A Clean Slate
It started as a simple cough. The doctors were recommending nothing more than some bed rest and hot soup. But over time, we started to get worried. More and more ponies became sick. We told ourselves that it was just the cold winter weather, but then something happened that made us think otherwise.
When the first death occurred, we attempted to pin it to a weak immune system. But it became quickly apparent that this simple cold was more than it seemed. After some quarantined tests, that were looked in to by Celestia herself, we realized what this disease was doing. It was aiming for major organs, as if it were a thing alive. It swatted our treatment aside like little more than flies. It traveled by air, water, and could stay alive without a host for an indefinite period of time.
I organized an audience with the princess as quickly as I could, stressing the need for haste. Her response came later than I would have liked, in early spring, but she eventually sent me back a letter telling me that I could see her. I was happy to leave my tree house - I had just about worn a rut in the floor from pacing.
I shrugged on the neon yellow hazmat suit that I had made a while ago, slumping slightly under its weight. Sometimes being paranoid was a good thing - you never know when a disease could threaten your entire race. Making sure the helmet fit tightly, I opened the door to the outside. Ponyville looked just like it would on any regular day; the sun was shining, the birds were chirping. There was but one thing different.
No ponies walked these empty streets. You could tell where they were holding up from the boarded up doors and windows that stood in sharp contrast against the brightly colored houses. Once I arrived at the palace, I was going to have to discuss with Celestia how we would get these ponies to safety without them being infected.
It was unnerving, walking on the streets. They were perfectly tended, because nopony was making them dirty. It was just a ghost town, as if something had swooped up all of Ponyville in its claw and moved it somewhere else. I made my way towards the castle, looking around nervously. I saw some faces peeking out of windows, seeming to glare at me in jealousy over my suit. What they would give to be able to visit the world outside of their home, to see their loved ones again, I couldn't guess.
I'm greeted at the palace by a contingent of armed guards in hazmat suits similar to mine, and they usher me through quickly, checking behind me for any followers. I see Celestia on her throne, ushering me closer. I sigh, relieved to see somepony I trusted, and went to meet her.
"Princess, you have no idea how good it is to see another living soul." I walked forward to embrace her, so ecstatic I was to have some outside contact. She pushed me away, though, and ushered me towards her private room.
"We need to talk seriously, Twilight. In here will be fine." She looked around, seeming to be nervous about something. "But not out here."
I looked at her peculiarly. "Alright, if you say so," I said slowly.
I followed her in to the room, which was lavishly decorated as it always was. Again, I was reminded of how so much had changed, yet nothing seemed different. The first thing Celestia did as we walked in to the room was make a magical barrier over both the balcony and the doorway. This shocked me a little bit, but she calmed me quickly.
"You can take that helmet off now. The shields will prevent us from catching the sickness." Smiling, I gladly take off my suit and leave it on her bed. That thing sure was stuffy.
She took her place on the balcony, overlooking Ponyville with a wary eye. "Thank you for coming. I've been very busy..." She paused for a moment. "dealing... with the sickness."
I take a seat on the bed, beside my suit. The blanket was very comfortable, seeming to be made of some sort of red velvet. Although, I didn't really know - fabrics were more Rarity's thing. I gulp. Thinking about my friends made me remember all that I've lost in these last few weeks. They were all gone, and Spike too. All taken by the sickness.
"Of course, that's what I wanted to talk to you about." I say, cutting my thoughts off.
The princess still stood looking away from me. "Twilight, I understand what you want to say. We need to help everyone that is in hiding, and we need to find a cure."
"Exactly. I'm glad that you understand the need for speed here. If we don't act quickly, I fear that extinction is not that far away. I've heard rumors that ponies in Cloudsdale are starting to get sick too."
The princess sighed, shaking her head and slowly turning towards me. The setting sun made her form but a silhouette in the room. "I need to explain something, Twilight." She beckoned me up beside her, and I obeyed quickly. "When I became ruler of Equestria, I loved how my subjects were developing. Carefree, they not only were good to the land, but to each other. They prospered, and I couldn't be happier with the end result; a land that rarely had disputes, a land that I could be proud of.
"Time passed. The land and its citizens continued to thrive without much but an occasional appearance from me. But something started to creep on the edges of my paradise, slowly infecting Equestria with... filth. New concepts to the ponies started to emerge. Abuse, stealing, murder even. I attempted to reform this behaviour more than once. For the first time in hundreds of years, I reinforced laws. We built new buildings called prisons. They filled up quicker than I would have liked.
"As you know, a place like this requires everypony to chip in. To work hard to preserve the structure of our peaceful and successful society. Unfortunately, as more and more ponies turned to this "crime", others followed suit. Not just Ponyville, but many other settlements."
She looked me in the eyes. "I tried, Twilight. I tried hard to make them understand. But they wouldn't listen. Eventually I came to an understanding, a necessity that I was saddened to bring about." She swept her foreleg, directing my attention to the full view of Ponyville, and the fields and forests beyond.
