Luna’s eyes shift between her sister and the infirmary director, obvious conflict behind them. She could either tell both of them what she had found bluntly, try to break it easily, or simply lead her sister away to someplace private and divulge what she had found.
The answer is obvious.
“Celestia,” Luna begins with unusual seriousness, “my searching in the library has borne fruit, but the subject matter is slightly sensitive. I believe it best if we discussed it privately for now.”
Celestia glances back at the director, who doesn’t seem pleased that information about his patient is going to be kept from him. As much as she hates keeping things from her subjects, Luna’s request had to have been pensive for a reason. “Very well,” she agrees before looking back to the director. “Doctor, if you could begin basic attempts at communication with our guest, then I would deeply appreciate it.”
The older stallion seems surprised at the request, but quickly replaces his surprise with a smile and a nod.
“Excellent! Now, where did you wish to speak, Luna?”
The lunar princess glances over towards the director. “Good doctor? Do you perhaps have an empty room my sister and I could use?”
“Of course, your Majesty. Just down the hall and to the left at the second to last door. I believe that room is unoccupied,” the stallion replies.
“Many thanks,” Luna says with a smile, before turning and beckoning her sister to follow.
Before she stands, Celestia addresses the director one final time. “Thank you for your time, director, and I do hope my abrupt demand for a meeting and our subsequent talk did not cut into your schedule.”
The unicorn waves her off. “It was no trouble at all, your Majesty.”
Satisfied, Celestia stands from the front of the desk and walks out of the room to follow her ever more impatient sister. Both make for the room that the director described, Luna moving notably faster than Celestia. After some inpatient hooftapping from one ruler and a calm walk from the other, both enter the empty hospital room and closed the door behind them.
Once inside, Luna looks at the door and frowns. “One moment, if you would,” she tells the older alicorn.
Luna points her horn at the door, making the wooden barrier glow a light indigo that slowly bleeds out and crawls along the walls, floor, and ceiling like a creeping fog.
Celestia watches with a raised eyebrow as the misty magic parts around her hooves.
All at once, every bit of sound sans the breathing of the sisters dies. The sounds of hooves walking on tile outside, the coughing of sick patients, and drone of hospital machinery all gone in an instant. The eerie lack of noise makes both of the alicorn’s coats prickle with goosebumps.
“There,” Luna says as she cuts the flow of magic and raises her head, “No eavesdroppers could possibly listen through that. Now… I’m not sure how to explain my findings…”
“Perhaps from the start?”
Luna snorts at her sister’s attempt at humor. “You won’t be in the mood for jokes after you hear what I have to say.” The younger princess bites her lip, trying to find words. “As I said, after much research I came across the perfect solution to our language barrier problem. The issue, however, is the rather unforgiving circumstances we need to utilize the spell.”
Celestia narrows her eyes at the shifty answer. “What exactly are these circumstances?”
“First and foremost, we must be sure that having magic cast upon our guest will not be a detriment upon him in any way. From what we observed during his treatment, that should not be too grave a concern, seeing as how he responded well to magic medical treatment,” Luna pauses. “But I believe it prudent to be one hundred percent sure. No good could possibly come from accidentally damaging his mind,” the lunar alicorn punctuates her sentence with a tap of her head.
Celestia nods, appreciating the logic and obvious thought her sister put into this.
“The second, and far more difficult to accommodate piece of this puzzle is the need for both participants of the spell to hold knowledge of one of the languages woven into the magic. Seeing as how our friend is an alien and knows not any tongue of Equis…”
“The spell will fail,” the elder pony finishes. With a sigh, she brings a hoof up to the side of her head and tries to rub away the impending headache. “I see no way around this with the exception of traditional verbal translation, which is going to render the point of using the spell moot,” Celestia sighs, almost not noticing the minute wince of her sister.
“Luna? Is there something you’re not telling me?” the white alicorn questions almost accusingly.
Luna winces again, not even bothering to hide it. “Well, there is one possible solution, but I do not know just how you are going to like it…”
Celestia stays silent, prompting the other pony to continue.
“We could simply gift him with the language of Equestrian, but…”
“That would require one of us to delve into his memories…”
Now, not even breathing could be heard in the room.
234, 235, annnnd 236. That’s the seventh time you counted the tiles in the drab, whitewashed ceiling. Even in other worlds, hospitals feel the need to be as boring and lifeless as possible. If you were the director of a hospital, you would make it a bit more cheery. Why drag people spirits down even more when being sick or injured is bad enough?
Never before have you simply sat and thought about nonsense for so long. Honestly, this is the most unoccupied time you’ve ever had and is beginning to make you antsy.
Years of doing nothing but one assignment after another has made you so used to always being on the run, always doing something.
Now the minutes seemed to drag on for hours.
It seems even longer with the pounding migraine you’ve had ever since you’ve woken up. Trying to crack the password through the night on the nano bots certainly wasn’t one of your best ideas. On the bright side, you’ve exhausted over fifty percent of the possible passwords that the damnable gray goo could possibly hold.
