• Published 12th Oct 2011
  • 27,194 Views, 913 Comments

The End - shalrath



A friendly stranger delivers some unsettling knowledge about Life, the Universe, and Everything.

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Chapter 7

* * *

“And then, after the livestock races, we can herd them into pens to make a petting zoo!”

“I see,” Fluttershy said, between sips of tea.

“So that makes two more staging areas, one for the musical instruments, and another for the hay and feed. We can’t use the hoist for moving the hay bales though, because that’s already going to be used by the flying platform for the barbershop quartet with pyrotechnic launchers.”

“Mmm hmm.”

“But I was thinking that the ponies on hay bale duty could also dress up in a parade style dragon costume! Won’t that be so exciting!”

Pinkie raced around the kitchen area on her hind legs, growling and hissing, as her forehooves swiped at the air in front of her.

“Ohh, my.”

“And that comes out to fifty-eight silver bits so far, with the singing quartet, pyrotechnics, dragon costume, and hay feed. Add that to the catering, dunk tank, bouncy castle, face painting booth, tightrope lessons, along with everything else I mentioned before, and we’re looking at...”

“Howdy y’all,” Applejack interjected.

Fluttershy had never been so relieved to see her friend.

“Oooh, you made me loose count!” Pinkie wailed. “But don’t worry about that! I simply have to tell you EVERYTHING that’s going on!”

“What now?”

Pinkie’s smile spread from ear to ear, locking her jaw in place.

“Go on, tell her, Fluttershy!”

“Umm... Well...”

“Yes?”

“Pinkie was telling me all about her idea...”

“Is she throwing a party?”

“Yes! That’s exactly what I’m planning.” Pinkie threw her hooves into the air, releasing twin bursts of powdered sugar.

Applejack rolled her eyes. “Lucky guess there.”

“Fluttershy said she could help me get everything ready. Would you like to help too?” Pinkie blinked her eyelids sweetly, attempting to draft yet another unfortunate soul in thrall to her diabolical scheme.

“Uhh, when are you thinking about having this little shindig?”

“Tomorrow night, if we all work together!”

Fluttershy stopped midway through her sip of tea. Her eyes shot open wide as she expelled the hot dark liquid with enough force to aerosolize her drink into a very fine mist. If tea vapor had a lower explosive limit, Sugarcube Corner would have been levelled.

“That seems like it’s kinda short notice,” Applejack remarked, judging by Fluttershy’s reaction of atavistic terror.

“Maybe just a little,” Pinkie conceded. “I still need to find a place to host everything.”

“Hmm... Wait up a second now. I think I might have just the thing for ya.”

Pinkie’s eyes lit up as she placed her hooves on Applejack’s shoulders.

“You know where I can find a top hat, bow tie, and monocle that can fit on an elephant?” She squealed with excitement.

“Ah, no, not that."

"Because I already have the cumberbund."

"Hold up a sec, Pinkie. This party is for our new guest, right?”

“Well, who else!” she danced on her hind hooves. “Actually, there is that other guest that was in here this morning as well. Hmm. Looks like I’ll be planning two parties.”

Fluttershy appeared to be in a state of distress, as if she were suddenly choking on air.

“Whoa there nelly, lets take this one step at a time. You need a place for this party, and I reckon you could use a few more days to get ‘er all ready.”

“Go on...”

“Well, it just so happens that we’re having a little get together over at Sweet Apple Acres next week. You know the one we have every year about this time?”

“The annual Apple Family Pie-Eatin Cider-Drinkin Belch-a-thon Contest?”

“None other,” she said with a grin. “Think we can kill two birds with one stone here, instead of tryin to organize em both separately.”

“Hmmm.. Oooh, that would be perfect!” Pinkie exclaimed. “Are you sure it won’t be too much to ask?”

“Ohh, I wouldn’t mind a bit! Love to help make that big fella feel welcome here,” Applejack responded, suddenly more excited about the prospect of a party than Pinkie had been, if that could be believed.

“You’re the best, Applejack!” Pinkie shouted as she threw her forelegs around her. “But there are still a few things that have to be worked out.”

“Like what?”

“Catering, for starters.”

“I thought that was your speciality there Pinkie. Well, I know we can help whip up a batch of pies, fritters, and cobblers, easy enough.”

“Nope, that’s not the problem. What about our guest?”

“Uhh... well I’m sure he ain’t gonna object to anything we make.”

