"Thanks for helping me out today!" Pinkie Pie bustled about Sugarcube Corner's spacious kitchen stirring in a bit of this, some of that, and everything in between. The large magenta bowl she cradled sloshed over the sides at every step. Flour hung in the air like artificial fog.
Flater sneezed slightly, hauling several bags of sprinkles. "No problem at all. What other way could I thank you for bringing the marshmallows?" He wasn't exactly sure what the party mare was brewing up, but he was certain that it contained a suspicious amount of butter. And an unhealthy dose of sugar. "Uh...is the pony receiving these going to survive?"
"Of course silly! This is Cheese Sandwich we're talking about. They must be perfect for his 'Welcome Back to Ponyville' party. Only the best!" Pinkie giggled.
Flater could practically hear the excitement radiate from her body. Either that or the oven timer went off. "I think Cheese is pretty cool. Sadly we only met once." He had a theory but wanted to poke around before ascertaining its truth.
"Of course he's cool, he's the 'Party Planner of the World'!" Pinkie Pie shrilled stirring faster. A glop of cheddar-scented batter landed on Flater's nose. He licked at it curiously with a forked tongue. There sure was a massive proportion of love in it.
"Huh, cheese flavored cupcakes." The hybrid tapped a hoof to his chin. "I thought you were the Party Planner?"
Pinkie Pie ceased her churning. "Well yea. Except he's Planner of the World and I'm only Planner of Ponyville. Which I am NOT complaining about! All of the awesome ponies are here, and soon another will join us. Why, are the cupcakes too overboard?"
"They're not bad at all." Flater grinned, fangs glinting slightly. He enjoyed spending time with Pinkie because she frankly didn't care about his actual appearance. After all, she had partied with mules, griffons, hippogriffs, Discord, and probably giraffes. He decided to press on with his theory. "In fact, with all of this hubbub, I'd say you like him."
"Oh I totally like him!" Pinkie Pie flicked her loofah tail nonchalantly. "Is it that obvious? I hope so!"
Flater coughed awkwardly, choking on a laugh. He was impressed by her bluntness. Usually you had to coax a mare to make them divulge their love interest. "It definitely is."
"Yay! We had such a grand time working together on Rainbow Dash's party that I knew we could work!" She tossed him a package of cupcake wrappers completely forgetting his handicap. They bounced off of one of his white wing shells.
"Hey, what was that for?" Flater stepped aside.
"Sorry! You're not a good catcher. I'll give you a heads up next time!" Pinkie bounced over and retrieved what she lost.
"That'd be much appreciated." He bumped into a cupboard and sat down.
Twilight Sparkle then decided to walk in. "Hello Pinkie Pie!" She turned to Flater feigning surprise. "Oh hi Flater!"
"Come on Twily! You owe me a milkshake." Rainbow Dash whined from outside. "You failed that bet fair and square."
The purple alicorn ignored the cyan pegasus' complaints. Instead, she turned to her other friends. "Are you ready for Cheese Sandwich's big return? I made a list of everything that needs to be done." She levitated a thick scroll of parchment over to Pinkie Pie.
"I'm so hyped!" The pink earth pony squealed before snatching the object. "This is so perfect thank you! Now let's see..." Pinkie scanned the list studiously. "Yellow and orange balloons...check! Cupcakes...almost check. Karaoke machine with super-amp speakers...check! Inflatable pool full of lemonade...is a go! It's all in order so far."
Twilight's smile diminished. "A pool...of lemonade?" That sounded horrible. "Won't our fur get all sticky and gross?"
"Yup! That's why we can lick each other clean. Doesn't that sound fun?!" Pinkie Pie beamed.
Flater almost dropped a tray of cupcakes. "Isn't that a health violation?"
Twilight's face colored. "Pinkie! We can't let that happen! Let's add 'hose station' to the list."
"I dunno...that sounds like a rockin' party to me." Rainbow Dash waggled her eyebrows.
Flater failed to keep the tray off the floor this time. "Oh my gosh." He whispered in disgust. Fur tasted nasty to begin with. "Somepony give her a milkshake before she gets any ideas!"