You sigh and look out the window, where the sun begins to rise. The sight warms the inside of your chest.
If there’s one thing you’re going to miss when Frontier finally comes for you, it’s the beautiful atmosphere this curious little world holds.
The sound of your hospital room door opening cuts off your inner monologue.
A pair of guards identical to the ones yesterday walk in and stationed themselves by the sides of the door, each awkwardly gripping a spear with their forelegs.
That certainly can’t be comfortable.
The two guards watch you carefully, both with twitching faces as they struggle to hold their stoic façade.
These two must be different from the ones assigned to those posts yesterday. Otherwise they wouldn’t have reacted so strongly to seeing you. How do they get all the guards to look the same?
Your stomach drops when a harrowing thought comes to you. Do the little ponies … utilize cloning?
Yet another curiosity to pile on top of the already frustratingly large bundle of questions you have.
Rolling onto your side, you look at the pair of ponies who stare back, both desperately trying not to fidget.
“Just what are you all?” you ask aloud, knowing that they couldn’t answer back.
Although the one on the right maintained a straight face, the guard on the left doesn’t even bother to try and hide his discomfort anymore. He looks you in the face, flinches, then turns his attention to his companion and lets out a pathetic whine. All he gets for his trouble is an angry glare and a short, harsh response in return. Lefty then resumes his guard pose with obvious reluctance. He totally refuses to meet your eyes now.
Torn, you turn back over and look at the wall. Never before had you experienced what being feared is like, and you’re not sure you want to feel it again.
Do they find you repulsive? It’s not too farfetched a notion. After all, a giant, bald thing can’t be the most pleasant to look at. Your face, maybe?
Almost an hour passes before the monotone he is broken by knocking on the hospital door. From your spot, you can hear the door open with the slightest creak. The sound of a gasp and a new set of hooves on the tiled floor follows immediately after.
The newcomer, who sounds female, converses quietly with the guards for just a few scant moments before moving closer to your bed. She then says something in her language, and repeats the same phrase several times.
With a start, you realize she is trying to get your attention.
You blink and turn over, but you’re sure to keep half your face in your pillow. It never hurts to test out theories whenever you can.
What you find is a cream colored horned female sporting thick rimmed glasses and a mane done up in a tight bun. Floating in a zero point field next to her is a large tray of varied and very fresh looking foods, mostly vegetables. Alongside that is a pair of archaic handheld chalkboards and a colorful box of chalk.
You can’t think of any purpose for the chalkboards other than to serve as communication aids. If these creatures have moved on to attempting communication, then it would be best to play along. The thought makes you look at the new arrivals rear, where an old inkwell and a fountain pen are depicted. If the marks hold as much significance as you think they do, then this female must be a scribe or linguist of some sort.
You sit up in the bed and cross your legs for comfort, making the female shift uncomfortably when your entire face is revealed.
So is it your visage that is causing them distress? You’ll have to test that more later.
The horned pony sets the tray next to you and gestures for you to eat.
You suppress a grin and comply by snatching up what looks suspiciously like an orange. Your visitor watches your hands with intense… fascination? As you peel away the skin of the orange look-a-like and pop a wedge of the juicy fruit into your mouth.
The female then levitates a clipboard and an archaic quill out from under the chalkboards. Without even looking away from you, she manipulates the quill to write down what you presume to be notes in a swishy, yet blocky text.
So the zero point field can be used for delicate and dexterous tasks? That’s marvelous. The xenobiologists back at Frontier would kill to have a chance to meet such a creature.
The white unicorn finishes her notes and looks back to you, levitating one of the chalkboards closer in what seems to be an offer to take it.
You do so and incline your head in acknowledgment.
The pony smiles an adorable smile in return. The sight makes your own lips twitch upward.
She takes her own chalkboard and a piece of white chalk in a pair of zero point fields and deftly writes out what seems to be a single word. Turning her chalkboard around, she shows you the blocky word and gestures to herself while sounding a very foreign word out slowly.
It must be her name.
You do your best to mimic the gibberish as accurately as possible, but it still comes out sounding like you were trying to hack up something caught in your throat. The mangled pronunciation doesn’t seem to overly bother your new acquaintance, as she gestures for you to do the same as she.
Feeling unusually theatrical, you write out ‘Anonymous’ in wispy cursive and turn the chalkboard to show it to her.
“Anonymous,” you tell her slowly, dragging a finger under each letter as you sound it out.
She scrutinizes the unfamiliar characters with intensity, narrowing her brown eyes behind her glasses as her quill scratches furiously against the clipboard again. She’s definitely a scribe or linguist.
Done with her notes, the pony, or Scribe as you now want to call her, tries to repeat your name. An incomprehensible mess is all that comes out of her mouth. You barely restrain a wince at the butchering of the language.
She looks up at you with what you would describe as searching curiosity on her face, like she wanted you to judge how she spoke.