“Anything we make?” She exclaimed. “No, no, no. The problem is we have to make something special just for our guest! It can’t just be anything!”

“And how is that going to be a problem? We’ve got all week to take care of it now.”

Pinkie gasped. “You’re right! Ohh, thank you Applejack. You know I’d go crazy some days if it wasn’t for you.”

“Ehhh... Yeah.” She reluctantly agreed.

“So now that we have enough time to make everything, there’s still the problem of carrying it out to the farm. I know the cake is going to weigh a ton by itself!”

“What now? Just how many ponies are we trying to feed here?”

“I didn’t say anything about ponies. Here, let me show you!”

Pinkie reached into a cabinet and pulled out a heavy burlap sack. She dumped it onto the counter, letting nearly a dozen small irregularly shaped metal disks spill out with a loud clatter. Each iron disk appeared as if it had been cast in the form of a chocolate chip cookie.

“Voila! Just for our guest! I asked Stampy Steel, the blacksmith, to make this batch just this morning!”

“Pinkie Pie.”

“Yes!”

“Just what is it exactly do you think the big fella likes to eat?”

“Well duh... He’s made out of metal! Therefore, I can only postulate that he comes from a world where everything is metal. Maybe not even a world at all! If a star were to eventually burn itself out, and leave nothing but a hot core of degenerate matter with a surface of heavy metals floating on top, that could be where he’s from! Oooh, wouldn’t that be exciting! He might even feel like he could fly here, given how much lighter everything would be! And maybe he can see with X-rays too, because all other forms of in-falling light would be blue-shifted towards the high energy end of the spectrum!”

Applejack and Fluttershy winced painfully.

“And, based on all that gobbledygook, you think that he eats...”

“Metal.”

“Arrrghhh... Pinkie, did it not occur to you that he was here, just this morning? And he didn’t eat the silverware for breakfast.”

“Whaaat? When was he here?”

“He was with that other officer pony - the first one that you scared away with your stupid mountain of cupcakes.”

“You mean that tall mostly hairless monkey thing in a wool suit that could balance itself on two legs?”

“One and the same.”

“Then that metal thing...”

“Was him, wearing some kinda suit of armor.”

“So he...”

“Probably won’t eat these!” Applejack slapped her hoof down on the pile of cast iron cookies with high carbon steel chips.

“Oooohh... Well that explains a few things,” Pinkie pondered aloud. “I was wondering who that other guy was.”

The sound of two ponies smacking their foreheads echoed loudly throughout Sugarcube Corner.

“Heh. Guess that cake probably would weigh a ton.” Applejack muttered to herself.

Pinkie’s eyes shot wide and her jaw dropped.

“Be right back, girls!” She shot out of the kitchen, burst through the door, and galloped frantically in the direction of Stampy’s blacksmithery.

It was a few moments before either of them spoke.

“Fluttershy, If I ever do something that dumb, promise me that you’ll be there for me. That you’ll do the right thing. That you’ll pull the plug.”

“Umm.” She looked aside nervously.

Applejack chuckled. “Hey now, I’m just kiddin ya.”

“Oh, no, it wasn’t that. I was just thinking about something.”

“Oh?”

“Well... It’s about this party.”

“Yes?” Applejack prepared herself for another game of twenty questions.

“Umm... Do you think he’ll be there too?”

“Who?” she said, rolling her eyes. “Oh wait a sec, do you mean that officer pony that was covered in mud and leaves last night?”

“Yes! That’s him!” Fluttershy beamed.

“Reckon he might. He’s new around these parts though, so he’d probably need an invitation to even know when an where it’ll be at”

“Oh, Umm... About that.”

Applejack sighed. “Fluttershy, do you want me to go and find that pony and invite him to the annual Apple Family Pie-Eatin Cider-Drinkin Belch-a-thon contest that’s set to take place next week?”

“Oh! Yes!” Fluttershy barely finished her response before she clutched Applejack in her forelegs and flew upwards, spinning them around in a tight circle.

“I mean.. I would appreciate that, if you would invite him.” She said bashfully, as they settled back to the floor.

“Uhh... You’re welcome.”

“Thank you, thank you, thank you!” Fluttershy exclaimed. “I’ll see you later!”

“Oh, wait, Fluttershy!”

“Yes?”

“Ahh...” She turned her head slightly, looking down at her hooves. “Would you wanna see about letting the big fella know too?”

