• Published 8th Jul 2019
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The Rains of Vanhoover - kudzuhaiku

It was raining in Vanhoover. It was always raining in Vanhoover.

  • ...

The politics of exploitation

Rain pitter-pattered against the window, tap-tap-tapping as if politely asking to be invited inside. While listening to the rain, Nut spent a moment surveying his good work on Black Maple’s stubs. Both legs had been amputated right at the elbow, leaving behind short stubs for her prostheses to be anchored to. A thorough cleaning, a little greasy medicated salve, some padded bandages to cover the tender, rubbed-raw places, and all was well again. At least, as well as it could be given the circumstances.

“It is not yet dark,” he said in a low whisper, mindful of his sleeping ward.

“Leaving?” asked Black Maple.

“I’ve thought about it.” He moved closer to the window so that he could watch as the rain fell. “Need to go to the university. But I do not wish to wake Miss Blossom.”

“She’ll be safe here, you know.”

“I gave my word, Miss Maple. As a noble.

There was no sarcasm to found in Black Maple’s response. “You know, nopony holds the nobles to the fire like you do, Nut. There’s hating your own kind, and then there is… well… whatever it is you are doing.”

“Hating your own kind.” He kept his tone neutral as he peered through his monocle at the rivulets of rain upon the glass. “Is that what you believe my motivations to be?”

“I do, in fact, hate my own kind,” Black Maple admitted in a low, throaty whisper, a whorehouse madam’s voice, suitable for sultry suggestions and private confessions. “I lost my legs, and that was bad enough. But it wasn’t enough to suffer the loss of my legs, no. It affected my flying ability. I was called stupid, and foolish, and reckless. What was left of me was less than a whole pegasus. No longer a perfect flying creature. A danger to others.”

“Black Maple, I really am sorry.”

“Thank you.” Her voice, still a whisper, had changed tone. “Losing my legs was the end of me as a pegasus. It’s almost as bad as losing a wing. But it is how I lost my legs… which everpony says was entirely preventable. They make it sound like I deserved to lose my legs. Like I was asking for it to happen. Whores want to be raped, and little pegasus fillies flying over the deeps want their legs chomped off by orcas. I was a stupid kid. What did I know, anyhow?”

The floor and the room rumbled from thunder felt, but not heard. It made the water on the window zigzag, and Nut observed how the vibration altered the course of the water’s downward trek. A second or so later, more silent thunder was felt, and perhaps he imagined it, but he could have swore he heard a faint suggestion of a boom in the distance. Glasses tinkled in the cupboard and pictures rattled on the walls.

“Nobles have much to answer for,” Nut said as the silence became unbearable. “Many promises were made. Few were kept. I was born into incredible privilege. My birth was winning a lottery. The only thing special about me happens to be the fact that I had the good fortune to be born to the right parents.”

“I dunno, Nut. Not everypony is cut from the same cloth. I see fabrics of all kinds, Nut. Rough cottons, scratchy wools, and smooth silk.”

“I am not a fabric, I am a unicorn.”

“Nut, you’re a tweed. A fabric that is horribly out of fashion that nopony loves, but a few desperate holdouts keep the passion for it alive. Why? Nopony knows.”

It took all of his effort not to smile, and he didn’t dare to turn around and look at Miss Maple. Such an act would be his undoing. Sometimes, she had a remarkable turn of phrase, and she could be so witty. But there were other moments where she was so vulgar, so crude, so crass. He rather liked her in her current mood, but her moods changed with all of the suddenness of a shifting storm.

“One day, this stuffy, uptight unicorn arrives. He’s a student, just got accepted into the university, and this unicorn, he exudes class. Not socialite class, but class. He comes into our humdrum lives, and he has standards. He expects the very best, and even worse, he expects everypony around him to be their very best. Soon, the whole damned neighborhood is twenty-percent snootier. Some of us even eat with napkins. We’re inspired to be better ponies, for some reason. Why do you suppose that is, Nut?”

