Pandemic: Desert Getaway

by Cosmic Eclipse

"Just a Normal Everyday Vacation..."

“Do you think we’re forgetting anything?! I feel like we’re forgetting something!” Silver frantically paced around his office, his now cold cup of coffee sitting off to the side, long forgotten. 

“Silver, they’re just coming here to give us some help, not actually vacation. Do you really need to stress about this so much?”

“Well… well no, I guess I don’t,” he answered, jumping up to fly over to the window of his office and look out nervously. “But first impressions mean everything! These three could honestly give us so much useful information! Not to mention this whole trip is on Sunset’s dime…”

“The whole city is under construction. We can’t make everything shiny and perfect just for them. They’re coming here because they already know that you guys need help, I don’t think they’re even remotely expecting perfection.”

“I… Well… alright fine, you’re right.” he conceded, returning to the floor.

She smirked. “I don’t want to say I told you so, but just relax a bit okay? You’ve woken us up way earlier than usual, you’re overthinking everything.” She yawned and walked over to the window, squinting her eyes shut at the afternoon sun. “I’ve got to get some work done down at the observatory so I can’t stick around just to make sure you’re not over stressing yourself over nothing. It’s good to get out of your comfort zone every once in a while, but you have to relax and pretend like these are just some new friends visiting on vacation like everypony else.”

“I… I’ll try.”

“Try harder, you’re the director and you need to learn how to deal with the stress, and that means without me being here to hold your hoof and tell you sweet things to make you feel better. We’ve got a foal on the way remember? It’s only going to get even more stressful from here on out so you better get used to managing it while you still have the time to.”

“You’re right…” he walked over towards her, “Maybe I’d be less worried if I knew what Sunset’s goal was for covering it all. Tonya jumped really quickly at the opportunity.”

“It’s just a good faith gesture. You know how Sunset likes to wine and dine influential ponies, get into their good graces with gifts and favors. Same way humans do.”

“I know, it’s just not her usual method. Every deal we’ve made with her has had some catch to it, this is the first time that she’s asked nothing in return.”

She shrugged, “You don’t have to question everything Silver, it’s not really your problem to deal with at this point.”

“I know, I know. I just want everything to work out.”

“If you know then I’ll leave you be, I’d love to spend the rest of the day with you but I need to go get some work done while I still can, and you need to stop agonizing over stress induced conspiracies.”

“Thanks Scarlet, sorry for keeping you away from your new telescope, I know how excited you are and I’ll come by to check it out the moment I get back.”

The two hugged each other goodbye. “Well you better not keep Marcus waiting, he’s the only one that can drive you down there right now.”

“I’ll see you later Scarlet, have fun in your astrology wonderland.”

“And you have a nice ride down to Phoenix, Silver. Tell our guests I’m sorry I couldn’t be there to greet them.” 

He chuckled and trotted over to the waiting van, warmly greeting Marcus as he stepped in.

“All set to go boss?” Marcus asked.

“Sure am Marcus, got everything ready?”

“I sure do, I’ve got the minibar all stocked, even snagged some of those fruity drinks you love so much.”

His eyes widened at the thought of the refreshing mango beverage. “Wait really!? I’m not going to lie, I could really use one right now.”

Marcus eyed him with obvious concern. “Nervous?”

“Yeah— is it really that obvious?”

“I mean you’re sweating like crazy and keep trailing off like you do when you’re nervous about something. Silver… Silver?”

“Mango—,” his eyes lost focus and he licked his lips. “Huh? Oh sorry, I was daydreaming again.” He absently said as he shook his head to clear his thoughts.

“Yep. You’re nervous.” He reached into the back and grabbed a drink. “Here, just chill out, and enjoy the ride, okay?”

“Th..thanks Marcus,” he replied nervously and used his teeth to twist off the top of the bottle and start sipping away at the sweet beverage as he tried to just let his thoughts and worries melt away.”

Silver nervously paced around the baggage claim, carefully scanning the crowd that was currently flooding through. It was mostly humans, but every so often he’d see small groups of ponies make their way with the crowd. He desperately wanted to fly above the wall of tall humans to get a better vantage point, but the no flying warning signs scattered throughout the terminal were enough to quickly dash those plans. 

Marcus glanced down at the nervous night pony from his spot against the wall. “Silver, you gotta take it down a few notches, security’s been giving you some strange looks and I don’t think they really have the patience to deal with a frantic night pony.”

“I know… I just want to make sure we give them a good impression, this is like one of the biggest hurdles we’ve needed to get over and they could be the ones to help us do that.”

“Yeah? Well they sure won’t be able to do much if you get yourself tossed outta here.” He straightened up and walked over to him, lowering down to a knee and getting to his eye level. “Hey, I know you want to make a good first impression but you just need to take it easy, relax a little. Want me to go grab you a drink or something?”

