If any pony were to attempt to describe the myriad of emotions that currently plagued Natalya, the best analogy they could come up with is that of Zecora's pot, full of Celestia knows what and bubbling away violently without any indication of when it would burst.
Like Zecora's pot, a combination of fear, curiosity, despair, hope, and anger were all tossed in together in varying volumes, slowly bubbling away and threatening to spill over as they jostled with one another violently within Natalya.
It was just...she didn't know how to feel. Things were moving too quickly for her own liking, what with the alien named Houston suddenly speaking in her language, the revelation that she may never fly again, and the fleeting sense of hope that her wings could be restored, as long as she stuck to her side of the deal.
And therein lies the problem. The deal she made with Houston.
Despite a griffin's almost instinctive nature to be self-preserving and selfish, Natalya couldn't help but feel that by making this decision with Houston, she was not only betraying her self-integrity, but also the wider world. For the first time in her life, she felt like the responsibility that was forced into her talons were too much for her to handle. Houston may act all nice and all to her but in her eyes, he was still an alien whose full capabilities for violence was unknown. What she did know was that he somehow saved her from a full-grown Quarrey Eel Matriarch, the question of how he did it still gnawed at her, and only further the fear that she already had towards him.
Natalya sighed and held onto the mug of tea he'd given her ever more tightly. No, she shouldn't be thinking like this. She should calm down and instead focus on being a better guest. Whatever intentions the alien had for her, so far he has been extremely accommodating, making her both dinner and now breakfast. She could at least be grateful that she could still enjoy food and not be currently in an Eel's stomach.
Speaking of Houston, the bipedal alien sat with his back to her, facing the campfire and stared intently at a small black pot nested in the flames, which he stirred constantly. He would occasionally pause and take a swing from his own mug of tea which he kept to his side. Since she couldn't see what he was actually making, she devised a small game for herself to play; in which she would attempt to figure out what he was making based on the smell and the consistency in which he stirred his metal spatula.
So far, she guessed that it was something cheese-based. What type it is, though, remains up for debate. Ricoltta? Parmaresan? Mulenster?
He finally turned around and slide himself next to her, passing over a plate of steaming yellow paste in front of her. Using the spoon given to her, she poked around its mushy content, confirming that is was indeed cheese and pasta.
"Is this Mac' N Cheese?" asked Natalya as she watched the cheese slowly slide itself off her spoon in long strands.
"Yep" replied Houston simply as he pulled his own plate towards him and promptly began to dig in.
Following suit, Natalya began to eat from her plate as well, slowly at first but going faster and faster as her mind blanked to the amazing taste of the food. If she were to best describe it, she would say that its flavor was something completely out of her world; creamy, salty, sweet, bitter. A literal palate of flavors condensed into every spoonful she put into her mouth.
"How is this sooo good?" moaned Natalya as she licked her spoon clean every time before scooping up a new spoonful.
"Ha, you call preservatives good?" scoffed Houston while rolling his eyes.
"No way is that true" she stared back at him incredulously as her mood dampened slightly.
"Oh yes, in fact..." Houston frowned as he examined the lime-green box which he used, "This batch is a good two hundred years old. Don't be put off by that fact, cause it's still edible"
"Okay..." Taking his word for what it was, she continued to feast off her plate while he set his half-finished plate down to drink his tea.
"Right, I'll start off first" He slowly sipped his tea while she nodded in response. "Where am I? By that, I mean the bigger picture. What's is this world called? What nations are out there?"
"Hmm..." Natalya contemplated for a moment as she thought back to standard geography lessons back at the orphanage in which she came from. Despite the lack of enthusiasm from both the learning and teaching bodies, most were still able to at least pass, only to forget most of it down the line anyways. Natalya just so happened to be one of the lucky few that bothered to remember anything, even then that was stretching it severely. "If you are referring to the landmass in which we sit on..., then it is called Equestria. It is by far the largest continent on the planet, though there are a number of smaller landmasses surrounding it as well. Nationwide, there's the obviously named Kingdom of Equestria, Yakyakistan, Abyssinia, the Crystal Empire, the Changeling Kingdom, the Hippogriff Kingdom, and the United Arabian States made up of Monacolt, Saddle Arabia, Mustangia, Maretonia, Maretania, and Shire Lanka.
She paused for a moment to gauge the expression on his face, who just looked back with raised eyebrows.
