the patch in question.
Curiously, she eyed it. “I don’t see any ants.”
“Indeed, Miss Savory,” he declared as he put away his trusted multi-tool. “We haven’t sighted an insect since we entered Violet Springs. Not a creature is stirring, not even a mouse, except for the ponies that call this place home.”
His assistant flashed pleading eyes at him as she stood over the fallen pastry. He sighed as he levitated the tasty treat off of the floor, his horn glowing as the dirt was carefully scraped from it. “I swear, for an intelligent race that eats flowers you are all so thoroughly obsessive about dirt.”
The excited assistant swallowed the hovering dessert in one gulp. Chewing thoughtfully, she scanned the corridor. Through a mouth of baked goods she mumbled, “Doctor, where did your future self go to?”
The Doctor began searching the outside of Violet Spring’s seemingly empty buildings for clues. “Wandered off on his own I’d venture. I expect he noticed something interesting. I rather thought he’d do it two streets ago. Regardless, I have things to deal with here.”
“Something in this town is anathema to living matter, and I shall have to be careful while analyzing it. I have just the equipment to deal with this danger.” The pleasure of discovery dominated his voice and expression. As he searched through his coat pockets, his young follower was startled at how entirely heedless he seemed to possible threats when intrigued.
A high-pitched nicker reached his ear as he adjusted his protective clothing. Turning to his companion he ventured an inquisitive glance. “Miss Savory, have I amused you in some trifling way?”
A yellow hoof barely contained a flood of feminine giggles. “Doctor, why are you putting on…socks?”
The exasperated wanderer sighed as he cast a glance upward, searching for familiar stars. “So far from home am I. My dear, these are gloves. They are a boon in the matter of protecting your limbs.”
She gave an incredulous smile. “Socks, you mean? You’re putting on socks.”
The irritated immortal grit his teeth. “Now then, the subtle difference between gloves and socks…” His eyes reached beyond her. An odd substance greeted his eyes as he rushed to a damaged door frame.
“…is entirely irrelevant. My dear, I think I’ve found something.”
As Top Hat lead his charges down the street, the dusty form of Ripple Pond kicked the side of the sheepish Doctor.
“You could have warned me about that last trick!” She glared daggers at him as Sparkler grinned. They sound just like Mother and Father when she pretends to be mad at him. Turning to her mother, the teen saw that Ditzy’s eyes were intently scanning the street for the lost form of Dinky.
The traveling Doctor shrugged, rolling his eyes upwards. “Miss Pond, I was supposed to make you disappear, after all.” He grunted as an angry hoof whacked against the back of his head.
“I’m not supposed to actually disappear, dummy! How did you expect me to get out of that food cellar?”
He stopped at a street corner. “Miss Pond, I assure you I could have just reversed the settings on the Zygon portable teleporter I used to make you disappear.” He paused for a second in embarrassment. “That is, if I hadn’t blown the batteries when I activated it.” He waved a hoof in her face. “But we learned that a house in a thriving town with few outside ties has an empty food cellar. Interesting enough, don’t you think?”
Sparkler laughed. “He is the silly of Dad’s kind of silly, Mom.”
The wall-eyed pegasus ignored the comment. “Mister Top Hat,” she began. “Couldn’t you use the sonic screwdriver to search for Dinky? I know my husband’s has great biological scanners. I could show you the program I’m thinking of."
Ripple snorted in indignation. “You know, her Doctor lets her use the sonic screwdriver.”
The ancient traveler meekly nodded. “Yes, and remembering what happened is why I never let you touch it.” He produced the multi-tool and started scanning. “Oh dear.” He looked around at the buildings with horror. “Oh dear me. Hurry, she’s that way.”
He ran forward five paces, and then turned around. His retinue crashed into him, sending the group of ponies all sprawling. Standing up, he spoke again as if nothing happened. “And don’t touch anything! Not a door, not a wall, not a window!”
His warning given, the Doctor made haste down the streets. As Sparkler and Ripple struggled to keep up, Ditzy flew forcefully beside him. “What did you see that scared you, Doctor?”
He ran with a lopsided gait, one hoof on his top hat, struggling to keep it in place. “Everything, I’m such a foolish old stallion. No, don’t correct me Muffin, I couldn’t stand to say ‘foalish’ right now.”
Stunned at the Doctor’s use of John’s term, Ditzy nearly swerved into a light pole. He frowned guiltily. “I’m sorry. I’m not him, and I won’t say that again but we’re all so thickety thick! The three of us never thought to scan the town because it’s wood, and the screwdriver doesn’t like wood, and I’m so THICK.”
He suddenly stopped at an intersection. Peering in both directions, he caught sight of Dinky running towards them, terrified of a dark-colored misshapen form the size of a shack chasing her with menace.
“This town isn’t made of wood, Mrs. Doo-Smith. Not at all.” He shivered. “It’s made of death.”
Picking up a stick with his horn’s power, the Doctor gestured for Savory to come closer to the strange congealed mass.
“My dear, we’ve found an important clue.” He levitated the stick into the mass, pulling back a smoky half of a stick. He grimaced in grim realization, and then felt a tap on his shoulder.
Savory gestured behind them to a distorted amorphous thing bounding in their direction. “I think they realized that, Doctor.”
John Smith stuck to the darkness as he made his way down the streets of Violet Springs. He knew he was nearing the lumber mill. Well, we’ll kill two birds with one stone. First I’ll get to what’s behind this. Second, I’ll get away from Savory. If it hurts that much to be around her for me I can’t imagine how my future self could stand to be around Ditzy.
He sudden paused in the middle of the street, stopping in thought. “Wait a second, how do you kill two birds with one stone? Build a stone boomerang? Drop a large rock on a nest?” He looked around, noticing his solitude. “I’m kind of rubbish without an audience, aren’t I?” He gave a long sigh, and then turned to the sight of a charging barely-bipedal mass head straight for him.
“Oh dear,” he said cheerfully. “It’s a monster.” His eyes narrowed. “Loneliness is one thing. I can deal with monsters.”
Ditzy screamed as the hideous form advanced. “Doctor, my daughter’s being chased by a monster!”
The Doctor adjusted his top hat and bow tie. “Goody. I can deal with monsters.”
The distinguished dandy stepped in front of his assistant. “Miss Savory, please stand aside. Monsters are something of my forte.”
The unicorn Doctor met his adversary first, rushing at the only-vaguely pony-shaped mass. With a shout he jammed his hooves into it. He effortlessly lifted the half-ton monstrosity over him into the air, sending it crashing through the wall of a house.
He turned to his stunned audience. “Aphroditan Aikido, Miss Savory. The only truly pacifist martial art in the galaxy. I believe we should find the others before that brute stirs.” He shed his gloves, which were already in the process of dissolving into smoking gunk.
She smiled like a child at the circus. “It’s that time again, isn’t it Doctor.”
He nodded. “Yes, indeed.” He returned the grin as he sped off. “Run!”
“Run,” shouted the top hat clad Doctor as he brandished his sonic screwdriver. The terrifying form loomed over him, drawing in chairs and benches that came into contact with it.
Ditzy screamed as Sparkler ran past her. The pink teen dodged a tendril of goo to meet her sister, quickly flipping Dinky up onto her back. She sped off as a tentacle from the bulk aimed for them.
“You saved me,” Dinky whispered.
Sparkler ran as she softly said, “Nopony is to be harming my little sister.” The young mare reached her mother as the Doctor fiddled with the controls on his screwdriver. The gelatinous monster screamed at the time traveler from inches away.
He turned to his companions with complete calm. “Sorry, old setting! Took a while to find!” He pointed his device at the goo and clicked a button. The massively slushly ogre fell into an inanimate pile.
Ripple stepped next to him, nodding in triumph. “That was a weak beastie. So, can we examine the body?”
Sudden a tendril of ooze reached out from the mass, merging into the side of a nearby house. Its doors started swinging of its own accord. The Doctor grimaced. “Who said it was dead? I know I’m impressive, but I told you all to run!” He screamed the least word as he pushed his companions in the opposite direction.
The oozing ogre charged John Smith. As the ghastly bipedal form raised a fist to smash the Time Charger, he only lifted his hooves.
“I surrender,” he happily chirped.
The monster stopped. It had no eyes, but it gave the impression of peering in disbelief at the Doctor.
“I surrender. Go on and take me to your leader. Allons-y!”
The towering brute laughed. It reached carefully down around the form of the fearless pony, looking like a child about to crush an ant. The Gallopfreyan adventurer stopped it dead in its tracks as he addressed it in a low, cheerful voice brimming with menace.
“Look in my eyes. Got no weapons, got a big nasty monster in front of me. See any fear in those eyes, big boy?"
The slime being stopped. An outside observer would have thought the Doctor was engaged in a staring contest with an eyeless being. They would have also thought he was winning.
“Let me tell you, monsters across the length and breadth of the universe are afraid of these eyes. The biggest and nastiest ran in fear. That was back when I was alone. Now I’ve got my family with me to think about. Just try to imagine what I’m capable of doing. So help me, you’re going to take me captive or you won’t last long enough to regret it.”
Dinky leaped over the front of a cart in a breakneck run. The wooden pole twisted for a second, reaching for her like a snake. She tumbled forward, landing painfully but keeping herself in motion as an awning leaned down to scoop her up. As she skidded into the center of the square, she saw her father a few blocks over. One of the shapeless things loomed over John Smith, whilst he stood motionless with his hooves in the air.
Ditzy flew past her daughter, using her head to whip the tiny unicorn into the air. With a twist the pegasus caught the terrified child right between her wings and spread down the street.
Dinky threw her hooves around her mother’s neck for dear life. “Mommy, what’s dad doing?”
Several houses threw their hanging establishment signs at the speeding mailmare. She ducked low for the first two improvised missiles, than soared upwards over the inn’s large wooden emblem.
“He’s surrendering, Little Muffin.”
The grey streak aimed for the sky, straining under the weight of her terrified passenger. Suddenly two rooftops unfurled from the building, erecting a wall over Ditzy.
“Mommy, I thought Daddy was a hero?”
She banked to the side, coming precariously close to a wall whose brick seemed to crawl like gooseflesh. Out of options, she dashed for the form of her husband.
“Give it a second, Dinky. That nasty thing is going to be sorry Daddy ever surrendered to him.”
Sparkler charged forward. Park benches began hopping toward her. The Doctor chased after her, holding his top hat to avoid losing it in chase. The cornered teen screamed out a defiant roar as her horn spiked and flared. Fiendish furniture glowed and pitched right and left. She threw herself into the chase again, staring with terrified eyes at the disappearing form of her mother.
Ripple ran into place beside her Time Charger companion. “She’s doing great work for a pony with gems on her flank.”
The Doctor nodded his head as they both leapt over a crawling street sign. “She got that mark by lifting a cart with foals across a lava stream.”
Ahead, Sparkler turned onto the street her mother had turned behind. She let out a shout of anger and despair as two of the buildings collapsed, failing to nail the nimble pegasus. Her path now blocked, she stared at the wall ahead as several doors bent themselves over like hostile inchworms in pursuit.
Top Hat skidded to a stop in front of the aggressive archways, sweeping his sonic screwdriver out. As the little device beeped, one of the doors collapsed into a quivering pile of wood-colored goo. Pointing her horn at the prone portcullis, the rage-filled unicorn telekinetically swept it along the ground, battering her attackers into the wall. Ripple Pond could only stare at the snorting teen as Sparkler scanned the area for something to else vent her anger upon.
The Doctor whispered into the ear of the stunned youth from Coltland. “She’s not a jeweler, my dear. Her talent is protecting things precious to her.”
Looking around to make sure that no other foes pursued them, Ripple turned to the Doctor. “Are Ditzy and the lass going to be safe?”
The weary Time Charger tilted his head. “They’re heading for John Smith. I can’t imagine a safer place to be.”
“Something terrible is going to being done to them. I’m never going to see them again.” Hot tears splashed the pavement, and Sparkler cried with the force of a girl who trusted the world twice and was hurt both times.
Ripple sat back on her haunches, biting her hoof in frustration. Top Hat kneeled down in front of the sprawling teen. “That’s quite impossible.” His level, confident stare drew the inconsolable youth’s attention.
“It is wholly impossible that you will never see your parents again.” The crying girl from Coltland gasped, wondering if the Doctor was going to spill temporal secrets. With an even tone, he continued.
“I know that stallion. I know he would always return to you. Whatever bars his way will melt from the force of his anger.” He gently lifted Sparkler to her feet. “Even if it takes his final breath, he’s going to see you again.”
She threw her hooves around the ancient traveler’s neck and held him tightly, silently. His limbs moved around her without touching her, his bewildered gaze shooting at Ripple as if pleading her to take over. “Ripple,” he whispered forcefully. “It’s a girl! What do you do with…girls?” He looked at his tear-soaked bow tie. “She’s leaking!”
With an amused chuckle, Miss Pond placed her hoof on Sparkler’s shoulder. Still tearing, she shook her head at her companion in admonition. “I swear, Doctor. She has to be adopted. I can’t picture the alternative.”
Ditzy landed with a crash next to her husband. She stared at the immobile atrocity. Dinky quivered in fear, but her mother only smiled at John. In a cheerful tone, she said “Everything all right, muffin?”
The Doctor nodded. “This nice gentlething was just going to take me to his leader, right?”
The goo-thing reared back. It roared at the family, and then extended a dripping limb toward the lumber mill.
“Of course,” replied the cool-headed Time Charger. He turned to his daughter. “Come along Dinky. That was monster for ‘after you.’ Let’s not keep him waiting.”
As the Smith family walked on, Ditzy smiled back at their captor. She whispered into John’s ear. “Sparkler is with the goofy one.”
He nodded. “She’s in good hooves. He’ll crack time to avoid losing people.”
The neglected stone building showed years of wear from rain. John Smith raised his eyebrows and look at the dark monster ordering him forward. “Interesting. No ivy growing on it or any other structure in town. I know you folk, don’t I? I swear what you are is just on the tip of my tongue.”
The flowing freak roared. The Doctor politely nodded. “Of course. Let’s go inside, everyone. We’ll just wait for Mister Monster to bring his boss to this delightful temporary prison.”
As the group paced inside the darkened sawmill, John swung the door closed forcefully. His demeanor instantly changed. “Alright everyone, lock and bar every door and seal every hole.”
Dinky was staring at her father in disbelief. “Daddy, why was the monster so scared of you?”
He shrugged as he scanned the room with a strategizing look. “Maybe it’s heard of me?”
Ditzy placed a hoof on her daughter’s shoulder. “You father and I have something of a reputation, dear.”
The Doctor suddenly raised a hoof towards a seemingly empty corner of the room. “Come out, now. I didn’t hear a door swing, didn’t hear a window swing, but you got in here somehow. Come out where I can see you.”
The sobbing form of a young colt slowly paced into view. Dinky started. “Picket! You’re safe!” As she started walking toward him, her father placed his hoof in her path.
“No Little Muffin. I don’t think he is safe.” He turned to the shuddering form. “Who are you, and why aren’t you crying?”
Ditzy exhaled as she leaned toward her husband. “Look at the poor thing, dear. He’s shaking like a leaf.”
The Doctor’s vision never faltered from Picket. “He’s shaking. He’s quivering. He’s doing a lot of things but look! No tears.”
John Smith drew his sonic screwdriver to scan the child.
“I’m sorry,” Picket blubbered. “I never meant to get you in trouble. My Dad is really worried about yours, Dinky. I think he’s wrong!” He stepped forward. “I’ll tell him you’re my friend!”
