• Published 25th Jun 2013
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Advance - Mist



The age of technology has hit Equestria. Ponies everywhere are connecting in ways they never felt imaginable. In this world of constant digital connection, Apple Bloom is learning that things change as you get older...

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Advance

Advance

By Mist

"Our lives are slowly being robbed by the claw of progress."

Sometimes you just have to accept reality, even if it's difficult. It's so much easier to try and escape into a dream; a fairy tale that your mind concocted to shield you from the truth. A way of hiding right out in the open. You can't carry on forever in a fleeting dream though, because eventually the nightmare of reality rears its ugly head around.

When one is asleep, it’s like a whole other world. A place where you are in complete control. No wrong can happen and no bad can come of anything and your mind is God. However for myself, reality had been creeping into my slumbers for some time now. Perhaps as a way of reminding me that there is no hiding. There is no place where I am safe from the harsh truths that I reject again and again.

An older stallion bumped my shoulder and gave a concerned facial expression. "Apple Bloom, pay attention, you don't want Ms. Cheerilee to scold you again do you?" He said.

His dark gray fur seemed to dance as he moved. That stallion didn't trim his coat, and it showed. He always appeared very rugged. Accompanying the messy coat, was a white short cut mane; messy as well.

"Yeah, sorry. Was daydreamin'," I lied.

Fuse Box, that was his name. At nineteen, he was a few years my senior. We had the same math class, but that's only because he had slacked off and didn't take math until his second to last year, so he had to make up 3 math credits in one term. Fuse was a smart cookie, but his ability to apply himself was almost nonexistent. If he spent half as much time on school work as he did gawking at the latest gadgets, he would probably be top of the class by now.

Fuse rolled his orange eyes and brought his attention back up front, only talking out of the corner of his mouth. "Better at least look up front if you're gonna day dream." He said.

Good advice; if I actually cared about being caught not paying attention. There was so much on my mind that I didn't really find the room to fuss over such trivial things. Cheerilee could scold me all she liked and it wouldn't do much for me.

"Y'all ain't one to talk." I mocked. Fuse commonly was caught not paying attention because he was fiddling with some new electronic, or magazine regarding electronics.

He merely rolled his eyes in response.

It wouldn't make much of a difference anyways, as not only a minute later, that final bell granted us all freedom to return to our lives outside of this building. Instinctively, I was already throwing my books into my bag, Fuse doing likewise. We didn't even make it to the door frame before Cheerilee gave a call out to the unkempt unicorn next to me.

"Fuse Box, could you please stay after class for a moment?" Cheerilee's voice seemed stern but concerned. She always sounded like a mare who took her job too seriously.

With a sigh, Fuse gave me a gesture to suggest I should go ahead. "Looks like I'm getting chewed out for not turning in my homework again." He added.

Not sure what to say to comfort him I just shot him back a simple, "good luck". Then again he was held after class by Ms. Cheerilee so often that he was probably used to it at this point. Cheerilee must not have been good at chastising as it clearly wasn't having an effect.

"I'll see you tomorrow, Apple Bloom." He waved as I exited the room.

No sooner than when I had stepped out the door did I come face to face with a familiar orange face. Her magenta eyes only inches from my own. I nearly jumped at the surprise.

"Don't sneak up on me, Scoot!" I pushed her out of the way as I made my way to the entrance of the school, Scootaloo just tagged along behind me.

"So, how about that movie this Saturday?" The pegasus inquired.

"Ah'm not feelin' up to it..." I replied very plainly as the pegasus tried to keep up with my brisk pace.

Scootaloo grunted in an annoyed fashion. "You always say that..." Her tone was almost whiny. Brushing her black highlighted mane out of her face, she tried to get in front of me.

"Maybe 'cause it's always true." I swerved around her.

We had made it down the street before she opened her mouth again. "Well I can't really hang out with you at home, on the account of your brother doesn't want me within a 10 foot radius of you." She explained.

"Yeah, why is that?" My brow rose.

Scootaloo shuffled a bit before answering. "Eh, me and him had a spat a while ago. He is probably still sore about it."

She was clearly lying. Big Mac wasn't one to hold a grudge over an argument. Truth be told, he avoided arguments. If he wanted Scoot away from me, then chances are she did something he honestly felt put me in some kind of danger. It's been like this for almost two years now, so I doubt anything is going to be changing anytime soon.

"Well-" Scootaloo cut her sentence short as a light ringing could be heard. Rummaging through her bag, she retrieved a ear piece and placed it on her right ear before hitting a button. "Sorry, gotta take this." She pointed to her ear. "Hello? Oh Dash, what's up?"

I rolled my eyes. She didn't notice however as she was already trying to make her exit so she could enjoy her call. "We'll talk later." She covered the microphone to deliver that message to me, and before I even had a chance to answer, she was trotting in the opposite direction.

Not only a few steps later I noticed the constant chatter of ponies talking away on communicators. The odd devices just fastened to their ears at all times. It was amazing that conversation that wasn't electronic even went on anymore.

My attention was drawn to a monitor perched on top of the old Ponyville hotel. It had been erected there about six months ago when this new technology craze came. It had been brought forth nearly two years ago now, and despite Ponyville holding onto its old traditions it too inevitably caught the virus of "progress" too. This town was the last haven away from the madness of this new world, and now it soon too would be completely industrialized. Old run down family businesses were soon to be replaced with factories and heavy industry.

A familiar face appeared on screen chanting a message many of us had heard thousands of times at this point. His light brown fur contrasted against his shiny golden crown resting on his neat mane. "Citizens of Ponyville, we are standing at an amazing turning point in the road. We stand at the crossroad of nostalgia and progress. We must remember that the feelings of nostalgia although blissful can blind us from reality and hinder our advancement. Make the right choice, choose progress. King Enterprises is that choice, we are progress. Let us build a better Ponyville."

Prince Cog. Apparently the nephew of Princess Luna. He had made his public debut around two years ago when this all began. He was the stallion behind this revolution, and he certainly ruled over it like he was king, thus why his company was appropriately named. King Enterprises owned just about everything. Cog had used his inheritance in the royal family to build a different kind of empire; a business one. His connections made it easy to buy out shops and turn them into factories to build his machines.

It all started with his invention and patenting of those communicators that everypony was using. At first nopony thought they would catch on, but sure enough not even three months later, half of Equestria has them. Quickly slapping out a patent for them, Cog had a monopoly on communication. And ponies love to talk, so naturally the wealth he had put into his business was returned faster than it took him to design the communicators in the first place.

A new Ponyville was indeed coming whether you were for it or against it. And right there at the top would be the new face of Ponyville: Prince Cog.

I honestly didn't waste many thoughts on Cog or this new era of technology to be honest. There were so many more things on my mind that I didn't really have the time to even think about that.

I could see the farmhouse come into view now. The fields were mostly empty, growing season had just ended and we were more or less getting ready for cider season so we'd have money to last through the winter. However with expenses a bit higher since last year, Big Mac would take on various odd jobs over the Winter. That stallion would work himself into the grave, as none of us could convince him to take time off.

Slipping into the house, I crept past the stallion in his chair, a newspaper unfolded in front of his face. My steps were light enough to where he didn't even hear me enter. It made it easier to quickly bolt upstairs without having to stop and chat.

Big Mac didn't even notice me go past him, and I had made it to my room more or less undetected. Well, almost undetected anyways. I must have not noticed my sister's door was open. It wasn't usual for her to be awake when I got home from school, as she'd usually be quite exhausted by this time.

Sure enough though, no sooner than when I had dived face first into my bed and threw my school bag aside, there the blonde mare stood at the door frame. Her ponytail was untied again today, and her signature stetson was nowhere to be seen. This was actually a pretty common look for her lately. She looked exhausted. Her hoof on the doorframe looked weak, not sporting the strong grip I always remembered.

"Howdy, Apple Bloom."

---

Breakfast that next morning was awkward as usual. Granny Smith would forget what we were doing and go on a long story that she wouldn't finish on the account of her not remembering most of it. Big Mac would remain mostly silent; he wasn't much of a talker.

It was a pretty ordinary morning all things considered. Well it was anyways until hoof steps in the other room could be heard. Slow, gentle steps. The steps of one just having trouble getting to where they were going. Big Mac responded by getting out of his seat to assist the young mare approaching. Trotting out of the room, he returned with our sister's hoof in his, guiding her to the table.

She still had a blanket wrapped around her. "Feelin' alright, sis?" Big Mac inquired.

She nodded and took a seat next to him at the table as he came back to his seat. "Just a little cold this mornin' is all." She smiled in my direction to which I just looked down at my food.

"How are you today lil' sis?" She gave me another warm smile as she asked.

I spoke very quietly as I pushed my chair out. "Fine... I gotta get goin' to school though."