Rainbow Dash made a face. "No thank you man! I wouldn't ever do that let alone in public. Gross." Rainbow Dash shook her multi-colored mane out. "I'll have a 'Rock Candy Blitz' while you're on the subject though."
"Coming right up!" Pinkie Pie broke away from Twilight's anti-tongue rant to fulfil the pegasus' request.
"Can you imagine it? As a public humiliation thing Ponyville should have the prisoner lick every citizen's hooves." Rainbow Dash shouted over the industrial blender.
"Talk about a cruel and unusual punishment." Twilight Sparkle nodded.
"I know a thing or two about that topic." Flater muttered. He meant to say that to himself, but Pinkie finished using the blender at the exact same time he started to speak.
Three pairs of eyes locked onto him.
Flater squirmed sensing their curious stares. "What? Did I say that out loud?"
"You sure did bud." Rainbow Dash took a long sip of shake.
"Story time!" Pinkie Pie chirped. She shot off and returned with a beanbag chair. Flater slowly eased himself down with a sigh into the plush material.
"Is now really the best time? There are cupcakes in the oven." He didn't wish for the 'gourmet' food items to char because he went into overtime. Already their pungent odor hung in the air as an invisible reminder.
Twilight selected a stool, scooting as close as possible to him. "No better time than the present." She fabricated a notepad and pen ready to take notes.
Rainbow Dash followed suit. "Is it about the scar?" The pegasus motioned to Flater's raw injury. It sat on his flank glistening; An angry salmon flare to remind him always.
"Alas, it is so." He hung his head slightly.
"Applejack will be sooo mad to have missed this..." Rainbow cackled rubbing her hooves in glee.
Pinkie Pie raised a hoof. "Ooh! Ooh! I can tell her all about it when she comes over to drop off some fritters."
Flater paused. "You're right. It's not fine to continue without her."
"Yea, it'll be fine. Just tell." Rainbow Dash urged. Her wings twitched in suspense.
"Well okay. Just give me a second..." Flater took a deep breath to collect his thoughts. These memories were the ones he tried to smother and shove to the bottom of his troubled mind. They hurt more than the actual wound did at times. Now he had to poke (no, rile) the venomous mental images, allow them to flow back into his heart and mind, hopefully to extinguish them completely. He smiled wanly then began in low tones.
Months flew by in a blur of activity. Some days he got bloodwork, other days he was shipped down to the gym to run some tests of his physical abilities. Or, as Whiny Voice put it, 'Can he run faster than us?' It wasn't all bad. He had one square meal a day after all. It was just cripplingly lonely. Flater's heart hung empty and aching with want of socialization. Something to ease his young mind of the day's pains and tribulations, somepony to laugh with and joke with as needed. Someone...who actually cared if he lived or died.
Then, one day after a boring IQ test, he got it.
"Hallo. Ya look funny." A high voice roused Flater from his drowse. His ears pricked. Were they talking to him? He took another listen as the voice prattled on. "Mah daddy always said that ya were bizarre but ah just had ta see fo' myself." Hoofsteps rang out on the marble floors as the pony approached. Using the voice's decibels as a cue, he deciphered that it belonged to a filly not much younger than him. She sure was loud. And brash.
"Oh yea? Where'd you hear about me from?" Flater's voice cracked from underuse as he poked his head out from below his cot.
"Ah already told ya. Mah dad says stuff. He's tha most important scientist here." He could hear her voice puff up in pride.
"Big Coat. Your dad is Big Coat." Flater concluded. He wasn't sure how this Southern filly could be in anyway related to that wicked tyrant.
The filly laughed at this. "Big Coat is such ah funny name fo' him! Ah like ya." A hoof tapped him on the nose. Flater unfolded a sieve-like, gangly leg to shake it. "Mah name's Suga Cane."
"I'm Flater. Nice to meet you."
"Who's yer dad?" Suga Cane inquired plopping down on her belly.
"Oh! I don't...have one." Flater's ears folded back in embarrassment. She noticed he was upset.
"If it makes ya feel betta my ma is ah test tube. Pa says I'm 'genetically engineered' an' tha 'perfect specimen of pony'. Not shore what that means yet." Suga Cane whispered loudly.
Flater flinched. He wished that he was the same as her. Genetically superior and treated way better than the average pony. How else could she have gotten into his cell?
