• 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 7

The Best of All Possible Worlds

Chapter 7

With some degree of trepidation, Eveningstar took Voltaire to the dining hall to get dinner. The arguments the Roman had had with his translator on the matter of diet were epic...and nauseating, and Eveningstar feared a repeat with her current guest. But Voltaire proved to have no problem whatsoever with a vegetarian diet.

The human looked around him with interest at all the other ponies around him. “Seeing the inner workings of a castle always fascinates me,” he told the unicorn before him at the table. “It’s like a city in miniature, but far more organized.” He looked around without saying anything for several moments. “So, question number two,” he then said. “How many different kinds of ponies are there?”

~ ~ ~

Eveningstar spent a few minutes explaining the differences between earth ponies, pegasai, unicorns, and winged unicorns, and how they each expressed their magic. The last two, in Eveningstar’s opinion, were the best.

“So are they species or merely breeds?” asked Voltaire. “It would seem unfair to rate one type over another if the higher types ever give birth to the lower, and vice versa.”

“Err...” Eveningstar began. Then she saw her unicorn sister and unicorn brother-in-law enter the dining room, followed by their earth pony son.

Voltaire looked in the direction his flustered guide was looking, and smiled victoriously.

The family of three approached, and the mare coldly introduced them: “I am Eveningstar’s sister, Morningstar Sparkle. This is my husband Fellstaff, and our son Cognizant. I was one of the ponies in the throne room when you made your rather theatrical arrival.” She had the opposite color scheme of Eveningstar, lavender coat and dark blue mane, but the same color eyes. Her cutie mark was the constellation of the Eagle. Fellstaff was the color of summer wheat, with a lighter yellow mane. His cutie mark was a “magic” symbol similar to that of the mages that Voltaire had met earlier. Finally, Cognizant was a slightly-orange tan in color, with a blond mane. Despite being nearly an adult, he lacked a cutie mark.

“A pleasure to meet a pony of such obvious importance, and her family,” said Voltaire, standing briefly so he could bow. “I am Voltaire.” So far the hypothesis established by the Princess’s example, that females dominated Equestrian society, was being proved by every pony he met—the last names seemed to be passed down by the mares instead of by the stallions, for instance. Even the all-male mages, who seemed to be pretty full of themselves when he had met them, were now cowering in a back table of the dining room, being mocked by a pair of teenage fillies for their poor table manners.

Morningstar took the “Voltige” pun even worse than her sister had. “Indeed,” she said with an arched brow. “And what circumstances bring you to Equestria?”

This was precisely the question that Voltaire didn’t want to answer; he had figured out that the ponies didn’t know that he had escaped from an insane asylum to get to Equestria. “Oh, I happened upon a magical item, and went where my curiosity led me,” he said, hoping that he wouldn’t be pressed for details.

“Is that what you were in the human world?” asked Morningstar, “an explorer?”

“No, I was Court Philosopher for King Friedrich the Great of Prussia.”

Morningstar’s manner visibly relaxed on learning that she was speaking to a fellow royal adviser. “Oh, well that’s different,” she said. “You came here as part of your duties.”

“Yes,” he said hesitantly, “That’s exactly right. Before that I was a writer.”

“Oh, I’m a bit of a writer myself,” said Fallstaff. “What sort of things did you write?”

“Plays, epics, histories,” Voltaire said. “I sought to reveal fundamental truths that would transform humanity forever.” He tossed this off as if all writers were like that. “What do you do, Morningstar Sparkle?”

“I am the Royal Historian of Equestria,” she said proudly. “Furthermore, I lead the Sparkle family, and uphold the legacy of my direct ancestor in the twenty-eighth generation, Star Swirl the Bearded!” *

“Oh dear!” exclaimed Voltaire, turning away and using one hand to shield his eyes. “I had no idea! Am I even allowed to look upon your most august visage?”

The two Sparkle sisters rolled their eyes, for different reasons.

* Author’s Note: The Sparkle family at this time suffered under the unfortunate misconception that they were the direct descendants of Star Swirl the Bearded, when in fact the direct line died out in the third generation. In fact, there were at least three pones who unknowingly had a closer line of descent than the Sparkles at this time, including Nightingale Needlepoint. The truth would be revealed less than fifty years after the events of this story (when the Sparkles tried to crush the upstart Needlepoints once and for all), and the resulting humiliation would eclipse the standing of the family all the way until the present day.

Morningstar pulled Eveningstar aside for a private conversation.

“Don’t you think you should keep that human away from the more public parts of the castle, at least before the Princess makes her official statement?” she asked.

“She never told me to do anything like that,” Eveningstar said.

Morningstar sighed. “An adviser to the Princess should not need to be told,” she said, then raced over and pulled her son away when she saw him talking to the human. “A word of advice, Voltige. Keep your distance from any pony without a cutie mark. You wouldn’t want anypony to get the wrong idea. They are very impressionable at that age, and liable to shape their entire lives based on a stray remark.”

“Oh, well I...”

Morningstar cut the human off. “Do you know what percentage of ponies have intoxication-related cutie marks? Seven percent. And do you know who was the first individual to inspire an intoxication-related cutie mark? Your predecessor. So don’t get any fancy ideas around my son. Come along, Cognizant, Fellstaff. We have a busy day tomorrow.”

“Yes, Ma’am,” the two males said in concert, as they were led away by the mistress of the household.

Later that evening, Voltaire had his fitting with the Royal Tailor. Eveningstar had to be there, as his clothing was entirely different from the Roman’s, and so there were many new clothing related terms that had to be translated. She smiled when he asked that the trousers be made with reinforced knees, considering that so many of his conversations with ponies so far had been made on hands and knees so that his eyes could be down at their level.