He shook his head. “No, I think I’m good.”

“Alright, well if you say so.” He stood back up and glanced around at the newly arriving crowd. “So who are we even looking for anyways? Besides them being ponies.”

Silver glanced down at the note he had his assistant write out for him. “We’re looking for three ponies, one will be a tall pegasus with red wing tips. That should make it kind of easy, I can’t really imagine that we’ll miss him. Not with how few ponies are getting off planes.”

Marcus glanced out over the crowd again, pointing out a lanky pegasus stallion that stood a little taller than the two mares that were accompanying him. “So like that one over there?”

Silver’s eyes frantically darted over to the gate. “Yes! I think so.”

“Alright cool, I’ll go pull the van up while you go introduce yourself.”

He frantically glanced back to Marcus. “Wait what?! You mean by myself?”

The human simply nodded. “Uh huh, you’re the big shot director. And unless you want to make your guests walk all the way over to where we had to park the van, you know out in the hot sun at the far end of the hot parking lot? That might not be the best first impression to make.”

Silver shuffled around on his hooves nervously. “I.. uh… alright fine, you go get the van.”

Marcus nodded as he walked away, leaving Silver alone.

He took a deep breath and exhaled, remembering what Scarlet had told him earlier, giving himself a little mental pep talk. “Alright, just gotta relax and act like they’re regular guests here for a visit. Just don’t think about how they are here to do something highly illegal on Sunset’s dime...” He gulped and shook his head, trying to clear his thoughts before pressing on. 

Nervously approaching the trio, he extended a hoof in greeting when he got close enough. “Hey there, I’m Silver Eclipse, I’m the director over at the Oasis. Nice to finally meet you all.”

The light brown stallion with bright red primary feathers reached out a hoof to return the greeting. “Hello, I’m Will Monte, this is Dazzle,” he gestured towards the pegasus mare with a white coat, orange mane and tail, and green eyes before indicated the tired night pony. “And Emily Korpi,” 

“Hi,” Emily greeted, but it sounded more like a yawn as she was clearly tired and must have been sleeping on the plane. 

Dazzle cut in abruptly. “Can’t wait to check out your little oasis in the desert, I’ve never left the UP so all this is pretty exciting and I heard you guys might be hard up for some tourists,” she said with a knowing wink. 

Silver took a moment to parse her pronunciation of U P as the individual letters, shaking his head to dispel those thoughts, “It’s wonderful to meet all three of you and I can’t wait to show you the Oasis, unfortunately it is a bit of a ride from Phoenix, but we have a comfy van with some drinks waiting.”

Dazzle spread her wings wide and gave off a few quick flaps that ended with sharp snaps. “I’d really prefer to stretch my wings, but the view from the plane kind of convinced me that we’d be lost within five minutes here,” she admitted. 

“That's a smart choice, it wouldn’t be a good start if you wandered off into the hot, dry desert and got lost. Speaking of the heat, it’s a scorcher today, so my friend Marcus is bringing the van over so we don’t have to suffer out in the heat,” he cheerfully remarked to the trio. “We can talk a bit on the way out or we can all just take a nap, I’m sure you’re all tired from the flight out and I’m tired just cause… ya know, night pony,” he joked with a quick nervous chuckle.

The three nodded their heads in agreement, easing some of Silver’s anxiety as they all started walking towards the drop off area. 

Emily let out a big yawn before she spoke. “Not having to worry about leg room was nice, but I’m not a fan of being up so high trapped in a metal tube.” 

He let out a small nervous chuckle. “Oh I bet, it sure wasn’t fun for me as a human, I’m not looking forward to my first time flying like a human now that I’m a winged pony. You might want to hold off on stretching your wings out until we’re a little further away by the way, Security’s been cracking down on ponies flying around here, I guess it’s a pretty big concern having ponies that could easily fly right into a restricted area.” he said as he started to relax a little. 

Marcus’ van rolled up to the curb and came to a stop. So far everything had gone off without a hitch, something he couldn’t have been any happier for. “Ah yes, looks like our ride’s here!” As if to emphasize his point the door slid open. “We’ve got plenty of refreshments inside if you’re hungry or thirsty, nothing super amazing but probably better than whatever poor excuse for food they served you guys up there.”

Daz nodded, “I think I can speak for everypony else when I say that anything is better than the human produced food we got up there.” The two others nodded in agreement.

The three quickly took their seats and made themselves comfortable, much to Silver’s relief. Emily and Will ended up sharing the back seat alone with Emily almost immediately leaning against the stallion asleep. Dazzle took spot so she could watch the landscape pass by outside. Satisfied that everyone was loaded in Marcus closed the door and returned to the driver’s seat, Silver settling for the passenger seat.

