The next day, Rainbow went to get the ethernet cable. When she came back, she asked about all the places that had “must be 21 to enter” signs on their doors.
“They’re bars,” I said. “Here, it's illegal to serve alcohol to anyone under 21. Most of the drinking establishments in the area are clustered near Chauncey Hill.”
Rainbow didn’t seem interested in talking further about the subject, so we got her computer plugged in, and I taught her about the internet.
“Basically, expect the worst,” I said. “Online is a really good way to get information, but it’s also a really good way to ruin your life.”
“What do you mean?” she asked.
“There are scams and identity theft to worry about,” I said.
“Wait, you can steal somepony’s identity?” Rainbow was incredulous.
I sighed. “Yeah, it’s true. Once you have enough information about someone, you can pretend to be them. I think it’s usually done in order to steal money. The only way to prevent it is just don’t put valuable information out there. If you wouldn’t give it to a stranger, don’t give it to the internet.”
Rainbow frowned. “So how do I know what’s real and what’s fake?”
“Here’s a good rule of thumb: if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. No one would ever go very far out of their way to give you something for free.” I thought for a moment. “Oh, did you understand that? Rule of thumb means—”
“I got it,” she said. She waved a hoof at the computer. “So, how do we get some internet?”
“This is a new Windows computer, so you’d use the Internet Explorer program.” I indicated an icon on the desktop. Rainbow slowly moved the mouse and clicked on it.
I was disoriented for a moment, because I honestly didn’t remember the last time I had used that browser. I’d try to get Rainbow to install Firefox or Chrome later, but we had to get the basics down first.
“Okay, the Microsoft welcome page is useless,” I said, indicating the screen that had popped up automatically. “What you’ll probably want for a home page is some kind of search engine. You might as well use Google, everyone else does.”
To save time, I punched in the URL myself. The familiar page appeared.
“What does it do?” asked Rainbow.
“This is the internet at its most basic form,” I said. “You type what you’re searching for in the box there, and with any luck, you’ll find it.”
Rainbow thought for a moment before slowly spelling out “ponies”. The page of results included a Wikipedia disambiguation page, the Equestrian Embassy website, and the online version of Equestria Daily.
“I remember now,” said Rainbow. “Equestria daily had a big article about the internet. They said they were starting their own website.”
“What is it?” I asked.
“It’s one of the most popular newspapers in Equestria.” She moved the mouse to click the link.
“Oh, wow,” muttered Rainbow. She looked a little overwhelmed by the mass of text and pictures on display. “It looks so…different.”
“It’s not really efficient to just show you a newspaper on the screen,” I told her. “This way, they give you the headlines, and you click on what you want to read more about. That’s pretty typical of news websites.”
“How do I go back to search for something else?” asked Rainbow.
“There’s this little button up at the top conveniently labeled ‘back’.” I pointed to it. Rainbow clicked it and returned to Google.
I pointed to the top of the screen. “Up here you’ve got other options. You can find images, maps, and other stuff.”
Rainbow clicked on images. At the top of the page was a picture with a caption.
Yo dawg, we heard you like weird porn, so we put a pony in a pony— I slammed the laptop shut.
“I thought Safe Search was on,” I said, meekly. “Another thing about the internet, it’s full of pornography.”
Rainbow looked at me, starting to smile.
“What?” I asked.
“You’re cute when you’re face goes all red like that.” She grinned.
I rolled my eyes. “Can we move on?”
Rainbow laughed. “Sure.”
I sighed. “Okay. Basically, use the search engine to find what you’re looking for. Be very careful, and don’t take anything for granted.”
“I can handle that,” said Rainbow. “One more thing, though, how do I log into my school account?” She showed me a piece of paper with her information on it.
“That’s just for university computers,” I told her. “You put this stuff in at the login screen so you can use the computer.”
“Why would I want to do that?” she asked. “I can just use my own computer.”
“We don’t have a printer in the room,” I pointed out. “If you want to print something, you’ll have to go downstairs and log in to use one of those. Also, you might have a class that requires it.”
“That’s stupid,” she said.
I shrugged. “Welcome to college, the place where you can find higher levels of education and lower levels of reason.”
I went on. “You’ll also probably want to log into the university website and find out your class schedule and what books you’ll need.”
After saying it, I thought that I would probably need to walk Rainbow through that, too, but she seemed to be getting the hang of using a computer faster than I would have guessed. There was such a serious look of determination on her face that I almost thought using the computer was a matter of life and death for her.
Once Rainbow knew where to find a copy of her schedule, she would be able to print it out later on. Textbooks couldn’t wait, however. It was too late to order cheaper ones online, so she would have to make a trip to the book store. I told her where to find one of the shops, and she left.
