• 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 43

The Best of All Possible Worlds

Chapter 43


Alright, here is where we get into the alternate timeline that Celestia and Voltaire just created. Pay attention to the headers, as this might get a little confusing.


The Charité Lunatic Asylum of Burr Linn, June 22, AD 1751

King Friedrich and his guests ascended to the second floor, where most of the inmates were usually kept. Two rows of cells lined the wide hallway, each covered with a large thick door with a small window to look inside at the inmates, and iron bars embedded in each window to keep the inmates from getting too close while you were busy looking at them. Everything was illuminated by sickly yellow candlelight. Voltaire’s feelings of uneasiness from entering this place increased.

With the asylum’s attendants supplemented by the king’s guards to protect the visiting group from harm, Jordan, the group’s guide, approached the door of the first “attraction” for the night.

“Wait, why are you skipping Ivan?” the King asked, seeing Jordan unlocking the door of room 108 instead of 102.

“Oh, Ivan’s not a patient anymore,” Jordan explained. “We received a German-to-Selkup dictionary in the mail—that’s the language he was speaking all this time—and with its help we were able to integrate him back into society. He’s currently acting as one of my attendants while earning enough money to make his way back home. You, uh, did send us the dictionary, Your Majesty, didn’t you? It was sent anonymously, and I do know how much you like your little acts of benevolence to be anonymous...”

“I didn’t send it,” said King Friedrich. “Although I am pleased to see the story of yet another Potsdam Giant end happily.” He briefly explained the ill-begotten idea of his father’s to the group. “So, who do you have in this room?”

“This is—” Jordan began, before looking at the name written on the slip of paper mounted next to the door. He quickly blocked it from view. “—nobody!” he exclaimed. “Next room.”

With a frown, the king roughly shoved him aside to look at the sign. “‘Oscar’?” he asked with growing displeasure as he read it aloud. “What is one of my foresters doing in an insane asylum?” The last sentence was more roared than asked.

“Ah, well,” Jordan equivocated, fidgeting. “He got himself into a bit of a fight in the pub down the street a few hours ago, and he was very drunk, so the constable decided to just have him sleep it off in here. He’s not in trouble or anything...unless you think he should be in trouble. Then he’s definitely in trouble.”

The king sighed. “Open the door,” he said in a resigned voice.

Jordan did as he was told.

Inside the unlit room, a man was loudly snoring in a bed, his arm dangling down to the ground. The group squeezed their way in to look at him.

“My word!” exclaimed Count Francesco Algarotti, lifting his candle up to illuminate one wall. “Where did these drawings come from?”

Voltaire walked to the opposite wall, where a long strip of coarse brown paper had been crudely stapled to the surface. There he saw more of the same thing that the count had discovered: drawings of simple buildings, drawings of tools, drawings of flowers and common animals, but mostly drawings of ponies. Lots and lots of ponies.

Voltaire’s breath caught in his throat. The feeling of strangeness that he had sensed ever since leaving the carriage on the street below was concentrated in this place, was coming from this place, from these drawings of funny little horses with horns coming out of their...from unicorns, unicorns drawn with exactly the proportions that he had thought to be correct when looking at the painting downstairs. Voltaire looked at his companions, and saw that none of them were feeling what he was feeling. “Who drew these?” he asked, almost afraid to hear the answer.

“Oh, uh, well,” said Jordan, fumbling for his words. He began to wonder if he would still have his job in the morning at the rate that he was screwing things up. “That’s the work of my daughter.”

“Humph!” exclaimed Algarotti disdainfully. “Tell your daughter that she’s drawing that particular creature all wrong.”

“Of course, My Lord,” Jordan apologized. “I have told her that on many occasions, but she insists that this is how she wishes them to look in her work.”

Voltaire took another look at the drawings, and noted that none of them were higher up than the level of his chest, despite there being plenty more paper to draw on. That must mean that the artist was little more than a child. Alright, creepy or not, you do not trample on a child’s right to express herself, he thought angrily to himself. “I think they look fine!” he exclaimed. “What is Your Majesty’s opinion?”

“Hmm?” said Friedrich, looking up from his examination of his unconscious forester.

Voltaire gestured at the walls.

With a shrug, Friedrich picked up the light he had rested on the room’s bed stand, and walked over to look the images over. “Well executed,” he noted. “Manages to maintain scale for pony-sized creatures. But I fail to see references to contemporary or Classical settings. The purpose of art, when it is not merely a thing of beauty, is to enlighten us about our own condition, yes?”

