Twilight Sparkle was probably the smartest unicorn in all of Ponyville. It wasn't a boast, just fact. As much as she tried to downplay her intelligence, everypony knew that she was the personal protege of Princess Celestia, and spent as much of her free time reading as she could. If anyone could solve a riddle or conundrum, it was Twilight Sparkle.
So why was she having such difficulty figuring out this strange plastic book thing?
She sat in the middle of Fluttershy’s living room, surrounded by the items Rarity removed from the ape’s leather bag. Much of it she recognized: a first aid kit, a flashlight, rope, a paperback book and a notepad. She could even recognize the multitool for what it was, though she had never seen its like. But some of it was still a mystery to her. Like the little metal cylinder with the screw-off cap, or the rectangle that fit in her hooves, with one side of metal and the other of black glass. The words on some of the things – the book, the notepad, the plastic cards she found in a wallet also made of leather – were all in a language she had never seen before. They all seemed to be connected, however, as all of them used the same letters that could be found on the inside of the large plastic book.
She called it a book because she had no idea what else to call it. After all, it had no pages. When she had opened it, she noticed it swung on stiff hinges, and that, while one side consisted of another large rectangle of black glass framed by the plastic, the other housed many tiny buttons, much too small for hooves. On each of these buttons symbols were printed, sometimes one or two, sometimes several. She recognized some as letters from the other documents, and a few of them as arrows, but their arrangement made no sense. When she tried pressing some of the buttons, nothing happened.
In the end, she gave up trying to make it do something by random guesses, and instead resolved to take it apart, to try to discern something from its inner workings. She scanned the room. None of the girls had returned without her noticing.
Sorry, Rarity, but I need to know what this thing does.
But then, just as she was about to pry at the plastic with her magic, she heard a rustling from behind her.
“I wasn’t… uh…”
The ape was watching her from the couch, apparently having woken up from his short nap.
“Um, g- good morning! I was just taking a look at your-”
The words died on her tongue as the ape rolled off of Fluttershy’s couch, dropping onto his hands and feet with a much quieter thud than she was expecting for one his size. He began advancing on her, his face unreadable beneath the scraggly beard. Sweat rolled down Twilight’s forehead. Was he angry? Curious? Hungry? She couldn’t tell. Her heart pounded in her ears. He loomed over her, looking down with his beady, expressionless eyes.
Twilight flinched when he raised his hand. But instead of grabbing her, he reached behind her and picked up a small white plastic tube with a pointed black end, a black clip, and a long black push-switch. She’d long since figured out what that ingenious little device was: some kind of retractable ink pen with a very strange nib. His head tilted, frowning in confusion, and he sat down. She let go of the breath she’d been holding in. Apparently, he was just as curious about the contents of the bag as she was.
He stared at the unusual pen, examining it from all angles. She watched his fascination with amusement. When he discovered the function of the tall button on top of the pen, he began clicking it repeatedly, making short wheezing noises. At first, Twilight worried that he was somehow hurt, or having an allergic reaction. But then, she noticed the corners of his mouth were turned upward in a smile. He was laughing.
Twilight giggled at his enthusiastic clicking. It was adorable that he could find such pleasure in so simple a device. Then, as he watched the retracting copper nib, he noticed the black ink on its tip. With a frown, he tried rubbing it off on his palm, but it only left a dark trail. Barely suppressing her laughter, she was about to tell him it was ink when the ape stuck out his tongue. Before she could warn him, he licked the tip of the pen.
The reaction was instantaneous. He immediately dropped the pen, gagging and spitting, trying to get the taste off his tongue. With the pitiful look on his scruffy, bearded face, Twilight could no longer hold herself back. She burst out laughing, clutching her sides. Unable to retain her balance, she dropped to the floor, writhing with mirth. A moment later the ape joined her, his staccato of wheezes providing a sort of percussion to compliment the brass of her laughter. This continued for a few minutes, until both of them lay breathless on the floor.
At just that moment, Fluttershy flew through the door with a frightened gasp, seeing them sprawled out amongst the bag’s curios.
“Oh no! What happened?”
Twilight, still recovering, pushed herself up weakly.
“D- heehee… Don’t worry, F- Fluttershy. W- we’ve just been having a laugh.”
Fluttershy visibly relaxed, floating back to the ground.
“Oh. Oh, good. I thought… Nevermind. Have you learned anything?”
Twilight’s cheeks puffed out as she choked back another laugh. “Y- yeah. We found out that ink tastes bad.”