Not trusting nonverbal gestures this early, you erase your board and draw a frowny face as your response.
From the downturn of her ears, that seems to have disheartened her, even if only for a moment. But Scribe quickly bounces back and schools her face into professional neutrality. She takes a moment to look at your rapidly dwindling pile of food and then levitates an apple off of it, clearly showcasing the red fruit to you.
Her chalk scratches against her board and writes out a new word with a picture of the apple next to it. Scribe points at the word and the sounds it out, once more giving you something you can’t possibly say.
It’s going to be a long day, you can already tell.
But you indulge her and try to repeat the series of sounds only to come out with the eloquence of rusty sheet metal within a gravity press.
Not a pretty sound, mind you.
She frowns and scribbles something else down on her notes. Again, she points to the picture, wanting you to say the word again.
“I’m pretty sure that this is going to have the same result as last time.”
Scribe just indicates the picture again.
With a sigh, you do your best to say their word for apple.
No. Again you’re missing some sounds in there. But how in the world do you replicate a mash of a horse whinny and a chirp? If Scribe was losing her patience with the task at hand, and then she hid it well. This time, she pointed at individual sections of the word with her floating chalk and spoke them aloud.
You followed each pronunciation, tripping over much of the word more than you would have liked. Why the hell is this so hard? Even with your comlink chip helping via AMR replays, certain bits of the word simply will not stick.
Another AMR burst flies through your head, showing you exactly how Scribe’s lips moved and exactly how she sounded.
How she sounded…
With a groan, you pinch the bridge of your nose. It should have been extremely obvious from the get-go.
Scribe looks up from her clipboard to you with concern in her big brown eyes.
Now comes the fun part. Trying to explain everything.
You pick up your chalkboard, your piece of chalk, and immediately set to work drawing. A minute later, you have a pair of detail drawings. One is of your lower face and neck and the other of Scribe’s lower face and neck.
You show the pony, who takes in the image with visible fascination.
Then you draw circles around the middle of each neck and connect them with a line broken by an X in the center.
Your acquaintance studies the drawing with comprehension slowly dawning on her face.
She takes a step back and points to her throat with a hoof with a questioning exclamation. Her expression is almost heartbreaking. The professional stoicism was replaced with a disbelieving and immensely saddened face.
It’s the large eyes, you decide. They really emphasize the emotions of these little equines.
You point to your own and shake your head in what you hope is a negative.
Scribe shakily exhales and just barely wipes away the disappointment on her expression. This must have been the highlight of her career. Being the first to truly communicate with an alien is a history book worthy achievement.
And now she finds out that it’s not possible.
Despite of her now fragile appearance, Scribe takes a deep breath and calms herself as she quickly jots down something on her clipboard. When she finishes, Scribe takes her board and erases it. A flourish of her chalk later, and you have a number of unfamiliar marks along with collections of lines.
The lines obviously correspond to the marks in some way, but you can’t really tell how.
She lets you inspect the marks for a moment, then pulls her board away and modifies some of them. Now she has some new symbols and the number of lines has…changed…
Realization hits you. If she can’t use words and letters, why not use something universal like numbers?
You smile down at Scribe. “Clever. Very clever, miss.”
She beams, hearing the praise past the language barrier.
Finally, something you’re good at.
The rest of the day goes far more smoothly.
“Sister, I don’t think we have much choice…”
Celestia sighs as she reads over the report her assistant Raven had compiled from her contact with the traveler.
...Oddly, Raven the assistant was scheduled for a vacation right about this time, yet here she is. But that’s a problem for another time.
They now had a written name. According to Raven, the closest spelling she could make was “Ha*ila%#$rd.” An unfortunate few parts of his name could not be pronounced, as pony vocal cords would simply not accommodate the sounds needed. From Raven’s report, he had similar difficulties speaking in their tongue as well. It brought them to a nasty realization.
Traditional translation is going to be impossible.
The solar princess lets the hefty report drop out of her magic and onto her study desk.
“...Luna,” Celestia starts with as much patience as she can, “we cannot take a route simply because it is the most convenient. Doing so would be an injustice to both our visitor and our integrity.”
Luna sets her jaw and folds her ears back.
”Tia, this isn’t a matter of taking the path of least resistance, but rather one of the ONLY path there is,” she responds resolutely. “What else can we do? The solution may be immoral, but if it can work, then what choice do we have?”
What choice indeed? Giving into Luna’s want for convenience is looking to be a better option every minute.
“We aren’t even sure if it will work,” Celestia fires back. “For all we know, it could be a total danger to all parties involved.”
“Then what do we do, hmm?” Luna snips.
The elder sister pushes away her frustration with the younger’s hasty nature. Getting angry will do nothing here.
“We wait just a bit longer,” Celestia says, drawing a groan from Luna, “For now, we will continue as we did today. I will inform the council of our current plans.”
”Just be patient, little sister. Solutions have a funny way of being hidden under our noses in situations like these…”