Algarotti saw that the last question was addressed to himself. “Yes of course, Your Majesty,” he said with a nod.

“Well, what does this drawing have to tell us? Nothing, as far as I can tell. It is merely a fantasy, with made-up creatures substituting for humans. In short, it is a fine production for a child, but a child who still needs to mature as an artist.”

This was a perfectly good explanation, and the others instantly accepted it. But to Voltaire, another explanation instantly presented itself, one that he didn’t like one bit: that this place had some sort of mystical connection with a far off land of unicorns, where science was a joke and magic was all-encompassing, and somehow this girl was part of this connection, which she used to faithfully represent this land in her art. The idea of such a place, and such a connection, terrified him...and intrigued him. Voltaire made a vow to himself to return to the asylum one day without his monarch, to have a long talk with this daughter of Jordan’s.

Meanwhile the director of that asylum was busy digging himself out of the hole he had been digging for himself over the past half hour, by buttering his employer up with honestly earned praise. “Oh, you are most perceptive, Your Majesty,” he said. “My daughter is indeed, a child.”

The king nodded in satisfaction. “And how old is she?” he asked.

“Ten,” answered Jordan. “Exactly ten years old.” He regretted uttering that last sentence the moment it left his mouth.

“‘Exactly’?” King Friedrich asked, instantly catching on to it. “You mean to say that her birthday was today?”

“Yes, Your Majesty,” Jordan said with a bowed head.

“You agreed to go through with this...tour...of mine, instead of giving your daughter a proper celebration?”

And with that, poor Jordan was doomed. That’s how it was for the hapless servants of Friedrich the Great: you were to serve him to the best of your ability, through rain or shine, despite illness or personal tragedy...except on those rare occasions when doing so made him feel guilty. Then no earthly power could save you.

“Well this is unacceptable!” King Friedrich exclaimed. “Wake the child at once! I will give her a birthday celebration that she will never forget!”

“Your Majesty,” Maupertuis said, sidling up to the king. “It is closer to midnight than it is to sunset, and a growing child needs to get her sleep!”

Voltaire and Algarotti looked incredulously at each other. One simply did not use that tone with a king.

Amazingly, though, it appeared to work. “Of course,” the king said, looking sheepish.

A king, looking sheepish! a watching Algarotti thought in wonderment. What was the world coming to?

“And besides,” Maupertuis added, “we have our plan to carry through.”

“Oh yes!” the king said, his eyes sparkling with mischief as he rubbed his hands together.

Voltaire didn’t like the way that the king was looking at him when he said that.

~ ~ ~

“Your Majesty? Your Majesty?! What does the port mean?” a desperate Voltaire asked from inside his new cell a few minutes later.

“Everybody knows how much the English love port and, well, you always were a little too fond of the English,” the voice of Maupertuis drifted back to him.

“I hate port!” Voltaire said with a pout as he sat down on the bed.

~ ~ ~

Jordan came back to the same cell a half-hour later. “Is there anything I can do for you?” he asked. “Other than letting you go?” he added apologetically.

Voltaire sighed from his place at the back of the cell. “I don’t blame you, Monsieur Jordan,” he said. “We are all King Friedrich’s puppets in the end, you especially. I’m surprised he hasn’t made you dress in motley and bells yet. I need to write a letter.”

“That’s what the candle, and the little table, and the sharpened feather, and the paper are for,” Jordan said carefully. It wouldn’t do to imply that a world-famous philosopher was an idiot for failing to notice all that, so he hoped he got across the tone of conveying information with absolutely no judgment attached whatsoever.

“I can see the candle and the table and the paper, and I thank you for them,” Voltaire said very patiently.

“Ah good!” Jordan exclaimed. “They were Ivan’s idea. He realized that a writer like you should be able to write himself out of trouble.”

“An excellent insight,” Voltaire said, trying to keep his voice calm. “He just managed to forget one thing.”

“He did?”

“What am I supposed to use on the sharpened feather to write on the paper with?”

Jordan peered into the room, and indeed saw what was missing. “Oh. I think we’re out of ink. Ivan’s been writing a lot of letters back to his family.”

Voltaire sighed. “Of course.”

“I’ll go out and get some more in the morning,” Jordan said with an encouraging tone.

“Thank you,” Voltaire said.

“Will you be needing anything else?” the philosopher’s unwilling captor asked.

“No, I might as well get some sleep.”

“Good night.”

