• Member Since 6th Mar, 2016
  • offline last seen May 16th

Cordial Nova

I tell lies for money.

More Blog Posts105

  • 132 weeks
    Arms and Armament

    So, I was catching up on some blog posts this morning, and happened upon one which discussed the way objects can reflect characters, and happened to use their choices of weapons as an example. Which set me off down the track of contemplating what, in Equestria's earlier and rather rougher pieces of history, might our favorite protagonists arm themselves with should such warlike preparations be

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    5 comments · 409 views
  • 143 weeks
    Color Coordination

    Given the full-spectrum range of coat and mane colors among Equestrian ponies, can you imagine the trouble planners of any sort of public event that needs a seating chart must have? Not only do they have to take into account all the same considerations that we do, but Earthly event planners don't have to worry about accidentally creating eye-wateringly bad color combinations by accident.

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    1 comments · 317 views
  • 162 weeks
    Military Controversy

    Is the basic earth pony military unit infantry, or cavalry?

    Please overthink as much as possible, then justify your answers.

    2 comments · 376 views
  • 163 weeks
    My E-Mail Informs Me That It Is National Unicorn Day

    It may (ha!) be unofficial, but nonetheless.

    3 comments · 293 views
  • 167 weeks
    A Few Words

    I've been conlanging some more, and since some of the words this time are of Advancedverse relevance, thought I'd drop a pointer here.

    1 comments · 279 views

Audience Participation, and 'Verse Canon Shorts · 11:58pm Jun 22nd, 2016

Since today had just a short intermission and the footnote update, here's a little bit of audience participation for Friendship is Sufficiently Advanced. At some point as time passes - and we may well be approaching Just for Sidekicks in the timeline - our plucky protagonist is going to want to disassemble something to get a nice close-up look at what principles Equestrian technology tends to run on.

So... for those familiar with the original Eldraeverse, here's your chance to nominate what sort of likely-to-be-humorous-but-not-too-Armageddony-in-consequences widget might Cordelia trade the Cutie Mark Crusaders for an industrial-sized pet hair dryer?

Canon Shorts

As a second thing, these are some entries from that 50 headcanon thingy which cast some light on bits of the Sufficientlyadvancedverse that are unlikely to be explored in detail in the main text. Things which would be big, major spoilers have of course been redacted. There may be included some things that would count as minor spoilers... so if you want to be absolutely sure to avoid those, don't hit the button. But nothing major. Answers may not be complete, or may only be true from a certain point of view. Yes, the author is a dick, but is not 100% a dick.

The Princesses
How old are Celestia and Luna?

Somewhere between four and six thousand years old.

It’s essentially impossible to pin down an exact figure, because at the height of the Discordant Era, not only did Discord play with the day/night cycle, but time itself got a little bit wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey, and not only is nopony sure exactly how much time passed, but even questions like “how many times did it pass?”, “how fast did it pass?” and “which direction was it going when it passed?” are kind of up for grabs. And it certainly didn't pass the same way or in the same quantity for everypony. Back then, he was making things that were colored Tuesday, tasted beige, and would vanish sometime in the next key lime pie, so…

Fortunately, very few people are impolite enough to actually ask the Princesses their age. (And while one could, in theory, ask Discord, it’s not like he kept notes or anything, even if he did feel inclined to tell you the truth.)

It can be said, though, that they were born relatively close together, no more than a decade or so apart. This is probably still true, on the assumption that roughly the same amount of time passed for each of them during the Discordant era.

How old is Cadance?

Almost a thousand and thirty years old, as of the return of the Crystal Empire. (She is the last scion of the line of the former Crystal Emperors before Sombra’s coup – whose timing was in no small part due to her ascending to alicorn status - wiped out all the others. Most of that time, however, was spent as an amnesiac filly in hiding: the coup was deeply traumatic for her, and when an alicorn young to her power suffers from post-traumatic repression, their magic can make it real in a way that is not accessible to most people - so she's a lot closer to Shiny in psychological age than she is in temporal age.)

Were Celestia and Luna always alicorns, or did they ascend?

They ascended (as did, per previous, Cadance); so far, all the alicorns that are still around have ascended. There are reasons for that, which are…

Have there been other alicorns in the past?

There have been, but never for very long.

