• Published 9th Sep 2019
  • 1,139 Views, 25 Comments

So The Other May Live - Georg



The most difficult decision a father can make is which of his children must die so the other may live.

  • ...
5
 25
 1,139

2. The Life We Make

So The Other May Live
The Life We Make


Hospitals still gave Martel a cutting sensation deep in his gut, places of death where he had watched his own grandfather die, and then his father. His own near-miss had been only a few months ago, a tightness in the chest that had been examined and pondered by several wise minds with concerned expressions and formal lab coats before being passed off as perhaps a ‘minor’ heart attack, much as one might consider having a boulder dropped on your head a minor mountain attack.

Pills every morning. Pills every evening. Pills he had to surreptitiously carry in a small pocket sewn into his suit jacket, just in case.

Thankfully, Green Grass no longer needed pills of any sort. He ate like he had been starved for his first moons of life, and could wheedle the nurse into extra applesauce or bits of banana with one plaintive look from his deep blue eyes. The burning curiosity of his previous existence also grew, until Martel had to bring an earth pony locksmith into the house in order to get every openable door or cabinet a proper latch.

Today, he was exercising his curiosity on an entirely new and different thing.

With great effort, the little colt had pushed a chair in the waiting room up next to the window, then managed to climb up it so he could see into the room beyond. There were a half-dozen cribs filled with infants all wrapped up in colorful blankets and poking their noses into the world, and one in particular that Martel could not keep from looking at.

“Sister,” said Green Grass quite plainly, leaning up against the window with his hooves awkwardly braced to either side of the slippery glass.

“Sister,” confirmed Martel. He rested a hoof gently on Green Grass’ knit cap, which the child still refused to take off for any reason, and added, “Brother.”

“Brthr,” managed the little colt, who likewise did not take his eyes off the snow-white tuft of mane that stuck out of the nearby crib. “Mama?”

“Your mother is fine,” said Martel again, just as he had every time Green Grass asked. The words were not really for the benefit of his son, but for himself. Mere words could not encompass his own situation.

And yet… Whenever Martel felt his ire rising, he could not help but put himself into her shoes. He was not the young stallion he once was, newly thrust into the company with a wife just as bruskly assigned to him by their families. There had been no time for what might have passed for love during those years. There was responsibility, and duty, and two awkward young ponies trying to figure out what parts fit where in their lives, as well as the bedroom. And then there were three, a small one who cried and pooped and left them both in tears at night for no reason at all. An organic machine with no operating manual and no sense of timing, who they had both made with their fumbling and forced togetherness. Then there was another, a filly who could twist her father’s heart into a high-tensile spring with a single glance, and then another son, who might as well not have had a horn for as much as he cared to experiment with noises instead. He tooted, and whistled, and chirped, and made all the griffon customers clutch their hearts with cuteness, bright enough to speak their language practically before his own.

And then came Green Grass. The strangeness of Spring’s pregnancy. The diagnosis. The months of constant worry. The birth where both mother and foal were nearly lost. Endless trips to the brink of medical disaster with their tiny offspring, and his wife huddled by his side. Martel thought he needed to be strong for his son, but even though he refused to admit it out loud, he knew his wife needed his support just as much. She would have heard of the mythical doctor when he did, since they had been nearly inseparable during Greenie’s constant travails, from pre- to post-partum. Would she have leapt to the same conclusion as he did? That the doctor needed a sacrifice to save the life of a troubled foal? And could she have endangered her own life in such a reckless fashion to provide—

“Ah, they told me you were in here.” Doctor Gentle Arrival swept into the observation room, not quite as filled with energy as the first time Martel had seen him, but still making good speed for as rumpled and fatigued as he seemed. “I just finished up with with a pegasus patient, and thought I’d stop by and congratulate you on the birth of your daughter, since I have a few minutes in my schedule.”

“And to examine my son again,” said Martel, who had barely acknowledged the older stallion’s presence while he regained his composure.

He knew this moment would inevitably arrive. All the practice into what he was going to say to the doctor, all the words laid out neat array. The preparation would be disastrous if Martel lost control, just as if he were concentrating on creating a unicorn working and lost his focus. A physician would be able to read him like a book if he let his emotions through to the surface. He needed to be the steel. Unbroken. Unyielding.

