• 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 5: Fluttershy

“Fluttershy? Are you home?” came Twilight’s voice from the other side of the door. I was pretty sure it wasn’t her knocking, though. The sound of a hoof on my door is very distinctive.

“Why, hello, Twilight…” I said, opening the door and found myself face to face with Twilight and …something else. “Oh my…” What an elegant creature… That red mane is so sparkly! And there’s another one! They’re so different… And they’re wearing dresses, so it’s probably improper to call them critters. “…I’ve never seen something like you before,” I said, stepping out for a closer look.

Rainbow Dash flew up from behind the creature’s back. “Hi Fluttershy! These hoomans said they want to talk to you.”

“Meet Rika and Mary,” Twilight said, gesturing with her hoof. “They’re travelers from another world, and they’ll be staying in Ponyville for a while.”

“Good afternoon, Fluttershy,” the taller hooman said, crouching to face me. Rika, right. “Actually, we have a favor to ask of you. Mary believes we need your help in scouting a location for a house.”

“Um… but why me?” I asked. “There are all those forms…” I’m very bad with forms. When I encounter bureaucracy, I usually end up sitting in the town hall, unable to say a word, until my friends come to bail me out.

Mary shook her head. “No forms, unless you say we need them. Twilight tells me you’re the forest warden for this area.”

“Well, t-technically,” I stammered out. This felt slightly ominous. While it is officially my job, the forest warden thing is just a way to pay the bills, it only comes up occasionally, for things like the annual rabbit roundup. I’ve always seen my little animal shelter as the actual job. Forest animals with established nests and food sources don’t really require as much support as everypony thinks, except when the time comes for seasons to change, and Everfree animals tend to reject help even then. With most of the town turning up for events like Winter Wrap-Up, I don’t really have much actual work to do.

“We need a location with no animal lairs or bird nests such construction would inconvenience,” Mary explained. “Anywhere you deem it permissible within the Everfree Forest.”

“Everfree Forest?!” Apparently, my day just suddenly got a lot more eventful.

✶                ✶                ✶

I was looking for a likely spot along the fading path, and behind me, Twilight was still bombarding the humans with questions. I spent almost half an hour doing the same before we left, but apparently, Twilight had been at it since noon, and wasn’t about to stop just because they came out to see me. They shouldn’t talk so loud in the forest, everything can hear you for miles…

“You still haven’t told me why do you want to build it in Everfree,” Twilight commented.

“It’s not a nice place,” Rainbow Dash concurred. “Plants grow without earth pony magic, animals care for themselves… And don’t get me started on local clouds! All my overtime is about something that blew in from Everfree.”

I always thought her overtime was because she tires herself out with morning practice and spends half the day napping in a cloud somewhere… I eventually got used to animals caring for themselves, and with Zecora living almost next door, at least in the Everfree sense of “next door,” it’s hard to believe there was a time I was actually afraid to set a hoof in there. But I couldn’t ever imagine living inside, or even going there alone after dark.

“In most other worlds, that’s how it usually works. You have to constantly resist your environment, because it’s always trying to do something you don’t like,” Mary replied. “No, that is neither a problem nor any of the actual reasons.”

An entire world like Everfree? Scary… With their teeth and jaws, humans have to be omnivores. They won’t last forever on pony food. Do they hunt? Those fingers don’t look very strong. Might be scavengers, like bears, but with a civilization like that, it’s probably weapons. Those boots are made from treated leather. They have sewing machines, that’s some very neat stitching. If their world is like this forest at all, those are some scary weapons…

“I don’t get it myself, actually,” Rika said. “In 85% of all branches where this happens, randomly displaced humans appear in Everfree. Going in the opposite direction feels… kind of contrary.”

Humans could just appear? Does this mean there might have been other humans who came from the forest, and I missed everything?…

Of course, I shouldn’t bring their diet up in public. Griffons avoid mentioning meat to ponies, I’m sure humans will do the same. But when I can get them alone for a moment, we really need to talk. If they can get by on eggs and milk, it will make things much easier.

“Where else do they appear?” Twilight asked curiously.