"Yer blind, right?" Suga Cane cut in.
"Kinda. It might be temporary they said."
"Well not in here it ain't. Ah hope ya last longer than tha last pony in this cell. He just fell ova' an' died randomly one day. Wanna touch mah face?"
Flater blinked in disbelief. She jumped the morbid topic so easily it was scary. Seeing his unease, she continued thinking that he was afraid to touch her. "It's okay. Ah thought blind ponies liked ta touch faces. Ya know, tah get ah mental image." He opened his jaws to protest but she swiftly grabbed a hoof and pressed it against her cheek. "Ah don't bite silly."
Flater cautiously ran his hooves over her face while she described her appearance. It was all confusing (since she often backtracked and corrected herself); He could conclude that Suga Cane's face had a pleasant shape. Not too angular, but not too round. Well defined nostrils, large rounded eyes, soft mane, puffy afro of a mane. "Are you pretty?"
"Gash ah like ta think so." Suga Cane giggled, pleased enough to halt her coloration ramble. Flater's heart swelled at this knowledge. His first attempt and he guessed right! The warm glow soared through his bloodstream, focusing on his flank, comfortable as the spring sun's rays. "Oh mah lawd Flater, ya-"
The cell door slammed open. "Subject 44! What do you think you're doing in here?!" Big Coat's voluminous voice thundered. "18629 remove your revolting hooves off my daughter!"
Flater dropped his hold, scooting under his cot with a small sigh.
"Aw dad, ya ruined it. He just got his Cutie Mark!" Suga Cane whined. "Ah wanna see what it is. Ya shoulda seen it glow! It was all gold an' everythin'."
"I fail to care past my immense disappointment in you 44. You are the apex race of pony. Immune to all disease, free of any genetic disorder-"
"An' not allowed ta defile mah perfect bloodline with normal ponies. Yea ah got it. Ah have no thought on marryin' 18629. Sheesh. We're like, three. Ah have another year before maturity yet." Suga Cane grumbled reluctantly stepping away from Flater.
Flater gently brushed the top of his rear leg. A Cutie Mark? It was doubtful that he could even receive one being a hybrid and all. He had a physical identity now all for him! It was there, pulsing, still warm. He regretted his blindness now, overwhelmed with the desire to lay his eyes on it. As Flater laid in a frustrated heap, Big Coat finished berating his daughter. "Be gone. No dessert tonight either."
Suga Cane, needing to get the last word in, poked her head under the cot. "Sadly fo' him saying ah can't hang out with ya makes me want ta do it more. Ah like livin' on tha edge!" She whispered hoarsely to him. Eventually Suga Cane departed. Flater had an itchy feeling that she would return.
Big Coat, dissatisfied with his discipline's results, yanked Flater into the air by the mane. Flater gritted his teeth silently hoping his fangs didn't look too threatening. Big Coat often came in to beat him up if he had a bad day. Or if Flater performed poorly on his near-impossible tests. Flater sported a bruise on his side from just the other night for refusing to eat a live mouse. As his helpless body was pulled closer, he realized that Big Coat had no current intention on abuse; He was inspecting Flater's new marks. "Interesting..." The head scientist mused turning Flater this way and that. "Absolutely just in time for another 'Stupid Question' experiment." Flater whimpered at the prospect. "Aw be quiet. It won't hurt...me." Big Coat chuckled tossing the hybrid into a corner before exiting.
Flater remained where he landed, panting in terror. What other nightmare did he have to survive this time?
"I have a well-educated guess on what happened to you man." Rainbow Dash motioned to his nasty scar. "They cut it out?"
"Close but not exactly." Flater replied while fetching more cupcakes from the oven. He took a tiny lick off an icing-coated spatula. "Ugh, is this wine flavored?"
"Yup! Cheese and wine are staples you know!" Pinkie Pie poured batter into cups. "It's fine though. The alcohol should bake out."
"Pinkie...you don't cook icing." Twilight Sparkle face hoofed.
"Oopsie! Can you change the age limitation on the party invitations please?"
"With pleasure." The purple alicorn added it to her list of 'Important Things To Do'. She also jotted down 'Do not eat cupcakes at party' as a personal footnote.