“Come on, I’ll tell you about it while I sort these things out.”
It had been a struggle, but he finally managed to bleed the chaos magic infecting Sam down to a manageable level, freeing up his attention enough to turn it outwards. That bath had been the perfect conductor. He hadn’t siphoned off enough to make the water magically toxic, of course, but he would have to make sure its disposal had no adverse effects on the environment, lest the indigenous people take notice. It seemed that Sam – he had finally learned the boy’s name with a bit of snooping through his synapses – had somehow landed the two of them in the care of a few of this world’s society while he had been preoccupied trying to keep the boy alive.
To his relief, the people seemed benign, perhaps even compassionate. He also noted their equine physiology with some interest; the evolution of intelligence in horses was something of a rare occurrence, even in the multiverse. He had observed them while Sam’s injuries were tended to, processing their language through the snippets of conversation and the corresponding physical and emotional cues.
The yellow-coated one – a pegasus, if appearances did not deceive – seemed like quite the animal lover, and had been particularly caring while she administered first aid, so she could likely be trusted. The other, white-coated one, though confrontational about his leather bag, had relented readily enough when Yellow talked her down, and offered Sam a sincere apology. She had access to magic, as is the wont of unicorns, and one always had to be wary around magic users. But, from what he felt when Sam grabbed the bag through her magic, hers was weaker than that of the unicorns he’d observed on other planes, and they hadn’t even been fully intelligent. While he wasn’t sure White could be trusted, per se, he doubted she would be a threat.
The purple one was a different story.
A winged unicorn. He’d only ever heard tell of similar beings from others in his division, and none of the stories were kind. Tales ranging from accounts of aloof creatures of beauty both terrible and cold, to warnings of monstrous demons who found ecstasy and glee in wonton destruction. Of course, none of these stories could be confirmed, and he sincerely doubted their sources, but seeing one in the flesh was enough set him on edge. One could never be too careful around unknown entities.
However, when he tried to impress caution on Sam’s mind, it seemed the boy took it as an instinct to regard Purple as the top dog. Being the primate that he was, Sam immediately decided to ingratiate himself with a little social grooming. At first, he feared retribution for the boy’s forwardness. But as the seconds passed and her tension melted away, he had to give the boy credit: even as a Neanderthal shell of his former self, Sam knew how to get on people’s good sides.
So he watched her. Purple seemed curious and quite intelligent. The fact that it had only taken her half a minute of experimentation and disassembly to understand the ballpoint pen spoke to that, and she had reassembled it with ease. Granted, it wasn’t a terribly complex system, but to figure out an alien technology so quickly was nothing short of frightening.
There was also the fact that, as far as he could tell, Purple had broken a promise when she took apart the pen. The guilty glances around the room spoke volumes. So when he saw the same look while she was examining Sam’s computer, he decided to wake the boy up. He hadn’t expected her to be intimidated by the boy, but then again he wasn’t sure how to gauge her at all.
He would wait. He needed better understanding of their language in order to make a clear decision. At the very least, these creatures seemed peaceful. If things somehow turned ugly, he knew he could get Sam to flee.
Two hours later, Pinkie bounded through the door to Fluttershy’s cottage, Rarity and Applejack trailing in her wake. Rainbow Dash had long since arrived with Dr. Fauna, who was entranced with this strange creature, babbling excitedly about evolutionary chains and species adaptation with a much quieter Fluttershy. Rainbow Dash, meanwhile, had grown bored once more. She floated distractedly between Twilight and the ape, trying to take in both groups’ research efforts.
Upon spotting the ape, Pinkie began vibrating with excitement. He was sitting there, taking Dr. Fauna’s curious prodding in stride, just waiting for a New Friend Hug. She would be darned if he wasn’t going to get one.
Rainbow Dash was the first to notice the hyperactive mare at the door, tensing into a familiar predatory stance. Alarm bells went off in Rainbow’s head.
“Wait, Pinkie, you can’t-”
But it was too late. Before even Rainbow could react, Pinkie pounced. The ape looked towards the commotion, and immediately his vision filled with pink. One moment he was sitting calmly, allowing the ponies to examine him, the next he was on the ground, a fuzzy pink mass attached to his face.
“Hellllooooooo, new best friend!”
The ape rolled on the floor, struggling to pry off a madly giggling Pinkie Pie. For a moment, no one could do anything but stare, dumbfounded by her complete disregard for her own safety. They were shaken out of it when Rarity burst into the room, panting like mad.
