• Published 4th Apr 2015
  • 5,870 Views, 204 Comments

Modern Medicine - GaPJaxie

A strange mare arrives in Twilight’s library, claiming to be her future self—here to stop a terrible plague. But Twilight worries that this stranger’s bold claims may hide something more sinister.

  • ...

Chapter 3

The strange mare lifted the mug of cider to her lips, taking a slow and careful sip. She seemed to savor it, shutting her eyes as she took it in. She drank only a small amount, and then let out a long breath, lowering her mug to the table. Her eyes remained shut for a few seconds more, and she sniffed at the top of the mug.

“It’s been so long, I’d forgotten what it tasted like,” she said, opening her eyes and taking another sip. “It’s good though. You stop making it in about... what? Two hundred years? Ponyville had other cider makers by then, but...” She shrugged. “It wasn’t the same.”

“Well I’m glad you’re enjoying it,” Applejack said, though her tone was hesitant. The three were seated about Applejack’s kitchen table—Applejack by the cider barrel, Twilight to her left, and then the strange mare—the rail-thin, unnaturally light creature that claimed to be Twilight, her wide feathered wings resting spread by her side. After teleporting them all back to the house, she had insisted on the cider, and Applejack had agreed over Twilight’s objections. Thus it was that the three came to be seated around the table, with Twilight glaring at the strange mare, while Applejack kept a flatter expression.

“Okay, you’ve had your stupid cider. Now mind telling us who you really are?” Twilight snapped.

“Kid, I know we’re going to have an argument, but—’”

“Stop calling me ‘Kid’!” The anger in Twilight’s voice only intensified, and the strange mare hesitated a moment, the edges of a frown appearing on her face.

“Well, I can’t call you ‘Twilight,’” the strange mare said. “It feels weird. That’s my name.”

“The heck it is. If you were me, you wouldn’t have had to make up some phony plague,” Twilight’s lip curled back as she glared across the table. “All you’ve done since you showed up is lie.”

“I haven’t lied to you once...” The strange mare paused a moment as she gestured at Twilight, finally settling on, “Original-Flavor-Twilight. That cool?” Twilight’s glare didn’t waver, and the strange mare laughed. “For starters, a plague isn’t just a disease. It’s any widespread affliction or evil. Like a plague of locust? A plague of desolation? Well, Equestria was suffering from a plague of aging.” She gently lowered her hoof back, and leaned forward to look Twilight in the eye.

“It’s definitely an affliction,” she affirmed, fixing her eyes on Twilight. “And it’s unquestionably evil. I told you that if we let it, it would kill mom, and it would kill dad, and it would kill Spike, and it would kill all our friends. And it would have.” She let out a breath. “But we kill it first. I struck the first blow today.” She tapped her chest. “Stabbed it through the heart with a stainless steel spear. But there’s fighting left. That will be your job.”

“You’re nitpicking,” Twilight hissed, unmoved. “You knew I’d misunderstand, and I bet most of the other ponies you spun that story to did as well. Even if you didn’t lie, you willfully deceived us.”

“I did not,” the strange mare replied firmly. “No more than Princess Celestia did when she told us to come to Ponyville to make some friends. I presented the information to you in a way you’d understand.”

“And I’m supposed to believe that?” Twilight demanded. “That it was all for my own good?”

“Not for your own good, no. We’re already immortal.” The strange mare chuckled. “But we do care about other ponies. And it’s easy to prove what I did was for their own good. Just wait and see. Nopony dies of natural causes tomorrow. Or the day after that. Or, ever. Because I cheated, and got the old hospital records. So I knew just who to visit, and exactly how many doses I needed.” She vaguely waved in the the direction of the window. “I also knew what pharmacists to talk too. Who had the resources on hoof to make more. Some of them needed persuasion, so I gave them tomorrow’s lottery numbers.” She smiled. “Fun, right?”

“Manipulation and bribery aren’t my idea of fun. Now tell me who you are!” Twilight’s horn started to glow, but the strange mare only took another sip of cider. “Don’t you ignore me. Tell me. Tell me!”

