• Published 3rd Jun 2012
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Lunar Rising - azore24



SG-1 explores a world filled with odd aliens on the eve of one of their largest holidays.

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Chapter 2

The team emerged from the forest two and a half hours later, one and a half of which had been spent updating General Hammond on the situation and setting up Carter’s instruments. The forest itself was actually quite peaceful. Certainly, there had been animal sounds - those of large predators - somewhere in the depths of the trees, but none had come to bother SG-1. The most trying part of their journey, in fact, had come at the beginning.

The only way across the deep chasm that separated the castle from the rest of the Everfree Forest was a rope bridge. This particular rope bridge looked like it had not been maintained since the castle was last used. That meant that three sizeable humans and one rather large Jaffa had to cross a centuries old bridge of rope and wood. While they had made it across, they ended up downing the bridge in the process.

The first thing they noticed upon exiting the forest was the drastic change in the weather. The Everfree had been hot and humid, like many forests might be in the summer. As soon as they passed into the well-cultivated grasses that surrounded the town’s apparent limits, however, the humidity dropped like a stone and the temperature shifted to that of a comfortable summer day with a pleasant breeze.

“Carter, can you make any sense of this?” asked O'Neill as he hopped back and forth over the boundary. It wasn’t exactly a thin line, more of a very steep gradient over the span of a few feet.

“I don’t know, sir. Maybe it’s a property of the trees, or maybe the locals have a weather device like they did on Madrona. Either way, it creeps me right out to cross the boundary.”

“Well, it’s something we can ask the locals about. In any event, it doesn’t seem like it’s designed to keep us out of the forest, so we can throw it on the backburner.” O'Neill shrugged and left the forest’s border. The team followed as he walked towards the town, which was now only a few hundred yards away. “So, Daniel, you want the honor of first contact with these ponies?”

“Yes, actually. You know this is the sort of thing I live for,” replied Doctor Jackson.

“Good, then you’re on point for that. They look too cutesy for my tastes.” That the aliens were pony-like was confirmed while the team was still on the forest side of the weather boundary. From the tree line, they could see the creatures milling about their town. The first surprising thing about the aliens was that some had wings. Apparently there were three types of ponies, according to Doctor Jackson’s translations: normal ponies, unicorns, and pegasi.

SG-1’s scouting confirmed that the pegasi could, in fact, fly. From the distance, though, they were unable to see anything unique about unicorns aside from the obvious. Really, flying aliens were nothing new to the team, but there was something strange about quadrupedal mammal-like aliens with wings. The distance made detailed observation impossible, but the aliens appeared quite peaceful from afar.

It seemed that SG-1 had managed to arrive just as the locals were preparing for some sort of festival, though the purpose of it was unclear. Regardless of the meaning of the festival, it required SG-1 to be on its best behavior during first contact. It seemed like every time they arrived during a local festival, it ended badly for them; O'Neill could still remember the time he was aged at an alarming rate after having cake with a very pretty woman.

The four continued to walk towards the alien village until Teal’c noticed a group of the aliens frolicking in the fields between the town and the forest. “Colonel O'Neill,” he said, “there is a group of the creatures in that meadow.” He pointed in the direction of a dip in the gentle slopes of the grassy field.

O'Neill and Carter pulled up their binoculars. “Sir, I think it’s a group of young. They’re probably being kept out of the way of the preparations for whatever festival is going on.”

“I see that too,” O'Neill responded. As he watched, another of the creatures wandered into view. This one was larger than the young ones, and seemed to be in charge of the group. “Looks like they’ve got a babysitter. What do you say we go introduce ourselves?”

“I’d rather do that than sneak by, at the very least,” said Daniel as he started off towards the group. Carter, Teal’c, and O'Neill followed him in as non-threatening a way as possible. Carter and O'Neill’s weapons hung loose from their vests, gently guided by their hands, while Teal’c used his staff weapon as a walking stick. They strolled towards the group of young in a friendly sort of way that almost never seemed to fail them.

“Mith Cheerilee,” lisped one of the foals, “what are thofse?” O'Neill had already assumed that the pony-aliens would find SG-1 strange, so the young one’s tone was hardly surprising. That was the reason he had Daniel doing the talking, of course.

The larger alien, presumably an adult female by the way it was addressed, turned to look where the child was pointing. She was a purple equinesque creature with a mane striped in two tones of pink. The most striking features, though, were her eyes. They took up at least half of her face, which had an oddly human quality to it. Pale green irises surrounded black pupils. There were enormous pools of reflected light which seemed to lack any discernible source.