I just wanted to get out of that room quickly.

"Alright, have a good one." She called out as I made a hasty retreat to the front door.

"Sure thing, Applejack." Was all I replied with before making my exit.

By the time I had gotten into town, I was already over twenty minutes ahead of schedule to be at school. Which was a fortunate fact as I was stopped by an azure mare who questioned what I was in such a hurry for. Her icy mane swayed happily in the wind as she spoke.

"Good morning, Apple Bloom, you're up and about early." She had a warm smile about her as she spoke.

"Oh, hey Trixie. Just headin' to school." I shrugged.

She gave a nod. "It's pretty early, not even Scootaloo goes this early."

I recalled she and Scootaloo were fairly close. She was also one of the few ponies who never referred to her as "Scoot". Then again it would look quite strange to see Trixie using such a childlike pet name. Ever since she came back to Ponyville a few years ago, she had become the icon of maturity. The mare was about as grown up as they come.

"Just tryin' to get a head start on the day, Ah guess." My country accent seemed oddly thick in that utterance.

"Scootaloo was saying how you two don't hang out much anymore. Your brother still mad at her?" She changed the subject pretty quickly.

I nodded. "Guess so." The truth was that I honestly hadn't the slightest clue as to why Big Mac treated her like the plague. I assumed they had some kind of dispute while I wasn't looking, and he has held on for quite some time, which wasn't like him. None the less, whenever I asked he simply left it at "she's bad news." That's all I could get out of him.

"How's the bakery?" I faked interest in the conversation.

Trixie smiled before answering, her usual carefree demeanor showing through. "Oh it's great. Though Pinkie can be a bit much to work with sometimes."

I would imagine that working with Pinkie Pie would be an "interesting" experience. "At least you don't live at the bakery, right?"

She twitched at the thought. "Pinkie is great to work with and all, but I think I'd lose my mind if I had to live with her. She's certainly a pony that takes some getting used to."

"Well, Ah gotta get runnin' off to school." I tried to stress the urgency so I would be permitted to leave without question. She simply nodded and waved as I trotted off.

---

"Y'all wanna play some ball after class?" My voice reached out to the unicorn standing adjacent to me.

Her tidy purplish mane swayed as she shook her head in rejection.

"Sorry, I have plans with White. He's taking us out to go see a movie." She explained as she picked up a pudding cup and placed it on her lunch tray.

I rolled my eyes. "Y'all sure are attached to that coltfriend of yours..."

"We have a very... Special connection..." Her voice grew quiet, and she avoided eye contact, as if she hoped I didn't inquire any further.

Sure enough, I didn't wish to know anymore. Her relationship with that stallion already had me uneasy. Sharing a cutie mark struck me as odd, not to mention a slight hint of jealousy as I still didn't even have mine. Though that problem was pushed to the back of my mind.

"I could come over to your place this weekend if you want?" She changed the subject. "Twilight would be alright with it, I'm sure." She added.

Ever since Rarity died a few months ago Sweetie Belle had lived with Twilight. Her coltfriend was her cousin, and he had convinced her to take Sweetie in, though it wasn't too difficult as Rarity was a close friend. Sweetie's parents seemed to be all for any idea that would keep the filly happy given she had just come out of an extreme depression not too long ago.

"Nah, that's okay..." I quickly dismissed the idea.

She frowned at my rejection. "You never let me come to your house anymore. What's so bad over there that you don't want me to see?"

"Nothing, just I got a lot of work around the house is all." I lied, hoping she'd take that and leave it.

Sweetie Belle sat down with her tray and sighed. Clearly she had given up on this conversation as she had started placing food in her mouth. I followed in suit and did the same.

---

The truth? That was the one thing I always tried to avoid if it was possible. Most of the time by just staying away from the subject altogether. However the truth was things are not so fine.

Applejack was ill, very ill. We had taken her to doctor after doctor only to find them all say the same thing. Her body was getting weaker and weaker and it was only a matter of time. There was nothing they could do for her. All we could do is wait for the end to finally come. I still remember my brother in tears when we heard the news. Poor Big Mac didn't sleep for three nights after that.

That's when the nightmares started, not too long after we found out. I had to go to the doctor to get some kind of medication just so I could get to sleep at night, and naps during the day were impossible. Even thinking of sleep brought the vivid memories of the nightmares forth.

I made good friends with coffee, as it kept me awake during school and hide the fact that I was restless and exhausted most of the time.

"Apple Bloom, would y'all help me to the tub? Ah can't seem to get downstairs too well today." The voice of Applejack filled my room as I laid facing the wall opposite to her. I wanted to pretend I didn't even hear her, but I knew she'd just repeat herself.

"Aye." Was all I said as I turned and got off of the bed to help my invalid sister.

Coming to her side, I took her hoof carefully as I started to lead the way out of the room, remaining as silent as possible. I would have preferred that conversation be kept to a minimal as we journeyed from the bedroom to the washroom downstairs.

Trotting slowly past her room, she halted us to venture into her own room. "Hang on, forgot somethin'." She spoke as she trotted in.

Returning only a few seconds later, she was fastening a familiar device to her ear, struggling to do so.

"Ah don' know why Ah haveta' wear this darn thing. Ah keep tellin' Big Mac Ah'll be fine." She complained as she finally got it on.

Big Mac wasn't a very tech savvy pony and neither was Applejack. Truth be told, I am not much for it either. However he insisted on AJ and him getting a set of those communicators after she got sick. He said he wanted to always be a call away. That was about the extent of either of them using the things though. Neither were too impressed with the technology. Big Mac still had to ask me how to even make a call on the thing. I only knew from watching Scootaloo using them from time to time.

"Big Mac jus' wants to be careful is all." I responded.

AJ just rolled her eyes and took my hoof once again, allowing me to guide her once more. "Y'all are fussin' over nothin'."

Her definition of nothing must have been quite generous.

Slowly making our way down the steps, I stood in front of her so she could take her time coming down. Not wanting to rush her so she'd fall again. I still recall the last time she fell. It was only a few steps, but Big Mac had my head for two weeks over it. I was more terrified seeing my sister go tumbling down the stairs though.

We reached the bottom safely which almost merited a sigh of relief as she almost missed a step. I was just thankful she actually asked for help and didn't stubbornly try and do this on her own.

"Thanks sugar cube." She gave me a smile as I started towards the wash room.

"Don' mention it."

As we arrived, I reached into the tub and turned the water on for her, making sure it wasn't unbearable. After fiddling with the faucet knobs for a minute or two, I felt it was a comfortable enough temperature to bathe in.

"Alright, I'll be jus' in the kitchen. If y'all need me then ya' best yell for me," I instructed.

AJ merely nodded as she set her headset on the counter. I stood there for a moment watching her descend into the water before taking my leave before she could say anything else.

As I pulled out a chair to sit at the kitchen table, I noticed Big Mac entering with sweat still dripping from his muzzle. He must have been out working I surmised. Reaching into the fridge, he retrieved a pitcher and poured himself a drink.

"We gotta take sis to the doctor tomorrow, ya know?" His deep voice was strangely quiet.

I nodded. "Have fun ."

He gave an expression like he was going to say something else, but instead just nodded and picked up his cup and headed right back out the way he came in.

I guessed that's about how he'd respond.

---

"Sugar Cube Corner." Trixie answered the bakery's incoming call on her headset. The bakery had all of their incoming calls linked to Pinkie and Trixie's communicators some time ago. Those things certainly got a lot more business at least. "Oh yes Mr. Fix, we should have it done this afternoon." Trixie paused to listen to the stallion before wishing him well and hanging up and returning to her bowl of dough she was making.

"Those things are annoyin'." I rolled my eyes as I watched her.

She sighed and nodded. "They certainly aren't the highlight of my day, but they are good for business. Besides, it's not like we spend most of the day on them." She came back with a smile before both of us turned our attention over to Pinkie Pie who was trying to juggle three calls at once, all of which recreational.

She had been glued to a communicator since she first got one. It really shouldn't be much of a surprise, as Pinkie's favorite pastime was talking.

"Well... Most of us anyways..." Trixie rolled her eyes.

"So, how is Scoot doing?" I asked.

She gave a strange look to me before answering. One that suggested she was suspicious of me. "Why don't you just call her up and find out?"

I shook my head. "Can't. Her and Big Mac, remember? That and the only communicators in the house are his and AJ's. They'd know if Ah called her, and Big Mac would give me the whole 'Ah don' want y'all hangin' round that filly' speech again." I made a mock Big Mac voice as I quoted him. It almost brought Trixie to a giggle I noticed.

She nodded and placed her bowl on the counter as she mixed. "Well, her and Rainbow have been hanging out all the time. She and Sweetie have gotten pretty distant I know. She keeps saying that Sweetie is almost in another world or something."