“Pinkie Pie! Stop that this instant!”
A lasso flew past her from outside and whipped around Pinkie’s ankles. A mighty tug yanked her away from the ape, who immediately gasped for breath. Applejack snorted, moving past Rarity to untie Pinkie Pie.
“What in the hay were you thinkin’, pouncin’ on him like that? He could’ve hurt you something fierce if I hadn’t pulled you off of him!”
“Aww, he wouldn’t do that AJ. Just look at him,” Pinkie pleaded, gesturing to the ape, who was sputtering and staring at her in bewilderment, “he’s a big ol’ teddy bear.”
AJ did take a good, long look at the creature, and was surprised by what she saw. His physiology was strange enough, to be sure. More importantly, he was whipping around, searching for his assailant, but instead of anger in his eyes, she only saw surprise and bewilderment, as if he didn’t realize who had just latched onto his head. In a creature like him, she would have expected a stronger fighting response. Instead, he seemed ready to hightail it out of the cottage. When he saw no signs of an attack, he seemed to relax, though his eyes still darted around the room, watching for sudden movements.
She sighed. “Be that as it may, you still need to be more careful, Pinkie Pie. You can’t just go jumpin’ on new critters all willy nilly. Not all of ‘em are as friendly as the ones in Ponyville.” She looked back at the ape, and cracked a small smile. “‘Sides, I think you may have startled him.”
“Oh no!” Pinkie cried, and pulled herself along the ground, staring up at the ape with watery eyes and a quivering lip. “I’m so sorry, Mr. Ape. I didn’t mean to be mean, honest! Can you ever forgive me?”
The ape just looked down at her with wide eyes, obviously unable to process what was going on. He looked to the other ponies, searching for some indication as to what was happening. Unfortunately, most of them were just relieved that Pinkie’s antics hadn’t created a disaster. Fluttershy, ever the compassionate one, fluttered over and put a hoof on Pinkie’s shoulder.
“I’m sure he’ll forgive you, as long as you promise not to jump on him without asking first.”
Instantly, Pinkie reverted to her usual bubbly self. “Great! Then I Pinkie Promise not to pounce without permission, ‘cross my heart and hope to fly, stick a cupcake in my eye.’ So now can we be friends?”
Faced with Pinkie’s pleading smile, the ape did what any sensible simian would do. He reached up and patted her on the head. A small voice in the back of his mind praised his thoughtfulness, but all he really wanted was for the fluffy pink thing to stop leaning in so close. Unfortunately, this only seemed to encourage her.
“Oh, thankyouthankyou!” She gushed, grabbing his hand between her hooves and shaking vigorously. “I promise we’ll be the best of friends, Mr. Ape-Monkey-Simian-Thing, whatever your name is. What is your name, by the way?”
Twilight rolled her eyes. “Pinkie, he’s a primate. He can’t talk.”
“Oh… Then do you know what his name is?”
“Actually that’s one of the things I was hoping I could figure out, now that you’ve brought the books. You… did bring the books, right?”
“Yup,” Applejack piped up, carrying over hers and Rarity’s saddlebags while Rarity composed herself on Fluttershy’s couch, “got ‘em right here.”
“Excellent! I’m hoping I can find a reference to the words written on some of the things in his bag. If I can figure that out, it’ll be much easier to find out who and what he is, and where he’s from. Maybe I’ll even be able to read that book!”
“Before you delve too deep into your research, I think I can give a little insight into what he is,” Dr. Fauna interjected. “Unfortunately, it’s not much more than you’ve already thought up.”
“Please, tell us everything,” Twilight prompted, “every little bit of information helps.”
“Well, as for his species, it’s hard to say. He bears a mostly superficial resemblance to gorillas and chimpanzees, but he’s probably at least genetically related. If I had to guess, he’s most likely a subspecies of ape ponies haven’t seen before,” she noted with an excited hop, “but I’m not really a biologist, so I won’t claim to know for certain.
“As for his overall condition, he’s fairly healthy, apart from the obvious malnourishment. I don’t think his hairlessness is a disease, since he doesn’t appear to be suffering any other ill effects. However, since his toes seem a bit stunted for an ape, it could also be genetic. Without reference to his species as a whole, I can’t say for certain. His temperature, ninety-nine point eight, is fine by pony and chimpanzee standards, but high compared to gorillas. His resting heart rate, however, at sixty-five beats per minute, is slower than a gorilla’s and much slower than a chimp’s. He takes about 20 breaths per minute, and I could hear no obstruction of the lungs. his teeth are a bit yellow, but that’s nothing some good brushing won’t solve. All in all, apart from the need for a few big meals a day, he seems to be pretty healthy.