It took half of the bottle of port before Voltaire was in a fit state to sleep peacefully.

~ ~ ~

Death from above!

Voltaire was suddenly awakened by an object bouncing off of his chest. For a moment, he could have sworn he saw a small circle of light floating above him, and a smirking face looking down at him. Before he could focus his eyes, however, the circle was gone.

After a few fumbles, he managed to pick up the object that had awoken him. It was a pencil, crudely wrapped in paper.

He looked questioningly at the window of the cell, the only logical place the pencil could have come from. “Ivan..?” he asked out loud.

There was no answer. Getting up and looking around, he saw a cold breakfast waiting for him on his writing table, along with an invitation to meet Jordan’s daughter at 4 o’clock that afternoon, and an apology that Jordan’s usual source was out of ink.

He also discovered that he had a stupendous hangover.

He drowned his sorrows in port wine, and was soon in a good mood again. After all, despite Jordan’s apology, Voltaire had something to write with now, and the philosopher never considered himself defenseless as long as he held one of those in his hand.

~ ~ ~

“The King of France!” Friedrich bellowed for what had to be the tenth time that morning. “How could I have not realized that he was mocking the King of France, not me?”

The King in Prussia didn’t even wait for the carriage to stop before the asylum before stepping out onto the sidewalk.

“We are going to get Voltaire out of that cell first thing,” he instructed a thoroughly cowed President Maupertuis, “and then I’m going to wish Jordan’s daughter a proper birthday.” He looked around him in a near panic. “Where’s the cake? Did we forget the cake?”

Count Algarotti stumbled out of the carriage, carrying a sheet cake easily as wide as he was tall. “No, the cake is accounted for,” the Italian mumbled. He just knew that he’d end up getting frosting all over his pale green coat before this day was through.

~ ~ ~

What is this thing, anyway? Voltaire thought to himself in amazement, as he bent down to examine what had happened to the pencil lead on the page before him.

He placed a finger over one of the “o”s on the page, and felt the opening under his skin. It was like the black blob on the page was actually a hole in the paper, but instead of reaching through to touch the wood underneath, instead he was feeling cold stone.

This was an exceedingly strange mystery, too strange even for Sir Newton, and so Voltaire consulted his inner Émilie du Châtelet, the cleverest person he had ever known. Voltaire’s gut told him that Jordan’s as-yet unseen daughter had the ability to perceive a strange world populated by unicorns instead of people. But how did she get these visions? Did they appear to her in her dreams? Were they painted on the inside of her eyelids every time she blinked? Or did she have some other way of directly seeing this world? Through a magic mirror, or perhaps...a magic portal created by a magic pencil?

It was a stretch of the imagination to string all of these suppositions together, an extreme stretch, but it seemed to make sense, as well as fitting very well into the way that a visual artist would think. The drawings in Room 108 had not been drawn using the magic pencil that Jordan’s daughter had apparently lent him just now, but that made sense, as it appeared (and further experimentation immediately proved) that any closed circle in such a drawing would turn into a portal, thereby ruining its artistic integrity.

Now that he had figured out the mechanism, Voltaire simply had to see how he could exploit it...


The Audience Chamber of Canterlot Palace, 46 Summer, EY 6764

“A human!” Princess Celestia exclaimed in surprise, pointing a forehoof at the back of the chamber.

Genevieve stared slack-jawed at the gangly limbed creature that had seemed to appear out of nowhere.

Around her, ponies screamed in panic, rushing in all directions away from the new arrival. At the same time, a double row of royal guards were shoving ponies to left and right in order to reach them.

In Genevieve’s mind, it seemed that the grim guards were equally motivated to capture and punish her, like she was somehow responsible for this. Desperate, she looked around for some way of proving her usefulness.

It seemed to her that the creature had sort of fallen out of nothingness, because to the best of her recollection it had appeared a bit at a time, like it was taking off a cloak of invisibility.

The donkey started to poke her muzzle in the general direction where the creature had appeared from. Suddenly, all she could see was a sideways room. The world started turning around her...


Inside the same cell at Charité, June 23, AD 1751

Genevieve the donkey briefly tumbled through a very weird feeling before suddenly arriving in a darkened room. For just a moment, she felt something like a hoof strike her side, and she was turned around to see behind her, into the face of the Princess reaching out to try and grab her.

But now, she was someplace else entirely.

Genevieve looked around her in confusion. She could only faintly hear the sounds of the ponies, drowned out by the growls and howlings of strange creatures from the other sides of the walls around he.

