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by Jeffrey C. Wells
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Part Six: Hip-Deep in Vision
"Hey, Rarity!" I said, invading Rarity's personal space. "You had any of that there lemonade punch yet?"
"I… was just about to, Applejack," said Rarity, taking one dainty step back from me and magically brushing a few threads of hay off her tail. "It looks delicious, and I'm going to take a wild guess from your enthusiastic reaction that it is."
"Uh huh," I said, nodding vigorously. "Uh huh."
"I'm… also going to take a wild guess from your enthusiastic reaction that it is just a little teeny bit powerful on the alcohol front." She scrunched up her mouth. "Typical Pinkie," she said.
"Naw," I replied. "It ain't the alcohol making it delicious. It's that ginger beer. Or them lemons. Or how they go together, synergistically-wise."
Rarity blinked. "Did you just say 'synergistically' at me?"
I barked a laugh. "It ain't a cuss word, Rarity!" I said. "It just means things working together to be greater than the sum of their parts!"
"I know perfectly well what it means," said Rarity. "I can't believe that you do."
"It's all by-product of all this science I got bombin' around in my noggin!" I exclaimed.
"Okay, then," said Rarity, backing another step away, less dainty this time. "That's… wonderful, Applejack."
I grinned crookedly at her. "Ain't it, though?" I said. "Well, I'm off! Going to meet the stallion of my dreams!" I dusted off my best upper-crust Manehattanite accent. "Ta ta, darling!"
"Ta ta, indeed," said Rarity, brow all furrowed. I galloped off to the left, then back off to the right, then left again.
"Hey, Big Mac," I said as I went. "Try the punch! It's delicious. Hey, Rose! Awful good punch they got! Granny! Try the punch!"
Ain't this exciting?
* * *
I batted my eyelashes at the powerful swarthy-green hunk of stallionhood that was Mister Bell Pepper.
"Hey, Bell," I said, huskily. "You, uh, tried that lemon punch yet? It's mighty tasty."
Bell lifted his head and looked up at me. He had had his eye focused on a little chore-stool what had gotten tucked away under a table, giving that little piece of furniture way too much attention for what it was, just a hunk of wood on three legs. Bell's attentions would be better spent on a deserving target. A ready-and-willing palomino mare of my very close personal acquaintance, such as.
"Oh, hello, Señorita Applejack," said Bell, tossing his mane out of his eyes and just about making my knees buckle underneath me in the doing so. "Having tasted the rest of your foods, I am positive that it is, but." He shrugged. "The drink is not our family's way. Some prohibitions are best left unviolated."
Oh, you big sweet thing, I thought. "Suit yourself," I said, cheerily.
"I must look a perfect, what, 'stick-in-the-mud' to you?" he said, blushing a little under the green. "I do not join in the punch, I do not join in the dancing. All I do is stand over here by the wall."
"Well, the dancing has been a little crazy. And hard to understand." Although, suddenly, now that I was thinking about it, the pieces of Pinkie's hypercube dance were starting to fall into place. All a pony needed to do was presume the existence of a hypothetical space with greater than three orthogonal dimensions, hear? Ain't so difficult. I blinked away the concept of n-level space and sidled up to Bell a little, causing that cute little flush of his to burn even brighter.
"Well, looky there," I said. "I always thought you was a green Pepper, but in this light, looks like you got some red in you, around the cheek area."
Bell covered his face with one hoof. "I am sorry," he said, chuckling.
"Don't be sorry," I said. "I like 'em a little shy."
Bell went right cherry-colored. I called that a good sign, so I charged on. "Now that my friend Pinkie ain't on stage no more," I said, "I reckon the dancing's gonna stay sedate for a spell. When the band gets off their break and back up there, you, uh, care to join me for a little spin around the floor?"
"Yes," said Bell, laughing a little at my forwardness. "Yes. I would very much enjoy this thing, Señorita. And I apologize for not doing things the gentlepony way and requesting it of you first."
My stomach quivered. "Shucks, Bell," I said. "You're a perfect gentlepony. You just need to speak up and tell me what you want, is all."
I leaned in real close to that pony, closer than I ever had been. "Because you wouldn't believe some of the stuff I'd do for you," I whispered in his ear.