That’s a matter of genetics – the genetic combination which allows all the otherwise incompatible tribe-unique traits to be expressed stably together balances on a very fine point of metastability: unless you happen to hit exactly the right combination of traits when breeding for alicorns, you’re much more likely to end up with non-viables. Also, and more problematically, that same genetic combination disables the hormone-mediated power limiters that keep young ponies from calling up what they cannot put down, so successfully naturally-born alicorns have an unfortunate habit of self-destructing in various unpleasant ways when, as a foal, they miswield their magic.

The most dramatic example of this in history – if you read really carefully between the lines – a couple of hundred years after the Discordant Era, created Horse Shoe Bay.

(And, yes, this means that when and if Flurry Heart turns up in this ‘verse, as a natural-born alicorn whose only flaw appears to be controllable Power Incontinence, she’ll be the improbable concatenation of about three successive miracles.)

Are Cadance and Twilight immortal?

Being an alicorn, any alicorn, comes with what the Eldraeverse would call the Lesser Immortality: you don’t age, and you have a really good immune system and healing factor, so all other things being equal, you won’t just up and die. But you still have to eat, breathe, and sleep, and if sufficient force is used to overpower said immune system and/or healing factor, you can be killed.

(While not something that preys too much on the mind of the pony on the street under ordinary circumstances, this is something of a concern for the Royal Sisters themselves, and for various other people who understand the consequences of losing the one responsible for the stability of the solar cycle – any time a cold virus proves potent enough to give Celestia a minor sniffle, the Manehattan stock exchange plunges a thousand points. Various figures in the Civil Service would dearly love to enforce a rigorous quarantine around the Day and Night Courts, if the Princesses would allow it.

Although they do go so far as to have emergency backup plans in place for if they can’t control the sun and moon any longer.

Meanwhile, the one time a serious assassination attempt against Celestia was mooted - by Emperor Gallivant the Grasping, later Gallivant the Imbecile, ruler of the Griffon Empire about 800 years before present time – well, his own court seized and plucked him, then strung him naked and well-trussed from the uppermost gallery of the Grand Eyrie to die from starvation and exposure. Having a perfectly functional sense of self-preservation, belike.)

How much authority do Celestia and Luna have in Equestria?


Does Shining Armor rule the Crystal Empire alongside of Cadance?
Not officially; Prince Consort is a title that doesn't come directly with power, just with influence; in hard power terms he’s just Captain of the Crystal Guard, and is much more comfortable being so; he prefers the context of a volunteer military.

That being said, it is true both that (a) Cadance is too good a Princess to waste such a useful resource, so she does have him sit in on lots of meetings and doesn’t limit his participation to strictly military matters; and (b), they are married, and as her chief shoulder-to-lean-on and person-to-talk-to, the influence of the “bedroom cabinet” shouldn’t be understated.

Other than Twilight, Luna, and Cadance, what relationships have been important to Celestia in her lifetime (students, close friends, lovers, family)?


Ponies and Equestrian Culture
Are there still cultural differences between earth ponies, pegasi, and unicorns, or is the culture homogeneous by the time shown in canon? Are there cultural stereotypes (positive or negative)?

It depends. There's been a lot of cultural blending (especially in particularly mixed towns like, say, Ponyville), but there are some distinct retained cultural features out of a sense of heritage, especially as one moves towards the upper end of the class range - and in those things that have always been social rituals of one form or another. Consider funerals, for example: earth ponies inhume, unicorns cremate, and pegasi practice sky burials amid the clouds.

There is also, of course, the odd jackass (no offense!) tribalist out there preserving ugly cultural stereotypes and the insults which go along with them.

Are there foods or items native to Cloudsdale that are uncommon on the ground? Are there foods or items on the ground that are uncommon in Cloudsdale?

Plenty in the latter case, just for practical reasons: pegasus-made cloud items work just fine on the ground, but you need to hire a pegasus (or alicorn, I suppose) to maintain them and keep them stable long-term. A cloud bed - probably Cloudsdale's most widely exported native product - is the most exquisite sleeping experience ever, but it costs bits to maintain. Contrariwise, keeping solid items in a cloud house requires either very high-grade cloudstone or that they be enchanted to rest on a vapor surface, which is likewise expensive - and so tends to be restricted to complex or functional items (that piano, say) because it's much easier and cheaper to sculpt furniture out of cloud. And living things require a cloudwalking spell, which - as it's an enchantment on a living thing - erodes and has to be renewed. Non-flying pets are rare in Cloudsdale and other pegasi cities because of that alone, never mind their tendency to occasionally wander off the edge of the cloud...

