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By Paleo Prints
Chapter 3: The Kids Aren’t All Right
“Right in here, Mister Helpful Stranger!”
Ditzy happily trotted into the dorm while balancing a box of electronics on her head. With her eyes closed, the giggling mare couldn’t see the pile of laundry Lyra had left on the floor. Contented chuckles turned into squeals of fear as she lost her balance. The precious box pitched into the air as Ditzy slid sideways onto the floor, leaving a white trail of snow as she skid.
She saw the valuable parts hover suspended in the air. After a second, she realized someone was actually holding the box. Two well-worn white hooves gently placed it onto the table.
“Please be more Careful, Miss Doo. Small parts aren’t meant to fly.”
She nodded at the older stallion, reflecting on the lucky coincidence that placed him on campus today. “So, what are you doing around campus today, Mister…?”
“Decks. Picket Decks, Miss Doo. It really is a pleasure to meet you. I accompanied my granddaughter to lunch in Canterlot today.” The white-coated stallion smiled widely, and Ditzy marveled at the amount of original teeth he still had. “It was just luck that I spotted you walking back to the school.”
Ditzy smiled as she flew into the kitchen. “Well, by my count you earned a muffin. Is banana okay, Mister Decks?”
He sat down at the table. “Please, Miss Doo. A wonderful mare like you can call me Picket. I’ll take whatever you serve. I ate a lot of strange things growing up.” He respectfully picked up the small wooden TARDIS to examine as Ditzy busied herself in cooking.
“Where are you from, Picket?”
An amused smile crossed his face. “Oh, I come from a little village near Trottingham. You wouldn’t have heard of.”
While the food cooked Ditzy let the stack of mechanical parts sit untouched. She reclined on the couch as Decks engaged her in conversation. Topics ranged from her family to her student life, and he drew a blush when he asked if she had a special somepony yet. The oven dinged in what seemed like record time to Ditzy.
She ran into the kitchen expectantly. “Are you staying in town long, Mister Picket?”
He shook his head. “Only a few hours. My daughter’s expecting another foal this week. She’s determined to finally get a colt to name Pipsqueak.” He shivered. “Hopefully this’ll be her third girl.”
She brought the muffins out with a downcast expression. “Oh. I have a demonstration I’m doing on Friday.” Her eyes raised hopefully.
Decks exhaled a breath with an amused smile. “I’ll see if I can make it back to town in time.”
Ditzy’s entire body perked up. “Really? Because it’s so very important and I might get a career out of this and you’ve been so helpful and… “
He silenced her with a gently raised hoof. “I’ll be there. Trust me, Miss Doo. When I put my mind to it, nothing can stop me.”
The moment hung in the air as Ditzy appreciated her guest’s genuine smile of joy. Her ears suddenly straightened to attention as the door clicked open. A flapping pink tail pulled itself into view as a straining Cheerilee dragged a mall cart inside. Having pulled it fully inside, she collapsed on her haunches into a pile of exhausted mane and checkered flannel. She cast an amused look at Ditzy.
“That doesn’t look like the stallion from Nightmare Night that Lyra described.”
Ditzy giggled. “This is Mister Decks! He helped me carry all the packages in for my demonstration.”
Cheerilee raised an incredulous eyebrow. She pulled her single headphone out of her ear. Ditzy gave a quick gasp; her roommate only silenced her perpetual soundtrack for serious occasions. The prone earth pony’s face was a mess of sweat and frustration. Ditzy’s wings stopped flapping as she sunk into her seat.
“I forgot something, didn’t I? Do I deserve to get yelled at? I probably do if you look like that.”
Cheerilee pulled herself up. With a brief effort a mask of calm happiness settled on her features. “Ditzy, what time is it?
“Three O’clock,” she said with the eyes of a nervous schoolfoal.
Cheerilee sighed. “Three what, dear?”
A look of embarrassed realization crept across Ditzy’s features as she examined the clock. “Um… three A.M.?”
“And… what time was it when you left for your lab supplies?”
Ditzy chewed her bottom lip and pawed the ground. With head hung low, she spoke with the somberness of a guilty verdict. “Three A.M.”
Cheerilee shivered. Throughout the exchange, Picket had been regarding her with cool detachment. Now that Ditzy was visibly upset, his narrowed eyes were boring a hole into Cheerilee’s face. She tried to ignore them as she pulled herself onto her hooves with effort.