The sonic screwdriver gave a few placid beeps, and the blood rushed out of its owner’s face. His eyes went wide as he nearly dropped his tool. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”
Ditzy’s heart skipped beat at those words. She had heard him say those words on worlds and times unnumbered, and they always meant her heart was about to break. “John, what is it?”
“There’s only one way you could have a village of shape-shifting ponies. Think about it; ponies who could absorb organic matter. A group of ponies who are all connected and controllable.”
The young Picket was shaking guiltily, but tears still wouldn’t come. That made the Doctor even sadder.
“A village of ponies who couldn’t cry because they can’t convert their biomass to water.” He shook his head.
Outside the lumber mill came the sound of crashes and roaring. Dinky put a nervous hoof on her father’s side. “Dad, we should go.” She saw several shapes darken the windows.
“I’m very sorry, Picket. You’re not a pony. You’re not real, and that means there’s a slight chance, maybe just a pinch, that we are all going to die.” He stared at the door with fear as it started to buckle inward from hammering blows.
His wife froze. She had seen those eyes lock gaze with innumerable tyrants and monsters, and she had never seen her husband quite so afraid. “Love, what are you talking about?”
John Smith put a gentle limb around his wife’s shoulder; she felt foreboding creep into her. I’ve never seen him look so defeated.
“Honey, those things out there are made of the same thing Picket is, and we can’t stop them.” His eyes caught a view of an amorphous purple shape pushing through the cracks in the door. “Nothing can stop the Smooze.”
By Paleo Prints
Chapter Three: The Edge of Destruction
A happier time, just outside the magical land of Equestria
The doors of the TARDIS flung open as the teen pegasus slammed through. She dropped her groaning baggage before veering off to the side, narrowly missing the console controls. Having been unceremonious deposited on the floor, the brown Time Charger masquerading as an earth pony flicked a small device out of his trench coat. Aiming unsteadily at the doors, they shut just as a large crowd of faceless white things lunged at the opening.
Ditzy pulled herself out of the heap she landed in. Scuffed up, out of breath, and narrowly having escaped death, the young mare started flying in circles. “That was AWESOME, Doctor! Can we go back?”
The pony that would one day be called ‘John Smith’ shook his head. “Those dress dolls want to use us as accessories, Miss Doo. It’s better to let the explosives take their course.”
A nervous look crossed his companion’s face. “If they’re still out there, does that mean Madame Rarity is alfalfa orange gutter ball?”
The Doctor smiled and pretended not to hear the aphasic slip. She’s cute when she’s worried.
“No problems, Ditzy. Seconds after we left the consciousness would have been destroyed. Our elderly seamstress friend can go back to enjoying her twilight years.” He waved his sonic screwdriver reproachfully like a teacher gesturing with chalk. “And what is the protocol for our return, Miss Doo?”
Rolling her eyes in opposite directions, the ebullient filly sighed. “’Never tell people their future.’
Don’t worry, Rarity’s still in Miss Scribbles’ class in the schoolhouse. I don’t see her often, and I won’t spill the beans about her older self and the killer mannequins.” She trotted a few steeped forward and placed her hooves on the Doctor’s collar and pulled.
The surprised traveler suddenly blushed. “Miss Doo, please stop strangling me!”
The focused filly continued to rear up on her back legs, leaning onto the Doctor. “You can’t play teacher without a straight tie, silly!” She stuck her tongue out of the side of her mouth, her eyes both nearly straightening in concentration.
The ancient stallion sighed in exasperation. He let his gaze play over Ditzy’s focused stare and the pink tip that protruded from the edge of her smile. In the silence of the TARDIS he listened to her breath for a minute. Finally, his companion dropped back down onto her hooves.
“There you go, Doctor! Doesn’t it feel better to look sharp? Don’t you want to impress those Time Charger girlfriends?” Her quizzical eyes searched for a reaction.
He nervously scratched the back of his head. “There’s really not a Time Charger girlfriend.” He pretended not to notice Ditzy’s tiny clop in triumph. “Not really any other Time Chargers, actually. Well, there’s him. He’s another. Definitely other.”
His companion clapped even more excitedly. “Can we meet him, Doctor?”
She saw the apprehensive look of fear that passed over the pensive pony’s face. He suddenly smiled, quickly changing the subject. “Why don’t you head home for a while? I’m sure your folks would love to know that you didn’t run away.” He nodded as he walked over to the doors of the TARDIS, revealing the edge of Ponyville as he slowly pulled them open.
Ditzy frowned, guilt in her eyes. Suddenly putting on an assertive face, she gave a snort of affront. “Doctor, are you going to forget about me again? It was seven months between our last two adventures! You used to come a lot more frequently when I was younger.” She cocked her head quizzically. “I’m not trouble for you, am I Doctor?”
You have no idea. “I just need to do some repairs. Fix a few servos. Look up on some old friends.” He tried a reassuring smile. “I’ve never let you down yet, have I?”
His companion giggled as she walked out. “You missed my birthday by a year, once.”
Affronted, the Doctor assumed a knowing stare. “Thus, I was on time for your next one! Good day, Miss Doo!” She waved back to him as he closed the door. His vision flitted to the view screen, where Ditzy still waved at the closed door. After a few moments, he noticed her brow knit in confusion.
“That’s right! Leaving involves going somewhere!” Hooves played quickly over the mismatched console, the familiar sound of dematerialization filling his ears.
Within moments all activity inside the TARDIS ceased. The lone occupant stood in his own thoughts for a second. Languidly pacing to the door, he flung it open, revealing a frosty cloud of dust and ice as the TARDIS spun inside a gas giant’s ring.
He sat on his haunches for what seemed like hours. Minor moons spun swiftly along their orbits several times before a noise from the machinery stirred the still figure from the floor. Returning to the console, he flicked a lever near a blinking red light. A holographic recording materialized inside the console room as a bespectacled mare addressed an unseen figure.
“Doctor, I hope this message finds you well. This is the Senior Clone Sister of the Lady Librarians of Nubilon 12. I’m reminding you of your promise to visit us again someday.” She smiled demurely. “Please contact us when you receive my message.”
A slight hoof motion turned off the image. Silently and mechanically, the weary traveler plotted a course. A concealed excitement bubbled up as he threw the controls with gusto. As the materialization circuit sound, the TARDIS was carried through the time vortex toward its destination.
The excited immortal ran to the door like a present-hunting child on Hearth’s Warming Eve. He tentatively reached for the door before freezing. Suddenly straightening himself, he flicked one side of his collar upwards as he jerked his scarlet necktie off-kilter.
The doors opened on their own, revealing a placid grassy lawn whose single excited occupant bounded towards the door. The Doctor’s stoic calm crumpled as he saw the prospective passenger approach.
“Well now, Miss Doo! Where shall we go this time? Past, future, another planet perhaps? The wonders of the universe are yours to bl-flrpmh!”
The welcoming wanderer suddenly found himself pinned to the ground. An angry grey pegasus stared at him with bouncing eyes. He swallowed nervously. “Dear Ditzy, is there a problem?”
An older-than-expected voice dripped with disappointment. “You’ve been gone for over a year, Doctor! I graduated school while you were gone! I thought that you had empty silent muffin somewhere!”
“Um…” He gave as penitent a smile as he could. “Sorry?”
She gave a triumphant ‘hmph,’ her smile instantly reappearing. “Doctor, your tie is messed up again!” She furrowed her brow as a tiny bit of pink flashed out of her mouth. “Don’t you ever remember what I tell you?”
He gave a breath of relaxation as she worked on his collar. “I always do, Ditzy.”
In the final few hours of the magical land of Equestria...
The young child pony hot trails of tears. Every drop that fell made the Doctor step almost imperceptibly back.
“What...what do you mean that I'm...?”
Picket took a tentative step forward. As Dinky moved to comfort him her mother held her tightly in place.
“I’m sorry, Picket,” explained ‘John Smith’ with sad eyes. “You're not a pony. You're a sentient matrix made of ancient weapons-grade bio-disassemblers. You’re not real.”
Dinky bucked her father hard in the side.
“Ow! What was that for?”
The young unicorn puffed indignantly. “He’s got a daddy! He likes astronomy and feels lonely and a bunch of other stuff. He’s a real pony!”
“Dinky, Dinky, Dinky. Sometimes I think being your father is a reward from the universe.” The Doctor sighed. “Okay, I’m convinced. He’s real. My daughter has very good judgment, boy.” He waggled a hoof in the terrified filly’s face. “Always listen to remember to her.” He scratched his chin. “Or something like that. Similar. –Ish.”
A purple tendril shattered the boarded-up upstairs window into splinters. The fragments didn't rain onto the ponies below. The irregular limb absorbed the pieces of wood into its own mass as it started feeling around its area.
Ditzy looked up. “Doctor, you know I love the quiet moments in-between the running. It's running time now, and I don't know where to go.” Her tender hoof caressed Dinky's mane. “Your daughter and I would really appreciate your full attention.”
Dinky slid a step closer to her mother. “The barns not going to hold, is it Mummy?”
Ditzy shivered. “Of course, dear. It’s a sentient alien bioweapon, it’s terrified of wood.” As Dinky looked confused, her mother managed an apologetic smile. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry about the snark, but you know how I hate being called someone’s ‘mummy.’ Bad memories.”
She leaned down to Dinky. Ditzy had the same smile one she used to announce a picnic. “No one is going to hurt my family while your father is around. I swear to bald dumbo rat.”
Dinky looked at her mother worriedly. She had never let her mother realize how often Sparkler and she noticed her mother's 'attacks.' She looked at her father pleadingly. John Smith gave her a conspiratorial wink. She smiled.
John Smith turned on his wife as other tentacles of Smooze battered their way into the building. “Ditzy my love, do you trust me? The way you trusted me against the Nimon?” He blinked. “That was a daft plan, now that I think on it.”
Ditzy Doo-Smith ran up to her husband and kissed him lingeringly. She reluctantly pulled away and put on a brave face. “Forget the monsters. I trust you to raise our children, John. I trust you to the end of the world.” She gave a tearful grin. “Again, I mean.”
“Ew!” Dinky cringed. “Mom? Dad? Can we please have less of the kissy-face in front of my friends?”
John paused. “Okay, then. Well, do I trust myself?” After a second, he nodded. “Sure, let's go with that.” He extended his hoof to Picket as the building shook. “Put her there, son!”
Picket looked at the hoof in horror. “But...but...you said I'm a sapibionethikally....thingy.”
The Doctor nodded. “The weapon-masters of a dozen galaxies would describe you as a monstrosity that eats anything it touches without care or choice. The Bellmasters of Tambelon called you ‘the Enveloping Purifier.’ My daughter says you're her friend. Who do you think I believe?”
Picket wiped the tears out of his eyes. “If I touch you...”
The Doctor kept smiling as he threw a limb around his family, pulling them close. “Then you’ll save Dinky and her family. Me included, so I rather like that part. You’re unique and amazing, Picket. There’s never been anything like you, and it’s time to shine, lad.”
The young colt nodded, and extended a limb. At first it only touched John Smith’s hoof, but it started to crawl around the arm. Picket’s mass desolidified and climbed up and around the framework of the Doctor’s body. As the sludge started to pour over Ditzy, she carefully leaned down and kissed Dinky’s forehead. Dinky saw her mother’s smile obscured by the purple sludge and flow down towards her as the stone foundations of the building cracked. She swallowed as her vision went dark.
When the stone roof was finally torn off of the building, there was a purple mass of Smooze in the middle of the floor. It began slowly oozing towards the exit as other masses of sentient bio-weapon scoured the ruins.
The smaller lump of sludge pulled itself towards a recently-punched opening in the wall before a larger lump superimposed itself in front of the exit. An irregular mouth formed around the top of the opening, and screamed with force at the smaller lump.
“Blaggle-argle. ruOOOOOAR!” Bits of the ooze splattered everywhere.
A smaller, paradoxically pony-like mouth formed on the front of the smaller lump. “No, Mrs. Curtains. I haven’t seen them.
“Yes, I’ll be sure to give your invitation to my father.”
“And dissolve and consume all who stand in our way.”
“Skwee.” A tendril from the bigger mass stretched itself outwards and patted the smaller one. The bigger ooze crawled into the middle of the building, allowing ‘Picket’ to pass.
Once inside the concealing forest the mass collapsed, opening from the top like a flower. Three gasping ponies fell onto the floor. As they struggled to stand the thinly spread purple puddle coalesced back into a quivering Picket.
“I feel bad,” the young pony said.
John Smith shook his head clear as Ditzy silently went to the task of straightening his tie. He spared a second to give her a silent, contented look. Turning to Picket, he congratulated the colt, “Well, me lad, you’ve overrode with willpower a behavioral imperative written into your genetic code. That’s got to take a bit out of you.”
Picket kept sniffing. “I don’t think that stuff you said is it. I didn’t want to lie to Mrs. Curtain. She’s always been nice to me.”
As the young boy blubbered, John Smith rejoiced. “Aha! See that, Dinky! That’s a disproportionate sense of guilt heightened by social connections. Dead right you are, my wonderfully filly. This boy is a pony through and through!” He suddenly grabbed both of Picket’s front hooves and spun around him in dance. The tearful boy started nervously giggling.
Dinky surveyed the edge of the town. She nervously whispered to her mother. “Is this really the right time for Dad to start celebrating?”
“Little Muffin,” Ditzy sighed with a smile. “Your father’s spent nine centuries telling living weapons created to slaughter innocents that they could be better than they are.” She turned to stare at the dancing madpony she was lucky enough to marry. “Let him treasure his successes.”
John Smith’s later incarnation snuck down the streets of Violet Springs, carefully reassuring himself after every few steps that his top hat was in place. Behind him Ripple was quietly consoling Sparkler.
“Come on, luv!” Pond flashed a well-acted smile at the worried teen. “Yer Dad’s the Doctor. How much trouble could he get into?”
The teen gave a nervous glance towards the edge of town. The unearthly roars had yet to cease.
Top Hat imposed himself between the two fillies. “Bad choice of words, Pond. Trouble! Yes dear, your Dad may be in trouble. Listening to that screaming.” His eyes sparkled. “What do you notice about it?”
Sparkler sniffed as she listened. She shook her head. “I am hearing no difference in the soundings of the beasts.”
The Doctor grinned. “Exactly! If they had caught him by now, they wouldn’t be so mad.” He smiled as he drew a giggle from the teen. He pulled her in close, scratching Sparkler behind her ears.
“You are funny, Doctor. My father always is scratching like that to calming me down.”
Ripple noticed a faraway expression in the Doctor’s face. She indignantly dragged him off. Bereft of dignity, Top Hat fell into a pile at her feet. He grinned sheepishly as he looked into her angry face.
“I was doing something, wasn’t I Ripple?”
A classically red Coltish mane bounced up and down in indignation. “Ye’ve got no right to play with her like that, Doctor. Either you pretend to be a stranger or ye don’t, but the poor lassie will get weird signals otherwise.”
Sparkler crept into the conversation stealthily. “What are you hiding, Mister Doctor?”
The surprised Time Charger leapt to attention. His flailing hoof knocked over a large lumber saw leaning against the wall. All three ponies stared at it in shock, waiting for the inevitable ringing sound to draw back one of the monsters.
It never did. The saw levitated a few inches off of the ground, surrounded by a white glow. An irritated blue unicorn in dandified garb stepped out of the shadows, his horn glowing with an identical color. The Unit Adviser clicked his tongue in irritation.
Top Hat threw out a hoof at the other Doctor’s shining horn as he whispered to his companions. “I loved that horn, Ripple. Useful. Versatile.” He frowned. “Still waiting for wings, though.” He spun to face Pond. “Imagine me with wings!”