There are certain foods native to Cloudsdale, but most of them don't have much substance to them: candied cumulus, stratus souffle, and so on and so forth. Delicious to eat (if you're a pegasus and/or have a cloudwalking spell variant cast on your mouth), but pretty much traces of flavored water in the stomach. Real food all has to be imported from the ground - either that, or someone would have to invest in casting appropriate enchantments on kilotonnes of soil to rest on cloud-back, and on sufficient earth ponies to farm it (because mundane productivity and quality is terrible by comparison), and at that point they have no hope of competing.

Fish is somewhat more common in Cloudsdale than on the ground simply because more pegasi are inclined to eat it; there are several earth pony towns on the coast that owe their existence to the Cloudsdale Fish Market.

Can all unicorns learn all spells, given the time and effort spent practicing them, or is magical talent usually limited in some way?


Earth pony magic: Does it exist? What is it?

It exists: apart from boosting strength and stamina, it includes an almost instinctive ability to manipulate matter. The most obvious form of this is the Cornucopia Effect (hat tip to Estee for the name), which enables them to energize growing plants and fertilize the soil as they work it. It's most minor form is much less noticeable: that earth ponies are somewhat more dextrous with their hooves than unicorns and pegasi isn't all down to practice.

Minor spoilers: What is less obvious is that it applies to all matter. Rock farmers are using their inherent earth pony magic to concentrate minerals. Equus is an old and light planet: rock farmers are the start of a process that produces high-grade ore. Likewise, it's the same ability-set that makes them good farmers that makes them superlative engineers (and, say, bakers). An earth pony blacksmith or smelterpony, for example, has a very real magical advantage in producing high-grade steel. That's the application of their magic that built Manehattan.

Some pony families we’ve seen seem to have naming conventions, and others don’t appear to, which is more common? Are there reasons for one or the other?

Both surnames and "reused family names" - like "Twilight" for House Twinkle - are most common among the aristocracy and gentry of each tribe (the unicorn Houses, major pegasi clans, the old families among the earth ponies), who are proud of their lineage. The custom is spreading and no longer exclusive or near-exclusive to that class, so it's not a surprise that anypony you meet on the street should have one, but it's not by any means universal.

How much formal schooling is an average, middle-class pony expected to complete?

The rough equivalent of our secondary school; the historical movement leading up to this was mostly unicorn-led, that being a necessary consequence of how their magic works. It's not all delivered in the same way, though - while most unicorns complete all this education in school, many earth ponies and pegasi leave school at an early stage to enter into an apprenticeship, providing equivalent further education more specialized towards their particular talent.

(This is a big part of the reason that Pinkie left the rock farm; she couldn't develop her talent there and her parents wouldn't knowingly stifle her in that way, so an apprenticeship it was.)

What’s the average lifespan for a pony? At what age is a pony expected to be independent of their parents?

Average lifespan (barring misadventure) runs around 100 years nominally, barring misadventure. Powerful magic tends to stretch lifespan, quite a lot (a magical prodigy like Twilight Sparkle, for example, could expect to live perhaps twice as long). This applies across tribes - a Wonderbolt would probably also have a notably extended lifespan, except that they tend to run headlong into misadventure.
The same goes for a pony with a particularly strong connection to the Earth - how did you think Granny Smith had lived so long?

Most tend to be independent of their parents around the age of 16-18, but many have left to take up apprenticeships and are mostly looking after themselves a couple of years before that.

Are there roughly an equal number of male and female ponies?

I'm going to leave most of this to the later pony genetics article, but if you just want the raw numbers...

Minor spoiler: No. The actual ratio runs just over one-third stallions to two-thirds mares. (A little part of this is due to the usage of The Most Special Spell [again, h/t Estee for the name and concept] which permits two mares to reproduce but always produces a filly since it cannot synthesize a Y chromosome, but most of it is just a matter of quirky pony genetics.

This would, of course, extremely unusual in evolutionary terms. Which will be noticed.)

How informed are most ponies about things that happen in other parts of Equestria? What about other parts of the world?

Other parts of Equestria, fairly well. There is a relatively free press, and the pegasi of the postal service are efficient. (Necessarily so: the Diarchy controls a lot of territory, and the postal service started out as the Princesses' Messengers.) In other parts of the world - that's the sort of news that makes the papers in Canterlot and Manehattan, but the average pony in most of Equestria doesn't bother themselves particularly with what the rest of the world is doing.

