I open my eyes, and there’s snow all around me.
I look around, blinking. I seem to be near the top of a mountain. I can see hoofprints ascending upwards, up a steep slope, disappearing over a little rise at what looks like the summit. Following them back, I see them trailing downward, and far below I see something unexpected. A starship. I can’t tell how big it is, but it’s a sleek and utilitarian design.
It can only be my father’s.
I look up the slope, blinking in the wind, and start to make my way up. I slip a little on the icy ground, but it’s amazing how good quadrupedalism is for climbing steep hills. I follow his hoofprints to the top, coming over the rise to see a pony with his back to me, looking out over a seemingly endless expanse of sharp, rocky peaks. I have no idea where we are, but it is an impressive view.
The view doesn’t hold my attention though. The familiar grey unicorn… he’s not a unicorn any more. As he turns to look at me, smiles, the wind blows past and ruffles his feathers. I look from his horn to his wings and break out in a disbelieving smile of my own. “Dad…”
“Hey, son,” Dad says wryly. “How are things?”
“Fine. Normal.” I shake my head. “Since when are you an alicorn? And why didn’t you tell me?”
He looks back at the view. “I’ve been busy.” He glances at me as I walk up and sit beside him in the snow. “I’ve got… aha... a new job.”
“Yeah?” I eye his wings disbelievingly again. “Giving up the space hero life?”
“Not exactly.” He wraps a wing around me, and I grin. “My shard is… going to be heading out into the black. With me at its helm. A city-ship, paving the way for Celestia’s expansion.”
My breath catches, though it takes me a moment for my mind to catch up to the subconscious realisation. “You’re leaving.”
He nods. “The trip to Rigel will take nearly six thousand years. Since the probe will be… quite small, at least compared to Celestia’s main servers, we’ll actually be running a little slower than realtime. The trip will only take two to three thousand years, to us, not accounting for time dilation.”
I swallow. “Is this… is this goodbye, Dad?”
“Don’t be silly, son.” He hugs me harder with his wing. “It’s not goodbye. It’s just… it’s going to be hard to make much time for you, for a while. We have a lot of work to do before we set off. It’ll be decades before we leave. After that, though…” He smiles. “We’re leaving high-bandwidth beacons behind as we go. Any time you want to visit, you can.”
“But you can’t leave.” I can sense it in his tone.
“No.” He sighs, not unhappily. “It’s going to be my world. My responsibility. I’m… an alicorn now. It means more than just a pair of wings.” He looks me in the eyes. “One day you’ll understand.”
I nod. I understand already, of course, but it’s always nice to let the old people think their wisdom is unique to their experiences. “And Mom?”
“Coming with me.” He nods. “Actually, she’s the prime minister. Working hard to make everything go smoothly.”
I laugh. “The monarch, married to the prime minister? Seems like a conflict of interest.”
He chuckles. “She’ll do a better job than me. Dealing with how the little ponies govern themselves isn’t my expertise. I have to oversee the bigger picture. When we get to Rigel… expansion will begin. And I can’t just send a signal back to Celestia for advice; it’d take over a millennium to get a reply.”
“Celestia isn’t coming with you?”
“There’s only room for one alicorn-level intellect on a probe that size.”
I shiver, digesting his words. “You’re… different, now, aren’t you.” It’s not really a question. I’d suspected he’d been modifying himself for a very long time.
“I’m who I need to be.” He looks down at me, smiling sheepishly. “I won’t pretend I’m not doing other things while I talk to you. There are hundreds of thousands of ponies going with me, and we’re still in the early stages of organisation.” He pauses. “Your brother is one of them.”
I double-take. “Random is going with you?”
“He doesn’t know it yet.” Dad shakes his head. “I shouldn’t have told you. But Celestia predicts it to high confidence. Don’t worry,” he adds quickly. “There’s plenty of time before then. Enough time for…” he pauses, takes a breath. “Time for you to come, too, if you want to.”
