• Published 24th Jun 2018
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The Fishbowl - Shrink Laureate



Vinyl remembers the doll. It's unmistakably hers. Except it's in Octavia's closet. Why do they have the same doll – and the same memory?

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14. A Door Full of Sky

Vinyl flopped into the driver’s seat, one hand slumping over the wheel.

Too bright. Sleep more.

Get to school. Then sleep.

Right. Find keys. Start car. Drive to school.

What else?

I should open my eyes at some point.

Reluctantly opening her eyes to narrow slits allowing the minimum of sunlight to assault her, she let them pass over a pile of clothes that had been dumped on her passenger seat. A frown crossed her face.

Shirt. T-shirt. Trousers. Belt. No underwear, though. Why do I have some guy’s clothes in my car? Damn, I really don’t think there are any good answers to that one. Especially guys that wear all black. What was I even doing yesterday?

Oh yeah. We were cornering Chrysalis and finding out how our whole lives are a lie. And before that…

Her eyes shot open as she realised whose clothes they were. She jerked round in her seat to look backwards.

Oh. Right. Oops.

Stumbling out of the car and round to the trunk, she listened carefully. Nothing. Cautiously she reached down, popped the lock and opened it.

Flash Sentry was stuffed inside the small space, wearing a white T-shirt and striped boxer shorts. He flinched, holding one arm over his face, either to ward against the sudden sunlight or protect himself. “Don’t hurt me!”

Vinyl squinted. “You can drop the act. I know who you are.”

Flash blinked up at her in confusion, then his expression dropped into one of slightly nervous resignation. A flash of green flame swept over him, revealing the black-skinned shop assistant with the same expression. He was stripped to his underwear.

“Here’s your stuff.” Vinyl dropped the clothes on him. “Sorry for taking it off you last night. And for knocking you out. Octavia needed to be you for a while.” It had taken them hours to apply the black face paint, green wig and blue contact lenses to Octavia, and hours more to get it all off again afterwards. Fluffle Puff’s enthusiastic scrubbing in the back room of the shop may have hindered more than it helped.

“Whatever your intentions regarding our Queen, I shall not allow it,” he said. His voice had a strange echo to it. He presumably intended for the words to sound intimidating, but the trembling undertone didn’t make that very convincing.

Vinyl leant on the open door of her trunk, looking down at him. “It’s okay, we sorted that all out already. We had a nice long talk with Chrysalis last night and we’re friends now. So go ahead, get dressed.”

“You’re… friends?” He squinted up at her in disbelief.

“Yup. Speaking of, do you want a lift to school?”

“So what happened to the real Flash Sentry?”

Chrysalis tilted her head. “What do you mean?”

Trixie leant forward. “Well, I mean, when your assistants—”

“Changelings,” corrected Chrysalis. “Well, not real changelings exactly, but the best I can make in here.”

Trixie cleared her throat. She still wasn’t comfortable with the idea of Chrysalis ‘making’ people, whatever that involved.

“Yeah. When one of them is walking around looking like Flash, you can’t have them bumping into the real Flash, can you? That would pretty much give the game away. So did you send him out of town? Lock him up somewhere? You didn’t…” She met the other girls’ eyes for reassurance. “…kill him?”

“I didn’t do any such thing. I didn’t have any reason to,” Chrysalis reassured. She was relaxed and comfortable, lounging back in her chair, in contrast to the girls’ heightened nerves. “After all, there’s no such person as Flash Sentry. Never was.”

The high glass dome of the library roof was one of Canterlot High’s defining features, and it made the library a more pleasant, and therefore popular, place than it otherwise might be. On sunny days it brought natural light into the reading area; on rainy days the sound on raindrops was comforting; and in the evening, it brought the colours of dusk into the library.

Students weren’t supposed to venture out onto the roof itself, but plenty of them did, at least once. There weren’t any locks or barriers to stop them. The school had somehow managed to survive all these years with an unofficial policy that ‘if you fall off it’s your own dumb fault’, though how they maintained that with students like Snips and Snails around was unclear.

Trixie navigated the bookshelves to where a short, narrow staircase led up to the dome. A few students were sat at tables, more talking than reading. Flash Sentry was glaring at her, but Trixie returned the look.

I guess Vinyl must have let him out, then. I hope he isn't going to cause trouble. The memory of being cornered, and of green fire on her skin, made Trixie nervous. She felt no guilt at all for ambushing him the night before.