Bell's eyes went a little wide. "That… um, that is good to know," he said, nervously.
"And I tell you something else, sugarcube," I continued, the brain-fizz bubbling suddenly hot. "I got me an appointment to go up to Cloudsdale and talk about science day after tomorrow, but when I get home, you and me's gonna have us a right proper one-on-one." I touched one hoof to his chin. "And then we'll see if we can't make you violate some of them prohibitions."
"Aha," said Bell, visibly sweating. "Cloudsdale, you say?"
"YES!" I shouted, whipping around dramatically. "I was gonna do a silly little talk about how maybe them weatherponies should use pumps instead of tornadoes to get water up to that there cloud-factory they got, but I realize now how narrow my vision's been! Why stop with a pump? Why do we even need clouds in the first place, Bell?"
"Rain… water?" said Bell, bumping into the side-table behind us, knocking over a glass of something. Berry Punch, who had been standing at the table, sketching designs onto a napkin and muttering something about matter or anti-matter or something, cussed blue at him, grabbed her plans in her mouth, and stalked off. Weren't like her to be so short, but I didn't have time to reflect on that there incongruity, 'cause I was hip-deep in vision again.
"Rainwater, hah!" I said. "And y'all think clouds is the best way to deliver that, do you? Atomize the water so that them peggies can personally ferry it to every corner of Equestria and then spend valuable hoof-labor dumping it back on the ground? Why are we wasting our time with that? Why don't we just have pipes running across the sky with little spigots in 'em?"
"That is… a lot of pipes."
"I KNOW!" I screamed. "It's so beautiful!" I grabbed Bell by the shoulder and gestured at the sky beyond the roof of the barn. "Can't you just see it? A vast network of shiny metal, a web of glittering industry, covering the whole sky. They could have one of them electrical switching devices up there in Cloudsdale Central, could turn the entire sky on or off like a dang faucet! And once the gantry was in place, we could mount a whole mess of them electric unicorn lamps on it, real big ones, so we'd get light to grow crops by, twenty-four-seven! Turn all Equestria into a giant greenhouse! Predictable conditions forever! Perfect pony control!"
"Plants need sleep, Señorita Applejack," said Bell. "Everything needs sleep."
"NOT ME!" I yelled. Then I gave a crazy-laugh. "Thunderation, Bell, once we got them lamps in place, why would we even need the Sun?!?"
"Applejack," said Bell, calmly, "I am going to look at that stool some more, please."
"You threatened by progress, Mister Bell Pepper?" I said, a playful little taunt.
"Progress is one thing," said Bell. "Madness is quite another. Madre Ciela, Applejack, I did not think that you would be this kind of pony when I came to know you. Even forgetting all this crazed blasphemy, you speak of 'going to Cloudsdale', as if it were a thing that we earth ponies can even do!"
"Hah!" I said, waggling my hooves in his face. "See them little wiggles of light? I got me some cloudwalking powers!" I galloped over in the direction of the buffet, carving a path through the crowd, and returned, dragging Derpy's cloud (with Derpy still on it) back over to Bell with my teeth. "And it ain't just my feet, neither!" I said, spitting the cold wet floss-candy taste of raincloud out of my mouth. "I got fancy pegasus voodoo and a brain full of science, so y'all better just stay out of my way!"
"Can I go back over there now?" said Derpy, through a mouth full of muffin.
"Yeah, sure, see y'all later." Derpy smiled brightly at me, lifted her wings, and cloud-scooted back over to the food area.
"Impressive," said Bell, sardonically, an adverb that done got selected from my newly-improved lexicon by the brain-fizz. "Some other new invention of yours, I trust."
"Nope," I said. "The cloud-walking spell was a gift from my very good friend—"
A red curtain dropped over my mind. The edges of the bubbles turned jagged. All noise and speech were torn away by a sudden howling roar coming from everywhere and nowhere all at once, a howling roar that existed nowhere but in my own head.
"—Twilight… Sparkle," I growled.
"Hello!" came that hateful voice. I whipped around again.
"Well, well, well," I said, wrestling my composure back into place. "Speak of the Wolf."