This ‘Cheerilee’ furrowed her brow as a shockingly human expression of confusion and worry shot across her face. “I...” she started, “I don’t know. Stay here and I’ll go find out.” She was clearly trying her best to keep worry out of her voice, but the false confidence seemed to fall as flat on the young as it did on the team. As she approached SG-1, they could see that her tail matched her mane and that she had some sort of tattoo on either flank.

Daniel started off their conversation, probably to prove that they were intelligent, or at least friendly. “Hello there. My name is Daniel Jackson, these are Colonel O'Neill, Major Carter, and Teal’c,” he said, gesturing to each of them in turn. “What’s your name?”

The alien was taken aback by his words, but only briefly. “M-my name is,” she stammered over her first word, but quickly regained her linguistic footing, “Cheerilee. I’m the school teacher here in Ponyville,” O'Neill rolled his eyes behind his sunglasses at the ridiculous name. “What, exactly, are you? I don’t think I’ve ever heard of any creatures like you before.”

“No, I suppose you wouldn’t have,” answered Daniel. “We are humans, from a planet called Earth.”

“Well, of course you’re from Earth. I’ve never met anypony that wasn’t,” said Cheerilee quizzically.

“Uh, Daniel,” O'Neill interjected, “I know Earth. I was born there, spent a fair bit of my life there, and last I checked, this isn’t there.”

“No, I think they just also call their planet ‘Earth.’ It’s not all that surprising, I mean, earth is just another word for dirt that caught on as a name for the planet. Really, it’s more surprising we haven’t come across another ‘Earth’ before. Maybe a ‘Dirt’ or a ‘Soil,’ too.”

Cheerilee stood awkwardly, looking between Daniel and Jack before hesitantly cutting into their conversation. “Um, are you trying to tell me you’re from another planet? Like little green stallions from Mares?”

“Uh, no,” said Daniel, “unless those are real. In which case, maybe. We came through the Stargate,” seeing a blank look on the mare’s face, Daniel continued, “the Chappa’ai,” he offered up the goa’uld name for the device and received an even blanker look. “It’s a big stone ring in this old rundown castle in the forest. It spins?” It was clear that Cheerilee had absolutely no idea what he was talking about.

“Look, the point is,” said O'Neill with a hint of impatience, “we’re peaceful explorers who want to meet and greet with all the fun aliens of the galaxy, like you fine... people. What do you call yourselves anyway?”

“Oh, I’ve never heard of ‘people’ before. Everypony around here is a pony. Some are unicorn ponies, some are pegasus ponies, and some are earth ponies. But most everypony around here is a pony. We have some mules and donkeys too, though.

“You said you came from a ruined castle in the Everfree?” asked Cheerilee. O'Neill could see how uncomfortable even mentioning the forest made her. Daniel nodded in answer to her question. “I’ve never heard of such a thing, but if you Pinkie promise that you won’t hurt anypony I would love to help you find out.” Her eyes seemed to light up at the idea of helping them to learn about the castle.

The three humans present glanced down at Cheerilee’s hooves in confusion. O'Neill was not only confused by the existence of a pinky promise on a world without fingers, but that such a juvenile oath would be sufficient for the pony. They didn’t seem to be the honor bound type like the Jaffa were, so he figured that they must simply be very trusting. “How exactly do we do a pinky promise,” Jack asked flippantly, “seeing as you have hooves and not hands?” He held up his hand, wiggling his fingers. To emphasize his point, he brought all of them down save his pinky.

Cheerilee’s brow furrowed itself once more, “I’ve never heard of hands before either, but I don’t see what they have to do with making a Pinkie promise. Just repeat after me and do what I do.

‘Cross my heart,’” she used her foreleg to draw a cross over her heart, “‘and hope to fly,’” she used her hooves as pretend wings and lifted up on her hind legs to simulate flight, “‘stick a cupcake in my eye,’” she quickly brought her hoof up and pressed it against her closed eyelid. The team mimicked her actions well enough for her to accept their oath. O'Neill could have sworn that something was watching him while he uttered the absolutely silly promise, but the feeling passed quickly.

As soon as SG-1 finished their Pinkie promises, Cheerilee relaxed. Previously tensed muscles slackened while her ears no longer perked up warily. “Class!” she called happily, “Come over here.” From behind the next hill, about a dozen young ponies approached the group. “I want you all to meet Daniel Jackson, Colonel O'Neill, Major Carter, and Teal’c. They are explorers from another planet, so why don’t we teach them about Equestria!”

