"Hello! My name is Arctic and... you're just gonna walk right past me, excellent," I sigh. For a land with a reputation for being the most harmonious in the world these ponies were awfully rude. I have been trying all morning long to connect with at least one of these ponies only for the majority to look at me funny and continue walking without a word. As for the minority? Well it's a good thing I had a thick chitin when it comes to insults.
There's only so much rejection one can take before giving in and I have just reached mine. Now I'm just walking aimlessly down the street in defeat. A city full of thousands and I couldn't make a single friend and the left over emotions in the air were once again too mixed up to take in. Could anything else go wrong?
Oh right, I'm also starving with the only source of food stored in my ship next to that strange tower. Not that that did me any good right now as I'm completely lost in this labyrinth of a city.
Thoughts of the homeland once again invades my mind. I once viewed life there as routine and downright boring. There was only so much one could down in a small town of maybe a couple hundred ponies. Even when I moved back into the main hive I couldn't find satisfaction. Always lost in a dream of sailing across the ocean. Oh how I wish I could go back and beat some sense into my younger self.
No! I am not going to think like that. This isn't me at all. Sure I may be down and striking out right now, but I have done so in the past and always bounced right back up. I've even been told my tenacity was somewhat of an annoyance at times. Well then let me be the most annoying creature out here. I have an opportunity unlike any other before me and I'm gonna make the best of it. And so, I perk myself up and intercept the mare walking past me.
"Hi! My name is-"
Ick! That has to be the most sour flavored indifference I've ever tasted. Indifference isn't even suppose to be sour! One thing is for sure, these ponies could sure use some positivity. Hmm, now there's a thought. I stop to sit down on a nearby bench as I start to ponder. So far I have deemed this city unsuitable for a sub-hive and have even debated moving deeper into the countryside. But, maybe... just maybe the reason this place seems to be so unwelcoming is because there are no changelings here. In fact, I'm starting to recall some stories from the elders about how even the ponies on the homeland where highly not trusting of strangers until we changelings were able to integrate and slowly change their way of thinking. I will have to send a message to the queen to inquire her wisdom of such thoughts. Despite this path of thought though, it did not solve the problem of food; especially if these ponies were reluctant to establish direct links. Technically we could force direct links and drain the ponies for substance, but such a thing was highly forbidden by Queen Mother.
As I sit and think, I watch the passing ponies and observe their behavior. There must be something wrong with the way I'm trying to introduce myself and perhaps if I just sit and pony watch I can discover the secret of proper interaction with the city kind. I suddenly start noticing an interesting pattern. Not so much of what was being said, but rather where the majority of the ponies where heading. Though there were a few traveling every which way and some even entering nearby buildings, a large number of ponies appear to be walking on the same path and heading the same direction. It may be coincidental, sure, yet it was enough to get my curiosity flowing. As such, I got up from the bench and start following the herd.
As I walk along with the crowd I notice more and more ponies heading the same direction from multiple directions. Any doubt I had of this being pure coincidence is now completely banished from my head. After several minutes building came into sight that appears to be the destination of all the ponies. Though calling it simply a building doesn't seem to give it justice. It is more of a complex, and it is ginormous! It wasn't nearly as tall as any of the other spires in the city, but it took up much more space than any other structure. The closest comparison I could think of is an enlarged version of the theater squares back home. From this distance I could see a many rows of seats stretching several stories high just on the other side of the complex and curving to keep the view towards the center. Several gates marked the entrance of the brick complex where the ponies heading to the building lined up. As I came closer, I take note that the ponies would hoof over a ticket to the ponies standing guard at the gates. Once again, I draw a comparison to the theaters back home.
Not being a proprietor of such a ticket myself I stand a fair distance away to take in the sights and sounds. In doing so I make a surprising discovery. The emotions in the air were no longer as mixed as they were in the city proper. Instead, A strong flow of excitement and joy lingered all around in great strength and only growing stronger the closer to the complex I got. I admit that I may have gotten a little giddy myself as I took in the unexpected meal, my hunger finally being sedated. So much of a change this one area is that I simply must find a way inside to see what could raise a ponies emotion to such power and unity.
I find a medium size stall set up near the entrance that appears to be handing out the appropriate tickets to gain entry. Perhaps I could bargain my way into receiving one myself. I am confident in my abilities to haggle with others. I was raised in a market town after all, bartering is pretty much the first skill every pony gains. The fact that I myself am a changeling gives me a pretty great advantage to read the pony in order to get the best deal possible. With my ego raise to appropriate levels I enter the queue with an eager smile. It doesn't take long until I stand before the unicorn stallion handing out the tickets.