“Ditz’, that clock’s been stuck like that for days. We were going to have that picnic today, remember? And you were supposed to fix the clock?
“I was?” The forgetful techie’s eyes spun. “I was! I know. I keep getting ready and writing it down in my appointment book, but… “
Cheerilee’s eyebrow rose quizzically
“Um… I think I always schedule it for about four, and then I get busy, and I keep glancing at the clock, and… “
Ditzy fell onto her stomach, legs spreading out.
“I am not a clever pony.”
Cheerilee ruffled her roommate’s mane. “Ditzy, you made our toaster pick up Neon Lights’ radio show. You are a very clever pony. Just try to be a little more organized next time.”
The meek pegasus looked up tentatively. “Is it really okay? You would have been waiting for about fifty-seven minutes, right?”
Cheerilee ground her teeth briefly before hugging her roommate. “I’m used to the special way your head works, Doo. I wouldn’t change it for the world.” She gently pushed Ditzy away. “Shall we go? I'll help you make a snow stallion.”
A gray ball of cooking energy flew into the kitchen. Cheerilee shook her head. “I worry about that mare.”
Picket smiled. ““It’ll all work out for her, ma’am.” He raised his hat to her and bowed as he trotted out of the room. “I’m certain of it.”
After a few minutes of overfilling the small cart with baked goods the two friends pulled it toward the common landing. As Cheerilee inspected the overfull cart and the stairs with trepidation, Ditzy asked, “Is Lyra joining us?”
Cheerilee shook her head as she walked backwards down the stairs, carefully lowering the wagon. “Nope. She’s got a major performance test today. She said she’d be in the music building all day.” Suddenly the wagon nearly slipped, drawing a terrified shriek from the precarious teacher pony. She sighed in frustration. “How does something with a flat bottom navigate stairs?”
Ditzy frowned. “Normally they hover.” Her eyes lit up. “That’s an idea!” She flew over the cart, grabbing the sides with both hooves. Cheerilee wordlessly shrieked as Ditzy carried both cart and roommate over the bannister. Ditzy’s reluctant cargo looked down, seeing the amused reaction of the ponies in the common room a dozen hoofs below her.
Heedless of the impending power of gravity, Ditzy hovered in place, happily chirping out “Elevate! Elevate!”
Cheerilee’s eyes were soundly shut as she screamed, “Ditzy Doo, let me down now!”
Giggles sounded from around her. “’Lee? You’re kinda on the floor already.”
Cheerilee experimentally lowered a hoof and felt the reassurance of solid ground. Letting loose a long breath, she gingerly moved the cart to the floor.
Ditzy beamed. “These cart thingies are fun!”
Her friend shook her head. “I thought so. Maybe I’ll go back to saddlebags.”
As the two mares walked off towards the gardens, Picket’s voice rang out. “Miss Doo!”
She saw him sitting on a nearby bench. “Picket, were you waiting for me?”
He smiled. “Do what you want. Miss Doo.”
She cocked her head. “I’m going to the picnic.”
Picket shook his head.
She frowned. “I shouldn’t go to the picnic?”
He stood up and bowed. “I mean that you have a lot of choices to make. Different paths will fall in front of you as time marches on. Do what you want. Life’s too short for us ponies.”
At the moment that Cheerilee and Ditzy’s picnic began, Lyra was not in point of fact at the Canterlot Music Building. If pressed by professional interrogators, she might have admitted that she had narrowed the location of the Music Department down to three buildings. Having never signed up for a single class, the information was somewhat irrelevant. If pressed to reveal that fact in front of Cheerilee, her interrogators would have hopefully used very strong rope. Barring that, they would be well served to run fast.
Lyra was playing a gentle melody on a Canterlot corner. A few denizens of the nearby café tables were slightly moving their hooves to the melody, a sight filled with the promise of future bits thrown into her saddlebags. The breeze was soft, the snowflakes inspiring, her tips were good today, and the busy busker found herself in her rarest type of good mood: a solitary one.
“Well. How utterly appropriate to find you working the streets. A different vocation than expected, I must admit.”
Lyra’s brow furrowed. She switched to a lighter piece easily played without too much concentration as she turned to the voice behind her.
Got to stay calm. No one tips an angry musician. Think of Cheerilee.
“Good afternoon, father. How is mother doing?”