She breathed out slowly. “All right you old goofball, let’s be quiet.”
The horned Doctor damped his magical light. “Of course, my dear,” he whispered. “Savory, please return that saw to some place unassuming in case they’re tracking us.”
As Top Hat stood up, Ripple leaned to whisper into his ear. “If you ever order me around like a servant, so help me…”
She stopped as her Doctor shushed her. She clapped her hoof over her mouth. Both Doctors nodded in pleasure at the sight.
“Good,” the distinguished unicorn said approvingly. “Now that we’ve settled that, let’s deal with the threat of the bio-weapon.”
Top Hat waved his limbs in the air. “Yes,” he whispered loudly. “Smooze! Can you believe it? Classic, that is! I can’t believe I didn’t think of it first.” He did a little dance step as realization filled him. “We’re in Violet Springs, Ripple! What other liquid could flow from a Violet Spring?”
Miss Savory walked up to her Doctor. “I don’t understand something,” she admitted to the aged blue stallion. “It’s some kind of alien, right?”
He shook his head. “Not at all. This bioweapon was designed right here in Equestria. It’s a long story, but suffice it to say the Smooze is the reason your little planet gets so few friendly visitors. For the next six centuries the rational part of the galactic community will treat this little mud ball as if it’s under a high quarantine. No one wants to risk bringing a single atom of it back to their homeworld.”
He leaned forward sympathetically. “That’s why all the visitors I help UNIT deal with tend to be maladjusted, sociopathic risk-takers. Give it a few centuries and galactic tourism should pick up.”
Ripple rolled her eyes dramatically. “He must love that one. She asks all the right questions to make him look smart.” She whispered an imitation of a more clipped Trottingham accent. “Doctor, what’s that? Explain it in small words please, while I bat my perfect eyelashes.”
Savory snorted. She turned with indignation to her UNIT Advisor. “Perhaps we should drop the civilians off at a babysitter, Doctor?” She looked at Ripple and Sparkler as she continued in a stage whisper. “It might be past their bed time.”
The two Doctors gave each other a suffering look. Top Hat grimaced. “This always happens when you get two of them together.”
The Adviser shrugged. “I’ll take your word for it, Old Boy.”
Savory raised her hand, curious despite the threat of looming discovery. “Doctor, why do you call him ‘old’? He’s obviously younger than you.”
He grinned. “Actually my dear, that ‘young earth pony’ is over three times my age by my estimate. I’m his younger self”
Top Hat snorted. “No need to rub it in.”
Sparkler approached with a thoughtful look on her face. “Shouldn’t we be worried about the monsters?” She cast nervous glances at the surrounding shadows.
Both Time Chargers waved off the concern in a disturbingly similar gesture. “No,” they chimed in at once. They both started to explain at once, and then clammed up as they stared at each other. The blue unicorn bowed to Top Hat. “You first, Old Boy. Age before beauty, and all that.”
Top Hat sighed. “Too much of the mass is searching that side of the river to control any of the unintelligent Smooze constructs around here. We won’t have to run from anymore benches for the moment.”
Ripple stared at the two Doctors. “Why in Celestia’s name are we whispering, then?”
Top Hat placed a hoof in front of his mouth, and then moved it. “Shhh. It’s traditional.”
Ripple was stunned. She looked at the UNIT Advisor. “That can’t be it. You had a good reason, right Doctor?”
The gentlestallion shrugged with a smile. “It really is kind of tradition.”
Savory swore she almost saw steam pour out of Ripple Pond’s ears as the young filly ranted. “And here I go thinking you two were somehow different! If you were cities you’d share accents an’ the food would taste the same!”
Top Hat placed a gentle hoof on Ripple’s shoulder. “Ripple. Let’s get everyone to the TARDIS so that we can get to work.”
She threw a punch that knocked his hat off, eliciting a laugh from Sparkler. As the group moved carefully through the city, Savory leaned closer to her Doctor. “I can’t believe he lets his companion yell at him. You know I would never act that scandalous, right Doctor?”
Her Science Adviser sighed, casting a look that could almost be construed as jealously at Top Hat. “I know, dear Savory. I know.”
“Will Picket be okay, Dad?” As they crept along the alleyways, the scared unicorn cast nervous looks at her father.
John Smith kept his sonic screwdriver out as he crossed the town. As he walked it gave off an occasional beep. Soon, the beeps became more regular. Suddenly, he raised a hoof for his family to stop as his trusted tool sprung to life, giving off a continuous high-pitched noise. He pawed in the dirt of the ground momentarily. Triumphantly, he kicked a small metal device out the ground. “Fantastic!” He placed the machine in his wife’s saddlebags with glee.
She frowned at him theatrically. “You’re making me jealous. Should I let you and the doo-hicky have some time alone?”
John gave her a quick kiss on the nose, sending her into clapping giggles while his daughter pretended to gag. He nodded in approval and motioned for his family to cross the alleyway. As they approached the edge of town, he smiled encouragingly to his daughter. “He’ll be fine. Well, more than fine. More like nearly indestructible.”
As the Smith family drew within sight of the hill they broke into a run. Within seconds the exuberant Time Charger had his older daughter within the crook of his forelimb. She rested a crying head on her father’s shoulder as he scratched her ears. Sparkler relaxed as she felt the feathery softness of her mother’s wing encircle her.
Top Hat leaned over to the smiling Dinky, who sat watching the scene. “I told her I get you all back together. I always deliver on my promises.”
Ripple Pond gave an offended snort from behind the two. The Time Charger scratched his mane in embarrassment, flashing Ripple an apologetic smile. “I admit I may be late on occasion, however.”
The UNIT Science Adviser flung open the door of his TARDIS, exiting with a flourish. “Gentlebeings and ladies, I believe I have a key to this mystery.”
Ditzy looked up. “Mystery? Don’t be a silly-dilly, old-new Doctor. There’s a village of bioweapons. What’s mysterious about that? That used to be, like, every Tuesday for John and me.” She stuck out her tongue at the UNIT unicorn and blew a playful raspberry.
The Doctor rolled his eyes. “Miss Smith, we stand near a village of the most virulent organic life form in galactic history. What is keeping it playing nice instead of spreading like a wave over Equestria?” After a moment of satisfied silence, he continued. “There’s some kind of signal being broadcasted into this area.”
Dinky hopped with joy. “It’s like a dog whistle for Smooze, right?”
The visibly-impressed scientist knelt next to the young girl. “My goodness, little one. You certainly grasp concepts rather quickly.” He raised his eyebrows and glanced meaningfully at John Smith. “She must be a chip off of the old block. Now, if we could only find a mobile transmitter to help me de-encrypt the signal.”
“Oh! I know this one!” Ditzy dug into her saddlebags, holding out the device John found. “De- the encryption on this all you want.”
John smiled. “That’s my girl. I hardly have to explain anything to her anymore.” He clicked his tongue contemplatively. “I kind of miss it.”
Top Hat spun his sonic screwdriver on his hoof in contemplation. “Ooh. Let me see that beautiful thing.”
The UNIT Adviser took the device into his hooves protectively. “Let a real scientist have a look at it, you prancing buffoon. I swear, it’s like being around that one with the teeth and the scarf again.”
As he began entering information into the keypad of the tiny machine, Top Hat spun around the irritated unicorn. “Can I please go now? It’s my favorite part.”
The hassled unicorn levitated the machine in place. “Very well, then. Have at it!”
Top Hat turned to Ripple. “I love this part, Miss Pond.” Twirling around his sonic screwdriver like a magic wand, he gestured at the machine with a flourish. “The great diamond dog magician Houndini taught me this one. Vra-Ka-Voom!”
As the ancient traveler’s tool flashed, a blinding light shot out on the device. A beam shot out over the village, revealing the previously hidden form of a gigantic alien ship. The battle-scarred armed cruiser hung menacingly in the air, ancient well-used weapons visible on every surface.
The UNIT Adviser raised his eyebrows. “Well, that’s not outfitted for a diplomatic mission.”
John Smith grimaced at the sight of the intimidating craft. “That’s a collection of the nasty dangly-boos and widgets from some of the worst mercenaries in the sector. And you’d think they’d have better taste in colors, hrm?”
Top Hat beamed with pride. Suddenly, his sonic screwdriver began smoking. He quickly closed the casing. He stared at the light beam in surprise. “That’s not supposed to happen. Why didn’t it switch off?”
Suddenly the device flared with blinding light. When John’s eyes readjusted he found to his shock that only the three Time Chargers were left on the hill. The UNIT Adviser was so stunned he dropped the machine in shock.
“Teleport beam!” John roared in anger. He dropped onto both hooves to examine the device. He swore in multiple languages as he saw the ‘machine’ had been left a smoking ruin from the outburst of energy. He jumped onto his hooves. “Follow me,” he screamed as he barreled through his doors of his TARDIS.
Top Hat raised a hoof trembling with anger. “We could take mine. It’s got more updates. Well, more repairs.” He cast a solemn look at the UNIT Doctor. “It’s got a swing,” he whispered with deadly seriousness.
The blue gentlepony placed a hoof on his fellow Time Charger’s shoulders. “He’s lost more than both of us combined, my dear fellow. Let’s grant him this indulgence. It’s only polite.”
Dinky’s vision cleared faster than the pain in her head. Unfamiliar sounds overwhelmed her ears as acrid smells filled her nostrils. She fearfully opened a single eye and screamed. Inches in front of her a parrot-like mouth sliced open and shut, attached to a grey-green mass of eyes. It tottered back and forth on a mushroom-like body while luminous tentacles lashed the air in front of the terrified child.
“Calm down, Little Muffin,” Ditzy whispered in motherly tones. “Be polite to our host.”
Dinky blinked. Tentatively she stopped screaming. The tendril-thing stayed in place, moving its barbels in mysterious ways. She stared at the alien horror, ready to flee at the moment’s notice.
It lifted a tendril slowly toward her, supporting a steaming bowl. A deep and powerful voice bellowed, “I have pudding.”
Dinky stomped her hooves in delight. She levitated the bowl out of the grip of the alien and lowered it within her range. Within seconds she was snout deep in tapioca pudding.
After a moment, Dinky lifted her head at the sound of laughter. Her mother and sister were giggling, and the alien was blowing wind out of filters at the end of its tentacles.
“Mom? Is that…space laughter?”
Ditzy snorted as she examined her surroundings. “Yes, dear.”
Dinky suddenly looked around in realization and wonder. She was in an empty room with slightly transparent glowing walls. The illuminated structure rippled like smoke. Through one of them she could see Miss Savory and Miss Pond trapped in another room with a bevy of equally bizarre life forms. They looked like they were arguing loudly, although Dinky couldn’t hear a sound.
Ditzy was lying down with a contented smile. “Welcome to imprisonment,” she squealed as she waved he hooves around like a real estate agent.
Dinky frowned. “Is imprisonment a good thing?”
Ditzy ran a hoof down the insubstantial wall of the cell. “Beats waiting for execution any day. Trust me on that one. I can’t count the number of cells your father and I have been thrown in.” She smiled back at the children. “This one’s not bad, considering. The imperial palace of the Vognuurzeens has built-in propaganda speakers in every wall.” She chuckled in remembrance. “At least, it had them until we landed the TARDIS there. I think the provisional government has a blourzeen berry plantation there now.” Her eyes spun. “Or it will after we go there in a hundred years. Timey-wimey stuff, Dinky.”
Their alien cellmate suddenly reared upwards, extending both its body and limbs twice fold. “I thought you were one of the Travelers of the TARDIS. The signs are true. You are the Derpy. Our help has come.” The thing’s tentacles flashed in a disturbing dance of lights.
Sparkler crept in front of her sister protectively, but Dinky wasn’t afraid anymore. The thing’s voice held no malice; it sounded like Scootaloo did when she begged Cheerilee to move Silver Spoon’s seat further away in class.
Ditzy gave a long and aggravated sigh. “Yes, that’s me.”
“The Derpy has come!” The alien’s expression remained inscrutable, but it sounded overjoyed. “The Merciful Messenger walks among us! Far across the galaxy have your deeds traveled. The Seer of Two Paths has arrived. ”
Sparkler’s mouth hung, her eyes doing a perfect imitation of her mother’s. Ditzy herself was blushing and avoiding eye contact. Her brow scrunched at the sound of her childhood nickname while her tail whipped back and forth at the alien’s compliments. Dinky turned to her embarrassed mother and with confusion ventured, “Mom? Are you okay?”
Ditzy's features softened a bit. “Hush now, Little Muffin. Mommy’s talking with a sentient sapience.”
“I am pleased that the Derpy deigns to discuss with a lowly fractal farmer as myself.” His stalk bent forward in what Dinky assumed was a bow. “I am overjoyed at the prospect of our imminent escape.”
Dinky’s curiosity took hold as she stepped forward. “Hold on a sec, sir. I know you’re big and scary looking, but you seem nice. I wanted to ask something.” Ditzy hoofpalmed, but a proud smile hid behind her hoof
The creature’s tentacles paused. “Ask, Child of the Derpy.”
Dinky asked incredulously, “Are you sure you have the right pony, Mister Wiggle-face? Are you really talking about my mom?”
The being paused. “She is known throughout the universe as the Grey Angel that tempers the Doctor’s fire with mercy. She is savior to worlds.”
As the mail-mare from Ponyville turned back to the gesticulating creature her features hardened.
“Dinky, let me handle this.” She steeped in front of her daughter. “Okay, fill me in on the current situation. I have to know who’s going down.”
Sparkler found the will to speak. “Mother, to be correcting the phrase is ‘what’s going down.”
Ditzy shook her head with a pleased smile. “Honey, we’re in a slave pen on an alien spaceship. Someone is going down for this.”
The flickering console lights danced across John Smith’s face. His angry face moved from sensor to sensor, heedless of his other selves as he checked readings. As his past incarnation examined the unfamiliar control room Top Hat nervously played with his namesake.
“This is remarkable,” crooned the elder statespony. “Years of innovations lay bare to the eye.” He rubbed a hoof down something that only a bicycle mating with a nuclear accelerator could produce. “I wonder if I could fix my TARDIS with these ideas…”
Top Hat angrily slammed his headwear onto his scalp. “This is the bad idea. The big bad idea.” He angrily stomped over to John. “We should go back to his TARDIS rather than show him eight regenerations and five centuries of worth of jury-rigging jiggery-pokery.” An angry hoof wiggled.
John sighed. “I’ll work out the paradox later.”
“We can’t have a paradox!” Top Hat gleefully explained. “We have three of us, not two!” The UNIT Adviser gave him a withering stare.
Top Hat spun his hooves in the air sheepishly. “Because, you see, two Doctors would be…”
"Now listen to me!" John slammed his hoof onto the floor. “While you’re joking about paradox my family is trapped there, whatever it may be.”
The UNIT Science Adviser clicked his tongue disapprovingly. “That is exactly why we don’t get involved with ponies, son. That connection is clouding your judgment.”
John Smith stared at his earlier incarnation with rage. “Well then, we should hurry through this so you can be safe back in the garage with your precious ‘Bessie.’ I’m sure wrenching her engine into shape keeps away the loneliness at night.” His blue counterpart stared daggers at him.
Their hat-crested future self hovered between the two of them. “I know this part. It’s the yelling. We’re doing the yelling thing. That’s always a useful trick, get a lot of things done with yelling,” he concluded. “EXCEPT WHEN WE DO IT TO OURSELVES!”
“Allow me to intercede, then…”
The three Doctors turned as one toward the viewscreen. A scar-laced ursine face stared back at them. The ancient bear had one eye replaced with a glowing red sensor. From his chin down he was inside or attached to some kind of elaborate black and red battle armor.
