• Published 22nd Jan 2016
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Aporia - Oliver

Once upon a time, if the term even applies, two young ladies decided to visit an Equestria, selected seemingly at random. Which would be nothing special, despite their attitudes towards ponies being so different, if one hadn't mentioned sandwiches...

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Conversation 3: Twilight Sparkle

“I’m not fictional!” I exclaimed, sitting up and staring at the creature before me. The initial fit of bouncing had already passed, and I was feeling slightly ashamed of it, but further conversation did little to calm me down.

The creature told me that it – she – was of a species called human, that her name was Mary – which initially confused me because I thought she misspoke – and if nothing else, she was unlike anything else I’ve ever read about or seen myself. Except minotaurs, but the only thing she really had in common with them was upper body skeletal kinematics. She did have hands like a minotaur would, with five thin, fragile-looking bony fingers, and the rest of her appendages looked just as thin and fragile. The idea that something frail like this could be related to apes, as she implied, sounded silly. Much of the detail was obscured by her dress, which covered almost every inch, and looked like something Rarity might make if you tell her that she must make something fabulous without ever using any bright colors – dark purple velvet, with a respectable amount of white ruffle and even a few bows. This hypothetical human-Rarity actually succeeded, but somehow, the human managed to make it look almost mundane anyway.

Her hind legs… wait, just legs, you only call one set of limbs ‘legs’ on bipeds… were plantigrade, like those of dragons and rabbits, which was a little painful to watch. I’m used to seeing Spike move, but it looked unnatural on something so much larger and so unlike a dragon otherwise. Sitting on the cushion was clearly not very comfortable for her. Even the paws, assuming she did have paws, and not hooves, like most sapient species of Equestria, were covered with long, glistening boots. Only the hands and head remained exposed, faintly pinkish skin with no sign of a coat. The long, straight, tidy and slightly wavy yellowish blonde mane framed a surprisingly pony-like face, despite the almost complete absence of a protruding muzzle. If you look from the front, you might not even notice how different it really is, until you realize you can’t see the ears at all. All in all, it looked like somepony tried to make a caricature by expressing pony features in a creature otherwise not at all related, putting a face and clothing on something that normally has nothing to do with either, like a young gnarly tree from Everfree with its bark torn entirely off.

What was most unsettling about her, however, were the shiny mismatched eyes, a bit on the small side – one, a very normal looking, pale blue, the other, a bright gold, with a ragged-looking pupil, turning slightly out of sync with the blue one.

And while this creature was saying the most exciting things for the past twenty minutes, that last statement of hers actually topped all of them.

“There’s nothing wrong with being fictional,” Mary replied, waving a finger in the air. “In fact, I’m exactly as fictional as you are.” She paused to take a sip of the tea I made her. It’s so surprising that someone from another world even knows what tea is, let alone has strong opinions on how it should be brewed! “You’re laboring under an assumption that being part of a story precludes one from being real. This assumption is baseless. In fact, being real implies being part of a story.”

I tried to compose my thoughts. “Okay… I’m not sure I understand you correctly, so let me describe what I think you meant. Suppose I wrote a story about one of my friends, say, Rainbow Dash… oh, wait, you don’t know her, she’s a pegasus pony… well, it doesn’t matter.”

Mary fidgeted quietly, but I continued, “…and in that story, Rainbow Dash, after weeks of clumsy courtship, succeeded in pursuing a romance with another one of my friends, Applejack. Which is about as nonsensical as it gets… wait, what’s so funny?” It definitely looked like a desperately stifled fit of laughter, unless I’m ponymorphizing her too much.

“Nothing, nothing! Please continue,” Mary answered, quickly hiding her face behind another sip of her tea.

“So as I was saying, suppose I wrote that story. Rainbow Dash would now also become a fictional character. But it still wouldn’t change the relationship between the real Rainbow Dash and Applejack. Are you really saying that the opposite would be true? Because I’m sure that writing such a story would just make them both think I’m crazy. That would be a powerful spell, if it existed, but magic doesn’t work like that!” At least, I’m pretty sure that it doesn’t. It has some uncanny resemblance to how certain complex spells are targeted, but nothing beyond that…

“You would not suggest this example if you knew that multiple worlds where this relationship is romantic already exist. At least one that is otherwise almost identical to yours likely does,” Mary replied with a thinly concealed triumphant smile. “It’s just not the world you live in. The Rainbow Dash from that world is distinct from the one you know, but she is just as real. I could find her, bring her here, and both of you would only notice the difference when hanging out with Applejack. It would be a disaster, because two instances of Rainbow Dash would immediately start arguing about which one is more awesome, but it’s quite possible. Assuming I can find the way back here and convince her to read, both of which would be problematic… you know, miss Sparkle, if I had a camera with me, I would take a picture of you right now.”

