• Published 6th Sep 2018
  • 1,349 Views, 135 Comments

The Sunset Campaign - Starscribe

Sunset Shimmer dreamed of bringing her knowledge back to Equestria, but not as an invader. If she wants Equestria to survive, she's going to have to help the humans save it—without helping them become its new rulers.

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Chapter 7: Universal Interface

The ponies of Motherlode seemed almost relieved as Jackie followed her new companion out of the square and down the single main road.

“It would be easier to fly,” Frostline suggested, pointing down. “See that house with the weird roof and the tower next to it? That’s where we’re going.” She spread her wings, taking off easily, but Jackie reached after her.

“Wait! I, uh… I’m really bad on my wings. The, uh… caves I grew up in were so small, I didn’t have enough room to fly, and I haven’t had enough practice. Can we walk?”

“Oh.” Frostline landed, ears flattening. She blushed, and for good reason. Half a dozen nearby earth ponies had turned to stare at her. Apparently flight wasn’t well looked-on here, like so many other things. “Yeah, I guess. Walk. Sounds… thrilling.” She set off, gesturing down the switchback.

The mountains were so steep that for every length of switchback there was barely enough room for a single house, then there would be several more. Up above things were a little better, maybe the ponies had blasted and leveled there? And it wasn’t just that the homes were less convenient—they looked worse the further they went. More cracked windows, faded paint, dead plants in the front yard instead of struggling ones.

“I guess your friend must be… pretty poor,” Jackie muttered, by way of conversation. “Living down here, I mean.”

“Well…” Frostline shook her head. “I’m pretty sure True Silver has more gold than anypony else in Motherlode, by like… a lot. But if she made a show about it, she would probably get kicked out. You see how ponies are.”

“Yeah,” Jackie said, glaring briefly over her shoulder at a family of earth ponies giving them dirty looks. “I thought Equestria was better than this. Racism is like… last century, my dude.”

“You’re weird,” Frostline said, speeding up a little. She sighed exaggeratedly. “But that probably means that Silver Spring is gonna be thrilled to see you. She wants to see every weird pony who comes through town. Usually they aren’t willing to take such a long walk down, and she doesn’t want to climb up. Even with earth pony endurance.”

Jackie shrugged. “Color me intrigued.” As they got closer, she got a better look of some of the exterior features. A spring from the peak seemed to pass the house, and it had been redirected into a slush-gate that ran to a water-wheel, then back to the original path of the stream. And there was a wind-turbine as well, complete with coils of bright copper wire right on the top that made its purpose obvious.

Electric lights shone from within, with a somewhat unsteady amber glow. “What’s that tower for?” she asked anyway. How much has your friend told you?

“Electricity,” Frostline said. “Ever been in Manehattan? Or Canterlot? It’s like that, but… way smaller-scale. We’re not worth putting it in… and the locals probably wouldn’t want it even if we could get it, let’s be honest. I wish she could run it up to my cloud-house, but…”

“I guess she does a lot with electricity,” Jackie offered. “Did she build it herself?”

“Well, not all by herself. Her mom is the town blacksmith, so she already had somepony to work metals. And whenever she’s trying something new, she always gets me. Pegasi are… really tolerant of electricity, so long as our hooves aren’t on the ground. Probably because we’re around lightning so often.”

“Yeah,” Jackie agreed, though she knew nothing at all about that. They were just about to the door now, close enough that she could smell something rising from the house. Whatever it was, it smelled much better than what they’d been serving in town. I guess you guys aren’t religiously opposed to spice. But before they reached the house, there were half a dozen switchbacks with no other homes nearby. It seemed even the poorest residents of Motherlode wanted nothing to do with True Silver and Silver Spring.

The trail didn’t have a formal ending, or even a wall. It came to a dead stop at the end of a long slope, then trailed off on a cliff that would easily kill anypony who wandered there. Jackie stopped on the edge, looking down and down and down. “Damn,” she muttered. “No way that’s up to code.”

“I dunno what that means,” Frostline said. “But it looks like Spring is about to try another one of her experiments! Look there, at the workshop! See how the doors are all shut, and the lights are on… come on!” She took off into the air, blasting Jackie with dirt. If she were an organic, the sudden surprise might’ve made her stumble right off the cliff. But her legs were sturdier, and so she just shrugged and followed behind.