A dour gray stallion sat on his haunches behind her and adjusted his bow tie. She noticed his hair was perfectly parted, as always. Her family’s money had always been used for appearances.
Jazz Heartstrings smiled joylessly as he looked into his daughter’s eyes. “Well, I haven’t seen her recently. I hear that the newly single Miss Strawberry Lime is one of the up-and-coming social climbers of Canterlot society now. She works hard to make connections. Personally, I hope her saddle holds out,” he said ruefully.
Lyra plucked as string with slightly more forced that necessary. She scanned to see if any of her audience noticed. “That was cheap, Dad.”
He shrugged. “So was she. It’s interesting to see you become defensive of your family. You could have occasionally visited, you know. I could better deal with the ignominy of being a private music teacher better with two daughters keeping me company. Ballad really helped me through losing my position at Celestia’s Academy. You really should talk with your sister more.”
A smirk greeted his remark. “What, so she can finish my sentences? Dad, it’s just… weird.”
Jazz walked in front of Lyra with a quizzical look. “Why? Is it weird because you have a twin with same cutie mark?” A sardonic grin punctuated his words. “Perhaps it’s because she’s so much more successful. She has a great songwriting position, a cheerful attitude, and a lovely boyfriend. You should meet him. He might have a brother.”
Her shoulders hunched. As the notes slightly deepened, one or two nearby listeners stopped unconsciously tapping along. There goes tonight’s nice dinner for ‘Lee.
“Of course,” he continued, “your mother always tried to impress upon you how unique you were. Sometimes I think that’s why you retreated into that ‘human’ nonsense.”
A string almost snapped. She put down her instrument. “I am special, Father. I finally have somepony that sees it that way.”
A smidgeon of hope rose in his eyes. “Ah. And does this special somepony have both money and the capacity to produce an heir?”
“One day you’ll find that you’re a slave to money, Dad. Then you’ll die, most likely.” Lyra ran her hoof down the edge of her instrument. “She’s got money.”
He smiled. “Excellent! Keep her around and find someone to marry one of you. That’ll perk the family coffers right up.”
Lyra stepped a pace closer, putting her nose-to-nose with her father. “I want to be with her and her alone, Dad! My marriage isn’t going to be one of convenience.”
He gave an offended snort as a few nervous doorponies started to eye the escalating public squabble with alarm.
“My marriage made your life exceptionally convenient, dear daughter. Besides, you’ve never had the head for all that bigger picture stuff. Well Lyra, that’s what I do. I plan on you raising the family back to where… “
“I bought the ring, Dad!”
No response came out of a mouth struggling to find words. With her father suddenly flabbergasted, she continued.
“I bought the ring. It took me months to busk and save for it. As soon as I work up the courage I’m going to propose.”
A contemplative nod was his first response before a look of realization dawned. “Would she marry a street performer?”
Lyra scratched her mane in a gesture unknown to her before she started hanging with Ditzy. “Cheerilee thinks I’m going to the musician’s college, Dad. I really will, one of these days.”
“So, you’ll move in while claiming to go to school?” Jazz smiled victoriously. “That’ll work great in the long run. Once you’re willing to lie about something this big, you won’t stop. The lies will snowball. She’ll ask for work stories, pictures, office parties and such. How long do you think you can live with somepony and lie to them every day of your life together?”
“How long were you with Mom?”
He snorted as he pawed the ground. “You ungrateful wretch. I gave my up dreams for the happiness of this family. All you can think of is yourself.”
Lyra slowly placed her harp on the ground. A scream struggled in her throat, but only tears came out. “I want to be happy, Dad. Even when we had money we were never happy, just a well-cared for. She’s the only one who makes me happy.”
Jazz sat down on the step next to his daughter. He regarded Lyra with a look of incomprehension. For a second a flash of anger showed on his face before a sigh escaped. “I wonder if you really understand how happy it made me to have my daughters well-cared for.”
Silence reigned for several minutes. Somepony walked by and dropped a coin into the sack for inscrutable reasons. The soft clink of coin drew Lyra out of her contemplation. “Father, did you ever have someone you truly cared for?”
“Aside from my daughters?” He paused. “Yes. Yes, there was.”
Lyra hesitated. This was a part of her father’s life she had never heard of. “What happened to her?”
Jazz snorted and looked to the side. “Her husband died last week. We hope to be married within the month.” He turned his back to Lyra as he walked away. “And if I had chased my dreams back then, you wouldn’t exist. Ponder that, my daughter.”