“In your lab, mostly,” Rika replied. “As a result of a botched spell.”

Twilight’s only reaction was a deep, badly concealed growl.

Mary giggled. “I do have a few reasons. For starters, I don’t want to sort out the intricacies of Equestrian land ownership laws for non-citizens. In Everfree, the question probably won’t come up. Which, admit it, is the last thing you would think about, because you just pop out whenever you please. When was the last time you maintained a long term residence anywhere?

Twilight interrupted, “Wait a moment, Mary, do you plan to live in Everfree alone?”

“I’ll do just fine, if that red headed lady over there gets me a laspistol for the timber wolves…” Mary tossed back.

At least she knows about the timber wolves. They are the only creatures in Everfree that nopony can reason with, even hydras can be convinced to mind their own business, but not timber wolves… At least they don’t start showing up until zap apple season.

They asked me to find a place with no animal lairs. Maybe they want to avoid having to eat anyone at all, somehow? That would be nice. But I wouldn’t want them to hurt themselves…

“What’s a laspistol?” Rainbow Dash asked.

“Something like a fire beam spell amulet,” Rika replied. “If you want Imperium artifacts, why not a bolt pistol?”

“Not rechargeable, and I hate splinters,” Mary explained.

I threw a glance their way and found Mary’s facial expression blissfully neutral. Maybe I should worry for the timber wolves instead. That’s a face of somepony who will shrug and kill, if they think they have to. I know, because sometimes I see the same face in my mirror… I’m not very happy with myself on those days, but some creatures just can’t live without meat. Thank goodness I know about parasprites now.

Mary immediately noticed me looking in their direction. “Where did that ‘ponies never return from Everfree’ notion even come from, anyway?” she questioned, looking straight at me.

“Uh…” I mumbled, trying to collect my thoughts. “One day, the town librarian went for a walk in the forest and disappeared. Nopony knows what happened to her, they never found a body. When they gave up searching, the forest warden resigned, abandoned the cottage and moved away. We’ve had no full-time librarian after that until Twilight came.”

“How come I have never heard that story?” Twilight wondered.

“You don’t talk to Granny Smith much,” I smiled at Twilight. “I ended up getting the cottage when I moved here. The job was still waiting for me when I finished school. The forest had always been scary, but since that incident, it’s been treated as downright deadly.”

Mary lifted up an eyebrow, “…That’s got to be at least ten years ago, they’re still scared of it?”

“Twelve, actually,” I told her. “It’s easier to keep the foals out of trouble if they’re afraid to come here. Everfree is not really that bad, but you do need to treat it with respect,” I added, turning away and resuming looking into the trees.

Behind me, Mary continued, “Well, I would really hate to cause any ponies to lose sleep over suddenly realizing they live next door to an alien. I don’t want to become a media sensation, and in general, I think I could use a little exercise. I also get to have Fluttershy for a neighbor, and she’s the nicest pony I’ve heard about.”

I think I’m actually blushing. The thought of being famous in another dimension is… disturbing. How did those stories come to be? Was somepony… watching us? I can’t see anypony watching me… I shivered. Don’t think about it, don’t think about it, don’t think about it, if I don’t see them, they don’t exist…

“Well, if you put it this way, no contest here,” Rainbow Dash commented. “Fluttershy is the nicest pony.”

“Eeeek!…” Oh my… “STOP!” I called out. “Poison joke!” I was so distracted that I almost walked straight into it!

Everypony stopped dead in their tracks, even the humans. Right next to the path, and even encroaching upon it, was a large thicket, covered all over in that accursed blue plant.

“Stop, Rika, where are you going? Poison joke is more poison than a joke!” Twilight yelled, as the taller human walked up to me, and actually crouched to inspect the flowers.

“Don’t worry, I know exactly what it is,” Rika commented. “Tell me, Fluttershy, does poison joke affect animals?”

“It does,” I replied. I’ve seen it happen to a rabbit, once. He could not eat anything because of the foot long fangs it suddenly grew, I barely managed to coax the poor critter to take a bath. “I don’t think anything would want to live in here. Not even birds, because it can climb up the trees, like poison ivy. This growth is new…” I’ve never seen poison joke this close to my cottage before.

