I was roused at precisely zero seven as a direct result of my watch alarm going off, though it was not my alarm that awakened me directly. No, it was the short fall and the sudden stop that woke me up. As you may have surmised by now, I can be a pretty heavy sleeper. Joy, however, is not; nor is she particularly pleased when an alarm sounds loudly only a few hours after she goes to bed. When I failed to silence my alarm in a satisfactory period of time, she bucked me off of the bed.
I woke up when I hit the ground, quite disoriented and annoyed… what the hell was making that awful beeping sound? I raised a hoof to rub my eyes and was again perplexed as the sound grew louder. I held my hoof away from my face in my shock, and the sound faded. Bringing my hoof closer to my face, the screech was louder… farther, and it was quieter. Why was my hoof making noises like this? As I opened my eyes and stared at the offending appendage, I saw that it was blinking as well, emitting a strange teal light in strobe-like intervals.
What in the flying purple fuck is this sorcery?
Facehoof. The beeping grew louder.
I reached up a hoof and silenced my watch, the pieces finally coming together as my brain finally began to spin. As soon as I silenced the beeping, I heard a sigh of relief from the bed (which was now somehow above me) and a rustle of covers as Joy settled back into bed. I drew myself to a sitting position and cast an affectionate glance back at the sleeping form ‘neath the shroud of covers. I was hit by a bitter wave of nostalgia for all the times I had to go to work at “o’ dark thirty” and had lived this exact scene out time and again in another life, in another world.
I felt the weight of the loss settle in the pit of my stomach like a ball of icy leaden dread. I had to do something quickly before the feeling settled in too deeply and dragged me down for the rest of the day. In a heartbeat, my mind had switched tracks entirely as I recalled my plans for Friday. I know the standard date is to show up with chocolate and flowers, go to a movie, and then discuss it over dinner… but in a world that lacked motion pictures, my options were somewhat limited. After I got off of work, I was going to have to head once more to Sugarcube corner and have a talk with Pinkie… if there was anypony in town who would know what to do on a Friday night, it would be her.
Hopefully, this meeting would be as… productive… as our last one was. Shenanigans aside, I did manage to accomplish what I set out to do, so it was a success in my book. I showered and performed my daily hygiene routine before grabbing a sack lunch from the fridge and devouring a banana nut muffin from the bowl on the counter. Muffins…I wonder how Derpy is doing? Is everything back to business as usual with her? I was pondering this as I walked out the front door, and I vowed to find out how to track her down so I could ask her myself. As it turns out, this was entirely unnecessary.
I opened eyes I didn’t recall closing, staring up at the sky as they spun in a counter-rotating motion. I think I’m gonna be sick… My vision was suddenly filled by a grey head and a huge grin, and I couldn’t help but wonder who’s eyes were more crooked… mine, or hers. As I lay there, strands of her blonde mane tickled my snout. I scrunched up my nose in an attempt not to sneeze in the face hovering over mine. Well, I failed, and SPECTACULARLY at that.
I was wracked by a tremendous sneeze; a sneeze so powerful that it curled me into the fetal position briefly. This sneeze would have felt amazing if not for one small detail: there was a mare’s head inches above mine. As I spasmed mid-sneeze and was in the process of curling into a fetal position, I head-butted this unfortunate onlooker. For years, I’d prided myself on having a head that is harder than most (I used to crack tic-tacs with my forehead…explains a lot, doesn’t it?). Today, however, it would seem that I had met my match.
My forehead connected with hers, producing a tremendous cracking sound from the force of the impact. I suppose I should be thankful that our heads collided at the thickest part and not snout-to-forehead, which likely would have severely broken something. Instead, I felt like I’d been hit by a truck… in the face. I did not see stars… I saw birds. Actual living, breathing birds were circling my head. In the wake of my probable concussion, I couldn’t help but wonder if Fluttershy was training squadrons of birds to patrol Ponyville on the lookout for head injuries as some sort of practical joke…
Wow. I might need to get my brain examined, providing they could find it. I raised myself to a sitting position and the world turned monochromatic in a crimson wave of pain. As soon as my vision stopped pulsing in time with my heartbeat, I reached a hoof up to prod the affected area. I immediately regretted this choice, as my vision once again flared like an over-exposed picture. I looked over to where Derpy had landed with deep concern… it would be terrible if I had saved her life only to give her dain bramage a couple days later. I might have laughed at what I saw if not for its implications… her eyes were staring the same way for once.
Derpy was still lying on her back, not having moved since the collision, apparently. Her eyes might have been oriented in the same direction for once, but they were not focused on anything in particular. I summoned the will to fight my way to my hooves, a laborious process to say the least. Once I was supported by wibbly-wobbly appendages well enough to move, I went to Derpy to see if she was okay.
As I drew upon her, I was a bit shocked by what I saw before me.
Derpy was smiling.
Shit... that’s not a good sign. Altered state of consciousness is an indicator of traumatic brain injury, as is altered visual acuity. I immediately began to contemplate the best way to get her to the clinic, a process that was very soon halted.
Her eyes went back a little kooky as one locked on mine.
“O-oh, hey Dave. You okay?”
Wait a second... this was no longer adding up in my head.
“Uh, yeah. You? Are you alright, D?”
“Pssh, I’ve had worse from bad landings landings. You might remember one in p-particular...”
I winced at that, but it didn’t make the pieces in my head make any more sense.
“But...your eyes looked funny...I thought you might have a concussion...”
“Are you m-making fun of me?”
I almost felt like an ass before I saw her smirking at me. Dammit, was I really that gullible?
“You almost got me, there. But silliness aside, are you okay? My head is still spinning... “
“Guess I’m tougher... “
“Dang... yeah, I’d say so. But why are you still on the ground? And why were your eyes oriented differently than they usually are?”
“Somet-times, you just want to stop and w-watch the clouds. Other ti-imes, you have no choice.”
Whoa... that was deep.
“Alright. I like that saying, mind if I use it?”
I offered a helping hoof to Derpy, though I’m not sure how effective it would be, given my current condition and all. She nodded her consent to my question as she took my hoof and got on her own four hooves. She seemed none the worse for the experience, where I might have worsened my dain bramage and certainly had a good lump to show for it.
“Well, that was interesting. Actually, I was just thinking about you before we... bumped into each other, so to speak. I was wondering how you were doing lately.”
“Well, I’m alive. Th-that’s always a plus... “
Derpy and I struck up a conversation that lasted all the way to the clinic, mostly concerning whether or not she got any time off for the accident, if she was having any lingering pain, things like that. Turns out, she had been offered a week of paid vacation to recover (healthcare here puts everything else to shame), but she had declined.
When I asked her why she would do that, I got an answer that revealed a great deal about the mare before me. She said that it was her duty to deliver the mail, that ponies were relying on her to get the job done. According to her, she never missed a day or a delivery; she was always going out of her way to be the best she could be. As we walked towards the clinic together, she gave me a glimpse of her past... and it was not very pretty.
Derpy was born Ditzy Doo to a broken home in another part of the country, though she didn’t get any more specific than that. I thought it best not to pry, and let her continue. From a young age, she knew she was a little different from the other ponies around her and despite her best efforts, she had a very difficult time trying to fit in. The most noticeable difference about her was her eyes, and the way they could never agree on something to look at. Her lack of visual acuity caused all sorts of problems, though most of them were related to fine muscle control and coordination.
One of the less obvious differences between Ditzy and the other ponies was her stuttering, a nervous tic she had acquired early in life and had never been able to shake. Because of her stutter and her wall-eyes, ponies treated her like she was slow, defective, or broken... even though he wasn’t, not in the slightest. They say “perception is reality” for a reason though, and despite her best efforts to be friendly towards everypony she met, she was nonetheless targeted as the butt of malicious names and nasty rumors. The ponies who spread these stories and rumors were looking for an easy target to make themselves feel better, and they found one.
For a bit, Ditzy was disheartened by the way she was treated by these ponies, the way they acted like she was an imbecile, despite the evidence against this. The teasing got worse as the years went on and they grew older, leading up to the darkest time in Ditzy’s life. By the time she was in secondary school, she was the only pony who was still a blank-flank, earning her yet more ridicule. One day, she went for a walk just to escape from the ridicule she was subjected to by those around her. Sure, she had friends who would stick up for her every chance they got, but that just made it that much worse when she was alone.
That day had been particularly nasty, the verbal torments finally escalating and becoming physical. She had never been bullied physically before, and being shoved around by a half dozen other mares was traumatic, to say the least. Things had escalated to the breaking point and if something didn’t change soon, who knew what would have happened. As luck would have it, things would never get that bad.
As she walked in the meadow weighed down by her thoughts and fears, concerns for the future and for her own well being, something simple caught her eye. Sprouting in the center of the hoof path was a single dandelion gone to seed, covered as it was by the downy white plumes of its seeds. Seized by a sudden urge to lash out at something, ANYTHING, to dish out some of the hurt that she had received, Ditzy stomped on the flower again and again, venting her hurt. By the time she ceased, the plant was little more than green mush ground into the dirt.
She was immediately ashamed of herself for taking her frustrations out on something that didn’t deserve it, even if it was just a plant. Even as a tear began to form in her eye, she became aware of a small shape just in front of her face. Lofted by the gentle breeze that swept through the blades of grass, and illuminated by the glow of the warm summer sun, there hung a single dandelion seed. Such a frail, wispy thing it was, and yet so beautiful.