She watched Frostline open the door ahead of her, and walk inside into a brightly lit space. Like a converted barn, with lots of shelves on the walls with bits of metal on them. As she got closer, she could see a massive workbench in the center of the room, with a rack of tools hanging above. Wires strung along the ceiling connected to Edison-style lights, that rose and fell in brightness slightly as the seconds passed.

It was a passable simulation of a workshop in more civilized spaces. Exactly the sort of thing she might’ve expected to see from a Tower engineer who’d been hiding out among the natives for years.

But as she slipped inside, preparing her speech to give the long-missing Bree—the words faded in her throat. There was no badly-damaged synthetic body at the far end of the room, maybe in a homemade wheelchair or something similar to save power. Only a pony, with a peach-colored coat and reddish mane. That mane stood on end just now, likely from the energy running all around her. A massive Van-de-Graaff generator arced with energy, sending it across a bit of bent and slightly rusty metal.

No, there was more to it—a mechanical disk rotated next to it, like she might’ve seen on a music box, controlling the timing of the flashes.

‘Alert: Tower distress call detected on nonstandard frequency. Believed point of origin is spark gap transmitter less than ten meters from your location.’

No shit. At least they hadn’t started installing AI in prosthetic bodies without telling her. It might’ve been more frightening if the program had jumped to some useful conclusion about what she was seeing.

‘Message follows: Useful intelligence, retrieve ASAP. Message ends.’

Bit of a strange request for a human engineer stranded in a nation of ponies. But then, she couldn’t actually see a human engineer. The technician was certainly organic—even with an IFF transponder disabled, there was no mistaking a prosthetic body for what it was.

“You’ll have to wait until I’m finished!” shouted Silver Spring, watching the process carefully and occasionally nudging the belts on her generator back into place. “Who is that?”

“Someone who wanted to talk to you!” Frostline shouted back. “It can wait! I’m sure she’ll want to see this too!”

And Jackie did—it was an impressive accomplishment for where it had been achieved. She’d read about wasteland scavengers back on Earth, who had built up luxury for themselves in the ruins of dead cities. They usually died of radiation poisoning eventually, but they could do some pretty impressive things first.

But then the generator started sparking irregularly. The emergency logo flickered from Jackie’s HUD, then went out. Right about the time the mechanism at the top of the generator caught fire.

“Bucket!” Silver Spring called, panicked. And Frostline took off, reacting so quickly that this couldn’t be the first time she’d seen it. She lifted into the air, dunking the generator right from the top. Steam billowed down on top of them, filling the air with enough smoke that Silver Spring and Frostline were both coughing. Jackie coughed a little too—mostly out of instinct. But the sound was hollow and pointless.

The three of them stumbled out into the night ahead of a wave of foul-smelling smoke, fur stained a little for the effort.

“Well, that experiment went better than last time,” Frostline said, grinning sideways at Silver Spring. “You must like performing for an audience.”

“I…” The earth pony removed a thick pair of goggles from over her eyes, wiping fresh ash deposits. Now that she was closer, Jackie could get a better view at her, and could tell for certain this wasn’t a prosthetic. Those were real eyes, not actuators and cameras. Real spit she used to get the ash off her glasses. Real smoke caught in real fur. So you’re not my missing engineer. Where is the real thing, and what did she do to make you send her messages? “I would’ve done equally well either way. The mechanism was not altered after you arrived.”

Why wouldn’t the Tower engineer just send them herself? Wouldn’t it be easier to have the pony bring the raw materials if she was helpful, instead of trying to coach her to do the work herself? Maybe she’s got a fetish for drones and doesn’t do real work anymore.

This is Moire Pattern,” said Frostline, ignoring her. “She came off the last transport from down below. Yeah, a real bat. And when she heard about what you were doing here…”

“I’m curious who told you to send that distress call,” Jackie said, flicking her tail towards the open barn. “Who gave you those designs? Where’s the human?”

It was as though this was another one of Jackie’s simulations, and she’d just pressed pause. Both ponies stared at her in open shock, though Frostline kept glancing back at Spring, judging her reaction. She was also the first to speak. “I didn’t know you told anypony about that,” Frostline said. Her amusement was gone, replaced with fear. “Is Canterlot—”

“I don’t think Celestia has anything to do with this,” Silver Spring said, finally facing Jackie. One of her hooves reached out with such speed and strength that Jackie couldn’t get out of the way. She wrapped around one of Jackie’s forelegs, then—there was a click.

‘Service disconnect.’

