“Are you ever going to give up?”
The question seems to take Flash Point by surprise. It’s with a look of irritated confusion that he turns to me, there in the forest, as we walk.
“Of course not. Not ever. Not until we get it right.”
“Until you get it right,” I correct him. “You said I don’t always help.”
“You didn’t used to always help. For the last five or six loops running, though…”
“Okay. So why not take me with you?”
A sigh. We’re almost there, now, but he still stops beneath an enormous oak to eye me sadly. “I told you, I… can’t do that. I don’t know what will happen. And anyway, you don’t want it.”
“You don’t know that.”
“I know you far better than you think, Liminal,” he shoots back. “Some loops were long. And we’ve had this conversation a half-dozen times.”
“So what? Are you going to keep doing this forever? Because forever contains everything. Eventually I’ll convince you to take me along. So why not cut to the chase and agree now?”
He rolls his eyes and resumes walking. “As airtight as that is, I’m still saying no. You belong here, in your world. I don’t. I’m dead already. Don’t follow me.”
I trot to catch up with the taller stallion. “So you’re resigned to do this forever? Alone?”
“I’m resigned to doing it until everything works out.”
“And you think it will?”
“I believe it will.” He blinks slowly, adding more quietly, “I have to believe it will.”
I fall silent. I don’t like to admit it but I know what he means. As one of the smallest stallions in town I never win the Iron Pony events at the summer faire, but every year some part of me still believes, fully and truly, that this year is gonna be it for me. I push the thoughts aside in favour of the more pressing one, the one I’ve been trying to ignore.
“And you’re… you’re sure that when you throw the lever, or whatever, I’ll still be here? Nothing will change in this timeline?”
“I’m sure,” he says, but without any real certainty in his voice. “Multiverses are the only explanation for what I’ve observed in my years of time travelling. When I go back, I go back to that same morning, in another universe just like this one, that splits from your timeline in that moment. Your universe just keeps ticking along without me.”
“I don’t think you know that. I think you hope that.”
“It’s what makes sense,” he says shortly. “And even if that weren’t how it works, it wouldn’t change anything. I’d still do it.”
“You’d erase us from existence?”
“In a heartbeat,” he says, looking away, “If it saved those ponies from my mistake.”
My retort dies in my throat when I think about what happened back in the town. I’m… not sure I can justify not saving those lives just to keep our little corner of an infinite multiverse firmly tied to reality.
“Please take me with you.” My voice is flat now. “I know you know the reasons, I must have told you them before. What do you think could possibly be the downside?”
“I’d be killing you!” He wheels around, brows furrowed. “You worry about not existing if this timeline goes away, but I don’t exist in any timeline! Things aren’t… right, for me! I think that…” he stops, shakes his head, turns around again. His voice is quieter, too. “I think my time travel spell is… deeply flawed. I think I lost my soul, when I travelled for the first time.”
I can’t think of anything to say to that.
“Nothing to say to that?” he asks with some irony in his voice.
“Have you ever… told me that, before?”
“Then you wouldn’t know that I don’t care.”
He looks back at me, frowning, as we enter the clearing where Flash Point’s time machine is hidden. He doesn’t cast the spell to reveal it, though. We stop, blinking in the sudden sunlight.
He says, “You can’t not care. It’s your soul. Your connection to Harmony.”
“My mind and body are all I need,” I retort. “You don’t believe in an afterlife, do you?”
“Well, no. But who’s to say? And I’m sure you’re well aware that there’s more to it than that. A pony’s soul is… who they are, to the world. You won’t feel the leylines, your magic won’t behave—”
“You know very well earth ponies possess magic,” he says, “and even though your magical font is tied to your body, the soul has a great deal of influence. I… haven’t been right, since I started travelling. It’s why things went wrong. Why I’m stuck fixing such a horrific mistake.”
“I still don’t care,” I insist. “I don’t use my earth pony magic. I’m a desk worker. I can be more help to you here, doing this. And I want to, Flash.”
He looks at me with narrowed eyes. But he doesn’t speak. His horn glows and behind him, a strange artifice appears as if from a mirage. It’s a platform, essentially, raised on metal feet, with a large crystal affixed on a stand in the centre, like a pillar. Around this is a ring of panels, covered in runes, facing outward. There are smaller crystals affixed or embedded into these. There are wires everywhere. This must be the time machine.
“Look,” Flash Point says finally, “I… I’m not okay with it. But I’m tired of having the argument, and you’re the…” he stops, almost blushes, “you’re the best friend I’ve had, these past months. Even though you didn’t know it. You’ve been invaluable. At my side. With barely a thought.”
“I guess I could tell I was needed, somehow,” I respond with a wide grin.
I don’t get excited about things. It’s not my nature. But I feel something freeing in my chest, a sense of finally realising my destiny. Liminal. It’s a unicorn name. My parents were both unicorns, and it was a traditional name in the family. I thought I was just one of those ponies who never found out what their name was supposed to mean. But I know the definition well, and now, I think I get it.
“You’re sure about this? You want to live between possibilities? To become a ghost, like me? It’s… lonely.”
What a dumb thing to say. I laugh at him. “That’s why I’m coming with.”
He sighs. “Then I should tell you that the soul thing probably isn’t true. It might be. I don’t know. I’ve tried to find out, because it haunts me. My magic really has been… wrong. And other things, too. Harmony doesn’t seem to come to me like it does to real ponies.”
I shake my head. “You keep using that term. Stop it. You’re real, and I’m real, and we’ll both still be real once we go back to the past. And the next time, and the time after that, until we fix this mess.” I smile again. “And if you believe we can fix it, I believe we’ll still have souls. Everything will work out, eventually. We can keep trying ‘til it does.”
For the first time, I see him smile. Really smile. He’s done it before, sure, but it didn’t look like this. “I… I’m glad to have you along, Liminal. I guess I’m sorry it took me so long.”
“I’m not,” I say, hopping up onto the time machine’s platform. “It means I’m the lucky one. All those other Liminals out in the multiverse really got boned, but not me.”
Flash rolls his eyes and steps up next to me. “Truly a pragmatist.”
“So how does it work?”
“I cast the spell,” Flash Point says simply. “Prepare yourself. It’s not pleasant. You’ll be confused. Like waking up from a coma.”
“And you’ve done it how many times again?”
“Thirty-one,” he says.
“Well then. Let’s get on with it,” I say.
“Here I am again,” he sighs as his horn starts to glow.
“Here we are,” I correct. “And here we go.”
The world disappears in a flash as the void rushes up to meet us.