“Alright, well please feel free to make yourselves comfortable, we’ll be at the Oasis in a couple hours, maybe sooner if the traffic’s light.” He cheerfully called back as he finally managed to relax. “I hope you weren’t expecting to see anything exciting on the way down, there’s nothing but desert as far as the eye can see… but hey maybe that’ll be interesting enough in itself.”

The van came to a stop in front of the guest villa, a cozy little building right in the heart of the town. “Alright, everypony, we’re here!” Silver hopped out of the van and cheerfully gestured to the buildings that surrounded him. “My friends, welcome to the Oasis!”

He waved them over and started to walk over to the villa. “It’s not much right now, but it’s a start and that’s better than anything I could have ever hoped for. This’ll be your home for the next week, please feel free to make yourselves comfortable. Oh and if you feel the need to fly around, stretch your wings, or do any weather magic feel free. All this land is privately owned by us ponies so there isn’t any restriction as long as it stays in the valley.”

The group looked around at the metal skeletons that would someday become buildings. “It’s not from scratch but all this is definitely an impressive amount of construction for such a small group to accomplish,” Dazzle interjected.

Silver nodded, “You know, you’re right. It’s a lot of framing right now, but someday it’s going to be our way to change the world.”

“Change the world? You’re a little late for that,” Will chuckled. 

“Not like ETS obviously,” he laughed. “We’re funded by SPEC and I fully intend to use every cent we have from them wisely. A lot of our research is just getting started but we’ve got some big plans going forward. It’s been of a mix of magical and mechanical research, but right now it’s mostly a lot of quality of life stuff more than anything,” he gestured to the device strapped to his leg, “This is a big focus of ours, it’ll make working on projects a little easier for our non unicorn researchers. It’s kind of like a swiss army knife that’s strapped to your leg. Has some simple tools you can deploy to make your life easier, kind of like those straps that have been popping up lately but a little more sophisticated than that.”  

Silver gestured around to the buildings, “The city itself is merely phase one, the next step is getting to a point where we can be fully self sustainable, which in the desert means a consistent source of clean drinking water, but we want to go one step past that and change the climate. Our weather team is trying but don’t have enough experience to make it work in such an extreme area. Hopefully you’ll be able to help us get started on that.”

“All of them are from around here?” Emily asked, looking more awake now that the sun was slowly starting to go down.

“Not all, a couple are from more… humid areas but never really got into it while there,” he answered, trying to remember if any had been from an area worth mentioning.

“So… since they aren’t really here to meet us, I take it we’ll be making their acquaintance tomorrow morning?” Dazzle asked, hovering with lazy but powerful flaps of her wings. 

“First thing in the morning. I’m sure you guys must be hungry, so want to come to the dining room for some dinner?”

“Oh Silver, I thought you’d never ask,” Dazzle gushed and zipped over to his side to be uncomfortably close, fluttering her green eyes and earning a frantic look from him. “You had me at hungry.”

“Wha? Uh,” he jumped away from the pegasus. “Sorry but I have a marefriend, I wasn’t trying to imply anything else,” he hurriedly explained.

“I’m joking,” she grinned, “But hungry, so yes, let’s go go go.”

He hurriedly nodded his head, desperate to end the awkward interaction.

Silver was thankful that the Oasis’ primary chef, Julienne, had laid out a simple yet delectable dinner, some pasta and salad. Silver didn’t want to keep the group awake, knowing that they were likely exhausted from the trip and had purposely planned a simple selection, not seeing any reason to try and impress them with some big fancy dinner. Despite everything, it was still a quiet and awkward affair. 

“So are you all from the Northeast?” He asked. “I have to imagine that it’s a little different out there, I mean it was even before ETS. Not a lot of ponies here want to reintegrate with the rest of society, but there are a few small businesses and other ventures popping up around Phoenix. Rest seem to like the commune life the vision showed. No traditional currency and bartering.”

Dazzle smiled, “In the UP it’s sort of a mix. Ponies outnumber humans like nowhere else outside of the homestead lands. Barter is preferred because it feels more personal but money and credit is alright with most, not like everypony can just come up with something worth trading all the time, ya know? We have integrated back with humanity fairly well though with the weather program bringing a lot of humans in to help with monitoring on the ground. It’s also big business for CCI to get the iron ore mines back up so a lot of pegasi took up really high paying jobs to filter the dust from the air. Everypony collapsed on the most populated areas when ETS ran through and then never saw a reason to go very far out unless it was to help run all the new farms we created.”

Silver raised an eyebrow in confusion, “Pegasi can do that? I thought you guys could only do stuff with the weather.”