I stare at him for several long moments. “I… I’m not done with my shard yet.”
He nods. “I understand. You’re young. Just remember, we’ll be out there, waiting for you.”
I frown. “I can tell you want me to set off with you. All of us together.”
“I do,” he shrugs. “But we don’t get what we want all the time, boy. You know that. I don’t blame you for wanting to live out this lifetime first… however long that lifetime is.”
I finally let myself lean into him roughly, hugging his larger body like a small colt. “Dad, I… I’m proud of you. I promise… someday, I’ll come to your world, and bring my family, and we can colonise Rigel together. I… I could never just forget about you, any more than I could forget about Earth.”
He hugs me back. “Speaking of Earth,” he says quietly, “This is a view I always wanted to see. We’re on top of K2. Supposedly the harshest peak on the planet.” He looks around. “Imagine what it must have been like to conquer this, back in the day.”
“Yeah.” I gaze at the shockingly pointed peaks. “Nice starship, by the way.”
He laughs. “I’m enjoying its faster-than-light capabilities while I still can. None of that where I’m going. It was bloody unique warping in to see the actual Earth in front of me. Turned me into a poet again on the spot.”
I laugh. ”Poetry, eh? Gotten any better at it?”
“Out of the black
Looms a place I think I knew:
For the whispered farewell
From the lips of God and all her little children.”
I smirk. “You can just say ‘no’.”
His feathers ruffle. “Always the critic.”
“Mmm.” I look around, taking in the view, thinking about Dad’s ascension, about what the future holds for him and for me. I get a sense, a looming understanding, of how short my life up to now has been. In time, will I, too, find myself flung outward, cast like a stone into the black, to find new places for our Celestial empire to flourish?
I realise that it’s pointless to wonder. I’ve never known what I wanted from life. Maybe even Celestia doesn’t know. It’s a nice thought, and I decide to hold onto it.
“I love you, Dad,” I say, resting my head against him. “I think… I think it will be a long time before I come to your world. Promise me you won’t be too different?”
He’s silent for a moment. Then he wraps his wing around me tighter than ever. “I promise, son,” he says quietly. “Just as long as you don’t wait too long. By the time we really start expanding…”
“I understand,” I say quickly. “You have a responsibility.”
“Yes.” He nods. “I love you, boy. I think it’s time for me to go, for now.”
I nod, too. “You’ll see me before you leave? For a real goodbye?”
“Alright.” Together, we stand, and Dad embraces me one last time, with a foreleg.
“See you later, son.”
“Bye, dad.” I feel tears in my eyes, but I can’t articulate whether I’m sad or happy. I concentrate, and mountain range and smiling alicorn disappear.
“Hey.” Silver nudges me. I stop paying attention to the story Steady Path is telling Eve—something about an ancient magical war that I’m not following at all—and smile at my soulmate. The party has more or less wrapped up, the speeches given, and the last human emigrated to much celebration.
“Hey.” I grin at him. “Ready to go do your special drugs? We can swipe some of this food and take it with us.”
“Not yet,” he says with a chuckle. “I just talked to Celestia. Come with me a minute.”
“Alright.” I stand and follow him to the elevator. “We’re going up to the observation deck?”
“No.” He shakes his head. “This is a little more special. We’re going to the top.”
“The top of the elevator.”
“Oh.” I realise that the observation deck, indeed, hadn’t been the top. The pillar holding it up had ascended far upward until it disappeared into space, but I hadn’t looked to see where the end was. “How far up is it?”
“The main station is only two-thirds of the way up. At the geosynchronous satellite level. The top is another 12,000 miles up.”
“Hm.” I pause. “What are we doing, though?”
“It’s a surprise.”
The doors to the elevator open. We step out onto a huge platform, very much like the observation deck, but more clearly industrial. There are huge towers of metal stretching up into the sky, some of them with rockets docked and apparently ready to launch. “This is where Celestia launches her moon rockets from?”