"Welcome to Circle Change Park!" He smiles.
"I wish to procure a ticket for entry my fair friend," I respond in kind, sharing my own smile. Excellent, I can feel his resolve wavering with... huh, is that amusement I taste? Sure enough, though the green pony in front of me looks bemused, he is definitely radiating the sweet taste of amusement. Looks like I'm dealing with a strange one here. Another ego boost should help my position. "And might I say that yellow mane of yours matches very well with your coat." Ick! I can't believe I just said green and yellow is a good combo. It has to be the worst color combination on the face of the planet. I feel the amusement suddenly drain from the stallion and be replaced with confusion and uncertainty. An unexpected result, but still achieved my goal of unbalancing the unicorn. This is becoming a bit too easy.
"Uh, thanks. I think? We only have upper deck seats left which will be 30 bits."
I openly scoff at the listed price. "Surely 15 bits is the better price for one measly ticket." I make a point to raise my head above his, puff out my chest, and close my eyes, keeping just a sliver of my right eye open to judge his reaction. Now is the moment where he accepts the challenge and makes a counterclaim.
"The ticket is 30 bits, no less." He scowls.
That threw me for a loop. Perhaps he is unaware that the battle of wits had begun? Or maybe I haven't talked him up enough to change his position? Hmm, maybe another stroke of his pride as well as a subtle hint is a must. I lift a hoof on the table and rest my head upon it, making sure I stare intently into the colt's eyes.
"Hey handsome, what's it going to take to receive a deal on these here tickets? Something special perhaps?" I bat my eyes at him, a trick I learned from watching the mares haggle back home. He must not have gotten what I was hinting at for his frustration and anger exploded from him in such passion that it causes me to stumble back a bit.
"Okay, listen here buddy! First of all, I do not swing that way! Second, the ticket is 30 bits! If you don't like the price then stop wasting my time and go away capisce?" Even with my ears pinned to my head his shouting nearly made me deaf. I wonder if I should ask what swings had to do with the current conversation, but his glare stops the words in my throat. Either way it was clear that the stallion did not understand the concept of bartering. Despite my annoyance at the fact, I couldn't help but feel pity for him. Without the ability to properly barter he will be run out of business very quickly. I let out a defeated sigh.
"Alright. 30 bits it is."
The stallion's anger dissipates into triumph as he holds out his hoof. A moment passes. Then another moment passes. As the third moment passes between us I sense his frustration return as he eyes me questioningly. At this point I rub my mane in embarrassment as I realize a slight issue with this whole situation.
"What are bits exactly?"
The pony lets out an exasperated whinny. A deep frown emerges as his brows narrows dangerously. He is very, very angry. I gulp as sweat rains from my face.
I was able to escape the wrath of the unicorn during the middle of his rant about foreigners. I then proceeded to try to find other ways into the complex without a ticket. My last attempt was simply to try to fly over the gate and enter via air. I was tackled out of the air by a couple of fairly big security guards and taken to a their nearby station for questioning. They ask me simple things such as why I attempted to infiltrate the stadium, was I attempting to disrupt the game, was I part of a terrorist organization. The usual line of questioning. I'm actually on my way out of the station after having successfully snuck out in the middle of the guards rant about pegasuses. Pegasi? It's not important. Though I am starting to wonder if ranting is a common occurrence for ponies round here.
I am making my way back to the front of the stadium when I spot movement on the corner of my eye. I find another entrance flanked by two guards with a sigh which dictates authorized personnel only. A small group of 4 slightly overweight ponies stand just outside with each wearing a plain black shirt with a black ball cap. All except one that is. Though I can't quite make out what is being said, I do get a hint of embarrassment from the unclothed pony as well as annoyance from the other three. I watch in surprise as the three black-shirted ponies walk through the entrance without security even sparing a glance in their direction. The last remaining pony quickly trots away from the gate and passes me. I get a strong sense of urgency from him as well as some sort of mumbling about forgetfulness.