By that point, I was hiding my face behind my hooves in horror, hoping that the mental image of multiple Sonic Rainbooms flattening Ponyville would go away. “…It has to be a prank. This has Pinkie written all over it.” There’s no way Mary can know Rainbow, without Rainbow proudly announcing the discovery of an unknown species at least to our little circle. And there’s no way she can know all those little details from hearsay without me seeing her in town at least once. I mostly mentioned Pinkie in an effort to stave off the inevitable. Actually, a creature from another world reading a story about ours feels relatively normal, compared to everything that happened since I came to Ponyville. The real source of shock is how personal this whole thing is.

“Pinkamena Diane Pie is at least a little metafictionally aware, but don’t you think this would be a bit too subtle for her?” Mary replied nonchalantly. “And before you ask how do I know these things, well, I have already told you, and this is exactly what I meant to say. In my home world, some variations of yours are accessible as works of fiction, with which I have a passing familiarity. In the exact same way, other worlds are accessible as works of fiction in yours.”

I wonder if that also means that there’s a world where Daring Do is real… Breathe. In and out. Treat this as a scholarly argument, because that’s exactly what it is. She certainly seems to want it to be. Actually, how exactly does dragonfire mail work internally? Could it possibly be, that all my friendship reports, with all the details and diagrams, get duplicated in transit and end up on the desk of some human fiction writer? It might contradict the experience she reports, but it certainly would fit the facts I can personally observe.

Stop it. I must not assume my debate opponent is lying, that’s got to be impolite in any world. It is only prudent to assume she might be mistaken, but I must also allow that I can be mistaken, too. I spent some time thinking, during which Mary just kept sitting there and quietly watching me, before I finally decided on a way to poke a hole in her theory, “So suppose we’re both fictional. I’m not agreeing with you yet, but let’s suppose we are. Who writes these stories?”

Mary shrugged, which looked surprisingly pony-ish, if more than a bit subdued. “As far as I know, everyone. Rika insists that a single ‘real world’ does not exist. Just like you might write a story about humans, so a human might write a story about ponies. Thinking a story in detail is enough for it to exist, writing down is not required. There are indications that every sapient creature, at the very least, narrates itself, regardless of whether other narrations exist. I’m still surprised there are only about five quintillion distinct stories, and even less distinct worlds, but that much I know from a reliable source.”

The ultimate, unimaginable temptation for me, five quintillion stories. “How exactly do you travel between them? Is it a spell? A magical device? Can you teach me? Oh, please say you can teach me!” It was hard to keep myself from bouncing throughout this conversation, and the idea of a library containing everything was almost too much.

Mary stared into her cup, looking at the remainder of her tea. “It’s… a contagion process. Someone who already has the ability has to take you out of your home story. Sometimes, people just fall out, nobody is sure why. Once this happens, getting out deliberately feels like putting down a very engrossing book, you just stop reading. Which can be pretty difficult. Getting back to the place you left is much harder, even if you can find the exact story you came from, and it’s not a skill I have mastered yet. So if you’re asking me to teach you, it would be a one-way trip, I can’t teach you to return. Which is why bringing another Rainbow Dash here is mostly theoretical. Rika can do it, but she will cite any number of good reasons to refuse.”

She looked at me with a smile and added, “It makes no particular difference if you agree with me or not, but I thought I’d get this out of the way. Pinkie Pie will probably be here with either a party or a lynch mob any moment, and this might make further conversation very difficult for quite a while. You still haven’t told me who invented the sandwich.”

I mentally dismissed the comment about a lynch mob – humans are very unusual, but don’t seem any more threatening than griffons – and looked around the shelves. The library collection has a lot of books on history, but culinary history is not a subject they cover often. “It’s going to take some time, I need to research that. Why is this so important?”