It stirred feeling in Ditzy that she hadn’t felt in a while... feelings of hope, of purpose. This seed cared not for what happened below it, it rose with the sole purpose of going somewhere new. Like bubbles in a bottle of soda, ever rising, Ditzy could feel a change taking place within herself as her Cutie mark finally appeared. It was wrong to try and fight her tormentors, to argue or complain; this would get her nowhere at best, or provoke them at worst. Likewise, Ignoring would serve no purpose as they would escalate to try and prod a reaction from her. Like the bubbles in a bottle of soda, she would have to simply rise above it, embrace their worst and move on.
They called her Derpy, made fun of her eyes, and treated her like she was stupid? She knew she wasn’t dumb and so did her friends. Who cared what other ponies think about you, as long as you know the truth? In order to truly embrace the ridicule and rise above it, TRULY rise above it, Ditzy knew she would have to do something drastic to drive the point home to those who bullied her. She would show them that they could not break her spirit.
From that day forth, she would embrace the symbol of her torment: she would take on the name Derpy.
By the time she had finished recounting the tale of her past, we were within sight of the clinic, and my headache had mostly faded. I had one nagging question though, one I had held until the end of the tale.
“Derpy? Not that I’m anything less than flattered that you trust me enough to tell me all about your past, but... why? It seems like it’s painful to talk about, so why would you dredge all that up for me?”
Her eyes focused on me for a moment as she shot me a half-lidded gaze. One thing I’d noticed was that the more she spoke to me, the clearer her speech became, until she was no longer stuttering at all. It looked like her nervous tic was all but soothed for the moment, allowing her to demonstrate her intellect.
“I see why you’d wonder that. I’ve never told anypony else about my past before now, since the ones who mattered already knew about it and the others could care less. I guess I just wanted to let you know more about the life you saved.”
“I don’t know what to say... other than thank you for sharing.”
“Thanks for saving me so I could.”
“No worries. Say, what’s the best way to get a hold of you on a regular basis?”
“Hang around the post office.”
“Really? Where do you live?”
“About two houses back from the post office, which is why I moved there.”
“Makes sense. Well, I’d love to hang out with you some more sometime, so don’t be surprised if I come knocking one day.”
“I’ll try not to be. Have fun at work, Dave. I’ve gotta get started on my rounds. Bye!”
I waved farewell as the grey mare took to the skies in a plume of dust, staring after her for a moment before turning and walking the last few steps to the clinic.
Well... here goes another day at work...
The day passed uneventfully, seeing as how Sweeps was avoiding me like the plague. He wasn’t even trying to be inconspicuous about it either, seeing as how there was more than one occasion where I was walking down the hall towards him when he either turned around in place and walked away or ducked into a room to preclude interaction.
It was all just as well, though… I was happy to not have to deal with his shenanigans again. My mood was conflictingly bubbly and burdened; I was giddy with anticipation for Friday, but also somewhat downtrodden by the revelation of Derpy’s past tribulations. I found it difficult to believe that anypony could treat one so sweet as Derpy so poorly… after all, wasn’t “To Love and Tolerate” part of the Equestrian Creed or something? I thought it was, but I couldn’t be sure. I’d have to look that up later…
I was cleaning out a janitorial closet (for lack of better things to do), when I stumbled upon the thing I had been searching for: a faded poster of the Celestial crest, adorned with the words to the Equestrian Creed. It struck me where I’d seen this before… When I was working on the playground equipment at the school, I caught sight of this same poster through the window of a classroom, though that one had been in noticeably better shape. There were certain elements of the Creed that struck me as familiar… Quietly, I read the entire thing out loud to myself.
“I am an Equestrian citizen.
I live each day in service to the Princesses, and in service to others.
I shall treat everypony as family, regardless of relation.
I will act as an ambassador to the Princesses in all I say and do.
I will conduct myself to bring credit to myself, my Princesses, and to our nation.
In all things, I will love and tolerate.
In all things, I will strive to embody the Elements of Harmony.
In times of darkness, Laughter will light my way.
In times of need, I am Generous with all I have.
I will meet spite with Kindness, as an act of Kindness begets the same.
To my Princesses and my family, I will always be Loyal.
I will embody Honesty in all I say and do, and I will live the virtues of honor and integrity.
Whether I be a Unicorn, Earth Pony, or Pegasus; I will share the Magic of Friendship.
I vow to uphold this Creed and live its virtues for all my days,
As a member of the Equestrian Nation,
United under the Princesses in whom we trust,
Indivisible, and with Love and Tolerance for all.”
Whoa… I just motivated myself a little bit. Spooky.
Also, I had been mostly right. It DID say that, essentially, you will love and tolerate everypony. Sure, the whole thing was incredibly nationalistic and borderline fanatical, but that is par for the course with creeds… A creed (in my opinion, anyways) is intended to stir feelings of loyalty and dedication to a cause, while also acting as a set of guidelines to upholding the values of the cause. To this end, the Equestrian Creed was spot on. Honestly, I really was inspired by it and the values it sets forth. Even tossing aside the nationalistic bits, it was a pretty good basis on which to base your day to day life and your interactions with others.
Now, if only we could get everypony to actually follow it… sighing, I closed the door and returned to my duties.
I ran into Joy for the first time that day at about noon, and she initially appeared every bit as radiant as ever. As I drew nearer though, I could see that she was still pretty tired from her shift-switching, as evidenced by the small bags under her eyes that hadn’t been there before, and that her mane was a tad unkempt. Even so, she was still captivatingly beautiful. She laughed at me when I told her so, but she still blushed.
After that meeting in the hallway, I didn't see her for the rest of my shift. When seventeen rolled around, I rolled out, heading downtown to satisfy a craving that had been haunting me all day… I was going to get myself a smoothie.
Apparently, I was not the only pony that had this idea. For the first time, I had to wait in line to slake my thirst. In total, there were almost a half dozen ponies in the joint, and I recognized a couple of them. When it was my turn to place an order, Berry's false smile melted away and was replaced by a genuine one as I stepped up to the counter.
"Hey there, Flyboy. How's it feel to be a hero?"
"I wouldn't really know, Punchy."
"Punchy? That's the best you can do?"
"Well… I'm terrible at this. Cut me some slack?"
"Not a chance, Flyboy. What can I do ya' for?"
"About tree fiddy."
I would just like to take a moment to say that I felt damned clever right there. See, Berry wouldn’t be expecting a joke like that from me… or so I thought.
"Deal. When and where?"
"Deal? What deal?"
Then my brain decided to catch up with the rest of my body, and I had to try and figure out a way to get my hoof out of my mouth, with a quickness.
"Um, well, you see… I can't do that… because… what had happened was… "
Oh, this was going SWIMMINGLY. Suddenly, I had an idea; the second or so in a week! A personal best!
"… I have a marefriend, so I can't. Sorry, Berry."
And indeed, I was a bit sorry. One, I was sorry for leading her on (even though she REALLY should have known this was going to happen), and two, I was a bit sorry that I couldn't actually take her up on that. Yeah, yeah, I shouldn’t be looking when I'm in a relationship, I got it. Still, it's pretty difficult not to notice when a beautiful mare shows a distinct interest in you, especially when you aren't used to such occurrences. Berry looked resigned, as though she had been hoping against hope that there was another possibility. Her smile was still present, though it was no longer genuine; it almost looked like a wet blanket being propped up on stakes, sagging under the weight of disappointment.
"It's fine, Dave. I figured you two were going to hook up sooner or later."
Unspoken, but as clear as day even to me, was the implication that Berry had been hoping it would be "later", and that she would have had a chance at me in the meantime.
"Heh, yeah… it was pretty obvious, wasn't it?"
This was met by a strained chuckle from the mauve mare, followed by tense silence.
"Hey Berry… do me a favor?"
That "anything" came out WAAAAAY more than a little suggestive…
"Don't tell anypony just yet. It's a surprise for Joy before the celebration this weekend."
"So, wait. You AREN'T actually dating Joy yet?"
I know that tone…I needed to end this NOW, before things got out of hoof.
"Not yet, technically, -"
Berry's eyes lit up and she started to speak up to interrupt me, but I kept right on going.
"- but as far as I'm concerned, I'm under contract already. I plan to ask her on Friday, and in the meantime I'm operating on the premise that she will say yes."
"As if she wouldn't… "
Berry let her false smile collapse in defeat, her voice perfectly mirroring her melancholy appearance.
"Don't take it personally… it's nothing against you. If I weren't with somepony… "
Dammit. That was the SINGLE worst thing I could have said. I felt like a douche-waffle for ever letting it escape my face-hole. I refused to contemplate it anymore, as that leads to the inevitable "what-ifs". Not again.
By the way, have I ever mentioned how much I hate being right sometimes?
"Well, I don-"
"-Stop right there. I'm not going there, Berry. Please, don't bring it up again, okay?"
I'd never seen a pony look as guilty as Berry did right then. She couldn't even so much as look me in the eye.
"A-alright. I'm sorry, Dave. I didn't mean to insinuate… So, how about a smoothie?"
Berry used her natural talent as a female to change the subject so quickly I got whiplash, as she went from a chastised mare to a perky one in an instant.
"Wha-… oh. Yes, please. The usual."
I paid my bits and carried my beverage to one of the outside café tables, mostly so I could enjoy the setting sun, but also to have some privacy to think. This latest thing with Berry makes things… complicated. I like these smoothies with borderline obsessive fervor, but I like Joy more. I refuse to risk what I have with Joy for some smoothies, but at the same time, I don't want to forsake the smoothies if I don’t have to. Hey, have you had one of these things? No? Then shaddup and stop judging me. These things are GOOD.