The Main Characters
How old are the Mane Six? Spike? The CMC?

At the time our story opens, Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash are 22, Pinkie Pie 21, Twilight 23, Applejack and Rarity 24, and Spike and the CMC all 14 (their birthdays being relatively close together).

Minor spoiler: If you were wondering, Cordelia is 126.

Did Fluttershy remain on the ground after getting her cutie mark? Were she and Rainbow Dash friends all along, or did they drift apart for a while?

No, she went back home (her parents would have had something to say about her just going missing, after all!); it took a while to convince her parents that she really wanted to live on the ground, but it's hard to argue with a cutie mark, and, well, while she may be timid, Fluttershy can be very, gently, sweetly insistent when it's something sufficiently important. They did insist that she finish her core education, but then helped her get set up down in Ponyville.

(As for her friendship with Rainbow, they didn't drift apart, so much as were separated by circumstance - but when they found themselves both living in Ponyville, they picked up their old friendship with very little trouble.)

Rarity and Applejack both seem to have grown up in Ponyville. What were their interactions like before the show?

Limited: their very different approaches to life gave them little cause to interact, each seeing the other as someone with whom they had little if anything in common. Since the events of Luna's return, though, and having been brought into contact, they've been coming to appreciate all the things that - as hard-working businessmares, big sisters, etc. - they actually do have in common, and for that matter, some of the things they don't.

What do Twilight and Spike consider their relationship to be?

Despite occasional lapses (especially, it must be said, when Twilight is particularly focused on something), they typically think of each other as siblings. (While she hatched his egg, Spike doesn't really think of her in maternal terms - Twilight was a young filly at that point and couldn't raise him full-time for obvious reasons.) Usually Twilight thinks of herself as the older sibling, but they're each very protective of the other: if necessary, Spike can do "overprotective big brother" very well, and sometimes with incendiary effect.)

When did Pinkie move in with the Cakes? Is she a worker who rents a room, an apprentice, or is there some other relationship?

Pinkie moved in with the Cakes when she left the rock farm, at 13-14; that was her apprenticeship. Technically, she was an apprentice and by this point has probably moved up to journeyman, but in practice the Cakes tend to think of her as an extra daughter, and Pinkie of them as an additional set of parents.

Why didn’t the CMC hang out more/know each other before Call of the Cutie?

No particularly significant reason - they hadn't run into something that had brought them together before then, and random chance hadn't done it yet.

Is Scootaloo an orphan? Will she ever be able to fly?

Scootaloo isn’t an orphan. She has a pair of good and loving parents – with just one minor difficulty.

They’re both earth ponies.

Partly this is just a matter of understanding, because while they’re willing to go a long way to accommodate their daughter and they do try, they can’t quite understand at the “just feeling it” level how certain instincts, etc., affect pegasi, or quite grasp just how important flying is to the pegasus self-identity.

The other problem she has, though, is genetic. While the three major complexes alone are enough to define a pony’s tribe/subspecies, there are various minor ones that are also important: while virtually all of the time they shake out in a viable way (either creating a standard earth pony, pegasus, or unicorn, or one of the rarer possible hybrids), there are also certain rare genetic disorders that occur when the minor genes don’t shake out right.

(Not to mention again the one that occurs when all the numbers come up exactly right, and you get a natural-born alicorn with the unfortunate consequences of same.)

Scoots has – it is believed by the family doctor; it’s not like they have reliable genetic testing yet – one of those rare genetic conditions, in which one of the minor pegasid complexes didn’t express fully. The result of this is… underdeveloped wings. (At least in terms of bone and musculature – her flightfield still functions fine, so she could learn pegasus techniques without difficulty, and can manipulate clouds, etc., if they are brought down to ground level for her – but she just can’t generate the thrust to get off the ground.)

Her parents are hoping fervently that the doctor is wrong and that she’s just a late developer, but every day it gets harder to go on believing that. They also have a hell of a guilt complex about this, even though it can’t possibly be considered their fault by anyone reasonable, and she can’t help but pick up on this a little.

(Incidentally, Bulk Biceps, né Snowflake, has exactly the same rare genetic condition. He overcame it through sheer brute force of muscle development. It works – hell, it works well enough that he’s competitive at the Wonderbolts Academy – but it’s not exactly an elegant solution.

And he doesn’t particularly want to recommend the path of endless brutal exercise and imported Zebrican diet supplements to such a young filly, especially since her prospects may be handicapped in other ways by the strong resemblance to a motile brick shithouse that comes along with said training.)

