• Published 14th Jun 2015
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Transdementia - Kwakerjak



Pinkie Pie heads to another world to retrieve the stolen Element of Magic, with Penumbra in tow. ("Equestria Girls" as it occurs in the Petriculture AU.)

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Chapter 8: Iamundernodisguise

There were a lot of things on Pinkie’s mind as the weekend drew closer, but at the moment, she was concerned with the complete and utter lack of friendship between Applejack and Rainbow Dash. This wasn’t because the issue was on her mental “to-do” list for the day—those slots were filled with such matters as winning over her fellow students, countering the schemes of Sunset Shimmer, and fixing whatever Discord happened to be breaking at the moment (because he must have been ruining something, no matter what Penny claimed). No, the reason that A.J. and Rainbow jumped to the forefront of Pinkie’s attention was because of a snippet of conversation she overheard in the hallway before classes began.

“C’mon, sis, I really need a ride home from the football game.”

“Ask Big Macintosh.”

“Big Mac’s busy at the orchard.”

“Granny Smith, then,” Applejack replied as she rolled her eyes at her little sister.

“She’s gonna take forever cleanin’ the concession stand once the game’s done,” Apple Bloom replied.

“Well, that’s too bad, because I ain’t going.”

“You don’t even know if Rainbow Dash is gonna be there!”

“Why wouldn’t she be? Self-absorbed jocks always show up to support the other self-absorbed jocks.”

“But if she was supportin’ someone else, then wouldn’t that mean she wasn’t self-absorbed?”

“Look, Apple Bloom, I ain’t goin’, and that’s final!” Applejack said as she slammed her locker door shut and stomped down the hall, away from her sister.

Pinkie Pie let out the breath that she hadn’t noticed she was holding as Apple Bloom shuffled off in the opposite direction. Somehow, she’d allowed herself to forget just how much animosity existed between the alternate versions of her friends. Okay, I definitely need to start figuring out how to keep A.J. and Rainbow from killing each other tomorrow. After all, as powerful as the magic of friendship was, it couldn’t exactly reset a dislocated shoulder.

———————

In the immediate aftermath of her confrontation with Sunset Shimmer, Penumbra had felt pretty good about the results. Even though she had essentially been improvising the entire time, it seemed like she had really managed to get inside her adversary’s head—metaphorically speaking, that is. She had left Canterlot High feeling confident that Pinkie would be able to operate from a position of strength in the days ahead. Yet, the very next day, nearly all of that confidence vanished, because on that day Sunset did the last thing Penumbra had expected: absolutely nothing.

Oh, to be sure, her lackeys were still following Pinkie and Penumbra around—indeed, the number of freshmen who’d been roped into providing reconnaissance had doubled, with Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon now alternating with a pair of hapless boys who were no doubt grateful that a pretty girl like Sunset was actually acknowledging their existence. That was to be expected; after all, if either Pinkie or Penumbra slipped up and did something that could jeopardize their reputations, Sunset would want to capitalize immediately. But beyond this, there was nothing. No hallway confrontations. No humiliating pranks. No baseless rumors to quash. In fact, the one time Penumbra passed by Sunset between classes, the student council president had simply stared straight ahead and walked by without even a single flicker of emotion to indicate that she was aware of Penumbra’s presence.

By the end of the day, Penumbra had become rather obviously perturbed, as was made obvious by the high-pitched yelp she let out when Pinkie tapped her on the shoulder after the final bell of the day. “Okay, I was going to ask if you were worried about something, but that kinda sorta answered my question,” Pinkie said in a remarkably deadpan tone of voice (well, deadpan for Pinkie Pie, anyway). “What’s bugging you? Are you worried about Discord?”

“What?” Penumbra said. “No! Discord doesn’t worry me in the slightest. You’re the one who has a problem with him, remember?”

“Oh... right. Still, it’s not like you to be so tense. Was your day just really stressful?”

“I suppose you could put it that way, though by all rights it shouldn’t have been. Sunset Shimmer’s been acting like our conversation yesterday never happened. Actually, scratch that—she’s acting like the two of us have been here for months.”

“And... that’s a bad thing?”

“Not exactly, but it wasn’t what I was expecting. Yesterday, I thought I’d gotten a good read on her. Now, I’m not so sure.”