"Hey, Applejack!" said Twilight, all chipper and perk, as she worked her way through the crowd towards me, still wearing that stupid Element crown, her little draconic minion riding along on her back. "Boy, this sure looks like it's gonna be a great party, huh?"
"Judging by the punch, at least!" said Spike, slurping down a cup and rubbing his tummy.
"Now, Spike," warned Twilight. "Go easy on that stuff. I know your incendiary digestive system burns off alcohol before it has a chance to get to your brain, which is the only reason I'm letting you have any at all, but you still know that too much fizzy stuff isn't good for you."
"Yeah," he said. "I know, Master. But it's so delicious."
"Be that as it may, please practice modera— wait, what did you just call me?"
"…Master?" said Spike, shrugging. "Isn't that right?"
"I… guess," said Twilight, dubiously.
"You should really give the punch a try," said Spike. "Master."
"In a minute, Spike," she said, turning her attention back to me. "So, A.J.! Looks like you had a whole lot of early arrivals this time! Some of those cakes over there on the buffet are half-eaten, and the party's only officially been on for, like, five minutes!"
"Pardon me, Señorita Twilight," said Bell. "But—"
"Oh, hey, Bell!" said Twilight. "I'm so glad you could come!"
I bet you are, I thought, seething inside. I just bet.
"I do not mean to interrupt your conversation," said my stallion, mine, "but I am not understanding what you are saying. The barn doors have been open for well over one hour."
Twilight's mouth fell open. "What?"
Bell looked around and found a spare invitation what probably fell out of some pony's saddlebag. He snatched it in his teeth and flipped it upright onto the table. "You see?"
"Oh, no," said Twilight, studying the little card. "Oh no, no, no. Spike, we're over an hour late! Are you sure you read our invitation correctly?"
"Yes, Master!" said Spike. "I'm sure! Please don't punish me too harshly!"
"What?" said Twilight. "I'm not going to – I mean, how did this happen?" Twi began pacing frantically back and forth, dumping Spike from her back in the process. "I hate being late to things! Hate, hate, hate it!"
"I know you do, sugarcube," I drawled.
"Take heart, Twilight Sparkle," said Bell. "There is still plenty of party left to happen."
"Thanks, Bell," replied Twilight, "but it's not like that. I'm glad I didn't miss the party entirely, but misreading a scheduled event just colors the whole rest of my day! I was accomplishing so much around the library while I was waiting for the party to start, and the more I got done, he prouder and better about myself I felt, and now, this!" Twi's lip started in a-quivering. "I can't be proud of how much I accomplished before the party because I did it under false pretenses! Everything I got done just feels bad and wrong, now!"
"¡Ay!," said Bell. "Come here, my little pony." He ushered her back over by the table, pulled the three-legged stool out from under it, and sat her down. "Rest yourself on this lovely little stool."
"You and that stool Big Mac whipped up," I scoffed, my eyes narrowing as the two of them got all comfort-touchy with each other. "You been studying that plain old piece of furniture to the practical exclusion of everything else all night. What's so special about it that makes you give it that kind of attention?"
"If you must know, Applejack," said Bell, curtly, "I think your brother Mac has made a beautiful thing in this stool."
"For Pete's sake, Bell!" I said. "You act like my masterful vision of a shining worldwide irrigation network is a bunch of cow pucky, but you get all muffin-headed about a little old stool! There ain't a single thing fancy about it!"
"Exactly why it is beautiful," said Bell. "It is a good, solid stool, made of knotless wood, well-polished and sanded smooth, perfect in its simplicity. It does everything you need a stool to do." He smiled amiably at Miss Queen-of-Everything Sparkle. "Including providing a seat for a sad purple unicorn."
"Thanks, Bell," said Twilight, managing to sniff away her prissy little snit. "I don't know if you've read any books on the topic, but you might be interested to know that what you're describing sounds a lot like a philosophy known as 'Plainpony'."
"I have indeed studied Plainpony," said Bell, modestly, bowing a little. "We Peppers are not Plain, far from it at times, but I still believe there is much to be learned from studying their creed."