The Canterlot Gardens Park was filled with active families. The sheer size acted as a noise buffer, separating loud groups by enough distance to muffle their sounds. Cheerilee felt like someone had turned down the Equestria’s volume, making the rest of her world less real. She sat with Ditzy under the shade of a jamberry tree.
Ditzy rested, nibbling something soft and squishy that had fallen onto her. She looked up at her roommate in anticipation.
“So, what happened after Lyra threw the drink?”
Cheerilee hugged herself as she leaned back onto the tree trunk. Her eyes were far away as she spoke. “She kicked the stupid little buck onto the dance floor. She flailed a bit in the booze puddle before taking a faceful of Appletini.”
Ditzy’s eyes widened. A chuckle encountered her jamfruit on the way out, nearly choking her. She spit out squidgy blue bits over the blanket uncontrollably. Cheerilee patted her friend’s mane slowly, waiting for her to recover.
Cheerilee frowned at the worry in Ditzy’s voice. She looked down with curiosity. The relaxed pegasus had an expression of concern on her face mixed with tiny bits of jam. Can she do this on purpose, or does she just trips into adorableness? Cheerilee signaled her attention with a nod.
Ditzy cleared her throat. “Lyra stories are always fun. I just kinda notice that the ‘We did something crazy’ bits are getting a little less party and a lot more punchy-kicky lately.”
The young teacher sighed. “That’s been happening since Nightmare Night. I don’t know whether ponies are looking for us or Lyra’s looking for confrontation.” She chewed her lip while wrapping words around her emotional core.
“Ditzy, have you ever been drawn to someone who you couldn’t stop or slow down? Have you ever fallen in love with somepony who’s a force of nature?”
Ditzy’s answer came in small snores. Cheerilee grinned. She continued to run her hoof down her friend’s mane as she watched. As silent minutes passed, she watched families play.
“You like watching the little fillies, Miss?”
She started at the voice, causing Ditzy mumbled in her sleep at the jostling. Cheerilee turned to the chestnut stallion sitting next to her. He smiled warmly as she returned the gesture uncomfortably.
He suddenly scratched his mane nervously. “Not like that. I mean, watching them. You know, looking over them. Keeping an eye.”
She moved her head back and forth noncommittally. “I like helping kids. I guess I just can’t stop myself from watching out just a little.”
He shrugged, looking away. “Well, then… who’s the most likely to hurt themselves?”
“The, um… ” She couldn’t think of an appropriate description. “The lavender unicorn over there. Her mom doesn’t notice her fascination with the pointy knight statue.”
“Ah. The saddest one, then?”
“The little pink pegasus girl two picnics away has been trying to get her father’s attention for a half an hour.”
“The one that needs the most help?”
Cheerilee scanned the park with serious eyes. Her lips moved as she worked out relationships and consequences. After a space of time, she turned to the strange pony for an answer.
In response, he picked up her headphones. “What’ve you got on here? Neighvana? Smashing Apples? Stone Temple Pegasi?”
An embarrassed hoof grabbed the headphones. “It’s… um… it’s ‘Mares Just want to Have Fun.’ I know, it’s a little childish, but…”
“No! No, no, no! Don’t apologize for being childish, ever. What’s the fun of being grown up if we can’t act childish every so often?” He placed a reassuring hoof on hers. “If the music is a part of you, keep it there even if it isn’t the ‘in’ thing. Or the ‘out’ thing. Some kind of ‘thing’ thing, direction implied.”
Cheerilee giggled. “I notice you have an hourglass on your flank.” She gestured toward the snoozing Ditzy. “She’s yours, isn’t she?”
“What? No! Well, maybe. Well, I guess we haven’t decided who is whose yet. We care for each other a lot. We worry. We try to stop either getting hurt.” His voice lowered with emphasis. “She makes me clean things sometimes.”
Cheerilee nodded. She pointed at Ditzy’s mane with her hoof. “Care to take over?”
He looked down at the sleeping mare. Cheerilee saw the hints of an old internal argument flare up. “I’d give up forever to touch her.”
She nodded. “She’s a special mare. Please don’t hurt her.”
The stallion lost his mirth. “If I did that, I think the world just might stop spinning. The world’s going to hurt her, though. It’s what happens. Everybody hurts sometimes. All I can do is try to help her afterwards. Miss, you can’t protect everyone, every the ones you care for most.”