Twilight lowered her horn to point directly at the strange mare, but Applejack quickly reached across the table and pushed her back. “Twilight, no! We won’t get any answers that way and you know it.”

Slowly, the glow faded from Twilight’s horn and she sat back behind the table. The hostile intent remained clear on her face though—her earlier glare having rarefied into something toxic. The strange mare frowned when she saw Twilight’s expression, but after a moment, she turned to Applejack. “Go ahead then.”

“What’s wrong with Granny Smith?” Applejack asked, directly. “Ever since she got back up, she’s been acting funny. Strange and impulsive.”

“Part of it is that she’s recovering from a stroke,” the strange mare said, calmly. “Part of it is that she’s been through a heck of a shock and is probably still in a daze. Part of it is that she went from having eighty-year old hormones to being a fit young mare in only a few hours, so that’s where that impulsiveness comes from.”

She raised her cider to Applejack, and her grin returned. “You know, she ends up marrying him a few years from now?” She glanced to the window. “Part of restarting her life. Starting fresh.”

“So... she’ll be okay?” Applejack asked, slowly. “She’ll be back to normal?”

“She’ll definitely be okay, yes,” the strange mare nodded firmly. “As for normal? Well, she’ll be a normal twenty year old, so I imagine that will take some getting used to. But things sort themselves out soon enough.”

“And you think that justifies what you did?” Twilight asked.

“Do I think saving Granny Smith’s life justifies telling you a half-truth and bruising your ego?” the strange mare replied, looking at the table and swirling her mug. Then she looked back to Twilight. “Yes, actually, I do. And so do you, because you’re not self-absorbed enough to think your pride is worth more than other’s lives. Unless I’ve grievously misremembered what I was like at that age.”

Twilight looked like she might yell again, her fire seemed to waver, and she lowered her ears. “Please...” she said quietly. “Just tell me why you lied to me. A straight answer.”

“Fine. Straight answer,” the strange mare said, her smile fading. “Because you’d have tried to stop me.”

“Because you’re about to turn Equestrian society upside down,” Twilight said, and while her voice remained quiet, some of that fire returned. “You’re going to destroy the social fabric. There will be chaos, and... and worse things I don’t want to think about.”

“I said that I was giving you a war, didn’t I?” the strange mare said. “That there were things you needed to see? When the chaos comes, there will be ponies who... say we have no right.” Her voice dropped, and became quiet. “That it’s natural. That’s it’s the way things should be. There will be a lot of ponies who say that. And the only way...”

She cleared her throat, and her voice picked up. “The only way I got through it was to remember today. The blood, the spasms. The terror on Applejack’s face when she saw it all happen. I remembered that if I lost, that’s what I’d be subjecting all the ponies of Equestria to.” She shook her head. “It’s a rough transition period. But Equestria has Celestia, and Luna, and us. We do good work, and it’s not half as bad as it could have been. I’m confident that I’ve saved more lives than I’ve taken. A lot more.”

“You can’t just decide that for all of Equestria,” Twilight insisted, her gaze going down to the table.

“We’re Princesses, kid,” the strange mare said, firmly. “Deciding things for all of Equestria is literally our job. And even if that wasn’t true, what’s the alternative? Keep the cure from ponies? Only give it to some of them? Or was I supposed to ration it out? Decide who lives and who dies? Who is worthy of getting to live?” She smirked. “I’ve changed a little since I was you, but not that much. That’s not us. Not ever.”

“So why did you do it this way?” Twilight demanded. “If you’re really me from the future, you must have known we were going to fight like this. Why would you make me so mad at you—”

“Because you,” the strange mare pointed, “have not even started to get mad at me. Right now, you’re just pissy. But by the end of this conversation?” She let out a breath, and looked down into her cider. “By the end of this conversation, you are going to hate me. Actually hate. Pure...” she smirked. “Pure and unadulterated contempt.”

“Find that funny do you?” Twilight snapped.