Sensing an opportunity, I start making quick notes on the stallions appearance. Earth pony, brown coat, white diamond on forehead, light brown mane and tail, cutie mark of a whistle, and extra furry hooves which are an even lighter brown in color. How very... average. I could nearly confuse him with an uninspired changeling coming up with their first form. I look around to check if the coast is clear before I dip into a nearby alleyway and shift forms. I try my best to mimic the low gaze of the stallion as I mutter incoherent words while trotting up to the gate. As expected, the guards let me pass through without even so much of a glance in my direction. In fact, the most reaction I got was the stallion guard muttering something about a river made of frosting while the mare guard mentioned something about frosted covered stallions.
infiltration very legal method of entrance a success I begin to navigate the long twisting (yet very homely) tunnels of the complex. I don't get far before I hear voices coming around a nearby corner. Wishing to avoid as much contact as possible, I urgently open a nearby door and rush in. In retrospect, I should have looked before doing so as to save the embarrassment of crashing into several cleaning apparatuses and being buried alive by several black shirts. Then again, this could have been a lucky break for me. I remember the group of ponies this form were also wearing these shirts. With the thought of bettering my already impressive disguise, I slip on one of the shirts. Now if only I could find a hat, then my disguise would be absolute perfection.
After hearing the voices past the door I exit the closet and check the hallway. With the coast clear, I once again walk down the dull hallway. I reach the end of the current hallway and come across another door with a sign marked "Officials Only". With the only other option being to backtrack I instead decide to peak inside. I find an empty room with multiple lockers. All of them are clear outside of one where a strange mask with numerous metal bars lays. I walk over and pick up the mask in curiosity. I'm not sure why, but some part of me is familiar with it's purpose though I have trouble placing it.
Suddenly, the door opens behind me. I turn around and my face pales. Standing right in front of me is the very same pony I am currently disguised as. I feel his confusion and panic wash over me which does nothing to help my own raising panic. Despite this, we just stand there, facing each other as if we're both hoping the other isn't real. Several moments stretch out without even a hint of movement before I decide to make the opening move.
"Hi?" I cautiously ask with a nervous smile.
The stallion, upon hearing his own voice coming from my form, wobbles a little in place before his eye rolls back into his head and falls face first on the floor. This is not good. In hindsight, once I had entered the building, I probably should have reverted forms. Too late to look upon that now. I spy a couch in the middle of the room and carefully pick up and lay the pony down on it. With any luck, when he wakes he'll just think he had a nightmare. I make to leave this place behind when I notice a mirror in one of the lockers. I blink. Orbs of pink and purple blink back at me. I move back to the couch and lift the eyelids of the out cold stallion. Both are brown.
"Ok, this is just getting ridiculous. I can't be that bad with eyes!" I despair.
I hear the door start to open again and in a rush of panic I instinctively grab the nearby mask and place it on my head in hope of hiding my mistake. Instead of, you know, simply fixing the color of my eyes. I make a mental note to bang my head repeatedly after I get out of here. The three black-shirted ponies enter the room. I sense relief upon spotting me.
"There you are Blue!"
I quickly try to piece together a masterfully put toge- wait... Blue? The brown stallion on the couch behind me name is Blue! I... what? Baffled, I didn't notice one of the ponies walk behind me until they started pushing me towards the door.
"Come on Blue! I get this is your first time and you're nervous and all, but the game is about to start and it can't without you."
As I'm dragged against my will towards the door, I can't help but think what kind of mess I got myself into. With my escape cut off, I finally find my motion control again and follow the lead of the other three ponies. We take multiple turns in the tunnel system heading deeper and deeper into the complex. And then I hear it. The cheers of thousands of ponies at once. The air sparking with the sense of anticipation. Turning the last corner I see the light of the outside filtering through a large opening. We emerge from the tunnel; what I sense can not be put into words. Before us is large field of grass. On the other end I spy a dirt track in a cone like shape with a mound of dirt in the middle and white lines extending on the far sides of the shape. Beyond that were the stands which were visible on the outside, filled to the brim with ponies of all types saturating the atmosphere with joy, and admiration. So much emotion is being poured out that I swear it could feed the entire hive for months if not years!
I turn my attention back to the field we are crossing. It takes me a minute of pondering the familiar terrain when a spark stirs my memories. Images of foals from the market towns back home playing on a similar field tossing a small white ball. Yes, I know this game. What was it called again? I remember the pure innocence and joy emitting from the foals as they rounded the bases in triumph. Ah, that's right. The game is called rounders. I have never seen a game being played on a scale such as this though.
As we reached what I will find out later is called the pitcher mound, the copper mare that dragged me out of the room from earlier huddled us up.
"Alright, here are the jobs for today's game. I'll be working first base today." She points at the red stallion on my right. "Sharp Sight will be on second base." She swivels her hoof to the violet mare to my left. "Violet will be on third base." She finally points her hoof on me. "Blue will be on home plate. Everypony good with this?" I gulp, but nod my head in acceptance.