Trixie scurried up the narrow wooden steps between two bookcases, pushed open the glass door panel and stepped out onto the roof, all the time juggling her lunch.

I really hope this wasn't a prank or something.

She spotted Vinyl sitting near the edge, and walked over. Vinyl raised a hand in casual greeting.

“So why the roof?” asked Trixie as she reached Vinyl's spot. “A bit dramatic, isn't it?”

Vinyl shrugged. “I figure it's the only place nobody's going to interrupt us.”

Trixie looked out over the sunny grounds, at the students scattering from stuffy classrooms, finding corners for lunch, or in a few cases flirting. Dramatic without even realising it. That's so Vinyl.

The sound of the door opening made Trixie turn to see Octavia emerging from the library dome. She squinted as she stepped onto the roof, shielded her eyes from the sunlight glinting off the glass, then walked over to join the group.

“I got your message, Vinyl,” said Octavia. “Why the roof?”

“I just asked that,” said Trixie.

Vinyl smiled up at her through her purple shades. “I figured it’s somewhere we wouldn’t get interrupted. We need to—”

As if to prove her wrong, the glass door opened again. A turquoise head poked out, and a pale yellow one beside it; the owners saw them and ducked back into the library with a quick, “Sorry,” shutting the door behind them.

“So. Yeah, uh.” Vinyl coughed.

“No interruptions,” said Octavia. “Clearly.”

Trixie peeled open each of her sandwiches to inspect the contents, and was relieved to see ordinary ham and cheese in one, and peanut butter in the next. That meant Pacific Glow had made these; on the rare occasions Dandy Lion found time to make lunch, she inevitably used more problematic ingredients.

“Yeah. Anyway, after last night,” continued Vinyl, “we need to decide whether we’re going to go along with—”

The door opened again, and a grey head with blonde hair poked out, looking left and right. The owner leant a little too far and fell out the door onto her face. Octavia hurried over to offer Derpy a hand up. She smiled awkwardly, waved to Vinyl and Trixie, and headed back down.

“Er. As I was saying,” resumed Vinyl when Octavia had returned, “the three of us need to decide whether we’re going to do what Chrysalis wants us to do. I didn’t want to talk about it there.”

Octavia nodded. “Well,” she said, “the tasks themselves seem easy enough. I’m not sure how they add up to an escape plan though.”

Vinyl shook her head. “Me either. I mean, what am I supposed to find in the basement that’s any—”

“Oh, give it a rest,” interjected Trixie. “You’re both going to say ‘yes’, aren’t you?”

The two girls were stunned. After a few seconds, Octavia stuttered, “Hang on, I don’t think that’s a given.”

“Tell me you’re not,” challenged Trixie. “Come on, tell me right now that you’re not going to go along with this.”

“Well, um…” Octavia trailed off. She exchanged a glance with Vinyl.

“See? I thought not. You’re both going to do her little missions and then follow this rabbit hole as deep as it goes. Now sit down and have lunch.”

Octavia frowned, but she sat down beside them. Vinyl was quiet, until she asked, “So… does that mean you’re in as well?”

Trixie said nothing through her mouthful of sandwich, then she said nothing after finishing it. She didn’t look at Vinyl. Eventually she replied, “We’ll see.”

Octavia leaned over the tortoise enclosure, watching their slow progress towards lunch. Behind that, the wall of fish tanks glugged idly, and the hamster maze rattled.

“Um,” said Fluttershy quietly behind her, “I’m sorry for keeping you waiting. I hope you’re not mad…”

Octavia turned around with a gentle smile. “Not at all,” she said. “I understand you need to take care of the animals properly.”

“Oh, good,” said Fluttershy with relief. “Were you interested in the tortoises? Or maybe a snake? Snakes can be very loving creatures.”

“I’m sure they can, but I actually had something else in mind. I’m looking to start keeping bees.”

“Oh!” Fluttershy brightened even more. “That’s a lovely idea. Bees are very good for the environment, and help pollinate all the flowers. They’ll be very good for your garden.” Fluttershy was warming up now, clearly in her element. “You’ll need to order some from an existing breeder, unless you have a source in mind.”

Octavia scratched her head. “Actually, we already have a bunch of them living in the roof of our shed, but it isn’t very conveniently placed for it. I was hoping we could move them into a proper hive?”

