• Published 13th Nov 2017
  • 925 Views, 22 Comments

I Can Read Names in Clouds - Yuu

In the aftermath of the confusion with replacing the newest princess, a human arrives to learn about pony society.

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Gloaming and Harpy began to annoy me with their school rivalry, or whatever it was.

“I just feel you’re speaking some nonsense, and I can help you avoid that,” Harpy said, smiling.

Maybe I could try one old trick, but would it work with ponies? If not, I could apologise later.

“I’m speaking nonsense?” Gloaming almost cried. “You—”

“Both of you!” I said. “Shut up and kiss already! Sorry.”

“What? How would that...” Gloaming trailed off.

Harpy looked at Gloaming with a funny face, but remained silent.

“Good, now we can go back to music.” I moved between them to block their line of vision and turned to Harpy. “Because we still need to decide how you will support me on stage. Maybe you can listen to my music and play something similar with your tone system.”

“Well.” Harpy paused for several seconds, then looked to me. “I can play on my konghou to accompany your songs. I hope other musicians can do the same.”

Gloaming didn’t comment, but went back to her books. Harpy followed her with her gaze then turned back to me.

“Let’s try something, do you have in mind what you are going to sing?”

“I have some ideas.” I played one song of medium difficulty to her.

Harpy sat on the pillow near me and lifted her forelegs. What I thought was her boots unwrapped themselves, and each become four greenish tentacles. They grew from a ring of the same colour on her hoof. Harpy took the konghou with left foreleg and begun to finger the strings with the right one. The music was very close to what I played from my phone. Maybe I needed only slight adjustments in singing tonality to make it sound natural.

“You can play with magic, I think,” I said, and she nodded. “But why do you use these manipulators?”

She put the konghou on the nearest table. “You see, I have problems with the magic in my hooves. While a common unicorn has about twelve sixteenths in her brain, and about two sixteenths in her hooves and spine, I have much less in mine. Maybe less than one sixteenth. I can barely hold objects with both hooves.”

“Oh, is it some kind of health problem?” I asked.

“No, just a biased development of the nervous system.” Harpy sat on the pillow next to me. “So my parents proposed that I use manipulators instead. It required some training, but I managed it, and I like the new abilities they grant.”

“So you don't use your telekinesis to play?”

“I do, actually,” she said, smiling. “I just prefer to use manipulators.”

“That's interesting, can you tell me how they work?”

“Basically I have special implant, connected to my nerve system in the forehooves.” She put both her forehooves to table to show me. “Actually, two of them, one in each foreleg. They convert nerve impulses to signals necessary for movement, and I can replace the manipulators at any time, since they receive the signals remotely. The manipulators themselves are engineered organisms; basically just muscles, nerves and some skin assembled together.”

“But how do they get energy to move?” I asked.

“The previous generation used a special solution, kind of a liquid food for them.” Harpy moved the tentacles a bit. “These work on batteries, and I find it more convenient.”

“But do they need a supplement of chemicals, for their metabolism?”

“No, they can do the same process as plants,” Harpy said, briefly gazing on Gloaming, “to produce necessary compounds from the air. They also take some water and minerals from a perspiration.”

I glanced at Gloaming as well. She seems to be engrossed in one of her books, or maybe in several books in the same time.

“I see, thank you. Do you want to listen to another song or the same one once more?”

“Please play another one, I want to try adapting different kinds of music to the instrument.” Harpy sat near her konghou again.

I played one, then another one after her request. After I finished another musician came, a mare with an asphalt thick fringe and a silk-grey coat. She was taller than Harpy and Gloaming, and had a build similar to Medley, so she most likely was a land pony. She had a big suitcase with her, which was attached to her back on one side and had two wheels on the other side. Harpy introduced me to her, and her name was related to music in general, so I proposed “Melodic Song” after some thinking and she agreed. Just as we decided it, someone else knocked.

Gloaming let in another pony, who had a spiky, cobalt blue shag cut with lighter streaks and a yellowish, light-beige coat. Her hairstyle was much shorter than those of the other ponies in the room. She was about the same height as Harpy, and had a similar constitution, so at my first guess she was a unicorn. She probably was another musician, because she came at a time when musicians were invited here and she also had a saddlebag of a medium size.