That much was true. Sweetie had changed quite a bit. Maybe it was maturity, but she went from her carefree self to a severe depression and now she was so serious. Everything with her was so tense, so over the top. She certainly wasn't a pony you spoke to to feel better about a situation. She had turned into quite the realist, and I imagined Rarity's passing didn't help that any.

"Sweetie Belle is like ice an' fire. She is jus' one extreme to the next extreme. A constant roller coaster, that one." I replied.

"The only pony she opens up to is that boyfriend of hers. I'd imagine Rarity being out of the picture has only made her close up more." Trixie began to pour the contents of her bowl into a cake tin.

I wasn't so sure about that. I mean, I wouldn't know considering Sweetie doesn't open up to me, but the way she acted at the funeral tells me that it didn't hit her that hard. Which still perplexed me. Her own sister, life cut short, and yet Sweetie didn't even shed a tear. She didn't show much real interest in the funeral arrangements either. I recall her actually leaving early to go back to Twilight's house with White Star.

Come to think of it, I recall she had been growing more distant with her sister prior to her death too. Around the time when she got depressed, she started some extreme distancing between them. It was almost as if she was trying not to get too attached. Very strange, but Sweetie Belle has been uttering nonsense that nopony can understand for years now.

"Sweetie Belle is pretty darn secretive, so I guess we may never know." I shrugged.

Trixie nodded with a very "you got that right" expression.

"She ain't the only one that went through drastic changes though." I leaned up on the counter with a smirk as I mocked her. Trixie merely rolled her eyes.

I could already tell she didn't want to discuss this topic. Nopony really knew Trixie's story to be honest, not even Pinkie Pie whom she worked with everyday. She was either ashamed of it, or just didn't like talking about the past. However every pony knew that something drastic must have happened to turn that boastful magician into a kindly baker.

"Well, Ah outta be headin' home." I decided it was best to end the conversation before it got more awkward.

Trixie just nodded in approval as she waved to me heading out the door.

Not even ten seconds outside I bumped right into a familiar white mare. Both of us falling backwards, her slender coltfriend offered a hoof to her to get her of of the ground. She accepted it happily before looking to me with serious eyes.

"Sorry, Sweetie. Ah wasn't watchin' where Ah was goin'." I apologized as I came back to a stand.

Sweetie turned her head to the bakery to see Trixie in the window, then back to me. "I wouldn't be too curious, Apple Bloom. Some things are better off not being known. Before you know it, you'll end up cursed with the burden of reality." Her voice was very serious.

Curses? What was she talking about?

"Huh?" My brow rose in complete confusion.

White Star who was still holding her hoof shook his head and tugged her hoof to try and get her to come with him. "Forgive her, Apple Bloom, she's not feeling well right now." He smiled as he forced her to walk with him, picking up their step.

I lingered for a moment to catch him scolding her in an almost whisper. "You are going to make her snoop more if you keep talking like that."

Snoop more? I wondered what he could possibly be talking about. However, Sweetie Belle's secrets weren't about to become known to me any time soon.

---

"Fuse, why do y'all listen to this sappy hogwash?" I complained as his endless stream of love songs played off of his radio.

He only rolled his eyes and turned back from the chair he was sitting in to me. His hoof still wrapped around a screwdriver. The stallion had been fiddling with his communicator, trying to modify it.

"What's wrong Apple Bloom, never been in love?" He gave a smirk with his question, making it obvious he was mocking me.

I rolled onto my back while laying on his bed. "Is this what love is like? Bein' hopelessly attached to some blockhead to the point where y'all are makin' hundreds of dumb love songs 'bout 'em?"

Fuse, surprisingly only chuckled as he returned his attention to his project in front of him. His voice was plain, but had just a hint of cheeriness. "Sometimes even more than that." He replied.

I suppose Fuse was a hopeless romantic, who'd have guessed though? "Why are y'all fiddlin' with that dumb thing." I changed the subject.

Not even turning to face me, he continued working on his device. "I want to see if I can make it so I can increase the signal strength. That way I'll get better reception where I go."

"Why don't y'all just talk to the pony in person?" I rose a brow with an honest question.

Fuse gave a grunt and ignored my question. Clearly he didn't even want to humor my criticism today. That wasn't too abnormal as him and I would constantly go back and forth about this technology craze of his.

I decided it was best to move to a new subject. "So, Ah saw Cheerilee was scoldin' you again today. I imagine it was because once again you didn't turn in the homework?"

He only nodded, still focused on his work in front if him.

"Ya know if ya spent as much time doin' your homework as y'all did messin' with that useless junk, then ya wouldn't have to have her scold ya every other day..." I presented the idea not as a suggestion he would actually consider, but more of an ironic musing that even I, a simple country girl, could figure that out.

He shrugged. "It doesn't bug me that much. Cheerilee isn't too intimidating to face. Now, Principal Buck, that's another story..."

I had heard stories about Buck. He was regarded as a pretty ruthless disciplinarian, and didn't like constant trouble makers. Many fillies and colts feared having to go to his office. He certainly wasn't a very understanding guy. Often when he walked around the school, he just remained silent. That probably only served to make him scarier.

"Ah suppose Ah'd rather have Miss Cheerilee on my case than Buck." I chuckled.

He remained oddly quiet as if something was on his mind. "Likewise..." Was all that came out of his mouth.

---

That weekend had been quite an interesting endeavor. Pinkie Pie was holding a big picnic for well near half the town. Her events usually had a ridiculously high turn out. Often times there wouldn't even be enough food, but ponies would show up anyways and just enjoy each other's company along with the atmosphere. This event was no different.

The weather was a bit cold for a picnic, but that didn't seem to stop any pony. I had been sipping some cider even when I was called over by an azure mare.

"Apple Bloom, it's nice to see you again." Echoed Trixie's voice.

I began to approach before I noticed she stood there with Sweetie Belle and her coltfriend. It was too late to get away and avoid the obviously awkward conversation that would follow.

"Howdy." I took the cup to my mouth to make an excuse not to say more than that.

"White Star here was saying how the three of you really should get together more." Trixie pointed to the colt with a cup still in her hoof. He merely smiled.

"Ah've jus' been busy is all." I lied.

Sweetie Belle's expression took a dip. "Life is too short to be slaving away all the time."

I couldn't even remark as it'd sound rude considering what happened to Rarity. If anyone would know the meaning of the phrase "life is too short", it would be Sweetie Belle. There was one thing I was meaning to ask though.

"By the way. How y'all holdin' up at Twilight's place? Ah know it's probably a little bit different." I tried to word the question in such a way that I avoided mention of Rarity or her absence.

Sweetie Belle merely gave an uninterested shrug. Which was remarkable really, as she has yet to show just about any real concern over what happened. I could have asked "How's it going now that Rarity is dead and buried?" And it probably would have had the same effect. Sweetie was either very uncaring or great at hiding her emotions.

"It's alright." She rattled off simply.

I was astounded by how she doesn't even pretend to be interested in conversations. You'd think ponies would call her out on her rudeness.

"So, you two see that our band is going well?" Trixie interjected, probably detecting the current conversation was running dry.

"No 'fense Trix' but Scoot should really focus more on other things an' not some silly band." I recalled her strange behavior two years ago when she started slipping in school.

"I disagree." Sweetie Belle butted right back in. My face turned to one of genuine interest. Sweetie Belle was the last pony I expected to disagree with me on this subject.

She turned to me with yet another serious look. It was almost as if that was a signature move of hers', that face. "She should enjoy herself. Life is shorter than one would imagine."

White Star gave her shoulder a nudge. "Sweetie, perhaps you should sit down, you've had a bit too much to eat." He smiles as he takes the mare's hoof in his own. She simply nods and follows suit.

This was the second time he had done this. He kept dismissing Sweetie Belle from me and then wandered off with her to talk about something that he apparently didn't want me to hear. The moment the two were out of earshot, I glanced to Trixie, whom shrugged.

"She's right you know? We don't know how long we have until we're gone. You might as well make the best of it. Sometimes there is no turning back, so we have to appreciate the here and now." Trixie's voice became more stern as she spoke. She avoided eye contact and just watched Sweetie Belle and White Start trot off.

I would have said something, but I agreed to be honest. Sometimes there really is no turning back.

---

Big Mac had been helping AJ all morning today. The muscular stallion had washed her, fed her, and even brushed her mane for her. It was one of her weaker days where she couldn't even get herself out of bed. I had just spent the entire day studying downstairs, far away from that situation. Occupying myself in my books was common for me as a way of getting away from the home around me.

Sure enough though as I predicted, Big Mac wouldn't stay up there forever. Eventually he would return downstairs and avoiding him would be impossible. That time had finally come as I heard his hoof steps coming down the stairs and winding into the living room to peek and see if I was inside. Once he confirmed, he trotted in casually. I pretended I didn't see him in hopes that he may give up and go elsewhere. No such luck.

