Mail from Orchard Boulevard to Ponyville Elementary had been delivered, and Ditzy Doo found herself near the center of town in the modest shopping district and market that ran the length of Marzipan Lane. Capped on one end by Town Hall and the other by Sugarcube Corner, it was under the frosting and gingerbread facade of the latter that Ditzy Doo ended her mail run for the early afternoon.
Sugarcube Corner, famous throughout Ponyville for its scrumptious treats, was a delight for the eyes as well as the mouth. Frosting seemed to run down the face of the roof to collect in the crooks, seams and indentations and bulge out over the edge, forever trapped in the moment before dripping down. Ditzy was pleased to note that there were exactly seventeen such collections to a side, which translated to thirty eight shingles between each, with a mean surface area per shingle that was also incidentally seventeen, though centimeters squared this time.
A muffin sounds good right about now. And speaking of seventeen and things incidentally correlating, I wonder if, even though there is no pattern in prime numbers, there might be something predictable about some other aspect of them. Like how often a digit appears in a group of them. Not really a pattern, but like those neat experiments at Canterlot University with electrons and quantum uncertainty, something the numbers "tend" to do. That would be super cool. Like a...a...pseudopattern!
Ditzy Doo loved prime numbers, they were special numbers. Numbers that stood alone and apart from their contemporaries, but were still within the beautiful chain to which all numbers belonged. A prime number was one of a kind, indivisible except by one and itself. You couldn’t multiply any of the other ones to make a prime, you couldn’t predict when the next prime would happen unless you knew all the ones before it, and they were almost always odd. She could empathize with odd.
Ditzy scratched her nose with a wing, brow furrowed in thought. Several ponies had to walk around her as she stood in the middle of the sidewalk, seemingly staring off into space.
The delivery mare had been called "odd" from as far back as she could remember, and to be fair, she was. Her rather bland coloration of grey coat and blonde mane never really attracted much attention. And her cutie mark, a cluster of soap bubbles, was equally nondescript. Well, unless you REALLY looked at them, then you would see they were special, just like her. But for the casual observer, the most distinctive feature was her eyes. Nopony she had ever met had eyes like hers.
Ditzy liked her eyes. They gave her a perspective on the world others lacked. It came with a cost to be sure, lack of depth perception made for slightly erratic flying, and as a Pegasus that was an essential part of her life. She envied graceful ponies like Rainbow Dash and the rest of the weather team, they could pull of stunts and maneuvers Ditzy would seriously injure herself if she ever tried. When she was younger, it had made her sad sometimes, especially in flight school. Always progressing slower than anypony else, well, almost anypony else, had been a real struggle for her.
She turned her attention to Sugarcube Corner again. Ponies lined up all the way out the front door and milled about on the sidewalk beyond, and it looked like Mr. and Mrs. Cake had kicked into overdrive to meet the needs of the post-lunch crowd. Tarts, pies, cakes of all manner and type, and more pedestrian desserts for the ponies with less imagination, or less time to snack, were all on display and going as fast as they could be stocked.
Despite the Cake's best efforts, the apple glaze donuts were running out, again. And this time it wasn't even Pinkie Pie's fault. In fact, in addition to not eating her usual 7-10% of the Cake's entire stock; Pinkie had been manning the counter with unusual circumspection and calm (for Pinkie), refraining from challenging random customers to cupcake eating contests, taffy jump rope (What? It stretches the taffy!) or placing the occasional confetti firecracker in somepony's bag with their treats.
Instead, she stood behind the counter, cheek splitting grin plastered over her face, looking about ready to burst in anticipation of...something. Most ponies making purchases just shrugged it off as inscrutable Pinkie Pie, nopony really knew how her mind worked. A few however were a bit nonplussed and eyed the neon pink Earth Pony with some wariness as they completed their transactions. Ditzy did her best to get by without ruffling anypony's feathers or stepping on any hooves but-
The press of bodies made the outer store near impassable, and the limited height meant flying over the other customers was not an option. Her efforts to get by were beginning to attract negative attention.
"If I could just-"
"Wait your turn!"
"I just need to-"
"Derpy! Go to the back of the line!"