“Oh, I have no earthly idea,” he replied without hesitation.

“It doesn’t matter about winning the lottery, as you put it. Some ponies are born noble, and it isn’t about pedigree. Just look at Mrs. Oleander. Tell me she’s not a noble. And then there’s you, Nut. Make no mistake, you were born noble, and born to noble parents. See, that’s the difference. Now, can you trust a crippled pegasus to look after your ward while she’s sleeping? Sooner or later, Nut, you’re going to have to leave her. You’ll have class, or a lecture, or a job, or something, and you have to trust somepony.”

“I do suspect that her father, Hickory, would be quite upset if he knew where his daughter slept. I feel guilty, Miss Maple.” For a moment, he considered pouring himself another glass of rye, but then thought better of it. While he knew he was welcome, he didn’t wish to wear upon Miss Maple’s hospitality.

She leaned back in her hot-pink velvet chair, which was covered in tiny, glossy black hairs. He heard her sigh, and he watched her phantom reflection trapped in the window pane. For perhaps a second, he thought her beautiful, desirable even, but the moment was fleeting. He was quick to recover himself and corral all of his feelings.

“I shan’t be gone for too long. At least I hope not. Will you be okay without your legs?”

She pffted once, then twice, and blew a soft raspberry before saying, “I’ll be fine. For a bit. I planned to sleep, actually. A nap might be nice. Go on, Nut. Lock the door behind you. Everything will be fine. Formula four-seventy-seven seems to be having the desired effect, but I might skip out on the poppy extracts entirely with the next batch.”

“I’ll be off, then. Miss Maple, for whatever it is worth, I do trust you with my ward.” He paused, and found that he wanted to say more, but words felt far too dangerous now. Miss Maple was clearly under the influence; she had imbibed a fair bit. While not helpless, she was vulnerable.

Properly liquored up, Black Maple was the most dangerous creature that Nut knew of.

It had cooled considerably, and now the fog was descending upon the islands of the Lower City. Overhead, beyond the fog, the sky was neither grey, nor blue, but some shade of blah in between. Babbling streams of water poured from overflowing gutters and every wall glistened with droplets of moisture.

In the middle of the lane, gulls fought a pitched battle over a rat carcass.

A drenched griffon was lighting the gas streetlights that held the darkness at bay. A fond smile brought out the best features of Nut’s face, and he found himself hurrying his approach so that he might say hello. He knew this griffon, and for a time, they had worked together, doing odd jobs as a team.

“A fine how do you do, Erasmus,” he said. “Getting the lights on early?”

The griffon paused in his task to reply, “Storms blowing in, Mister Nut. Pressure is dropping. Can you feel it? Temperature is plummeting. It’ll blow a gale before midnight.”

“Oh… bother.” It seemed that his ward’s first night in the city would be a memorable one, and Nut found himself gripped with concern.

“The poor sods that live in the marina will provide a hot meal for the fish tonight,” Erasmus remarked. “Expect floods. High tides. The streets will be a mess come morning.”

“Do stay safe, Erasmus.”

“You as well, Mister Nut.”

“Just Nut, if you please. Mister Nut sounds so silly.”

“Go about your business, Mister Nut. There’s maybe an hour or two before things get interesting. After that, everything’ll worsen. I must finish up, so I can get back to the lighthouse.”

“Congratulations on getting that job, Erasmus. I must be going.”

“Later, Mister Nut.”

At one point, in the not-to-distant past, the University of Vanhoover’s biology department had been a cannery and a vast steamworks that kept the industrial machinery going at all hours of the day and night. It wasn’t a pretty school—in fact, it was an incredible eyesore—but looks were deceiving. There was no better place to study biology in all of Equestria.