“Do you think she believed you when you told her who you were?” Pinkie asked. “If she didn’t, then maybe she’s underestimating you. There wouldn’t be much reason for her to go out of her way to confront you if she didn’t think she had any reason to be worried about you.”

“Even if she is underestimating me, she would still have a reason to be concerned, since I pretty much admitted why we came here in the first place. Ultimately, though, whether or not she believed me is a moot point. I had hoped that by claiming to be The Nightmare, I’d goad her into making even more obvious mistakes, but it’s looking like it had the opposite effect: she’s not panicking, which means she’s probably hatching a new scheme, instead of trying to use whatever plan she had in place if Twilight came over here.”

Pinkie did her best to reassure her friend. “Well, it’s not like we have any idea what her plans for Twilight were, so there’s no reason to think that we need to change our plans.”

Penumbra sighed. “I know that. But I really don’t like the idea that my attempt to play mind games has backfired.”

“You don’t know that it’s backfired, either. Maybe Sunset is wasting time because she’s expecting you to act like The Nightmare. Look, what’s done is done, and second guessing yourself isn’t going to help anyone, except maybe Sunset Shimmer. I think you should just set this aside for now so we can focus on tonight.”

Penumbra curled up an eyebrow in confusion. “Tonight? I thought the campaign strategy meeting wasn’t until tomorrow.”

“You’re right about the campaign meeting, but I’m talking about something else. Didn’t you get Discord’s text message?”

“What?” Penumbra pulled out her phone, and indeed, there was a message from her “father” waiting to be read:

“TS wants 2 meet this evening”

———————

“Thank goodness for free wifi,” Discord said as he tapped away happily at his laptop. He and his “daughters” were, at the moment, awaiting the arrival of Twilight Sparkle at Donut Joe’s, a moderately busy coffee shop which was unsurprisingly staffed by the human counterpart of Pinkie Pie’s preferred donut salespony. The internet may have been the most splendiferous idea ever concocted by sentient beings, but actually accessing it could be a massive pain in the butt at times. However, when neither of his companions responded, Discord looked up and saw that both of them seemed to be distracted by the place where the wall met the ceiling. Granted, he had expected this sort of behavior from Penumbra, whose neutral stare was only occasionally interrupted by a sip of her americano. It was the same general attitude she had whenever she was thinking about her next project for Cloud Nineteen, though presumably her attention was on something of more immediate interest than cloudsmithing.

Pinkie, though... well, she looked genuinely nervous about something, and Discord didn’t have a clue what it was. If she had been anyone else, he would have assumed that it was nervousness about meeting Twilight, but Pinkie never got nervous about meeting anybody, so it had to be something else. For a brief moment, he considered asking her why she looked so troubled, but he rejected the idea almost immediately, largely because he was certain that she would never be willing to acknowledge feeling any sort of negative emotion. Well, not to him, anyway. In any case, he hadn’t had much time to dwell on their decidedly awkward relationship before the door to the coffee shop opened and Twilight Sparkle entered, followed closely by a young man with pale white skin and blue hair—her brother, obviously, but Twilight had no idea that all three of them already knew that.

Discord lowered the lid of his laptop and stood up to greet her. “Hello, again, Ms. Sparkle. It’s so good of you to take time out of your schedule to talk with my daughters.”

Twilight shook his hand with a somewhat loose grip. “It’s no trouble at all,” she said with a smile. “I’m glad I can help.” She gestured to the young man beside her and confirmed Discord’s assumption: “This is my brother, Shining Armor.”

Shining’s handshake was much firmer than his sister’s. “A pleasure to meet you, sir.”

“Likewise,” Discord replied. “And these are my daughters, Pinkie Pie and Penumbra.”

“Hi, there!” Pinkie said with her usual cheerful smile.

“Hey,” Penumbra said in a completely neutral tone with her usual world-weary scowl.

“Well,” Discord said as he clapped his hands together, “I figure the three of you can handle your own conversation, so why don’t Mr. Armor and I get out of the way? We’ll be in that booth by the window if you need us.” This separation wasn’t part of the plan per se, but Twilight hadn’t mentioned that someone would be accompanying her. In any case, to his mind, this was an opportunity to wheedle additional information about Twilight out of her brother. “Do you drink coffee, Shining Armor? I’m more than happy to cover for you.”