Flitter and Cloudchaser, an inseparable pair of pale lilac colored Pegasi, glared at Ditzy Doo till she shrank away into an unoccupied side of the store, near a broom closet and some folded up tables, where she fell to her haunches with a whimper.
"Oh, that's...that's ok, I can wait."
Several other members of the line harrumphed in satisfaction. Ditzy looked down at the floor, retreating into her thoughts. It was much nicer in there.
Two, three, five, seven, eleven, thirteen, seventeen, nineteen, twenty three, twenty nine, thirty one, thirty seven, forty one, forty three, forty seven, fifty three, fifty nine, sixty one, sixty seven, seventy one, seventy three, seventy nine, eighty three, eighty nine, ninety seven, one hundred and one...
One hundred and three, one hundred and seven, one hundred and nine, one hundred and thirteen, one hundred and twenty seven, one hundred and thirty one, one hundred and thirty seven, one hundred and thirty nine, one hundred and forty nine, one hundred and fifty one...
The grey mare looked up in fear, not sure if she had given some further offense. But a new pony was standing before her, a dandelion gold Pegasus smiling beneath a long flowing mane of warm pink.
"Oh! Hi Fluttershy. I'm not in your way am I?"
Fluttershy giggled, brushing a lock of her mane out of her eyes. "You're in the corner Derpy, you're not in anypony's way."
Ditzy Doo looked behind herself to find the wall, like she hadn't realized it was there before. "...Oh, right. I was in the way a minute ago."
"Yes. About that." Fluttershy glanced with disapproval at Flitter and Cloudchaser, happily gabbing at each other and not paying either Ditzy Doo or Fluttershy a second glance.
"Are you here to buy something Derpy?" Fluttershy asked when she had turned back.
Ditzy Doo pawed the ground with a hoof. "No...well, kinda. I'm delivering mail for the Cakes, but I wanted a muffin on the way out..."
Fluttershy smiled. "Of course, I think that's a wonderful idea Derpy. Why don't you come stand in line with me? I was pretty close to the front."
Ditzy Doo grinned even as her lazy eye rolled over to the counter, where Pinkie waved at them both, looking slightly frantic.
Fluttershy helped Ditzy Doo to her hooves and headed back into the throng.
"Pardon me, I'd like to get back in line now if that's all right?" Fluttershy made to step in front of a green and gold Earth Pony.
The other pony shook her head with a huff. "No, it's not all right, you can't cut in line, what if I let you through, only to snatch the last apple glaze donut? I can already see they are running out. I learned my lesson the hard way last cider season, no can do lady." The green pony attempted to close ranks even more with the other line members.
"But...I was here before, right in front of you." Fluttershy looked over at Ditzy. "I only left so I could get my friend here."
"I...uh...I don't remember that!" The Earth Pony turned away, as if this concluded the matter.
Ditzy Doo saw Fluttershy's eye twitch ever so slightly and she began muttering under her breath. "When somepony tries to block...no no no, one two three, three two one." Calm returned to her darkening expression and she gave her best smile.
"Um...listen please, I don't want a donut, I'm getting a raspberry tart and my friend here is getting a muffin, plus she is delivering some uh-very important mail for the Cakes. They've been waiting all week for this post to arrive, I don't think they'd like it very much if you held her up like this."
"Oh! Er...well, when you put it like that..." The Earth Pony looked over at the counter, where Pinkie was waving them over. "I see. I'll get out of your way."
Fluttershy smiled again. "Thank you very much."
A few moments later and they were at the front, and Ditzy was able to plop down a pile of mail with one of her wings. "Hey Pinkie Pie."
"FINALLY! Do you know how long I've been waiting for a speaking role?!" The almost painfully pink Earth Pony snatched the mail with a derisive snort and tossed it behind her head, landing somewhere in the kitchen beyond.
The Earth Pony for whom Fluttershy had "enhanced" the truth about the importance of the mail earlier gave a scandalized sputter from somewhere behind them, and Fluttershy very pointedly did not look back. Instead she cocked her head and tried to fathom what this latest nonsensical outburst from her friend could possibly mean.
"Speaking role? What?"
"FIVE CHAPTERS, six if you count the prologue!" Pinkie was hyperventilating.
Ditzy Doo eyed the muffins behind the glass of the display kiosk. Chocolate blueberry...