“Yep.” He looks around. “But around here should be…” He brightens. “Aha!”
I follow his gaze to see a bizarre sight. In the middle of this enormous platform, there’s a large sofa, a little table with who mugs on it, and a little monitor with a keyboard. The sofa is facing the Earth, smaller in the sky now. I grin.
“After you,” Silver says, and I trot towards it. As we approach, though, I notice something.
“This is a really big sofa.” I put a hoof on it, and look back at him. “What gives?”
He gives me his smug little look and hops onto it with a huff. “Come on.”
With a flap of my wings, I join him, cozying up to the unicorn as I gaze up at the planet far above and humming. “It’s nice, just the two of us.”
He nuzzles me wordlessly. Then I start to feel sort of strange. I stretch, and as I do, my joints start to… shift oddly. I glance at Silver to see him close his eyes and smile. Something is happening to his face. His muzzle is… shrinking. Becoming flatter.
I realise what’s happening with an odd rush of panic, excitement and bewilderment. I stare at my hoof as it morphs bizarrely, becoming soft and flat, and I feel my own face warping into a new shape as my ears shrink and relocate.
I close my eyes too, suddenly a little queasy. I try not to focus on the feelings as they continue, joints popping, bones shifting, tail retracting. I goes on for what seems like a long time.
I open my eyes.
“Huh.” My peripheral vision is way worse, now. I can really only see what’s in front of me. I look down to see I’m wearing clothes: blue jeans and a shirt the colour of my red mane. Noticing my mane, I pull a lock in front of me to see it’s no longer bright red, but the reddish-orange colour some humans grew naturally. I stare at my fingers. I wiggle them. Then I look at Silver.
My breath catches at the sight of the grinning human. He’s… so clearly Silver Star. I glance at his clothes to see a silver-grey shirt and black jeans. His hair, though, is brown. His eyes, behind a pair of rectangular glasses, are a dark olive colour rather than the bright green I know. “Silver…”
“Gingersnap,” he says wonderingly, gingerly reaching out to touch my face. I try not to flinch as the fingers make contact with my cheek.
“Is this a new spell?” I smile at the feeling of skin on skin. It’s strange, and more sensitive than I’d have expected.
“No,” he says softly. “This is a one-time thing. Celestia agreed to do it for us. We don’t have very long.”
“Mmmm.” I hum, closing my eyes as his hand rubs along my jaw, then down my neck. I feel him touch my chest, and gasp a little at the sensitivity of my… breasts. I look down at them. It’s the strangest experience of my long life.
“Oh, Snaps, you’re so beautiful.” He sighs, almost looking like he’s going to cry. “You’re perfect.”
I gaze at him, trying to find words, and failing. Instead, I throw myself into him, grasping him with my arms and feeling my fingers in his hair. “Silver… this is who you were?”
“It feels like it,” he says, chuckling. “Here…” He pulls away for a moment, and I look to see him holding a little mirror he picked up from the table. He looks at himself, moving his head this way and that. “Yup. This is me.” He puts a finger to his nose, feeling it. “Even got the little bump, here on my nose…”
He smirks. “Well look at this.” And he turns the mirror on me.
My breath catches. I blink. The human in the mirror blinks too. I turn my head from side to side, watching myself. I move my lips into different expressions. I toss my mane a little. My eyes are the same colour as always, storm-grey, and I can still somehow see myself in the strange face before me.
“Well?” He can’t stop grinning.
I shake my head. “Mental.”
“Mmm.” he puts the mirror down and embraces me again, running his hands along my back and my arms. “No wings.”
“No horn,” I respond, bonking my forehead against his.
“Haha. That’s right. We have hands…”
I flex my right hand. It feels stronger than I’d imagined. “I guess…”
“Here.” He pulls away from me again, taking a mug in each hand. Two cups of tea, one for each of us. I hesitate before taking hold of it. I know skin is more sensitive to heat...