"'Whatever is fashioned,'" said Twilight, smiling, "'let it be plain and simple, unembellished by superfluities which add nothing to its goodness and durability.'"
I was only just a few steps distant. I could have reached out and cuffed Twilight on the shoulder, had I wanted to, and I kind of did. But watching the two of them chat like they were doing made me feel a hundred thousand light-years away, which is to say, approximately five hundred eighty-seven quadrillion, eight hundred sixty-two trillion, five hundred thirty-seven billion, three hundred eighteen million, three hundred sixty thousand miles, give or take some.
"Ha!" continued Bell, his voice sounding tinny and muffled to my ears, like I was hearing him over a wire strung between a couple of tin cans at the bottom of a well. "An interesting version! Is it not funny that your translation itself has some of these same superfluities in it?"
"You've heard a different version?" said Twilight, her voice blurring right into his.
"Yes," said Bell. "'Whatever is fashioned, let it be plain, and simple, and for the good.'"
"Oh, that is better," said Twilight. "Much nicer than the one I read in school. I have to admit, sometimes I think about Plainpony when I look at the buildings in Canterlot. Or even here in Ponyville, for instance. Does our confectionary really need to resemble a giant gingerbread house, for instance? Or is it just frivolity?"
"Some of our barns on the Ridge are built to Plainpony standards," said Bell. "You should come up and see them some day."
"I would very much enjoy that," said Twilight.
I shrieked. Like a dang banshee.
Yes. That's right. All of a sudden, out of nowhere, just like that. It weren't my first sudden outburst of the night, but it was my loudest. Had I been in my right mind, I might have noticed that this time I didn't seem to draw as much attention, for all my volume. Only a few ponies, most of them Peppers, even looked up at me. An increasing number of the party guests had taken to sketching things down on napkins, like Berry Punch, or arranging their plates full of party food into interesting configurations, or even, in one particularly flamboyant case, building a scale model of something or the other out of a pile of loose bricks over in one corner.
I didn't see any of it at the time, nor did I care. "HOMEWRECKER!" I bellowed, shoving Twilight back off the stool and up against the table.
Twilight's eyes went wider than I ever seen them. "Applejack?" she coughed out.
"You hurt the Master!" yelled Spike, throwing hisself at one of my hind legs.
"Spike, no, I'm fine!" shouted Twilight. "Leave her alone!"
"Applejack!" said Bell, muscling himself between us and breaking up our tussle. "Please! I think this is the demon liquor talking!"
"No, it isn't, Bell!" said Twilight. "She's not like this, even when she does get drunk! A.J., what in Equestria has gotten into you? You've gone completely delusional! You aren't married to Bell, you hardly even give him the time of day! You don't have a home for me to wreck!"
"That's right, I don't have a home no more!" I said, fighting my way past Bell to confront her all proper. "I ain't talking about being married to this thing, I'm calling you a home-wrecker 'cause you done gone and wrecked my home! I used to be somepony in this town! I used to bake better than Pinkie Pie, take care of animals least as good as Fluttershy, and outrun anypony in town in a straight land race! But ever since you showed your purple mug in this town, I been your 'second in command'. I practically killed the whole town off with bad muffins, wrecked everypony's gardens with a rabbit stampede, and I came in dead last, last Running of the Leaves! Behind you!"
"You're blaming me for all that?"
"Yes! It's all the fault of the generally increasing you-ness levels of Ponyville! You being here is sucking me dry! And now you're hornin' in on my man, too! Typical unicorn!"
Pinkie bounced into sight. "Hey guys!" she said. "I heard yelling and screaming and I was just coming over to make sure it was the fun kind of yelling and screaming rather than the un-fun kind! Because it sounded a little like the second. Hey, Twilight, you made it!"
"I'm late because I misremembered the time on the invitation," said Twilight, all mortified. "I'm really sorry. But the yelling and screaming part is coming from Applejack, who's apparently gone insane!"
"This ain't insanity! This is a whole deeper level of sanity than I ever had before! I got news for you, Miss Twilight Sparkle: I got me a new metaphor for looking at the world, and it's lit my head right up. You ain't the only smarty-pants pony in Ponyville no more."