"Hey, don't worry too much about it. Remember you were trained for this," Sharp Sight says.
Violet gives me an encouraging smile before heading towards third base. Sharp Sight turns and motions to the dugouts as he trots to second base. Leaving me with a glaring copper pegasus mare. I try to give my own reassuring smile, but the grin may have been a little too wide. She then pokes her hoof firmly on my chest.
"Don't screw this up for us you hear?"
I energetically nod my head. I let out my breath as she makes her way to first base. As both teams enter the field I hear the crowd behind let out a mighty roar of admiration. I slowly trot to home plate wondering what to do. There is absolutely no escape from this developing nightmare. I will have to survive the game before I can leave. I take my place behind home plate and the first batter walks into the batter's box. I take note of the grey and blue uniform of the batter with the words Canterlot Monarchs written across his barrel. The other team wears a white pinstripe uniform with red trimmings and the name Manehatten Loyalists. I take a deep breath. I have watched a pick-up game of rounders before and am familiar with the rules. It is my job to call if a pitch was a ball or strike. This will be easy.
A light blue, grey mane pegasus takes the picture mound and stretches his wings. With a nod to the catcher just in front of me the pitcher grasps the ball in his wings and readies the pitch. With exaggerated motion he throws the ball.
What just happened? I could have sworn I saw the ball for a split second before it disappeared. I notice the catcher glove is raise over the home plate. Did he catch it? Can a pony truly throw a ball that fast? Silence dominates the stadium as the crowd eagerly awaits my call. The taste of confusion fill my senses as both batter and catcher tilt their heads as they stare at me. I spy the copper pony over at first wave a hoof erratically trying to get me to speed up. I myself am completely baffled. I slowly close my jaw as I try to decipher what to do next. I need to make a call, but will it be the right one. I hesitantly lift my right hoof and stretch it to the right.
I jump slightly as the crowd lets out an euphoric applause at my call. I am flooded by the appreciation being directed at me. It is both overwhelming and empowering. Every single doubt and fear in me is getting replaced in full by overconfidence. The pitcher even adds in his own nod as the catcher tosses the ball back. I can do this after all.
The crowd quiets down as the pitcher takes his stance again. With another nod, he readies the pitch and throws a heater just above the zone.
"STRIKE!" I turn to the crowd and lift a hoof high above my head. "TWO!" The crowd roars again and fills me up with another dose of positive emotion. I give a slight bow in appreciation and turn back to the pitcher mound. I feel a little foggy in the head, but I pay no heed to it. I am on my game. In fact, I'm pretty sure I know exactly how the next pitch is going to turn out. As the pitcher releases the ball I'm on the call.
"Three! Three! Three!"
This time I make sure to perform a full jig for the crowd as they erupt again. The struck out batter face red in anger as he glares me down. I do not care for him, those who strike out looking aren't worth my time. I do seek out the other umpires for additional positive reinforcement. Violet has a hoof on her muzzle with wilted ears. Sharp Sight is on the ground laughing. I didn't dare look at the copper one as I could feel her anger all the way over here. Some part of my brain suggest that I tone it down going forward and I take the advice from my survival instinct to heart. And so the ball game continues.
Nothing too eventful happens for the next 5 innings. Every called strike was greeted with more and more positive emotion which, I must admit, did perhaps just slightly completely impair my judgement skills. It was an imminent result as I am completely full and the excess emotion being directed at me has to go somewhere. I did discover that calling a pitch a ball had an extreme opposite reaction from the crowd. Not wanting to experience waves of negative emotion like that again I made it a point to call more strikes than balls. Yet, when it went to the bottom of the inning I found the ponies giving the opposite reactions. Preferring more balls being called over strikes. I kept this in mind as the game progressed. I also found that every ball thrown by the Monarchs tended to be very sticky. I sniffed at one of the balls and found the substance to be pine tar. I was puzzled as to why the pitcher wanted to put himself into a disadvantage by covering the ball in tar, but I suppose that's why I'm not a pitcher myself. I still think, however, that the Loyalist pitcher method of sanding the balls to be a more effective method.