Cheerilee sighed. “I don’t know what I’d do if I hurt mine. How can I exist without her?”
“Doctor, your tie is a mess.”
They both jumped at Ditzy’s words. She pulled herself to her hooves with a wide yawn and then launched herself at the stallion, pulling him to the ground around by the neck.
“Miss Doo, this may be a little improper.”
She pushed his nose gently. “Shhh. Tie.”
Cheerilee watched the two ponies. As she looped the fabric, Ditzy’s face was a mask of concentration, and the Doctor never took his eyes off of her. They both sat up after a moment.
Ditzy gave him an approving nod. “Doctor, what are you doing here?”
He shrugged. “There’s a… struggle going on in Snowhwon on Lankhmar Six.” He eyed Cheerilee carefully. “Out in the country. In Equestria. I was kind of maybe but not really acting as an unofficial mediator. I needed to travel for a second, so I stopped here.”
She smirked. “You have the time?”
He spread his hooves out. “All’s I got is time. Care to come along?”
Ditzy became very quiet. Cheerilee nodded violently behind the Doctor’s back, staring at Ditzy imploringly.
“Doctor,” Ditzy began carefully. “Will we miss Friday?”
He shrugged. “No, never! When was the last time I… ” He grimaced. “Oh.”
“Doctor, I have a chance to prove myself to everypony. I can show my parents I’m not crazy.”
Cheerilee cocked her head. “Why do they think you’re crazy?”
Both Ditzy and the Doctor turned in unison to say, “It’s a long story.” They broke out into giggles.
He stood. “Well, in that case… “
The both looked at Cheerilee. She crossed her hooves. “Doctor, you’re not leaving right now. You’re going to spend some time with her first. Go walk around the lake for a while.”
He raised a hoof as he started to protest. Cheerilee inclined her stare forward, pre-emptively silencing his objections as they stood eye-to-eye.
He shrugged. “Studying to be a teacher, indeed. Well, Miss Doo, shall we?”
Ditzy clapped. “Really?”
The Doctor nodded. “Make up your mind. Decided to walk with me around the lake today?”
She bounced into the aim, hovering with anticipation. “I’ll take a rain check on the travelling. Just let me stay until Friday.”
He hooked his hoof around her limb. “Check? Never been good with checks. Money’s rubbish. You always did like rain, though.”
She leaned her head into him. “I like watching the puddles gather it. Oh, that reminds me! Lankhmar Six is cold. We’ll swing by my dorm and I’ll get you a raincoat.”
Cheerilee shook her head at the couple walking off. “There’s two of them?”
Clockwork hunched over her engineering textbooks. She was huddling over the table, casting nervous looks toward the school library’s windows. The mare hadn’t noticed that she had copied the same text twice.
“So, what is my wonderful girlfriend doing today?”
Clockwork’s heart jumped at the voice. Turning around she found Starshine leaning against the shelf behind her. He boasted a smug look. She was certain that he thought it was attractive.
“What do you want?” Her eyes closed as she dropped the pencil. It rolled off the desk, unobserved into obscurity.
Starshine grinned as he levitated a seat into place. Other students gave him nasty glances and imploring shushes. He ignored both.
“My parents were sorry that you had to leave the restaurant early last night. I told them how deeply emotional you are about us. I think they believe me.”
Clockwork turned her head upward. “Why?”
Starshine stretched. His hooves snapped the unseen pencil.
“Well, I think they like you. A plucky, individualistic engineer and a noble? It’s a little romantic, although I think they wonder if the Canterlot social life will wear you down.”
She glared at him, teeth gritted. “I just want out of whatever this is.”
A predatory smile flashed back at her. It scooted closer and whispered into her ear, the warm and wet breath leaving moist violations on her coat.
“I can tell my parents we broke up. I just need one more favor, dear.”
Clockwork raised her head and blinked. “I’ll do it.”
He nodded. “Well, I understand Ditzy is giving her presentation tomorrow. I’d love to get a preview of her project. Can you get me into the engineering storage, girlfriend?”
The floor seemed to fall out beneath Clockwork. “No. Not Ditzy.”
“I know, she fooled everyone. In the beginning, she seemed a harmless little buck. But Free Radical unleashed the manticore by giving her free reign. She’s a danger to everyone around her, and I think a career-related embarrassment at this stage might do everyone else some good.”
