• Published 19th Jul 2012
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The Best of All Possible Worlds - McPoodle

The philosopher Voltaire finds himself in the most-frustrating place imaginable: Equestria

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Chapter 40

The Best of All Possible Worlds

Chapter 40

When a goddess changes reality, She can do it the easy way, or the hard way.

For an example of the easy way, how about literally re-writing history?

In the wake of their defeat of the

Windigo threat, Clover, Pansy and Smart

Cookie became the first inter-tribal

heroes in pony memory. And in recog-

nition of their act, each was allowed to

have their one fondest wish granted.

Smart Cookie, uninterested in fame,

merely wished to retire to a comfortable

living. The farm she was granted has

remained in her family ever since.

Clover founded the first ever

school of magic, with himself as its

first dean of studies. Under another

name, that school still operates.

But it was Pansy’s wish that

changed the lives of everypony the most:
the introduction of a representative parliament from
the introduction of chewing tobacco from
the griffons.
the camels. The idea became instantly

popular, and was emulated enthusias-

tically in every city, village and

hamlet in the new Equestria.

Unfortunately, Pansy’s wish was

also the only one to be discontinued, at

the express orders of Discord. It is the

general opinion of historians that the

only reason He did this was because He
was a stick in the mud.
was an asthmatic.

“Isn’t that rather unfair to Pansy?” Voltaire asked Celestia.

It was only the human and the alicorn that were witness to the miracle being performed by the contrite donkey goddess to the fat tome in the Royal Library.

“Not really,” answered Celestia. “Pansy didn’t really have anything he wanted, so he gave Father a second wish.”

“Your father was the tobacco chewer?” Voltaire asked incredulously, trying to reconcile this with the innocent-looking unicorn depicted in stained glass in the entrance hallway of Canterlot Palace.

“No, as a matter of fact he was a tobacco smoker. Big fat cigars were his favorites. Oh, and the popular image of him failed to take into account the bushy mustache he later grew in a failed attempt to imitate Star Swirl. Try to picture that.” The princess sighed heavily as she did so. “My lungs seize up sometimes just thinking about it.”

Genevieve sat there quietly, not saying anything.

A much harder case was fixing matters in the present day. The resulting manipulation of events could be best compared to knitting a six-dimensional sweater while you’re wearing it. The fact that both the princess and the goddess had a long list of side goals they wished to accomplish at the same time did nothing to simplify matters. Let us try to unravel the strands, starting with the longest:

The Eastern Road outside Hamelin, November 11, AD 1740

Pierre Louis Maupertuis, President of the Prussian Royal Academy of Sciences, waited impatiently in his ornate carriage for Voltaire to arrive. For months, he had been forced to sit through one excited diatribe after another as his monarch had schemed how to lure the reclusive Frenchman out of the hands of Madame du Châtelet. And now, just as the king was gearing up for some sort of war against an unstated enemy, the wily philosopher had suddenly announced his intention of moving to Potsdam and entering the King’s service as Royal Philosopher. There was no question but that the French were sending him as a spy to learn Friedrich’s intentions, but the King absolutely refused to listen to any of the president’s urgent warnings. And worst of all, he would be the one stuck with the job of escorting this pompous ass across half of Germany! Maupertuis clucked his tongue as he looked out the carriage window for the sixth time that hour. He wouldn’t be at all surprised if the idiot was dead drunk in some nameless tavern. It would be sunset in another couple of hours, and if he was forced to spend the night in Hamelin, not only would it be expensive, but he would be late to the opening of the next session of the Academy! And he’d get in as much trouble for that as he would for showing up without Voltaire.

Well, better to be given a “time out” for failing at something I don’t actually want to do... thought Maupertuis. Grabbing paper, pen and ink, he quickly composed a note excusing himself of his duty to escort Voltaire. He put it and a letter of credit inside an envelope with his rival’s name written in large block letters on the outside, then instructed the driver to rest it atop a nearby bush. If I’m really lucky, the president thought to himself, perhaps the oaf will fail to see the note, and be forced to beg his way to Prussia!

Oh good, it’s President Maupertuis, the Flattener of the Earth!” cried out an all-too-familiar voice at just that moment. I thought I missed you!