I figured the best course of action in this situation would be to gently confront Berry and ask her to respect mine and Joy's relationship. Berry is a swell mare, and I have grown fond of her as a friend, so I would hate to lose the bond we shared over something so simple. I must have either been thinking harder than I realized or else under the influence of brain-freeze, because my thoughts were suddenly derailed by the sound of a sigh coming from right next to me.
Had I not been so mellowed out by this smoothie, I might have jumped out of my damned coat. I tensed up before I realized that it was Berry sitting next to me, having somehow taken her seat with the stealthiness of a ninja. I took a deep breath and turned to face her, and she immediately began to address me.
"Dave, first things first: don't interrupt me ‘till I'm done, okay?"
How can I interrupt you if you're already done? Instead of voicing this musing and possibly alienating Berry in the midst of some sort of revelation, I merely nodded.
"Good. I wanted to apologize for what I said and did back there. Dave, I'm sorry for that, from the bottom of my heart. I know you like Joy a lot, and you make her happier than I've seen her in a long time. I'm a terrible pony for even thinking about doing something that might have come between two of my friends."
I opened my mouth to offer consolation before immediately closing it, figuring she wasn't done yet. For once, I wasn't upset to be right.
"I'm not going to sugar coat this, that's more Pinkie's thing anyways. I like you Dave, and I know I shouldn't, but knowing it's wrong doesn't make me like you any less. It's useless to deny it, so I'll just put it out there. As much as I like you, I respect you more, and cherish Joy even more than that. So I promise you, Dave, that you'll never have to worry about this happening again, and I am really hoping we can still be friends. If not, though, I understand entirely."
Wow. That was… unexpected. Honestly, I'm not sure what I expected, but it wasn't that. I was about to start talking again when Berry continued her confession… thing. Okay, I'll wait.
"So, I've put all my cards on the table, the decision is yours to make. I do like you Dave. But I value our friendship more than that, and Joy's happiness most of all, so you'll never have to worry about this sort of thing again. And one last thing… again this is entirely up to you, but… is it possible not to tell Joy about this? I feel terrible enough about it as it is, and there's no reason to bring it up if we've resolved everything, right?"
That last supplication hung heavily in the air as the silence stretched on. I realized that Berry was done talking, and was instead waiting on a response from me. I took a deep breath to gather my thoughts before I turned to face her again, having begun to stare into the distance at some point.
"Berry, I value our friendship as well. Actually, I'd say that our priorities are on par for the most part…I value you as a friend, but I value Joy's friendship more. Nothing personal, it’s just that I've really bonded with her over this last week. That being said, I'm actually rather surprised by your actions, but in a good way."
Berry shot me a puzzled glance as she was trying to decide whether to look hopeful or downtrodden. I continued, if only to put her mind at ease.
"I guess I'm used to ponies who act significantly more foalish, but the way you stepped up and took responsibility for what you said and did really speaks to your maturity."
Berry shot me a look that could curdle milk.
"No, I'm not saying you're old, stop looking at me like that. I'm just saying that your actions reflect greater wisdom than most ponies'. Because of this, I feel like I can trust you enough to give you another chance. I really do value our friendship, Berry, and I would be remiss if I just let it slip away. To be fair though, this decision was really influenced by your apology, because of which, I feel comfortable that this won't happen again. As far as that last part goes though… that's a bit tougher. I understand your reason for this, and I sympathize with you; it wouldn't be right to ‘punish’ you for past mistakes, since they have been resolved."
I took a moment to pause and take a deep breath, both for dramatic effect and to gather my thoughts for my ultimatum.
"Even though I sympathize with you, I am still extremely hesitant to be anything less than forthcoming with Joy; especially at the beginning of a relationship, a period where you establish your trust in another pony. How would it bode for the rest of the relationship if I were to cover this up?"
"But Dave, I thought you said the situation was resolved, and that you could trust me? Why complicate things by bringing this up?"
"To be entirely fair, Berry, you're the one who complicated things. You are the one who put ME in a situation where I have to chose between being honest to my new marefriend, and potentially ruining a relationship between my new friend and aforementioned marefriend. Really, it shouldn’t even be a question of telling her; that is a courtesy afforded to you. But I am a sappy, sympathetic pony, and I wouldn't want to ruin Joy's day by telling her this tale. I'm going to need some time to think about this, Berry. Let me sleep on it, and I'll tell you what I've decided in the morning. Deal?"
Berry, who had been chewing on her lip for the entirety of my reply, rapidly jerked her head north and south, nervousness evident in each nod. She was apprehensive of my decision, and rightly so. She deserved it though, for putting me in the position to have to make such a decision. I rapidly polished off my smoothie and discarded my cup before setting off towards the last rays of the setting sun. Looking back, I locked eyes with Berry as she watched me leave from her new position behind the counter. Good… let her sweat.
Fuck… what I wouldn't give for some alcohol right now… I always think better when slightly inebriated. Unfortunately, my best bet for a reliable source of alcohol was currently staring holes in the back of my head as I walked away from her store. Just my luck, of course. Overhead in the distance, a flash of colors caught my eye. I’d barely identified the source of the colors before it had disappeared behind a cloud. That sunset had just gotten twenty percent cooler.
I walked into my home as the last rays of the sun faded to darkness, and had to do a double take. MY home? Since when did I start thinking of it as MY home? This was JOY'S home, I just lived here.
Again, shaddup. No, they are not the same thing.
That was something for future Dave to be concerned with. I wouldn't be one bit surprised if someday he just popped out of thin air before me and smacked me in the head for dumping all these problems on him…
That would actually be something to look forward to… not so much the "getting punched in the forehead" part, but the part after that where you get to anticipate going back and time and getting retribution against Future you by taking it out on Past you. Though, with my luck, Past me would be the one to punch Present/ Future me when I went back in time to get my punch on.
Hmmm. Yeah, I think it's bedtime, I haven't had a coherent thought in almost five minutes. My brain has checked out for the day, and I should follow suit. I showered quickly, and I had a grin on my face the entire time from contemplating slipping into bed and tucking myself under that warm, fluffy sheet.
Man, if I could get a sheet as soft and cuddly as Rarity's coat, I'd never get out of bed. That reminds me, I need to get my ass down to the spa and get me some of whatever Rarity does when she is there… I would be irresistibly, huggable soft…
Yep, my brain has left for the day. Not just left, it's already driven home, had dinner with the wife, caught the game, and put the kids to bed. It was outta here.
Dinner with the wife… I remember those nights… dammit, I made myself sad. Wasn’t there something productive I was supposed to be doing? Some sort of decision? Ah, the thing with Berry.
I finished drying myself off and finally got into bed, taking a few moments to simply revel in the feeling of being off of my hooves and entirely comfy. My bliss was soon polluted by internal struggles as I tried to figure out this business with Berry.
On the one hoof, I understood her current position entirely. She had made a mistake, but she owned up to it and rectified it in an entirely satisfactory manner. To that end, it would be almost cruel to potentially destroy her relationship with Joy over something that was over and done with. Of course, this is assuming that Joy would have such a strongly negative reaction to the news… she might be angry, but I don’t really know her well enough to know if she would hold a grudge over that or just let it go. Best to prepare for the worst, hope for the best. Worst case scenario is that she entirely forsakes all interaction with Berry. Also, that would mean no more smoothies… truly, this is a terrible outcome for all involved.
On the other hoof, it would be a terrible way to start off our relationship if I hid this from Joy. Her friend had betrayed her trust by trying to hook up with me, despite being aware of Joy's feelings towards me. Though the situation had been rectified, the element of betrayal would still be there. Even so, with the situation wrapped up like it was, was it really worth it to potentially destroy a friendship (and forsake any future access to smoothies) over something that was no longer a viable problem?
The more I thought about it, the more I leaned towards not saying anything. It was a small betrayal of trust, but one that seemed to be in everypony's best interest. Mine, because I would still have smoothie privileges and Joy would still be friends with Berry; Berry's, because she would maintain a repeat customer and two friends; and finally Joy's, since she wouldn't have to deal with the pain of a friend’s betrayal.
I didn't like it, and it made me a little sick on the inside, but I had made up my mind: this would stay between Berry and myself, for the sake of Joy. I'd leave a bit early for work to tell Berry about my decision.
Having further exhausting myself by all of this strenuous thinking, I drifted off to sleep swiftly, the arms of the sandmare folding me into their warm embrace.
End of Day 9: Tuesday, March 20th
My alarm went off at zero seven again, but this time I was roused from my slumber in a far less abrupt manner. Well, okay, it was equally abrupt, but it was softer. Instead of being ejected from the bed unceremoniously, I was merely beaten senseless with a pillow until I silenced the beeping demon on my hoof. Granted, I didn't have much sense that early in the morning, but I was thrashed soundly regardless.
Once the both of us were awake and moving, the morning went quickly. I scarfed down my breakfast even faster than usual, and it was a small miracle that I didn't choke to death in the process. I had gathered everything into my saddlebags and was about to head out the door when Joy called out to me.
"Dave? Aren't we walking together this morning?"
Fuck. I'd forgotten that Joy and I were on the same shift now.
"Yeah, my bad. Brain's not working just yet. I was going to head over to Berry's and grab a small smoothie for the morning."
"I think we need to have a talk about your smoothie addiction… do we need to stage an intervention?"
"I'm not addicted! I can quit any time I want to. I just don’t want to."
We both giggled a bit at that as Joy wrapped the remainder of her breakfast muffin in a glow of magic and strode towards where I stood by the door.