The campus appeared to be in the middle of preparations for the storm. Shutters were closed, things left outside were secured, tied down, and covered in tarps. The department zeppelin was about to be undocked, so that it might fly above the storm where it would be in no danger. Covers were secured over the marine pools, which were fragile, experimental ecosystems. Over in the marina, the department’s many boats and watercraft were secured.

Most of the students were gone, off to enjoy summer vacation. Extra credit was offered during the summer, as well as advancement courses, but not many students took advantage of these. Just a dedicated few took advantage of what was offered, and Nut was one of them. Many had departed not to vacation, but in search of pay.

Just as the winds changed direction, Nut ducked into the greenhouse wing, which just so happened to be connected to the administration offices. The transition took a moment to adjust to, as it was quite warm and humid in the greenhouses. Temperatures hovered near the eighty degree mark, and the air was warmed by chemically-assisted composting.

There was an atrocious stink lurking amongst the greenery.

A songbird orchid sang, no doubt hoping to lure in a songbird to eat. Nut wondered if the orchid had fed recently, but had no way of knowing. This wasn’t his department, nor his responsibilities. Though he did occasionally study some of the plants here. He passed the hiccuping hydrangeas. Why did they hiccup? What function could that possibly serve? It was a great mystery. But hiccup they did, and sometimes, for reasons unknown, they caused hiccups in others.

Every plant in this particular greenhouse made sound of some kind.

A silverweed sneezed, a great, wheezy blast, and sent a cloud of pollen in his direction. Undeterred by the plant’s brazen sexual advances, Nut moved between the rows, pushing past various leaves and fronds to reach the exit at the other end. Trilliums trilled, singing in harmony with one another, which was fascinating because they did not possess auditory organs. One of the trilliums was quite a little diva, and her voice stood out above the others.

Showoff, he thought to himself.

“Mama? Mama!”

He gave that plant a wide berth as the cries became, “Papa! Papa!” The forget-me-not had a way to lure in ponies and other intelligent creatures. He was far too strong willed to be influenced by mere tricks, but others were waylaid by this predatory plant. The pollen was highly sought after by alchemists, who made powerful sleeping draughts and other sleep-related curatives. Surgeons occasionally used it to put patients under.

“Papa, no! Don’t leave me, Papa!”

“Bugger off!” Nut said as he moved himself a safe distance away.

Forget-me-nots had no direct means to bring actual harm, but sleeping ponies and other creatures made excellent meals for passing, roaming predators. Blood made excellent fertiliser, as did rotting carcasses. Many of these plants fed on decaying corpses, which was the reason for the extra-special, extra-stinky compost.

Nut was glad to pass through the door, and into the next greenhouse.

“That is quite a sordid tale,” Sterling Note said while he puffed on his pipe. “Quite a tale indeed, young Nut.” The greying, silver-hued unicorn leaned back in his overstuffed chair, lifted up a snifter of brandy, coughed, cleared his throat a bit, but he did not drink. The brandy remained at the ready.

There were samples of all kinds on the massive study table, including some from Nut. Rolls of film, some of his study journals, and other things were strewn out and left in disarray after a cursory examination by Sterling Note. Susan stood by the roaring fire, a silent sentinel awaiting service.

“Trolls, you say. Posing as harmless vegetables.”


“Merciful love of alicorns, what is the world evolving into?” Sterling’s heavy jowls quivered, and at last, he allowed himself a sip of brandy. “Trolls are bad enough as they currently are. But to pass themselves off as vegetables… what’s next? And those mimics posing as books in the archives. You’re gaining a reputation, Nut.”

“Perhaps I am, but I am the observer. Not the cause.”

“Oh, indeed.” Warmed by brandy, Sterling Note puffed away contentedly on his pipe, and never once did his keen gaze stray from Nut. “You brought back a specimen from that alicorn-forsaken backwater.”

This gave Nut pause. “I beg your pardon, but I don’t recall procuring a troll and returning with it.”

“Oh bugger the trolls. By the way, what do you recommend regarding that matter? You failed to mention that.”