"It was time to give the land another chance. A clean slate, if you will. You have to understand, it pained me to do so. I asked my scientists and top unicorns to create the ultimate virus, one that would make ponies pass quick and painlessly. One that would be incurable. We deployed the strain in every town we could. " A tear came to her eye, and she gave me a pleading look. "Twilight, you have to understand. I had to."
I stepped back, reeling in shock. "You monster!" I cried. "My friends are dead! The very friends that you uprooted my entire life to make! All gone! My family, my friends, you're telling me that I'll never see them again? Even I too, will die? All because you feel as if this is necessary?"
She put a hoof on my shoulder. "Twilight, there are a select few ponies that I will save so that we can usher in the new wave of innocent citizens. You are one of those ponies."
I pushed her hoof off. "That doesn't make a difference! You're still killing thousands of innocents - I don't think you realize how unjust this is!"
"Twilight, it is just. A land like this can't be tainted. I don't know what else to say to you. Either you accept my offer, or die with the rest of them. I'm sorry, but this is the way it has to be." She sighed. "I have one final container of the strain in gas form, ready to be released in to the streets. I'll be releasing it at sunrise, so you better go say goodbye to your friends."
"But you don't understand! They're dead!" I pause. "Aren't they?"
"No... They are taking refuge in Rarity's store. Go see them if you will." I started to leave, but she stopped me. "I hope you come back," she said. "I really do."
I turn around, saying one last remark. "Count on it." I walked out the door without looking back, determined to save my friends. The problem was, I didn't know how I would go about doing it.
I hammered on the door to the boutique. "Rarity, it's Twilight! Are you in there?" I heard faint shuffling from behind the door, and I perked up in excitement. I decided to remind them of this quickly, before something went terribly wrong. "Whatever you do, do not open the door! I'll see if I can find a way to get you girls out of there safely!"
As I pondered how I might save my friends from certain death, a few guards walked by, clad in hazmat suits. They nod to me and smile in recognition. "Hey Twilight," one of them says.
I smiled back, a plan forming in my mind. "Hey there." I watched the guards walk off a ways, and then followed them. They turned in to a narrow side street, and I take my chance quickly. Focusing my magic in a concentrated ball, I sent it directly at the small group of guards. It hits the middle one in the back, and the other two are sent flying by the shockwave. I waited a moment, staring at the guards now lying in crumpled heaps, waiting for one to get up.
After a few seconds of holding my breath, I carefully approach one of them. They showed no signs of being attacked but a scorch mark on their shoulder and a broken leg. Hoping for their sake that they were either dead or unconscious, I relieved them of their hazmat suit, and do the same with the other guards. They would be dead in a matter of hours, but I figured that it was better to be taken off guard by death then by anticipating it in fear.
After dropping off the hazmat suits at the door to the boutique, I took out another patrol of two guards and knocked on the door again, sliding the hazmat suits in to the window at the top of the door. I hear some sighs of relief coming from behind the door as my friends realize that they can leave the building.
Rarity surprisingly didn't complain as she put on the neon yellow rubber suit. Putting her head up to the hole in the door, she gave me back one of the suits. My stomach dropped as I realized what this must mean, and I waited for the news that I knew was coming.
"Who is it?" I asked.
"Fluttershy didn't make it here in time. She just stumbled, and told us to go on without her. I think I saw her walk towards her house. To be with the animals one last time," Rarity said.
I nodded, suppressing tears. Out of all of us, why did it have to be Fluttershy? "I understand." I take the suit and toss it aside. "So, how is everyone faring?"
"Pinkie is scared to death, but the others are fine. I don't think we were in here long enough for any of us to get sick. Not even a cough from any one of us. At least we have that, right?"
I open the door, and see 3 other ponies in hazmat suits. Pinkie Pie is rocking in the corner, whispering quietly to herself, while Rainbow Dash and Applejack are talking in hushed voices. The boutique, like the rest of the town, is still disquietingly neat and tidy as usual; all of Rarity's dresses were stacked carefully.
"I cleaned in my spare time. It helped me keep my mind off of what was happening outside," Rarity said.
Rainbow Dash looks at me, approaching me gratefully. "Twilight, thank you so much for saving us. You have no idea how good it is to see you. Fluttersh-"
"I know," I say, cutting her off. "But we have larger problems. One being that we have an obviously mentally unstable pony on our hands, and another being that we're still all going to die if we don't do something quickly!"
Applejack looked at me questioningly. "Twilight, what are ya talkin' about? We're ah'll safe now, and we can leave Ponyville to find another place."
I casted a nervous glance out the window. It was getting to be sundown. "Two problems there. First, there is no other place to go. The second one... is a long story." I proceeded to explain to them the entire story, and all that Celestia told me. Throughout the entire conversation, Pinkie Pie was looking at me from the corner, eyes wide in horror, as they had been since I walked in. She looked especially scared when I mentioned the bomb that would be set off at sunrise.
"T-Twilight?" I heard her squeak.
I walked up to her, looking as sympathetic as I could. "Yes Pinkie?"
"I don't wanna die."