“No, that’s fine,” Shining Armor said as he pulled out his wallet. “I prefer to pay my own way.”

“Suit yourself,” Discord said as he walked up to the barista. “I’d like a venti two-thirds decaf low-fat soy caramel macchiato with whipped cream and mocha sprinkles. Oh, and a cranberry orange-peel scone, if you please.”

———————

“Um, Penumbra?” Twilight asked hesitantly. “Are you alright?”

“I’m fine,” Penumbra said. “Why do you ask?”

“Well, for a moment, you looked like you were grinding your teeth.”

“Oh... right. I, er... overheard something that reminded me of an unpleasant memory. But that doesn’t really matter; we have more important things to talk about. How much did our father explain to you?”

Twilight shrugged. “It seems like he gave me a basic rundown. He said you two are really smart, and you’re considering going to college early.”

In the back of Twilight’s mind, Surprise chimed in with her take. “C’mon, Twilight, show a little enthusiasm! You only get one chance for a first impression.”

“C’mon, Penny, show a little enthusiasm! You only get one chance for a first impression.”

Twilight’s eyes abruptly widened as Pinkie Pie finished critiquing her sister. That... that has to be a coincidence, doesn’t it?

“Don’t call me ‘Penny,’” Penumbra replied in the same aloof tone of voice she’d been affecting. “Anyway, we’d like to hear how you’ve been handling college.”

“Oh, sure. Well, I can give you an overview, at least....”

———————

“So, when exactly did Twilight decide to enter college early? Or was this something your parents decided for her?”

Shining Armor took a sip from his latte before he answered. “Oh, this was Twily’s decision all the way. She really had to push our parents hard to get them to agree to it. I don’t know when she actually came up with the idea, but she started putting it forward while she was in middle school—that’s when she started skipping grades.”

“Is that so? And was there some specific field she wanted to study that simply wasn’t covered in high school, or is this more a case wanting to be around people as smart as she was?”

“A little of both, I think. I mean, it started as the second one, but while she was getting her high school diploma, she found out about chaos theory, and she really latched onto that.”

Discord grinned widely. “You know, that sounds absolutely fascinating. The study of complete randomness, I mean.”

Shining Armor chuckled. “Don’t let Twilight hear you call it that. There’s nothing random about chaos, at least when scientists use the word.”

Discord might have found this disappointing if it wasn’t so confusing. “But... if it’s not randomness, then what is it?”

“Well, I’m not exactly an expert, but basically, it turns out that a lot of unpredictable things in nature are unpredictable in amazingly similar ways, at least when you know how to analyze them properly. Actually, I think Twilight once described chaos as ‘predictable unpredictability.’” Shining Armor suddenly paused the conversation as Discord began to look mildly nauseous. “Are you alright?”

“Oh, I’m fine. That phrase just... reminded me of an unpleasant memory, that’s all.”

———————

“...easy to get along with the other students?” Pinkie finished.

“Uh, yeah,” Twilight responded, hoping that she hadn’t missed too much of the first part of the question to give a coherent answer. The similarities between Pinkie and Surprise may have been superficial, but the real person in front of her was still close enough to her imaginary friend to be a little bit unsettling. “I mean, no one’s really mistreated me.”

Pinkie looked somewhat confused. “That’s not really what I meant to ask. I guess what I’d like to know is if you’ve been able to make friends with any of them?”

“Well, not exactly, but I haven’t really put a lot of effort into it.”

“Intimidated?” Penumbra asked.

“Not really,” Twilight said. “I just really haven’t had much interest in making friends. Not with them, I mean. Don’t get me wrong, I like being able to talk with someone about science and not have it go over the other person’s head, but other than that, I don’t really share many interests with a lot of college students.”

Pinkie nodded. “That makes sense, I think. So, have you made friends with kids your own age? Like, from Canterlot High, maybe?”

For another split-second, Twilight felt oddly spooked as this girl who seemed strangely similar to her imaginary friend managed to bring that imaginary friend’s favorite topic into the conversation. However, there wasn’t anything particularly creepy about Pinkie Pie, aside from the fact that she wasn’t creepy in exactly the same way that Surprise wasn’t creepy. Her smile was warm, her demeanor was bubbly and inviting, and her laugh was infectious. Indeed, if Twilight hadn’t seen her interacting with other people, she might almost think Pinkie was her imaginary friend, bizarre as that possibility was to consider. “Um, I don’t really spend much time with other teenagers,” Twilight admitted sheepishly.