Things became heated in the 6th inning. Before the current Loyalist batter could enter the box the opposing manager rushes onto the field. In the resulting conversation I have he claims that the home team is using something called corked bats. I do not understand how that can be a problem, but I do investigate the matter to satisfy him. I take one of the bats used by the Manehatten team and break open the bat. I am fascinated to discover that bats are apparently hollowed out. Although I do spy what appears to be styrofoam inside, I do not discover the cork that the manager is complaining about. Being annoyed at him for wasting everypony's time, I promptly eject him from the game. This is followed by another wave of praise from the crowd. Honestly, I am surprised I can still walk properly at this point.
A few more at bats later and we reach what I will learn later is called the 7th inning stretch, It is in this stretch when I become witness to one of the most amazing, most awe-inspiring moment in my young life. It starts with an announcement.
"Fillies and gentlecolts. Please put your hooves together and join us in singing "Take me out to the Ballgame".
Then the organ located near the top of the stadium begins playing. I sit on my rump, slack-jawed, as I hear the voice of thousands of ponies join together to sing in unison.
Take me out to the ballgame
Take me out to the crowd
Buy me some peanuts and crackerjack
I don't care if I never get back
So it's root, root, root for the home team
If they don't win, it's a shame
It's one, two, three strikes you're out
At the old ballgame
The crowd erupts in cheers as the singing fades away. I am left on the field, unable to hold back the tears of witnessing such a display of unity. It is the final wave of emotion my body can take. My head is swimming, unable to make sense of my surroundings as my stomach starts to ache. With neither team yet taking the field, I wobble my way to the entrance of the tunnels. As I reach the secluded hallway I drop the mask on the ground. Unable to hold on anymore my disguise fades away in a brilliant torrent of pink hued flames. I wander aimlessly through the tunnels and somehow end up outside the door of the umpires' locker room. I cautiously open the door and hobble my way to the couch to check on the pony. To my surprise I find the couch unoccupied. With my brain still out of order, I am unable to form a connection of what this could mean and instead plop myself on the soft surface of the coach and let out a moan of ill comfort. I find myself start to drift off to sleep. Right before I fell completely out cold I hear the crack of a bat as well as the vibrating cheers of thousands.
Guess the other pony found his way back to the game. That's good. Then I blackout.
I got lucky. So very, very lucky. I was lucky nopony noticed my mismatched eyes. Lucky that nopony was in the hallway when I dropped my disguise. Lucky that the true umpire went with the flow and didn't question how he woke up with the game nearing its end. And so very, very lucky that I managed to wake up and exit the stadium unnoticed before the end of the game. I will never, ever pull such a risk like that again. I will even go as far as to say I will never take another form other than my own from now on.
I am now back on my beached ship tending to my massive headache. Never before have I had to manage so much positive emotion in my life. Apparently there are consequences for taking in more than one can handle. I'll have to keep this in mind going forward. Those stadiums are great harvesting and feeding grounds though. They will have to be taken in moderation to avoid potential conflict. Who knows how these ponies could react to a new species being revealed in such a public location. I will have to find a way to acquire these so called bits in order to properly enter an event. I also need to judge the feeding potential when none of the emotions of the game are truly being directed at me as well.
Ugh. I'm thinking too much. It still feels like my brain is on fire. I am filled with hope, however, for the sporting events themselves could properly sustain not just a sub-hive, but the main hive itself. With this discovery it is possible that every changeling will never know the feeling of hunger ever in their lives. I must get a message to the queen, but first I must rest. It will be nigh impossible to send a message through the link with such a pounding feeling in my head.
"I will never, ever overfeed ever again," I mutter.
I send great news back to the hive. I have made landfall on the lands across the great ocean. I am currently residing in a city called Manehatten. The city is truly a mighty sight to behold with spires towering just as high, or even higher than our own. The city itself, I estimate, spans about the size of three or four pony market villages found on the homeland with 100 times the amount of ponies present.
I am unfortunate to announce that contact and communication with the ponies of this land have been met with absolute failure. It appears that the reports of these ponies being highly hospitable may be over exaggerated. However, I have not ruled out the possibility of establishing a sub-hive. In fact, I believe to have uncover a suitable harvesting ground ten times stronger than any current existing grounds. I will continue to observe this ground and the surrounding city, but my initial thoughts are that these grounds outweigh any risk associated with establishing a sub-hive in an unfriendly area.
I again offer my thanks for the funding of this journey of mine. In a show of absolute appreciation I will work harder than ever before in service of the hive. I eagerly await your wisdom on the matters presented.
I'm not sure if this will work over such a long distance link, but with this message I am sending images of the potential feeding grounds as well as a sample of the emotions gathered from the location.
If I may make a request please give my love to my immediate family and tell them I miss them.