O'Neill smiled; he liked kids. Behind his smile, though, lay sadness. He had lost too many kids to not feel the hurt whenever he saw young, smiling faces. These kids, or foals he supposed, were more innocent looking than he’d seen in quite a while. Their innocence sort of reminded him of Merrin, the Orbanian girl chosen at birth to learn everything about nuclear physics and then have her knowledge, memories, and personality ripped out of her in order to share her scientific expertise with every individual on her planet. O'Neill had taught her, and thereby her people, what it was to be a kid, though failed to save her. They also reminded Jack of another child he had lost, but did his best not to think about.

The foals were talking with Daniel, Sam, and Teal’c when O'Neill came out of his thoughts. Carter was talking to a few unicorn foals about magic, making O'Neill chuckle as Carter tried to fit their abilities - some of them could manage to levitate small objects, causing their horns to glow - into the laws of physics. Teal’c was listening to two awkward looking boys gush about the ‘awesome’ and ‘totally radical’ Royal Guards, apparently the main military force of ‘Equestria,’ the ponies’ nation. Daniel was engaged in a discussion with four or five of the kids about whatever he could get them to talk about - culture, history, everything. Cheerilee had joined that group and was making minor corrections to the children's statements while Daniel furiously took notes.

A couple of the kids were also sitting and looking at O’Neill. Apparently, he was just that interesting. “Hey kids, what’s up?” he asked them.

“We ain’t goats!” the yellow one with red hair and an enormous pink bow responded.

“What?” was the only response Jack could muster.

“You called us kids. Well, kids’re baby goats, and we ain’t goats. Ah’m a pony, and Twist here’s a pony also, so we’re foals, not kids.”

“Ah, I get it. Where we come from it’s a very broad term for young person.”

“We ain’t ‘persons’ either. Ah ain’t never even heard of a person.”

“It’s people.”

“What?

“The plural of ‘person’ is ‘people.’” Jack decided to shift the topic away from grammar and word usage as quick as he could, so he said, “why are you over here with me instead of with the other... foals, was it?”

“Well,” started the other foal, who name was apparently Twist, “we were thitting with Daniel Jackthon, but then Diamond Tiara and Thiver Thpoon came over, tho we didn’t want to keep thitting there becauthe they make fun of uth a lot.” To say the girl had a small lisp would be a bit of an understatement.

“So then,” cut in the other girl, “we went over to Major Carter, but she was talking about magic, and we ain’t unicorns, so it was reeeeally boring. An’ then we went over to Teal’c, but they were just talkin’ ‘bout the Royal Guard, an’ that’s just as boring.”

“Tho then we came to talk to you,” said Twist, “becauthe you were all alone!” O'Neill smiled at the girls’ story.

“So, Twist and...” O'Neill paused and looked at the yellow pony, silently asking for her name.

“Ah’m Applebloom,” said Applebloom.

“So, Twist and Applebloom,” Jack began once again, taking a seat on the cool grass, “why would the other girls make fun of you?”

The two looked down bashfully. “It’s ‘cuz we’re blank flanks,” said Applebloom morosely, swiveling her hips to show that she indeed had no image on her flank. O'Neill looked up and noticed that most of the other foals had the pictures, just like Cheerilee.

“I was wondering what those pictures were for. What makes them so important?”

“They’re called cutie markth, they thymbolithe what you’re betht at,” said Twist.

“So,” Jack asked, “they tell you what you have to do with your life? That doesn’t seem good thing at all, especially not so young.” The parallels to Merrin grew stronger in O'Neill’s mind. Jack would do whatever he felt necessary if someone or something was trying to control their lives. As the girls leapt to defend the ‘cutie marks’ Jack listened, but doubted that they would change his mind.

“Cutie marks don’t tell ya’ what ya’ have to do, silly! They show folks what yer good at. Ya’ only get it once ya’ know what your talent is. Take mah sister, for example. Hers is a bunch of apples, and her talent is running Sweet Apple Acres and growin’ the best apples in Equestria! So, she followed her talent and runs our farm, and there weren’t nopony that forced her into anything.” Applebloom sat right down after that, looking sure of her victory.