“Now that I’ve contacted you, I wish to discuss the terms of your…”
“That’s brilliant,” John interrupted. “A real illiop! I thought your people had been all destroyed after the Great War of Grundo.”
The cyborg sighed. “As I was saying…”
“Look at his fiddly bits!” Top Hat was ecstatic. “That’s an authentic Perlune auto-targeting system, jury-rigged to a Gutang forehead laser. You are a real piece of work.” His eyes played over the bear warrior’s face.
“He looks like he could use some repairs,” offered the UNIT Adviser. “None of those implants appear to be functioning above eighty-percent efficiency.”
The impatient cyborg scratched at a neck implant in irritation. “I have your companions.”
The room fell silent.
“No more gushing over me in an inappropriate way? Good. Let’s begin.” He stared at the Doctors unblinkingly through the monitor. “I am the Grand Invasorial Warmaker of the Pillaging Platoon, and I’ve been waiting to test my mettle against you. Titles have power, and yours are most impressive. At last, we have the Doctor, the Cosmic Prankster, Breaker of the Black Guardian, Lord of Calamity, and the Oncoming Storm. I know all your designations, Doctor. You should be proud.”
John Smith shook his head. “Sorry, did I hear that right? I fear you might be missing two.”
The Grand Invasorial harrumphed. “I should think not. We have language slaves whose only purpose is to comb the galactic records for the titles of those we destroy. We know all that you are.”
The Doctor leaned on the console while facing the screen. “Well then, let me add the two most important titles. In your ship is a mare who call me ‘Muffin’ and two fillies who call me ‘daddy,’ and if you harm a hair on their coats I’ll tear your planet from orbit.”
The Warmaker blinked. The ancient warrior tried for several seconds to hold John Smith’s gaze. His right hand suddenly flung out to a switch. The bear began stuttering. “I think we’ve lost connection!” The signal faded out.
John turned around to see a blue unicorn slowly clapping. “Well my boy,” the proud gentlepony opined, “I’m glad to see I haven’t lost it in my old age.”
Top Hat pushed the other Doctors aside roughly. His hooves played across the console like an angry composer tapping a symphony of hate. The Adviser raised himself to the ground, dusting himself off. John Smith sat where he lay, watching the gray pony at the console. He was closer in time and personality to the hat-wearing Doctor. Unlike the Advisor, he understood what was about to happen and didn’t want to miss a second of it.
Top Hat tapped the TARDIS console microphone several times. “Hello? This thing is on. This thing is on, and who are you?”
A tense second passed.
“You see,” continued John Smith’s future self, “I tracked your pet cyborg’s signal. No illiop would work on something as complicated as this. He may be doing the talking, but he's mouthing the words on the tape someone gave him. I knew someone like you, someone controlling, someone who views people and ponies as,” the Doctor screamed the next word, “PUPPETS couldn’t resist keeping an eye on his lackeys.”
He leaned over the microphone and stared at the view screen. “Come on then. I know you can see me. You’ve handed in an amazing assignment without signing your name and I want to give you the marks you deserve.”
The seconds gradually ticked in the control room.
Suddenly the TARDIS rocked to the side, sending the inhabitants spilling in every direction. Lighting flared along the console as smoke filled the room.
Top Hat stood up as the room kept shaking. “No no no! You don’t get to do that.” He fought to keep his balance at the console.
John Smith pulled himself up onto a piece of vibrating machinery. “Well, someone doesn’t want us visiting them.” He pulled the UNIT Science Adviser to his feet. “Any ideas, old stallion? We’re stuck in a level three collapsing chronal field. I think it’ll last about twelve seconds.”
The Adviser nodded. “And so will we.” He pulled itself onto the control panel and turned to his ‘younger’ self, all argument having been put to the side in the face of danger. “How about we reverse the polarity of the neutron flow?”
John nodded and began helping him work the console. Top Hat clicked his tongue, walking briskly around the quivering control room while gesturing.
“Really now, ‘reverse the polarity of the neutron flow’ again?” he said as he rolled his eyes. “You were always so quick to roll that out. Neutrons are neutral; they don’t even have a polarity!” He nearly fell over as the TARDIS made a sharp stop.
The unicorn at the console smiled with contentment. John raised an eyebrow as he looked at the silent sprawled Top Hat. “We’re here, you ancient fogey,” he said with glee as he opened the TARDIS door. Outside a grime-encrusted spaceship corridor beckoned.
The Unit Adviser primly walked to the TARDIS door. “Well, are you coming, old fellow? I hope I haven’t lost my drive for adventure in my later years.” His eyes lit up as he walked outside into danger.
The grey-toned stallion carefully picked up his top hat and adjusted it. “Remember,” he said to no one in particular. “Always, always adjust the polarity of the neutron flow. That’s a rule.” Top Hat walked to the door of the TARDIS before crying out, “Duck!”
John Smith and the Adviser saw the terrifying metal shape coming around the corner. Something like a hovering metal salt shaker with a nozzle and plunger attached moved towards them with menace. “You are all intruders. You will be exterminated!”
Three sonic screwdrivers were instantly produced. After a brief buzzing sound, the metal maniac exploded. John Smith walked over to the remains.
“No organic materials. I thought it was a fake! If this thing was real its ego wouldn’t let it hide behind lackeys and force fields.”
The Adviser nodded. “The makes all wrong, too. This one wore the markings of a battle philosopher, not a guard. I also realized this plan was entirely too subtle for those…” he shuddered. “Those genocidal monsters.”
They both turned to Top Hat expectantly. He shrugged.
“Well buckaroos, I drew on the foul varmint because…um…I didn’t want to be left out.”
John and the Adviser stared at him in disbelief. Suddenly all three of them exploded into laughter. “Let’s go, Mister ‘Top Hat,’” the Adviser said as he wiped his tears away with a silk handkerchief.
Top Hat nodded as he prepared to follow his younger selves into the unknown. He started suddenly as he heard a familiar voice from behind. On the viewscreen of the TARDIS was a cascading series of overlapping images, but every so often he saw Savory and Ripple inside a cage. Top Hat stepped toward the monitor.
“They’re here, and I can see them, and I’ve got a TARDIS!” He looked guilty backwards at the open door then flicked a switch to close it. “I’ve got a TARDIS and they’ll be fine.” He looked at the power source of the TARDIS in the center of the control room. “They’ll be fine on their own, I promise. Now, what say you give me a spin for old times sake, you young sexy thing!”
Outside John’s eyes went wide as he heard the TARDIS door slam. He ran to the closed door and slammed his hooves against it. “You are not doing this! You are not leaving us behind!” His frustration grew as he fell through the disappearing blue box.
He turned in anger to his earlier self. The UNIT Science Pony had a thoughtful, sad look on his face. John held his anger in check for a moment. “What is it?”
The Adviser sighed. “I was remembering a similar situation. You must be centuries further removed from me, John. I still remember hearing her saying those things as I ran away, so many years ago.”
John Smith sobered up. He offered a limb around his fellow adventurer’s shoulder. “I remember. I remember leaving her every second of every day. That’s why I’ll never leave my new family behind.” He swallowed. “I think I’d break both my hearts if I had to do it again.”
The Adviser looked at John curiously. Suddenly, he nodded and started to smile. “To think I worried that I’d lose perspective in my later years.” He trotted a few paces down the corridor and turned back toward John. “Come on then. You and I both know we’d run off on our own in a second for a good enough reason. Let’s trust him and get to our own business. There’s an alien spaceship of dangerous warriors here protecting their mysterious director, and just the two of us. Let’s show them how outnumbered they are!”
John Smith nodded as he placed a pair of 3D glasses on his face. “The girls await. Allon-sy!”
The two Time Chargers ran into the unknown.
Ditzy’s attention was drawn to her prison. She studied the glowing walls like a bag of mislabeled mail, working to make connections.
Dinky was chatting with the tentacle alien, and Sparkler wanted none of that. She knew he wasn’t a threat; she also became nauseous when he started talking. Sparkler moved close to her mother while Dinky was distracted. “Mother? Father is from…further away than I am, no?”
Ditzy gave a nervous glance to Dinky, and then nodded. “Please don’t tell your sister. We’re waiting until she’s older.”
Sparkler nodded. A hopeful grin played across her face. “May we possibly meet others like Father in this ship? His faraway family, perhaps?”
“Maybe.” Ditzy turned her full attention to her daughter. “Your Father says there’s almost none left of his kind. Just him and one other.”
“What is the other to be like, mother?”
Ditzy shrugged, “I’m not sure. We’ve never met. Your father never wants to talk about him. Or her, I suppose. He changes the subject whenever I bring him up.” She tapped a hoof thoughtfully on her chin. “Once he changed the millennium.”
Sparkler shrank back into the corner of the cell, casting her eyes on every closed door beyond the cell. She shook slightly. Her mother stepped to the side and flared her wings out, shielding their mouths from Dinky’s view. “What’s wrong, Sparkler?”
The sensitive teen whispered, “Mother, I am in real way the last of my kind. If any others like me survived, I can think of not but one reason why I would avoid them. For father to keep us away from the other of his kind…he must be bad.” Sparkler stared at her mother in horror. “Imagine a bad pony that could go anywhere.”
Ditzy shivered. Turning away from the implication, she examined the crack of black where the force walls met. “Ah-ha! Sparkler, come over here. If I’m doing your father’s job, I need someone to hear why I’m brilliant.”
Sparkler rose to her feet, listening attentively.
Ditzy cleared her throat. She smiled widely, basking in the attention of an imagined crowd. “You see that control console, not four hooves away from us?” Sparkler nodded. “Well, between that and us are the walls of this force field.”
She ran a hoof along the corner of the force field. “We can breathe, so it’s not a fully contained system. The edges where the walls meet are solidified atmosphere, generating the air that keeps us alive.”
Sparkler raised an eyebrow. “Why is this to be being important, mother?”
Ditzy hovered a few hooves off the ground. “Oh, this is brilliant. I can’t believe it feels this good. No wonder that big goof smiles all the time.” She stared off into space for a moment, and then shook her head back into the present. “Dear, we’re going to get out of here, and then you and Dinky are going over to Carrot Top’s farm for an evening, okay? Daddy and I need some time alone.”
Sparkler tried not to consider the implications. “The fielding force, mother. You were speaking of it.”
Ditzy nodded. “The walls of this prison are cloud, my muffin. Do you remember what happened to city hall? Why Rainbow Dash and the mayor were so mad they tried to get me out of rain brigade duty? If there’s one thing I’m good at…”
Ditzy’s hooves lashed out, landing awkwardly and forcefully against the corner of the cage. At the moment of impact a bolt of lightning shoot out of the corner of the glowing box. The crackling energy struck the control console. All of the force cages winked out of existence.
Ditzy beamed. “…it certainly isn’t rainmaking.”
“…ye grinning blond trollop!” As their argument echoed around the large prison room, Ripple and Amy suddenly stopped. Ditzy walked into the middle of the room and loudly cleared her throat.
“Attention all you beautiful and weird multiforms, please don’t panic. Okay? I’m Ditzy Doo, and I’ll be your rescuer today. Please follow me as I deliver you to your destinations.”
“The Derpy has come!”
“The Lighting Dancer will save us!”
She massaged her forehead. “Okay, follow me and we’ll be fine.”
Ditzy heard Dinky’s questioning voice. “Mommy, why do they call you…what Cloud Kicker calls you?”
Ditzy stopped for a second. “Because after I saved an intergalactic counsel on my own, your father had the wisdom to shout, “You’re a space hero! Let’s see someone call you ‘Derpy’ now.” We were right in front of the galactic news cameras.” She brightened up as a thought occurred to her. “By the way, when we get home we’re dropping you off at Carrot Top for a sleepover.”
A bizarre crew of sapients from all over the universe followed the mailmare from Ponyville into the halls of the ship. Savory look in wonder at the cheerful pegasus, singing to herself as she led the strange menagerie.
“Ripple, whatever the Doctor’s looking for in a filly, she’s got it.”
Ripple gave a muttered answer.
Ditzy eyed the rooms they passed appraisingly. “If this is a warship, it’s got to have some basic safety stuff.” After a few corridors she stopped and gestured to an open door. “Hey, everybody! If you’re not a pony, go into that room. It’s a deadlocked invasion panic room. You’ll all be safe while we find the way out.”
A trusting crowd passed her on tentacles, legs, wings, and gas-filled hoverbags. She gave them a smile as they locked her out. Turning on the group, she was suddenly serious again.
“Okay, listen up everybody. The Doctors should be here soon. I have faith in my husband. He’d never leave us. I’m sure you both feel the same way about your Time Chargers.”
Ripple twirled her hair for effect. “Well, they say you never forget your first Doctor.”
Ditzy nodded as Sparkler blushed. “We’re all together. Let’s sneak our way to a communications thing and send the TARDIS some coordinates.”
Savory saluted. “Of course, Ma’am. I worked off fifteen pounds last summer running down corridors. Whatever’s down there, I’ll willing to meet it head on with you.”
It was Ditzy’s turn to blush. “Um…Savory, could you please call me Ditzy instead of ‘Ma’am?’”
Ripple snickered. “You don’t want to be our respected older lady?”
Seconds later Ditzy was grumbling as the giggling ponies followed behind her. At her own insistence, Sparkler and Dinky kept close to their mother. Ripple and Savory kept pace a few feet behind.
Savory leaned over toe Ripple Pond. “Well, Mrs. Smith is proof of one thing.”
Ripple grinned. “Age before beauty governs who leads the escape party?”
Savory snorted. “Oh, behave!” Her eyes flashed with triumph. “What I was going to say, you catty young minx, is that the Doctor definitely prefers blondes.”
As Ripple stuttered in surprise at the back of the group, Ditzy held up a hoof. All the ponies stopped walking.
“Someone’s coming, muffins.” She spread her wings. “Get behind me and prepare to run.”
A tired-looking white pony in tattered clothes ran from around the next corner. The scraggly bearded stallion stopped as he looked in shock at the crowd of companions.
Ditzy looked curiously at the newcomer, taking a step backwards. “Mister Decks? What are you doing up here?”
Dinky whispered to her mother. “Mommy, I thought all the villagers were smoozy?”
Dinky kept staring at the town leader. “Hush, Little Muffin. Stay on guard.”
Terrence Decks panted in place, head hanging low in exhaustion. “Not all of us were those…monsters. We were mind-controlled to play our parts.” He raised his gaze to Ditzy. “You should follow me. I know a way off of this ship.”
As Decks took a step forward Dinky nervously scooted backwards into Savory. The UNIT pony gave the young unicorn a reassuring hoof down her hair. Ditzy stepped a few paces forward, imposing herself between the mysterious pony and her family. Sparkler followed with eyes of simmering rage.
“We’ll be fine on our own, thanks. We’ll just turn around and let you find your way on your own. ”
“Mrs. Smith, things are dangerous on this ship right now,” Decks pleaded. “You really should come with me before you meet something unexpected.”
Two amber eyes swirled in irritation. “Mister Decks, you would be surprised at the kind of things I expect. Excuse me,” she concluded as she prepared to head down a side corridor. “Keep an eye on the creepy guy,” she whispered to Ripple and Savory.
A wave of irritation passed over ‘Terrance Decks,’ seemingly carrying away his accent. “You dare turn your flank to me? This little charade has become a frustrating waste of time,” he declared in a clipped Trottingham accent. “Do pay attention now, dear.”