“Well… as long as we both are here, it will save you a trip,” admitted the doctor. He boosted Green Grass up in his colorless magical field and began to go through the motions of a regular examination.

Martel held his tongue until the last poke and prod was complete, and the doctor sat Greenie back down in the chair. Only then did he hazard a few words, picked carefully from months of consideration.

“I was wrong.”

“Well, not as wrong as you could have been,” said the doctor, bending down to pack his instruments back into his little black bag with Greenie right there, trying to poke his tiny nose into to see what all the sparkling things were. “I’ll admit, the procedure was far more difficult than even I expected, but I never could have done it without your son’s resilience. I nearly lost him more than once.” The doctor took a breath with the bag half-closed. “Myself, as well. If I had known the risks going in, I never would have attempted the procedure. In hindsight, it was foolish of me, but it paid off.”

It was a lie. It could only be a lie. There were few ponies who could pass a lie off as truth under Martel’s experienced eye, and the doctor most certainly believed he was one of that small, select group. Oh, most of what he was saying was certainly the truth. Martel had met with the doctor after Green Grass’ procedure, if only briefly. It had been a chilling sight to see the cocksure physician brought to such a level of crushing fatigue. Far different than the doctor’s cheerful demeanor now, after what must have been one of his usual procedures with the troubled foal he mentioned. But there was a sense of triumph in Gentle’s voice when he reminisced, and Martel knew beyond a doubt that his son would not be the last to undergo such a dangerous process.

Or as a chill ran up Martel’s spine, perhaps his son had not been the first.

Green Grass gave out a little disappointed squeak when the doctor closed his bag and latched the magical hasp, although Doctor Gentle remained kneeling to run one hoof through the little colt’s mane and pat him on the head where a horn should have been. “One of my most unlikely yet successful procedures, I believe. After the procedure, I had not expected his essence to be so pure for his tribe, even though it is near the bottom of the normal thaumic range. As an earth pony with that level of magic, it’s doubtful that he’s ever going to master the Cornucopia effect, but he should have a normal life anyway. He probably won’t even require supplemental nutrition.”

“When Green Grass was born, I was expected…” After all of the effort Martel had placed into building an inviolate wall across his emotions, he could feel the cracks begin already. “Our family is pure,” he managed. “No worse lie. Nopony is pure. My family was certainly not pure. There are a dozen earth ponies in my family tree, perhaps more. Our roots go deep, and I had grown blind to what other families had done for their vaunted purity,” he nearly spat.

“During the tests which my wife endured before his birth, we discovered his tribe. From there, the whispers began. How much easier it would be if he were just… lost. Why would we struggle to bring one of them into this world? I had to wonder if any of their families had made that terrible decision. To cast aside what they labored for, much as pure unicorn families had done in darker times.

“Even after his birth, one of the doctors told us to take him outside and bury him,” stated Martel bluntly. “Struggling for life, with needles and tubes in our child, and he wanted to bury him.” Martel took a deep breath to quash the snarling fury that itched to emerge. “I quite nearly struck him. Only later did I realize he was an earth pony, and maybe…”

The silence stretched long and cool in the office until Doctor Gentle admitted, “It is a legitimate custom among some of their tribes.” He continued to stroke Green Grass’ mane, seemingly unperturbed by the revelation. “Pegasi wash their newborn in fresh snowmelt, after all.”

Leaving Green Grass on the floor to gnaw ineffectually at the locked bag, Doctor Gentle stood up and looked Martel right in the eyes. “You did the right thing when you shamed me into performing the procedure. Never apologize for saving a life. If I ever have children of my own, I hope that I will be just as strident in their defense.”

“I was not wrong for doing that,” said Martel, trying to maintain eye contact. “Several months ago, I blamed you for something you did not do.”

“My procedures are moral,” he responded, only to have Martel wave away his objection.