“Looks like we found our place, then,” Mary said, walking up, giving a wide berth to anything that looked even remotely blue. Much more cautious than her friend, thank goodness!

“I don’t think any animals will complain if you remove the poison joke. I certainly won’t…” I thought out loud, “But how are you going to do that? If you plan to start a fire here, I really must object…”

Mary looked at Rika curiously, “Yes, how?”

“Be right back,” Rika replied, and immediately vanished with a flash of white, startling me so much that I let out a squeak and fell on my hindquarters. At least I didn’t fall on any poison joke, that would be really embarrassing.

“Sorry,” Mary said.

“Yeah, she does that,” Twilight added and sighed.

I was about to ask what happened, but was interrupted by another flash of white. Rika was back, and balanced on her shoulder was some kind of crate… or chest… whatever it was, you could probably fit two ponies in it, and she was holding it up with just one arm. She walked off a few steps, and dropped it onto the ground with a loud, metallic clanging sound. She’s gotta be as strong as a big earth pony, it not stronger…

“What’s that?” Rainbow Dash piped up, flapping her wings above the box.

Mary crouched before the box, wiping the dust from a stenciled label on the side with a finger. I recognized some of the letters, but they somehow didn’t make what she read anyway. “Embryomech M186-32, target environment: Pandora, handle with care, unpack before activation,” she read aloud. Stretching back up, she commented, “Why ‘handle with care?’ I thought they were meant to survive a drop from orbit.”

“This is just a hunting lodge for two, for a planet with permanent human presence, so the most it is meant to survive is getting eaten by a tahorg,” Rika replied, opening up the crate and reaching inside, to produce …something. A large, perfect sphere in dull white, just a little smaller than the box itself. Is that… an egg?

“They call them ‘embryos…’” Rika said to nobody in particular. “Now please don’t follow me,” she added, and waded straight into poison joke, rolling the egg before her.

“But it’s poison joke! It does… unspeakable things to you!” I wailed. I can’t watch… I know the effects won’t manifest until tomorrow, but I still can’t watch.

“Good thing I’m wearing numerous layers of clothing, then,” Rika said over her shoulder, ploughing on like a draft pony and mercilessly crushing the foliage in her path with the egg. “Don’t worry.”

She stopped in the middle, attached some kind of device to the surface of the egg, and started fiddling with it. Twilight turned to Mary. “Will she really be safe?” she asked. “I’m not sure I have all the ingredients for the poison joke cure.”

“She will be,” Mary replied. “Me, definitely not, which is why I’m staying put.”

A few seconds later, Rika was back, dusting her hands off. Even her hands are covered, so she might remain unaffected… “Late models don’t take long to get going,” she commented. “You don’t want to be nearby when it hatches, it’s not tuned to preserve anything that isn’t human. I should decontaminate, so please look away, Fluttershy, you don’t want to jump into poison joke this time.”

I shut my eyes, but the flash was still visible through the closed eyelids.

“She’s gone,” Mary said, tickling me cautiously behind the ear. Mmm…

I opened my eyes and smiled at her. And just as I did that, the shell bubbled, and then burst with a shrill whistling sound, briefly startling everypony. Hundreds of metallic-looking spidery creatures came out, flooding the area with tiny orange lights.

“Cool!” Rainbow Dash commented. “And creepy. I like it! But it’s not a house. Are these …things going to build one?”

“First, they will chew up everything in the area for raw materials. Should be done cooking by sundown, I expect,” Mary said. “It’s some of the most advanced machinery thought up by a pre-singularity civilization I ever heard about.”

“No, it can’t be a machine,” I said. “I’m pretty sure they’re alive.” I don’t know what kind of creatures – or creature – they are, but I can bet anything it’s alive. I called out to one. “Mister Spider?”

Several of the spidery things turned around and flashed their orange lights in a complicated pattern. After a short pause, one of them skittered towards me.

“…wait, wait, they’re not supposed to leave the spawn radius…” Mary complained, making a step back.

I glanced at her. “What are you scared of, Mary?”