It was probably a good thing I didn’t introduce her to online shopping. If she was on such a thin budget, the ability to get literally anything you wanted delivered to you couldn’t be a good idea.
While Rainbow was gone buying books, I pulled up Facebook. Nathan was online, and I sent him a message. It took a while to get a response.
Sorry, my mind’s somewhere else right now, babe.
Getting ready for classes? I typed.
Something like that
The conversation seemed a little strange, but I figured it was just stress of another school year getting to him. We continued to talk until Rainbow came back.
Got to go, Rainbow wants me to help her file textbook receipts for reimbursement by her grant, I told Nathan.
After I was off the computer, I asked, “Where does this paperwork have to go?”
“I have the address,” said Rainbow.
“You’ll probably want to go to the post office to mail this,” I said. “I work for the university, and I can tell you that any place on campus charges a markup on postage.”
“You work for the university?” she asked.
“Yeah, I have a job at the copy shop in the Union.” I shrugged. “It’s spending money.”
Rainbow thought for a moment. “I could use a job.”
“They’re available, if you know where to look,” I said. “I think you should wait a little while before you start searching to make sure you have the time to spare. The so-called ‘real majors’ take a lot of effort.”
“I can do it,” she said seriously. I wasn’t sure if she was ridiculously confident in her abilities, or just delusional.
“Good luck,” I said.
The first day of classes arrived. Rainbow’s alarm clock went off early, very early. We’d both hung our class schedules on the bulletin board, and I remembered that she had her first class at 7:30 a.m. Scheduling that was mistake only a freshman would make.
I rolled over in bed. My first class was at 10:30. I heard Rainbow getting ready and she left.
Shortly before nine, I got up to have a cigarette. When I came back inside, the room telephone was ringing. In my time living in the dorm, that had never happened before, aside from a test call to make sure the phone was working. I grabbed the receiver.
A man was on the other end. He asked my name and I told him. He told me that he had a few questions about Rainbow Dash.
“She’s your roommate, correct?” he said.
“That’s right,” I answered.
“Have you ever observed her doing anything that might endanger national security?” he asked.
“Um, no.” I may have been half-asleep before, but now I was paying full attention. Had I missed something earlier?
“Who did you say you work for again?” I asked.
A brief scenario ran through my mind where he would chuckle and say, “That’s a secret, but trust me, it’s a well known acronym,” and I would reply, “What’s that mean? CIA, FBI, NASCAR?”
Instead, he said, “I’m with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. We’re checking on Ms. Dash to provide background for her citizenship application.”
My thoughts of government conspiracy suddenly thrust aside, I said, “What? She wants to be a U.S. citizen?”
“You didn’t know?” said the USCIS Agent. “I’m sorry to surprise you with this, then.”
“It’s no problem, I guess. It’s just…I didn’t expect it.” I wondered why she hadn’t told me.
“Ms. Dash put you down as her only human contact,” said the man. “We have to have a few references of good character for every application that we process.”
So that was it, then. I was literally the only person on the planet she knew well enough to list as a contact. I asked, “What would you like to know about her?”
“Do you know her reasons for requesting citizenship?” the man from USCIS.
“No. We don’t communicate very well,” I answered.
“Can you think of any reason why she should not be granted citizenship?” the man asked.
“Well, we’ve been roommates less than a week. I still don’t know her that well.” I sighed. “I’m sorry if I’m not being very helpful.”
“I should say that it’s your roommate that will be sorry,” observed the man. “What you’ve told me—or haven’t told me, that is—doesn’t disqualify her, but it makes the application more difficult.”
“I’ll talk with her soon,” I promised.
“Thank you, it’ll make my job easier,” he said. “Have a nice day.”
I said goodbye and set the phone down. According to the schedule on the bulletin board, Rainbow should be back at around 9:30. I booted up my laptop to check messages while I waited.
She walked through the door a few minutes later. I looked up and said, “I got a call from the Citizenship and Immigration Service earlier this morning.”
“That was faster than I thought,” said Rainbow, not meeting my eyes.
“I couldn’t really give them good information because I don’t know anything about you,” I said. “If you’d told me this was happening, I could have been prepared.”
Rainbow sighed and set her class supplies down. “Fine, what do you want to know?”
“Can we start with why you want to be a U.S. citizen?” I was kind of curious.
“I just do, okay?” She began organizing books for her next class.
“What’s wrong with Equestria?” I enquired.
“Nothing.” Rainbow threw on her saddlebags.
She bolted out the door. I sat for a moment, stunned. I hadn’t expected simple questions to cause her to react that way.
“What did I say?” I wondered quietly. I wanted to help, but I wasn’t about to lie to the government for a pony I’d known only a couple of days. If the USCIS called me back, Rainbow was going to have a problem.