“I have full confidence that Fluttershy will take great care of him. He is very well behaved; he never responded aggressively to being prodded, and he only seemed mildly annoyed when I took food out of his hand. He’s also a clever little rascal, since he started whining pitifully when I didn’t give his food back right away. From his teeth, I’d say he’s an omnivore, so you’ll need to supplement his diet with some fish or protein pills, though he appeared to enjoy dog biscuits, so he might even eat dog food. And that’s all I have to say, really. Don’t hesitate to bring him by if you think he might be feeling sick.”
“Thanks a lot for your help, Doctor. If I can’t find anything else, I’ll send a letter to the Equestrian Center of Biological Sciences in Baltimare. I'm sure they'd be quite interested to hear about a new species of primate. Meanwhile, Fluttershy will take good care of him.”
Fluttershy's head shot up from the small yellow notepad she had been taking notes in. She spat out the pencil in her rush to respond, and watched regretfully as it rolled under the couch.
“Oh, yes, um, thank you for your help. I'll be sure to, uh, give him a balanced diet and… um… e- excuse me.” She ducked out of the conversation, stomach churning. As much as she respected Dr. Fauna, she still had yet to get over her nervousness when talking to ponies she didn’t know very well. Instead, she hid from interaction under the pretense of searching for her lost pencil.
She ducked under the couch, immediately locating the pencil, but pretended to search around for it anyway. Behind her, Twilight and Dr. Fauna were making a final comparison of notes before exchanging their goodbyes. Nothing she really needed to pay attention to, just behavioral observations and the like. Instead, she rolled the pencil between her hooves, lamenting her shyness.
But then, she noticed something else. The feet of the ape appeared behind the couch with a soft whump. He limped over to the window facing the Everfree and stood still. Curious, she emerged from beneath the couch and found him sitting, staring out at the forest. Almost longingly. Gently, she slipped up behind the ape, careful not to spook him.
The ape turned to look at her and she felt like he was gazing straight through her. She gulped nervously, but pressed on.
“You’re safe here. Whatever life was like in that forest, you don’t need to worry anymore. We’ll take care of you.”
He turned away, seemingly drawn to the Everfree. For a few moments, he stayed like that, simply staring out at the treeline. But then he he took a deep breath and released it with a shuddering sigh. He turned back to Fluttershy, eyes heavy with fatigue. She smiled warmly.
“Fluttershy, get over here! We’ve got a really super important decision to make!”
Fluttershy nearly jumped out of her skin at Pinkie’s announcement. Realizing that there was no immediate threat, she took a moment to calm her pounding heart. Then, with a wan smile, she gently nudged the ape forward with her muzzle, following him as he lumbered over to the gathering of ponies.
“Right!” Pinkie proclaimed, “I think it’s about time we came up with a name for Mr. Ape.”
“While I agree it’s a bit tiresome referring him as ‘the ape’ or ‘the monkey,’” Rarity replied, “don’t you think it would be best to wait for Twilight to translate the documents?”
“That might take a while,” Twilight pitched in from her pile of books and paper.
“Besides,” Pinkie interjected, “it’s fun coming up with names. Like Rumplepants McLargenose. Or Sir Hammingshire. Or Green Bean! Or-”
Applejack shoved a hoof into Pinkie’s mouth, halting the stream of nonsense. “I think we get the picture, Pinkie. But for Celestia’s sake, let’s try and come up with somethin' not so downright silly.”
Pinkie shrugged and extricated herself from AJ’s hoof. “Eh, suit yourself.”
“Yeah!” Rainbow exclaimed, “He needs an awesome name! Like… Like… Rocket! Or… Or Brutus!”
Rarity daintily cleared her throat, cutting off Rainbow Dash before she could continue. “Yes, well, as, er… charming… as those names may be, I don’t think they fit him very well, do you?”
Rainbow Dash appraised the ape for a few moments, then shrugged.
“Yeah, I guess you’re right.”
Pinkie rubbed her chin, frowning in deep concentration.
“Well… He could be a Wander, but he’s not quite colossal enough… Maybe Louie or Kong? No, no, he’s not very kingly… Though his mane and beard do look kinda like a lion’s.” She started giggling to herself, drawing concerned looks from her friends. Eventually, they just brushed it off as ‘Pinkie being Pinkie.’