Eveningstar noticed that the human got a misty look in his eyes when the white unicorn tailor had told him that her name was Nightingale (yes, that Nightingale). Voltaire had muttered the word “Rossignol” (which Eveningstar correctly deduced was “nightingale” in his native tongue) and she had gotten a brief mental image of a human in long skirts riding a horse, which she suddenly realized was a female (the human, I mean—the horse was a mare as well, but that is beside the point).

The dark blue unicorn had not even considered the possibility that humans came in two genders like ponies (despite the strong hint given by Voltaire at dinner), since the only Equestrian humans she had ever heard of had both been males. The other part of that vision, the fact that Earth had horses and that humans had enslaved them, was something that she knew she had to find out more about immediately—she was certain that Princess Celestia’s opinion of the human would change greatly if what she suspected was true. But she couldn’t let the human know that she had been able to see his thoughts so clearly, or he would find a way to keep her from seeing any more.

After Nightingale left, Eveningstar confronted Voltaire. “The Princess said that your world does not have magical ponies. Does that mean that you have non-magical ponies?”

“We have non-magical everything,” Voltaire replied. “Earth is a world almost totally devoid of magic, with that pencil as the only certain exception. But yes, we have ponies, and horses. Does Equestria have horses?”

“Horses are just mythological creatures on Equestria,” Eveningstar said quietly, her mind distracted by the horror of a world without magic. She then put aside her ruminations to continue her interrogation. “And what do humans think of the ponies and horses on their world?”

Voltaire looked down at the stone that made up the windowsill his arm was resting on. “What do you think of marble?”


“Or brick. You ponies do have brick, don’t you?”

“Of course we have brick!” Eveningstar retorted. “What are you talking about?”

“Horses and ponies on Earth are part of Human civilization, the same as marble and brick, and like marble and brick, they give a human status. If your house is made of brick and you use your horse to help you make a living, you’re a commoner. If your house is made of marble and you use your horse to be taller than all the commoners, you’re an aristocrat. Ponies on Earth are just toy horses. If you ride a pony, that means you are the child of an aristocrat, which is about the most-worthless position imaginable.” Of course, he did not mention that he was himself the child of an aristocrat, and rode a pony when he was young. The last thing he needed to win an argument right now were facts, after all!

“Are you saying that humans own ponies?!”

“They’re not like Equestrian ponies, Eveningstar,” Voltaire said, picking up a forehoof with his hands and looking her in the eye. “They are very bright creatures, but that is all that they are, creatures. They cannot speak, and they cannot think. Do you need to pull out your truth-telling coin in order to believe me?”

Eveningstar sighed. “No, I believe you,” she said. “But that is a rather unpleasant concept to swallow.”

Voltaire briefly thought of Gulliver’s Yahoos. “The idea of someday finding a world where your own kind are mindless beasts is not unknown to us humans,” he said. “If you don’t have any more questions, could you take me to your observatory? I’d like to see what the stars over Equestria look like.”

Eveningstar took Voltaire to a large domed room in the castle. Using her magic, she caused the dome to retract, revealing the night sky.

Voltaire looked around him at the empty room. “Don’t you have any telescopes?” he asked the astronomer. The sensation that caused him to involuntarily wink told him that they didn’t before she even had to reply.

“We unicorns use magic to focus light and give the illusion of closeness so that the planets and stars can more easily be measured.”

“So only unicorns can be astronomers, then?” Voltaire replied with a disapproving frown.

“Well, the first astronomers were pegasi, and they did quite well before unicorns took over and developed their own advancements.”

Voltaire sighed. “I have the feeling that this is a very common development in pony history. Some earth or winged pony has a good idea, but only the unicorns can truly bring it to fruition. It must be a depressing thought, knowing that there’s a limit to your usefulness.”

~ ~ ~

Voltaire heard what he was sure was a very standard apology from the unicorn, about how very useful pegasi and earth ponies were, in their allotted spheres. She didn’t even seem aware of her own racism. Or “breedism”, to coin a term.

He politely excused himself from Eveningstar then and went out into the palace grounds to look at the stars for himself.

This day had gone on far longer than any dream the human had ever had before. His head was on fire from the long-delayed hangover, but he had to figure out where precisely he was.

In Micromegas, he had written about a visitor from another star. If he was on a world around another star, then it was probable that the night sky would be made up of different constellations, or perhaps tilted to put a different star over the North Pole, but it was exactly the way it had looked last night in Burr Lin. So he was probably on Earth, in the Northern Hemisphere. A place with no other humans for hundreds of miles. He figured he was either in the wilds of Siberia, or somewhere in North America away from the colonies, perhaps near the exit of the Northwest Passage. He could have decided between these two possibilities if he knew the location of the Moon in the night sky, but if it had risen, it must have been blocked from his sight by the palace, because he couldn’t see it.

In any case, the sight of the night sky amazed Voltaire, as it always did. Here was a wonder provided free to every creature in the universe, regardless of class or education. Contemplating its wonders always made him think of God.

He looked down to see Eveningstar standing beside him. “Do you ever pray to Celestia?” he asked her.

Eveningstar blinked as she tried to figure out where that question could have possibly come from. Then she looked up. Of course. “Yes, I pray to the Princess. Do you have a god that you pray to?”

Voltaire nodded. “We humans have a god. I...only have two prayers though.”

“What are they?”

“Well the first is a prayer that God make my enemies ridiculous. He has never failed me in that one. And my other prayer is...”

Voltaire was unable to finish that thought without becoming incredibly ill all over the grass. As soon as he had recovered, though, he became incredibly angry at the Princess, and demanded to see her instantly.