“Oh, I think I could do that...” Her brow furrowed in a manner that could only be described as ‘gracefully’. “But I don’t know if he can speak our language.”

“Oooh... Almost forgot about that.”

“But I’ll see what I can do!”

* * *

"I'm still not sure how you're doing that," Twilight remarked.

"Hmm? What's that?"

"Well, you only have two legs. You would need at least three to remain stable."

Trent rolled his eyes with a wry grin. “Well who’s to say that... Ahh, never mind.”

“To say what?” She inquired.

“Well here we are!” Laurie announced loudly, interposing himself between the two. This left Twilight slightly confused, as the carriage had rolled to a stop several minutes ago.

“Right then!” Trent exclaimed in agreement, as he hopped from the carriage. He landed with the practiced grace of a cat leaping from a balcony, his boots chalking up yet another firm contact with a strange new world.

“Now that’s exactly what I’m talking about,” Twilight said as she stepped out of the carriage. “Two legs just aren’t stable, and you should have fallen straight over into the dirt. Augh... And how are you even doing THAT?”

“Doing what?” Trent asked, as he hopped in place on one foot.

“Never mind...” she sighed with exasperation.

Laurie briefly attempted to mimic Trent, rising up on his hind hooves, wobbling unsteadily. The pegasi coach team rolled their eyes until he stopped.

“You are right, you know. Two legs are pretty unstable.”

“Huh? Then why aren’t you falling over?”

“I can balance perfectly fine, so long as the weight of my body is directly over my legs. But any other time, I am falling. I simply fall in the direction I wish to go.”

Trent started walking towards Twilight, freezing abruptly mid-stride, and awkwardly stumbling forward. He caught himself at the last moment, returning to a normal gait.

“Ohh... I see.”

“You seem to have a natural instinct to question everything. That’s good. Some people, or some ponies, would be content to accept a simple explanation, and never give it another thought. Don’t worry if you get confused though. Discovery and understanding are not always quick or easy.”

“It still does look kind of strange,” she remarked while watching Trent shuffle around. “Do you think it would be better to have four legs?”

“Naah... These two work just fine for me. And sometimes, I don’t even need them!”

“Okay... Wait, what?”

“I’ll tell you later. But don’t be fooled by these. They’re the fine product of millions of years of trial and error.” Trent gestured towards his body, from head to toe.

Twilight’s jaw dropped for a moment.

“You’re not really that old...”

“No, not hardly. That’s another thing I’ll explain later.”

“How fast can you run anyways,” Laurie asked. “I’d imagine that four legs would give you a bit more power than just two.”

“Ahh, now that’s a good question. While I might say reasonably fast, the more interesting question is how far I can run.”

He paused a moment, basking in the silence before continuing.

“You see, where I come from, there are plenty of four-legged creatures that share our world. Some are dangerous, and some are relatively harmless. But we’ve got em all beat when it comes to endurance.”

“Hmm, I’ll believe that when I see it,” Laurie muttered. “Why is that important anyways?”

“To chase them down, of course.”

“Umm...” Twilight cleared her throat, not entirely sure how to respond.

“To pet them?”

“Usually just to eat them.”

There was a small moment of silence as every pony and pegasi turned to look at Trent’s smiling bared teeth.

“Anyways, speaking of which... What’s the plan for dinner? I’m starving!”

Without further ado, the pegasi drawn carriage rocketed back into the air, making haste toward Canterlot.

“Oh, okay, see you later!” Trent shouted as he waved after them. They seemed to speed up noticeably.

“So as I was saying...” He turned back to face the wide eyed purple pony.

“Wait a second, just wait a second here,” Laurie interrupted. “I’m not sure how to put this, but you don’t really look like a...” his eyes darted upwards, looking for the right word.

“Bloodthirsty killing machine?” Trent offered helpfully.

“Yeah, that. More or less. I mean, you don’t have any claws, huge sharp teeth, poisonous quills, or what-have-you. No acid spitting, fire breathing, or lightning bolts shooting out of your eyesockets. I mean, just how exactly would you have a go at something?”

“Ahhh. Well, claws and fangs can kill individual creatures. But this,” he tapped at his forehead, “could subjugate or annihilate an entire species!”

Laurie was silent for a moment.

“Do you hit them with it?”

“What? Gaah, no! I was trying to make a point.”