"How's the studyin' going'?" He peeked over the recliner I was sitting in to get a look at my history book.

I turned a page and avoided eye contact. "Fine."

"Ah jus' put your sister to bed for the night." He explained.

"Good, good." I replied, as my eyes stayed glued to the page.

He leaned in closer and placed a hoof on my head. "Ya' know she would like you two to spend more time together?"

"Can't right now, Ah'm busy." That was a lie. I didn't even have a test tomorrow.

"Too busy to make time for your sister?" He nudged my head a bit, clearly not buying my story entirely.

"Maybe this weekend." I was just saying anything to end the conversation at this point.

Finally he came off the back of the chair and over to the side so he could see me from a better angle. It was clear he was about to get a bit more pushy about the subject. "Ya' know she don't have all the time in the world, right?"

Guilt trip. Should have seen that one coming.

"I'm well aware." I pulled the book over my face.

Big Mac pushed it back down right away. "Then why are y'all leavin' her alone? She wants to see her sister more, an' Ah don' think that's too much to ask."

"Because." Was the only answer I could get out. Really clever, Apple Bloom.

"Because why?" His voice actually rose a bit.

I cracked. I couldn't take being pressed any longer, or maybe I actually wanted to say it out loud so I didn't have to hide it any longer. I shouted at him with my answer. "Because I can't stand to see her like this!"

He blinked and fell silent before nodding and sitting down next to the chair.

"Apple Bloom..." He began.

"Jus' stop. Ah don' wanna hear it..." I cut him off, venom in my voice.

"Apple Bloom, Ah know you're scared. Y'all are worried 'bout your sister, but how do ya' think she feels?" He gave a second for me to answer. I said nothing, so he continued. "She knows better than all of us. Ain't no pony lives forever, Apple Bloom. AJ already knows the end is near, and Ah bet she would like her sister there to cross that last bridge with her before it's too late."

I remained silent.

He merely sighed and patted my shoulder as he turned away. "Think 'bout it."

How could I stop thinking about it?

---

Fuse Box had once again been asked to stay after class. However he seemed rather anxious today. It was like he had something he really wanted to do after class. Probably some more gadget tinkering. I swear that was the most excited I ever see him is when he is fooling around with another piece of worthless technology.

"I'll catch up with you later, Apple Bloom." He was quick to dismiss me.

Something about him seemed off today, but I decided to mind my own business, as I had enough to deal with.

What Big Mac said kept repeating in my head. I knew he was right, but every time I looked at her I just saw the end getting closer and closer. I couldn't see her without seeing it.

Sweetie Belle came to mind. She seemed to take Rarity's passing in stride, perhaps she might know what I should do. Quickly, I bolted to her locker, as I attempted to make the meeting look casual.

She stood there as per usual with her colt friend. I sometimes wondered what the two of them talked about, as it must have been interesting enough to spend every waking moment together. Maybe that's what love is like, wanting to spend every second with some pony. I could never do that.

"Sweetie Belle, Ah have an odd question." I placed a hoof on the locker next to her.

"You don't know the meaning of odd, Apple Bloom." She spoke in a matter-of-a-fact tone as she closed her locker and levitated her bag to her side.

"How do you deal with ponies dying?" I blurted it right out without a second thought.

Sweetie Belle froze for a moment, as did White Star. The two looked at each other with a worried expression before looking back at me. Sweetie Belle was the one to break the silence.

"Death is far more simple than you think." As she spoke, White Star took a step forward to cut her off, but she held out a hoof and spoke directly to him. "I got this."

"We live, we die. One can not escape that. It's the way of the world, once you accept that, then you'll find your life burdened with less worry." She had such a serious tone.

"How are you y'all so calm 'bout it?" My brow rose.

Sweetie shook her head as she trotted away from her locker towards me. "Don't worry about it."

I couldn't help it. Her lack of concern for even her own deceased sister was bothering me.

"Forgive my rudeness, but Ah can't help but notice how y'all don' even seem the slightest bit upset over Rarity." I wanted to cover my mouth only seconds after saying it.

To my surprise she merely smiled. She was smiling over that comment. I was at a loss for words.

"I got my mourning out of the way early." She said it as if Rarity was dying slowly prior to what happened. Was it possible she knew Rarity was going to die before she did?

Impossible. There was no way she could have foresaw her sister being caught up in that accident. Still though, her words caught my interest.

"What do you mean?" I questioned as I leaned in.

She just shook her head a second time. "Forget I said anything."

That wasn't going to happen.

---

I really wanted to listen to Big Mac, but the pain was too much to bear. Every time I looked at her, I got that sinking feeling. That feeling that if I look away for too long she'd be gone. I didn't like that feeling.

"Come on Apple Bloom, Ah wanna see the sunset." AJ encouraged as she held my hoof.

The two of us had been ascending the tallest hill in the field for a good 10 minutes. We had to stop every now and then for her to rest. If we didn't hurry then the Sun would already be down by the time we got up there.

AJ wanted to see the sunset today, and she had been going on about it all morning and how the hill was the "only" spot to see it for real. So sure enough, I was tasked with getting her up there so she could see it.

"We're almost there." I replied as we came to the summit.

Carefully, I let her sit down on the grass. Her legs were shaky as she rested her rear on the ground. Her body was so frail she could hardly walk, and getting up this hill on her own would have been near impossible.

Big Mac said he was too busy to do it, but I suspected this was his way of getting me and AJ together again.

"Careful." I warned as I sat down next to the sickly mare.

AJ looked off into the distance with marvel and wonder in her eyes. "It's gorgeous."

Adjusting my seat in the grass I nodded and looked up with her.

"Lookin' at the sky makes me think of Rainbow Dash sometimes." She had an odd way of opening conversation.

I leaned in her direction hoping I was looking sincere. "Rainbow Dash? Why?"

She smiled. "Ah always wondered what it'd be like to fly."

I shook my head. "Y'all shouldn't entertain such silly notions. Y'all will just depress yourself with dreams that won't come true."

AJ looked at me with a soft smile, my words seeming to have no effect on her thoughts. "Do y'all get sad when ya' dream?"

Her question hit me pretty hard. Sad was an understatement. I felt a rush of emotions from my dreams lately; anger, fear, sadness, bitterness, and regret. Many nights were spent waking up from nightmares.

I remember when we first sat on this hill together. I was still a toddler at the time, but I remember it so well. I would look up to see my elder sister sitting there proudly in her stetson, which was long gone now. It was around the time our grandfather died. I didn't know him too well, but I was a curious child. I recall asking why ponies die. She just gave me the usual "it's how it's supposed to be." Speech. Inquisitively I asked if she would die one day. That's the part I remember the most vividly.

The Sun reflected off of her orange face as she answered. The wind swaying her rough mane as well. "Nah, Ah'll always be here for ya'! Ah'm Super Pony!"

I had quite an affinity for comic books in my youth, so I figured she just wanted to relate it to something I understood.

It was obvious now though that she lied to make me feel better. Still though, I remember.

"Sometimes..." I finally answered her.

She giggled a bit and nudged my shoulder weakly. I could feel the lack of strength in her body just from that touch. I could even feel how cold her hooves were. It was no wonder that she was wrapped up in a sheet out here.

"Dreamin' is supposed to make ya' happy." She said.

"Maybe y'all are right." I looked up to the sunset, it was always amazing this time of the year. It coated the entire field in an orange and rose glow.

Right now though, my thoughts fixated on one thing that I couldn't get out of my head.

Super Pony.

---

"Sweetie Belle, Ah have to admit, y'all have been actin' quite strange." I spoke as Sweetie threw a rock into the lake.

We had met up here after school as we did from time to time. The lake was just kind of our place. Me, her and White Star. Scootaloo used to show up a long time ago, but ever since the feud with her and my brother started she has become distant. I also suspected there was bad water between her and Sweetie.

Scootaloo wasn't very fond of Sweetie's suspicious behavior if I recalled, and to be honest it was starting to bug me too. Probably not on the same level, but I actually didn't like how she acted like she had a secret she dangled in front of us, but wouldn't tell. It was almost insulting that she even called us friends and yet does that. We had no idea what she was hiding, but I was certain White Star knew what it was.

"I suppose if I were picking flowers and singing about how the world is a wonderful place you'd consider that normal, right?" Sweetie watched as White tossed a rock that flew further than her own. "Nice throw, hun." She complimented.

"Ah should 'ave expected sarcasm..." I rolled my eyes and took my turn, trying to outdo White with my throw.

"Apple Bloom, not to be rude and butt in, but what's bothering you?" White Star broke his usual silence. It looked like he was still prepared to protect Sweetie. Any time she was put on the spot he would quickly jump in and take attention away. The only way any pony would get her to reveal herself was if he wasn't around, which was a very small window; the two were inseparable.