"Unlike you, I have the coordination to do two things at once without dying. For instance, I can eat and walk. I know, I know… I'm amazing."
"Hey, that's my line… "
"What have I told you about lying to yourself?"
She smirked at me, and I damned near stuck my tongue out at her, but I bit down before I could make that mistake again. I could STILL feel the burn of the peppers, and everything had tasted a little bit… off… since the incident. However, in my zeal to prevent another "Pepper Incident" I had made a miscalculation as to the exact position of my tongue, and I swear to Luna it felt like I bit the damned thing in half.
It's a good thing I was holding my tongue with my hoof, otherwise I might have had to explain a few colorful profanities to Joy, and I'm not sure she would have survived the embarrassment. Taking my hoof away from my tongue, I saw it was positively drenched in blood. As soon as she caught sight of the carnage, Joy immediately went nurse-mode and ordered me to move my hoof so she could get a better look. Based on my past experiences involving my tongue and Joy's attentions to it, I was skeptical at best as to the benevolence of her intentions. I pressed my tongue to the roof of my mouth to try and see what the damage was by feel, and it did NOT bode well.
I might actually have bitten off the tip of my tongue… sonofa… again, Joy told me to stick out my tongue so she could get a look at the damage. I met her with the same skeptical gaze I had given her a moment ago. She responded with an exasperated sigh.
"I don't have time for this."
That was all the warning I got before I felt my mouth being forced open. Panicking, I bit down as hard as I could, and to my credit I managed to defeat this cheating unicorn magic with brute strength. Unfortunately, my tongue was once again in the way. I opened my mouth to holler in pain when I was distracted by an icy grip on my battered tasting-appendage. Joy looked at it for a second before she sighed heavily and addressed me, her tone practically dripping with sarcasm.
"Dave, I kinda like you. I'd appreciate it if you kept yourself in one piece for me, okay? And quit being such a filly when I tell you to give me your tongue. If I ASK for it, I won't be doing anything devious with it. At least, not in the near future."
I'm pretty sure that was too direct to even be considered innuendo, but at the moment I had bigger concerns.
"Really, though, you hurt yourself more than anypony I've ever met. You're lucky you have me around to patch you up. Hold still, this is going to feel weird."
All I can really say about that is that it is an almost criminal understatement to simply call it “weird”. It was like having a mouthful of fire ants and pop rocks. This felt almost as strange as having my wings itch, though not quite as alien. In but a moment, I could taste blue. Yes, I know blue is a color, not a flavor. No, I do not have whatever-it's-called that causes some people to hear smells and taste words. I think it was just a magic-induced thing. If my guess is right, then what I was tasting was Joy's magical essence. Wanna know something that I found funny as hell? It tasted like Listerine… the blue one.
The sensation in my mouth faded along with the taste, and after a couple good swallows, so too did the taste of blood. Sticking my tongue out as far as it would reach, I went a bit cross-eyed as I tried to see if I had any sort of mark from the ordeal. My inquisition was interrupted by Joy's giggling. I realized how ridiculous I must look with my tongue out and my eyes crossed like that, and I quickly retracted my tongue. My eyes, however, were not being so cooperative. I blinked a few times and shook my head, and that worked to jar them loose, and they returned to their customary orientation.
Regarding Joy with a resigned expression written across my features, I gestured out the door as I opened it for her. She was still giggling as she walked out the door. As she walked by me, she gave me a quick peck on the cheek.
I tell you what, I have been hanging around this mare for too damned long… I picked up her innate ability to imitate a tomato at some point in time, and I was demonstrating my proficiency at doing just that. I was blushing so damn hard, it felt as if my face was on fire.
Joy's giggling redoubled as I tried to fight the blush growing on my face. It took nearly a block for me to get myself under control, and it took just about as long for Joy to stifle her giggles.
"The only reason I blushed like that was because you took me by surprise… "
"Uh-huh. Suuuuree. Keep telling yourself that."
Dammit… I just can't win for losing.
We drew within sight of Berry's smoothies as I was struck by a horrible realization. How the fuck am I supposed to tell Berry about my decision not to tell Joy without letting Joy on that something was amiss? Or worse, before Berry started apologizing for things Joy didn't know about yet? That… that would not go over well at all.
"Hey Joy? Grab a seat, I'll get the smoothies, m'kay?"
For a split second, I was worried she would call me out on this, and I'd have to make up an excuse for why I was doing this. Lady Luck must have been apologizing for the rest of my life right then, because Joy didn't question it.
"Oh my, what a gentlecolt. Alright, but remember to get them to go; we have to get to work soon."
"Roger? Tracking what? Are we following Roger?"
"I'll… I'll explain on the way to work, alright?"
"You'd better. I’m so lost right now… how do you function like this?"
"Do what now?"
Dave: one. Joy: … a lot more.
I left her at the table to try to sort her brain out from the aftermath of my latest mind-fuckery as I went to the counter, both to order a pair of smoothies and give Berry the news.
"Morning, Berry. Two smalls to go, please and thank you."
"A couple smalls with legs, got it. Anything else?"
I looked around guiltily for potential witnesses, a gesture that Joy thankfully missed, and began in a conspiratorial whisper..
"Yeah. I've decided to keep this between us. I figured it would be the best solution for everypony involved, and preserve my access to these smoothies."
"Oh, thank Celestia. Joy is one of my oldest friends, and I can't imagine how I would deal with losing her because of something like this... it would be terrible. Thank you, Dave, for making the choice you did."
"Consider yourself lucky, Berry. If not for your speech yesterday, I think this would have turned out differently."
"Yeah… well, I'm glad that's settled. Though, if things don't work out between you two, I've got first dibbs."
I shot her my best "you've got to be fucking kidding me" expression, to which she replied with an uneasy grin and a quick backtrack.
"Heh… too soon to joke about it?"
"Yeah, just a bit. I'd like to not think about that, actually."
"Yeah, I understand. I'll try to censor myself for you, Flyboy."
Another moment passed before the smoothies were ready, and in the meantime I had a revelation. While ordinarily this would have been cause for a celebration (two thoughts in the span of twenty-four hours? Unheard of.), this thought didn't really count since it was food-related. When it comes to food, I can move mountains with my bare hooves and solve a rubix cube blindfolded (don't call my bluff, just… accept it).
The problem I was faced with was one which would be of no consequence to Joy and her cheating unicorn magic, but was seriously detrimental to my smoothie consumption potential. I did not come with any cup holders since I was the Base-Model Dave, nor could I walk on three legs while holding a drink. I was struck by brilliance so hard it might have left a bruise, but that mattered not in the glare of my glorious insight. I grabbed a hoof full of straws and began to put them together one at a time, end to end, in order to create a super-straw. When Berry turned away from the blending device to present me with the smoothies, she blinked in shock for a second at the nearly body-length straw that I had whipped up.
I took one of the smoothies from Berry and pushed one end of the straw into it before tucking the cup into my saddlebag. I clenched the other end of the straw in my teeth and sucked for all I was worth. Suggestive imagery aside, I nearly gave up before I finally coaxed some of the thick smoothie into my face-hole. Behind me, I could hear Berry snickering, though this was immaterial to me in the wake of my achievement. I balanced the other drink on my back and sauntered out to meet Joy, victorious.
She viewed my contraption of straws with amusement, but refrained from commenting on it. Instead, she merely wrapped her beverage in that azure glow of cheating telekinesis and floated it to her mouth, sipping loudly and gulping contentedly. Okay, go right ahead Joy. Rub it in a little more. I sipped bitterly on my smoothie, a futile endeavor if ever there was one. Ever try to look upset while sipping on heaven in a cup? It's not very effective.
By the time we arrived at the clinic, we were running slightly behind schedule, though we were not yet late. This is exactly why I aim to arrive fifteen minutes early to everything, and I took pleasure in pointing this out to Joy. She simply shrugged and said she just thought I was OCD or something. I was a bit upset at this for two reasons: first, she had simply dismissed my incredible foresight to arrive early to account for unanticipated delays with a shrug; and second, she shrugged while walking and sipping on a smoothie. How in the FUCK did she do that? How is it even possible to shrug while walking as a quadruped creature?
I wanted to try it myself, but I knew that this would invariably end up with me being on the ground and Joy laughing hysterically. While I don't mind being laughed at by one so adorable, I didn't really look forward going into work covered in dirt and dust from my failed attempt to walk-shrug. Once I get a few minutes to myself though… shit was gonna be on like Donkey Kong.
We arrived as the clinic, and just before we split to go our separate ways, Joy stopped me for a moment.
"So, you gonna meet me for lunch?"
"Yeah, I'd love to. When and where?"
"Um… how about lunch time… at the break room... "
I get it. Stupid question, stupid answer.
"Aannnd roger. See you then, Nurse."
"Dang, you forgot to explain that to me on the way over here! You're fired as pony-who-remembers-things. I'll be taking over that one."
"To be honest, I'm about the most unqualified pony around to do that job."
"Yeah, no kidding. Well, it's my job now, so you WILL be explaining it over lunch. Got it?"
"Yes, Nurse Joy. Tracking."
And the death-stare is a go…
I simply smiled and waved back as I set off towards the janitorial grotto to see if I had any special tasks for the day. In the hallway, I passed Sweeps and greeted him with a smile and a "good morning". He sneered and grunted in reply. Good to see you too, ass. I walked into the office and just about ran into Brass as she walked around the desk, having just finished writing some tasks on the board.
"Good morning, Brass."