Rainbow Dash rubbed her hooves. "Ooh yea...this is going to be a rockin' party."
"Ew, Rainbow!" Twilight refrained from prolonging her thoughts. "Never mind. Please proceed Flater."
"Yes that will probably be for the best." He nodded seriously.
A rough rope sadistically dug into Flater's sensitive facial tissue. The makeshift bridle also doubled as a muzzle he found out while attempting to yawn. Whiny Voice led him down several labyrinthine corridors in complete silence. This was new in itself. Whiny usually gibbered on about what would soon happen to him, or what tests he enjoyed overseeing. More often than not Whiny Voice would scorn Big Coat claiming that he could be so much better. 'That saucy rump-fed flax wench' seemed to be Whiny's insult of choice. Big Coat was the antithesis of saucy in Flater's opinion. More like 'pompous maleficent nag.'
The hybrid's mind returned from insult mashing back to earth. He hadn't noticed that Whiny Voice stopped and was trying to tug Flater to his side. Flater obediently retrogressed, flinching slightly as Whiny placed a hoof on his wing shell. "Kid, this will be the first time I've ever actually felt bad for you. Heck, you might not even come out alive. So...uh...yea." The scientist coughed awkwardly jerking the rope to move forward. Flater's heart filled with dread. The omniscient warning unnerved him completely. He shivered long before they reached the chilly lab room.
"Here you are." Whiny Voice announced quietly. Their hoofsteps pealed persistently off of the walls. Flater flattened his ears to the incessant noise as he plodded onward. "Stop right there." Whiny commanded. Flater felt the rope jiggle as he presumably tied it to something. The hybrid tugged slightly. Whiny Voice swatted his nose. "Cut that out 18629. Just walk forward a few paces now."
Flater nodded taking a tentative step. Then another. A few more in. He then perceived that he was walking into a metal shaft much like one used on wild horses who needed branding or hoof trims. It was very tight. It smelled evil. Flater grunted, ears pinning closer to his head, and refused to budge another inch into that steel trap. Whiny Voice trotted over in irritation. "If you go in, things will be so much easier." Flater shook his head.
A sharp slap resonated through the air as Flater took a whipping. Through the blows, the hybrid mentally knew that this mild abrasion was a hundred times better than whatever awaited in the box. Eventually Whiny tired himself out. "You really leave me no other choice." He sighed, clattering off. Momentarily a metallic whirr hummed to life.
Flater's head pulled forward as the winch ate up the rope's slack. The hybrid clenched his tail in trepidation. He could not go in there! Flater set his legs apart focusing all of his weight into the ground. His head lowered until his neck stuck straight out. It seemed to work at first. But soon his hooves slid across the smooth floor. No! No! Please no... His front hooves caught against the entrance and he stopped sliding. Unfortunately the machine continued to pull his head with the mercy of a sledgehammer. Flater felt his head threaten to dislocate from his body, taught leg muscles also faring poorly. He had to do something. So he did what he'd learned to do best: give up. His shoulders, head, and spirit dropped as he moved into the metal contraption. The door clanged victoriously as it swung closed, just brushing his tucked tail. Flater started slightly at the abrupt noise.
"We're going to be here for a little while. Boss got caught up in a different thing." Whiny Voice sneered as he finished fastening Flater's lead rope. The hybrid's forehead pressed against a head-bar and his legs met the same fate but with vertical metal poles that made up the box's barred walls. The cold was actually semi-decent to have for smarting lash marks. Flater relaxed as Whiny Voice trundled about in boredom. "Ugh. Might as well tell you what this is about." The scientist's impatient steps drew closer. "As you already know, it's under the subject of 'Stupid Questions'. Pretty recently requested actually...but anyway. Our choice subject hasn't recovered well enough from their last endeavor to be the subject. Stupid reasoning, I'm well aware. All it asked was if removing a pony's Cutie Mark would kill them. So here we are!" Whiny Voice prodded Flater's mark. "Would you like to know what yours is? Before it's removed and all."