"Nothing, don' worry 'bout it." I quickly lost interest when he decided to get involved. There was no way I was going to get what I was trying to get out of her once he started speaking. It was better to just drop it.

Unfortunately he didn't feel the same way.

"Apple Bloom, what's wrong?" He inquired as he and Sweetie Belle looked in my direction. I noticed Sweetie Belle whisper something into his ear and him nodding as they approached.

I scuffed at their rudeness. "Ah said nothing'."

That answer wasn't going to cut it today it seemed.

The two looked at each other then back to me. "What is it?" Sweetie pressed.

I turned away from them and began trotting back towards the farm. "Ah gotta go..."

They weren't about to give up as they started to follow.

"What is going on, Apple Bloom? You've been talking quite strangely for the past few days... Something is up that you're not telling us." That certainly was the pot calling the kettle black.

I sped up my pace hoping that it would deter them from following further. Unfortunately I had forgotten about their persistence. Those two weren't the ones to just give in, and commonly they didn't accept no as an answer either.

"It's nothing'." I was telling any lie I could to get rid of them as they kept close.

"Apple Bloom, why are you keeping these secrets? You're starting to act like Scootaloo." She pressed further as I could see the farm in the distance. I just needed to get through the gate and I'd be free of this pestering.

I tried to ignore her question, pretending I didn't hear her. Only inches from the gate I was home free.
"Apple Bloom!" She raised her voice to make sure I heard her that time.

Just as I thought I had made it away, I turned around to find another hoof on the gate. A familiar orange one. I was frozen, I couldn't speak or move.

"Ah, Apple Bloom, and Sweetie Belle, Ah haven't seen y'all in years!" AJ smiled warmly at the unicorn. The weakness in her voice was obvious.

Why today of all days did she decide to come outside? I was beating myself up for not thinking about this before heading back.

"Won't y'all stay for dinner?" AJ grinned again at the two young ponies.

White Star shook his head. "That's alright, we have to get back to Twilight's soon actually."

AJ nodded and turned back to head back to the house. "Alright, but y'all are always welcome."

As she took enough steps to be out of earshot, I let out a sigh. There was no doubt that Sweetie and White knew. They hadn't let their eyes leave her even as she was walking away.

"How long?" Were the only words that left White Star's mouth.

"'Bout two years now." I figured at this point they already knew, so I may as we'll answer their questions. "She'll be fine though." I gave a fake smile, really only trying to convince myself that I had fooled them.

"We should go." White took his mare's hoof as they turned around.

As I opened the gate, just barely I could hear Sweetie speaking to White Star, saying something she clearly didn't want me to hear. "No she won't."

---

I couldn't sleep that night. My mind kept falling back on familiar thoughts that usually dragged me down. Thoughts I had to suppress during the day so I could only have them haunt me at night.

Propping myself off of the bed, I threw on my jacket to protect me from the cold Autumn weather. I wasn't sure where I was going to go, but sitting in this house was only driving me mad. If I sat any longer, I'd surely be a basket case by dawn. I needed to see more than these four walls right now.

I crept out of the house with relative ease. Big Mac's room was no where near the front door, and AJ was on so much sleep medication that she was out cold until 9AM. They didn't even hear the front door close. I didn't even bother trying to make it close quietly, I just left casually as I would to go to school in the day.

It was late, probably close to midnight even. The only place I could think to go at this hour was the school and sit on the playground. They had connected the middle school and high school with the elementary school some years ago, so just outside of the high school was the old playground. It would be the perfect place to just relax and try to forget.

On the way there, I saw another familiar monitor relaying another annoying message.

"I understand there is concern about the future of Ponyville. Let me remind you that new factories means more jobs. At King Enterprizes, we care about our employees and thus we offer premium retirement benefits, health care and salaries that can feed one's entire family. Why stay stuck in the past, when the future is so marvelous? That future is in King Enterprises." Cog's annoying voice echoed through the town. It was amazing no pony broke that monitor yet.

I was pretty sick of seeing him myself. Him and his stupid communicators. What I would give to shove one of them where the sun doesn't shine, then maybe he'd have a better time talking to himself since his head is so far up his flank anyways.

It was interesting to wonder if he actually believed the hogwash that came out of his own mouth. Then again, it is probably frightening to know he actually does.

I tried to clear my mind of thoughts of the technological king of Equestria as the school came into view.

Sneaking over the gate to the back area, the playground was just past the basketball court where the fence let in. It was fairly unguarded, as at this hour even the janitors had gone home.

Rounding the corner though, I halted as I peeked to see two ponies sitting on the swings. One had a dark pink coat with a light colored mane to match. She was wrapped in a black scarf that was clearly too large for her. Next to her was a familiar stallion. Dark messy coat, and a mane that looked like he had just rolled out of bed (though at this hour, he probably did). There was no mistaking him, it was Fuse Box, and the other, Cheerilee.

I crept a little closer keeping in the darkness was to not be noticed as I spied on the two of them.

"You know Fuse, you can't keep flunking tests just to have a reason to stay after school. Homework is one thing because I can just let you turn it in after class, but once they start seeing poor test scores they are going to get suspicious." Cheerilee had a bit of a smile on her as she rocked back and forth gently speaking to the other.

Fuse sighed and nodded in response. "I just wanted to see you, that's all. However I understand, from now on I'll make sure to pass the tests. Wouldn't want my mom to start sniffing around at the school."

Cheerilee put her hoof to her mouth in surprise. "She isn't suspicious is she?"

Fuse chuckled. "Who, my mom? Nah. My mom is more occupied with her communicator than I am. She's on it so much she wouldn't notice if I sprouted wings and began flying everywhere. Unless the school calls her, she isn't going to be paying that much attention."

I observed as Cheerilee leaned closer to his swing. I nearly gasped as I saw their lips touch.

---

"So how much did you see exactly?" Fuse questioned as the two of us were on our way to school the next day.

"Ah saw y'all swapping saliva, Fuse." I kept my answer to the point. At this time it was clear he was just trying to figure out what I knew of this situation. Probably trying to determine if I was a threat or something.

He sighed and nodded. Clearly he had figured out he wasn't going to fool me.

"Yeah it's true... We've got kind of a thing going on." He sighed again.

A thing? Quite the understatement. If the two had a passing schoolyard crush, that would be a thing. This exceeded "a thing".

"How long has this been goin' on?" I quizzed, a bit curious now.

His face turned red before he answered. "Almost all school year, so for quite a few months now."

"And nopony else knows 'bout this?" I asked.

He shook his head. "You're the only one. My mom is oblivious so she isn't even the slightest bit suspicious that I sneak out at night."

I guess Fuse must have trusted me as he didn't seem all too concerned that I would tell any pony. After all such a secret could get Miss Cheerilee in huge trouble.

"Ain't she married?" I rose a brow.

"Yeah, that's why we meet at the school. Her husband doesn't get suspicious if she says she needs to go get something from her classroom or wanted to stay later to grade papers." He seemed very nonchalant about the fact that Cheerilee was having an affair.

Part of me was amazed we were even having this conversation.

"No 'fense, but ain't y'all a little uneasy about messin' with a married mare?" I asked the obvious question.

He shook his head. "Cheerilee's husband is oblivious. The guy doesn't even tell her she's pretty anymore. He doesn't deserve her. He has this amazing mare in front of him and he just ignores her. He doesn't even remember her birthday."

He sounded like quite a piece of work. Still though, didn't make any of this right.

"How serious is this thing?" I was almost afraid to ask.

As we passed the cafe down the street from the school, he grew a bit quieter.

"I plan on marrying her when I graduate..." He said.

Marrying her? Was he serious?

"Y'all are only 19..." I pointed out.

"I don't care. I'm old enough to know what love is." His response was quick.

"Well, I hope y'all know you're playin' a dangerous game. If'n ya' get caught, ya' both will be in deep." I explained.

"I'm well aware. You're not going to tell anypony are you?" He gave me a serious expression. That was the question I was waiting for. I suppose he must have trusted me, because he avoided asking until I pressed the matter, thus giving him reason to worry.

I became quiet for a moment as I thought it over. It was really none of my business anyways, and the two weren't hurting any pony. Though the thought of the two of them being intimate was a bit disturbing, I didn't really find a reason to raise alarm.

"Nah, I ain't gonna tell any pony." I sighed.

He nodded and a smile came back to his face as we were only a few feet from the schoolyard. "Thanks Apple Bloom. I knew I could trust you."

I don't think trust had much to do with it. I just didn't want to get more involved than I already was.

---

"Apple Bloom, you've been acting strange for a long time now. Are you going to tell any pony what's wrong or what? I get Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle asking about you quite often. Heck, even your friend, Fuse Box has come in a time or two." Trixie gave a concerned expression.