“A full expedition. Well-funded. Large. As many students as conceivably possible. Safety in numbers, you know.” Nut took a sip of his black coffee, was thoughtful for a moment, and then added, “We need to know how they breed. I foresee potential agricultural applications. We should get a joint expedition going with another school that has a farming science division. I am still having ideas. There is a great deal of potential.”

“Oh, I quite agree. Capital good idea, Nut. A cooperative venture with another school.”

“Geologists might be useful,” Nut suggested. “We don’t know what the vegetable trolls do for the soil.”

“I’ll contact Professor Maud Pie by telegram. Astounding idea. But I quite suspect that your motivations may have malicious intent, Nut.”

“I don’t know what you mean.” He hid his muzzle behind his steaming coffee mug and could no longer look his professor in the eye. “I assure you, my intentions are good.”

“Oh, codswallop, Nut. You want that bastion of ignorance overrun with scientists. You’re unsettled, Nut. You haven’t been right since you’ve entered my office. Since when do you drink black coffee? You’re a mess, my boy.”

“I have no idea what you’re going on about, Professor Note.”

With a grunt, Sterling Note hurled his half-finished snifter of brandy into the fireplace, which burst into a fiery bloom. “Feel something, damnit!” His heavy jowls quivered once more, and his ears reddened. “Forget the trolls. I’m more interested in the live specimen.”

Suddenly, Nut didn’t like where this was going.

“You’ve brought a pony from an intensely isolated community into the big city, Nut.” Sterling Note poured himself another snifter of brandy, and then poured a second for Nut as well. “A remarkable opportunity has presented itself.”

“I will not use my ward for reckless experimentation. Forget it.”

In response, Sterling Note waved his smoking pipe around. “No, no, nothing like that. That’d be barbaric. We’re not graverobbers, Nut. We’re ponies of science. Your ward is a fascinating opportunity to study social evolution. I want you to take notes. Gather data. You will observe her every action, her every interaction, and document her progress and integration into advanced society.”

“Professor, I am uncertain if that falls within my specialisation—”

“You’ll do it anyway, Nut. This data is too valuable to pass up. This is a scientific goldmine. You understand passive observation better than anypony I know. For whatever reason, you blend into the background. Make detailed notes in that way that you do, with equal parts observation and speculation. Spare no detail. Document everything. Do as I say.”

“But I—”

“But nothing,” Sterling Note grunted. “I used my good name to get you accepted here. I opened doors for you, Nut. Nevermind your background that I am aware of now. In you, I saw endless potential. So do as I say.”

“But I’m biased—”

“Stow it.”

“No matter how it might appear, I am emotionally involved in all of this. I have feelings. My ability to be objective is compromised. Any facts that I present will be distorted—”

“Who cares?” Sterling Note bellowed. “Nopony cares, Nut! For all of your faith in science, there is no purity. That’s a myth. A lifetime from now, you’ll be gone. Dead. But your data will live on. It will be picked apart, gone over, picked apart again, and debated endlessly. It is not the gatherer that determines the purity of data, but time and refinement. New understandings will be made as all of this is sorted out. The sorting might actually be more important in the long run than the data.”

Silenced, Nut sipped his coffee, and thought about what had just been said.

“Science is about what we leave behind for others, Nut.” Sterling Note was soft-spoken now, and calm. “You’re young. I’m old. You don’t know it, but I am trying to help you leave a legacy behind. Let the details be settled in debate. Others will endlessly argue your biases and your emotional involvement. That too, is data. You have a rare gift for detail, Nut. It shows in your notes, your drawings, and how you interact with the world. You will leave behind a treasure trove of information, and countless others will benefit from it. A generation or two from now, whole new understandings might be gleaned. Our work is to gather, Nut. We gather and stow away, so that future generations may prosper.”

