• Published 17th Nov 2011
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The Taste Of Grass - Chatoyance

Within The Conversion Bureau Universe, Newfoal immigrants face settling new lands within Equestria. Unfortunately, not one of them knows how their new universe actually works.

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Fourteen: In The Land Of The One-Armed Men


By Chatoyance

Fourteen: In The Land Of The One-Armed Men

The construction manual, discovered in the sixth crate along with a small library of books, was a find that was greeted with cheers from Ren and Droplet. For a while the cheers became sighs of sadness because they soon realized that the book was written in Equestrian, and was therefore unreadable to them. Fortunately, it was discovered that several other newfoals had actually paid attention in their basic Equestrian Language and Writing classes during their time at the Bureau. These thankfully studious ponies could translate -with difficulty- the scrawling, chicken-scratch script of the tome.

Building the prefabricated dormered armory pavilion kit was not a simple task. It was far more than a mere tent; it was a true building that just happened to have cloth walls. First, a good site was needed to be chosen, then the ground had to be prepared for the provided foundation.

The newfoals chose a spot not far from the single tree they had planted, imagining that one day the tree would be surrounded with a little garden to decorate the front of what would be their town hall. This was the purpose of the pavilion; it was supposed to be a central building that could house the entire colony if needed for whatever purpose was required. By chance they had opened the crate that contained the very building that was expected to be built first.

The ponies truly needed a building; they needed a place to store things, a place to shelter from the work of the pegasai; but more than this they needed to have the feeling that they had a future, that they could actually make it whether they were ever found or not.

Inside the third crate, landscaping tools were found; shovels, rakes, spades, post hole diggers; even picks and axes. Learning to use these tools was a clumsy, sometimes scary endeavor. More than one pony flat out stated that it was impossible to do anything without hands. But they were proven wrong.

The Equestrian jaw turned out to be incredibly strong, and much longer than anypony thought. It made sense; terrestrial equines had very strong and heavy jaws, and the newfoals had already discovered how incredibly long their tongues were. All that length of tongue needed to be anchored to something, and that something was a jaw that was far larger than the size of their mouths would seem to indicate - again just like terrestrial horses.

The strong, large jaw, combined with wide, flat teeth permitted the newfoals to easily hold tools with great strength and power. Control was more difficult; the ponies had to learn that their long, crane-like necks could be moved with precision, acting like an extremely flexible and powerful lone arm.

The earth pony Goldrivet put it best; ponies were rather like really strong, one-armed men when it came to using tools and building things. While it was true that hooves could be useful too, especially for holding things in place; when it came to actual tool use, Goldrivet's description summed up the condition of being an Equestrian fairly well.

Working together, ponies could do everything that an army of one-armed humans would have been able to do, and perhaps more; they were innately wired to cooperate closely with each other. The unicorn Boeing had marveled at what the Equestrian form was capable of. "You know," Boeing explained one night to Gasket as they sat around after grazing their dinner "I was quite a fan of science fiction, back on Earth. I used to argue with... a friend of mine... about how impossible it would be for any sapient species to arise that lacked the equivalent of hands. I used to be so very certain that no creature could ever develop technology without a pair of grabbing organs. Two minimum, and you gotta have a thumb!"

Boeing thought for a moment. "In a way, I guess, I was both right, and wrong. Our necks and jaws are basically an arm and hand, and the fact we can bite down does the job of a thumb. But we don't have a second 'hand', just hooves; they push and hold, but they can't grab. We have only one grabbing organ - or so you'd think at first glance. But we actually have many. A lot more than two, really. We have each other. It's funny how I never included cooperation into my thinking, back when I was pondering such things."

Gasket had an answer for that. "Really, if you think about it, cooperation was always kind of 'Plan B' for Humans. That's the reason, I bet. As ponies, cooperation is always 'Plan A'. Maybe that's the real difference between our species."

Before the pavilion could be erected, the foundation needed to be placed, and before that, the grass had to be cleared. The ground for the new building could be prepared by the newfoals holding tools in their mouths and using their necks; the power was there, but a great deal of the issue of control was simply how odd it was to try to consider the head and neck as a sort of large hand and arm. But, in time, the area had been cleared and leveled, and the site prepared.

Lightning, Ocean and Boeing led the other unicorns in placing the provided foundation stones; each had been carved and numbered to fit the plan in the construction manual. Next came the wooden first floor; most of which came from crate two; polished, lovely planks fit with puzzle precision - though they did have to shift one of the foundation stones due to a minor error.