“How ‘bout Jojo?” Applejack volunteered, “I’m sure I heard of monkeys bein’ named that before.”
“Perhaps, though I think Caesar would be a much more distinguished name,” Rarity proposed.
“Um… maybe… Mr. Bubbles?” Fluttershy murmured quietly, unsure of her own suggestion. Meanwhile, Pinkie laughed harder and harder at each potential name, until she was literally rolling on the floor, clutching her sides. Rainbow Dash just huffed at her ridiculousness.
“He’s really big," Rainbow interjected, "so why don’t we just call him Biggs?”
Everyone but Pinkie – who was slowly calming down – went silent, pondering this predicament. Eventually, Twilight commented from her research pile, still not taking her eyes off of her work.
“I like Biggs. It’s fitting.”
Fluttershy nodded. “It is easier to say than Mr. Bubbles.”
“I agree. My idea was, I suppose, a bit pretentious,” Rarity admitted.
“So, we’re all agreed then?” Applejack polled, and everypony nodded. “Well then, I guess we know what to call you from now on, Biggs.” Five heads turned to watch the ape’s reaction, but all he did was tilt his head in confusion.
“Um, it might take a while for him to respond to a new name,” Fluttershy explained.
“Oh well,” Rarity sighed, “at least now we don’t have to refer to him as ‘the monkey’ or ‘the ape.’”
“Awesome!” Pinkie exclaimed, “And now I know what name to put on my ‘Congratulations-on-Not-Getting-Eaten-by-a-Manticore-slash-Welcome-to-Ponyville’ party banner!”
The rest of the evening passed uneventfully. The ponies talked, and he gathered information from the safety of Sam’s head. He’d begun to piece together the language a little bit after the blue one, Rainbow Dash, came by with the veterinarian. He’d had a good laugh at the irony of that.
Then they decided to give Sam a name. If he’d had eyes of his own, they would have been rolling as hard as stones at some of the suggestions. Eventually, they settled on calling the boy Biggs. A decent name, if a bit silly.
*I can only hope Sam never has to find out my name.*
Thankfully, it seemed the ‘Equestrian’ language was quite similar to that of human English. He doubted he’d have trouble translating once he got Sam back to his original level of intelligence.
*Speaking of which…*
He sent a jolt of adrenaline into Sam’s system, waking him from his drowsy state. Through Sam’s eyes, he saw that the buttery-yellow pegasus had gone off to bed. *Good, no one to interrupt us.*
He impressed on Sam the need to go outside. The primitive mind, susceptible to suggestion, felt the pain and pressure of a full bladder and quickly roused Sam into action. The boy lumbered over to the backdoor, and easily lifted the latch.
It took only moments for Sam to find a suitable bush. As he relieved himself, his passenger channelled out as much chaos magic as he could. After a minute or so, Sam’s bladder was drained, and with it a modest portion of the chaos magic.
*Excellent. At this rate, he should be back to normal in… *
Something was wrong. As Sam plodded back towards the house, the concentration of chaos magic was slowly rising. He ordered the boy to halt, hoping that it was proximity to the house that caused the sudden rise. But the chaos magic just kept pouring in like water through a cracked hull. Thinking quickly, he increased Sam’s body temperature until the boy was sweating profusely, and tried to bleed off the chaos magic that way. The influx slowed to equilibrium, but at the rate Sam was sweating, he’d dehydrate in less than an hour.
He held out for as long as he dared. Eventually, Sam dropped to the ground panting and writhing in his intense fever. For a few minutes, he monitored the boy’s vitals, relaxing his vigil when the body temperature dropped back to acceptable levels.
He just didn’t understand. From the rate at which the chaos magic had been flooding into him, Sam’s body should be inundated with it. But as soon as it reached its previous saturation, the flood immediately slowed to a trickle, then shut off completely. Like the vast majority of chaos magic, this spell had no matrix to study, so he couldn’t even get a read on it. What was its purpose, and how had he been able to drain it down in the first place? Who was able to cast such a complex spell with an energy source that was, by nature, entirely unpredictable?
Unfortunately, he would get no answers with the boy asleep, and he dared not try to wake him again. Any more interference would result in permanent damage, at least until sun-up by his estimate. All he could do in the meantime was wait, but he didn’t worry. Instead, he settled with practiced ease into the thoughtless but watchful fugue of an ancient mind.