His forceful change of personality drew Ditzy’s attention. As he stared into her off-kilter eyes, they slowly straightened and lost the fire John Smith adored. The small crowd of time travelers watched helplessly, their stares falling into the vortex of the menacing stallion’s gaze.
“Quiet yourself, Mrs. ‘John Smith.’” Terrence Decks smiled in triumph at his captivated audience. “You will obey me, my dear, for I am the Master.”
By Paleo Prints
Chapter 4: The Enemy of the World
In a future that may never be, in the magical land of Equestria
The young unicorn stepped around the detritus of the battle as she walked down the main avenue of Canterlot. The remains of a smoking building surrounded her. The fires were being dealt with, but the smolder and ash would last a few hours more. As she walked toward the causeway, a large gleaming object on the ground caught her eye.
As she stepped up to examine it, she could see the huge industrial mountain town that supplied the kingdom with ore from the mines, and brilliant minds from Luna’s Academy. Sprawled on the bridge was a still-burning metal husk.
It looked like a big fallen saltshaker, split down the side from Equestrian magic. A plunger-like device and a nozzle protruded from the side. A sinister mechanical eye on a stalk bent out of the top, crumpled from force. The smoke billowing out of its crack smelled faintly of calamari.
Wandering Star shivered and walked on.
He was waiting for her by the statue. The twenty-foot tall statue of the legendary unicorn professor was where most Canterlot University students met their significant others in happier times. He stood at the statue’s foot, contemplating her.
Wandering Star stepped next to him, judging the artist’s work. “She looked better.”
The soot-stained, scruffy-coated unicorn nodded. “Aye. She took a hit or two when their ships started firing.”
Star shook her head. “No, she looked better herself. Grandfather and I met her when she was younger. She was so full of life. Had this this fragile smile that brightened up the room.” She smiled. “It was a joy to hear her talk. She really believed that everypony would be better off if they just treated each other the right way. I honestly think that Grandfather was smitten with her when he was younger.”
He turned to her in surprise. “Star, Twilight Sparkle’s been dead a hundred years, and she wasn’t young then either.”
She nodded. “Come on, Steadfast. Let’s go meet up with Grandfather.”
They found the blue box on the opposite side of the city from the victory celebration. Star grinned. It’d be just like Grandfather to slip out while no one’s looking. She wrapped on the door. She tried a second time. By the third knock the smile was gone.
The TARDIS’s outside speakers turned on. “Hello, child. I’m going to be leaving now.” She could sense the restrained emotion in the old stallion’s voice.
“Grandfather, you can’t just leave me here. Did I do something wrong?”
“Not at all. You did everything right. I think of every triumph we’ve been through, every villain you’ve looked in the eye. There are cultures that tell stories of you to their children, you know? No, I need to know that you’re somewhere safe. Somewhere you’ll excel on your own, not just be a companion to a doddering old madpony in a box, gallivanting into danger after danger.”
Star’s tearfully threw herself against the TARDIS door. “Don’t go, Grandfather. You need me!” Steadfast pulled at the mysterious doors with his horn’s magic to no avail.
There was a momentary pause. “I need to not need you now, my dearest. You can have a life here. I’ve seen the looks you and Steadfast share. You have a career waiting; Celestia and Luna saw your technical prowess, a futuristic knowledge that will aid in the reconstruction of this nation. You are the key to Equestria’s new golden age, my dear.”
Star shuddered as Steadfast moved to support her. She rested her head against the door of the TARDIS, tears falling down the blue doors. “I love you, Grandfather,” she whispered.
“And I you. Someday, I will come back to check on you. I’ll see you make me proud. Yes, someday I’ll come back.”
Inside the TARDIS a gentlepony in formal wear threw a succession of levers. After a few seconds had passed he could no longer hear the sounds of sobs coming over the sound system. He straightened himself as he walked to the TARDIS doors. Gently he pushed them open with his hooves, revealing a scene of ice moons spinning around a gas giant.
As he stood there for innumerable hours lost in thought, several life forms who had evolved on a particularly volcanic nearby moon felt a pang of melancholy; their priests gathered to discuss the virtues of their rulers. The fabled ‘Blue Spinning Star’ of legend was whispered to only appear when great sadness was present in the cosmos. In their mythology, it meant the gods were crying.
In the decisive hour of the magical land of Equestria.
Ditzy Doo’s eyes stared straight ahead. This normally difficult feat was accomplished with none of the usual exertion or concentration needed. Normally Ditzy could only pretend to be "normal" for seconds at a time to make a point. Although it was effortless, it was not painless. Ditzy screamed in agony inside her own mind and felt her body refuse to respond in the slightest way.
The mustached white stallion in front of her allowed himself a gloating smile as wiped the dramatically applied dirt from his face. “Excellent! Miss Doo, I am glad to have you on-board. I may not use you as a sounding board to bolster my self-respect as my counterpart does, but you shall prove useful in any case. You may speak now, Miss Doo.”
She sputtered as she felt her mouth return to her control. Her eyes continued to disobey her. Ditzy screamed loudly, although tears refused to come.
“Stop that screaming, Miss Doo. I’d rather have an intelligent conversation.”
Ditzy stared at the gloating pony. His eyes were alight with the joy of a child with a new toy. She remained in intense pain, yet her body refused to voice it. She swallowed, willing herself to talk. “Why… are you doing this?”
The Master rolled his eyes. “Such simple questions! My dear, I did hope for a higher level of conversation. I’m taking control.”
Sweat poured down Ditzy’s face. “Of… what?”
He shrugged. “Everything. It’s better this way for everyone involved.” He leaned in with a conspiratorial whisper. “You have one more chance to impress me.”
Ditzy’s vision went red. When her sight cleared the Master was still smiling. Good, I only passed out for a second. “I could ask about how you… control the bioweapon. Or what you’ll finally do… with them. But the bigger question is… ”
Ditzy took a long breath. The Master waved his hoof impatiently, goading her to finish.
“… what are you going to do when my husband gets here?”
The Master scowled. “Be quiet now, Miss Doo.”
He gave a start when a pained and unrecognizable voice pushed its way out of Ditzy. “My name...is Doo-Smith.”
The Master cast his head back and laughed. “That is willpower! Miss Doo, I am impressed. No wonder my counterpart has taken you as his pet. Now be absolutely silent.”
The Time Charger examined the rest of Ditzy’s motionless and mute group. His eyes narrowed at a familiar face. “Miss Savory! What a pleasure to have you here. My remembrances simply flow. When did we last meet? Was it when you pushed me off the precipice at Tamberlon? Perhaps when you threw a cake in my face among the Axoids?”
Ursine figures began to enter into the corridor. A cybernetically-rebuilt bear with head bowed passed the Master a finely-tailored black jacket. The Master threw his dirty clothes over Sparkler’s neck as he changed. From behind Ditzy’s companions came the heavy footsteps of the Grand Invasorial Warmaster. His claws clutched three leashes that barely constrained a trio of orange wriggling beasts. The many-legged things waved their antennae at the paralyzed ponies.
The Master sighed in anticipation. “Gentlebeings, let us take these new attractive tools to the control room. But first,” he said as he waved a hoof in the air, “My dear Invasorial, please set those grubby things on the good Miss Savory. The Octopedes should make quick and entertaining karmic work of her. If I feel merciful, I may allow her to scream.”
Servos in the cyborg’s necked clicked wildly as he gave a respectful nod. He dropped the leash, extending a firearm from his cybergauntlet in case the Octopedes proved especially famished. The three Grundonian predators strained towards the immobile Savory.
The first pair of orange antennae skimmed across Savory’s flank when a loud sound filled the corridor. The octopedes drew back towards their handler from the flashing lights as a materialized blue box blocked the hallway. The illiop mercenaries took a surprised step back as the Master scowled. “This is it, Gentlebeings. Be ready for anything!”
The TARDIS door opened, and an avalanche of ringing alarm clocks poured into the hallway. The vibrating brass wave filled the corridor to flank height, making the surprised mercenaries stare dumbstruck. Ditzy’s eyes uncrossed as the chaos of clattering timepieces filled her senses. Scanning for the Master, she saw his henchbears trying to help the sprawled maniac back to his hooves. She giggled as he slipped on a gear.
One of the mortified illiops suddenly lifted into the air mid-apology, dropping the frustrated Time Charger back onto his flank. He screamed in fear as a violet glow hurled him against the wall of the hallway.
“Mother,” Sparkler snarled, “we should be finishing this.”
“No time for that, my Firecracker!” A cheerful pleading turned the Smith family around. Top Hat waved at them from the TARDIS door. “Big bad guy! Lots of nasty things hidden on him! Our running appointment is here!”
The growl of another incoming illiop convinced Ditzy. She beat her wings forcefully into the TARDIS. A terrified gasp turned her head to see Sparkler tripping on clocks as a robotic claw grasped for her. An angry grey pile of maternal instincts slammed into the cyborg, toppling over the unbalanced war-machine. She quickly pulled her daughter into the TARDIS.
Top Hat grabbed the open door with a flourish to slam them shut. Ditzy’s hoof suddenly held them open. “Doctor, what about Dinky?”
As Top Hat flung a worried look into the hallway a rage-filled pony picked himself up from the floor. The Master’s eyes narrowed as he slid a device out of his coat. “I believe you get less respectable with every go around, dear Doctor.” He aimed the tiny cylinder at the open TARDIS doors.
Ditzy shoved aside Top Hat without a second’s consideration and closed her eyes. She spent a fraction of a moment waiting for any number of quick oblivions. Suddenly risking a look she saw the remains of the unlucky pursuing illiop, now a shrunken doll sitting on top of the pile.
Top Hat angrily aimed his sonic screwdriver at the door, slamming it shut. He leapt onto his hooves, running toward the console controls. Ditzy followed him, grabbing one of his hooves that tried to through a lever.
“We can’t go, Doctor! What about the others?”
A calm face turned to her. “The TARDIS was almost as wide as that corridor. They couldn’t slip through. I’m sure they ran down the side hallway.” Ditzy tearfully nodded. Top Hat continued, “Anyway, our most important point to make now is…”
Ditzy spiraled backward as the Doctor screamed a word at her in incoherent rage. Lying on her back, he towered over her as she saw a purple horn protectively point at his chest.
Top Hat didn’t give Sparkler any heed as he repeated himself. “Calculator!”
Ditzy swallowed back tears as she tried to reason with the raging Time Charger. “What…what about calculators, Doctor?”
“Get one,” he shrieked, waving his hooves in the air. He tapped his hoof onto Sparklers horn and gently pushed it to the side. His voice became low but no less filled with wrath. “Get a calculator, or an abacus, or a mother box, or just some counting stones and learn comparisons because…, ” he said as his rage broke into tears, “because there is no way losing one wonderful, important Ditzy is worth saving an old, careless one of me.”
As collapsed onto knees the dematerialization alarm sounded throughout the TARDIS. Sparkler walked over to the door, leaving the two adults to themselves. Opening the doors a crack, she saw the TARDIS tumble down a corridor of storm clouds and lightning flashes. She sighed as she closed the door.
“Father and sister are so very far away.”
A pair of Time Chargers tread softly through the corridors of the ship. The sound of alarms raced up and down the corridors as they worked to evade patrols. As the soft padding of dozens of feet reached his ears, John Smith pulled his companion into an opened door. From the tentative safety of a darkened room they watched a pack of orange predators lead a merciless ursine in search of everyone John cared about. He shivered at the sight of the beasts’ slavering mouths moving as they tracked what was doubtlessly his family’s scent.
After the pack passed UNIT’s science pony ventured a look after the patrol. He gave John an encouraging nod and motioned for him to follow. The Adviser gave a dark grin as he settled into the familiar task of sneaking down hallways.
“Shame about those Octopedes, ‘John.’ They used to be quite the intelligent species before the genetic restructuring. Nothing in the universe like proper Octopedian root stew, I promise you.”
A few beats of silence worried the Adviser. It’s not like me to be the listening one. Turning to John the Adviser saw the pensive pony, his distracted eyes unfocused. The unicorn sighed.
“Clear your mind of your family, ‘John.’ That’s the only way to help them.”
Smith’s snort answered him. “Perhaps you’ve forgotten what it’s like to be emotionally attached. You love playing the ancient scientist who’s above it all. You were the one remembering Wandering Star earlier. Did the feeling of your hearts beating worry you?”
The Adviser coughed in indignation. “I recognize the inevitability of ponies, dear fellow. She died.” He kept his eyes straight ahead as he talked. “They do that.”
John stuck his face right against that of his older self. “Absolutely! She died; she’s dead and gone and buried now. But do you know what happened first?”
The Unit Adviser was too stunned at Smith’s vehemence to respond.
“She lived. She lived a long life with grandchildren and tax forms and rainy Sundays. She lived and cried and loved and laughed without you or me there to hold her.” John Smith exhaled a breath he felt he’d been holding for centuries.
“I think of everything we’ve gone through, from the Whinnying Angels to the Tomorrow Windows. All of that was worth it just to hear her call me ‘Grandfather,’ and you’re lying to yourself if you’ve forgotten that.”
The Adviser blinked, responding with the single word, “Mercenaries.”
The sound of heavy metal boots around the corner came to John’s attention. He rolled his eyes as he dragged his younger incarnation down the corridor. “There’s never time for a good conversation during these things, is there?”
As they passed an intersection, the Adviser pulled John to a stop. “Wait!” He gestured to a small bear doll sitting on a pile of clocks.
John shivered at the sight of the tiny shrunken corpse. “There’s only one thing that could do that to a live illiop.” He gave a meaningful look to his counterpart.
“Indeed,” the Adviser said with a nod. “The tissue compression eliminator. That rather narrows down who’s in charge here.” He cast a disappointed look at John. “I would have hoped by your time we would have dealt with him.”
John shrugged as the gentlepony scientist made his way to the shrunken doll. The dandy levitated off of the timepieces in order to study it. As he held it to his face its servos began to click.
“I want to be your friend,” the shrunken corpse declared.
John clicked his tongue. “Old AI processor’s kicking in, eh?”
“I love talking to people,” it continued. The Adviser spun it around, removing circuits from the back.
“Yeah, those things always creep me out, too,” John said with an approving nod.
A blue hoof wrapped him on the nose. “Focus for just a second! If the thing’s back-up battle AI processor works, than…”
John ignored the pain in his snort. “There’s still a RX-P1N system chip functioning!”
The unicorn nodded as glowing mechanisms hovered in front of him. “Exactly! And with a working RX-P1N unit we could tap into this entire network.”
John grabbed his counterpart with both hooves. “We could signal the TARDIS!”
The UNIT Science Adviser grinned. “Make yourself useful and grab me four batteries out of these clocks, will you dear boy? The Master will never see us coming.”
Dinky’s lungs struggled for air as she ran through the corridors. She heard the reassuring sound of Miss Savory and Miss Pond behind her. Further down the corridor came the chattering hunter call of the octopedes. The filly turned the hallway corner and gasped. The only path was a long metal bridge over a gaping pit.
Savory gaped at the sight. “What possible use could that be in a spacecraft?”
“Really, lass?” Ripple snorted. “It’s obviously an extended exhaust vent for the engines. Bet it opens up on the bottom and the thrusty-wusties are on top.”
Both of her companions stared at Ripple Pond. She bowed. “I’m Scolttish, ye know. We’re natural bodgers and jiggery-pokers.”
Savory turned incredulously from Ripple to cast a worried look at Dinky. The filly was shaking badly and nearly hyperventilating. She gingerly placed a hoof around Dinky’s neck and guided her onto the bridge. “So, how’s my brave girl doing?”
Dinky shook her head. “I-I don’t feel very brave. I’m scared of the monsters.”