Clockwork shook her teary head.
“Or,” Starshine said contemplatively, “we could make plans for joining my family on their vacation. It might be romantic.”
“Well, I’m excited to be here today. I know the rest of you wouldn’t be here if you weren’t excited and I didn’t grade attendance. Let’s have a hoof for Ditzy Doo!”
Free Radical clapped as Ditzy rose to nervous applause. She flapped proudly onto the stage, swaying into an unsteady landing. She giggled in a mix of nervousness and glee.
In the back row Starshine leaned back against his chair. Red Shift clapped onto the floor in excitement. “This is going to be a show!”
He grinned. “I know. I brought my camera.”
Ditzy spoke to the audience, but most were looking at the gigantic piece of hardware that dominated the stage. It was covered in wires and lights, terminating into a silver antenna. Odds and ends peaked out from between parts of it. Some pinball wiring was still connected to a push button and a few game lights.
“Um… ” Free Radical scratched his stubble. “What does it do?”
Ditzy adjusted some of the spinners and twists. “This machine is going to channel the ambient potential arcane energy of the room and the latent quark spin of our atoms into tangible effects.”
Professor Radical squinted. “And that tangible effect will be…?”
She hummed as the machine woke to glowing life. “Well, every unicorn in here should start levitating. That’s just the first effect.”
Red Shift bounced up in down in her seat. She turned to Clockwork, who had been sitting in the back more since the social grapevine started buzzing about her apparent relationship with Starshine. “This is going to be a great show. Should we get closer seats?”
Clockwork wiped something out of her eye. “This is probably the best row in the house for this.”
“Thank you everypony for being here today! Thanks to Professor Radical for all the help. I was supported by a lot of ponies here today. I see Mister Picket and my roomie in the fifth row. Hello! Thankie’s go extra-specially to Clockwork for all of her help this semester.”
Red Shift caressed Clockwork’s shoulder as the emotional unicorn put her head in her hooves. “Come on, you should watch this. It’s so awesome that you helped make this happen.”
Starshine snorted. Clockwork sobbed.
The machine came to life. Colorful lights played around the antenna as everypony for three buildings felt their coats rise from the static electricity. Ditzy flittered from station to station, gently singing to herself as a few first row spectators rose inches into the air.
“And now, if everypony will draw their attention to the huon energy stabilizer, I promise you’ll see… ”
Ditzy stopped. She opened a panel with a trembling hoof.
“Huh. I checked it last night. How did the stabilizer get detached?”
The words hung uncomfortably in the air until every chalkboard in the lecture hall shattered outwards. The audience held its breath until a stray bolt of white light flashed out, incinerating a notebook in the third row. The scream started shortly afterwards.
Cheerilee started in her seat. Picket Decks placed a steady hoof on her shoulder. “Careful, Miss. She needs to concentrate now. ”
Wind spiraled around the device from out of nowhere, sending a cascade of papers into the air. Ditzy hovered upside down, scanning dials of the machine. A practiced calm under pressure kept her face steady. “Well, I need to reverse this.”
Free Radical adjusted his glasses, wishing they were made of safety plastic and possibly sitting on his nose behind a lead sheet. “Miss Doo, you can’t reverse an energetic reaction of that magnitude.”
Ditzy’s grabbed two of the power conduits. Her tongue stuck out of her mouth in thought. In contrast, the majority of the class was already shrieking in fear as smoke billowed out of the bottom of the machine. One terrified upperclass-stallion tore the window out of its frame telekinetically and leapt out of the classroom to the garden below.
Free Radical nearly fainted at the sight of thousands of bits of equipment slowly immolating itself. “Miss Doo, give me a solution.”
“Bubble hypoxic crab battle.”
He stamped his front hoof. “Miss Doo, it would be wonderful if you could make bucking sense right now!”
Ditzy remained unperturbed as she turned and smiled at Radical. “Professor, this is standard for a Firefly Fusion Reaction. I have to establish a nice even preon flow. Just pass me two teaspoons of Buckminster Spheres and it’ll be fine.”
As a particularly flaky grad student fainted the professor suddenly lost his interest in the smoke and noise. “You need what? I’ve never even heard of any such substance.”
Ditzy’s brow furrowed. “Um… I need two teaspoons of Buckminster Flash’s carbon nanoballs. You know, his greatest invention?”