Will Apple Bloom’s cutie mark involve an apple in some way, even if it’s unrelated to farming or baking?

Seems likely, doesn't it?

How is Sweetie Belle’s relationship with their parents different than Rarity’s was?

Their parents are a lot more relaxed with Sweetie than they were with Rarity, as is so often the case the second time around - which in turn has led to Rarity doing a lot of the parenting when Sweetie is staying with her.

Side and Background Characters
Is Mr. Cake the father of the Cake twins or not?

Yes. The expression of the three major complexes that define a pony’s tribe/subspecies, not to mention the minor complexes that go with them, are just really, really complicated. And given the amount of cross-tribe romancin’ in most ponies’ family trees, this sort of thing happens all the time.

(There will be rather more on pony genetics later on in the story.)

Are Big Mac and Cheerilee an item, romantically?
If you were a good friend and asked them individually, they’d probably admit that they’d like to be, they think.

Unfortunately, between worries about how much of their feelings might be left over from The Love Poison Incident, and the way that almost the entire population of Ponyville seems to be crewing that particular ‘ship, the sheer pressure of romantic expectations is making it virtually impossible for either of them - as ponies not terribly comfortable about living their private lives in public - to admit it to the other.

(Someone should probably do something about that.)

How did Prince Blueblood get his title?

He's the current-generation descendant of the junior branch of Princess Platinum's line, which is to say, the former rulers of the former Kingdom of Unicornia. His full title would be "Prince of Canterlot", referring to the modern Principality of Canterlot, which title is - somewhat to his irritation - mostly a sinecure. There's not much for you to do when your Principality happens to also be the seat of the Diarchy.

(The senior branch of the line is the one that saw which way the wind was blowing for the pure-blood unicorn nobility and left Equestria posthaste to found Unicornia Antiqua. They don't talk much, since the one sees the other as traitors and the other sees the one as usurpers, and there are only so many insults you can send back and forth before everyone starts repeating themselves.)

Is Silver Spoon equally as bad as Diamond Tiara?

Not really. She's just a follower with a desperate need to fit in. If she'd latched on to someone else instead, she'd be a much nicer pony.

Is Zecora’s magic common among zebras?

Potion-making? About as common as enchanting items is among unicorns. She is, though, very talented at it by the standards of Zebrican pharmacists.

Why does Daring Do publish her stories as fiction?

Two reasons:

First, because general adventuring up to and including saving the world doesn't pay very well. (You can ask the Bearers of the Elements of Harmony about that, too.)

Second, because while many things belong in museums, museums don't have unlimited funds to spend on acquisitions (if anything, rather the opposite), which is awkward when those funds have to cover supplies, research, wear and tear on whip, etc.

Fiction, on the other hand, pays much better, and covers her dashing-heroics budget nicely.

Do you have a strong headcanon for any non-speaking or one line background ponies that you want to share?

Since they don't exist in this 'verse, even as legend, Lyra is not obsessed with humans, or indeed with hands (at least, yet). She does have a certain desire for the abovementioned dextrous hooves of the earth ponies because it would make it so much easier to play some of her more complex pieces.

(And she just finds sitting like that comfortable. Hey, some people juggle geese!)

Other Species
Does Equestria differentiate between speaking and non-speaking species, in terms of respect, rights, and legal responsibilities? Is there some other line or scale used? (For example, how are cows classified? Diamond Dogs? A chimera?)

Bearing in mind the trimmed list the Sufficientlyadvancedverse is using, all those sophont species have the same rights (although diamond dogs, who are not known for being all that bright, may have trouble exercising them), and most of them can be citizens just about anywhere - although some nations have a distinct "second-class citizen" category, and Unicornia Antiqua is a pointed exception to this rule.

Sophont "monster" species (defined loosely as those that can talk but have not signed on to the general treaty agreement that sophonts shall not eat each other) would theoretically have those same rights if they came into town, all law-abiding, and obtained citizenship in one of Equus's nations, but seeing as they tend to eat you without warning, no-one tends to complain if one of them happens to suffer a nasty accident on the way out of the Everfree.

(With regard to the higher levels of intelligence seen in some "dumb animals" on the show: I'm assuming for the purposes of this 'verse that by and large they, including sheep and cows, are no smarter than their earthly counterparts, with one exception.