“I’m watching my younger self throw a temper tantrum. What’s not funny?” the strange mare shook her head and took a sip of her cider. “Kid, I’m sorry. I know it sucks to be you right now. But, eventually... you get over it. I got over it. This is the past for me now. I spent a long time wondering what it was going to be like on this side of the conversation. Wondering how I turned into that mare. But... well. I’ve found peace with it. Our life isn’t so bad.”

“What is it you say then?” Twilight asked. “That makes me hate you so much?”

“Spoilers,” the other mare laughed again, and looked up at the ceiling. “We’ll get to it in a second. No need to rush it. It’s one of those things. My memory is really sharp, but it’s been a long time. I remember that Applejack’s cider was good, but I couldn't actually remember the taste. I remember why we fought, and more or less what we said, but the conversation...” She shrugs. “I mean, it’s not like I know what you’re going to say word for word.”

“What happens?” Applejack interjected, both alicorns turning sharply as they suddenly remembered there was a third pony in the room. “What... happens to Equestria? To us?”

“The next decade is tough,” the strange mare nodded to Applejack. “Ponies... well, they don’t know what to expect. They’ve got old relatives showing up like new. Ponies with rich parents whose inheritance they realize they are never getting. Heck, even here. Think of what it’s going to be like to have Granny pulling that plow right alongside you.” She tapped the table. “Now multiply that by one country.”

“How...” Applejack looked to Twilight and then back, her ears folded halfway back. “How bad does it get?”

“Well, the princesses don’t get much sleep.” The strange mare chuckled. “And there is a bit of... ah. Rioting these next few years. Town hall gets burned down. Like I said, the next decade is tough. But after that, things start to settle down. Stabilize. Ponies see the good news. You all do okay and uh...” She nodded to Applejack. “You meet a pony in the bucket brigade.”

“What... sort of pony?” Applejack spoke slowly, looking up into the tall alicorn’s eyes.

“A stallion.” She lifted her hoof to hide a giggle. “Who I am instructed to describe to you as, quote, ‘As sensitive and nurturing as he is amazing in bed,’ end quote.”

“W-what?” Applejack blushed, and her ears perked up. “Uh... what’s his name? What’s he look like?”

“Oh, gosh, AJ.” The strange mare bit her lip, and slowly shook her head. “I know you like it better when the ending is a surprise. You’ll just have to find out on your own.”

“Well, come on!” Applejack sat up straight. “You gotta give me more than that! Do I marry him, or is he just a fling, or what?” A small smile appeared on her own features.

Abruptly, Twilight’s hoof slammed into the table. “She doesn’t know who you’re going to marry, AJ.” Both mares turned to look at her, and she snorted sharply. “I’ve heard fortune tellers with more specific predictions.”

“Twilight...” Applejack reached over to her friend. “Sugarcube, I know this is rough, but I’m pretty sure she’s you. If you stop and think about it—”

“If you stop and think about it, she’s fed you a steady stream of what-you-want-to-hear ever since this conversation started!” Twilight’s tail lashed. “You want to believe Granny Smith is going to be okay, so you’re letting her delude you like a cheap con-artist! You’re the Element of Honesty, and she’s already admitted she’s a liar!”

“Twilight, that’s enough!” Applejack stood up, and leaned in close to her friend. “I get it. You don’t like her. But you’ve been snorting fire ever since she showed up, and that’s not like you! It ain’t like you to get this riled up, so maybe—”

Somewhere in the house, a door slammed, and Applejack trailed off as she looked for the source of the sound. A few moments later, Apple Bloom stuck her head in from around the corner. “Uh... Applejack? Are you...” Her eyes went up to the strange mare, and her words stuck in her throat. “Uh... hello.”

“Oh,” the strange mare put her mug down. “Oh my goodness. You are so cute! I’d forgotten how adorable you were at that age!” With a gleeful smile on her face, she skipped across the room, coming to a neat landing next to Apple Bloom. “You’re like a pony, only tinier!”

“I... guess...” Apple Bloom said, backing away slowly, her voice wavering and uncertain. “I needed to talk to Applejack about... Granny. And what’s happening. Nopony has told me anything.”