The professor blinked. “Buckminister Flash is the terrified freshpony cowering under his desk in the front row.”
She turned to look at a trembling earth pony covering his eyes underneath his wooden sanctuary. “Whoah. He didn’t have hair on his Stable Prize photo.” She smacked her head. “Timey-wimey, Ditzy. Why didn’t I check a calendar? I guess the only thing to do is this.” She stuck both forehooves and her head into the aperture.
Starshine’s eye went wide. “This may be her final presentation.”
“Oh, no.” Clockwork ran out from safety of the back row, past the screaming forms of Red Shift and Blue Shift. As she barreled down the aisle she threw a stallion frozen in fear to the side with her telekinesis. Leaping onto the stage, she grabbed onto Ditzy flanks with both hooves. “Sweet Celestia, don’t stick your head in there!” She shut her eyes as she pulled. “They’ll have to bury you in a hatbox.”
Suddenly a puff of noxious smoke flew out of the vents on the device. Ditzy brought a sooty mane out of the guts of the machine. She scratched behind her mane as she grinned in embarrassment. “No problem. I shut my first one of these off before I got my cutie mark. You’ll just need to pick up a new Clopworth Destabilizer for the engineering department, though.”
As the Professor’s eyes widened Ditzy frowned. “Oh, Professor. I guess you can’t pick up one of those at the corner store yet, eh?”
As she shivered while looking into the livid features of her instructor, Starshine snapped a picture.
Jazz whistled as he walked into the unfamiliar dorm room. A listener with a slight musical inclination would have recognized the traditional wedding march. Someone with a stronger musical inclination would have remembered that the scene after the march involved the death of the couple, and shivered at the look in Jazz’s eyes.
He examined the room, finding nothing of his daughter’s personality in it. There were records, of course, and musical paraphernalia aplenty. Jazz expected to find pictures and furniture in odd places, covering holes kicked into the walls.
A gray winged stallion in shades exited the restroom and extended a hoof. “Hey there! You must be the other dad in the room. It’s great to meet the other guy responsible for our little team. You here for the little wonderworker’s presentation, too? We may be a little late; I just got here.”
He advanced on Jazz, who shook his hoof out of more fear than friendliness. “Of… course. I’m the father of… “
He breathed out harshly as the ebullient flyer slammed him hard on the back. “Great! Smooth Storm! I’m happy to interview the coach behind the girl who backs my little filly’s plays. I brought cider. Drink!”
Jazz gripped the offered mug for dear life as Storm pushed him backwards onto the couch. The startled musician stared down into the unfamiliar beverage. “This is… cider? I suppose I can try something new.”
Seconds later Jazz was on the floor gagging as multicolored light spat out of his mouth. Storm quaked with laughter.
“C’mon, don’t be a lightweight! That’s Rainbow Rider Cider right there. The rainbows will put streaks in your coat, buddy!” Storm briefly lifted his sunglasses. “Say, are you okay? You’re rolling around on the floor an awful lot, buddy. You pull a muscle or something?”
Jazz spat out something purple and steadied himself. “I am not okay. Ponies rolling around on this floor happens to be the exact reason why I’m here.”
Storm blinked. “You wanna play Twister or something? We could wait for the girls to get back to make teams.” He rubbed Jazz’s expensive haircut out of existence. “My nimble little Muffin’s going to be on my team.”
Jazz kicked the mug across the room. Storm became still as it shattered against the wall. He had seen enough celebrity tantrums to know that they had to be ridden out.
“Good sir,” Jazz spat out, “which ‘teams’ our daughter are on is exactly why I’m here. Didn’t you know?”
Storm shook his head. “Buddy, I got no idea what you mean.”
Jazz stared. “You don’t know that our daughters are involved.”
Storm’s sunglasses and thought processes remained opaque to Jazz. “You gonna write a diagram, or what?”
The exasperated musician pawed the ground. “Our daughters are romantically involved.” He eagerly waited for the resulting explosion.
A few seconds passed. Storm gestured towards the kitchen. “So, are you going to clean up the mug or should I?”
Jazz worked to restart his thought process. “That’s your concern?” He saw the pegasus retreat toward the kitchen. “That’s the over-riding worry?”
Storm walked out with a washcloth in his mouth and dropped it onto the stain. “Well, Rainbow Rider tends to stain. Trust me, I’ve seen plenty of athletes ruin hotel rooms.”