Flater nodded so hard he rattled the shaft. "Alright then. It's very nice compared to some of them I suppose. Your Cutie Mark is-"
"Let's get started!" The loudspeakers boomed to life. Whiny Voice yelped and ran off to his station. The sound was nearly deafening, so Flater squelched his disappointment and rising fear by tuning it out. He wasn't too worried about the whole procedure itself. Technology had come so far it should be nearly painless.
"Today we have test subject 18629 with a freshly earned Cutie Mark. Our study today should show, if any, side affects of having it removed. Due to the lack of funds and to add to your viewing pleasure the procedure shall be carried out with discarded printer acid. Please bear with this and take detailed notes for future filing."
Flater's blood turned to ice. This really couldn't be happening. He shook himself desperate to wake up from this nightmare. It was all in vain; Hoof steps approached him from both sides. He broke into a cold sweat as a defeated sob caught in his throat. This was it. All of his silent suffering led to his downfall. I regret it all. I regret being born.
Awaiting further instruction, the hoofsteps paused. Flater's nose picked up faint wisps of toxic-scented liquid. Even the smell burned his nasal passages. It was worse than Clorox! And it soon would be poured over his body. He trembled slightly as adrenaline slowly turned his brains to incomprehensible mush. Murmured words went right over his head or became garbled as Flater zoned out of the situation. The now fuzzy announcements went on for a few more minutes then went silent. A dazed and confused hybrid blinked groggily. Did they decide to postpone the whole thing? Why all the quiet?
A slight stinging sensation emitted from his flank area. He wiggled a tied leg to remove the supposed insect. It persisted, growing in volume. The acid carved easily through his thin pelt to reach the tender flesh underneath. Fire suddenly exploded from his sides; Little sparks of color spotting behind his eyes at the abrupt flame of pain. His head shot skyward as the scientists continued their torturous work, teeth clacking as the rope did not allow him to do so. Fire soon gave away to raw agony as they stopped pouring, letting the acid finish its course. His skin and tissue didn't have time to bleed before being burnt beyond repair. Still straining against his restraints, Flater's nostrils expanded to catch the scent of his own ruined flesh. He let out a primal hiss louder than the active chemicals. The crescendo rose into a full blown keen of mortal suffering, spiraling back to the plaintive howl of a dying animal. Adrenaline pulsed through his veins as he cried out every time fresh hurt washed over him. It was unbearable.
The scientists found his vocal complaints unbearable as well. As soon as the acid stopped bubbling on his injury, they unhitched the writhing creature. His vocalizations could demoralize already broken subjects more than necessary. They also discovered that a provoked, frightened, injured Changeling hybrid could not be easily reobtained. He reared and bucked, blindly striking out at his captors who caused him so much trauma. Flater succeeded in clocking a few in various locations. This angered the scientists even more. So they just waited for him to tire himself out. His shrieks were truly unearthly.
Flater backed into a corner, breathing hard. Sweat dripped from his hide, mingling with his open wounds. The acid had ceased pouring awhile ago but it still stung when he did anything. Even breathing hurt. For now, he focused on his clouded mind. He was so tired...all of his violent outbursts drained most of his energy reserves. Flater's head swam as the adrenaline wore off. He lowered it until his muzzle brushed the untied lead rope that lay dead-snake near his hooves. He swayed in exhaustion eyes drooping. Little spikes of pain pricked his flanks. I...I can't. Not anymore. If this is death approaching it is welcome. If it is a coma it is disappointing. Flater's mind blacked out while contemplating these factors.
"Sadly I just passed out." The hybrid sighed, deep in nostalgia. He killed some internal turmoil by eating a cupcake.
Pinkie Pie patted his pearly wing-shells comfortingly. "It's okay Flater! Nopony will ever dump acid on you here! Treehugger might try to sell you some but..."
"Debatable. But if he survived that he can survive anything." Rainbow Dash hovered midair to inspect his blemish. Flater resisted the urge to kick her away from it.
"I think he handled it quite well. We all appreciate your sacrifices to get where you are now." Twilight Sparkle beamed, nuzzling his cheek.
Flater's ears flattened. "Could you all maybe come in one at a time? I don't need a claustrophobia attack in the middle of Sugarcube Corner."
"Yea guys. How else can I tell him where Sugar Cane lives with all of you swarming?" Pinkie Pie huffed in mock anger.