The black coffee made Nut’s throat go tight, and he struggled to hold back his rictus. There was something more to this, something unsaid, something withheld. Another sip of coffee made him put the mug down upon the table, and he lifted up the snifter of brandy. Yes, Sterling Note was holding something back. Something important.

“Well,” he said softly, “we’ve covered altruism. Now, what other motivations might be at work here?”

Sterling Note cleared his throat a few times, coughed, puffed on his pipe, and shifted his bulk around in his chair. “Nut… are you aware of the science reviews in the newspapers?”

“In general, I avoid the newspapers,” was his blunt response.

“Well.” The old professor coughed, wheezed for a bit, and sipped his brandy when he was no longer in danger of choking. “A number of our best and brightest also keep notes. Journals. They document what they do, and some of it is quite interesting. Interesting enough that ponies will read about it in the newspapers. Interesting enough that ponies will donate money to the university, so that these projects can be funded. A few of our scholars have achieved a sort of celebrity. I am positive that the residents of Vanhoover would love to read about a filly fresh off the farm finding her way in our fair city.”

“Bloody what?”

“Now now, be reasonable, Nut. This isn’t a carnival sideshow. We’re just making the data available to the public in its raw form. Think of it as a sort of massive peer review, of a sort. Ponies will gain interest. They may find themselves attracted to science. Others will want to fund our noble cause. Others still will keep reading for the serial adventure. Everypony benefits, Nut.” Sterling Note gulped his brandy, and when he spoke again, his voice was smoother, less raspy.

“We’re in financial trouble, Nut. The school is just barely keeping its head above water. Every little bit helps. This is but one way, one way among many. Please, try to be reasonable. Try to see the bigger picture. This is equine drama, Nut. Others will be interested. They will buy every paper, hoping to see her progress. To see her grow and develop. We have a unique opportunity, Nut.”

“Won’t this change the outcome of her development?” he asked. “We have no idea what mass observation will do to the outcome. Others may interfere. Celebrity status might be a hindrance.”

“All of that is data, Nut. Every bit of it is important, in some form or another.” Tilting his head back, the old professor emptied his glass in a single gulp.

“So then we study the social evolution of celebrity?” Nut found this conversation increasingly at odds with his own ideals. Even worse, he was seeing his dear, trusted professor in a new light.

“If you say yes, you will go on to have a promising academic career, and no doubt professional career as well. Your ward’s celebrity will also be your own. Having the interest of socialites with bits to burn would only be a benefit to you. Your dream of those alicorn-forsaken islands might actually be possible. And all you have to do is do what you do naturally. Take notes. Write in your journal. Make observations, ground them in reality, and occasionally speculate about the nature of things. Be reasonable. Everypony benefits.”

Suddenly, Nut found that he shared a new understanding with Black Maple’s employees. It was a profound moment, a terrible moment, a moment for which there were no words. This… this was a practical arrangement, an exchange of money for services rendered, but he could not help but compare it to a sort of academic prostitution. It left him feeling dirty, unsettled, and unclean. A part of him wanted to walk out, to get up and just walk away, but another part of him saw the benefit. This might very well make his future dreams possible. But was this unpleasantness worth it?

What might Black Maple say?

He already knew.

Yes, he already knew. She believed that all of life was whoring, and the real trick was finding a means to sell your body in a way that made you happy with the least amount of shame. Or at least, was the least unpleasant. For they all had to exchange their bodies for bits. At the time, when this discussion had taken place, he had vehemently disagreed with her. But now, sitting here in Sterling Note’s office, he saw the truth of things.

The unpleasant truth of things.

Life in Canterlot had not prepared him for this. Commoners no doubt had to endure this every day, similar circumstances at least, and now he found himself living the very same sort of life they had to endure. The struggle to survive. How one survived was just as important as survival, or so he thought. Since coming here, his life had been a process of coming undone. He frequented a brothel and was well-loved there, even though he never partook in anything but the food and drink.