"Then there's my home..." she chewed the insides of her mouth before spitting out bitterly, "...the Griffin Kingdom"
"Interesting" Houston said as he jotted down what she said on a piece of scrap paper, "Quite an extensive world you have here. I'll have to ask you more about this later. For now, your turn"
Scrapping off the last of the food from her plate, she washed all the cheese down with her mug before wiping her beak with her forearm.
"What are you?" asked Natalya. "Out of all the creatures in my world, the closest thing you look like is a minotaur. Even then, that's stretching it by quite a bit. So could you tell me what you are and some traits about you?"
"What am I, huh?" repeated Houston slowly, scratching his chin, "That's a good question to ask and an equally hard one to respond to."
He stopped for the moment, musing on her question before breaking into his monologue.
"I am part of a species known as Homo Sapiens, or Humans, for short. We originate from the planet Earth, once a lush and beautiful place filled to the brim with resources, now reduced to a shithole infested with an invisible poison called Radiation. This poison infects the land as well as both the oceans and the air. It reacts with animals and humans alike, creating some rather...colorful and terrifying monsters in the process. It's these monsters that we have to share the Earth with, not exactly easy when they have a plethora of weapons inbuilt on their bodies and the best we have is a rusty piece of a tire iron. But we persevere, and if I were to answer your question on traits, I'll say we have two. One is the ability to create amazing weapons when we are placed under a situation of extreme danger. The second is our stubborn inability to die out"
"Wow...you human creatures sound pretty cool" exclaimed Natalya while Houston just waved her off with a dismissive shrug.
"Nah, we're a bunch of bastards in all actuality," said Houston, "Go to my home and you'll see that no one cares for anyone else other than themselves. Your neighbors are just as eligible to shoot you in the back and steal your shit as they are to help you. In fact, the only true person you can trust is yourself"
"Still..." she frowned as she considered the things that he told her. In all honesty, his race pretty much sounded like a mirror identical copy of her own race. She couldn't help but feel a sense of respect for the alien in front of her, "I still think you're pretty cool. I mean you saved me."
"Yeah, whatever. But I still made a contract out of it afterward. My turn now" said Houston dismissively, "What about you? What kind of creature are you?"
"Well, I'm a Griffin if you didn't already figure that out from where I come from" She gnashed her beak as she struggled to come up with an appropriate description of her species. Truthfully everything Houston said about his own race accurately summarised her's as well. "Most Griffins can trace their heritage back to the 'illustrious' Griffin Kingdom"
The sarcasm in her voice wasn't missed by Houston, who quickly picked up on it.
"Why do you speak of your home with such venom?" asked Houston.
"Because it's a shithole. Perhaps it's like yours. The worst part is we caused it by ourselves. Our kingdom at the height of its power spanned the entire Griffonian continent and several small archipelagoes. While not as large as the Kingdom of Equestria, we dominated in terms of economics and technology. For generations, we held that position, until the loss of our stupid idol and the death of our last king, Guto. Since then wars, internal fighting, corruption, and general Griffin behavior have left us teetering on the edge of collapse. Most of our territories have been lost to foreign powers and the rest is divided amongst several independent Griffin clans. The 'true' Griffin Kingdom is really just one city and forty thousand Griffins packed into it"
"You make it sound like a cesspool. Don't you have a government? A king? You are a 'kingdom' after all, aren't you?"
"Once Guto died, that was the end of the royal bloodline. We've only kept the name because we were too lazy to change it. In terms of lifestyle, we generally live miserable lives in semi-anarchy. There is a provisional government who ensures that the markets keep flowing, but they are all corrupt as Tartarus and don't really care what happens outside of their luxury birdhouses"
"Amazing..." Houston said it with clear astonishment, making Natalya slight proud inside. It's not every day that someone compliments the Griffin lifestyle. Heck, most of the world even refers to the current Griffin Kingdom as the 'Sick bird of Griffonia'! It's only by the sheer influence of the Princess's in enforcing their ideals of Harmony, that the rest of the world hasn't carved up the already dying Kingdom.
"I'm surprised that your shitty society hasn't already collapsed in on itself. By the way that you describe it, it's the perfect breeding grounds for murderers and thieves"
And there goes her moment of joy.
"We used to kill and steal from each other, but once we figure no one was going to clean up the bodies we all mutually agreed to stop out of convenience sake" mumbled Natalya sadly. Despite the slight pang in her heart, she knew she couldn't disagree with the way he saw her society. Modern historians to this day are amazed at how the fractured kingdom is even able to stay together after so much internal conflict. Such an achievement was not something Natalya found much please in boasting about.
