• Published 7th Aug 2016
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Around the World in 81 Days (And Other Problems Caused by Leap Years) - GaPJaxie



When Twilight and Celestia have an argument about the existence of leap years, there’s only one possible way to settle their differences: a race around the world!

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The Wager

There is a story that sailors and drivers and railway ponies tell about Princess Twilight Sparkle and her legendary race around the world. No two versions of it are the same, but in every telling it is invariably filled with larger than life heroics, ranging from battling dragon pirates to the Royal Princess herself having to jump train cars with the circus ponies. It is also usually a funny story, full of lighthearted whim and whimsy. But this detail is no more accurate than the rest, for the truth behind the story is actually quite sad.

It is the story, you see, of how leap years destroyed the world.

A truthful retelling of these events would have to begin with Twilight Sparkle, who lived in Equestria and who was indeed a princess. Ennobled not at birth but as a young mare, she sometimes found it difficult to adjust to her new station, and often felt that her duties were not equal to her title. Determined to rise to the occasion, she asked for and was granted permission to lead Equestria’s next diplomatic goodwill tour, in which she would stop at the great capitals of the world (except for the Changeling Hive) and affirm Equestria’s peaceful relations with all its neighbors (except for Changelings, who notably were all jerks).

It was while planning this tour that she encountered a vexing error in her scheduling, for while Equestria marked leap years starting at zero so that the year zero, four, eight, etc should each carry an extra day, Zebraria marked leap years starting at one, so that the years one, five, etc should be notable. This created an incongruity in her schedule, which transformed her tour from an eighty-day jaunt—which was an entirely reasonable, round, aesthetically pleasing number—into an eighty-one day excursion, which as numbers went was suspect and liable to encourage moral deviancy in the youth.

In attempting to fix this scheduling error, Twilight was given cause to complain, and while visiting Canterlot Palace took the occasion to object to the existence of leap years. “Why,” she asked Celestia, “is the solar year three-hundred-and-sixty-five days, five hours, forty-eight minutes, and forty-six seconds long? It seems to me that the average Equestrian would be just as well served by a year that is three-hundred-and-sixty-five days long exactly. Or, stars forbid, three-hundred-and-sixty days, so that the months could all be the same length.”

Eternally patient, Princess Celestia managed a smile where other mentors would have been long since worn thin. “But, Twilight, that is precisely why the year is such an odd length. If the year arranged itself into orderly boxes, ponies might get the notion that life itself is fundamentally orderly, and that leads to trouble. Like thinking you can circumnavigate the globe in only eighty-one days.”

“You can.” Twilight took a firm grip of her schedules and plans. “I have charted it all out, start to finish.”

“If the world worked the way it does in your papers, perhaps it could be done,” Celestia agreed. “But you have left no room for error. A single delay, a missed train, a ship becalmed, and your entire schedule will fall apart. The world is full of unanticipated variables.”

“I anticipate the unanticipated,” Twilight said, holding her back firm. It was only a moment later that she recalled with whom she spoke, and added a belated, “Princess.”

“So sure of yourself, are you?” Princess Celestia asked, a twinkle in her eye. “Well then, how about we make a wager? I will bet that it cannot be done—that you will, despite your best efforts, fail to complete your tour in eighty-one days. And should you prove me wrong, I will reorder the solar year to contain exactly three-hundred-and-sixty-five days, and do away with leap years.”

Twilight was dumbfounded. Here was a chance to bring order to the chaos that was the calendar system! A golden opportunity sat before her. And yet, some part of her brain urged caution. “And what happens if I lose?” she asked.

With a slow and graceful elegance, Celestia sipped her tea, and it was only when she was quite finished that she replied. “I declare ‘folding down the corners of the page’ to be the official and preferred method of bookmarking Equestrian library books.”

Twilight gasped. “You’re a monster!” At first she had assumed Celestia was joking, but now she saw the truth. This was no small wager. Win or lose, the future of order and sanity in Equestria hung in the balance.

“So then, you admit defeat?” A smile played at her features.

Never!” Twilight leapt to her hooves. “I will take your bet! And as sure as base-twelve would be a far superior system for our mathematics than base-ten, I swear that precisely eighty-one days from right now, I will be standing in this very room accepting your congratulations on my victory!”

Declaration thus made, she swept from the palace, returning home in the greatest huff she had ever known since the last one. Throwing open the doors to the crystal palace, she cried: “Spike! Pack my bags!”

“What?” He looked up from his sweeping. “Where are we going?”

“Canterlot!” she answered. “By an extremely inefficient route.”