Savory leaned into whispering range. “Really? Haven’t you noticed how silly they are?” The filly gave a confused look. Savory nodded and continued. “We’ve been chased by drooling caterpillars, big teddy bears, and grape pudding. Isn’t that a little silly?”
Dinky gave a giggle. Savory patted her on the head. “They’re mean indeed. We need to keep away from them. Don’t for a second think that you should be so scared to move.” The UNIT pony gestured dramatically toward the other side of the suspended walkway. “Why, the next time you see that teddy bear just offer him a tea party!”
Dinky snorted. Even Ripple chuckled to herself. “You’d make a great Mom, you know,” she whispered to Savory.
The military mare looked offended. “Could you imagine me with a brood?”
A booming voice sounded from the end of the causeway. “I will have to refuse your tea party, Miss.” The three ponies stopped in the dead middle of the bridge as the Grand Invasorial Warmaster pointed a large weapon at them.
Ripple slammed her hoof into the ground. “We just finished being prisoners!”
The mechanical mercenary shook his head as he slowly walked towards them. “I’m afraid there has been a change in protocol, Companions of the Oncoming Storm. The Mighty Civilization Stomper of the illiop comes for you this day, and he is not interested in prisoners.”
Ripple stood in shock as Dinky started to shiver. Savory leaned down to the young filly. “Don’t run, Dinky.” He’s got more than enough range to kill us on this straight-away anyway. “Stand up, look him in the eye.” Savory gave a reassuring grin to the shaking youngster. “Smile, if you can.” The least I give her is a little dignity at the end.
Dinky nodded, drawing in a breath. She caught at the approaching illiop’s merciless gaze. “I wish Daddy was here.”
As Ditzy stuck her head out the TARDIS door, Top Hat called out, “Can you see anything yet?”
She shrugged slightly in response. The Time Charger stared intently at her wiggling rump. He suddenly snapped to attention, noticing Sparkler looking at him in embarrassment. He whistled nervously.
“I can smell animals, Doctor! There’s sunlight out there. I think I hear singing!” She pulled her head back into the TARDIS. “Doctor, we landed in Fluttershy’s chicken coop.”
Top Hat shook his head. “No use getting more ponies involved.” He eagerly tapped along the keyboard. After the sound of dematerialization ended he rubbed his chin, thoughtfully checking his coordinates. Ditzy and Sparkler stepped towards him with hope. He carefully considered his equipment, the suddenly pushed every loose piece of TARDIS console equipment onto the floor.
“No! No! No! Rubbish! I’ve got nothing but rubbish here!” He turned around and sank onto his haunch in defeat.
Ditzy stared at the dejected Doctor. “I thought Equestria never existed because of what happened?”
Top Hat’s eye snapped open. “That’s right!” He leapt to his hooves. “We’re getting somewhere now! Our actions must have brought probability swinging back towards happy good-goodness!”
Sparkler clapped. “That is meaning we win, Top Hat?”
He pointed a hoof at her with a serious look. “That means it’s the bottom of the ninth, fourth down, and we have more baskets than they do.” He blinked. “Or something. I never could get hockey. This means we’re currently winning, but time’s still in flux. Winning teams can still have upsets.” He paused thoughtfully. “Winning teams can still lose players.”
As Top Hat and Sparkler started silently cleaning up the console wreckage Ditzy inspected the TARDIS doors. “Doctor, where are we?”
He waved dismissively. “One of the Grand Galloping Galas, I think.” He suddenly heard the doors slam open. “Oh, no. That was something obvious, wasn’t it?”
Overcome by curiosity, Ditzy stared in wonder at the spinning ponies dancing formally across the ballroom floor. She leaned onto the TARDIS door frame with a sigh as rows of proper stallions bowed to their mares.
“Oh, I have been waiting to see this.”
A pinto-colored stallion walked in from the castle balcony. He smiled, wiping lipstick off of his collar. Suddenly he dropped the hoofkerchief and stared at the TARDIS. “Um. Love, you should really come and see this.”
A pale purple mare in a yellow dress covered with stars stepped behind him. The unicorn teased her blond hair back into place with her hooves. “What now, you naughty pirate?”
Her date gestured to Ditzy. “Isn’t that your…?”
She grabbed the stallion around the neck and dragged him outside again. “Timey-wimey stuff. Best to stay out of it. More balcony time for you.”
Across the ballroom Ditzy walked out of the TARDIS, her mouth wide with wonder. The orchestra relented as a white-coated unicorn singer took her applause. Ditzy became aware of Top Hat’s hooves pulling on her flanks.
“Hey! No touching there!” She kicked out, sending him sprawled across the floor.
He stood up, reclaiming his fallen hat. “We need to go now, Miss Doo.”
“Aw.” She drew in a deep breath. “It’s a time machine. Can’t I just spend a minute here?” Her eyes watered. “We don’t know what happens back on the ship. I may never get the chance to come here with my husband.”
Suddenly Ditzy’s eyes straightened in shock as she recognized a pair giggling across the dance floor. Despite the music stopping one pony danced on. A familiar colt was tapping out a storm, the hourglass on his chestnut flank bouncing up and down. The aged grey mare he was with giggled, rolling her golden eyes. Ancient and fragile wings spread wide in amusement. Her stallion stopped, laughing to himself as he lovingly stroked his date’s faded white-blond hair.
Top Hat whispered in Ditzy's ear. “I said the Gala was a painful thing.” He nodded his head. “I meant that. I mean things I say unless I don’t actually but in that case I mean the opposite rather thoroughly.”
Ditzy stared at the digressing Doctor with one eye, keeping the other on herself across the room.
“The Galas are painful. To me. Specifically.” He sighed. “I took you to them. Well, he did. Um, we did. One night, you’ll go to all of them. Every last one.” The stuttering stallion to her side leaned in and whispered in her ear. “The Gala isn’t mine anymore. It’ll always be his.”
She nodded, her mouth drawn into a thin line. “Doctor, get back in the TARDIS. We’re going now to make sure this happens.” Her eyes spun. “Or something. Verb tenses and time travel tickle my brain.”
She walked with purpose through the blue doors. Top Hat cast one glance back at the celebrating Smiths. He doffed his hat to them, catching John Smith’s eye. The brown Time Charger stared at his future self as Top Hat walked backward into the TARDIS.
Ditzy Doo-Smith placed her aged hoof on her husband’s chin. “Pay attention, silly. We have to head to the next Gala in a few minutes or we’ll miss Sparkler assaulting her future fiancée.”
“But,” he stammered.
“No!” She stomped a hoof down. “No timey-wimey tonight. You promised.”
John Smith sighed as he took his beloved wife in hoof. “I guess someone else is dealing with it. I just hope it works out.”
Ripple Pond shed a tear as she patted Dinky gingerly. “I kind of wish my Da was here too.”
Dinky look at her in confusion then shook her head. “That’s not what I meant, Miss.” She started walking towards the gun-slinging cyborg. “I want my Dad here so he can help me do this.”
She stopped and sat on her haunches within arm’s reach of the Grand Warmaker. He regarded her with a raised metal eyebrow. “You seek oblivion sooner than the others, Child of the Storm?”
Dinky examined him carefully. “You’re not gonna kill me.”
Servos clicked in surprise. “Unless you have a larger weapon, I doubt you could stop me.” He called over her shoulder. “Don’t think this little one’s distraction will buy you running time, my dear ponies.”
Savory grimaced. “I wouldn’t dream of it.”
Ripple grabbed her companion. “What is she doing?”
Savory smiled. “I don’t know. It’s not rational or reasonable.” She smiled. “But remember whose daughter she is.”
“Mister Warmaker,” Dinky respectfully stated. “You can’t kill me because you aren’t real.”
He laughed boisterously. “Shall you convince me I’m a figment of your imagination?”
“Ponies…,” Dinky chewed her lip thoughtfully and corrected herself. “People like you aren’t real; Daddy says bullies like you act mean to forget things. You had birthday parties, and parents, and the day when your most favoritest toy in the world broke. That’s what makes you real.” She looked up imploringly. “You’re pretending so you don’t have to be real.”
The illiop stared with electronic eyes of red hate at the unmoving child. “Little one, do you know what a Plasmaticaster 9b can do to a filly?”
She shook her head. The warrior literally deflated as steam released from his joints; the red light of his eyes winked out and became his own brown pupils.
“I don’t either. The Warmaking Team dropped one as it hovered over my village one year on the way to the Eternity Clash.” He sighed. “It was broken into a hundred pieces. “
Dinky listened attentively as the warrior paused.
“If you look at the Gausnostic Diver when it falls of, and the Semiplasnosticator is still attached….”
The Mighty Civilization Stomper looked slightly pensive.
“Well, the whole thing looks like a doll.”
Dinky clapped in delight as the ancient bear sat down next to her.
“A doll charged with a Neutronigium Half-Life of seven standard Unfinities. A doll that would always keep you warm when Mommy and Daddy were away on the front.” He gave a conspiratorial look as he leaned in to whisper at his eager young audience. “A doll that will make scary sister-frightening noises if you rub it the right way with a Kiddy’s First T-X3 Masshammer.”
Dinky giggled. The Grand Invasorial Hegemonic Destructor dropped his weary head to his chest. His eyes slowly expanded. He threw his weapon over the side of the bridge. Turning to Dinky he nodded.
“Go now, young mare. Leave this place in notfight.”
Savory and Ripple silently walked to Dinky, both convinced this was a trap. The aged illiop stared off into nothing as they passed by. As they exited the bridge, Dinky shouted at the old warrior. “Peace!”
The Grand Invasorial Warmaster regarded her questioningly.
“We leave in ‘peace.’ It means ‘notfight.’”
He shook his head. “What an extraordinary word.”
As the three ponies stepped around the corner a harsh sound filled the air, making Dinky clap with joy. The TARDIS appeared in the corridor. Top Hat threw the doors open and gestured with his hat and a cane. “Rescue time! Line up in an orderly manner to express gratitude.”
Ditzy and Sparkler rushed out of the open doors, their grasping limbs nearly suffocating Dinky in a desperate embrace. Ripple walked up to her Doctor and punched him in the side.
“Ow!” He rubbed his side. “What was that for?”
“You’re late.” She crossed her forelimbs and raised a comically accusing eyebrow. “You’re always late.”
Savory walked onto the unfamiliar TARDIS. Top Hat gestured to Dinky as she squealed under her sister’s tickling hooves. “Let’s go, little one. Your father awaits.”
Dinky shook her head. “I’m not going in there.”
Silence hung in the air. Top Hat spun around. “My ears must be broken. I’m the rescue!”
Dinky shook her head more forcefully. “My daddy told me to never go anywhere with you. He said you weren’t safe.”
The Doctor sadly smiled as he sat on the edge of the TARDIS. Ditzy started to say something. She stopped as she heard the Doctor try to speak. She could see a great weight straining to come out of the stallion who used to be her husband.
“He’s right you know.” He gave a sad grimace. “He’s a good pony, your father. Sometimes I think he’s a better pony than I.”
The grey Doctor suddenly started making comical faces; Dinky applauded with glee. “I’m dangerous. Woo hoo, scary me. I’m nasty and mean, and you know what?”
Dinky cocked her head.
“I’m most dangerous to the people who want to hurt the ones I care for.”
Dinky thought for a second, then nodded. She stepped into the TARDIS and walked past, followed by her family. The Doctor kept staring at the space she had occupied, looking far into the past at memories too numerous to count.
A hoof fell onto his shoulder. “Come on, you old fuddy duddy. Let’s go before your retirement check arrives.”
“Miss Pond, you always have a way to motivate. I believe the appropriate term for this situation is allon-sy!” He leapt to his hooves and closed the TARDIS door behind him.
John and the Adviser crept silently into a control room. Ramps rose to meet a large circular raised platform dominating the main chamber of the ship. Beneath it was suspiciously clear area of floor surrounded by consoles and machinery. Along the side wall a gigantic viewscreen offered an image of the surrounding countryside.
The Adviser clicked his tongue. “He’s certainty no less ostentatious after all these years.”
John trotted up the ramp to the blinking control center. “There’s no time for wisecracks. Well, a little. Well, at least do something while you’re talking.” His eyes played over the data screens. “This technology is horrendous! Did he buy it off the back of a cart?”
Behind him the UNIT science pony typed on a keyboard. “If he did, he’s going to be upgrading soon.” Smith turned to him, perplexed. “John, the transmit just brought something aboard the ship.”
John scratched his neck. “Bigger than a breadbox? Bigger than a breadcart?”
The Adviser raised his eyebrows. “Bigger than a bread-house. Thirty tons. Now help me figure out how to work this archaic mish-mash of parts before the Master comes back.”
The doors of the TARDIS opened, revealing the familiar corridors of the Master’s flagship. Top Hat and Ditzy’s head poked out. As she nodded in approval he offered her a wink. “Who’s your navigator, baby?”
She flipped her mane back coolly. “He’s somewhere on this ship. Come on girls, let’s go.”
Top Hat shrugged to himself as the gaggle of ponies left the TARDIS. “Whoah, whoah, whoah. We can’t be bringing everyone! Even little Dinky?”
Ditzy nodded. “No one’s staying behind, in case we have to run. Besides, she was more useful today than that blue slime mare you picked up once.”
Top Hat locked the doors of the TARDIS behind them. “But she had those cute red antennae thingies! She always complimented your hair!”
Ditzy stared daggers at the Doctor. “She tried to organically assimilate my scalp. And she never did the dishes!”
As they walked into a larger equipment room an amused voice chuckled to itself. "Doctor, one wonders if you enjoy arranging these inevitable catfights.”
The group froze as the Master and the Warmaker stepped out of a doorway. Before Top Hat could draw his multi-tool the Wakmaker’s right claw lifted, the cannon there attached placing three red dots on his chest.
The master stepped forward. “No beeping last minutes saves today, Doctor. I do believe this is the end of the line for all of you.”
Top Hat gave a deprecating smile as he raised his hooves. “So, now I see the height of your victory and everything, yeah? Popcorn? Applause?” Behind him his retinue froze, waiting for an opening.
The Master slowly shook his head. “I do enjoy letting my superiority show every once in a while, Doctor.” He shrugged apologetically. “However, aside from this being a unfeasible amount of prisoners I personally find your current form annoying. Even if I kill everyone in this room, I’ll have two others Doctors to gloat over. I’d much rather have that old UNIT dandy than you.”
Sparkler stomped the ground. “Top Hat is good Doctor pony! My father will be proud to being him someday!”
Ditzy’s eyes went wide and Dinky blinked in confusion. The Master inclined his head to the teen. “You’ve figured it out then, my dear Sparkler? This one is sharper than she lets everyone know, Doctor.” He turned to the Warmaker. “Shoot her first.”
Dinky gasped as Ditzy growled. The Grand Invasorial Warkmaker’s eyes flickered to the small unicorn for a contemplative moment. Without moving, he replied “No, Master.”
The impatient immortal turned to stare at his henchman incredulously. “Why on Gallopfrey not, you insignificant worm?”
The Hegemonic Destructor’s claw lashed as he lifted the Master off of his surprised hooves. “Because I am real!”
The startled Time Charged landed in a heap of machinery. Before he could stand, Sparkler, Ditzy, Ripple, and Savory were already at his side raining a hail of kicks onto him. The cowering immortal carefully drew a small device from his neighru jacket and clicked a button on the side. A pulse of blue light threw the mares backwards, allowing the Master the needed seconds to get on his hooves again. Even Top Hat and Dinky fell to their knees in pain.