We had been walking through the park together on her day off. We had just gone through the nature trail, not another soul in sight.

With a sigh, I sat down on a nearby stump and thought it over. Maybe it was best to just tell her what was wrong. After all, I couldn't just hide it forever, eventually I would need to let some pony inside. With a deep breath I finally let it out.

"Actually, there is somethin' buggin' me." I began.

Trixie responded by taking a seat next to me and wrapping a hoof around my backside. Her face resembled that of a caring mother. "What's wrong?"

"It's Applejack. She ain't doin' so hot..." Admitting it felt strange.

"Is she sick?" Trixie rose a brow.

I nodded, "very."

Trixie leaned back and nodded in understanding. I suppose it probably all made sense to her now.

"And Ah jus' can't stand to see her like that... So Ah try an' avoid her, but then Ah jus' feel guilty that Ah'm not spendin' any time with her..." I shook my head in shame. "It's quite a cycle."

She rubbed my back soothingly before speaking again. "You should just spend time with her, lest you end up with regrets." She spoke with the voice of experience.

"Easier said than done." I scoffed.

Trixie took a deep inhale and exhale before looking up to the sky. "Apple Bloom, I'm going to tell you something I've never told any pony before. You have to promise to keep it a secret though. I can not stress that enough. You must never tell another soul. Do you understand?"

I wasn't certain why things for so solemn all of a sudden, but I nodded. "Ah promise."

She sighed and leaned back.

"It all started before I moved back to Ponyville. After I left I was pretty down on my luck. I was nothing more than a washed up show mare. No pony was going to hire me, and I had earned a bad reputation around Equestria, so when I made it to Canterlot, needless to say finding work or food was... A challenge."

I blinked as I listened intently. I had no idea where this was going, but I was interested nonetheless. "What'd ya' do?"

"The only thing I could. I stole what I needed. Food, clothes, and money. I'd take anything so long as it meant surviving another day." She was very quiet in her tone. It was obvious these were not memories she enjoyed.

"Where'd ya' sleep?" That was a dumb question.

"On the streets. You'd find an abandoned house or some shack that has been forgotten about. I didn't really have any friends so I didn't have any pony to stay with." She sighed.

Trixie on the streets? Somehow I couldn't imagine it, or rather I didn't want to.

"Life on the streets is rough though, so you end up making alliances." She took another breath before she continued. "I wouldn't really call them friends, more like ponies you traded services with. Kind of like a gang I suppose..."

A gang? Was Trixie implying she was in a gang? I remained silent, not really wanting to comment.

She carried on as she realized I wasn't going to add anything. "I was an exceptional pick pocket and lock picker. So naturally that was what they kept me around for. I was the only girl in the group, and in the city, a girl on the streets needs a lot of protection. So when I ran with them, the trade was simple, I'd help get them money and food, and they'd give me protection in exchange. Was a pretty nice setup for a while, actually."

"How'd ya'll get them their money?" I inquired.

She laughed a little. "Any way I could. Pick pocket, crack safes, break into houses, I'd even flirt to trick ponies into giving me their money. We'd trick a stallion into thinking he was buying a night alone with me, then we'd lure him into an ally and the others would be there waiting for him. Take his money and leave him high and dry. You wouldn't believe how many dumb stallions exist."

Actually I could, but that was beside the point. I was just glad Trixie was not a prostitute at this point. Though a petty thief wasn't a huge improvement either.

"So what made y'all change?" I asked.

That was obviously the part we both were waiting to be told.

She looked up again, trying to avoid eye contact, probably out of shame or regret.

"One night we were out and one of our guys didn't make it away from a heist. Turns out it was a sting. The police had been tracking all the crime in the city and they set us up. He didn't make it away in time and they caught him. He was quickly linked to over 30 crimes we had done and thus they locked him up until he's 50. It really woke us all up." Trixie turned to make sure I was listening. Sure enough, my eyes hadn't left her as she told her story.

"Well, that really shook our leader, Wildy, up. He started talking about how we couldn't stay on the streets forever and we needed to start thinking about how we were going to survive permanently. He was talking about how if we didn't start planning now we'd end up like our friend." She was reciting it like she had told this story a million times, despite this being the first one according to her. Then again, perhaps she had recited it a few times in her head.

I had a feeling that the next part of the story was going to be the important part.

Trixie leaned forward, her front hooves resenting on her haunches as she stared off into the distance as she continued. "Well he had this idea for one last big heist. Some rich stallion who had thousands in a safe. He said we'd all use the money to go live off in the mountains to the north together like a big family. Me being as desperate as I was, well I liked the appeal of a family."

"Why didn't y'all just move back in with your folks?" I questioned.

"Couldn't. I didn't have any family. My father ran out on us when I was born, and my mother passed when I was only four. I went from group home to group home after that. I never really had a family or a home before. So living on the streets was not too much of a change, but when Wildy said we'd all have a home and we'd be like a family, well that just made me throw in all my chips." The azure made had a very odd enthusiasm about it. Perhaps it was because I didn't understand what it was like to not have a home or a family.

She continued after taking another breath. "Was a simple job, we'd break in at night, two guys keep watch, three more cover me, and the other two would stay back at the hide out in case we needed them there. Then I'd crack the safe."

"So what went wrong?" I was almost afraid to ask, however I knew that I was going to find out regardless.

She sighed. "Well... One of the guards heard something after I had gotten the safe open. In a panic he stabbed the figure in the dark. I guess he was just on high alert and over reacted... Well unfortunately they were dead when the rest of us got to them."

I paused. I didn't want to say anything, what could I say?

"Then we found out who they were..." She sounded like she was choking on the words.

I stuttered as I replied. "W-who was she...?"

"Just a little girl. Probably the guy's daughter." She looked down in shame.

A little girl? I could only imagine the shock of it all, and I was only hearing it, Trixie had to actually experience it.

"What happened then?"

Trixie looked up as she tried to remember, part of me assumed she tried to block it all out.

"I remember screaming that we couldn't leave her like that. Begging and pleading that we stay with her. I had never been so freaked out in my entire life. You see ponies die in the movies all the time, but it's nothing like the real thing. There is so much blood... I thought it'd never stop leaking. I was trying to hold the spot to keep it in, but it just kept coming out..." She was almost in tears.

I didn't dare comment.

"I still remember Wildy there with me as I begged and pleaded to stay with her. He just looked at me with the coldest expression I ever saw." Her story was starting to give me chills. "And he said, 'She's dead, and if you stick around you're gonna be too. We can't do anything for her now, but if we stick around then we're toast.' And I was screaming, just repeating myself over and over 'We can't leave her like this! We can't leave her like this!' Until he grabbed me and with the help of the others, they dragged me out of there." I could see her eyes start to get puffy, and sure enough tears began to fall.

Stating quiet I scooted closer and rubbed her back a little. It felt strange to see Trixie so vulnerable. Here I was, a child, comforting her, an adult.

"What happened next...?" I was cautious with my question.

Trixie wiped her eyes and sniffed a bit before composing herself. "Well, we all managed to make off with the money, and split it. They went on about how they wanted to live in the mountains like we'd talked about. Not me though."

"What did ya' do?" This story seemed to get more and more enthralling despite the emotions involved.

"I told them they could keep my share. I didn't want a single bit of that money... Not after how we got it. I told them all that I was going to start a new life, a fresh start and to try and do it right this time. Get a real job, make some friends who aren't just some thugs I run with, and maybe even start a family." She finally let a bit of a smile creep onto her face.

"What did Wildy say 'bout that?" I leaned in.

Her expression grew serious again. "He just got really close. Looked at me with his powerful gaze and said, 'If you tell any pony what happened then you'll go down with us. And even if you get away, I'll find you, you'll be joining that little girl.' He was a pretty intimidating pony."

I blinked in sheer amazement. I never imagined such a threat being made to Trixie. "What did y'all say to that?"

"I told him he had nothing to worry about, that he wouldn't be hearing from me again. I hit the road with nothing to my name and ended up back at Ponyville. I kept my head down and took the first job offered to me." She shrugged.

There clearly was something I was missing. "No 'fense but what does this story have to do with me?"

She turned to me with a serious expression. "Not a day goes by where I don't think about that little girl. I regret it almost every day. I'd do anything to take it back... But I can't."

I was rendered speechless. Trixie looked to me with solemn eyes. She didn't look like she was going to cry though, perhaps she had already been all cried out years ago. There may not have been a single tear left in her body. "Sometimes it's too late to do something, you let things go and before you know it they are out of your control, and then you'll spend the rest of your days in regret."

I didn't dare argue that, clearly Trixie understood the meaning of regret better than I did.