“Oh, right. Of course. Granny is fine. Fit as a fiddle!” The strange mare said, with an overly sweet tone, reaching down to ruffle Apple Bloom’s mane. “Hey, while I’m here, do you want to know what your cutie mark turns out to be? That’s a big deal to foals, right? I remember that being a thing.”

“Uh... sure?” Apple Bloom said slowly, narrowing her eyes and taking a half-step back.

The strange mare noticed Apple Bloom’s expression, and quickly backed away herself. “Oh!” she laughed stiffly. “Sorry, uh... I’m spooking you, aren’t I?”

“Little bit.” Apple Bloom let out a nervous laugh herself. “Yeah.”

“Well, I don’t mean to, I’m sorry. I just—you uh... caught me a little bit off guard. Everything is really just—”

“You don’t seem very comfortable around children.” Twilight’s voice cut into the conversation sharply. Her alter-ego turned back to the table, to find Twilight standing with her wings spread, and her horn alight and crackling. “So, your medicine. It causes sterility?”

“No,” the strange mare replied. She paused for a moment as Applejack darted across the space between the two of them, grabbing Apple Bloom. Applejack shoved her through the door, slamming it behind her and holding it from the kitchen side. “Granny actually has a foal next year.”

Ignoring Apple Bloom’s kicking and demands to be let back in, Twilight advanced a step. “Then explain.”

“Oh come off it. You already know.” The strange mare shook her head. “Overpopulation. Nopony ever dies, except in freak accidents and the occasional suicide. If we didn’t curb population growth, the planet would be stripped bare.”

“So...” Applejack swallowed. “How do ponies... have...”

“There’s a lottery,” the strange mare explained. “Would-be parents put their names in, and every time somepony dies, there’s a drawing. There’s a lot of resistance to it at first, but when the population hits about fifteen times the current level, ponies come to their senses.”

“How do you enforce it?” Twilight demanded. “Drugs? Punitive laws?”

“Magic,” the strange mare said, her horn briefly sparking. “It takes all four princesses working together to enchant all of Equestria, but we make it so that—”

“Stop,” Twilight said. Her gaze went down to the floor, and the sparks in her horn faded. She looked nauseous, and the downward shift in her tone made it sound like she was sick already. “Stop talking.”

“I told you you’d hate me before we were done,” the strange mare said slowly. “I know it hurts right now. And I know you’re about to fight me. But when you stop and think about it—”

“You’re not me,” Twilight said, lifting her head again. Her eyes were wet, but focused, narrowed in on the strange mare across from her. “You’re not me. I don’t know... who you are. Or what your game is. Or how you know so much. But I’m the Princess of Friendship, and you’re a monster. Just the way you talk about... the way you talk about rulership makes it clear you don’t even know the difference between a Princess and a tyrant. And...”

Twilight drew a breath, and let it out. “And you’re a liar. You lied because it was convenient. You lied because it was easy. You didn’t hesitate to use force to get your way. You’re manipulative, and proud of it. You’re vain. You’re arrogant. And worst of all, you’re cruel.” Twilight jabbed a hoof outside, pointing to the yard where they’d all stood a few minutes ago.

“The way you were lounging on that roof? Just watching and smirking while our lives fell apart. Like a cross between a gargoyle and a jaguar deciding which antelope to kill. You enjoyed seeing the pain on my face. On Applejack’s face.” Twilight drew a shaky breath. “You lorded your power over me, over us, at every chance. And now you think I’m going to sit here and listen as you talk about riots, and anarchy, and sterilizing the population? Because I have no choice? Because we’re on the rails? Well you’re wrong. I do have a choice. And I won’t let this happen!”

Twilight lowered her head, and her horn shone brilliantly. “Because I’m a real Princess, and I will never, ever, turn into YOU!”

Twilight snarled as she let out a blast of purple energy at the strange mare. It was as bright a beam as she had ever fired—a pencil-thin ray of energy as bright as the sun, streaking across the little kitchen in a fraction of a second. It struck the strange mare in the side of the neck, right where her needle had pierced Granny Smith’s skin.