Maupertuis spent a moment silently cursing the heavens before leaning out of the door of the carriage. “Voltaire!” he cried out in ill-disguised cheer. He started searching around him for the philosopher, but found that the outside world was far brighter than the dim inside of the carriage, and was momentarily blinded. “I am glad to see that you could make it,” he said, one hand shielding his eyes. “Why don’t you come inside and...”

The president’s jaw audibly struck the bottom of the carriage door window as he finally spotted Voltaire. The man himself looked just as insufferably smug as he always did, and dressed in a shabby riding cloak. No, what flabbergasted President Maupertuis was not the man, but his ride: an absolutely magnificent Arabian mare with a coat of the purest white. Its mane was of a shade so pale that it seemed to be translucent, catching the rays of the sun and scattering them to his eyes with what seemed to be all the colors of the rainbow.

“No,” Voltaire said laconically, “I think I’ll ride alongside instead of joining you inside. I hope you don’t mind.”

“No...no, of course,” Maupertuis said. “Shall we be going?”

“Allow me to lead,” Voltaire said. His horse pulled ahead without its rider seeming to do anything to direct it. For reasons known only to its rider, it was wearing a white skullcap. “I know this wonderful rustic cabin at the base of the Coppenbrügge where we can stay the night at no charge.”

The horse tried to turn its head to look at Voltaire at this statement, but the rider pointed forward imperiously, causing it to return to its course.

Maupertuis’ driver turned around to look questioningly at him.

“What are you looking at me for?” the president asked irritably. “Follow him!

“Ha, ha!” Voltaire cried out as his horse took the lead. “It’s good to be young again!”

Mauptertuis shook his head. Bonkers, completely and utterly bonkers, he thought to himself.

~ ~ ~

A couple hours later, the horse and the horse-drawn carriage entered a deep forest. Having given the carriage’s driver instructions, Voltaire dropped back so he could talk with Maupertuis.

“This is a finely maintained forest, is it not?” Voltaire asked.

Maupertuis looked around. “I suppose so,” he replied. “It is also getting dark. Where is this inn of yours, anyway?”

“It’s not exactly an inn,” Voltaire explained. “More like the home of somebody I’d like you to meet.”

Maupertuis rolled his eyes. “I don’t expect we’ll get much in the way of accommodations in a place like this,” he grumbled. “Is it much further?”

“Oh, not long,” Voltaire said. “In fact, it’s probably somewhere right...around...”—He looked around him, settling for gazing in a southeasterly direction. Then he noticed that his horse was staring just as fixedly to the southwest, and quickly switched his gaze to that direction instead.—“...there!” And with that, he quickly rode off the road and into the thickets.

The driver stopped the carriage. “Shall I come down and let you—?” he started asking.

“No, you may not!” Maupertuis snapped.

“Here he is!” Voltaire announced cheerily a few moments later as he walked into the clearing, pulling another man along by his elbow.

The newcomer appeared to be a peasant of some kind, covered from head to feet in soot. “Let go!” the man cried out in German. “I didn’t do nothing to either of you, so what do you want with me?”

This finally was enough to induce Maupertuis to leave his comfortable carriage. He waved the driver down to open the door, then marched straight up to Voltaire. “Is this the homeowner you were referring to earlier?” he asked incredulously. “A...a common collier you’ve never even met before?”

“Now see here!” Voltaire protested. “Oscar here is a very interesting individual, with plenty of interesting ideas!”

~ ~ ~

As he was saying this, Oscar prepared to flee for his life. He had witnessed on more than one occasion the awful aftermath of what happened when aristocrats got into a fight, and he knew that the peasants like himself unfortunate enough to get in the way were inevitably the losers. He stopped at the sight of a majestic white horse, that appeared to be looking at him with an incredible degree of understanding.

Oscar,” he heard the man to his right ask him, “what would you say would be the most-economical means to increase the productivity of swampland?

“You drain it, of course,” Oscar replied, his eyes fixed on those of the white horse. “I have the designs of a machine—”

“Excellent!” the man replied. “Let’s go to your cabin to talk it over.”

~ ~ ~

“And you say you built all this yourself?” Voltaire asked for what had to be the third time that evening.