"Morning, Dave. 'Fraid it's not such a good one though. On a related note, how familiar are you with steam powered High Volume Air Cleaners?"
"A steam driven H-vac? Not at all, I'm afraid."
"I figured as much, but it couldn't hurt to ask. Since you've shown great potential the last few days by completing all of the duties for your section well before the end of your shift, I feel like you can handle a little something extra today. Grab that package for me?"
Brass nodded her head to a grease-stained object on the desk, secured (more like mummified) in a bundle of rags and twine. The oddly shaped bundle was about the size of my head, though a bit lumpier. I went to pick it up and was thrown off by its substantial heft. Trying again, I heaved it onto my back without undue difficulty. I turned back to Brass.
"Good. That's the drive component for the primary h-vac. We're running on the auxiliary right now, but it's not as efficient as this one. I need you to take it to our mech specialist, Technia. She lives a good ways out of town, so I wrote down the directions. Shouldn't take more than an hour to get there, but pack lunch just in case it takes her awhile to fix it. Questions?"
I shook my head.
"So you understand it all? Give me a back-brief."
"I take this drive component for the primary h-vac to Technia out in the boondocks, and I need to pack a lunch in case it runs a bit long. It's about an hours' walk, but I have directions, and I should try to get back with a quickness."
"Alright, sounds like you've got a handle on this. Go ahead and head out, so you are hopefully back by lunch."
"No, you don't have time to help Roger move. Get this done first, and you can help your buddy out on your own time."
Someday, I would learn.
"Yes, ma'am. I'm on it."
I set off before I could say something else that nopony but me understands. I quickened my pace, trying to ensure that I got back in time to have lunch with Joy. Man, I was REALLY looking forward to rubbing this in Sweeps' face when I got back… not only would I be having lunch with Joy, I would be doing it in the Nurse's Lounge. Take that, you ass.
I had been walking for about forty minutes when a couple small buildings in the center of a large clearing came into view as I rounded a bend in the trail. The area the buildings were in was oddly devoid of grass, shrubs, and trees for a good three hundred meters in all directions, the entire area having been paved in some form of crushed gravel aggregate. What really struck me as odd though was the fact that, out of the trio of structures, there wasn’t one of them that wasn't built in a bowl-shaped depression in the ground, each of which was ringed on three sides by a earthen wall. Only the front of the buildings were visible, and that was due to a gap in the fourth wall, the one facing me.
In the back of my mind, there was a pony giggling like an idiot. Holes in the fourth wall? Pinkie Pie has been here…
Hell, even I had to chuckle at that one.
My internal banter was cut short as I drew to within a hundred meters of the closest structure. The stillness of the clearing was shattered by the sound of a door being slammed open, and as I swiveled my head towards the sound, I saw a charcoal and crimson streak emerge from the building at a HIGH rate of speed. The streak turned sharply as soon as it cleared the earthen wall, moving perpendicular to the opening in said wall. A moment later, the figure almost disappeared as it crouched and tucked itself into a small, blocky structure at the base of the wall.
About a dozen things clicked into place right about then. I know where I've seen buildings like these before. The ones I've seen were powder magazines, storing hundreds of pounds of explosives. The depression and the earthen barriers were designed to direct the blast wave upwards and out in the event of an explosion.
Next thing that clicked into place was the realization of why there was no vegetation out here. I hadn't noticed before, but the trio of buildings were positioned roughly in the center of a large circle of barren rock, likely to minimize the chance of a fire reaching the vicinity of the buildings, or conversely, to prevent a fire from spreading from the buildings to the surrounding area.
My next realization was the one that really got my ass moving. All of the signs pointed to the fact that this area was designed to handle explosions and/or fire. And a pony just ran out of one of those buildings as if said pony was on fire. And the door to that building was not only open, but facing my direction.
Whatever was about to happen, I was in a bad place to be.
I dropped to the ground and stayed as low as I could, trying to decide what to do next… head towards the tree line, or approach the charcoal streak?
Turns out, I didn't have very long to try and decide. The world turned an eerie green color, illuminated by a fireball so bright that it put the sun to shame. Everything happened in slow motion and in complete silence. I saw the light grow from within the building and then consume it; I clearly saw the roof fly away, surfing on the overpressure wave caused by the explosion; and finally, I saw that same pressure wave closing in on me… and closing fast. I barely got my hooves over my ears before the silence was shattered by a thunderous crash as the sounds of the detonation reached me. The blast was so powerful that I was lifted off the ground and sent tumbling for a bit by the force of the shockwave.
The green fireball rose into the sky, lofted as it was by heat that prickled my skin through my coat, even from over a hundred meters away. The fireball towered into the atmosphere, an emerald mushroom creating a vacuum in its wake. Even as I slammed back into the ground and slid to a halt, once more a prisoner of gravity, a wind of incredible strength and speed was rushing to fill the vacuum, and it began pulling me backwards, towards the fire.
My hooves scrambled for purchase on the rocks, slipping uselessly across the small stones. I was being sucked towards the inferno at an alarming rate. The heat on my back grew at a seemingly exponential rate, and I swore I was either already on fire or about to combust from the intense heat. If something didn't change in the next two seconds, I'd be a very crispy, very dead pegasus.
I had an idea that would most likely leave me mild to moderately incapacitated in the near future, but incapacitated was better than dead any day. I sucked in a lungful of scorchingly hot air to brace myself in a last-ditch effort to save my own life.
I spread my wings to their fullest extent and tilted them towards the dirt to create downforce, effectively doubling or even tripling my apparent weight and allowing me to stand fast against the gale. I underestimated the efficiency of this maneuver, and I was almost stumbled under the downward force from my wings, which was easily five times my body weight. Though the nerves throughout my chest screamed in protest and pain, my wings sang as they sliced through the air. As the seconds wore on, the heat on my back and the wind sucking me towards certain death both lessened, and then faded entirely.
As soon as the wind died down to the point that I was no longer afraid of being swept away, I finally collapsed and succumbed to the screaming nerves in my chest. To my credit though, it wasn't the same pain as before, the pain of muscles tearing themselves apart; it was more of the ache of heavy exertion without stretching, a deep throbbing ache that promised hell in the morning.
I turned to investigate the scene of the explosion, and instead stood in awe, marveling at the incredible sight before me.
The mushroom cloud was a shimmering, kaleidoscopic mass of shifting shades of emerald and gold. The force of the explosion had punched a hole straight through the clouds, creating a perfectly circular patch of pristine sky. My wings twitched a little bit at the sight, earning me a slight stab of pain. I suddenly recalled what exactly it was that had drawn me here in the first place, and looked about frantically for the parcel. I was about a hundred meters out from the building when everything went to hell, and since I was currently only about thirty meters from the wreckage, that meant I should start looking in the direction from which I'd come.
Right about where I figured I was when everything went to hell, I found the drive component, apparently unscathed by the explosion. Shouldering the package once again, I set off towards the wreckage of the structure to see if there were any survivors, and hoping for all I was worth that I found nothing that was once a pony. I closed back to within thirty meters or so from the earthen wall when I heard somepony call out.
"Hey! You alright?"
Yeah, I'm totally okay. After all, it's not like I just about got sucked into a raging vortex of fire or anything… I turned towards the sound to offer my snarky comeback when my response was cut short.
Emerging from a small masonry hut at the base of the wall was the charcoal streak I had seen earlier, looking none the worse for wear.
"Good to hear it. Name's Technia, Tech for short. Techy, if you have no desire to continue living. Cool explosion, huh? It’s just not Wednesday without one, though that was bigger than most."
"Aside from me almost dying, it was pretty exhilarating. My name's Dave, pleased to meet you."
My offered hoof was shaken vigorously, and I had a moment to take in a few more details about this unicorn mare. One, her grip was as firm as any stallion I'd met, proof that she worked with her hooves quite frequently. Second, her mane was crimson and grey, the gray in her mane being a few shades lighter than her coat. Finally, her eyes… I do recall mentioning the profusion of incredible irises that abound in this town at some point in the past, and these were no exception.
To call them simply green would be an understatement on the same order as if one said "Pinkie Pie is odd", "Fire is warm", or "Dave sometimes makes bad choices". They were a vibrant emerald color that I found to be reminiscent of the mushroom cloud that had finally begun to dissipate.
The moment passed, and the shifting weight of the drive component against my tender-and-likely-burnt back reminded me of my purpose for this visit.
"Technia? I've actually come all the way out here from the clinic to see if you could repair the drive component for the primary h-vac."
"Repair it? Honey, I built the damn thing."
"Sounds like I came to the right mare. How long to fix it?"
"Do you know what's wrong with it?"
"Not a clue. I wasn't the one who pulled it, I just carried it out here."
"Alright. Let's head to my shop so I can see what I'm dealing with."
It boggled my mind a bit how… normal this mare was acting in the wake of such a massive explosion. I tried not to contemplate it too much. Maybe she was serious when she said this happens every Wednesday? It makes me wonder if it was intentional or not…
We walked past the wreckage of the building, which was still crackling and popping from the heat. I noticed something interesting about the structure as I walked past it though… all of the walls, doors, and the ceiling were gone entirely, yet the frame of the structure was intact, apparently composed of some high-strength alloy.
"Hey, Technia? I noticed that the frame of the structure is still standing, whereas everything else is completely gone. I'm guessing that the walls and ceiling are designed to break away in a blast, where the support framework was designed to do the opposite?"
Technia cast me a sidelong glance, reevaluating the pegasus that was trailing her.