“So, while our daughters engage in the love that dares not whinny its name, you clean the floor.”
Storm nodded. “Whoever she’s dating, she’s got a security deposit on the room. You know what? I’m gonna go get some vinegar. That works.”
Jazz rushed to Storm’s side and roughly grabbed his forelimbs. “Sir, I have no idea how you can remain calm while our daughters besmirch our family honor and goals.”
Storm turned back. His hard eyes poked over his shades and sent chills down Jazz’s spine.
“I know three things, buddy. One, I know your daughter will treat her right. She’s a great person from what I hear, and my girl needs someone strong to take care of her. She’s got some problems that it’ll take a good pony to face.”
Storm moved his face inches away from his terrified captive.
“Secondly, I work in the athletics entertainment industry. Sir, I have a sense of perspective about these things. I’m keeping some of the antics I’ve seen at the Wonderbolts’ after-parties to my grave.”
Jazz tried to speak, but found his voice to be as rebellious as his daughter.
“Finally, I know very many good sport trainers, and I know what’s I’m able and willing to do if you still have your hoof on me when I count to three.” He pushed his shades back into place. “One, by the way.”
Jazz drew back a hoof. “You’re crazy.”
Storm’s cheerfulness instantly returned. “Crazy’s not bad every once in a while. My wife once thought she could get radio signals from her fillings. Here, I’m gonna pass you the vinegar.”
The door to the dorm slammed open. Jazz jumped back several feet at the sound, spilling a cup of vinegar all over the floor.
Storm shook his head. “No buddy, you have to dilute the vinegar to get out cider stains.” He turned to the door where a quivering Ditzy held in tears. “Ditzy? What happened, Ditzy? Did you argue with the little flower girl I heard you shacked up with?”
Jazz gaped at the newcomer. “Wait, I thought you were Cheerilee’s father.”
Storm ignored Jazz as Ditzy threw herself into her father’s embrace. He noticed her mane was disheveled and her eyes were shot with red. “Did something happen, Muffin? I missed the presentation, didn’t I?”
Ditzy looking into her father’s eyes. “Dad,” she said with a cracking voice, “I just don’t know what went wrong.” She buried her face into his coat, sobbing incoherently.
Jazz sat uncomfortably until the door moved open again. A new mare walked in the room. The out-of-breath mare walked over to Ditzy and joined in the hug.
“Ah, that’s more like it!” He leaned forward. “Miss Cheerilee, I presume?”
Lyra whistled happily as she trotted up the stairs of the dorm. She surmounted the stairs, pausing as she spotted the closed door.
A small, velvet box levitated out of her saddlebags. She regarded the little package with hope and trepidation. Lyra gave a decisive nod as she placed it back in the saddlebags.
“Well, I don’t know if I’ve ever been good enough,” she said to no one. “I guess it’s time to find out.”
Lyra barreled down the hallway. “Cheerilee, you home? I’ve got something I need to ask you about. It’s kinda important.”
Lyra’s smile shattered as she pushed open the apartment door. Cheerilee looked back from the couch with puffy eyes. Jazz sat next to her, gloating silently. Before Lyra could respond, Jazz levitated a small sack of coins.
“You were so upset you left these on your street corner.”
Lyra felt the world drop out from underneath as she saw the betrayal in Cheerilee’s gaze. Cheerilee was only able to squeak out Lyra’s name before her marefriend ran into the bathroom, shutting the door. A scream of inarticulate rage sounded from inside.
Jazz shrugged. “Well, I guess it’s a good idea that Mister Storm took his daughter elsewhere for the moment. That wouldn’t have helped Miss Doo’s mood any.”
Cheerilee flashed a dark look before moving to the bathroom door. “Lyra, please let me help. We have to talk about this.”
After a second of quiet, Lyra responded in an emotionless tone. “I… I am just a worthless liar.” Inside the bathroom, Lyra placed her forelimb on the counter. Staring at it with disgust, she bit down on it until she drew blood, screaming into her flesh all the while. By now she was shrieking at the top of her lungs. “I’m just an imbecile!”
The noises she heard horrified Cheerilee. She turned back to Jazz. “Your daughter’s in pain. Help me!”
He shrugged, standing up and moving toward the door. “She’s been destroying herself for years. I’ve long since given up on stopping her.”
Cheerilee dropped unto her stomach sobbing as she heard a door close with finality.