She fell onto the ground with a crunch, one of her legs suddenly missing.

Frostline screamed. Not very loud—but damn was that voice shrill. Jackie’s ears pressed down by reflex, before she applied a sound-gate, deadening it.

“What kind of earth pony… you just ripped off her leg!” she finally squealed. “Wait.”

“No blood.” Spring dropped the limb as quickly as she’d picked it up, right in front of Jackie. “Remarkable, isn’t it? This is what I was telling you about, Frostline. It’s a full prosthetic—the kind of body I used to have when I had one at all.”

“But, that was just supposed to be a story,” Frostline muttered, her voice still awed. “It’s not real… can’t be real. Ponies aren’t golems, that’s not how that works.”

“Excuse me.” Jackie stood back up on three limbs—that was apparently shocking enough that Frostline turned away, covering her mouth like she was going to be sick. “That was quite rude, Spring. I assume… I assume you know how to do that because you’re the one maintaining the human that’s hiding around here? I’m here as a friend, dumbass. Maybe don’t attack me.”

“Yeah,” Frostline repeated, looking between the two of them with obvious discomfort. “That wasn’t very nice. I don’t see what a donkey has to do with this…”

“Is everything alright, Sweetheart?” said a pony from behind them, her voice echoing from just up the path to the main house. And getting closer. “Should there be that much smoke?”

“Get your leg in, right now,” Spring whispered, her voice harsh. “My mom isn’t ready to see this. Frostline almost had a heart attack.”

Jackie dropped to the ground again to try and comply, fitting the joint as best she could. It wasn’t easy—but then, once she got it about right magnets did the rest of the work. Whoever had designed these bodies had apparently realized that their users wouldn’t have hands for maintenance. Unless I open the gripper in this other hoof. Frostline would love to see that.

She rose another second later, just in time to see the pony Silver Spring had called “mom.”

She didn’t really look anything like Spring. She was a unicorn, with a silvery coat and a light-colored mane, though there was a little streak of color there. She wore a light vest with a few tools sticking out—pliers and a hammer. Her mane also hadn’t been slicked back with an explosion.

“Hello, Frostline. And… somepony new. Are you one of Frostline’s friends? I… don’t think I’ve seen you around Motherlode before.”

“No—” Spring corrected, stepping in front of Jackie hastily and looking up. “She’s one of mine! We’ve been sending letters back and forth, and… she’s here to see my inventions!” She glanced back for only a second, long enough for Jackie to catch her eyes. Not that she would’ve needed to anyway. She knew a con when she saw one.

“Yep,” Jackie agreed. “Just got in by airship today. Frostline showed me the way here, but I wanted to meet your daughter.”

“That’s not—” Frostline began, until Spring silenced her with a look. “Yeah.”

“Well… I’m sure that’s quite an interesting story,” the pony said. “My name is True Silver. Any friend of my daughter’s is welcome in my home for supper.” She lowered her voice, glancing up the slope behind her. “And not to be rude, dear, but I don’t know if the inn would take you anyway with wings like that. Unless you’re staying with Frostline. Is that why you’re here?”

“I’m sure Mom would love visitors,” Frostline muttered. “But she can’t fly. If we brought the cloud-house down for her you know what would happen.”

“Oh.” True Silver’s eyes narrowed, and she glared up at the village above them. “Yes, I believe I do.”

“I’m noticing a trend,” Jackie said. “I’m Moire Pattern, by the way. Pleasure to meet you.”

Was it a little strange for Silver Spring, who looked more like a teenager, to attract an adult stranger from out of town? Apparently not. True Silver didn’t react, she just turned back to the path up to the house.

“I, uh… probably should get going,” Frostline muttered. “It was good to see you, Ms. Silver. But my mom’s waiting for me.” She shifted her attention to Spring. “Don’t do anything cool while I’m gone.” She took off. It seemed she was headed towards a lone cloud, that remained paradoxically stationary over the peak.

“I’m afraid we won’t be having anything too exciting,” True Silver went on, pushing the backdoor to her house open. It led into a kitchen, which already had a few covered trays of food beside the range. “But at least it’s food, right?”

“I don’t have much of an appetite,” Jackie said, though she really would’ve rather just turned her down. But that would probably be too suspicious.

Moire is too polite,” Spring said. “She got dinner with Frostline before coming down here. She just doesn’t want to tell you.”