“That,” Mary replied, pointing to the middle of the thicket, where the other spiders were busy …disassembling a tree. I couldn’t think of a different word for what they were doing. They were cutting out perfect little cubes of wood and carrying them into what remained of their egg shell. They work really fast!

“Aw, but you wouldn’t hurt a pony, now, would you, mister Spider?” I asked the creature.

“FcZBCgAgCATAr/j/ X21g4KGVLAs8RXMa b0TkUUKoVlfXJqYE KsdP9xiQY0V7MXUk nw,” the spider chittered back at me.

“My, what a complex language you have, mister Spider,” I said. “I’m very pleased to meet you too! Would you like to meet my other animal friends?”

The spider sat there silently for a few seconds and then replied, “ASYA2f/z9PLv6fTl 7Pju+eUg8uHi7/T5 IPrh9+Xy++Xu+SDu 4SAwLjAxJXg9HG8.”

“Oh, of course I know you have a job to do, mister Spider… or should that be mister House? Maybe when you’re done, you can visit me, if that’s alright?” I asked, pointing a hoof in the direction of Ponyville. “My cottage is right next to the edge of the forest, you can’t miss it.”

“Twilight… please ask Fluttershy to stop breaking the universe,” Mary mumbled somewhere next to me.

“AR4A4f/w8uXk7O/2 5e7p5SDvIOvv7vTh 6/TlIPDy6e7x9O+K Ahlb,” the spider replied, and ran off to join the others in disassembling another tree.

“Umm… Talking to animals is perfectly normal for Fluttershy, Mary,” Twilight said.

Mary turned to Twilight waving her arms in exasperation, “I know, but these aren’t animals! They’re made in a factory! They aren’t even autonomous! My world doesn’t have embryomechanics, but I’m quite certain on that particular point. This is one machine, not a colony of arachnids.”

I looked back at them and caught Twilight grinning at Mary. “As far as I’m concerned, if Fluttershy says it’s alive, she’s the expert.” Behind her, Rainbow Dash was quietly giggling and covering her mouth with a wing.

“I know they’re one creature, but why wouldn’t you think it’s alive, Mary?” I wondered.

Mary sighed. “No reproductive capability?” she offered eventually.

“That would exclude almost every hybrid there is!” I exclaimed.

“Why are you two even arguing about it?” Rika said, as she suddenly appeared behind me, causing me to jump, which very nearly knocked Mary off her feet and almost into the nearest patch of poison joke. Oh my. We shouldn’t dawdle here like that…

Mary frowned, steadying herself and stepping away to safety. “I just don’t want be responsible for getting Everfree eaten by grey goo, just because somepony decided to instill sapience into what is, ultimately, a hyper-advanced construction crane.”

“Grey goo?” Twilight inquired.

“Think artificial parasprites that hate music,” Mary explained with a grimace. “The everything eating kind.”

Twilight cringed. She’s just not getting any breaks today…

“Well, that shouldn’t be a problem,” I declared. “Mister House, will you behave responsibly? You can take apart everything in this thicket, but please don’t touch anything else! And please, be sure to dispose of the poison joke carefully!”

A spider carrying a patch of grass ran up to me and blinked its light. “62ue0NDbMb21t2O+ QuPklsmTFCb2NXbP a2ntnQ0Aw54N/g,” it chittered, before running back.

“See, it will play nice,” I smiled at Mary. “And you should apologize. It’s building a house for you, the least you can do is appreciate it.”

Mary stared at me with a very blank expression. Then she stared harder at Rika, who smugly grinned back at her, but said nothing. “Okay, I give up…” Mary finally said, and turned towards the eggshell. “I’m sorry!”

Hundreds of spiders flashed their lights simultaneously in response and continued working.

I’m not sure if she really meant that, but I guess I shouldn’t judge.

Author's Note:

This is a chapter I am not very satisfied with, and writing it was torture that can only compare to reading it. But no matter what you, or the characters, might think, this story does have an epic plot. Which needs to start somewhere, and Fluttershy opens up two of the major threads, so I can’t just skip it and move on.

Words of the spiders are not exactly gibberish, but understanding them is neither essential nor very helpful.

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