Crackship in a bottle

by Shrink Laureate

The Silent Patient

“It’s good to be helping,” sighed the doctor as he bade goodbye to another pony.

He carefully slid his patient notes into a folder and filed them away under ‘R’. Pushing the filing cabinet drawer closed with a paw, he turned to see that he had another guest in his room.

“Oh, hello. I didn’t see you there. Is there anything I can help you with?”

The baby alligator said nothing, simply looked at him with unflinching eyes. He was sitting on the small, round table by the window, overlooking the streets of Ponyville. In front of him sat a chess board, left mid-game by a previous patient.

“Well, I have no other patients this afternoon, so I suppose you can stay here.”

Doctor Wolf sat down in the chair opposite his guest. He found that pony furniture, while serviceable, wasn’t really designed for the lupine form, so shortly after signing the lease on his new office he’d asked Davenport, the proprietor of Sofas & Quills, to order some chairs in specially from a supplier in Canterlot.

The alligator sat on the table and licked his own eyeball.

The sound of a low bell filled the room, its echo fading slowly. The alligator turned to look past the doctor at the tall grandfather clock that continued to tick away seconds.

“Yes, I suppose it is fairly quiet here,” said the doctor. “But that’s quite all right. I’m sure business will pick up once ponies in this town realise that there’s nothing wrong with getting advice from a wolf.”

The alligator stared at him, unblinking.

“No, I just need to be a little patient with them.” The doctor looked away. “Everypony’s nervous about talking about personal matters at first, particularly to a wolf, but they quickly get used to the idea of it once they give it a go.”

The alligator looked to the door.

“Roseluck? She was just worried about a friend who she thinks is suffering from delusions. I was able to reassure her that a lot of ponies enjoy flights of fancy and it doesn’t necessarily mean they have a problem engaging with reality. Still, it might be a good idea to arrange a session with Mr Time Turner if I can – provided I can do so without violating patient confidentiality, of course.”

The alligator turned his head slightly.

“Well, a preoccupation with time travel could be a mark of regret. It could stem from a desire to avert some past event or change a wrong decision in a pony’s past,” clarified the doctor. “After all, every one of us makes mistakes on occasion, and we have to live with the consequences. Sometimes we’re able to correct those mistakes, or make up for them, and sometimes we can’t. So it is possibly that he’s holding onto lingering regret for some mistake he couldn’t fix. But of course, that’s only speculation. I’d have to hear his side of the story first.”

The alligator looked down at the object on the table in front of him.

“The chess board? That was left here yesterday by Miss Twilight Sparkle, one of my first patients. She apparently finds it relaxing to play while she talks. And of course she left it here in case other ponies find it relaxing as well. That’s just the sort of pony she is.”

The alligator flicked his tongue out, nudging a piece on the board. With a small smile, the doctor reached forward and obediently moved the intricately carved black pegasus two squares toward him, one square to the side.

“A bold move. You’ve trapped both my unicorns, since I need them to defend my princess against whichever direction your pegasus goes next. But let me see how you respond to this?”

The doctor slid a white earth pony piece forward across the left side of the board, threatening the black princess.

The alligator stared at the board for a while. His eyes faced different directions. It wasn’t clear if he was thinking or simply staring into space. Just as the doctor was starting to feel silly, the alligator flicked his tongue twice against another piece.

“Hmm,” thought the doctor as he moved the small bat two squares forward to stand in the path of the white earth pony. “That does block me from taking your princess, but it also leaves a gap in your defences here.” The doctor moved his solar guard forward to where it could launch a diagonal assault on the black princess.

The alligator again took his time to stare at the pieces. Eventually he flicked his tongue against his lunar guard, then turned to look at the far corner of the board.

Uncertain of the indicated move, the doctor slid the lunar guard four squares. “Here?” The alligator blinked. “Oh, you mean here?” A flick of the tongue. “Yes, that does make more sense. In fact it, uh...”

Putting the piece down, the doctor stared at the board around it as the pattern of future moves dropped into place. He tried playing through a number of paths in his head, but each one came up short. Eventually he realised the inevitable.

“In fact, that’s mate in three moves. Um... congratulations?”

He looked at the toothless little baby alligator with a new respect.

The alligator looked back blankly. After a while he turned to look out the window instead.

The doctor looked out as well, watching the daily life of Ponyville trot past. He noticed that the alligator’s closely eyes followed one pink pony that was prancing past, cheerfully waving hello to everypony she passed.

“I see, that’s Miss Pinkie Pie, isn’t it? Is she perhaps your owner?”

The alligator briefly looked at him before turning his gaze back to Pinkie Pie, who had started singing a song and somehow dragged a couple of dozen ponies into it with her.

“All right, I suppose ‘owner’ was a bad choice of words. Nobody wants to be owned. Even when we’re dependent on others in so many ways, we still want to feel like we’re the masters of our own fate.”

He followed the little alligator’s intent gaze.

“At the same time, we all have a desire to be accepted, particularly by those whose opinion matters to us. I’ve heard Miss Pinkie Pie is a very friendly pony, so I’m sure she’s good to you.”

The doctor watched the alligator; the alligator watched the pink pony as she danced and played and sang with all the other ponies.

“Are you concerned that she’s having fun without you? That perhaps you can’t engage with her on the same level as her pony friends...”

The doctor trailed off. He looked around his consulting room with a sad look in his eyes. It struck him, not for the first time, that no matter where in Equestria he went, no matter how many patients he helped, he was always going to be a wolf among ponies. He was always going to sit in differently shaped furniture. He was always going to eat his meals in private. He liked ponies, and he liked helping them, but that barrier would always be there.

He turned back to his guest, to find the little alligator staring at him.

“I think perhaps you understand me better than any pony in town.”

The door of the doctor’s office burst open. “Gummy!” shouted Pinkie Pie.

“I beg your pardon?”

“You must be the Dr Wolf I’ve been hearing about. I thought ponies were being silly, but you really are a wolf! Is your name actually Wolf or is it just a title? Did you get called Wolf because you’re a wolf, or did you get turned into a wolf because you were called Wolf? How did you become a talking wolf? Did you make Discord angry? Did he turn you into a wolf? Or did you accidentally touch a magical crystal and it made you into a wolf? Or did you fall in some poison joke and it hasn’t worn off yet?”

“Er, no, actually I’ve always—”

“Anyway, since you’re new in town I’m going to throw you a party! Tomorrow night, at Sugarcube Corner. You’ll be there, right? Right? Right? Cause there’ll be streamers and punch and cake and music and lights and glitter and dancing and little funny umbrellas.”

“Oh, well, I’m not really the party sort of—”

“Great! See you tomorrow, Doc! And thanks for looking after Gummy, I’m sure he appreciates it.”

With that she grabbed the little alligator, plonked him on her back and bounded towards the door.

“Um, before you go, Miss Pie?”

She turned and asked, “Yes?”

“If it’s all right with you, I’d welcome another chance to talk to Gummy some time.”

Pinkie’s grin widened until it threatened to take her whole head off. “Awwwww! Gummy, you made a friend. I’m so proud of you!”