“There’s a lot about a story that stays outside the margins of a work of fiction accessible within another story, particularly when our worlds are so different,” Mary replied. “The sandwich is just the first question I need an answer for to formulate a hypothesis, I’m going to have many more for you.”

“Is that what an ‘extreme historian’ does? You seek answers to extremely obscure historical questions?”

“No,” she said, shaking her head. Could it be that at least some gestures actually are universal? Oh, wait. This world-as-fiction theory explains it away. Our languages, even most body language, would actually be the same, just because we are stories to each other. It’s not scientifically possible, it’s simply ridiculous for quadrupeds and bipeds from different worlds to have similar body language or facial expressions, let alone spoken language, but that would be her explanation. If the story was written in a language she couldn’t understand, she just wouldn’t be here, she would be unable to read it.

“It means that in my home world, I travel through time to study history, and sometimes, alter it,” Mary explained. “Rika regularly complains that she had a hard time finding me, because the world changed so much that it’s unrecognizable. That’s an exaggeration, of course.”

And yet another surprise that almost gets me to jump and bounce in circles. “So you can do time magic? Without a horn?” Magic from another world!

“In most human worlds, magic is just a mythical idea, mine is one of those. Makes for an environment radically different from yours…” Mary said, which replaced my excitement for new magic with a completely different reason to be excited. A world with no magic? Seriously? Time travel with no magic? But how? “But crazy-advanced physics might as well be magic, and I have a time machine back at home. Less convenient than one of your spells, but more effective.”

“Can history really be changed?” I asked. “Last time I tried to go back in time to change history, I just caused everypony no end of bother by trying to warn myself not to worry.” I shuddered, mostly because I remembered how I kept asking more and more questions without even giving my future self time to answer. “Not a week I’d like to repeat.” Not a week I can repeat, unless I manage to fix the spell, thankfully. Strange, it was only a few weeks ago, and yet, it already feels like an eternity. I wonder if time travel always feels this way…

“Sometimes it can, sometimes it can’t, sometimes it falls apart if you so much as sneeze in the general vicinity. It really depends on the particular individuals who made the history you want to alter,” Mary said, and added, after a pause, “Fortunately, I have an eye for these things.”

Does she mean her odd eye, or is it just an expression?… How exactly does changing history work? What happens to history that has been changed? “Are you planning to stay in Ponyville long?” I mumbled. If I think even a moment on it, I’ve abandoned so many lines of inquiry because a new one presented itself in her answer, that every single answer, detailed as it may be, just increases the number of questions. This is so frustrating! I need to stop and make a checklist of things I need to follow up on. And it needs to be a really long scroll, because I’ll be adding new things to it constantly… “I have so many questions…”

“I’m not in a hurry to go home,” Mary shrugged. “Long enough to write a book, maybe?” she grinned. “‘Travels and Researches in Equestria,’ that sounds like a title.”

“…I definitely need to write a letter to Princess Celestia about you,” I said, scanning the room for writing implements, “Where’s Spike when you need him…” Actually, I know exactly where he is. He went off to Rarity to help her with something again. Maybe we should go check on him? But I don’t want to close the library…

Mary stood up clumsily, stretching her legs, and crouched before the window by the door, looking out into the street as if searching for something. Probably looking for signs of approaching Pinkie. She’s probably just as party-averse as I was back when I first came to Ponyville… and if she stays around for a while, I need to get some chairs. “Oh, I’m sure you’ll be getting a letter about us from Princess Celestia very soon,” she said.

“How do you know?” No, really, how?

“I see Spike running here with a sealed scroll,” she replied. “I don’t think you’re in correspondence with Princess Luna too, are you?”

Was that just a guess, or does she really know what the letter is about?

Author's Note:

I’m afraid the exposition will continue for a few more chapters, and will continue to break in and contaminate the narrative for the foreseeable future. At least, I’ve been trying to make sure it’s as little of the things you read a hundred times already as possible. :)

Before anyone asks, (someone observant eventually would, after this chapter) this story makes the assumption that episodes did not air in chronological order. We all know the authors of the canon don’t really care that much about keeping time straight, but if I use that excuse, I miss out on all the dramatic opportunities resulting from twisting time into pretzels.

And if my chronology theory is correct, ponies of the main cast live extremely dense lives…

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