Amplitude Adjustment

by kudzuhaiku

Chapter 1

The Ponyville train station was a happening place to be, for a train station. More than just a transportation hub, it was now a community hangout, a destination that one went to. Hungry? The cafe was popular. Bored? The arcade promised hours of fun. In need of a book, a magazine, or a newspaper? There was a rather large bookstore that made a fortune selling to travellers on the train. This was the place to be, but Vinyl Scratch wasn’t here for pleasure, no.

She was here on business.

Technically, she was here to leave on business.

The pale, off-yellowish-white mare sat atop a small, sticker-covered travel trunk, her head bobbing to a rhythm that only she could hear. There was a band nearby, a group of street performers that might have thought that Vinyl was deep into their groove, but the truth of the matter was that she was lost in her own world at the moment. Such was the way of things.

A colt—also pale—emerged from a door, dutifully carrying two steaming disposable cups of tea. He was a bit gawky and appeared to be suffering horrendously from a growth spurt that had left him hideously deformed—at least, this is what he would tell you if you asked him. As for what others thought? If asked, they might say he was a bit too long in the hind legs perhaps, but time and patience would sort that out soon enough.

When the colt approached, bearing tea, Vinyl said, “Won’t be long until your birthday.”

“‘Bout three weeks,” the colt replied. “I’ll be eight.”

Vinyl, who knew her apprentice a little too well, reached into his saddlebags with her magic, felt around, and watched as the colt blushed. He was busted and he knew it. Grinning, she pulled a magazine wrapped in plain brown paper from his saddlebags, held it up, and waved it in front of his face. His blush intensified and she thought he might look a little sweaty for such a cool spring day.

“So, Mister I’m So Grown Up, what did you bring me to look at and how is it that you manage to convince the shopkeep to sell these to you? Wait, wait, I already know. Nevermind. You’re a scamp for doing that, Sumac. What would your mother, Lemon Hearts have to say?”

“Um…” Sumac gulped, but didn’t seem to have anything else to say in his own defense.

Peeling back the crinkly brown paper, Vinyl was unconcerned what other ponies on the platform might think and she had herself a good look at her apprentice’s lurid reading material. “Oooh, classy, Mare Monthly. A distinguished publication for discriminating lesbians and stallions of fine taste. And it’s right there in saucy red letters so you know it’s truth in advertising.”

Of course, Vinyl opened the magazine, right there in public, and had herself a good look. She began flipping through the pages, curious, and the contents of the pages could be seen reflected in the lenses of her glasses. Skipping ahead, she went right for the centerfold and had herself a look. After a few seconds, an eyebrow raised.

“This is pretty softcore, Sumac.” Vinyl found herself quite surprised by what she had said, and even more surprised by her own conclusion. “It’s mostly just suggestive snuggling. I suppose it can’t hurt, but keep it tucked away and out of sight.” With nothing else to say, she slipped the brown paper wrapper back into place and slipped the softcore skin rag back into Sumac’s saddlebags.

“Uh, thanks, I guess?” Sumac held out a steaming cup of tea for Vinyl.

“I might want to look at that later,” Vinyl said whilst taking the tea from her apprentice. “Try not to get anything stuck on the pages, Squirt.”

At this, Sumac very nearly dropped his own cup of tea.

“Relax, Sumac. You know I’m on your side. I’m just giving you a little guff, that’s all. Worried about facing Princess Celestia?”

“A little.” The colt nodded, recovered himself, and then took a cautious sip of tea.

“I am too.” Vinyl too, tried some of her tea as well, and smacked her lips in appreciation of the spicy chai. “You and I have been working on this for almost a year now, Sumac. Can you believe that? And we’ve expanded so much upon your great hypothesis. You’re about to turn eight and already you’ve gained quite a bit of scientific credibility. As your master, I’m proud.”

“Thanks!” Halfway through the word, Sumac’s voice cracked and rose two octaves or so.

At the moment, Vinyl had her own fears and worries, but she was playing it cool. They had a good presentation—a very good presentation—and Vinyl was confident that the new technology from the other side of the mirror would get Princess Celestia’s approval. As it was, the technology in question was already present in Equestria, though nobody had really cottoned onto it until she and her apprentice had begun their thorough investigation.

“We don’t have the best track record,” Sumac said after a moment of silence.

“I don’t know what you mean, my most faithful apprentice.” Licking the chai foam from her upper lip, Vinyl turned her attention towards the two ponies being a little too watchful of Sumac. She didn’t recognise them, and because of this, she didn’t trust them.