“Does college take up your spare time?” Penumbra asked.

“Oh, no, definitely not. I have time to do other things, like reading fiction or blogging. It’s just... well... hanging out with kids my age wasn’t something I’d ever really considered doing until recently.”

“Recently?” Pinkie repeated, her interest obviously piqued. “So you have been considering it?”

“Well, yeah. I mean, I’ve been thinking about taking a closer look at social networks, but I realized that I’d never really had much reason to use some of the more popular platforms myself... but I’m getting sidetracked. We’re not here to talk about my personal life.”

“Actually, I’m pretty sure that’s exactly what we’re here to talk about,” Penumbra replied sardonically. “You’re supposed to help us figure out if college will put too much of a strain on our social lives, aren’t you?”

“Oh... right.”

———————

“So, are you studying chaos as well?”

Shining Armor stifled a laugh before answering. “Oh, no. My interests are a bit more practical—though I’m sure Twilight could go on for hours about the everyday applications of chaos theory. I’m a computer science major. My interests are mainly in cybersecurity and advanced encryption techniques. That’s actually how I caught the interest of a military recruiter on campus; it turns out that not all battles are fought in the real world. Anyway, my time is split between my studies and my officer training, so I can’t spend as much time with Twily as I used to.”

“You two were close?” Discord asked.

“Don’t get me wrong: we still are close. But that doesn’t really change the fact that I’m four years older, and I’m starting to get this itch to expand my horizons a bit. In that sense, at least, I’m really hoping your daughters hit it off with Twilight. It’d be nice for her to get a few more friends so she isn’t so reliant on me.”

“Getting a little tired of being the protective big brother?”

“Oh, no. This is more a case of trying to wean Twilight off of me so that she isn’t left high and dry when I can’t be there for her. I mean, she’s never been the kind of person who makes friends easily. I can’t remember if she ever had anyone over to our home when she was younger. A lot of times it was just me and Twilight.”

“So she was all by herself when you had something else to do?”

“Basically... though she sometimes claimed otherwise.”

“So she did have a friend or two, then.”

“In a sense. She often played with this stuffed animal I got her for her birthday one year; she named it Smarty Pants. Oh, and of course there was also Surprise.”

———————

Twilight decided that, on the whole, this particular conversation had gone quite well. Sure, the topic of conversation hadn’t drifted into the sciences quite as often as she may have wanted, but Pinkie and Penumbra seemed genuinely interested in her other hobbies, like blogging and watching animated movies and TV shows from foreign countries. On top of that, they seemed to have some interesting pastimes of their own; Penumbra’s discussion of her artwork was fascinating, while Pinkie Pie loved baking so much that she always kept a canister of baking powder on her person “just in case” she came across a situation where her skills were required. However, the conversation’s tone shifted when Twilight found herself discussing the various group activities that she hadn’t had the chance to attempt due to her introversion. Pinkie and Penumbra had no trouble accepting Twilight’s claim that doing these sorts of things with the other students at Canterlot Tech would be needlessly awkward, but to their minds, there was another possibility that was not so easily dismissed.

“I don’t quite get why you can’t make friends with teenagers who are still in high school,” Pinkie said. “I mean, what’s stopping you?”

Once again, Twilight found herself trying to ignore the fact that Pinkie reminded her of her imaginary friend, a feat that was far more difficult than it had any right to be, because surely the similarities could be chalked up to coincidence, or perhaps to a cognitive bias which was preventing her from noticing how Pinkie differed from Surprise. Any other explanation would border on the absurd. Returning her train of thought to the conversation, Twilight responded with one of her stock answers: “Well, I’ve found that most kids my age tend to get bored once I start talking about chaos theory.”

“We aren’t bored,” Pinkie said. “You’re a very interesting person to talk to.”

“Well, you aren’t exactly ‘most kids,’” Twilight said.

“I’m not so sure about that,” Penumbra said. “You haven’t actually talked about what you’re studying for your degree very much in this conversation. There’s a good chance that if you went into detail about the ins and outs of chaos, it would go right over our heads.”