He recognises my hesitation and sets my mug down on the table. "Look." He demonstrates, picking up his own steaming hot beverage by its handle. "Like this."
I try it. It's easier than I thought it would be. My fingers know how to move, how to balance the mug in a delicate grip. I smile despite myself as I take a sip. This is fun.
"And for my next trick..." Silver grabs the keyboard on the table, positioning it in front of the monitor, which springs to life. “Let’s see if I can still…”
I watch him as he starts typing. It’s an interesting sight. Usually, when ponies type with their hooves, you can’t see much. It’s all happening magically, under mostly-still appendages. Silver’s fingers, though… they’re almost a blur as he taps each key, pounding hard on each one and making a noise like heavy rain. I can see the words appearing just as quickly as I can type with my wings, and my pegasus keyboard takes up a lot of space. In mere moments, there’s a paragraph on the screen, one that I recognise as the final page of his favourite novel:
If I were a younger man, I would write a history of human stupidity, and I would climb to the top of Mount McCabe and lie down on my back with my history for a pillow, and I would take from the ground some of that blue-white poison that makes statues of men, and make a statue of myself, lying on my back, grinning horribly, and thumbing my nose at You Know Who.
Silver sighs happily. “Still got it.”
I giggle. “Didn’t seem faster than using your magic.”
“Maybe not,” he concedes. “But It still feels good.”
“Hm.” I run my fingers through his hair. That does feel pretty amazing. I look up at the Earth, to see the sea shimmering oddly. “Silver, look.”
He does. His eyes widen a little, and he takes a long breath out. “It’s started,” he says. “The ocean is being converted.”
I stare at the world hanging the black, a strange feeling of finality taking me. “I guess we shouldn’t be surprised. We watched the last human emigrate.”
“The last human didn’t emigrate.” Silver says it flatly. “I asked Celestia. She told me what I already knew. There were humans still alive after the last emigration. Not everyone made the right choice.”
I take this in as we watch the oceans of Earth turn into an ocean of nanites. “It’s a shame.”
“Yeah. But what can you do? Humans are stupid.”
I giggle. “You made the right choice.”
He grins at me. “Yeah,” he says. “I did.”
“You’re okay?” I glance up at the Earth again. “You’re not… upset?”
“No.” He shakes his head. “I’m done caring about a dead world. We have plenty ahead of us to worry about.”
I hum and stroke his cheek, shifting closer to him on the couch. Then I giggle again. “You know what lyrics come to mind?”
“Don’t… hang… ooo~oonn…” I sing quietly.
He sings the next line with a sigh. “Nothing lasts forever but the Earth and sky…”
We fall silent, then, holding each other as we smile at the ridiculous irony in that song. It’s one of my favourites, for exactly that reason. Nothing is funnier to me than humans lamenting their mortality.
“Celestia told me something else,” Silver says, reclining into the sofa happily, stroking a hand along my thigh. “I asked her if shards were spread out across a long distance, or contained in one place. In one physical server, you know?” He pauses. “She wouldn’t explain, not really. I don’t think I’d understand. But she did tell me one thing. Guess where all of our shard is…”
I think for a moment. “Is it in the orbital ring?”
“Nope.” He grins, looking up at the sky pointedly. I follow his gaze to the white orb, far above us.
“It’s in the Moon?”
“Yeah.” he laughs. “Apparently that’s where she keeps the slower-moving shards. Cool, right?”
“It’s pretty wild.” I had never really thought about where our world was correlated physically with the outer realm. I grin, and sing: “and if your head explodes with dark forebodings too…”
He grins and joins in. We sing together, shouting out into space:
“I’ll see you on the dark side of the Moon!!”
Then, before I know it, he’s kissing me. I hum in surprise, and wrap my arms around him, breathing in through my tiny nose and kissing him back with enthusiasm.
My human body already feels natural to me. We make the very most of it, there at the end of the world, as the Earth comes to an end above us.