Seeing how depressed Natalya looked, Houston gave an awkward cough in his hand before gesturing to her.
"Your turn now, I guess?" he said hopefully.
"How did you save me?" Houston's mood lifted slightly as he saw the growing optimism in her eyes. It seems this was a question that she'd been longing to ask him for quite a while. "Did you also happened to see some other Griffins in the area?"
Seriously, what is wrong with her? Why is she being so concerned about her half-sister and their meat-headed teammate? Griffins are supposed to look out for themselves, not each other! Did it have to take a near death experience to make her start acting like a pony?!
"In all honesty, It was a stroke of luck that saved you. Not me" said Houston as he leaned forward to refill both of their cups with hot tea. "Had ED-E not been in the area and picked you up with his upgraded sensors, we most likely would have missed you"
Oh luck, you incredible bastard. Natalya internally cried out in joy as she once more praised whatever being above that was keeping her luck going.
"Oh..." Natalya replied softly as she reached out and grabbed the nearby floating metal ball. Placing it level with her eyes, she had to admit that it looked rather cute, what with its various little sensors and its weird face. "Thank you..."
As she brought it to her chest to hug, the little machine gave what she believed to be an appreciative beep in response.
"Yes, yes. Moving on" Houston gave a small smile in their general direction. "ED-E and A L P H A provided covering laser fire while I tried to go in and pulled you out. Surprise, surprise, plans went to shit quickly and we had to compromise on the spot. A L P H A held the creature's jaws open, I shoved a plasma grenade down its throat, ED-E stunned it, and A L P H A finished it off by pushing back into the canyon to blow up"
As Natalya stared at him in shock, he took the opportunity to sit back and sip his tea before continuing on. "As for the next one. That technically counts as two questions, but I'll let it slide because it's a short one. To put it simply, no. I saw, and in particular, saved no other creature than you"
Houston sat there and sipped his tea, unaware of the mind-blank he had just given his Griffin guest. On one hand, she was both equally glad and worried about the presumed fate of her teammates. If he had not seen them, then there was a good chance that they were either eaten or got out, but in a different area from her. On the other hand, she was awestruck and terrified at the alien that sat right next to her. The fact that he and his companions took down a full-grown Quarry Eel Matriarch and shrugged it off as nothing, based on the way he nonchalantly sipped his tea, speaks volumes to the immense power that these foreign aliens were hiding.
"Speaking of creatures, when you told me about the various factions in your world, you mentioned a few of interest. What is this about changelings and hippogriffs?"
"Huh? I'm sorry?" Natalya broke out of her stupor, missing most of the question he asked her.
"What other creatures are out there? What is the dominant lifeform? Specifically, the intelligent ones" asked Houston.
"Well...there's the hippogriffs, though they keep shifting forms so it's pretty hard to pinpoint what they are 'exactly' at this point. Then there are changelings, some bug-thingy that can replicate the forms of others--even other species if they choose to do so" She scratched her head as she tried to remember some other ones, "Ehh, Minotaurs is another one. Abyssinians, which are just cat-people. Yaks, which are well, yaks. Dragons, which are dragons. But..."
"If you want the main dominant species...then it would have to be the ponies. The Kingdom of Equestria, the Crystal Empire and the U.A.S are pretty much their domain"
She paused to look up and see his confused expression.
"Ponies? As in the extinct creature known as a horse? How is a mere horse the dominant lifeform when I've seen plenty of other creatures on this planet much more biologically superior than a horse ?"
"Oh yeah? Like who?"
"You, for example," pointed out Houston before jabbing his thumb in the general direction of the Ghastly Gorges, "And those monsters in the canyons. Your body is built like a predator, strong and flexible, while your wings give you an aerial advantage over a mere horse"
"Well, thanks for saying that but it's not as a simple" she had to admit, she felt quite a bit of pride when he complimented her, "These ponies are actually divided into three sub-categories. You've got Unicorns, Pegasi and Earth ponies"
To her surprise, Houston didn't seem as shocked to that revelation like she thought he would. He instead just snorted sarcastically and sat back to rub his forehead.
"Guess I should've seen that coming. Considering I'm talking to a Griffin of all things, let me guess is there the bullshit known as 'magic' in this world? Seeing as how you have unicorns?" He really seemed to emphasize the term 'magic' with clear venom in his voice, making sarcastic gestures with his claws.
"Yeah?" answered Natalya in an unsure tone. Houston sighed and pushed his mug away.
