Fauna blinked as she opened her eyes. Her head throbbed, shaking the roof so hard it was a wonder it didn't shatter with every heartbeat.
Rising in an attempt to pinpoint her location, she discovered that whenever the world did not vibrate too much to see, she was in the same treatment bed as that animal she saw yesterday. Or was it even yesterday? How long had she slept?
"Ah, Doctor Sutler, you're awake?" a voice she barely recognized called to her. It belonged to the same person that had received her during her last visit.
"Whuh-" Fauna began before she realized that speaking clearly was more difficult than anticipated. With a cough, she tried again. "What happened?"
"You fainted, and you've been out for about an hour," another voice responded. "How do you feel?"
"I may have felt better... but I feel fine." The world still shook around her, but she was sure it'd pass after a night of sleep. And a painkiller.
"Based on witness accounts, and your blood pressure, your blackout seems to have been induced by a high amount of stress." Tarry, the highest-ranking medical doctor at CERN, was easily recognizable by his permanently smug attitude. "I'm prescribing you three months of vacation, starting today."
How he had managed to reach his current position with that carefree personality, Fauna couldn't understand. He...
"... Excuse me, could you repeat that last part?"
"Vacation. Three months of it," he repeated. "You haven't had one in ages - we checked - so this is for your own health and safety."
Fauna had hoped her hearing had been as shaky as her vision the first time around.
"I don't think you quite understand the gravity of what's happening or who I am, doctor," she accused him. "I need to coordinate the repairs for the collider, or we'll..."
Guilt caused her to lose her train of thought.
Or maybe the experiment wouldn't have gone awry in the first place...
Tarry sat down on the bed next to her.
"Remember, the LHC project is a collaboration - sixty nations contribute." He smiled. "You don't have to do everything alone. I'm sure someone else can do your duties while you take some well-earned rest."
Fauna's paranoid side insisted that the secretive doctors knew, and hid, the reason for the ALICE explosion. Now, they were trying to get rid of her for some insidious reason. However, her more reasonable side convinced her that the notion was ridiculous - how could it be their fault if it was hers?
Her head throbbed painfully, but she refused to cry. She wasn't that weak.
"Cheer up," he said. "The search for massless particles isn't all that important anyway, since they don't matter. Get it? Because gluons are massless, and... No?"
She wondered if she could somehow get away with beating him up for being so unsympathetic. Before she could strike, he continued.
"So, a tachyon exits a bar, and the bartender says-"
In desperation, she turned to the only person who had not annoyed her so far. At least, so far today.
"Please, Christina, make him shut up before I kill myself."
As two had left and the remaining one had sat down by the desk with a notebook, the doctor-creatures were obviously done with their checkups on her for now. Left to her own devices, Rainbow Dash's curiosity was sparked.
Using her left front hoof, she stroked her side. Nothing special, other than a some sore skin. Even as she used more and more force, all she really noticed was how little endurance she had left. Turning around, she decided to try another approach. With her right hoof, she began lightly impacting her hip. It hurt a little, but once again she found no reason for why the creatures' hands had stopped.
The remaining creature stared quizzically, still writing in its book.
Maybe they were the reason, not her. Had she been an egghead, like Twilight, she could probably have figured out how it worked, but without an immediate answer, Rainbow Dash quickly grew bored again. There wasn't even anypony around to talk to. Was there?
"You can't understand me either, can you?" she asked the creature.
Some animals, like Fluttershy's squirrels and bunnies, seemed to understand what ponies said, even if only a few ponies could return the favor. It was worth a try. The creature flinched and looked at her with a surprised stare, but didn't respond.
"That's what I thought."
She was a little disappointed. It'd take months for her feathers to grow back enough for her to be able to fly home, and without anypony to talk to while waiting, it was a dreary thought.
At least the trip back is gonna be fast, she thought, allowing herself a little grin. I'm the fastest flier in all of Equestria! By how much, I'll have to ask Twilight when I get back, but it's gonna be a lot.
The creature rose from its chair and walked a little closer, then it uttered something incomprehensible.
"No, I can't understand you either." She shook her head with a sigh.
Flora sat down on the edge of the bed. The sounds coming from the pegasus were entirely unexpected - she had assumed it only would neigh, but these sounds were far more complex. Almost like a language.
Almost. It still had parts that were somewhat reminiscent of neighing.
In an attempt to verify whether or not it really was a language, she tried repeating what the pegasus had said. It was difficult, and failing to get more of a response than a strange stare with one eyebrow higher than the other, she gestured towards herself to see if she could get it to speak again.
"Flora." No reaction. "Flora."
It seemed to realize what she wanted.
"Phu-... Floora," it said.
It talked. Whether it only could parrot her, she didn't know, but she decided for now to believe that it had the capability to communicate. She then made the same gestures toward the pegasus itself, hoping it would understand and tell her its own name.
It looked confused at her. "Floora?"
Disappointed, she stooped her head. At least there were other, more traditional and scientific ways of testing for animal intelligence. Counting, for instance. She pulled up her notebook, wrote two straight lines on a page, and pointed towards them.
After repeating the process with the numbers three and four, she proceeded to let the pegasus have a go with five.
" 'Eigh, 'eigh 'eigh 'eigh 'eigh," it neighed.
That proved it. Chimps had to go through this process thousands of times before learning to count, so either someone had beaten her to it, or it was more intelligent than any of the other primates on earth.
Someone should be told. Maybe Tarry and Christina were right, it shouldn't be just anyone, but she needed to show this animal to someone trustworthy. She needed to work with real biologists, not just medical doctors.
Going out to the living room, she picked up her cellphone, and dialed her old research group.
That was weird. I wonder why it made me count, of all things, Rainbow Dash thought. Oh, maybe it checked if I'd hurt my head... Yeah, that's probably it.
She also considered that it had made Equestrian sounds, but what it had said made no sense. Good thing that it could make the sounds, though. Maybe some of them could talk to ponies. That was an encouraging thought.
Once more left alone, her mind started wandering.
I hope nopony is worrying too much about me. Can I contact them somehow? I don't think I could get any of these creatures to send Celestia a letter. At least not unless I meet one that speaks Equestrian, she thought. Hm, maybe Twilight can contact me, even if she doesn't know where I am? She's really good with magic, after all.
Thinking about Twilight made her think back to the last time she saw her.
Come to think of it, it could be her wrap spell at work, she thought. Maybe it's the same thing that stopped me from being crushed as I flew?
It obviously had its limits, considering her current situation, but it made her feel a little safer.
If it could save me from that, it can probably save me from other things too...