She looked down to see the audience chamber through a sort of window in the floor. This window appeared to be made up of several pieces of paper overlapping one another.

It would be a simple matter to jump through that window and go back to the audience chamber. But that would ruin everything, for herself, but much worse, for her father.

That is why Genevieve reached down and scattered the pieces of paper below her, causing the window to Equestria to flicker and die.


With the portal between worlds broken, the flow of time in the two realms moved forward at vastly different speeds: Equestria lurched forward into the future, while Earth crawled at a nearly imperceptible rate:

Equestria: Voltaire was locked into a cell, and then met Eveningstar and Princess Celestia.

Earth: Genevieve...

Equestria: Voltaire talked himself into being Celestia’s newest councilor.

Earth: ...rose...

Equestria: Voltaire met a dragon, and formed a new political party.

Earth: ...to...

Equestria: Voltaire told a silly little story, and transformed the state of pony-Princess relations forever.

Earth: ...her...

Equestria: Griffonia was roiled by a revolution and Princess Celestia had a mental breakdown with no human help whatsoever, thereby proving that Voltaire was not in fact the new center of the Equestrian universe.

Earth: ...hooves...

Equestria: The Princess led an expedition of volunteers north to prepare the ponies to shelter the ousted griffon nobility.

Earth: ...and...

Equestria: Voltaire told another story, and transformed the state of griffon-griffon and griffon-pony relations forever. (He really should learn to shut his big mouth.)

Earth: ...looked...


A Field Outside Stalliongrad, 75 Summer, EY 6764

Voltaire demonstrated to the captain of the guards how an earth pony or pegasus could flip a coin to resolve disputes, by throwing his Reichsthaler roughly into the air. “Something like that, I would suppose,” he said with a smile. He watched as the coin flipped over and over through the air...until suddenly it froze in place, along with the rest of the universe.


Nowhere

At that moment, a flood of alternate memories flooded into Voltaire’s mind. An alternate memory of how he arrived in Equestria, where the magic pencil came from a mad forester that he had never met before. Another alternate memory where the coin in his hand showed Genevieve as a queen, and he accepted this as reality. And a whole set of memories of the immediate future, where Genevieve had used the pencil to make herself a goddess, and Princess Celestia was forced to resort to nothing more than her wits to save both Equestria and Earth from the petty wrath of an all-powerful ten-year-old jenny. Those memories continued with the plans to turn that wrecked reality into the very reality that he now resided in, concluding with his week matching wits with Celestia in 1741.

As a thoroughly shocked Voltaire tried to absorb all of this, the floating coin began to wobble slightly, and then start to slowly tumble, its speed gradually building until—

“STOP!” screamed Voltaire.

The coin obediently froze in place.

“What is it?” a confused Goddess Genevieve asked, materializing beside him.

“You were going to leave!” Voltaire cried, turning to face Her.

“Yes...?” She asked, having no problem with Her actions whatsoever.

“Without saying goodbye?” Voltaire asked insistently.

“We never really met!” Genevieve protested. “And besides, you will meet Me again, a month from now, when you return to the portal in Canterlot.”

Voltaire shook his head. “That won’t be You. Not really. Not the donkey who’s done so much—”

“So much what?!” Genevieve interrupted irritably. “So much wrong? Is there anything I didn’t ruin? And if it wasn’t for the Princess, it would all be ruined forever!”

“So You made some mistakes,” Voltaire said flippantly.

“I broke my fellow equines. And humans, too. You saw what I did to Zody. I could have made him normal at any time, but I knew if I did that he would hate Me, so I left him like that! What kind of inequine monster does that make Me?”

“But you didn’t set out to do any of that,” Voltaire assured Her. “Tell me what You were trying. What did you want?”

“I wanted it all to make sense!” the goddess cried, as She turned Her back to him. “I wanted all the good in My life to be rewards for doing the right thing, and all the bad to be punishments for doing the wrong thing, or the acts of something evil that could be defeated forever!”

“You wanted the promise to be fulfilled,” the human told Her. “The promise that Your princess was a goddess who was morally responsible for everything that happens.”

Genevieve nodded, Her eyes screwed shut. Electrical sparks ran down Her face instead of tears.

“Well she’s not,” Voltaire said, putting a hand gingerly on the goddess’ withers and arching his neck around to look Her in the face. “She never was, and she never wanted anybody to think she was. That was their mistake, not hers.”