Goldrivet and Trotsky seemed born to use hammers with their mouths; they worked with a teal unicorn who called herself Aurora to hammer the floor into place. Aurora levitated nails and wooden pegs into place, Goldrivet and Trotsky would take hammers in their teeth and nail them down. They were astonished that this did not give them headaches - or pugilistic dementia - or even hurt their teeth; apparently the Equestrian body could take such abuse without any harm.

When it came time for the outer framework and the second floor, the unicorns truly came into their own; holding struts and buttresses in place with magic, allowing the earth ponies to hammer and pin the wood rigidly. Pegasai also were needed; lifting beams into place, hammering hard-to reach sections, and carrying tools and supplies from the ground to the developing second floor. Using ropes, the pegasai even lifted earth ponies and their tools up to the second floor and down again.

The stairs were a single kit, found in crate six; there was some embarrassment that the crate hadn't been opened earlier, the stair kit was listed in the manual, and it just made sense to have built the stairs before even starting the second floor. But they were learning; and ultimately, things were getting done.

When they weren't helping the unicorns and the earth ponies with the construction, the pegasai continued their weather work. Each day they grew stronger simply by flying more and more; now most could reach Sky Base from the ground easily, barely even panting at the effort. Cirrus practically lived at Sky Base, coming down only to eat. He was obsessed with discovering every last secret about cloud-stuff, and had already expanded his crude, experimental cloud fort into the beginnings of a castle in the sky.

During the month and a half it took to complete the pavilion, no rain was allowed to fall on Base Camp. Instead, the pegasai spread their rainmaking efforts over more and more of the land surrounding the four hills, filling the ponds and lakes, attempting to make larger and more impressive thunderclouds, and working to green the landscape for as far and wide as they could.

As they grew more ambitious, they found tricks that made their work easier; there were ways to so construct clouds from the mist that they would gradually grow on their own, magnetically drawing surrounding mist into themselves. This dramatically increased overall cloud production, and even suggested to Gasket the notion of a perpetual cloud-generating device of some kind. Droplet found a way to generate chain lightning and rain by how clouds were placed in conjunction with each other; such 'cloud circuits' allowed a single hoof-stomp to set off any number of thunderheads to great effect, and to begin a rain over a very large area.

One ambitious cloud-circuit experiment earned Droplet a second, last name; now she was 'Droplet Deluge', and if it had not been for the determined effort of all the working pegasai, she might have utterly flooded Base Camp. The principles behind wind still boggled the pegasai; they knew there must be rules to how it was generated, but the rules eluded them. They could make wind, sometimes overpowering wind, but the process seemed very unpredictable.

It was clear that wind making had something to do with how the ground was affected by the sun or by the shade from clouds, and that the various factors included the size and placement of holes in the haze layer, as well as how clear the sky was in general; even the presence of clouds at all made a difference. Even with that in mind they just couldn't grasp the nuances yet. This lack of understanding is what almost led to Droplet wrecking Base Camp. Still, everypony agreed that wind was a very welcome addition to the world - as long as it wasn't overdone.

As the Pegasai reclaimed more and more of the dry, brown land, insects were seen with increasing frequency; one of the unicorns, a mare named Dragonfly, had a fascination with entomology; she offered that the insects had been hiding under the soil as the land dried, and were only now coming out as weather was developed. It seemed a reasonable explanation.

Nearly two months after beginning construction, the town hall pavilion was nearly completed. Pegasai and unicorns worked together to sheath the wooden framework in the gigantic, painted canvas. They covered the top with a great conical fabric roof and then installed the peaked, windowed dormers. The finished pavilion looked like something out of a fantasy holomovie, which was rather appropriate, after all, for a magical land of talking ponies.

Alexi now stood next to Caprice, in front of the nearly completed pavilion. The structure was eight-sided, with a round, cone-shaped roof. The strong, canvas-like sides were painted a pale yellow with climbing vine decorations on the corners, the conical upper canopy sported a bright red spiral. The construction manual had guided them to find within crate ten a flag for the peak of the structure; it was the Royal Flag of Equestria, with sun and moon.

Inside the pavilion was a framework of wood, buttressed with diagonal beams. There were two stories to the pavilion made of polished wooden planks, and a beautifully carved, prefabricated staircase running between the levels. Eventually, there would be chests and shelves and tables installed; as soon as they were completed from the kits provided in crate nine. They had yet to install the lower windows into the sides, and there were still problems with the door frame, but these could all be fixed eventually.