“Well I’m not seeing it.”

“This!” he pointed to his forehead again. “We make tools. We’re a species of tool makers. If we can’t bend nature to our will, then we make a tool that can do it for us.”

“And your forehead makes the tools?”

“In a manner of speaking, yes.”

“So it’s like a hammer?”

Trent stopped to rub his forehead, as if it had been used like a hammer. He collected himself before responding. Linguistic misunderstandings were just another challenging and unglamorous part of inter-species diplomacy.

“No. I don’t mean it that way. We simply think up any sort of device that helps us meet our needs. Whether it’s slings and stones, spears, swords, rifles, or small area effect sub-orbital clustering munitions with inherent dispersal reduction capabilities, they’re all just different ways of solving the same problem.”

“Hitting things?”

“Well... Yes.”

“By the way, that last thing you said...”

“Yes?”

“Owww...” Laurie rubbed his forehead, still throbbing from a magical migraine.

“Ahh, sorry.”

“Why would you do that?” Twilight asked, still shocked at Trent’s dietary revelation.

“Hmm... You don’t, I take it? That is interesting actually. Most of the people I come across generally do.”

‘People’ sounded odd in Twilight’s head, almost as if her definition was only a close approximation to what she heard.

“Eating others?”

“Yes. We are predators, after all. Most of us, actually.”

Twilight’s face slowly changed from shock to a mixture of fear and revulsion.

“You wouldn’t... eat us, would you?”

Trent looked genuinely surprised.

“Ohhh, no, no, no. No, no, absolutely not,” he spread his hands with his open palms facing Twilight. “I wouldn’t dream of it.”

He leaned in close with a disarming grin. “But for you, maybe a just nibble.” His lips smacked together quickly before he broke into a hearty laugh.

She responded with her own nervous laughter, before pressing back with another question.

“Well, which is it?”

“Ahh, well perhaps I should explain myself a bit more clearly. When I say that I am a predator, I do not mean that I start each morning sharpening my teeth, or making plans to thin out herds of grazing animals. It simply refers to what I am, not necessarily how I act. A fair segment of the people I knew, er... know, actually abstain from eating meat whatsoever. But like it or not, they still carry that legacy of being vicious flesh eaters.”

“Some of the nicest and most caring vicious flesh eaters you’d ever meet, mind you,” he added quickly.

“They can’t all be like that, can they?”

“Afraid so, which is why I find it interesting that everyone here seems to be strictly vegetarian. Sentient civilization-building species are almost always descended from some sort of predatory ancestor.”

“What about descendants of peaceful or plant eating species?”

“They typically became lunch.”

Twilight and Laurie gulped.

“What’s more, is that they don’t face the same competitive pressures, or have access to the same protein-rich diet, as a meat-eating species. Eating all that meat tends to grow bigger brains,” he tapped at his forehead a third time. “And facing competition from other predators tends to give those brains a workout.”

“That sounds... kind of terrible,” Twilight remarked sympathetically, though still intrigued by the explanation.

“I never said it was fair. But, if it makes you feel any better, we consider it a pretty fundamental tenet of our culture that we do not go around eating other intelligent species. Just because we can does not mean that we should, and that particular line of reasoning is the crux between civilization and barbaric anarchy.”

“So you can choose not to?”

“I certainly can. I can’t say the same about every single one of my ancestors, but I can’t really fault them for their decisions either. If you go back far enough, when our species was just another breed of uncivilized animals in a world where the only way to thrive was to eat the competition, I’m glad they made that choice. Otherwise, I, or perhaps my entire species, wouldn’t be here.”

“What if they didn’t make that choice?”

“Then we would have been replaced by a slightly more vicious pack of bloodthirsty killing machines, who may or may not have developed the same sense of moral restraint. Imagine a visit from one of them.”

Twilight grimaced slightly.

“I see your point.”

“Never judge someone for who they are. Only for what they do.”

She nodded slightly, still unsure how to feel.

“Is that something you would do here?”

Trent sighed softly, rolling his eyes with a slight grin.

“Look, I’ve come to accept that I belong to a race that’s both renowned and infamous for a great many good and horrible things. I am the final link in an unbroken chain of bloodthirsty meat eaters. I have hunted down innocent creatures for my own sustenance. However, I would personally find it despicable to end the life of a creature that had the wherewithal to ask me not to.”