He did odd jobs to make bits, and worked as a mechanic.

So far, his survival had been relatively straightforward, but recently, infinite complexity had been introduced. He’d made himself responsible for the life of another. Why had he done that? To prove that he could? No, that couldn’t be it, could it? He wished that Black Maple were here, she would have insight about all of this. Precious insight.

Sterling Note was pouring more brandy while fighting back a cough.

It was true that the school was facing financial hardship. Recently, assets had been auctioned off to raise funds. Nut knew almost nothing about the financial situation though, and now felt keen regret over this matter. He couldn’t possibly know everything about all things, even though he very much wanted to.

“I will do as you ask, but with conditions,” he said at last.

“I’m listening,” the professor replied.

“These entries will not be scripted.” Leaning over the table, Nut allowed his eyes to narrow. “I will not be coerced to make them exciting, or full of things that draw readership. They will be incredibly dry, incredibly boring scientific entries, written in the most draconian scholarly manner that I can conceivably muster. I will spend hours perusing thesauri in search of the longest possible, most jejune, most archaic language to be found beneath the sun. Nothing will be embellished. Everything will be presented as it happens. Am I clear?”

“I would expect no less from you, Nut,” the older unicorn deadpanned.

“My integrity will not be compromised.”

“Nut, truth be told, I was already under a lot of pressure to get you publishing. I was told flat out that if by the end of the summer that I didn’t have you contributing, I’d be removed from the financial board. I’ve agonised over this. It’s kept me awake at night. This… this is too good an opportunity to pass up. School politics. I hope you’ll understand.”

Though he did not understand, Nut would find a way to survive this ecosystem.

“If this works out well,” Sterling Note said to Nut, “and I get offered a chair position, your star will rise, Nut. I’ll see to that. You… you are my most promising student, and I mean that. This is the game we’re forced to play, Nut. The cost of progress. I want to open doors for you, Nut, but to open those doors, I have to be able to reach them first.”

“All promises of greatness and door opening aside, my integrity will not be compromised. I cannot be bought. If I succeed, I would rather it be by my own merit.”

“Nut, my boy, success has nothing to do with merit. Life doesn’t work that way. Success is about who you know, and how well you understand the system, so you can rig it in your favour. Some of us cheat. Others ride on coattails. Some of us swallow our pride and play the game by its own rules, while foolishly holding on to the idea that once we reach the top, we’ll make up for our compromises by helping others.”

“Which are you, I wonder?” Nut asked. A sheathed sword still stung when striking.

After a long slurp of brandy, Sterling Note replied, “I was like you once. Young and full of ideas. I was going to reform education. I was going to change the system from within. All these years later, I wish I’d stuck with biology, and not academic politics. Beneficial changes have been made, but now I wonder if the price was worth it.”

For the first time in the conversation, Nut felt genuine pity for his professor.

“Hold on to your integrity, Nut. As much as you can, for as long as you can. Once it starts to slip away, it is very much like shifting sand in an hourglass. A little slips away, and you dismiss it. It doesn’t seem like much. But the hour passes, and all those little grains of sand slip away, and you find yourself left with very little as your hour nears its end.”

“Now you talk as if you’re dying,” Nut remarked.

“I am getting no younger, Nut. I have more days behind me than ahead.” The old greying unicorn shook his head. “When I was your age, or thereabouts, this school didn’t have a dedicated biology department. We shared space with the physics eggheads. This campus, all of it, every inch of it, has been my life’s work. I’ve fought for all of it. I slowly battled my way up the ranks, and everything that you see, I made it happen. I can’t help but feel that I’ve lost a bit of my soul in the process.”

“This… was… your Gallopagos, wasn’t it?”

“It was, Nut. They told me I was a fool.”

Uncertain of how he felt, Nut hung his head and stared down into his brandy.