"Pretty observant, Dave. And your guess was spot on. It's easier to replace panels that are a standard size and shape than to rebuild and re-frame an entire structure. The beams are an alloy of my own design, fortified with a bit of magic. I'm proud of this one, actually. The alloy is strengthened by the sun, absorbing its energy and storing it as magic within its molecular structure. When subjected to a great strain, like an explosion for instance, the material will obviously break down to some degree. Here's the genius bit: as the molecular structure breaks down, it releases the stored energy; energy which is then used by the structure to repair itself by way of a repair spell interwoven into the molecular structure during the casting process."
"That… that's brilliant, Technia. How'd you come up with the idea?"
"I was inspired by a piece of shrapnel that embedded itself in my fetlock as a result of a smaller explosion a few years ago. I got the piece out easy enough, and I was in the process of a simple healing spell when the idea came to me. Obviously, it required extensive testing… "
She was grinning deviously as she concluded her explanation, and I wouldn’t be terribly surprised if she was drooling a bit. I got the same way with firearms back on earth, so I knew the feeling.
We entered her workshop, a dimly lit shack that was positively overflowing with random odds and ends. All around, there were projects at various stages of completion. We passed by a workbench with a large light overhead, providing enough light for the entire shack. There is no way that this workshop was capable of producing the intricate machines that lay scattered about... It made me wonder where they came from. We kept heading towards the back of the shop, and I figured we were arriving at our destination, since there was nowhere else to go.
Once again, I was wrong, and gloriously so.
Tech pulled a lever that was blended perfectly into the wall, and from deep below there was a loud clanging, followed by silence. About a second later, there was a soft hiss as the floor panels slid away, revealing a startlingly clean set of stairs. In the wake of the clutter of the shop we just walked through, this area seemed nearly sterile by comparison.
At the bottom of the stairs, there was a short hallway that ended at a blank door. No handle, nothing. As Tech approached it, the door slid open seemingly of its own accord. Well… that was new. Apparently, Equestria has automatic doors now. As if she had the power to sense my astonishment, Tech spoke up.
"Pressure plate in the floor, calibrated to my exact weight. If anypony else who doesn’t weigh exactly as much as I do tries to open the door, it'll trigger a trap door. Don't worry, though. I've already disarmed it for you, so you can enter safely."
"Appreciate it. Seems like an awful lot of security for a workshop."
"For an ordinary workshop, yes. But this is Technia's Workshop. Some of the tech in here is a decade ahead of its time, and I can't have industrial spies or anything like that just being able to waltz in here all willy-nilly."
"Makes sense, I suppose. Hey, Tech? I have a question that's been bugging me since I got here."
"And what's that, Dave?"
What in the blazing green fuck detonated as I walked up today?
"I was just curious what was responsible for that explosion earlier. I've never seen flames like that before."
Except this one time, in a dream about an Elder God reaching down from the depths of the abyss to take me back to earth…
"I was working on a way to amplify a bit of Dragon Fire using its magical resonance, as a part of another project. My goal is to create a viable source of energy, small enough to be carried by a single stallion, yet powerful enough to power a small village. Well, I was successful… a bit too successful. The reaction cascaded out of control, but I learned a good deal about the points of failure to correct them next time. It should be ready for another test in a week or so."
So, next Wednesday then. I think I know how the test will end…
We entered a “clean room” of sorts, with tools and various nefarious-looking devices all neatly arranged on pegs jutting from the walls. In the center of the far wall was a work table with a polished steel surface, buffed so well it was just shy of being reflective. Tech instructed me to set the bundle down on the bench, and I was more than happy to oblige. My chest still ached from my stunt earlier, I was somewhat tender from the probable burns on my topside, and that damned thing was HEAVY after a while. It probably weighed a good twenty or twenty-five kilos.
No sooner had I set it down than it was enveloped in a soft crimson glow and unwrapped. What lay before me was some inconceivable mass of pipes and tubes of various diameters, all sprouting from a single central cylinder. The drive component was floating idly in front of Tech's face, rotating slowly. With a small "ahh" of comprehension, she reached over to a tube hanging at the edge of the bench and attached a small fitting to the end of it, causing it to emit a sharp hiss. It appeared to be a nozzle for compressed air… the rest of my thoughts were drowned out by the piercingly loud hiss emanating from the nozzle, confirming my suspicion.
After a few short bursts of compressed air in various ports on the device, a rattling sound echoed from within the device. As Tech rolled it over, she hit it with a last blast of air, causing a conglomeration of white rocks and powder to be forcefully ejected from another port. Turning it a few more times and hitting it with another inquisitive blast of air, Tech nodded in satisfaction and returned it to its mummified state.
"Dave, tell your boss she needs to clean out the water filter. Got a calcium buildup in the feeder line, and that's what caused the failure. Good as new now, though. Anything else?"
All of that, and it only took Tech thirty seconds to diagnose and fix the problem. It would take a hundred times as long to walk back to the clinic as it did to fix the component. I was struck by another notion just as I was getting ready to say my farewells.
"Actually, one last thing. Okay, I lied… two things. First, have you ever considered teaching somepony at the clinic how to do basic maintenance on the components in use there? Nothing about the secret inner workings or trade secrets or anything like that, just basic fixes and troubleshooting steps so we don’t have to cart stuff all the way out here whenever something stops working… "
"I was actually wondering when somepony would get around to asking about that. I've got no problem with it at all, seeing as how it saves me some work, and saves you the walk."
"Awesome, I'll let Brass know, and you two can work the details. My second question is why you would let somepony like me just sotra... stroll into your lab like this? This whole workshop seems to be chock-full of secret stuff... aren't you worried I'll muck something up?"
"Dave, you give yourself too much credit. There's no way you could get your hooves on anything critical, and even less possibility of you making it out of here with it. Aside from that, if Brass sent you, it means she trusts you. If she trusts you, then so do I. Then again, she sent you on Wednesday, so it’s possible she really dislikes you... nevermind, that’s not quite her style. Anything else?"
"Nope, that's all I've got. Walk me out?"
"I was going to. Wouldn't want you to activate any control measures on the way out… it's a pain to clean them up, and I really don’t have the energy for that right now."
Technia walked me out and sent me off with a wave, and I began the long trek back to the clinic. On the bright side, it was only half past ten and the weather was lovely. I'd arrive at work with plenty of time before lunch, and without breaking a sweat on top of it.
By the time I got back to work, I was a little sweaty and I was running a quarter hour behind schedule. The burns on my back were beginning to really hurt, and I kept having to slow my pace so I could adjust my burden. The last half-dozen blocks were the worst, because that's when I started sweating. As soon as I began to perspire, the salty liquid made its way to every single cut and abrasion on my burned back and reminded me what fire felt like. You know, just in case I forgot or something.
I walked into the janitors' closet and set the device on the desk as gingerly as I could, not wanting to damage one of the tubes and have to repeat my trek. Brass was at the board when I entered, but she turned around to address me when I set the drive component on the desk. She pivoted to face me, and did a double take as she got a good look at me.
"Dave? Are you okay? What the hay happened to you?"
"Wednesday. Wednesday happened."
Brass initially looked baffled, but that expression was swiftly followed by understanding, and shame wrapped up the trifecta.
"Dave, I'm so sorry. I forgot today was Wednesday, otherwise I would have gone myself."
She let out a low whistle as she surveyed the damage to my torso.
"I take it that the explosion today was rather large? How far away were you, twenty meters?"
"A hundred. A hundred meters out."
Brass' jaw hit the floor. Literally. She had a "Pinkie moment" and broke physics for a bit. If I wasn't in such terrible shape right then, I might have laughed.
"You were a hundred meters out, and it still did this?"
"Yeah. I figured out what was happening just in time to hit the deck and cover my ears. I was blown probably three or four meters back, but when the mushroom cloud rose and the backdraft flared up, I was pulled in to less than thirty meters."
Brass' jaw was no longer on the floor, but it was silently mouthing the words "mushroom cloud" over and over.
My stomach growled to remind me of my lunch date, and so I spoke up.
"Brass, I feel like I just got caught under a stampede of buffalo. Mind if I go get some medical attention and lunch? Not necessarily in that order… "
"No, not at all. Take an extra thirty and get seen by one of the Nurses. Come back at thirteen."
"Alright. Oh, one last thing. Technia has offered to teach one of us how to do basic maintenance and repair on her systems in the clinic, she just needs to coordinate with you for the training schedule."
"Really? I'd wanted to ask her about that, but she can be so protective of some of her devices, I thought it would be a bad idea to bring it up. Good initiative, Dave. I like to see that in team members."
"Yes, team members. We are all part of the Sanitation and Maintenance team, and we need to work together as such to be effective. Didn't Sweeps tell you about that?"
"No, I must have missed that part. Oh, one more thing. Tech says you need to clean the water filter, calcium buildup is what caused the failure in the drive component."
I saw Brass facehoof, and it was magical.
I left on that note, wanting to end the conversation on a high note. I wandered through the hallways in the wing Joy usually worked in, and after a moment I spotted her.
She was simply adorable in her scrubs… it was just so delightfully tacky, I could feel my diabeetus growing stronger. I called out to her to let her know I would be waiting for her, and she acknowledged with a nod. My next thought was one that brought a grin to my face despite my injuries… I have a date with Joy on Friday, whether she knew it or not. I'd thought to check the schedule and I was pleased as punch to see that we both had Friday and Saturday off.
After a minute (or seven) of waiting, Joy finally emerged from the hall with her lunch in tow. Joy looked concerned as soon as she got a good look at me, but I quickly assuaged her fears.