Pinkie continued her rant. "BUT, it will all be worth it in the end, in return for my silence, I was promised a new pony in town, someone I haven't yet thrown a Welcome To Ponyville party for, and yesterday I confirmed it!"
(Of all the types of parties Pinkie Pie threw, the Welcome To Ponyville parties were the most legendary, so much so that the guest of honor would frequently attempt to escape after the first twenty hours or so. Having learned from experience, Pinkie scheduled games like hide and seek and zombie tag for this period, so that the other attendees could aid in hunting down and apprehending the fugitive pony and resume the festivities without interruption. All while maintaining an atmosphere of fun! Twilight Sparkle once described Pinkie as the most tenacious, ruthless and terrifyingly efficient party thrower in all of Equestria.)
Fluttershy put a hoof to her mouth. "Oh my! A new pony moved to town? That's wonderful news. How did you confirm it?"
"Like always! Twitchy tail, eye flutter, itchy flank silly! I mean Duh! That's one of the hardest ones to misinterpret!" Pinkie's grin had returned, wringing her hooves together like some villain plotting a scheme. She even vented a sinister cackle.
"As soon as I find this new pony, they are getting the mother of all surprise parties!"
"Remember Pinkie, we want to welcome them to town, not...startle or, or scare them." Fluttershy seemed to shudder at some memory. Probably several memories actually.
Pinkie vented an exasperated sigh. "What kind of a surprise party doesn't come with a surprise? Just leave this to Auntie Pinkie Pie!" Pinkie gave a mischievous wink. "I'm a pro after all."
Fluttershy facehoofed. "Pinkie, I'm a year-oh never mind. Can I have a raspberry tart please?"
Ditzy Doo pointed to the muffin rack with a wing. "And can I get one of the chocolate blueberry muffins?"
"Sure thing girls! One sec!" As Pinkie grabbed the merchandise and got the bags ready, she did what she was wont to do whenever there was a second of downtime. Babble.
"I don't think this new pony is going to be quite the most amazingest best friend forever type friend though. Probably just a regular best friend forever. 'Cause my flank is itchy, but not like SUPER itchy. When Twilight came to town, it was so bad it felt like a bee sting. Or a hemorrhoid! This one is more like a spider bi-"
"Oh my! Too much-um information Pinkie." Fluttershy had a pained look on her face. Ditzy Doo was checking other mail she had yet to deliver.
Hmm. I thought I delivered to Barley Terrace already...Oh! That nice Unicorn moved in the other day! I forgot her house! Wow, she is already getting letters the day after she moved in. This Melodia person must be a friend of hers. Well, it's close to here, no problem.
"How much do we owe you Pinkie?" Fluttershy pulled her purse from her saddlebags, letting loose a few butterflies that had been nestled within. Instead of darting about, they alighted on her mane, flapping their multicolored wings. A purple and blue one landed on Ditzy Doo's nose.
"Five bits for both." Pinkie said, making the register ping and pop open to accept Fluttershy's and Ditzy's proffered coins.
As they approached the exit, and Fluttershy was rounding up her butterflies, Ditzy was thinking again, too hard to notice the approach of a bright magenta Earth Pony with a strawberry and cream colored mane, her cutie mark obscured by saddlebags laden with school supplies and papers to grade. Many already were marked up with red pen, circles and question marks, scribbles requesting clarification of some concept or correcting a grammar or spelling error.
"Derpy!" A voice snapped apart the concentration of the grey Pegasus mare.
"Aww Cheerilee, I was counting and you made me lose my place!"
The magenta Earth Pony reached around to adjust a strap. "I'm sorry Derpy, I'm just...a little frayed at the moment. Have you seen my sister? Berry hasn't been around all day. Ruby said she never came home last night either.
Ditzy pushed her musings about patterns in prime numbers to the side for the moment. Though she was pretty sure there was a significant logarithmic correlation between the incidence of the number one as the first digit of a prime compared to two or three or whatever. At least in the first hundred primes or so. "I haven't seen her either, sorry."
Ditzy Doo smiled helplessly as Cheerilee continued to stare at her speculatively.
The Earth pony spoke again. "Well, Horte thinks she might have left last night with some pony. Apparently one that just moved to town. Know anything about that?"