The two aristocrats and two peasants were seated around a large table in Oscar’s kitchen, with hot bowls of barley soup before them. Oscar nodded in reply to the question, while continuing to blow on his soup.

“This is an awful large place for just one person,” Voltaire remarked.

“It was supposed to be for a family,” Oscar said, bowing his head. “But my sweetheart ended up picking another man.”

“That’s too bad,” said Maupertuis, surprising Voltaire by taking the startled man’s hand in his own. “I know what it is like for a fickle woman to pass you over for an inferior.”

Voltaire scowled, knowing full well who his rival was referring to. Teaching Émilie algebra did not give you the automatic right to make a pass at her!

Maupertuis meanwhile had dropped the hand and gestured around him with both of his own, including the one still holding a spoonful of soup. “For such rustic fare, you have done quite well for yourself. And your ideas are quite intriguing.”

“You know who would be really interested in them?” Voltaire asked, after wiping the flung soup off of his face. “His Majesty. Doesn’t he always talk about reclaiming all the lands lost to wilderness by the Thirty Years War?”

“Indeed he does,” Maupertuis said, nodding.

“I bet I’m going to get in good with His Majesty when I present Oscar to him,” Voltaire bragged with a smug grin.

“Me?” Oscar asked in shock. “You want to take me to visit the King of Prussia?”

“Err, actually it’s the King in Prussia,” Voltaire corrected. “Strictly speaking, there’s a good deal of Prussia in the hands of other rulers. But if all goes according to plan, it’ll be King of Prussia in a couple of decades.”

Oscar didn’t even have to think for a moment. “Of course I would love to come with you! There’s nothing holding me here. Let me pack my things.” He got up and retreated to his bedroom, but not before casting one longing look at the perfect-temperature soup he hadn’t got a chance to start on.

Mauptertuis meanwhile was in full-on scheming mode. If he could get Voltaire out of the way and present this undiscovered genius to the king himself, there could be no telling what the grateful monarch might bestow upon him. He might even get a parade through the streets of Burr Linn! “You know,” he said as an idea slowly occurred to him, “we really ought to celebrate our good fortune in meeting Oscar this evening. I have some bottles of brandy I was going to present to His Majesty, but I don’t think he’d mind if we had a couple of glasses right here and now! Excuse me while I go and get them.” He then knocked the drowsing driver off of his chair. “Brant, go out and fetch us the brandy.”

Brant’s eyes lit up at the possibility of getting a taste of the good stuff. “Yes, sir!” he said, before plunging out into the windy landscape outside Oscar’s cabin.

Voltaire’s roving eyes meanwhile had settled on a wooden box sitting on the mantlepiece. He got up, lifted the lid, and peeked inside. “Say!” he declared as he pulled something out of it. “What do you call this?”

“That’s a pencil,” Oscar said, returning to the room with his movable possessions wrapped into a bundle. “I make them myself. There’s a lot of graphite in the hills, and I find that making pencils relaxes me when I have trouble sleeping.”

“What an interesting hobby!” Voltaire exclaimed. “Would you care to share your methods with me?”

~ ~ ~

Four hours later, both Oscar and Voltaire were out cold, thanks to a heavy application of brandy by President Maupertuis. Graphite cylinders and wrapping tape were scattered all around them.

The president put down the glass he had been nursing all night and put on his coat. “Pick him up, Brant,” he ordered, as he rolled up some mechanical drawings and shoved them into the bundle on the floor. “And bring this with you.”

Brant, who had been doing all of the pouring and none of the drinking, sighed and made his way over to Voltaire.

“Not him!” Maupertuis exclaimed. “I want the peasant. Voltaire can have the cabin, and the hangover.”

With a grunt, the driver picked up the rag-doll body of the collier, gathered up his bag, and began staggering towards the door. For a moment, he found himself right next to Maupertuis’ glass, and slowly reached out his free hand towards it.

“Brant!” Maupertuis exclaimed. “Get moving!”

With a muttered obscenity, Brant dropped his hand and followed his master out into the biting cold.

~ ~ ~

The next morning, Voltaire awoke in a comfortable bed.