The pavilion town hall stood like a beacon of civilization and pony technology, in the middle of the ground of Base Camp. It was marvelous to see completed, and this is why Alexi stood in front of it now, surrounded by the entirety of their colony, to proclaim a new day for the poor, lost newfoals: to announce the turning point the pavilion represented.

"A long way have we come!" Alexi felt utterly in his element; doing announcements was what he had loved best among his jobs back at the Bureau. Finally, he was able to announce once more. More than this, he also had access to a decent sound system - of a kind - once again.

One of the items found in crate seven was a loudspeaker of sorts; it was a fascinating object, and a quick look at it allowed the unicorns to see just where a proper study of magic could lead. Inside the conical device was a small, glassine bulb-like artifact, within which could be seen a curiously wrought work of metal. The metal shape spun slowly inside the bulb, glowing constantly with an arcane light, the same light that shone when they used their horns. It was clear what its purpose was; it must be a thaumatic battery of some kind, or perhaps a magic engine. Nopony knew if the enchantment upon the metal inside the bulb was permanent or would wear out, but whatever the situation, it made the loudspeaker function.

"We who were abandoned almost five months ago," from first arrival, several newfoals had been counting days, while they could not agree on an exact count, five months was certainly close. "We have overcome great obstacles! Our brave, strong earth ponies have discovered the secrets of growing the delicious food that we eat, and great are our ever-expanding gardens!"

This got a cheer; Sweetpepper had worked tirelessly on what he whimsically called his 'Galloping Gardens'; he had trained as many earth ponies as would listen in the arts of Equestrian agriculture as he understood it, and now a fairly large farm had risen next to the small lake just outside the four hills of Base Camp. The contents of the crates promised even better delicacies; the newfoals had wasted no time in making use of the tools - including several plows - to expand and plant the newly discovered seed collection.

"Our unicorns also have reason to be proud; without them the crates would never have been opened, without them we would not be here celebrating our first building!" The cheers were very loud for this and accompanied with hoof stomps; everypony was extremely happy about the crates. Thanks to the crates, they could all hope to live like civilized beings once again. The unicorns had become heroes for having opened them.

"And, it is entirely possible that the pegasai may have been of some small help as well." This got a great laugh; the addition of weather had lifted everyponies spirits, as well as bringing life back to the land itself. Increasingly, the region beyond the influence of the pegasai was turning to desert; in time it seemed that the newfoals would be situated upon a green oasis located in the middle of a vast dry wasteland.

"We have survived our predicament - better than this we have THRIVED!" This got the biggest cheer of all; between the bright sunlight that graced them once more, the gentle, cooling rains, the new, green grass, and above all the towering pavilion in their midst, the newfoals finally felt in control of their lives, and their future. They stomped their approval, hooves echoing like thunder in the bright, cool air.

"You know, it may be that we could be found tomorrow. But even if we are not found for years, even decades, I know one thing now for certain; we are together the masters of this place, this land, this realm. Together we can do anything, and together we are building a community. This is no longer just 'Base Camp'. I say this is now Our land. Our home. Our VILLAGE, and we have reason to be proud of it!" Alexi paused, Caprice, standing next to him held up a bowl of water in her teeth, Alexi drank before continuing. Bowls and jars and plates were another gift of the crates; already these artifacts were beginning to be used in various ways.

"Caprice and I have thought for some time about what to call our new home, and a suggestion was brought to us that we thought perfect. The sun shines here, bright and beautiful; more than a few of us have felt its effects of late." There were many nervous titters and chuckles in the crowd at this; the effects of the sun had been very much noticed indeed. "Standing here in front of our first building, looking out at the green and lovely paradise that is our own, I declare this to be the Village Of Summerland!"

While the reference was lost on many, the feeling was not; truly they did live in a perpetual summer land of increasing plenty, and so a cheer rose up for this, not so much for the name - it could have been any name, really - but rather for the idea that they were no longer the wretched orphans of Base Camp, but the proud citizens of Some Place.

Some Place. That meant something to every pony there. They could no longer be truly lost if they lived in a place that had a name. The newfoals instantly clung to the name. Summerland. Summerland Village. They lived in Summerland Village, they could finally see themselves as belonging to something, to somewhere.

For the first time since they had set hoof in Equestria, the stranded newfoals finally felt like they had a home.

The cheers began again, along with the hoof stomping applause, and it was loud, and it was good, and it lasted a very long time.