They get smarter around Fluttershy, because that's one of the effects of her special talent. That's also one - minor - reason why her little friends all like to stick around - being around her makes them better, and they know it, and they don't want to revert. Incidentally, that same effect applies to the Mane 6's pets by virtue of their regular Pony Pet Play Dates. And being a Border Collie to begin with, Winona is scary smart.)

Do other speaking species form their own nations, or are all nations largely integrated, with some having larger populations of a species than others?

It varies by nation. Some are more integrated than others (Equestria, for example, Saddle Arabia, and some regions of the Griffon Empire), others less so for varying reasons (Unicornia Antiqua, because they're terrible; Mazein, because few people other than minotaurs can cope with living in endless labyrinths, much less like it). And, of course, many species have more than one nation: there are several pony nations, although some would claim to be separate races; the Griffon Empire splintered off the kingdom of Griffonstone at some point in the past; not all the buffalo tribes would consider themselves the same nation if asked; and while one might consider the northern and southern dragon homelands nations, there's a reason the better kind of cartographer skips the whole "Realm of Draconia" thing and just scrawls "Here Be Dragons" on those bits of the map.

Are minotaurs related to cows at all?

Maybe? It's possible that Discord used some cow source material when he made the minotaurs - if he made the minotaurs, which the minotaurs would dispute, but they were there after the Discordant Era and weren't beforehand, probably - but it's also possible that he just made them up. And either way, good luck getting him to tell you.

Do all zebras rhyme?

Sort of. They don't rhyme in Zebrican, but something about the quirks of Zebrican grammar makes almost all zebras end up rhyming when they try to think and speak in Equestrian. Linguists find this fascinating.

Do zebra cutie marks work the same way as pony cutie marks?

Basically the same way, except that cultural expectations and differences tend to lead to them having different semiotics, and to tend to be more abstract. It is the same mechanism behind them: ponies raised in Zebrican culture have zebra-style cutie marks, and vice versa.

Do any species have types of magic other than ponies and zebras?

Virtually every sophont species on Equus has some type of magic, although the pony and to a lesser extent zebra types are the most overt. How it manifests varies considerably, of course, and I think I'm going to leave that there.

Is the lack of buffalo presence in Equestria cultural, or simply because most pony towns aren’t built to accommodate a full-grown buffalo?

It's both cultural and instinctual. Buffalo really hate to be still, to the extent that it's almost physically painful for them to remain in the same place for an extended period of time. The Great Western Plains suit this lifestyle the best for entire tribes, because they are gregarious, so that's mostly where they stay - although finding the odd buffalo wanderer wandering around in Equestria or elsewhere wouldn't be considered unusual. They just won't ever settle.

Comments ( 7 )

Wow, you've put quite a bit of thought into the background, including things that I suspect will never make an appearance in the actual narrative.

Impressive piece of world-building! :pinkiehappy:

4043027 If Cordial Nova's anything like me, worldbuilding's a solid percentage of the fun of the entire enterprise, belike. And Equestria provides so much fuel for it!

Great background stuff, I'm going to be making use of these questions to answer some of my own questions.

Judging from their relative sizes in "The Cutie Mark Chronicles" I got the impression that Fluttershy was the oldest and Rainbow Dash the youngest of the Mane Six.


Well, thank you kindly. It's what I do.

(No, seriously. My writing style hinges very much on building the world first so I can let all the pieces interact with each other and see what falls out. :pinkiehappy: )


I made some out-of-world assumptions that that was the episode's way of representing their notably different body types while the show, especially in S1, tended to reuse the same models and thus didn't have that - inasmuch as even the young Rainbow Dash ought to be a lean, streamlined ectomorph by comparison to Fluttershy. That seemed like the easiest assumption as while not stated explicitly, I think it makes most sense if they were effectively in the same class at Flight Camp, etc., and so probably of the same age.

Or such is my working model, anyway.

Back to the original question, though...

Seems to me what we need is a mostly-mechanical greebly bit from the downed ship, part of some system that it'll never be using again (e.g. attitude control or docking), and one that doesn't involve unfriendly chemicals (it burns!!) or large quantities of stored energy (what do you mean it can explode?).

My vote is for a chunk of docking collar. There's plenty of mechanical complexity to be had, and beyond your usual hazards of sharp edges and pinch points, not a whole lot to hurt the uninformed tinkerer. My alternative vote is for a spectrometer, gravitometer, chromatograph, or other suitably complicated-looking piece of scientific measuring equipment.

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