"I'm fine, Joy. There was an explosion, but everypony is fine. I'm more hungry than hurt, though, so let's eat first."
Well... I tried to, anyways.
"A… a what now? Explosion? You've got to fill me in on this one."
"Over lunch, m'kay?"
"Alright, over lunch then."
Joy and I walked flank to flank, partly to take up less space in the hallway, but also because we each simply enjoyed the proximity of the other. As the icing on the cake, Sweeps came around the corner with a plunger in his mouth just as Joy and I entered the Nurse's Lounge. The look on his face was worth every second of torment he would attempt to inflict on me for this. Over lunch, I filled Joy in on the events of the morning, downplaying the explosion as much as possible in a (vain) attempt to keep her from worrying too much about me.
By the time I had finished my lunch, Joy had managed to needle the whole story out of me, despite my best efforts. She'd known me for a week, and she could already read me like a book. Well… that's gonna make things interesting in the future. While she was initially peeved that I hadn't told her the whole story from the get-go, she soon understood why I did it as I was explaining how I was almost sucked into the fire, and was forced to ask me to stop. Well… I tried to warn her.
Once we finished our lunch, Joy hustled me to an empty screening room so she could patch up all of my cuts and scrapes, so they didn't become infected. We navigated through a series of twists and turns until we arrived at what is possibly the most remote screening room in the entire clinic. She ushered me into the small room and entered behind me, closing and locking the door behind her.
Well… that's not a good sign.
Joy looked me over again, chewing her lip nervously as she assessed my wounds. She pulled up a stool and sat me on it rather roughly, before disappearing and rummaging through a cabinet behind me. I swiveled on the chair to see what she was up to, but I was immediately distracted by spinning on the chair. I didn’t give a damn how old I was, this was fucking fun. I spun myself dizzy and then just sat still and waited for the room to stop spinning, so I could do it again. I heard an affectionate sigh from somewhere to my left. I turned to face the noise, and I was met by a mass of blue. My eyes were entirely too busy spinning in circles to focus on anything, so I just sat there and waited for them to tire themselves out.
"With you around, Dave, who needs children?"
"My thoughts exactly. Weeeeee!"
That earned a chuckle from Joy. She soon halted my fun so she could treat my wounds, something that is rather difficult to do on a moving patient. As I sat on my stool, she pulled up another chair and positioned it behind me, so that she could sit down while she cleaned me up. One thing I noticed was that her chest was pressed firmly against my back as she tended to the scrapes on my shoulders. I could feel her every breath, every beat of her heart. Her pulse steadily quickened as she bandaged me… this was a little disconcerting.
She had finished tending to my injuries (I looked like a walking advertisement for Band-aids), but she remained sitting behind me, tracing her hooves along the contours of my neck and the outlines of my shoulders. It was immensely relaxing, but at the same time I felt a familiar feeling that was growing stronger by the moment. I stretched languidly, rolling my shoulders and my wing joints a few times. Not only did this feel amazing, but it also served to stop Joy in her tracks. I stood up and walked to the door, rearing up on my back hooves and reaching my fore hooves towards the ceiling, while bracing myself against the door. Despite being stretched out the full length of my body, I still felt a lingering tightness that just wouldn’t go away.
Propped up against the door in my current position, I was in the largest open space in the room, all of the cabinets being arranged on the side of the room opposite the door. I decided that this was as good a place as any to stretch my wings, and I did just that. Still leaning up against the door, I slowly fanned my wings out to their fullest extent, feeling the primaries brush up against the ceiling and the walls as they fanned. If I had to guess, I'd say that my wings were about two meters each when fully extended, a considerable span when you account for the fact that I was only about a meter and a half tall by my best estimate.
What happened next took me entirely by surprise, and made things significantly more complicated.
I felt a hoof slowly trace its way from the base of my left wing to the end of the second joint. Oh dear Luna, that felt AMAZING. Unfortunately, you know that they say about wings? It is true… very, VERY true. Almost instantly, I felt my flight muscles lock up, drawing my wings out from my so that they were oriented perpendicular to the floor when I dropped to my hooves.
“Your wings... they’re so soft... “
I needed to get out of this situation, but in my current condition I couldn't very well leave the room… I needed to do the impossible: I needed to think.
Man, I'm so boned… and that's just the problem… I didn't want to be, not like this anyways. Heh… if I was in this position back on earth, as a single male being seduced by an attractive Nurse, there would be no question as to my next actions. Something within me had changed when I came to Equestria, though, and not just the wings. I was a bad person on earth, and I felt like this was my chance to redeem myself for all the wrongs I'd done. I had to do better.
A touching sentiment, but the "great creator" or whatever it was called here is a sadistic bastard, and I had only enough blood for one brain at a time… and the balance of power was shifting, so to speak, though not in my favor. Then suddenly, I was struck by inspiration yet again. If you get struck by enough inspiration, can it reverse dain bramage? If so, I'd be a pretty fart smeller sooner than later.
I began to talk about one thing I knew would end Joy's… drive, so to speak.
"You know what sounds amazing right now? Fried chicken… "
Boom, headshot. I killed the mood so hard, it died to death. Like a boss.
"I'm suddenly not feeling so good… "
"Sorry about that, love. You know where I stand on this, and I was fighting a losing battle."
"Well, I think you made your point. I'm… I'm going to get some fresh air."
Now I felt kinda bad… maybe that was too low of a blow.
She looked more than a little queasy as she turned to look at me. I closed the distance between us and stood side by side with her, forcing my still-mostly-rigid wing to drape across her in an approximation of a hug. I used my wing to squeeze her a little, like a tight embrace. Using my other wing, and demonstrating finesse I had no idea I possessed, I used a few feathers to raise her face to mine. Our eyes locked for a comfortable eternity, and almost of their own accord our lips met in a tender kiss. We held the kiss for a moment before separating, as we each did a decent impression of a tomato. Joy was sporting a big, goofy grin, and I'm pretty sure mine was just as big and goofy, if not more so. Joy broke the silence.
"I… I liked that. Can... can we do that again?"
"I don't see why not… "
Our grins got bigger still, if such a thing was even possible. I felt like my face was going to break. Once more, our lips met, though this time the embrace lasted longer still. If I was red before, I had to be glowing now. This time, it was I who broke the silence.
"So, Joy… got any plans for Friday night?"
She looked at me with the most adorable little smirk I'd ever seen and raised one eyebrow.
"Not that I know of. Why do you ask?"
"Well, would it be possible for me to persuade you to accompany me on a twilight picnic?"
"Why, Dave… are you asking me out?"
"Indeed I am, my dear. Would you like to go out on a date with me this Friday?"
"Is that even a question? Yes, of course I'll go with you. I was going to give you another week before I asked YOU out."
"Then it's settled! I'll pick you up Friday, at seventeen on the dot."
Joy looked a bit incredulous at this one.
"Pick me up? But… we live together. How's that going to work?"
"Well, I have a few errands to run before then, so I'll meet you at the designated time and place. Sound good?"
We shared another smile and a kiss. Yeah, I could get used to this.
It took another few moments for me to get myself under control enough to leave the room without arousing anypony's suspicions. Granted, this likely would have been a lot faster if I didn't have Joy snuggled under my wing, but I wouldn’t trade that feeling for anything. I suppose it was the rough equivalent of draping your arm over the one you adore, though it was a bit more intimate, given the nature of the draped appendage.
Once we made our way back to the main hall, we went our separate ways to arrive at our respective places of duty. I walked into the janitorial office at precisely a quarter till, this huge grin still painted on my face. I had a friggin marefriend. How awesome was that?
I arrived in the office to discover that it was empty. I pulled up a chair to wait for Brass to show up, and I had barely taken a seat before she walked into the office. I hopped to my hooves as a sign of respect (a habit I would likely never break, not that I minded). As soon as she saw me, Brass spoke up.
"Ah, just the pony I wanted to see. I sent a letter to Technia before lunch asking about the training thing, and I wasn't even finished with my meal before that grey pegasus mare dropped by with her reply. And I mean that she literally dropped by, as in she almost took out the couple dining next to me. I thought it was hilarious, but they had a different opinion. Regardless, Tech is willing to start training somepony as early as Monday. She also mentioned that it would take about a week to teach somepony with a working knowledge of mechanical theory and a good work ethic, and a lot longer if they are unmotivated or unskilled. So, I want you to train with her and learn everything you can about the systems here in the clinic, that way if anything ever breaks we can just call you instead of trying to get a hold of Tech."
"Okay, I think I can handle that. Not trying to get out of the position or anything, but why not Sweeps? He's been around longer than I have."
"He has certainly been here longer, but he lacks your motivation, drive, and ingenuity."
"Well, I'm flattered. But who is going to handle my portion of the duties here while I'm learning from Tech?"
"I've got that covered. There's a new clinic being opened on the other side of town soon, so we might as well train a couple extra ponies how to do this job in a medical environment before it opens. That way, they will have at least some sort of experience when it becomes operational instead of starting from zero."
"Well, alright then. Sounds like you have all the angles covered, which explains why you're the boss. Let me know if there's anything else I can do for you, Brass."
I caught sight of a predatory glint in her eye. It vanished as quickly as it had appeared, but there was no mistaking what I saw. Fuck me running, not her too! Was there something in the water? Must be, because even in my most egomaniacal flights of fancy I wasn’t this popular with the mares. And of COURSE this would happen to me as soon as I found a truly incredible mare who wanted to be with me. But if we ever broke up for some reason, I knew there wouldn't be an available mare in all of Equestria who would want anything to do with me.