The Master aimed the device at the sprawled form of Savory. “Oldest acquaintances first, my dear. Unfortunately, this one doesn’t have a mercifully quick setting. How unlucky for you.”
The weapon was blown out of his hooves by the cannon shot of the Warmaster. As the Master gaped three red dots circled unto his chest. Without a word the illiop fired. The resulting explosion came not from any gun barrel but from the Warmaker’s own cybernetics.
The Master smiled. “You poor brute, did you really think I would arm you with anything that I’d allow to be pointed at me?” Casting a glance at the rousing ponies, the disheveled Time Charger ran for his life.
Top Hat rose to his feet first. He helped Ditzy and Pond off the floor as Dinky walked over to the smoking Hegemonic Destructor. The small filly placed her hoof against his side.
“I remembered, little one. You helped me remember…” His voice had a wet sound to it.
She smiled. “You remembered your doll?”
He shook his head as lights blinked out up and down his body. “No. I remembered my sister.”
Ripple shoved the spellbound Top Hat, who had watched the scene silently. “Doctor, the universe is at stake! We’d better go.”
Top Hat knelt down by Dinky, gently crooking his forelimb around her. He nodded as the silently crying filly looked up to him. She looked away and took the twitching claws of the old illiop in her hooves as his breathing slowed down. His fingers curled around her hoof, and she petted them as his grip lessened.
“Miss Pond, a universe is ending right here,” Top Hat said reverently. “We should see it on its way out.”
John Smith threw his hooves in the air in frustration. “This is ridiculous! They’re running a type 7.0 semi-sapient Stross OS on a Kerenzekov motherboard. The compatibility issues alone should ground this ship permanently!”
The Adviser was on his back, multi-tool in his mouth as he adjusted the insides of an open panel. He carefully spit his sonic screwdriver onto his chest. “Does 7.0 turn out to be that bad? I’ll keep the TARDIS on 5.7 then.”
John shook his head as he attacked the operating system with a quiet rage. “You’ll tell yourself that now.”
The Master ran into the room with a weapon in hoof. He spotted his fellow Time Charger a second before John could react. Gleefully aiming at Smith he walked languidly up the ramp, occasionally slowing down as he spared a hoof to straighten his suit.
As he approached John whispered out of the side of his mouth. “Run! He might just shoot me first without the talking part.”
“Dearest Doctor! How lovely to have you here. Finally I command an audience very nearly worthy of me.”
The Adviser shook his head as he worked quietly and deliberately. “Like there was a chance he’d really do that,” he whispered to himself.
John and the Master stared at each other for a space of seconds. John’s mind was racing with possible escapes. Unfortunately, his captor had appeared when his hooves where in the air, not a good position for trickery. The Master’s eyes glimmered with delight.
“Which where you going to use, Doctor?”
John cocked his head. “Pardon?”
“Which speech?” The Master gestured with the gun like a conductor bidding an orchestra to start. “Shall we go over ‘the inherent potential of ponykind’ speech? The ‘cosmic responsibility’ ditty?” His eyes lit up. “Maybe that old ‘This planet is protected’ speech. I love how the venom almost starts dripping in that one.”
The gun was pointed slightly more forcefully at John’s chest. The Master was now within ten hooves of him. “With which maudlin oratory did you intend to startle me with today?”
The seconds ticked away as John saw danger growing in the eyes of the Master. He felt a soft kick from behind him. The message from the Adviser was quite clear: keep him talking, dummy!
“Um…stamps. I was going to talk about how much I love stamps.”
The Master was caught dumbfounded. “As some kind of universal metaphor, certainly?”
“Yeah.” John’s face scrunched up in mock embarrassment. “ Yeah, a bit. Sort of. Not really at all, no.”
“I can’t say that you lack surprises,” the Master said with a shake of his head. “Look at you. We both have a responsibility to guide the universe as the last of the Time Chargers. You wore the robes of Ramblelon as the President of the Time Chargers once. Now you fix clocks, toasters, and presumably clubs and fire-sticks.”
A startled voice from downstairs gasped in shock. “President?”
John sighed. “It was a weird weekend.” He gave a start. “Ditzy! What are you doing here?”
The Adviser quickened his efforts with a dark look. “This is why you shouldn’t bring a retinue. Never break the potential hostage limit.”
Beneath them Ditzy Doo-Smith walked into view. The Master looked at John and shrugged comically as he redirected his gun barrel. “Surely you don’t expect to frighten me, my dear? After all, you have no gun, whereas I have both a gun and some very recent painful memories.”
“Go ahead , ya big meanie!” An angry voice called out from the other side of the room. “I’ll teach you how we deal with stuffed shirts in Scoltland!”
The Master whirled, realizing that Sparkler and Savory were ascending the platform from opposite ends. Savory gave him a mocking wave of familiarity. Sparkler lowered her head. “You are being outnumbered. I am daring you to shoot all of us before I run you through.”
The Master shrugged, returning his gaze to the Doctor. “You surround yourself with intelligent lovelies, Doctor. All of them willing sacrifice their lives for the universe.” He raised the gun, pointing it at John just as Ditzy hovered over the railing. “Also willing to sacrifice the universe’s life for yours, I’d wager.”
Every mare stopped dead in their path. John shook his head. “No. No, Ditzy. No, Sparkler, no!”
The Master laughed, gesturing at John’s area with the gun. The mares sheepishly took position behind him. As they walked behind the machinery, Savory’s eyes went wide as she saw the prostrate UNIT Science Adviser. He lifted a hoof to his lips.
John sighed. “I’ll give it to you. You’ll never shut up until I do it.” He rolled his eyes. “Why?”
The Master’s smiled exploded in triumph. “One has to eventually contemplate their own end, Doctor. As much as it pains me to do so, I considered the idea that my goals of running this decadent universe correctly and continuing my immortality might conflict. I just might die one day, Doctor. Thus, I revived the Smooze. Assuming I live, they’ll rework the universe in the image of perfect order. In case,” he swallowed, “the unexpected happens, they will be my legacy. Imagine a race that will last for all time; a race that can never be defeated, never be stopped!”
Downstairs, Top Hat carefully removed a wall panel with his sonic screwdriver. Looking in at the display screen, he whispered back to Dinky. “The Doctor is almost ready to flip the switch up there. I need you to turn that green dial. Hurry! The girls can only distract him for so long.”
Dinky nodded, her horn glowing as she levitated a spanner wrench.
The Master took on a quiet, contemplative air. “They'll do well for themselves. My principles and beliefs are coded into the Smooze’s genome. One day their geneticists may decode their genetic code. I've written my memoirs and principals into their junk DNA.” He raised a commiserating pair of eyebrows in the Doctor's direction. “I took up a whole length of introns using you as a cautionary tale.” A grin reappeared. “Of course, they couldn’t emulate you if they tried. I checked their programming. Free will is wasted the many.”
He shook his head at the disgusted look John now wore. “You of all beings should understand me, Doctor. After all, aren’t you a father now? You certainly remember the pain caused when a child refuses to follow the advice of those with more experience and intellect?”
John took a step forward with an angry air. “If I compelled my daughters to do what I’ve said, I’ll never be proud of her! Yes, they’ll make mistakes. Of course, they’ll be hurt. In the end, they’ll still make me proud at what she’s accomplished.” He pointed to the Equestrian landscape on the viewscreen. “And so will they!”
The Master looked at John patronizingly. His sarcastic reply was cut short as the side tilted at a sharp angle. His gun went flying to the floor below as he gripped a nearby rail with both hooves. He them immediately felt a grey hoof lashed out across his face.
The injured Time Charger flew against a console. He looking into Ditzy’s angry eyes. “After all this time it escapes me why your husband hasn’t fixed those eyes, my dear.” His hoof slammed down on a large purple button.
Ditzy snarled. “I’m not broken!” Suddenly she stopped, hearing a bevy of familiar sucking and sloshing sounds. She turned back to the bleeding madpony in alarm as a blob of purple goo rolled into the room through an open vent.
He shrugged. “You unleashed your family on me, witch. Allow me to return the favor.” He regained his feet. “Your daughter’s down there, correct?” Not waiting for an answer he ran down the ramp toward the main controls.
“Not escaping this time!” John jumped over machinery as he pursued the Master. “And for your information I have a family. You've only made a race of goopy marrionettes.”
Upstairs the Adviser leapt to his feet. He grabbed Sparkle by her shoulder. “Miss, I need some of that spunk and bravery and I need it now!”
She stammered. “How… how to we fight Smooze here?” She saw the violet death crawling up the ramp.
The Adviser calmly gestured to the rows of computer consoles that surrounded them. “I understand we have all of this expensive equipment. Expensive and heavy, yet not bolted to the floor.”
A roaring blob advanced on Ripple as she stood at the top of the ramp. She screamed as she turned from it. The thing suddenly made squelching noises as three large glowing consoles slammed into it, carrying it down to the floor.
He nodded with pride at Sparkler’s glowing horn. “That is a judicial use of technology.” She smiled.
Downstairs Top Hat grabbed Dinky by her hoof. “We’d better go. I’d never forgive myself if anything happened to you. I’d yell at myself a lot.”
Dinky gulped as she looked down the corridors. “What about the monsters?”
He shook his head. “All of the Smooze he brought up should be accounted for in this room.” Suddenly Top Hat cocked his head and stopped. A gigantic tidal wave of Smooze splashed into view in the middle of their path.
“That is unless they’ve consumed every illiop and octopedes on this ship! Reverse running!”
Inside the control room the Master’s hooves played across the console, erecting a shimmering force field. It raised just in time to stop a flung chair from the second story platform that was perfectly aimed at the maniacal Time Charger. It was reflected off at a much greater speed, shimmering with sparks.
He shook his head. “Miss Savory, you never give up, do you.”
He turned in the direction of a crackling sound. John Smith was trying to physically push through the wall of smoking energy. John’s eyes flashed as part of his trench coat caught on fire. “Master! You have just put yourself in the most dangerous place in the universe!”
The mustached maniac only laughed. “My dear Doctor, how could this be any different than the Planet of Fire, or the clash at Logopony? Danger would be our middle names, if we had them.”
The seething stallion smashed against the barrier; arcs of energy played over his fur, singing it about. “You’re standing between me and my family!” Just as the wall seemed weakened Ditzy flew past, picking John. A second later a purple tendril smashed down on the space he had just occupied. The Master laughed.
Top Hat ran into the control room with Dinky on his back. He threw himself to the side to avoid the deadly sentient tsunami that stretched out for him like a grasping claw. Regaining his footing, he lifted Dinky onto a computer bank. “Stay here. I’ll do the fixing thing now.”
Dinky stared at him with pleading eyes. “What about my folks?”
Top Hat pointed to the raised platform. Sparkler threw machinery everywhere at the Adviser’s request, repelling the upper assault and bedeviling the Smooze below. “I think your family is in good hands.” She stared back uncomprehendingly. “Fine, hooves! I don’t know why I try sometimes.”
A shadow appeared over Dinky. Top Hat grabbed her and dodged to the side as a tentacle smashed the equipment behind them. He stared across the room into the eyes of John and Ditzy. John waved at him frantically while he held Ditzy back from flying into the spiraling field of tentacles. Top Hat pushed his namesake down and ran across the room with Dinky riding.
As Top Hat approached the middle of the room the Master whispered to a smaller blob of Smooze that sat unmoving and unnoticed on the floor. “Now, boy! Get them!”
The blob hesitated for a second. It then leapt into the air.
Top Hat stopped. He heard the single squelch and felt the weight of his back shift.
“Oh, no. “
Across the room he saw Ditzy start to cry, falling into her husband’s arms. John Smith stared blankly into space.
“Oh, please no. All of my no.” Top Hat quivered, tears coming easily. “Pleased don’t let this no be yes.”
He slowly turned his head. On his back Dinky shivered, she was half imbedded in a motionless block of Smooze.
The Master raised his hoof. “Shhh, now. Shh, everyone.” The Smooze stopped. “I want to see this.”
Dinky looked at Top Hat imploringly with pleading eyes. “You can… you can fix this, right?” She called out with effort. “Daddy, help me!”
John walked forward slowly. “Oh, my darling child. I’m… I’m so… ”
“No!” Ditzy interrupted. “Not for her. Don’t you dare say that for your own daughter.”
As Ripple and Sparkler ran past him, the Adviser looked down with confusion. “This is taking too long.”
Savory turned to him in shock. “You heartless stallion.”
The Doctor shook his head and smiled. “Not at all, my dear Savory. She should have been enveloped a full minute ago. I can think of only one reason.”
The Smooze shivered and began moving. Dinky closed her eyes, waiting for the end.
Savory turned to the Adviser. “What’s going on?”
“The most powerful force in the universe.” He smiled triumphantly. “Mercy, my dear.”
Picket’s head formed out of the top of the blob. His half-formed face turned toward the Master. “Dad? I don’t wanna do this.”
The Master’s mouth dropped as he stared incredulously. Centuries of upsets allowed him to recover quickly. “Daddy needs you to do this Picket. She’s a nasty pony who wants to wreck Daddy’s life.”
Picket’s features quivered as he turned to Dinky. “I have to do this.”
She moved her head sideways as best as she could. “No, you don’t.”
He started to move over her. Ditzy gasped as John petted her head. “Take a good look, Ditzy. She’s not in pain.”
Top Hat stood dead still while the internal conflict raged on his back. “Come on, boy. Be better than this.”
Dinky whispered to Picket as he started to flow up her neck. “My Dad would never tell me to do anything wrong.”
The blob split apart. It flowed down Top Hat’s sides harmless and coalesced into a young stallion-shaped blob on the floor. It gave the Master a nervous look. “Dad? Can we go home?”
The ancient conqueror beat his hooves against the force field. “You unbearable imbecile. I created you to do one thing! Can’t you even accomplish that?”
Picket blubbered tearlessly. “But… Dad… “
The Master’s eyes narrowed. “You were a mistake.” He turned to John Smith. “That’s another one in your pile, dear Doctor. Do you know what doesn’t have crises of conscience or moral uncertainty?” The Master manipulated a control panel. Suddenly bright thin lights flew across the room, leaving scorch marks in their wake. “Lasers, Doctor! Shame the lasers, I dare you!”
The Smooze was now entirely inert except for Picket’s crying. Top Hat looked down at the child, reached his hooves out, and the pulled back biting his lip. He stepped to the side to avoid a laser shot and spun around, gesturing as if he was arguing with himself. Suddenly shrugging, he grabbed the blob of Smooze and ran for cover. Tripping, he found himself pulled to his hooves by Ripple. She picked up the crying pile of Smooze as she ran underneath cover.
“Um. There, there.” She looked mortified as she pet Picket. Her hoof made it about two inches in. As Top Hat sat next to her she glared at him.
John rushed forward to grab Dinky. His daughter ran forward, ignoring the criss-crossing of beams.
The Adviser grabbed the railing. “Oh, no.”
Savory ducked under a fallen computer bank. “Doctor? You realize should get under cover… ” the metal of the computer started melting under the laser barrage. “While we still have cover, that is.”
He lifted a hoof to shush her. “It’s a standard attack pattern. Why tell her to run? John, didn’t I tell you to keep your mind on the… ”
Savory looked out of her cover. “On what, Doctor?” He was no longer there.
John reached out for his daughter while she was mere moments away. He suddenly threw his limb in front of his face as the glow of laser fire blinded him. The smell of burnt fur and cooked meat assaulted his nostrils.
Please, no. Not after all that. Don’t let her be…
Opening his eyes, John saw a dark red dandy’s suit scorched black by intense heat. It worn by a much-paler gentlepony. The injured Adviser carried an unharmed filly in his limbs as he struggled to collapse into a safe corner next to Ditzy.