---

Trixie's story really changed things in my house from then on. For the last two weeks me and Applejack have been inseparable. I'd rush home from school everyday and we'd play a round or two of checkers or any other board game in the house. If it wasn't too late and Big Mac finished his daily tasks early, we'd all go out for ice cream.

Applejack would challenge me to an ice cream eating contest, and I always scarfed mine down so fast I'd be sitting in the pain of a headache as she giggled and laughed gleefully.

It was hard to ignore the elephant in the middle of the room though. In the back of my mind, I knew that the inevitable day would come where AJ wouldn't even be able to get out of bed. The day where from then on being together would mean I'd be by her side with a book reading her a story like she did for me when I was younger.

"Apple Bloom, y'all sleep well alright?" AJ kissed my forehead as she pulled the sheet over me.

I snuggled up into my bed feeling much like a child again, but I didn't really care at that moment. "Thanks, sis."

AJ smiled and pet my cheek softly. "Y'all sure have been a lot less distant lately."

Looking to the sickly mare, I noticed she looked far more tired than she usually did. Perhaps this was out of having a full eventful day though. "Ah finally realized what was important."

Before she had a chance to even move, I snatched up her hoof in my own. "We ain't got all the time in the world. Ah wanna make the time we do have count though."

Applejack's expression became a bit more serious. "Is that what this has been about? Little ol' me bein' sick?" I wished she hasn't said it out loud, it still left a sinking feeling in me.

"Ah don't wanna lose you..." Still no tears from me. I hadn't been able to cry since the day I found out.

Applejack nodded and kissed my forehead. "Ah got plenty of time left."

She was clearly lying to make me feel better, that or her definition of "plenty" was quite generous. She knew I had heard what the doctors said.

I reached my hoof out and touched her cheek. She grew quiet and allowed it to rest there. "Does it hurt?"

AJ smiled and pet my hoof. "Not right now." She replied.

I could only imagine the pain she has to endure, despite never showing it. Applejack was too strong to give in to pain so easily.

"Y'all sleep well alright?" AJ changed the subject quickly, and instead of interjecting, I allowed it.

I called out to her as she weakly trotted away. "Night, Applejack."

She halted and turned to face me with a nod. "Night, lil' sis."

I closed my eyes and pulled the sheets closer to my chin. That must have been the most sound sleep I had in years.

---

Fuse Box and I had hung out significantly less after I discovered his secret. He was spending as lot more of his free time with Cheerilee, and I imagine me knowing about the forbidden relationship they shared only made it awkward for the two of us to be around each other.

Some time after I found out, he must have told Cheerilee that I knew as she confronted me on the subject. I had never seen Cheerilee lose her cool so quickly. I swear she was flustered more than a chicken in the rain. I was half expecting her to start offering bribes just to get me to keep my mouth shut. Fortunately for her, I had no intention of telling any pony regardless. It was really none of my business anyways, though it was odd to me.

She was pretty relieved when I told her I would lay off of it. I reckon she must take my word as true, because with such a secret most ponies wouldn't believe the words of a teenager at face value. It might have had to do with the fact that Fuse Box trusted me so deeply though. Either way it at least meant they both weren't going to pester me about it.

"Cheerilee really is great, did you know she wanted to be a teacher since she was six?" Fuse was messing around with his communicator as he spoke.

"Ah'm sure she is, but ain't y'all worried about her husband findin' out? Ah mean he ain't gonna be that oblivious when his wife up'n leaves him." I rose a brow as we trotted back to my house.

Fuse shook his head and gave me an assuring grin. "We gotta plan. Once I graduate we are going to run away together. I got accepted into a great school, and I got a job with King Enterprises lined up. They could use more stallions like me who work well with machines."

Just the thought of Fuse turning into one of Cog's mindless drones was sickening, however it was once again, none of my business. Fuse had a point; he did need to support his soon-to-be wife somehow. I suppose you'd take money from wherever it came in that situation. Once again, it made me glad I didn't understand romance.

The house was right in sight, and I noticed a rather worried Big Mac standing at the front gate. I hadn't stayed out too late, so there was only one other reason he could have had such an expression. I feared that I was right.

When we came to the gate he grew very quiet and looked down a bit, trying to avoid making full eye contact. "Apple Bloom..." He began.

I was nearly choking on words. "Y-yeah?"

"It's your sister... She's... Well she's taken a turn for the worse...." Tears were building in his ducts.

I didn't want to believe him. I pushed through the gate and bolted past him, ignoring Fuse entirely. It couldn't be true, AJ was too strong. I had hoped to barge through that bedroom door and see her sitting up knitting with Granny Smith or something.

When that door flew open though, I saw Granny Smith standing over Applejack's bedside patting her head with ice. I froze, unable to speak.

Big Mac crept in beside me and placed a hoof on my shoulder.

"She came down with a horrid fever this morning... We had the doctor stop by..." He was whimpering as he spoke. "He said she's entering a fight for her life now."

"AJ has had fevers before. She'll be fine!" I looked to him.

He just shook his head. "Ah think this is a fight she's gonna lose, Apple Bloom."

I just turned my head to my ill sister and took her hoof in mine, squeezing as tightly as I could. To my surprise, she squeezed back.

---

I skipped school for nearly a week to stay at AJ's bedside. Those were by far the slowest minutes I ever endured. Every single one felt like a decade as I watched Applejack struggle in a half conscious state. Grunts of pain and light whimpers were the only sound I was exposed to for several hours on end.

I'd sit there until Big Mac would pull me away to take me to bed. Then first thing next morning I'd be right back to that same spot at the edge of her bed.

Bolting from the store, I had some medicine in hoof, trying to keep out of the rain as best I could. I wanted to hurry back to give it to her, every second counted.

My haste however would cost me as my front hoof got caught in a small hole in the asphalt, bringing my whole body tumbling forward face first into a mud puddle. I got a glimpse of my reflection as I pulled myself up. My favorite bow was covered in mud.

Looking around at those around me, I noticed something; no pony even bothered to stop and ask if I was okay. There I saw it, every pony chatting away carelessly on their communicators, walking right past a young filly who had fallen. Not a single one even stopped to ask if I was alright. Their concerns were on the worthless trash attached to their ears.

Come to think of it, this wasn't the first time something like this had happened. I recall many times when I noticed ponies everywhere were ignoring the world around them in favor of a world of technology. Fuse Box wasn't the only one who had caught the techno bug; half of Equestria had, and now Ponyville had too.

Cog's machines excelled in one aspect better than all others: changing ponies for the worse. Before his communicators and factories had come to Ponyville one could stub their hoof and a handful of strangers would rush to your aid. The town was filled with kind and caring ponies, ones who looked out for each other, now however it had become just like the bustling city; every pony for themselves.

This was the new world that this technology was creating. A worlds where Cog was overlord, and his machines were how her enslaved the entire populace without any the wiser.

It wasn't a world I wanted to live in.

---

Trixie had come by to comfort me, however her abilities were severely hindered by my lack of rationality. Part of me still wanted to believe Applejack would regain consciousness and make an increase in positive condition then maybe even start getting better. That she'd finally lick what ailed her and eventually return to full health. I wanted to believe that, but enough meetings with doctors told me otherwise.

Sitting there next to me, the mare placed a hoof upon my shoulder. "Apple Bloom, I know this is hard..."

With fury in my voice I swatted her hoof away. "How would you know? Y'all don't even have a family."

I didn't realize what I was saying until the words already left my lips. Trixie's face contorted to one of awkwardness and hurt.

"Trixie... Ah'm sorry... Ah didn't mean that..." I tried to look as sincere as I could.

She merely shook her head. "No, you're right. I have no pony in this world, so I don't have to know how it feels to lose some pony important to me..." She admitted with solemn eyes.

It was clear she wasn't okay with my statement.

"I have to go..." Trixie stood up and brushed herself off. I could detect a bit of sadness in her voice. "Good luck with your sister. I hope she gets better soon." She added before making her exit hastily.

No doubt in my mind that she was going off to cry somewhere. I felt pretty rotten about that.

---

Applejack had been in her fever for over three weeks. Countless nights she tossed and turned in her "sleep", unable to find rest. I had sat up with her just watching her struggle. It was a constant fight for her, but old Applejack was tougher than some old hickory sticks. It took a lot to break her.

It reminded me of the one year during apple bucking season when she bucked half of the farm all by herself. She ran herself to exhaustion before she finally enlisted the help if her friends. AJ may have been a pony, but she certainly was as stubborn as a mule.

It was that weekend though that the whole world around me paused. Everything stopped and life itself just seemed to end.

I had come back from going out to get AJ's medicine on that Saturday morning. I was gone no longer than an hour, but when I returned, there at the house were teams and teams of paramedics. Big Mac standing at the front door with a tissue in hoof, eyes leaking out everything they had.

I dropped the medicine on the ground, not even able to hear the bottle shatter.