Thanks, kid. It was a little troubling just how much about full synthetic bodies this teenager knew—how to remove limbs for servicing, and now the tedium of cleaning out the pseudo-digestion? Jackie tried to catch a glimpse at the back of her neck, see if maybe there was a recorder implanted she hadn’t noticed. But the mane was already lifted out of the way, she could see her easily. No recorder, no implants. All real. What the hell is going on up here?

“Well, no need to eat too much, then. Maybe you can entertain us while we eat. You could tell the story of how you heard about my daughter’s work. I thought she was keeping a low profile. But apparently word got out.”

And that was what she did—though the story was entirely fictitious. It involved a group of miners based on the same ones she’d seen on the Nightbreeze, described in convincing enough detail that True Silver didn’t get pushy.

“And that was when I recognized she must be playing with electricity,” Jackie finished. The table was empty by then, the food put away. But still True Silver watched her. The conversation she really wanted couldn’t happen quite yet. “There just aren’t enough ponies in Equestria taking innovation seriously. I can see where she gets it.” She nodded towards one of the walls, and something like a mechanical drill mounted there.

Though what True Silver had made was nothing like the workshop outside. Instead of primitive recreations of electronics, the things displayed inside were made with painstaking care and craftsmanship. Mostly they were brass, though there was some steel and another metal she couldn’t identify in small amounts.

“Yes, well… I may’ve assisted her, but I promise Spring’s work is entirely her own. I can’t take any credit for her brilliance.”

“She’s been very helpful,” Spring said, cutting her off. “Mom should be a friend of anyone who’s a friend to me. I think your friends should know that.”

Okay kid, I get it. But I’m still waiting for what you did with Bree. She still couldn’t ask that, though.

And she didn’t get a chance for another few hours—hours spent talking about the deplorable state of politics in Motherlode, and the frustration True Silver felt about increasingly unreliable shipments down to the mainland.

But eventually it was late enough that both ponies started looking tired, and True Silver said, “Why don’t you prepare the guest room for your friend, Spring. I’ve got a few things to finish up in the workshop. I’m sure a pony as educated as she is knows how to be a proper houseguest.”

“I’m sure she does,” Spring said, eyeing her meaningfully.

Jackie nodded. “You’ll hardly notice I’m here. And I’m… pretty handy, if you need anything simple done. Just not as clever as either of you.”

That was apparently the right thing to say, because soon enough they were headed up the stairs together, and down the hall to a room with an empty bed and a tiny window looking up at the village. “I’ve got some questions for you, Silver Spring,” Jackie said, her voice hushed. “That game was fun and all, but I’m looking for Bree. Where the hell are you hiding her?”

“I’m not.” The pony’s ears flattened, and she pawed uncomfortably at the floor. “You found her. I’m Brigid Curie.”

Sunset Shimmer hadn’t really considered just how important bonding over meals was—until she was in a position where they no longer made sense.

The tradition was one shared by both cultures—so important that the virtual humans still pretended to eat when in the Infinite Realm, even though food there was no more important than sleep. But her current body hadn’t felt hungry once since she’d used it. It still had tired, though—the way its designers had manifested the internal battery running low. And when she went to charge, she “dreamed” in the local shards of the realm.

But all that didn’t mean she couldn’t still go with the ponies across the fence—to a little restaurant in Ponyville she’d seen out the window once during a drive through town. It was a little fancier than young-Sunset could afford back then, with its staff of trained waiters and food from Prench-sounding places.

“I don’t actually have any money…” she began, blushing bright red as they approached. The Clover Cafe looked particularly busy today, but Starlight’s approach was enough for a pair of donkeys almost done with their meal to be shooed away and the table cleared for them. “Maybe I should just sit here while you eat.”

“That sounds dreadful,” Trixie said. “Don’t worry about it. You can pay Starlight back later.”

Starlight rolled her eyes, but she didn’t actually correct her friend.

So Sunset ordered the cheapest cup of tea on the menu—which still cost more bits than she’d have used for a week’s food back when she was a student—and sipped as slowly as she could while the ponies ate.

She could see at least a hundred ponies watching their—not just the two guards that had followed her from Normandy, though they sat just past the table. Basically everypony in Ponyville who got anywhere near the restaurant slowed down to stare at her. And any who got too close were practically drawn in by the gravitational pull.

I guess you haven’t seen many of us yet. We won’t be a novelty for long.

“So you two are… defending Ponyville, is that right? From Normandy?”