The Master clapped. “I got you, Doctor! The only Doctor that ever mattered to me, and I finally did it. I told you your emotions would be your undoing one day.” He faked a sympathetic smile. “At least things will hurt less as the blood loss rate increases.”
Hot tears ran down John Smith’s face. Laser fire played around him. He gave it no heed. “... and we can settle this. We can settle this.” He drew his sonic screwdriver, aiming at the floor as he breathed heavily.
The Master clapped. “You expect to intimidate me? You’ve always kept your foot right at the line where you’d be actually dangerous.” He spun around, imitating Top Hat. “Even the one of you who died the most hasn’t wised up.”
John narrowed his eyes. “Yes, haven’t I? Always been just on the edge. Always been almost dangerous, almost murderously vengeful. Do you know what a family does to a person, Master?”
Dinky stared at her father. “Mommy, what’s Daddy doing?” Nearby Sparkler shivered.
Ditzy turned her daughter’s head to look at her mother’s eyes. “This is the part you shouldn’t watch, Little Muffin.”
The Master shrugged. John responded by aiming his screwdriver at Picket and firing. The Master covered his ears as the Smooze foal’s burbling cry came over every speaker in the room.
“Doctor, do stop that racket! It’s unseemly in a confrontation like this.” The Master didn’t notice the nearby Smooze starting to bubble.
“Yes, quite lovely, isn’t it?” The John passed his multitool over a communications panel. “Let’s share it with the folks back home. It should be a top play hit.”
Every pony of the ship winced as the noise became unbearable. The Master played with his console. “I shall merely eliminate the screaming monstrosity.” As the lasers aimed toward Picket, they all stopped firing. The maniacal madpony smashed his hoof into the console. “What now?”
Top Hat waved from the side of the room. “Hi! I’m the silly one, remember? So sorry, but I just broke your toy. And if I’m not mistaken…” he said as he angled a hoof behind the Master, “you’ve got bigger problems than me.”
The Master spun around. The viewscreen was filled with Smooze. The entire town had coalesced into a single tendril, now reaching into the sky and wrapped around the ship. Holes began to appear in the side of the control room as angry Smooze poured in, ignoring everypony but the Master and his force field.
“This is preposterous!” The tyrannical Time Charger rushed back and forth, looking at the wall of slime surrounding his shield.
“Oh, this?” John cackled. “This is the most normal thing in the world! You didn’t just make a super weapon, Master. You remade the universe’s most hated super weapon and made them ponies! Real ponies, the kind who have tea parties and families and go to magic shows! Real ponies, Master!” John gritted his teeth in righteous fury as a tendril smashed out of the floor behind the force field.
“And what real pony can ignore the cries of a child over a viciously abusive parent?”
Arms of Smooze began to surround the Master. He held his hooves up toward them. “Now, I can explain everything…” The purple tentacles wrapped around him, pulling him toward the hole in the ship.
“Doctor!” The Master cried out in fear. “Let me die and you shall be forever alone, Doctor!”
John blinked. “Are you kidding? I have a family.” He turned his back on the retreating shape of the screaming Master and walked toward Ditzy.
Top Hat ran towards the damage control unit. “I am not done yet!” He ran his glowing sonic screwdriver over the sparkling machinery. “Just a little more time. Planet’s at stake, you know!”
John nodded, picking up the Adviser. He walked out of the room with a serious look on his face. The rest of the crowd followed him except for Ripple.
“You daft old hatter, come on!”
Top Hat shook his head as he typed like a mad composer. “I calculate I have just enough time before they come back to save me. Run!”
John walked stoically. Ditzy was at his side with the rest behind him. She whispered in his ear, “Turn left up here. TARDIS is fourth door on the left.” The seriously-looking Time Charger nodded almost unperceptively.
Ditzy smiled. It would ruin his moment to ask for directions.
Top Hat whirled away from the computer and explosions rocked the ship. “There we go,” he screamed over the din. “Evacuation room of aliens jettisoned toward the nearest interstellar patrol point, the ship set to implode, the big planet-ending thing dealt with... ”
Ripple rushed to him. “What about us?”
A blue box materialized next to the pair. As the door opened, Top Hat stepped over the threshold and pulled Ripple Pond inside.
“Always remember, Miss Pond, that I really am that impressive!”
The TARDIS materialized next to two identical blue boxes. John Smith walked out and placed the heavily-breathing Adviser against his own TARDIS.
John knelt down next to the Adviser. Tears ran down his cheeks.The pained Adviser patted him on the forehead with his horn as if it was a knighting ceremony. “You’re doing something right. The family thing.”
John just gaped. “But…but why did you keep ragging on me for it?”
The blue unicorn only giggled. “My dear boy, that means I remember how much it hurts when things ends. Logically, before it ends it must have been wonderful.” The aged colt sighed with memories. “If we take away everything that’s good to get rid of the hurting, we’d be no better than the Cybermares; tin ponies without a heart.”
John felt a tear roll down his check. “It hurts sometimes. It hurt more than all the worlds in the sky.”
His past self nodded, as if giving a diagnosis. “That means it’s working.”
Top Hat knelt next to the dying Time Charger. He placed his hooves on the Adviser’s forehead.
John looked at him suspiciously. “What are you doing?”
Top Hat grimced. “I’m sealing away his memories of us. The next one won’t remember meeting the Smiths.”
John grabbed the ancient wanderer by his bow tie. “You can’t! You can’t let me wander without them! The long nights would be easier just knowing about this!”
Top Hat whispered to John Smith. “What does a family do to a pony? What does it do, John? What does it do, Mister John Smith of Third Featherdown with the squeaky gate you never dared to fix?”
John released Top Hat. “It changes him.”
“Right, it changes a pony. What happens when you change the pony who has to do just the right thing at just the right time for six hundred years? Where do the stars end up turning? What are the odds that darling Ditzy would even be born into such a world?”
The Adviser sniffed. “Don’t let me end listening to this nonsense. I need to talk to Dinky.”
The two Doctors gaped at their fallen self. “Why… why do you need to talk to my daughter?”
The Adviser smiled. “Because one day, Doctor you will unleash her on the universe. And she will change everything.”
He closed his eyes in pain. When he opened them up, Dinky was standing there.
“Hello, young one.”
She sniffed. “Are you leaving?”
He nodded. “But it’s not my worst day ever. Shall I tell you of my worst day?”
She started crying. "Sure."
“I remember as a young colt losing my favorite toy. I was so angry I trekked under the orange sky to the pony who was supposed to know everything. He lived on a mountain, surrounded by dirty snow and straining flowers. When I found him, I asked him to help me. Do you know what he did?”
Dinky sniffled, shaking her head.
“He pointed to one of the flowers, struggling so hard to survive. He made me stare at it. I saw an amazing, complicated life form, fighting to exist in a harsh world. I saw the beauty of the individual petals, the glimmering white snow checked by the grains of dirt that were made by long geologic struggles.” He sighed. “I saw everything that others miss after that day. I don’t recall having a bad day ever again. Do you understand, Dinky?”
“Good. I’d love to talk more, but could you get Miss Savory for me?”
She didn't move. "Are you going to be okay, Mister Doctor?"
He weakly caressed her mane. "I promise you, I'll feel like a new stallion in the morning. Go get her, please. And good-bye."
Dinky kissed the Adviser’s cheek tenderly as she walked off. While Savory walked over to him the Adviser watched the sunset.
“Did you know, Miss Savory, that I have always been fond of sunsets?” A slow smile cracked over his pained expression. “Still have yet to see two of them be the same. Carry me inside TARDIS now, dear. It’s time to prepare.”
From across the hill the Smith family watched Savory help the ailing unicorn to stand. Ditzy wiped off a tear. “She’s such a brave girl. So fearless.”
John nodded. “I’d expect her to be. Never gives up. Never surrenders. It’s what you’d expect from the grandmother of an Element of Harmony.”
Ditzy’s eyes spun in her head. She stared at Savory’s flank as it disappeared into the TARDIS, finally realizing the import of the steaming dessert that decorated it.
“John!” She grabbed her husband’s collar. “I knew her, John! I meet her when I was very young and... and she wasn't. Savory Pie! Her name’s Savory Pie!”
Inside the TARDIS, Savory tearfully laid the Adviser on the floor of his control room.
“Why are you crying, my dear?” He was calmly smiling.
“You’re... you’re going to die now, Doctor.”
He gave a feeble nod. “To die would be a great adventure.” Suddenly the Time Charger exploded into a shimmering field of golden light. Savory covered her eyes at the intense brightness. When she looked again a much younger brown earth pony lay on the ground. He sprang to his feet with a grin.
“Inventory time, dear Savory! Here now, what have I got? Still have legs, I see. Great! I love running. Still not a pegasus, but it can’t be helped. Oh, and just feel those teeth.” He blinked for a second, and then held out a hoof as if he was a skull-bearing actor upon the stage. “Feel those teeth,” he dramatically enunciated, his booming voice filling the console room. Miss Savory was still too stunned to react as he turned to her.
“Just listen to that voice, my dear. Deep and dramatic, with just the right hint of enthusiasm and whimsy. I think I’m rather going to like this one.” His eyebrows raised in glee. “To the wardrobe!”
The taken-aback mare followed him to a room she had never seen. Suits, shoes, cravats, and penny-whistles littered the floor. She gingerly tried to get the attention of the manic stallion whose rear could be seen sticking out of a closet. “Doctor, if you’re… alright... then we should head home. I do believe the Brigadier would like your report.”
A formal Zebra ambassador’s uniform was flung past her head. “Why would I ever want to do that? Of all the infinite possibilities, imagine wasting our time in such a way.” She heard him gasp. “Miss Savory, do have a look at this!”
She gasped as he drew out with a flourish an unbelievably long multicolored scarf. He held it in his hooves like a proud father holds a foal. Swallowing uncomfortably, she nodded. “It’s certainly…long, Doctor.”
He returned the nod, a new brown hat draped across his head. “Yes indeed! Rather as if someone had found some good material and just continued on, heedless of limits or conventions.” He threw it around his neck with a flourish. “I think I’m in love.”
She found herself smiling in spite of herself as the crazed Time Charger marched with purpose to the main console. With a sigh, she reminded him, “It won’t work. The Council of Time fixed it, remember?”
He turned with a frustrated look on his face. “Of course they did! They locked it all according to tradition and regulation and procedure!” Instantly the stallion produced both his sonic screwdriver and a toothy grin. “Which means they would never have expected me to do this.”
He aimed over his shoulder and clicked the multi-tool without even looking. A small beep from the device was immediately followed by all the lights in the control room turning on.
Savory’s mouth opened in astonishment. The Doctor bowed low as a performer would, his forelimb throwing his scarf in front of him . She let forth a wellspring of laughter bubbling inside her as she fell on the floor, rolling back and forth.
An offered hoof gently lifted her up from the floor. She found herself unable to resist the toothy smile presented to her.
“Well then, Miss Savory. We have all of time and space in front of us.” His eyes gleamed. “Where to first?”
John and Top Hat leaned against the TARDIS, watching the town of Violet Springs. Ponies were busy fixing their town from the damages it had suffered from falling ship debris.
Sparkler looked at it in terror. “The Smooze is still there, Father?”
John shook his head, cocking a hoof at Top Hat. “This beautiful genius fixed it. Ask him.”
Top Hat took a low bow. “I get the highest points today!” He grabbed Sparkler by her front hooves and spun her around in a dance. “Because it pleases me, I have made ponies!”
She giggled until Ditzy pushed the two apart. She glared at Top Hat. “Control your instincts, Mister. She’s coming home with us. No new companions.”
He sadly nodded. “The Master said he genetically programmed them. I rewrote that. Filled them to the brim with redundant commands to stay in their current configuration, never change shape again. Any Smooze that was a semi-sentient house remains a house. Any ones that were ponies are now perfectly pony forever.”
Dinky touched his side. “And Picket?”
Top Hat patted her on the head. “Last I saw him several overemotional mares were arguing over who gets to be his mother. He’ll have a long, wonderful, and completely pony life.”
The young filly responded by hugging Top Hat. He slowly worked his way out, looking at Ripple. “That’s what you do with girls, right? Anyway, had a lovely time Smiths! Must ta-ta away. Geronimo!” He cantered off towards his TARDIS with a wave.
Sparkler waved enthusiastically until she caught sight of her father’s thoughtful expression. “Are you sad, Father? Sad being for the good unicorn?”
He shook his head. “No, Sparkler. A very wise pony once compared life to a garden we spend a day with. We shouldn’t appreciate the beauty any less for the fact we have to leave.”
Dinky snorted. “I’d rather go for donuts them a garden, right now.”
Her family giggled. Her father recovered first. “Well then, to the pastry shop we go!” He carried her up unto his shoulders as they walked into the TARDIS. “I know a special one just for the occasion.”
Top Hat stood at his TARDIS door. He watched the Smith’s dematerialize through the tiniest crack in the open TARDIS door.
“Was it worth it, Doctor?”
“Argh!” He jumped in surprise at the sudden appearance of Ripple. “I wasn’t doing it!”
She smiled. “Doctor, was it worth having a family when you had to outlive them?”
He lowered his gaze, his hooves rubbing against each other. His head bobbed from side to side as if caught in an internal monologue. He suddenly stared into Ripple’s eyes. “Yes, Miss Pond. Every second of it.”
She looked thoughtful for a second, and then cantered off. “Take me home, Doctor. There’s something I need to do.”
He stood by the door, fondling his hat in his hooves as he watched the space the Smith family TARDIS had previously occupied. Ripple leaned her head out of the door of the TARDIS wardrobe. “And get a nice suit on. I’m getting married in the morning.”
Top Hat grinned. “Miss Pond, I admit you’re a quite wonderful girl, but…”
She rolled her eyes. “Not to you, silly! Come on and get this thing moving!” She ducked back inside the wardrobe.
The ancient traveler smiled all the way to the console.
Far into the golden age of the magical land of Equestria
The aged mare wandered past her mantle. Her horn glowed as she lifted up each award or photograph. She carefully wiped the dust off each object until she reached the end. In between a Professor Walking Prize in Physics and an Order of the Royal Crown for Bravery Medal was a nearly shapeless lump of ancient clay. Only the most generous art critic would remark that it looked like a pony. Scratched into its side was the word “GRNADMA.”
“I should have brought this to your book signings.” She gave a mischievous smile.
Her attention was drawn by a soft, tentative knock on the door. She paced towards it, intrigued. “I haven’t had a visitor in some time now.”
She opened the door to reveal a small crowd of ponies. Her eyes played over the pair of unicorns and the oddly staring pensive pegasus. “What can I help you all with…”
She saw the stallion. Her ancient hearts nearly stopped.
“Huh. Aging. That’s another thing you did better than me. Hi! I was in the neighborhood looking for Pony Joes, or Donut Joes, or something, and I can’t quite recognize the old place anymore. I thought that I turned left at the statue of you, but…” John Smith scratched his mane nervously.
The elderly woman stared. “Grandfather? That is you, isn’t it Grandfather?”
He nodded. She flung her hooves around his neck with the energy of a much younger mare. He let a long breath out. “I have some ponies I’d like you to meet, Wandering Star. This is your Aunt Dinky. Well, that may be a bit weird …”
She nuzzled him, her eyes closed. “Hush. Give me this moment first. You came back. You really came back”.
He hugged her tightly, ignoring his tears. “Of course I did. You’re family.”
Follow the Doo-Smith family into their next adventure, Doctor Whooves and the House of Daring!
Also, see how Ditzy and the Doctor met and fell in love in Choices!