Twilight had no reason to dispute this, but she got an odd feeling that Penumbra would have a better grasp of chaos than most people. “That may be true, but I really don’t have a lot of opportunities to meet other kids my age. I mean, I’m not the kind of person who just walks up to a complete stranger and introduces herself.”

“Well, what if someone else took care of the introductions?” Pinkie Pie said. “Even though Penny and me haven’t been in town very long, we’ve already made some really good friends. I’d bet they wouldn’t mind meeting you. In fact, we’re going to be getting together with them tomorrow—”

“There are three problems with that,” Penumbra said. “First, don’t call me Penny. Second, it’s ‘Penumbra and I.’ Third, and most importantly, there’s the matter of that complication that might come up when all of our friends get together, and I really don’t think we want that sort of thing coloring Twilight’s first impression.”

Pinkie looked crestfallen at Penumbra’s final point. “Oh... that’s right.”

“Is something wrong?” Twilight asked.

“Sort of... basically, two of my friends haven’t been seeing eye to eye recently. If I was going to introduce you, I’d want them to be at their best, if you know what I mean.”

“I think so,” Twilight said.

“But that doesn’t mean you can’t meet them when they’ve sorted things out!” Pinkie said excitedly. “Tell you what: Let’s exchange phone numbers, or email addresses, or whatever you prefer, and we’ll get in touch when they’re all ready to meet you. Sound good?”

“Uh, sure...”

“Great!” Pinkie shouted as she jumped out of her chair and caught Twilight in a huge bear hug. “I can’t wait for them to meet you?”

“I’ll.... look forward to it,” Twilight said as her lungs strained for oxygen. It was a relief when Pinkie finally let go and allowed her to sink back to her chair. “What the heck just happened?” she asked of no one in particular.

“Pinkie Pie happened,” Penumbra replied, her expression as blank as ever.

———————

Twilight still had a lot on her mind after her brother dropped her off at home. She found herself standing in the backyard, staring at the sunset while a cool autumn breeze flowed across her face. “You’re still in there, right?”

“Yeah, I am,” Surprise replied. “At least, I’m pretty sure I’m still in your head. That was... really strange.”

“It’s not like Pinkie doesn’t seem like a really nice person. I mean, why wouldn’t she be if she’s just like you?”

“She can’t be just like me,” Surprise insisted. “There must be at least a few significant differencesI mean, besides the whole pink thing.”

Twilight refused to drop the subject, however: “She acts the way you would, she has the same super-curly hair, and now that I think of it, her voice sounds exactly the same as yours.”

“Hold on, Twilight. That last one might be going too far. After all, you’ve never actually heard me speak out loud. You know enough about psychology to know that people sometimes unintentionally alter their memories. For all you know, your recent experience with Pinkie Pie might be affecting your conception of me. Though I must admit, her voice is perfect for me.”

Twilight had to concede this point. “Alright, you’ve got me there, but let’s face it, your personality is the most important aspect of what makes you Surprise, and the similarity there is just... unnerving.”

“Are you sure? After all, I’m basically your idea of what a super-extrovert would act like. I may be an exaggeration, but it’s certainly plausible that a few people who are as extroverted as I am might exist.”

“But why did she keep steering the conversation towards me making friends with kids my own age? And more importantly, why did she seem so excited to actually introduce me to some?”

Surprise paused briefly before answering. “Okay, I don’t really have a solid explanation for thatat least, I don’t have one that will get rid of your confusion. But consider this: Pinkie Pie likes baking.”

“What does that have to do with anything?”

“Well, given that you’ve never given me any sort of interest in making any kind of food, wouldn’t you say that this is evidence that I haven’t somehow managed to pop out of your head and become a real person? Why on earth would I care about baking to the point where I’d keep supplies with me for ‘baking emergencies?’”

Twilight’s eyes widened as she realized that Surprise had a point. “That’s right.... You’ve never been interested in baking.” She let out a slow breath. “Thanks, Surprise. I think I almost went a little nuts, there.”

“Hey, who else is going to keep you sane, if not the voice in your head?”

“Quiet, you,” Twilight replied in mock indignation as she walked back inside her home. It had been an eventful day, and there was still blogging to be done.

Author's Note:

Special thanks to djthomp and all of the other supporters on my Patreon.

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