For some reason she didn’t have a musical theme in her name, one part was about grapes and another about an idea of incompleteness. But I couldn’t just call her Incomplete Grape... Maybe incompleteness could also mean youth? Fortunately she agreed to be called Juvenile Grape.

She put her saddlebag on the floor and immediately began unpacking it. Inside was a device which looked like a laptop at first. She opened it and revealed several controls. On the bottom part it had four groups of four bigger buttons, arranged in squares. On the top it had a number of linear potentiometers, two horizontal lines of smaller buttons and several buttons around a palm-sized screen.

After that she took another device from her saddlebag, kind of similar to headphones. It hid most of her ears, but the upper parts of her ears remained outside. When I asked to try it, she told me she didn’t use her headgear to listen, but to control her synthesizer with ears movements.

“I’m ready,” she said, as she put her device on the table and sat near it.

Melodic Song looked around at the other instruments. “Well, looks like I should unpack my instrument too.”

She opened the case; it was similar to a nyckelharpa but as twice as big. Perhaps I could call it a baritone nyckelharpa. Next she pulled out three legs of different length and put the instrument on the floor next to one of the pillows. It had a number of buttons to serve as frets, and also a hoof-sized disk closer to the pegbox. The disk was connected to button levers with some mechanism. Finally she took a bow from the case and put it on a holder on a side of the instrument.

“I have already played the recordings of some music from my world, so I can repeat them to you.” I checked that every musician was listening. “But I also would like to know a bit more about your instrument. For example, we have a string one similar to this, but I haven’t seen this mechanism before.” I pointed at the part near the pegbox.

“Oh, it’s actually a modern invention.” Melodic Song circumscribed her hoof around the part of the instrument she talked about. “I can control effective string length with one hoof using this device. Comparing to separate buttons I can choose a wider range of tones, since only unicorns can press non-adjacent buttons.”

“That’s good,” I said and turned to Juvenile Grape. “And you have some kind of synthesizer?”

“Yeah, this baby can produce lots of sounds, it can also record and play music,” she said. “So I can cover the tone range of any other instrument, and even more.”

“We all know about the advantages of your little device.” Harpy plunked several strings with her manipulators.

“By the way, I noticed only two of you have a name related to music.”

“Do you think our parents just named us like this, and sealed our destiny?” Harpy said, smiling. “Actually, many ponies change names after getting their marks. So did we.”

“If I may.” Gloaming stepped around the table and came closer to us. “I also changed my name, many of my friends did. Our ancestors even thought a pony had to change their name, so it was actually a law for much of our history. But many ponies wanted to keep it, so the law become a tradition.”

“Could you tell me your old name, please?” I asked, and she told me.

The name had two meanings. One was the Moon, and another one was related to dancing. Maybe Dancing Moon? No, that didn’t seem right. Moon Dancer, then.

I needed to ask ponies about laws, later on; for some reason I had totally forgotten to do that before. For all I knew I had already violated some of them unknowingly. But, actually, why should I postpone? They could make a short summary in only a few minutes, I hoped.

“That’s good that you mention it, I would like to know about your laws a bit, to be sure I can avoid breaking them.”

“Oh, don’t worry.” Harpy made a movement with her foreleg from me to her left. “We don’t really have laws, so you can’t break something that doesn’t exist.”

“And your behaviour is quite reasonable,” Gloaming added, “so don’t expect any punishment.”

“But how do you decide if someone should be arrested, for example?” I wondered, did they have some form of anarchy here?

“If I’m not mistaken,” Melodic Song said, “guards use local guidelines and common sense. Generally, they only arrest somepony for doing harm to others.”

“Thank you, you helped me remember some things about laws,” Gloaming said to Melodic Song, then turned to me. “I used to compare different systems, in our country and in others. Other countries have a system of rules, created and enforced by the government. In contrast we have personal contracts for the same situations.”

“Yes, I recently agreed on a contract about my performance,” Harpy said.