"Great...just my luck. A world where horses are the dominant lifeform and 'magic' exists. What. The. Fuck. Is this a 'Tæles of Chivalrie' comics book gone bad?"
"D-do you hate magic?" asked Natalya curiously.
"I. abhor. magic" He looked at her with a frown in his face. "I'm a man of science, not of the fantasy. And magic is definitely fantasy. It is a scamming technique used to bedazzle and mystify the ignorant with spectacles of light and loud bangs. It may look spectacular, but underneath its really a complex illusion that profits off the stupidity of people"
"What you are talking about is showbiz magic" explained Natalya, "In our world ponies use it extensively as a tool to manipulate the weather and the planet to sustain life"
"Greaaat," said Houston with even more venom now, "Another reason for me to hate magic. It breaks the laws of the universe and makes things too easy. Why work through sweat, blood, and tears when you could just solve it with a poof of magic? Magic makes the process of progress through experimentation mundane. It confirms the hypothesis without the method. It devalues concepts such as reliability, validity, usefulness, and accuracy. It's too, what's the word..., unfair"
"I don't agree with most of the things you are saying. But I do agree with you when you said that magic can be unfair" said Natalya, "I mean, the pony's diarchy moves the sun and the moon. Can you believe how unfair that is? Pretty much life on this world depends on the two of them, which isn't so bad if they stayed neutral in politics. Instead, they rule the largest nation on the planet together, making the rest of us curry favors with them to survive."
"Can't any other creature use magic?"
"Hippogriffs and Changelings can. But...no, we Griffins cannot" If Natalya actually had any sadness as she said it, she skillfully hid it behind a mask of apathy. "That's why back in the days there were so many wars between the majority of species in the world and the ponies. The pony's natural affinity for magic made them pretty easy to hate, considering how they would flaunt how they could easily solve things while the rest of us couldn't. While they manipulated the weather whenever they wanted, the rest of us had to endure through famines and droughts on our own. While they solved every one of their problems with a simple spell, the rest of us had to innovate our way around it with technology"
"They hoarded their magic?"
"Pretty much" shrugged Natalya, "These days they are much more lax about it, using their magic wherever they can to help, mostly in part due to the princess's philosophy of Harmony. But there is still some lingering resentment amongst the species towards the ponies. It doesn't help that they own most of the land mass, and as I said before, control the sun and the moon.
Natalya watched with piqued interest as she watched him sit back. He had that look on his face that indicated he was doing something more than just thinking. No, rather he was strategizing, planning out his actions; something commonly seen across the faces of Griffins as they interacted with other creatures. To a Griffin, every conversation was like bartering, so over time most of them developed a second-nature ability to observe body language.
"This complicates things..." Natalya could see Houston literally chew one of the digits on his claw.
"It complicates how I'm going to act with the ponies" replied Houston, "I pretty much have to play nice with a bunch of talking animals"
"What about me?"
"You're different. You don't use magic. Talking to these ponies will be harder cause I have to hold back my...disdain of magic"
"Yeeeah...about that..." Natalya tapped the headset that she currently wore, "I've been thinking. These things are nice and all, but they only work for one person at a time. Quite a problem if you are considering talking to a large crowd"
"I know that," the bipedal alien grumbled, "But I currently don't have any other ideas for talking with large crowds. Either I make a shitload more of those headsets, or I..."
He trailed off as he stared into the distance, particularly his robot ED-E. Natalya watched at him with interest as she saw the muscles near his forehead tensing up, indicating he was thinking rather hard on something.
"I may have an idea..." said Houston slowly, "But it will be arduous and this will mean...he...is coming back"
"Don't worry about that" Houston waved her off dismissively and gestured her over to his spaceship, "Come...looks like breakfast is done for now. We'll continue our conversation on the plane, you can look at the Auto-Doc and whatever else catches your fancy. I'll get started on my next project"
"I can see the device that will fix my wings?" Now Natalya was getting excited.
"Yep, just keep talking to me and I promise I will" Houston reached down and helped Natalya get up with his arms. Helping her limp as she walked side-by-side with him, her body pressed against his, the two of them eventually reached the entrance to the plane which Houston opened for Natalya.
"You gentleman, you" Natalya playfully punched him on the shoulder in appreciation. Houston just smiled as he helped her fit through the narrow framework before squeezing himself in with her. As the heavy metal door closed behind the two of them, they both remained blissfully unaware of the creatures slowly inching towards their camp.