He paused, bending down to Twilight’s eye level.

“If it makes you happy, I can have a salad tonight.”

“You really mean all that?”

“Absolutely. But let’s not get sidetracked here. It’s starting to get late, and I am getting rather hungry.”

* * *

“Is he one of yours,” asked the grey pony.

“No.” came the emotionless reply from the small metal box.

“But he is like you.”

“Yes.”

* * *

“So you say that light and heat are both the same thing?”

“Mmmhmm,” Trent managed through a mouthful of baked potato. “Electromagnetic radiation.”

The word still felt odd inside their heads, but no longer headache inducing.

“Are there other sorts of radiation?” Laurie asked, slowly working his way through a plate of steamed carrots.

Trent simply nodded, busy chewing.

“What do the other kinds of radiation do?” Twilight asked. The meal she prepared lay mostly untouched, due to her non-stop line of questioning.

“Mmm.. usually? They lower property values.”

“What?”

“I’m only halfway kidding. The other types of radiation are typically composed of small particles - and I mean very very small things - flying off at speeds that could damage living tissue. Now that’s not so bad in small doses, but radioisotopes tend to be rather persistent at what they do. Sooo... if someplace becomes contaminated like that, you really wouldn’t want to spend a lot of time in there.”

The headaches returned, in full force.

“Ughh... I feel like I’m making more questions than answers,” she rubbed one foreleg across her weary temples.

“Mmm. Well, as they say, ‘the more you know, the more you don’t know’.”

“But where does it end? Isn’t there some point where you can catch up with all the questions and just simply understand everything?”

Trent looked thoughtful for a moment.

“Maybe. But would you really want to?”

“What do you mean?”

“If you could truly know everything, then where would the magic of discovery be? Or logical deduction, or the thrill of exploration? And what would that say about nature itself? If we could really understand it all, then what would that say about the universe we live in?”

“Umm...” Twilight struggled for an answer. She looked up suddenly, and dashed over to the nearest bookcase.

“Okay, I think I know. Look at these,” she gestured to the set of bookends at either end of the shelf.

“I see.”

“All these books between here could represent all the knowledge in the universe.”

“I should only hope that your cookbook made it in there.”

“Oh, Um... Did you like everything?” Twilight was thrown off guard for a moment, letting a shy smile creep over her face.

“Dinner was fantastic, yes. But let’s keep going with the book analogy. I think I see where you’re going with it.”

“Okay. So there’s a certain number of books. Even if I added more books, there will still only be a certain number of them, right?”

“Mmmhmm.”

“As long as there’s a set to contain them... Then they, um... They’ll be...”

“Finite.”

Twilight gasped. The concept made such perfect sense with the thought she was trying to convey, that she bounded into the air with excitement.

“Yes! That’s exactly it.”

“Which implies...”

“Um, that there could be a limit to the amount of knowledge... Or that, oh... Hmm.”

“Here, lets say that you’ve managed to read every single book in this library.”

“But I already have read every single book in this library.”

“Okay, I rest my hypothetical case. But lets say that this was it. You’ve read everything, and there’s nothing left. Now what?”

“Well, I guess there would be nothing left to read,” she pondered.

“There is that. Not to mention the idea that the universe itself had some sort of limited boundary.”

“Hmm... I think I see. Is it actually like that?”

“To the best of my knowledge, no. Either it’s infinite, or simply large enough that we could never hope to see, or understand it all.”

“Infinite?”

“Unbounded. Endless. Larger than any number, or finite set. It goes on and on forever.”

“Oh...” She paused, letting the concept sink in. “How does that make you feel actually? If you could never really live to learn everything?”

“I can accept it.”

“But it seems like you understand so much.”

“By that token, realizing the depth of what exists, compared to what I’ve learned, I must know very little.”

“Does that feel frustrating?”

“I feel it’s more humbling, actually. It is a big universe out there.”

“Oh.”

Trent finished his dinner quietly.

“Say, Twilight,” Laurie asked, “were you planning to use that ring?”

“I will soon. But first, I don’t think that I even know the right questions to ask.”

“Ah, that will come in time,” Trent offered. “Preferably, some other time. I’m about to call it a night.”

Laurie nodded in agreement.

“Yeah, I could stand to take a little nap myself. Can somepony wake me up next week?”

“So I’ll see you tomorrow?” Twilight asked.

“Wouldn’t miss it.”

* * *

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