All I could hear was the paramedic team screaming to get her to the emergency room. It was pointless though, she wouldn't even survive the journey across town.

---

The funeral was large, Big Mac invited the whole family and just about every friend we had. He even let Scootaloo show up (though uninvited). It was a good thing it was an outdoor funeral, as there was no way you're going to cram the whole Apple family into one building, let alone all of the family friends.

I realized then just how many ponies AJ had touched in her life. There was enough ponies there to start a new city.

I stood at the open casket just staring. For once she finally looked like she was getting a decent sleep without tossing and turning. Her face just emotionless. It was hard to think that after I left this place today the only place I'd see her again were in photographs and my memories.

I felt a familiar pair behind me. The made of the two placed a hoof on my shoulder. My gaze didn't leave the casket, but Sweetie Belle's voice spoke regardless. "It was her time."

Ignoring her statement, I began to think out loud. "Y'all said you were Super Pony." I started.

Sweetie Belle turned to White Star, whom had a confused expression, completely mystified by who I was talking to.

"Y'all promised you'd always be there... But you lied. Heck, I should have known y'all weren't telling the truth on that in the first place." I rambled.

"Apple Bloom, no pony lives forever." White Star interjected.

As much as I didn't want to listen to him and Sweetie confuse me with their puzzling thoughts, I knew he was right. No pony lived forever and Applejack was no exception, and if I ever thought she was, I was proven wrong.

Just as I was trying to gather my thoughts, another hoof fell on the opposite shoulder. This time I actually turned to come face with Scootaloo. Her expression was serious, and concerned.

"I'm sorry... I... I didn't know... You never said anything..." Scootaloo was stuttering every other word.

"It's alright Scoot. Ah didn't tell many ponies. Ah kinda jus' wanted to keep it quiet..." I looked back to the "sleeping" mare in the wooden box. "She looks so peaceful finally."

"They usually do." Sweetie Belle spoke.

"Sweetie, you always seem so calm for this kind of thing. Even at Rarity's funeral... Not a single tear. What's your secret?" Scootaloo decided now was a good time to press that subject. For me, I really couldn't care less about the mysteries of Sweetie Belle at that moment.

"Some things are best left unsaid." Sweetie distracted herself with a hoof in her mane, curling a strand around her hoof.

"That's a load of horse apples and you know it." Scootaloo took a daring step forward. Despite her mellowing out over the years, Sweetie's secretive behavior still annoyed her enough to bring out the beast in her. For a girl, she sure was brutish.

Sweetie didn't seem threatened in the slightest, instead she smiled. "Don't think yourself so invincible that you'll elude death. Your time will come sooner than you think, and when it does, you will have no choice but to accept it. Those of us left alive will have to do the same. We can't change death, and tears won't undo it. If anything we should be glad that ponies die. If they didn't, we'd take them for granted."

I finally cut in before it had a chance to go any further. "Girls, we're at a funeral."

Scootaloo lowered her head in shame, and to my surprise, Sweetie Belle did too. Scoot muttered an apology before trotting off. Watching her, I shook my head.

Sweetie's hoof came back to my shoulder. "I didn't mean it was a good thing she died... Sorry, that might have sounded a bit harsh... AJ was a great pony."

I placed my hoof atop of hers and sighed. "It's not fair..." I commented.

"It never is. AJ is still here in your memories though, and I'm sure she'd want you to remember her how she was before she was sick. I bet before she went she thought about all those wonderful times together with her family and friends and not about dying." She comforted.

"How do you know?" I retorted a bit annoyed by her know-it-all attitude.

"Trust me, that's one thing I am certain about...." Her voice certainly seemed sincere.

I only hoped she was right.

---

I missed school for nearly three days after that. They set up a system where I could turn my work in from home because they felt sorry for me. It was better that way, as facing my friends was something I really wished to avoid as I knew they wouldn't be able to resist talking about it.

After classes let out and all the ones staying for detention had gone home, I'd sit on the swings at the playground. Being at home just kept me thinking about Applejack, however I would think about her anyways.

I had just gotten done sitting at the playground moping when I came across a familiar monitor. Prince Cog. His stupid face was the last thing I wanted to see. I remembered how his technology had sucked this town in. Gone were the caring citizens, and in their play were mindless drones. His communicators were the curse of Equestria.

I had finally had enough of him, and I wanted to shut him up for good. Picking up a rock I hurled it at the screen. As strong as my throw was it only managed to leave a crack. So sure enough I hurled another, and another. Before I knew it I was lobbing every rock I could find at the thing.

The only thing that interrupted me was a set of hooves trotting behind me. They came to a halt as their owner just watched me.

"You know, Cog has revolutionized Equestria right?" The voice clearly belonged to Fuse Box.

Not even turning to face him I threw another. "At what cost?"

"Couple million bits?" He joked.

I wasn't really in the mood for jokes right then though. "Fuse y'all said ya' plan on marryin' Cheerilee, right?"

He nodded. "Of course and that hasn't changed."

"I wish y'all luck." I grunted as I hut Cog right in the forehead.

"What's that supposed to mean?" His brow rose and a hint of annoyance was detected in his voice.

I finally stopped throwing and turned to him. "Her current husband is all distracted by these machines. How do y'all know you won't turn out the same. Your head is in 'em every day."

He rolled his eyes. "There's a big difference. They're just machines, Apple Bloom."

I sighed. "Ah used to think that too. Look 'round you though. Every pony is glued to 'em."

"What's your point?" He replied.

I looked away and took a step in the opposite direction. "Jus' ask yourself: whose really in control? You or these machines."

He must not have had an answer as I could hear him trotting away without a retort. I would have continued onward myself had I not heard a clank on the ground that was not a hoof step. Turning, I saw his backside marching away and on the ground his prized communicator.

My hoof scooped up the contraption as I called back to him. "Hey, y'all dropped your-"

He cut me off as he turned around, a serious expression on his face. "I'm serious about her. There's nothing I wouldn't give up for her either. I'm slave to no pony, not even Cog."

The look in his eyes, it reminded me of all the times Applejack got fired up and determined to do something. He was serious.

"Take good care of her, Fuse. Less y'all end up regrettin' things ya' can't take back." I smiled.

He nodded with a grin finally appearing. "I've never regretted anything in my life, I don't intend to start now."

No regrets huh? Must be nice.

---

"Take as much time as you need, and remember I'm right here if you need me." A comforting Trixie gestured to me as she sat down on the grass next to some unfortunate soul that had been lost long ago, only a stone with his name etched in it remaining on this earth.

Taking a deep inhale and exhale I approached the headstone that I had only seen once before this.

Not sure how to begin I decided it might be best to sit down. Before I knew it I got myself talking as if she was there. "The farm is the same as always, lot quieter without y'all though." I began.

Trixie didn't even interject, she just sat there waiting for me patiently.

"Big Mac takes every job he can jus' to keep busy. Ah think he jus' don't wanna sit still so he will think 'bout it. He misses ya' terribly..." I found myself starting to choke on my voice.

"And... I miss ya..." It was too much, I felt something happen that hadn't happened in years. Something that I avoided even when I found out she was sick. My eyes were leaking, and before I knew it I was sniffling.

"And... And..." I was stuttering as I tried to finish my thought between sniffles.

At that moment I felt a set of hooves wrap around me. Quickly I pivoted around and burried my face into her shoulder as all the tears I held in for all those years came pouring out. I felt like my eyes would leak until there was nothing left. Those were the most painful tears I ever felt.

"It's alright." She rubbed my back and cradled my body as I sobbed.

"It's not fair!" I shouted.

"Apple Bloom, what do you think Applejack was thinking before she died?" Trixie said.

I lifted my head from her shoulder with a raised brow. What kind of question was that? "Ah don' know... Why?"

"Do you think she spent her last moments thinking about dying and all the things she regretted, or the happy memories she had with her sister, friends and family." Her question seemed rather thought out.

"Knowing AJ... The latter... That's the problem, it's like she didn't even care she was dyin'." I complained.

Trixie shook her head. "Look at you, Apple Bloom. You're a mess. I am willing to bet AJ knew that too. She knew if she fell apart you'd be even worse. AJ was strong for you, she wanted you to remember her as a strong mare rather than how she was when she got sick."

I sniffled and wiped my eyes. "That... Does sound like her..."

Trixie lifted my chin up to meet her eyes. "One day you're going to die, Apple Bloom. I'm going to die too; we all are. And when that day comes you don't want to lay on your deathbed looking back seeing only regret. Applejack was able to die happy because she didn't have any regrets."

I nodded and took another breath. "Trixie..." I began.

"Yes?"

"Can we go back to the Sugar Cube Corner? Ah think AJ deserves a celebration." A smile came back to my face.
Trixie nodded and pet my head. "I agree."

With that we made our journey out of the graveyard.

---

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