“Well that’s a blunt way to put it,” Trixie said. “But yes, we are.”

“From accidents,” Starlight put in. “Nopony doubts you humans came here in good faith.” But no matter what she was saying, Sunset could detect a good deal of doubt from Starlight. “But different cultures meeting for the first time always cause trouble. We had the same thing making friends with griffons, dragons… don’t feel offended. So far, you seem more like us than some of them.”

Sunset didn’t feel much like them—sitting with her legs awkwardly folded in front of her, having to reach down to a too-low table, and feeling her insides shifting with every sip of tea. But she hadn’t short-circuited yet, so that was probably a good sign.

“I think you’ll find that humans and ponies have a great deal in common,” she said, setting her cup down as delicately as she could. Despite lacking the unicorn magic either of them were using, her hand was precise. “I know I was pretty surprised. We both like music, books, theater, fashion… food. When I first met them I thought that I’d wandered into a pony town by mistake. If my eyes lost focus, I could almost see the cutie marks.”

“You mean… a human town,” Trixie corrected. “Cutie marks are a pony thing.”

“Right, yeah. Obviously.” She looked away, her face growing bright red. “Sorry, it’s… I didn’t expect so many people watching me, ya know? I guess I don’t have the same talent for putting on a show that you do.”

“Most ponies don’t,” Trixie said, her voice wistful. But also a little proud. “It’s alright, we understand.”

“And if what you’re saying is true, then I think we’ll get along great!” Starlight said. “It’s too bad about this whole war thing. Twilight has been going on and on about the curriculum for a friendship school… that would’ve been a great way to introduce our two cultures. Have a few of your colts and fillies to attend with some of ours, and some other friendly creatures. That would be a safer environment then having thousands of soldiers near a defenseless little town.”

“Don’t worry about it.” Sunset lifted her glass again, but didn’t actually drink anything. It was already getting dangerously low. Why did everything in Equestria have to look so small? “I dunno about the Federation, but the Tower has some incredibly strict rules about how to act around ponies. King Richard, he’s… well, he’s like Celestia. He expects the best from everypony. And if he doesn’t get it…” She looked away. “He’s not tolerant of innocent ponies getting hurt. If anyone from the Tower hurts a pony, you can bet he’ll do something worse to them than you could.”

“Great,” Starlight said, not sounding as though she thought that at all. “That’s great. Perfect. Exactly the kind of enforcement mechanism that we can rely on. A distant, unknowable autocrat. With nothing but character testimony. Really reliable.”

Sunset felt her eyebrows go up. She didn’t actually say anything, but Starlight’s ears flattened.

“Crap. I… maybe didn’t mean to say all of that out loud.”

“It’s fine, Starlight,” Trixie cut her off. “Natasha here understands. She knows we’re all under a lot of stress. Getting invaded is going to be harsh on anypony, isn’t it? The enemy is coming in from outside, that’s what we have to remember. Even good friends can get a little tense around each other when they let things build up. It’s better to be honest from the beginning. You should remember that.”

“I do.” Starlight Glimmer pushed her plate away, looking behind Sunset at the crowd. Well, most of them. They’d grown so large that the fence past the restaurant was more or less solid ponies, with royal guard showing up by the moment to try and disperse them. Ineffectively.

“When do you think we’re going to see the first signs of… the invasion?” Sunset asked, lowering her voice to a whisper she hoped wouldn’t make it past their table. But it was hard to judge for sure without being able to use radio. “We’re pretty far inland. I heard the attack on Canterlot was some weird rune-magic stuff, and a dragon had to die to make it happen. That probably won’t happen again.”

“I’m not sure we should be talking about it,” Starlight said bluntly. “We barely know each other, and it is military intelligence.”

“Oh come on.” Trixie rolled her eyes. “Starlight, they’re fighting for us. I’m sure Natasha here is just like us—given huge jobs that we don’t understand, and none of the information we need to do them right. She’s just hoping for a little collaboration, that’s all. The middlemen of Equestria joining forces against the ones who callously give us constant work.”

Sunset laughed. “I guess that’s true. I might be able to get the satellite reports if I asked, but I don’t know who to talk to yet. Normandy is as new to me as it is to you.”

“I think there’s already a fleet on the way,” Starlight whispered. “I don’t know where it’s coming from… last I heard it’s heading for west side of Equestria, somewhere near Seaddle. But it’s on the move. A few days, maybe a week. After that…”

“The Solar Fleet must be there already,” Sunset said. “If you know, the admiralty knows. They’re not sitting on their haunches while we get invaded.”