Fluttershy looked uncertain. “Well, um, a wild colony is more likely to survive than one that’s been moved a long way, but you have to be careful. It’s very stressful for the bees. You generally need to move them away first and then back again. Can you not leave the hive where it is?”

“Not really. If I don’t move it then the hive is going to be destroyed when the shed gets demolished.”

“Oh my, that’s terrible!”

“I know. But Daddy said I could keep them if I learn to keep them properly and put them in a nice beehive somewhere tidy. There’s a flat bit at the far end of the garden. So I’ve watched a few videos online, and it doesn’t seem too hard.”

Fluttershy nodded. “We have a couple of books about it as well. You will need to learn what you’re doing, especially if you’re moving a wild hive. And you should probably get help from somebody with experience.”

“I spoke to Miss Cheerilee about the bees they keep at school.”

Fluttershy’s face fell. “Oh.”

Octavia knew what was troubling her. The school’s bees were known for being unusually aggressive. Nobody could explain why, but students quickly learned to keep their distance from that corner of the school grounds.

Delicately ignoring the change in mood, she asked, “So what sort of equipment will I need?”

“Um…” Fluttershy pulled out one of the books and started pointing at items on different pages. “Well, you’ll need the hive itself, and some protective clothing. You’ll need a smoker to get at the natural hive, though the school might have one you can borrow. Then a queen cage for the new hive.” She pointed each out in turn.

“The queen cage – that’s where the queen lives, right?”

“Oh no, she only stays in the queen cage for a few days. You let her out once the hive is settled. Keeping her in there any longer would be cruel.”

“Really? Hmm.” Octavia looked pensive.

“What is it?”

“Oh, nothing.” She shook her head. “I must have misunderstood something, that’s all. So I’ll probably need more than one set of clothes, right?”

“There’s one thing we couldn’t work out.”

Vinyl had finally started to relax. So far, Chrysalis seemed to have been giving them straight answers. Of course, that in itself was a source of power, and Vinyl wasn’t about to let her guard down.

“Just the one?” asked Chrysalis wryly.

Vinyl ignored the sarcastic jibe. “We’ve seen the wall. The horizon. But if this place really is a prison, then… where are the jailors? Or guards or whatever you call them. We’ve not seen anybody like that, have we?”

Octavia shook her head. Trixie shrugged.

“Isn’t anybody in charge here?”

“There is one jailor,” said Chrysalis. She finished off the last of her mug. “That’s all it needs.”

“Only one guard?”

“Yes. Well, depending how you count.”

Vinyl quietly pulled the heavy door open. The warped metal scraped across the concrete floor, louder than she’d have liked, leaving trails in the dust. She glanced nervously back at the stairs, but nobody came running.

Is this really the place Chrysalis was talking about? She lifted her hand from the door and noted the grime that had already settled on her fingers. I don’t think anybody’s been down here in years. So what exactly am I hoping to find?

She slipped through into the darkened corridor beyond, lined with various pipes and cables. It led to the right, with a single door at the far end. She tried the door cautiously and found it wasn’t locked. She pulled the door open and recoiled from the sudden rush of light.

When her eyes had adjusted she lowered her arm to look out. Am I asleep? she wondered. She turned to check where she was, and where she’d come from.

Behind her was the corridor behind the locked door in the boiler room in the lower basement of Canterlot High School. The boiler thrummed as it powered the school’s heating and water.

Ahead of her was clear blue, open sky. All around was a landscape of hills and fields, including one notable mountain in the distance that had something shining white built into its side. Some miles below, separated from her by an achingly big gap, were thatched roofs and streets, a small town of some sort. It was far enough below to make it difficult to pick out details, but there was movement on the streets suggestive of people.

So there’s a door in the school basement that’s... full of sky. Okay, I admit, that is not what I expected to find down here.

A fall from here would be very unpleasant. Keeping a tight grip on the door frame and an eye on her feet, she leant out to get a better look.

A gentle breeze whistled past. Far below she could hear the general bustle of an active town.

How am I so far up? Am I in a really high tower?

Swallowing, she looked down below her feet. There was no side of a tower that she could see, no building, nothing at all below or around to indicate how she and the doorway were suspended up here. She looked to the sides, for the edge of whatever structure they must be in and saw... nothing. Just more sky.