“The contracts are very common and we don’t consider them anything special,” Gloaming said. “For example, when you buy something you also agree upon a contract, which covers topics like how you can return a purchase.”

“I see, but how do you regulate relations with other countries?” I asked.

“In essence our government agrees only to treaties that will benefit us,” Gloaming said. “And if a pony travels abroad, she usually becomes subject to the laws of that country.”

“I have met musicians from other countries, so I can add a bit,” Melodic Song said. “If they come from a peaceful nation, there is no special requirements. Else they should agree on a special contract with residents of our country and be prepared for any consequences for harming others.”

“Thank you, that’s good to know,” I said. The social contract system appeared more like a reminder for them to behave, because the guards could probably catch them anyway. They could also consider these contracts and guidelines a special form of laws.

“If we’re finished with that, let’s make some music.” Juvenile Grape played a chord on her instrument.

“Yes, back to the music,” Harpy said.

I told Melodic Song and Juvenile Grape what I knew about music on Earth compared to pony music. Then I played some recorded music from my phone, and sang the same polka to demonstrate my voice.

Both Juvenile Grape and Melodic Song agreed to accompany me. Juvenile Grape was especially excited, because she could quickly tune her synthesizer to play in Earth tone scale. Harpy added that her instrument could also be easily tuned.

The scale on the nyckelharpa couldn't be changed easily, but Melodic Song considered this a challenge, and wondered how she would play when some notes would be tuned perfectly while others would be off-tune. She proposed the other musicians play in the new scale, while she would quietly experiment.

I sang maybe fifteen songs, some of them several times, while the musicians became accustomed to the music. Several times ponies came in looking for the source of music they heard outside and Harpy told them they should come to the performance tomorrow, where they could hear the same songs, only better played. Gloaming also listened to us, judging by the position of her ears. She even raised her snout from her book from time to time, but, fortunately, made no attempt to interrupt us.

After about two hours of playing and singing we decided to finish for the day and continue the rehearsal tomorrow, before the actual performance. By the time the musicians were packing their instruments, Medley had come back to the library.

I was thinking some more about my repertoire for the next night, until I noticed Medley was looking at me, like she was waiting for something.

“What do you think, can we produce something good together?” I asked.

“Sure, silly filly,” she said, smiling. “You can even sing a cappella, or just amplify sound from your little music player.”

“Thank you, I almost forgot about that,” I said. “But I still want to sing with live music, if it can be arranged.”

“All the musicians who came today want to perform with you,” Medley said.

I started wondering why. Of course, playing music from another world wasn't an everyday occurrence.

“But how did you get so many?” I asked. “This town isn't very big, and all of them looked pretty experienced, not like amateur musicians.”

“That was easy.” Medley smiled wider. “I just went to every good musician in town and asked them to come. And almost all decided to come.”

“I suspected something like that... Anyway, how are we going to organise the concert?”

“I think a lot of ponies will come, because you’re good at singing and ponies are very interested in new things. So I can arrange a place on the outskirts of the town. For example, near one of the hills, so everypony can see and hear you.”

“Will you spread word about the event?”

“Of course, I would be honoured to organise the first concert for the singer from another world, the first one for the singing crow, the first one—”

“Yes, I got it, thank you,” I interrupted. “We can try several songs tomorrow before the concert, then have a break, and then perform before the audience.”

“Good thinking, I will notify everypony.” Medley nodded and ran out of the library.

After a minute someone knocked on the door. Gloaming went to it and opened, and outside the library stood Rainbow. She followed Gloaming inside without saying anything. Rainbow didn’t look much better now than when I saw her in the hospital. With a blank expression she just sat on one of the pillows in the room.

“Missed me?” she asked.

“Of course,” Gloaming said. “And your other friends missed you, too.”

“I hope my co-workers don’t miss me too much.” Rainbow made a small smile. “Because I can’t fly to work for two days. And I can’t fly at all before tomorrow’s check-up in the hospital.”

I felt an impulse to imitate the ponies, to go to her and hug her and say something silly. But Gloaming beat me to it. Maybe I was still under the influence of that nightmare with the unmarked fillies.

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