“We, uh, took over the minds of chickens and we made everypony in Ponyville dance.”

“Bah!” Vinyl made a dismissive wave with her hoof. “Teensy weensy mistakes were made. We got rid of the infestation of bugs, didn’t we?”

“Well, yes…” Sumac nodded. “But, um—”

“And we mind-controlled those chickens. That was awesome.” Of course, Vinyl did not make further mention that they had also mind-controlled most of the town of Ponyville and caused conga line traffic jams throughout the city.

“The bass projector caused earthquakes—”

“Only minor ones! Seismic disturbances! Maud specifically called them ‘seismic disturbances!’ Sumac, you gotta stop being so hung up on our little setbacks. You’re a real buzzkill, you know that?” Reaching out, Vinyl gave her apprentice a nudge of encouragement while keeping her watchful eyes on the far too curious strangers.

“Vinyl, we’re on a watchlist—”

“Just wait until they see the blamethrower, Sumac. Our good names will be cleared and Twilight will come around and see reason. It still needs some tweaking before we do a public demonstration. Up for a bit of tinkering this weekend?”

“Sure!” the colt blurted out with far too much eagerness. “Oh, Vinyl, I’ve had an idea for a way to shift perspectives from one pony to another. It would be a touch-based device. We could make it from a stick.”

“A perspective shift stick?” Intrigued, Vinyl’s imagination began to go wild with the possibilities. “Tell me more when we’re on the train, Sumac. It’ll be a good thing to talk about and pass the time.” Her growing discomfort was almost too much to bear and she did not like the way the two strangers were just staring at Sumac.

The train couldn’t come soon enough.

It still felt like winter in Canterlot, as evidenced by the faint flurries of snow that came down in sporadic bursts. Vinyl shivered and was thankful that she had remembered warm clothing. Wrapped in a heavy black woollen cloak, Vinyl held a perfect awareness for how deliciously evil she looked, and with Sumac also wearing a matching cloak, they made for quite a pair. It was funny, really it was, how ponies just assumed that unicorns wearing black cloaks were somehow evil, and Vinyl delighted in every moment of it. It was the perfect joke because of how ponies just went along with it.

Levitating her travel trunk behind her, Vinyl set off through the familiar streets of Canterlot, mindful of the many dangers. Foalnappers were a worry, more ponies knew about Sumac’s sorcery now, and things worse than ponies, such as the army of rats that lurked beneath Canterlot, burrowing through the Canterhorn.

“Stay close, Sumac. Do not stray from my side.”

“Yeah, of course. I know the rules.”

The colt moved a little closer and Vinyl felt him brush up against her, which left her filled with a strange sensation of relief. She missed her own son, Alto; she felt a keen sense of longing for him, but also treasured these moments when she and her apprentice could spend a little time together.

“The night is ours, Sumac. We’ll stow our gear in Canterlot Castle and then we’re free to do whatever, just so long as we’re up bright and early for our presentation tomorrow. Any ideas?”

“The planetarium at the Canterlot Royal Observatory?”

That was an exceptional idea, Vinyl thought. Alto was the quiet, introverted sort that truly loved places like the observatories, but only when they were quiet, and he was not at all fond of loud, noisy situations, nor crowds. Thinking about it made Vinyl feel a little sad, because she and her son didn’t have a lot in common. Alto was very much like his mother—and his father. Vinyl didn’t need much in common to love him though, but she did wish that she understood him better.

Perhaps Sumac’s idea for a perspective shift stick would help.

Canterlot Castle was full of hustle and bustle. Visiting dignitaries from Istanbull, Windia, and Mustangia were all staying here at the moment. Various entourages from around the world now packed the halls, chatting with one another, and Vinyl realised how lucky she was to get some of Princess Celestia’s precious time.

She and Sumac were given a small, but pleasant room, and there were two beds, a relief. The trunk was stored away and Vinyl was having a look around while Sumac pronked on the bed. This room was strange to her; she had been here many times, but had never stayed in the same room twice. What a strange room it was too, with its trapezoidal shape. Both windows were pure illusion and Vinyl, being the impish pony she was, just had to mess with them. Before she left, she would have to make certain that the day-night cycles on the windows were reversed, so day would show at night and night would show during the day.

It was good to get practice with illusion; after all, it was what powered her voice.

“What are we gonna eat?” Sumac asked, and the colt sounded quite whiny. “And when?”