Stepping back, she looked at the outside surface of the door she’d opened. It was painted to look like sky.

Except that it’s not paint. My eyes go straight through it, like it’s made of sky.

She watched, entranced, as a small fluffy cloud drifted across the sky and slid onto the outer surface of the door. Experimentally she wiggled the door back and forth on its hinges; the cloud moved with it, vast acres of sky shifting quickly around. Looking down, the landscape as seen through the door shifted as well, trees and buildings effortlessly sliding in a way that made her eyes hurt.

It’s like this building or... whatever it is I’m in is invisible.

A bird approached the door, climbing up to Vinyl’s level. As it got closer, she realised it couldn’t be a bird. It was the wrong shape. It looked like a little horse or…

Pony?

Yes. It’s a little pony with wings, and a big head, and enormous eyes, flying towards me.

It occurred to Vinyl that she should be scared out of her wits, but the situation was just so weird that it didn’t quite seem real. The pony-like creature didn’t attack or anything. It – or she, since Vinyl got the distinct impression that it was female – simply hovered there.

Those wings don’t look nearly big enough, she thought​. And they’re not moving fast enough either. There’s no way she should be able to fly with those. It just wouldn’t work.

Yet the pony was there, and clearly flying. It raised a tentative hoof to her, and Vinyl raised a hand in response. The two of them touched, fingers to hoof, each confirming the other was real.

She had soft grey fur and a straw-blonde mane. There was a familiar symbol emblazoned on her side. Her head was far larger than a pony’s should be, and flatter in the face, closer to being human. Her eyes were huge, but seemed mismatched, pointing different directions. Almost like…

“Derpy?” she said incredulously.

“Hey, Vinyl,” said the pony creature in Derpy’s voice. “What happened to your body? And how come you’re in a door in the sky?”

“I... was just wondering that—”

A harsh voice interrupted her. “What are you doing down here, young lady?”

Vinyl turned to find vice-principal Luna standing in the corridor behind her with her arms crossed, a bundle of papers held under her arm. The bright daylight from the door cast sharp shadows against the cellar walls. As Luna stepped forward into the light, her pupils contracted.

“Vice-principal Luna. Hi. Er. I was just having a look around, and...”

“Just having a look around past the sign that says ‘No entry’?”

“Sign? I didn’t see any sign. It was dark, you know.” The sunlight shone bright on Luna’s clear blue skin. Man, she knew how to moisturise. Shame about the fashion sense.

“And behind a locked door.”

“That was supposed to be locked? Really? I totally just opened it.”

Luna glanced down at the set of keys Vinyl was holding. They had a sun emblem key fob marking them as belonging to Principal Celestia.

“I think you’ve seen enough down here,” said Luna. “Go on back to class and we’ll say nothing more about this.”

“Cool! Um...” she glanced behind her at the door full of sky. “Did you know this was here?” The little flying pony that looked like Derpy had gone. I guess our confrontation scared her off. What are wings for, if not running away when you need to?

Luna looked past Vinyl with a sternly raised eyebrow. “This… broom closet?”

“Broom cupboard?” Wait, can she even see what I’m seeing? It is real, right? I mean, it’s right there, all... skyish. The light shone brightly onto Luna’s face, declaring how real it was.

Luna’s hand reached past Vinyl, and returned holding a broom. “Broom. Cupboard. Cupboard of brooms.”

Vinyl prodded the broom. How did she do that? The cupboard didn’t have any brooms in it. It didn’t have any cupboard in it.

“So, Luna—” Luna coughed pointedly. “Er, I mean, Vice Principal Luna, right. So why is this broom cupboard locked up then?”

Luna jerked her thumb, indicating the shallow alcove to her left in which a cluster of sturdy boxes and switches were bolted to the wall. “Because the power circuit for the whole school is down here. If some nosy student tried to mess with that, they could get seriously hurt. And since nobody comes down here—” She leant in close to whisper, “Nobody would ever find them.”

She straightened up and stepped aside. “Now run along back to class.” Vinyl turned to shuffle past her. “And Miss Scratch?”

“Yeah?”

“Give me those, please.” She indicated her sister’s keys.

“Oh. Right. Hehe.” Vinyl dropped the keys into Luna’s outstretched hand she as slipped past. She turned to see Luna silhouetted against the rectangle of sky as she shut the door. “Good night,” she called out.

“Sweet dreams,” replied Luna.

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