One hundred and fifty seven, one hundred and sixty three, one hundred and sixty seven, one hundred and seventy thr-oh, I do know something about that.
"I do know something about that!" Ditzy Doo grinned in happy recognition.
Cheerilee brightened. "Oh that's great!"
Ditzy hopped into the air a little, grateful to have been useful. "Yeah, we misdirected some of her freight yesterday. Oh! And I forgot to deliver her mail today, so I need to go back anyway. I can take you."
Cheerileee sighed relief and wiped her forehead with a hoof. "Thank Celestia, you know how Berry gets around this time of year, I...I...just hope she didn't relapse. She promised me..."
Ditzy hadn't the foggiest idea what Cheerilee was talking about, but Ditzy's daughter Dinky had told her it was best sometimes to just say nothing and nod knowingly when other ponies told you stuff. Her daughter was such as smart girl. Good in school too, much better than Ditzy ever had been. And talented! She had the paintings on the fridge to show it, Ditzy wouldn't be surprised if Dinky's cutie mark ended up being art related.
"Derpy...what are you doing?"
"I'm agreeing with you! Isn't that what nodding means?"
"I'm glad you agree, but I stopped talking a while ago." The Earth Pony gestured with a hoof. "Shall we go? The sooner we find Berry the sooner I can stop doubling down on my anxiety medication."
From Cheerilee's saddlebag erupted Pinkie Pie's head, livid with outrage. "You're going to see the new pony NOW?! But my shift isn't over for another four hours!" Then with a disparaging whimper, "I'm *sniff* I'm going be the last pony in town to meet her! It's not fair! I-ooh an apple!"
Pinkie's head dove back into the saddlebag, and moments later she leaped out, body and all, trotting back into Sugarcube Corner with a bright red apple clenched in her teeth.
"But that was for-" Cheerilee choked out, then dropped her hoof to her side. "-me."
After a moment's hesitation, she peered into her saddlebags, as if to make sure no wormholes or fourth dimensional spaces resided within. Ditzy was examining some clouds. And also Lyra and Bon Bon sitting on a bench to their left sharing a mango smoothie. Bon Bon waved at Ditzy's wandering eye, and received a friendly wing-waggle in return.
"Heeeeere we are!" Ditzy brandished a hoof at the two story home before her and Cheerilee. The lawn was dry and dying, and most of the plants in the front yard were wilted and discolored. The only indication that the building was inhabited was the many opened and unopened boxes that could be seen behind the patina of dust that coated the large living room window. Even the "In Escrow" sign was still jammed in the sod near the street.
Ditzy could see indentations in the gravel path leading to the front door, and what appeared to be a purse partly concealed by a mostly dead bush to the left of the front door. Paint on the lock was scratched and scraped, and numerous hoofprints clustered near the door with a few bits of gravel lodged in the skirt of the door itself.
"I think she's home." Ditzy said.
Cheerilee looked over quizzically. "Really? The building looks like it's halfway to condemned. What makes you say that?"
"Oh some stuff I see. Also, she probably has some friends over too!" Ditzy took a final bite of her muffin, spraying the last syllables of her sentence in a rain of chocolate blueberry chunks.
"Derpy. The house is dead looking."
"Yeah, but she left her purse outside there, and the gravel in the doorjam means she dragged somepony else inside. Not a box like the ones in the living room, 'cause it would have smoothed out all those hoofprints on the ground out here. Also, she has a leaky shower."
Cheerilee's jaw returned to its normal position to form words of incredulous disbelief. "How could you possibly know she has a leaky shower?!"
"She told me yesterday when she came out to claim her box." Ditzy was too busy pulling mail out of her saddlebags to see Cheerilee pulling her mane in gurgling frustration, before abruptly looking up, letting out a fearful gasp.
"Wait...did you say dragged? You don't...you don't think she..."
"Fell and hurt her leg?" Asked Ditzy helpfully.
"No! Kidnapping you bubble brain! Creepy house, signs of struggle, Berry missing all day! You do the math!"
"I love math! I had this great idea about pri-" Ditzy began.
Cheerilee grabbed Ditzy Doo and shook her. "Listen! We have to get inside this house. NOW."