“Well it’s not THAT easy to do, but I take it you’re aware that the air is made up of more than just… air, right? Like there are all these impurities to it you can’t see but can really mess you up, same with water. Well once it becomes fine enough to mix with the air, even if you can’t see it’s possible to, and it’s really hard to explain to a non-pegasus how, draw it from the clean stuff and dump it. So every weekday when they blast at noon to open up more of the iron ore, it and the trucks they use to haul it release those micro particles in the air, and a team works to keep it from spreading. They used to have contracts with all the homeowners around the pit to come and clean their homes every spring because it would turn them all red. Much cheaper to pay a few pegasus to stop it from happening in the first place and keeps down on pollution. We do it without thinking when we make clouds for rain, that’s why a pegasus made cloud is always going to give you the best water to drink,” she finished.

He shrugged, “Huh, well I guess we really have a lot to learn about your capabilities. Scarlet and I wanted to take a vacation sometime, It might be fun to take a trip up there and see what you’ve all done. Riverview’s like the only place out there that I’ve really heard about post ETS and even then it’s probably not a great example.”

“Well if you ever want to take a trip North, we’d love to give you a tour of the area. Pictured Rocks at sunset is stunning,” Emily added.

Will sat back briefly to hold up his hooves, “I haven’t been in Michigan very long and out in New York it’s more like you’re expected to be human or get run over. So wouldn’t really encourage a trip that way until they relax some of it. I do wish I had taken more pictures of Sapphire trying to process the tall buildings though, she made the goofiest of faces without realizing.”

Silver smirked and nodded as he continued eating, the other three following in suit. Before long they had finished their dessert and were well beyond ready for bed. 

The three followed Silver up to their villa, a large apartment that took up most of the building’s second floor. Dazzle looked around and turned back towards him. “You know, you really didn’t need to give us the VIP suite, a couple small rooms would have been fine.”

Silver smiled, “This is the only place we have available, the others all belong to our permanent residents. This used to be our main living area when we were still getting everything sorted out, It’s actually the only guest accommodations that we have right now, I hope it’s comfortable enough.”

“Oh, it definitely is, thanks!”

Will spoke up, glancing towards Emily. “Are we all just sleeping in one big room?”

Silver let out an embarrassed laugh, “Oh, my bad. No, the bedrooms are off to the side,” He gestured towards the unmarked doors, “this is just the common area, feel free to choose whichever room you want, the bathroom’s that door in the center. If you guys need a little midnight snack or anything feel free to help yourselves to whatever’s in the pantry, I had my assistant, Diamond, stock it up before you guys got here. He’s one of the pegasi that you’ll be meeting tomorrow.”

“Thanks Silver, we’ll be up and waiting in the morning,” Dazzle replied.

“I’m going to sit with Will for a bit until he’s ready for bed, no issues if I want to get out and fly around your town?” Emily asked.

“Of course not. There are a few of us night ponies around who know you were coming so expect a warm greeting, though. 

He nodded and started to walk away, pausing briefly and turning back towards the group. “It was really nice meeting you guys. We’ll have breakfast ready for you bright and early, the weather team wanted to show you where they’re at so I’ll take you over there after. I have some work I need to get done, but if you need anything feel free to head downstairs and ask one of the night ponies, they’ll be around until the morning crew comes in.”

Dazzle thanked him again as he turned and left, closing the door behind him. She trotted over to one of the couches and sat down, making herself comfortable. “Well, he seems nice, a little young to be heading up this big a project but hopefully we can help him out.”

“A lot to do with not a lot of time to do it in,” Will pointedly responded. 

Dazzle glanced out the window, squinting her eyes as she looked out over the landscape. “Hot, dry, and I wouldn’t even know that river was their if I didn’t look this place up before we came. Sure would have been a lot easier if they had started this Oasis closer to water.”

“Why anyone builds a town in the middle of a desert, I will never understand,” Will snorted. 

She nodded in agreement, “Yeah… not my cup of tea but you work with what you got, right?”

“Work, like working ultimately for by Sunset Blessing…” Emily interjected harshly speaking the unicorns name. 

“Even if it is ultimately funded by some Shimmerist fanatic, what really matters is that they asked for our help. I agree with Jasper when she decided that Sapphire would agree to give them a chance regardless of who’s footing the bill,” Dazzle answered. 

He shook his head, “Not if you ask me, but Jasper isn’t my biggest fan so here we are, right?” Will said sardonically and nuzzled Emily briefly.

“I told you, Jasper is like that with everypony,” Dazzle rolled her eyes and yawned. “I don’t know about you two, but I could really do with some shut eye, let’s talk about things more in the morning”

“Have a good night, Daz, see you in the morning,” Emily replied while Will just nodded.