Good morning, sleepy head,” a familiar voice told him in an unfamiliar tongue.

Voltaire suddenly sat up. A hand rushed to his head, and then he put it down in wonder. “What happened to my headache?” he asked.

Celestia, her terrestrial disguise removed, laughed. “You’re welcome,” she said. The cap on her head instantly translated her Equine into French .

* Translator’s Note: You know how you always wondered why Celestia speaks English with a French accent, almost like she learned it as a second language? Now you know.

“You’ve got a magical cure for hangovers?” he asked. “Why have I never heard about this before?”

“Because in my opinion the majority of hangovers are earned,” Celestia said with a frown.

“How very puritanical of you,” Voltaire said with a mocking frown to pit against hers. “So, were you able to find Oscar’s magic pencil stash?”

“There doesn’t appear to be one,” Celestia replied. “Nor is there any strong source of magic in the immediate vicinity.”

“Then I guess that the meteorite that Genevieve saw when she scanned through Time is indeed what we’re looking for,” said Voltaire. “We’ve got six days before it hits.”

“And we shall be spending it in this human’s cabin?” Celestia asked.

Voltaire nodded in reply.

“Did you ask his permission? Is he being fairly recompensed?”

Voltaire laughed. “I just set that man up for life. A decade of bitterness at being thought of as a crazy man has been replaced with a job for the only man in Europe willing to make his dreams of land reclamation a reality. I think under the circumstances he won’t mind us squatting here for a week in a place with bad memories that he has no intention of ever returning to.”

“Well if we have some time, perhaps I can see a little more of your world than just this cabin,” the alicorn said. “And maybe you can finally answer those questions you’ve been dodging ever since you came up with this scheme.”

“Sure, it’s safe to answer you now,” Voltaire said, getting out of bed. He started a fire, both for cooking breakfast and for heating the water for his bath.

“At what point are we in your lifetime?” Celestia began.

“This is a little more than a decade before the moment I fell into Equestria,” Voltaire explained.

“That man said he was going to bring you to your king.”

“Yes,” said Voltaire. “This was my second time seeing King Friedrich in the flesh. The trip lasted only a few months, then I returned to Paris to report my findings.”

“‘Findings’?” questioned Celestia.

“The King of France himself sent me out to Potsdam to find out if Friedrich was plotting against him. I, uh, wasn’t able to find out anything,” Voltaire said, his eyes looking anywhere but at the alicorn. “In fact, Friedrich managed to get me to tell him everything I knew about the French plans. Good thing I really didn’t know that much.”

“Voltaire, you are no longer my official spy for humanity,” Celestia said mockingly.

“Well fine!” Voltaire said, in a mock pout. “I didn’t want to be a silly spy anyway.”

“Voltaire,” the alicorn asked, suddenly getting worried. “If that man was supposed to take you to see King Friedrich, then where are you, the Voltaire that belongs in this time period? Is there any chance that we might bump into him by mistake?”

“You want to know where I am at this very moment?” the human replied non-nonchalantly as he set the table. “I’ll tell you: passed out dead drunk in a nameless bar in Hamelin.”

The alicorn shook her head in disappointment. “So what’s going to happen when this Maupertuis fellow and the historical you arrive in Potsdam?” she asked. “Won’t their stories be wildly different from each other?”

“Well let’s see,” Voltaire said, putting on an insincere look of seriousness. “I will say that I was unavoidably detained, in order to keep from revealing that I drank my way from one end of Europe to the other, and Maupertuis will say whatever he needs to say to keep from getting caught, and I sincerely doubt that he or I would ever tell enough of the truth for anybody to suspect that something extraordinary had happened.”

“And you were that sure that Maupertuis would steal Oscar?”

“Of course!” Voltaire exclaimed with a grin. “If there’s one thing I never underestimate, it’s the presence of Maupertuis’ dagger one inch away from my back at all times. I bet he even tried to steal you.”

“Well he tried,” Celestia said with a chuckle, “and I got to practice my buck for the first time in three hundred years. If not for that thick coat he was wearing, I probably would have bruised him pretty badly.” She then raised a hoof to her chin in contemplation. “It did manage to get a laugh out of that servant of his, though.”