“I was told there was no money to build a dedicated biology wing, so I engineered the purchase of this industrial plot. Everypony told me I was a damn fool, and that I would be the ruination of the school. But then I pointed out Vanhoover’s natural resources, namely, the ocean, and how much study could be accomplished here. It all started with marine biology. I brokered a deal with the seaponies for knowledge exchange. After that, I had momentum, my boy.”

“Why tell me this?” Nut asked.

“Learn from my mistakes, my boy. You want your Gallopagos. I wanted my biology department. Be wary of what it costs you.”

“I think we understand each other,” Nut said to his professor, though he wasn’t sure what he understood. “A storm brews. I should be heading home. I’ll leave my journals with you so they can be duplicated. Let me know how the photographs develop.”

“Sure thing, Nut.” The old unicorn coughed, then added, “Before you go, Nut… tell me, how would you feel about meeting the seaponies? A new liaison is needed. I can’t be out on the open water, or in damp places. Triggers my consumption, Nut. I plan to tell the board that you are my successor. I don’t trust anypony else to do it. Everypony wants to exploit the indiginous tribes that inhabit these waters. That can’t happen.”

Head bowed, Nut took a moment to consider his professor’s request…

A steady downpour drenched everything, and held all things dry with contempt. At the moment, it was difficult to tell if it were night or day, and only the watch in his pocket knew the truth. Susan protected him from the worst of it, but everything was simply wet. Life went on though, and the streets were fairly packed with creatures trying to finish their errands before the storm hit.

“Fresh salmon!” a griffoness fishmonger shouted. “Freshest salmon in all of Vanhoover!”

“Eel pies,” another shouted. “Piping hot eel pies! Just out of the oven! So hot it’ll burn the roof of your mouth to tatters! Eel pie!”

Nut moved among them, a common pony amidst commoners. He struggled to make ends meet, just like they did. Sometimes, he starved just a bit, just like they did. Since coming here, Nut had made their struggle his own. But all of that was about to change, and this, this bothered him a great deal. He’d made this choice with himself in mind, but it didn’t feel fair to subject Potato Blossom to all of this.

Of course, if she’d left home on her own, she might face worse.

“Maps of prosperity!” a pony hollered. “Every good job in the city! Immigrants, waste no time searching for work! Every job marked! Employment in twenty-four hours, guaranteed! Maps of prosperity! Get them now before I’m sold out!”

Nut found himself standing in front of the telegraph office. It was a small business that shared space with a book store, a tea shop, and an appliance repair center that promised the lowest rates in town. Above the shops were apartments, and the five-story building home to a great many families. Not an inch was wasted in this city.

For a brief moment, he found himself considering explosively shattering the map-seller’s jaw.

That would not do.

To enter the telegraph office, to go beyond the doorway, to cross the threshold would mean a compromise in his values. His ideals. He thought about his long conversation with his professor, and the cost of one’s values. Circumstances had conspired against him, and now, he found himself responsible for another. His own values meant nothing if she suffered.

He was a noble of House Eccentrica.

His storied bloodline could be traced back to one of the Founders of Equestria; Smart Cookie.

This was his shame, and he hated it. Everything about it. When brought up in conversation, on the rare times he did mention it, he spoke of it with pride. But it was lies, all lies, and he was deeply ashamed of it. He had come here, determined to live by his own means, and to make his way in life on his own terms. But, try as he might, he could never sever the connection completely. He always had a net beneath him as he traversed this tightrope. All it took was getting in touch with his parents, and he would be saved if there was trouble.

And oh how he hated it.

Teeth clenched tight with self-loathing, he pushed open the door and put an end to his grand social experiment…

Author's Note:

Historical hoofnote: Prosperity maps are an old scam in big cities that targeted immigrants. Upon arrival at the marked location, a few things could happen. They could be beat up and mugged. Or worse, beat up, abducted, and trafficked. I only mention this for the sake context, because we see this happening in this very chapter.

This entire chapter is, in fact, all about exploitation. It happens in many forms.