“Burro food?” Vinyl suggested and the look on Sumac’s face told her everything she needed to know. “Burro food it is, then. Tamale Grande has that all you can eat buffet—”

“Can we go now? Sumac begged and he turned the full force of his pleading stare upon Vinyl, who recoiled from the sight.

“Sure, Sumac, but try not to die before we get there, okay?”

Vinyl almost felt bad for bringing a hungry colt to an all you could eat buffet—almost. At the moment, Sumac was tearing through about a dozen or so poblano peppers stuffed with cheese and wheat-meat. How the colt could eat so much but stay so skinny was a mystery to Vinyl, who envied him. She didn’t have to watch her own figure very much—just casting a lot of magic was enough to keep her trim—but as a mare, she always worried just a little. Octavia had a type, and for the most part, Vinyl was that type, but the worry was always present.

“Sumac, do you have your facts lined up?” Vinyl asked while he crammed a whole stuffed pepper into his maw. “Princess Celestia is probably going to go right for the throat. She’ll do it to see if I’m teaching you what you need to know. I’m a graduate from her school, so she’s going to come down harder on the both of us because of that.”

Dribbling sour cream and prickly pear salsa down his chin, the colt nodded.

“This is a major leap forwards.” Vinyl’s fork hovered over her food and she was forced to pause for a moment. “Somepony opened up an unauthorised portal and brought unauthorised artifacts from the other side through. Wondrous stuff, Sumac. Maybe someday, we’ll be trusted with more of it, but for now I am happy with our project and how it turned out. Just think, Sumac… if we can convince Celestia that this technology is safe, just think about what it will do for Equestria… the world. It makes my cutie mark tingle just thinking about it.”

Sumac’s mouth was empty only long enough to say a few terse words. “What do you think a ‘Volterex’ is, Vinyl?”

“Probably the brand name, Sumac. It’s weird that we can read it. Daring Do says it is a seeded language, one that happens on a multitude of worlds.” Licking her lips, Vinyl stabbed a bite of gravy-drenched tamale with her fork. “Volterex might be the name of the inventor, perhaps.”

“He sounds like a unicorn,” Sumac said between bites.

At this, Vinyl laughed because she knew that the dominant species of the other world were mostly hairless simian descendants. They made wonderful music—she knew because she owned a bunch of it—and had significant technological advancement. Distracted, she watched as her companion devoured his food and took an absent-minded bite.

After chewing and swallowing, she said, “Sumac, this is going to be like the introduction of the microwave and the vacuum cleaner. And we had a part in it. We’ll be remembered.”

“Wait…”—Sumac swallowed and his eyes went wide behind his spectacles—“I was told that a pony invented those things.”

“Yes, Sumac, we’ll be remembered as inventors too. That’s the way it is. Those things were introduced, Sumac. They were smuggled over. Or maybe not. Sometimes, rips in reality happen and things just fall through from other whens and wheres. Princess Celestia keeps tight controls over what is allowed, and has agents that go out to collect artifacts when rips and tears in reality are sensed. Daring Do, Tarnish, Maud, and myself had to go overseas and retrieve an artifact. I have no idea what it is, but maybe someday it’ll be figured out.”

Sumac almost seemed to vibrate in his chair. “Maybe, someday, we’ll figure it out!”

A thousand or more stars twinkled overhead and none of them were real. Trippy music played, offering a head-expanding soundtrack for the galactic voyage, and two black-cloaked unicorns craned their heads upwards, one larger, one smaller. The illusion of zooming through space was powerful, spellbinding, even.

It was cold in the planetarium, cold enough to see one’s breath, and Vinyl pulled Sumac closer to her while also pulling her cloak tighter around her. Vinyl wished that Alto could enjoy shows like this one, but between the crowd and the loud music, poor Alto would be quite distressed. At least she had Sumac, and for this, Vinyl was grateful. Octavia would come to view the planetarium, but only on nights when they played orchestral music, which was fine, really it was, but something about careening through the galaxy demanded thunderous guitar riffs and pounding drums.

Vinyl considered her apprentice and all of the ways that she influenced him. His musical preferences were almost all her doing. From her, he had gained a wealth of dangerous magical information, she had schooled him in her own questionable approach to magic, which relied on emotion over raw concentration. Princess Celestia frowned upon this approach, but allowed it; Vinyl was free to continue her studies and teach her apprentice. Sumac was a volatile, emotional sort, which made many believe that her approach was reckless, even dangerous, but Vinyl knew that Sumac had far better control over how he expended his emotions than most foals his age.

She liked to believe that it was because of her.