"I never was!" protested Twilight. "Not even when I thought Pinkie was a baker instead of a brilliant engineer! Everypony is smart in his or her own way!"
"I am a baker!" sub-protested Pinkie.
"You stay out of this, you covert science-monger!" I said, shooting a glance at Pinkie. "My beef is with this one!"
"A.J., I don't know what's going on, but you really need help," said Twilight. Spike passed her a cup of lemonade punch and she plucked it up with her magic. "No wonder your inner landscape was so dark this morning! I'm not going to break my word to you, but if you let me back into your mind, I think we can do something to fix whatever's wrong. And if I can't, there are plenty of doctors up at the psychiatric wing of the Ponyville Hospital who can, assuming they can find a free bed." She lifted the punch cup to her lips. "We can make this better, Applejack," she said.
Twilight sipped. Her pupils went wide. Her magic flickered out and the cup fell to the barn floor and shattered to glass flinders.
"Twilight?" said Pinkie.
"Oh… my gosh," said Twilight. "Omigoshomigoshohmigosh."
"What?" said Pinkie. "What is it? It's the punch, right? Way too lemony, right?"
"Sweet Celestia, I see it!" said Twilight, even as Spike began picking up the sharp little bits of cup-wreckage at her hooves with his bare claws. "I see it! How have I missed it all these years?"
Twilight grabbed Pinkie's whole head in a bubble of magic and dragged her close. "Pinkie, I've transgressed the boundaries and have achieved a transformative understanding of the hermeneutics of quantum gravity!"
"That's great!" said Pinkie, her head glowing purple. "I did that a couple years ago, but nopony would believe me!" She gasped. "We should start a hermeneutics club!"
"Just you two geniuses, huh?" I snapped. "Well I bet I can figure out that hermo-neutered quantum gravy hoo-ha same as y'all. I'm a-gonna whip me up some mental tonics that'll increase my understanding of the truths of time and space, what'll subsequently allow me to formulate even more powerful mental tonics! It'll create an entire cascade resonance scenario in my skull that will have its terminus in me having more smarts than every other pony in Equestria combined!"
"Maybe with me as a significant outlier!" Twilight shot back.
"Oh yeah?" I said, shoving myself back in her face. "You care to put your science where your mouth is, city filly? 'Cause I got a powerful hankering for a real one-on-one smarts competition with y'all, and I ain't gonna pull no mental punches once it's on."
"Ha!" said Twilight. "My understanding of the secret law of the universe is so vast and profound that it renders the very concept of 'competition' meaningless!"
"I'll science you into the dirt, you muckraker!"
"Ladies—" said Bell, looking back and forth between us.
"You stay out of this, Bell!" I barked. "This don't concern you. We's just fighting over ya, is all."
"I'm not fighting with you over Bell!" babbled Twilight. "I don't care about him at all! Interpersonal relationships of anything other than a purely functional or operational nature will become increasingly meaningless as we approach the Singularity, so why not get a head start?"
"What about friendship?" said Pinkie, blinking.
Twilight's lip twitched. A couple strands of hopelessly beeswax-coated mane – Twi's hair can be best described as 'a mite scruffy' even on its best days – sprung out from the pack like over-tightened fiddle strings. "Friendship is a transitional step on the path to ascension!" she cried, as the Tourmaline Diadem shuddered on her head, its stone suddenly going a bit purple-colored. "A power to be harnessed," she continued, "but eventually destined for obsolescence as greater powers than it are discovered!"
"Glad we won't have any distractions like that, then," I said. "On account of it messing with the purity of our raw intellectual competition."
"I would be laughing at this conversation you two are having," said Pinkie, "but you're kind of scaring me."
"So what do you say, Canterlot?" I said. "Is it on?"
"Oh, it's on," confirmed Twilight, sweetly venomous.
"An excellent idea, little ponies. Excellent, excellent, excellent."
A hush fell over the room. All eyes in the barn turned to the stage; at the square dance microphone stood Professor Danger, his bright-eyed assistant hovering on her cloud nearby.
The Professor tapped a couple times on the microphone with one hoof, making it boom like a drum.
"Fillies and gentlecolts," began the Professor, "it is now time to begin a new dance..."