Immediately after Applebloom had finished, Twist cut in with an anecdote of her own. “And mithh Cheerilee has hers because sthe loveth to teach and make uth foalth happy! And, my foalthitter got herth becauthe sthe ith the betht candy maker ever!”

Jack had his retort ready as they finished their arguments. “But what if what you’re good at and what you want to do are completely different? Like, I’m really good at fighting, and it’s what I do, and I generally enjoy myself now that I’ve started going through the Stargate, but I’d much rather just be home fishing, even though I’m terrible at it. See? Just because something is a talent of yours, it doesn’t mean you have to only do that one thing.”

“Now yer’ just bein’ silly! Who wouldn’t enjoy their special talent? Once ya’ know what yer’ good at, ye’ can’t help but love doin’ it an’ makin other ponies happy by sharin’ yer’ talents with ‘em.”

“Very well put, Applebloom,” said Cheerilee as she entered the conversation. Applebloom blushed at the praise, but smiled happily while turning around to see the magenta mare walk over. “What have you learned about Colonel O'Neill and his world so far?”

“Well,” said Applebloom, “we learned that he don’t much care for cutie marks, that’s fer sure!”

“And that he’th a fighter,” said Twist, “but he liketh to take care of fisth more, even though he’th bad at it.” Jack puzzled over her description of himself before realizing that surely they wouldn’t know what fishing was: they didn’t eat fish!

“And what have you learned about our world, Colonel O'Neill?” asked Cheerilee. Jack was caught off-guard by the teacherly tone of the question, but decided to just go with it.

“Well, I’ve learned that the foals of this world are consigned to a single life-path before they’re out of school, and that your culture is totally OK with that, for some reason.” He couldn’t help it, the idea of what happened to the foals once they ‘discovered’ what was best for them just left him incensed.

“Hmm,” murmured Cheerilee, “I think the girls weren’t as thorough as I might have hoped. You see, the cutie mark doesn’t consign anypony to anything, it only shows where their interests lie. I know a pegasus, for instance, whose cutie mark is the constellation Orion. Now, he doesn’t have to be an astronomer just because of that, nor a warrior. He could be either, or he could be a painter who takes his inspiration from the stars. Maybe he could be a teacher, or it could be more symbolic and his talent is to inspire others as the stars inspire us. In reality, he is a long-distance flyer for the Equestrian Postal Service, but his cutie mark only represents that he loves the stars which he uses to navigate his way through the nights.

“Another example would be my cutie mark. Three smiling flowers, showing my talent for making foals happy,” she hugged Applebloom and Twist, eliciting large grins from the fillies. “I decided to be a teacher, where I felt my talents would be of the most use. Another pony with the same cutie mark may have chosen to be a clown, or run a daycare, or grow beautiful flowers to brighten up somepony’s day. The point is, cutie marks don’t tell you what you have to do with your life, they just show how you will do whatever it is you choose to pursue.”

Colonel O'Neill thought for a moment. He didn’t like to admit it, but Cheerilee had a point. “I’ll give this one to you for now,” he said in a friendly manner, “but I’m not certain that I’m convinced just yet.”

“Oh, that’s perfectly alright. I love it when I get to teach anyone, so you should feel free to bring up any issues with me.” Cheerilee smiled and then glanced up at the sun, squinting hard as she did. “Oh my, look at the time! Girls, you should really be going home to get ready, tomorrow is the Summer Sun Celebration, after all!”

“But Miss Cheerilee, I wanna keep talkin’ with the humans! And it ain’t even passed noon yet either,” whined Applebloom.

Cheerilee sighed, evidently not even her cutie mark could force her to enjoy every second of her teaching career. “You have to stay up all night tonight, so you really ought to get some sleep now. And that way, you won’t be too tired to enjoy the day off of school tomorrow, or write me that essay due on Friday,” the last she added with an evil grin, evidently the mare wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows after all.

“Fine,” groused the girls. “Have a good Summer Sun Celebration, Miss Cheerilee. And you too, Mr. Colonel O'Neill.”

“You too, girls,” said O'Neill, “but you can just call me Jack, or O'Neill. Your choice.” The girls sped off, the rest of the class having already left for their homes, after a final farewell.

“So,” said Daniel as the rest of SG-1 approached, “you said something about a library miss Cheerilee? We’d certainly love to learn more about your history while we’re here.”

“Oh, of course,” replied Cheerilee, “but first I think I should probably take you to meet Mayor Mare. We don’t want to cause a ruckus by having you just wander around Ponyville, now do we?”