Madness! Madness, I say!
I excused myself from the office and got busy, attempting to catch up on my duties. I had a good four hours to finish all of my tasks, but even that would be cutting it close. I threw myself at my tasks to the exclusion of all else, and my zealous motivation allowing me to finish the entirety of my tasks without a moment to spare. I had just enough time to pack away the last of the cleaning supplies and go to the office to hang up my jumpsuit before the clock struck seventeen. I met up with Joy in the lobby and we walked home flank to flank, so close together that if not for the vastly different color of our coats, we might have appeared to be a single pony… from a distance… if you squint really hard. Bah, that's not the point.
As we walked home, I gave Joy a brief rundown of the important things that had happened since lunch was over… needless to say, the list was a very short one, consisting solely of my upcoming training with Technia. Joy's day was a bit more eventful than mine, regardless of how mundane she thought it was.
In one day, she had helped to treat almost two dozen ponies with ailments that varied from the common cold, to a particularly strange case indeed, where a colt somehow managed to get his hoof stuck in a bottle of mayonnaise, of all things. I tried not to think about how that was possible, it made my brain hurt to contemplate it.
By the time we walked into the house, Joy had just finished recounting her tale of Mister Mayo Hoof. Our activities towards the end of lunch had left us both in a good humor, and I noticed that we would burst into a giggling fit at the slightest provocation. This in and of itself was immensely amusing, and once I told Joy about what I'd noticed, we both laughed that much harder, since we were laughing at the fact we were laughing at such silly things.
You know that overly affectionate couple that is just so completely in love that they have to go around and be all smoochy everywhere, at all times? Yeah, well, we were that couple right then. Joy was in the process of preparing some form of epic victory feast to celebrate, though it struck me as a slightly odd thing to celebrate, my asking her out. Every few minutes I would get off the couch, or stop chopping veggies, or whatever I happened to be doing at the moment to go over to her and give her a nuzzle, a peck on the cheek, a kiss on the lips, or more often than not, all three.
I have no recollection of exactly when I had become such an emotional drip, but in the back of my head, even I could see that this was a bit over the top. In my defense though, she was an excellent kisser, and it was so nice not to have to try and hold back any affection whatsoever. I've always been affectionate, and this is DOUBLY so when I'm in a good mood, and even more so when I'm excited about something (not like that… that leads to a different form of affection), and when you added them all up, I was a veritable affection dispenser.
I can't help it, I have a tendency to get carried away sometimes.
By the time dinner was served, my face was on fire from smiling so damned much, which I (quite ironically) found to be utterly hilarious. Dinner consisted of a heaping serving of salad with some fancy-sounding lettuce, bits of fruits and veggies sprinkled in it and served as a side, and to top it all off was strawberry ice cream for dessert. That night, we ate like kings. Or rather, as Princesses (shaddup), as the case may be.
I was still giddy from the events of the day, which was one of the best days of my life overall up to that point, and bar none the best day in Equestria so far. I cannot fully express how much I was looking forward to an entire lifetime with this mare. Go ahead, tell me I'm rushing into things, that it's still puppy love, we don’t really even know each other, blah blah blah. I know, I said the same things to myself a thousand times that night, urging myself to calm down, to take it slow. No matter what I tried though, I couldn't shake the vision of us growing old together, the cries of a foal, the joys and suffering of parenthood. I looked forward to being a better dad than I had been on earth, if for no other reason than to try and atone for my emotional distance from my son.
That night Joy and I slept with our limbs intertwined, lying face to face, having drifted off in the midst of a conversation. Well, she drifted off in the middle of it, I was still pretty much wide awake. Her sleep schedule was still a bit bonkers due to her shift-swapping, so I didn’t mind it. As she drifted away into the unknowable realms of her mind, I just lay there and tried in vain to drift off into my own dreamscape. I remember staring at her sleeping form and swearing on my life and everything I held dear that no harm should ever befall her so long as I drew breath. Vaguely, I realized that this was all moving way too damned fast, that I wasn't so much falling in love as plummeting recklessly into it.
The perfect example of this was the fact that I even thought about the phrase "love" at all. I was never one to go around and throw the L word around all willy-nilly. To me, doing such a thing lessened its significance and somehow made the whole thing almost dirty. Love was something special, something I'd never had the capability to express, either in words or via actions. I had a vague concept of what it was to love and to be loved, but I'd never felt that way about anything. Until now, that is.
I really and truly believe that being in Equestria had changed me somehow, putting me more in touch with my emotions and those of the ponies around me than I had ever been before. I was feeling things I'd never felt before, and it scared me a bit. I didn't want to be vulnerable. I didn't want to open my heart to somepony for the first time and live to regret it. I was terrified of this growing emotional attachment, but at the same time, it was exhilarating.
The little pony in the back of my mind was freaking the fuck out, thrashing against his bonds for all he was worth to escape the madness. The voice in my head was screaming at me to stay distant, Don't get too close. Deep down, I think I was truly afraid to get close to her, to lower my walls and let her in. Another voice rose to counter the first, simply stating that a life without love isn't worth living. Love is a risky business.
I don't recall how, or when I drifted off to sleep, but at some point I found myself walking down the main avenue in Ponyville. The sky was an ominous gray twilight from horizon to horizon, darkening to pitch black directly overhead. The entire scene was a monochromatic hell. The darkness overhead almost beckoned me to look at it, and though I only stared into the blackness for a second, I'd never do it again. The blackness was so absolute that it was impossible to judge the distance of it. I was immediately struck by the notion that by staring at it, I was inviting it, and I could almost feel the blackness pressing down around me, suffocating me.
I tore my eyes from the sky, sucking in breaths that felt like ice in my lungs. I was driven to my knees by the weight of my dread. I knelt there in the darkness for an eternity, unmoving, unfeeling, and uncaring. The sound of footsteps approaching from the blackness jolted me from my state. I don't know how, but I KNEW that it was footsteps that were closing in on where I sat, and not hooves. Emerging from the tangible darkness that cloaked this world was a familiar face.
It was mine.
I rose to my hooves, watching David as David watched me. He spoke first.
"Aw, look. You're a pony. How's that feel?"
"What do you want? What contrived message is my subconscious trying to deliver?"
"Right to the point, same as ever. Some things will never change."
"That’s not the right answer."
"Fine, if you so badly want to know, here it is. Do me a favor and shut the fuck up till I'm done, alright? Good. First, I'd like to introduce myself. I look like you, but I am not you. I’m David, and I am the manifestation of all your human natures, urges, and shit like that. You? You are Dave, the conjured, contrived projection of your own desires to live in Ponyville. Notice, I didn't say 'to be a pony', it's not that simple."
"You are the conglomeration of all the values and virtues you associate with this world, wrapped up in the desire to live in a world free of hatred, spite, malice, greed, and selfishness. In essence, everything that made you human. Since these traits were not 'compatible' with your naïve, idealistic perception of what this world SHOULD be, you cast them out when you crossed the divide. How you did this while maintaining the structural integrity of your soul is beyond me. But, here we are. Maybe you've figured it out by now. Maybe not. Either way, I'll lay it out for you. "
"When you crossed over, you tore out the fragments of your soul that didn't fit into your plans. I am the amalgamation of those parts of yourself that you forsook, rejected. I am the manifestation of the parts of yourself that you hated, the fragments of you that weren't good enough. As you hated these parts of yourself, I hate you. I hate you in a way you were never able to hate before, because your rage and malice were muddled by useless things like 'pity', 'remorse', and 'forgiveness'. Fucking useless, the lot of them."
"I suppose I should thank you, though. By rejecting these parts of yourself, you gave me everything I'll ever need. I have a form now, a body made in the image of everything about yourself that you despised. I have a purpose as well, to tear the last fragments of your soul asunder, the same way you did to me. I will never rest until I pay you back for your betrayal, your rejection. I will tear from you everything that you hold dear, I will make you watch it all die. And finally, you have given me the drive to do these things. Hatred is a powerful motivator, Dave. Too bad you forsook that as well. I am anger. I am rage, I am spite, and I am bloodlust."
"I am all of these things because of you, Dave. I am all of this, and I will be your end. Relish the days you have left, for they are numbered, and I am the one who is counting them down. Leave this place, Dave. I forbid you to return to my home."
In the space behind my eyes, there was an explosion of pain, crimson and white in its intensity. My eyes snapped open as if spring-loaded, and I was still reeling from the dream and its abrupt ending. Had I just been kicked out of my own fucking mind? I really was out of my damned mind. My eyes adjusted to the dim light of the living room, and I began to trace Joy's features with my eyes, my gaze following the familiar contours back and forth. This was incredibly calming, and I could feel the anxiety of the dream fade a little bit as I took comfort from Joy's proximity. I reached up a hoof and gently stroked her cheek as she slept, and I couldn’t help but smile as she nuzzled my hoof in her sleep.
The dream was… frighteningly vivid, terrifying in its clarity and cohesion. But as bad as it was, there was still some hope for me. Simply looking at Joy was enough to quell the fear in the pit of my stomach, and as I held my hoof up against hers, I was struck by how small hers was next to mine. It looked so… frail, so delicate. I would protect this mare with my life till the end of my days. I never wanted anything more than I desired to grow old beside this mare, to share with her the trials and tribulations of life and of love. I had something that nopony else had ever gotten: a second chance at life, a chance to make things right. I drifted off to sleep again, though this time I dreamed in color; I dreamed of blue.