Genveive nodded once again. “I know,” She said in a shaky voice.

“And now that little mistake has been fixed.”

“Because of you,” the donkey said, opening Her eyes and gazing at him.

Voltaire forced himself to remain calm as he looked into those glowing white pits where Genevieve’s eyes should have been. “And I would never have stayed in Equestria long enough to do what I did if not for You,” he told her. “That may not have been Your intention, but that’s what ended up happening. After all,” he added with a bitter laugh, “God works in mysterious ways.”

“Yeah,” Genevieve said, Her head dipping down so that She was looking at the time-frozen grass at her hooves.

“Genevieve,” Voltaire said as he lifted Her head, slightly burning his hand on Her tears, “You’re going to be leaving soon.”

“Yes,” the donkey replied in a low voice.

“And You’re going to have a chance to start over, something that’s very...very special indeed.” Voltaire’s voice caught as he thought of what he and the Princess could each do with second chances.

“I don’t deserve it,” Genevieve muttered.

“Yes, you do,” Voltaire insisted. “You were too young...too young for all of this, and this time You’ll have a chance to grow up in the world You deserved from the beginning. What would You like to happen? Tell me, and I’ll ask the Princess to do what she can to help you.”

“I don’t care what happens,” Genevieve said, trying to turn Her head away.

“Humor me,” Voltaire said.

“I don’t want to be anybody,” Genevieve said with a sigh. “This whole thing started because I wanted Zody to be more than a friend. That wasn’t fair for Me to ask—”

“Genevieve...!” Voltaire warned.

“—Not because I’m not a unicorn,” she explained, looking the human in the eyes, “but because he’s fated to spend his life in politics, and I want to have nothing to do with politics for as long as I live. Besides, he told Me that he had fallen in love with Blue Belle. He actually apologized to Me, as I was torturing him! She must have changed—was that your doing as well?”

“Ah, well,” Voltaire said, fidgeting uncomfortably. “She actually managed to do that to herself as she tried to undermine my influence with the Princess.”

Genevieve gave Voltaire an inscrutable look before continuing. “I think they were made for each other,” she said. “And I was made for My art. That’s what I will do, when I am mortal again: I will devote Myself to My art. But I will have no recognition. I’ve seen what fame does to both ponies and humans, and I want no part of it.”

Voltaire shook his head incredulously. “Well if that is what You truly want, then I’m sure the Princess will arrange something. I hope You don’t mind if she consults Your reborn self just to make sure.”

Genevieve shrugged, then turned away. “I must go now; if I go any longer with this guilt I think I will burst.”

On impulse, Voltaire stepped forward and hugged Genevieve.

“What was that for?” She asked.

“It was for You,” he said.

She stared at him doubtfully with those eerie eyes.

“...And for the Princess. For all the times after she lost her sister, when she was screwing up and there was nobody to hold her.”

With a resigned sigh, the goddess faded out of existence, leaving the human embracing nothing.


The Field Outside Stalliongrad, 75 Summer, EY 6764

The Reichsthaler landed with a “poof!” in the dirt of the field.

“Heads!” the Captain declared, rousing the human from his reverie. “Although your rulers must all be tremendous egoists, if they insist on having their portraits engraved in their currency. Princess Celestia is fine with issuing completely featureless bits. What’s wrong with that?”

“Nothing,” said Voltaire. If you live in a world where counterfeiting is rendered impossible through the use of unicorn detection spells, he added mentally. “Although I like the head,” he added. “It’s much preferable to the possible alternatives.” He reached down to pick up the coin. “Are we done here? Because I think I’m late to a royal council meeting.”

“Yeah, you can go,” Captain Hardheart said.

~ ~ ~

“You kept your promise,” were the first words Voltaire said to Princess Celestia when next they met.

Author's Note:

“Well, what does this drawing have to tell us? Nothing, as far as I can tell. It is merely a fantasy, with made-up creatures substituting for humans. In short, it is a fine production for a child, but a child who still needs to mature as an artist.”

You know, it’s probably not a good sign how often I find statements subtly disparaging the art of writing fanfiction in my own fanfiction.

I am aware that this chapter might be a bit dull, seeing how most of it recapitulates the events of Chapters 2 and 3. However, it is my opinion that, if I were reading this story instead of writing it, I would want to know exactly how these scenes played out the second time around.

Also, this chapter turned out to be longer than I expected, so I’m splitting it up. Don’t worry—I do plan to post everything tonight.