“Well obviously not.” Trixie said. “Twilight is the one to talk to about that, though. The ponies of the navy aren’t happy about all the changes, but they might be a little more grateful once they have to fight.”

Starlight eyed her sidelong, expression flat. “You seem to know an awful lot about ponies, Natasha. Are you a… cultural expert or something? Maybe an advisor? Your talents seem wasted otherwise.”

Crap. “Yes,” she said, turning out her hands. “That’s most of what I’m good for. But… things are different in the Tower than in Equestria. I mean, lots of things are the same, but… we’ve got these things called swaps. Think of it like… being able to get a new cutie mark for exactly what you want, anytime you want it. I can do that, so if I need to be good at something else…” She shook her head. “Just yesterday I was doing first aid on the—” She stopped abruptly, realizing she was probably saying too much.

“Well, I wasn’t a doctor before, and I picked that up quick enough. No way to know what they’ll have me do tomorrow. Maybe I’ll be cooking, or… maybe I’ll be fixing radios.”

“If humans all have appetites like yours, they can’t need many cooks,” Trixie said, rolling her eyes. “You probably won’t do that.”

“No, you’re right.” She nodded. “But I got to leave Normandy for a few minutes. I was already going stir-crazy in that tiny camp. This is nice.” She glanced briefly over her shoulder. “Well, maybe the crowd excluded.”

Starlight’s eyes made it clear that she wasn’t satisfied with that explanation, but she didn’t press the subject further. Didn’t dare ask Sunset how she knew as much as she did about ponies. But she probably will. I need to watch my words around her. Apparently Twilight Sparkle was just as picky with her apprentices as Celestia.

“Maybe you could give us a tour around your camp,” Trixie suggested, when they finally finished and were heading back to Normandy. “It would be only fair. I’d love to scout out locations for a show.”

The Royal Guard had to form a wall of ponies around them to make room—though it had been almost an hour now, and many of the locals were losing interest. She hadn’t burned anything down, or eaten anyone. We’ll be normal before you know it. Then we can all do this. If griffons and dragons could live in a pony city, why not humans?

“I could probably get permission for the Tower half,” Sunset said. “But it wouldn’t be that interesting. Most of our world is… invisible to you.” She tapped her eyes with two fingers. “Builders live in two worlds at once, and you need the right tools to see what we see. I don’t recommend the process for acquiring them.”

“Yeah,” Starlight said. “I have… some idea about that. But a tour, yeah. I like that idea. You should ask your king about it, Natasha. Maybe there’s a way to show us that’s less gruesome than scooping our brains out and giving up our magic.”

“W-what?” Trixie’s eyes widened. “Starlight, what in Celestia’s name are you talking about?”

“I’ll tell you later,” she said, still eyeing Sunset suspiciously. “Unless I shouldn’t.”

They were almost to the gate now—and it was clear from Starlight’s tone that she didn’t intend to follow her inside.

“No, that’s exactly what I was thinking of,” Sunset said. “The realm is cool and all, but it’s totally not worth it to go through that. I wouldn’t want anypony else lined up for something they didn’t sign up for.”

“You wouldn’t… oh.” Starlight relaxed. “Well, okay then.”

“What are you two talking about?” Trixie asked, exasperated. “What do brains have to do with any of this? I thought Natasha was talking about visiting other realms, like that mirror or whatever. What does anatomy have to do with it?”

“Nothing,” Sunset cut in. “Because that’s the worst way to go. I’ll see if I can find a day pass or something. If there’s a painless, reversible way, I’ll let you know. I’d talk to the people in the other camp about a tour of their side, but I don’t really… know that many of them yet. You’ll probably get a better response just asking them yourself. They hate us, remember?”

“Right, yeah,” Trixie said. “Sorry, I should’ve thought of that. We can just ask.”

“Welcome to Equestria,” Starlight said, when they reached the gate, and passed over a bit of signed and stamped parchment. A few seconds later, the gate opened, to the relief of their guard-party. “We’ll have to do tea again. Maybe Twilight’s castle next time. I might think of more questions.”

“Sure thing,” Sunset said. “Good luck, you two. And make sure you tell me if you end up doing a show, Trixie. I’d love to see it.”

She walked away, feeling Starlight’s eyes on her all the way back to camp.