“I don’t care to know about your precious procedures.” Martel took a short, hesitant breath. “I was desperate, and would have done anything to save my son, moral or not. I have never been driven to that edge before. You did not push me there. I pushed myself. And I may…”

Returning his tired gaze to the room beyond the window, full of cribs containing the hopes and dreams of their parents, Martel pressed forward. “After Green Grass’ birth, we were not going to have any more foals. The risk was too great. My wife had a contraceptive spell placed on her, one of the more reliable spells which we expected to last until either of us could have surgery. With all the turmoil of our lives, the more permanent option was delayed, and postponed, until—” He swallowed and gestured at the tiny fluff of pure-white mane that stuck out of a nearby crib labeled “FROST CHANDLER.”

“And you thought…” started Doctor Gentle, only to have Martel interrupt again. The words were bitter enough without having some other pony speak them.

“You? At first. There was another possibility. The longer I thought, the less likely it seemed. We already had two healthy colts and a filly. What motive would she have? She knew nothing of your procedure before the birth of our son, so she could not possibly have considered the situation we found ourselves in. But who could be so malicious, so cruel as to cast a fertility spell on a mare who already had such severe issues with a birth? The resulting pregnancy would be sure to have even more severe issues. Issues that only one pony in all of Equestria could possibly want. Or so I thought at the time.

“So I pulled strings, begged some very powerful ponies, and managed to wrangle an analyzer for one day. Tricky piece of equipment, very rare. There’s only three of them in Equestria, total, as I’m sure you know. I had to work in some of the company’s backlogged plans we never had time or money to do as an excuse, paid a mountain of bits in fees, then more bits in bribes to keep the operator’s mouth shut. Then I had to lie to my wife. Believe me, that was the hardest. In the end, the results were about as solid as thaumic analysis goes. Somepony, the same unicorn mare in fact, had broken her protective spell and put a fertility spell on her.”

The silence was crushing. Martel rested his head against the window and breathed in and out through his teeth until the doctor spoke.

“I understand far more than you know. I’ve seen the way mothers look at me. Green Grass is your son, but he will always be a part of her flesh. Mother and child have a bond that stallions can never experience. To lose a part of themselves in that way…” Now it was the doctor’s turn to take a long, slow breath, and he moved up beside Martel to look through the window as well. “I’ve made it my life’s work to prevent that pain,” he continued. “There is a great work which—”

“No,” said Martel flatly. He took a long look at his daughter, a fluffy unicorn as brilliantly white as new-fallen snow, who wriggled in her sleep beyond the glass. “I have my wife, who I trust. My son, who I nearly lost. And a new foal. For all of that, I am grateful beyond words. I am too close to even think about participating in this ‘great work’ which your supporters seem so excited about. My other son. Her twin. He was taken. For that, I can never forgive what you have done, no matter what the result. No matter that I begged you, pleaded with you.”

“Your wife could not have survived until birth with both embryos,” said Doctor Gentle, who still had not moved from the window.

“Perhaps not. Or perhaps. Did you wonder how my wife held up so well under this pregnancy while Green Grass gave her such issues?”

The mention of his name made the curious little foal on the floor look up from where he had been attempting to break into the doctor’s black bag. Despite the unicorn workings holding it closed, he had given it a good try, and the handle was slick with saliva from his ineffectual chewing.

“A promising new product which combines nutritional and thaumic reinforcement,” continued Martel. “Sold by a small company with no financing, teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. Few pregnant mares need that kind of support, even fewer could afford their product at the prices they needed to charge to remain profitable. Many of the ones who would need it, don’t know until it is too late.”

“You purchased the supplement for your wife?” asked the doctor.

“I purchased the company,” said Martel. “Unfortunately, we did not discover the product until after the procedure, by which time it was too late to save my son.”

“I did save your son,” insisted the doctor.

“I know.” Martel heaved a brief sigh. “There is only so much the supplement could do. It never would have been able to save Green Grass’ life. He would have died without your procedure. For that, you have my eternal thanks. But my other son…”

There was a clattering noise from underhoof as Green Grass headed off in the direction of the chairs in the back of the room, seeking some sort of childish entertainment among their shadowed recesses and rows of chair legs. Despite his youngest surviving son’s obvious sounds of joyous exploration, Martel could not look away from the room full of cribs and all of the innocent foals inside. Their reflections in the glass showed over Frost’s sleeping form, as if two ghostly protectors were keeping watch throughout her slumber, one specter large and somber, the other smaller with his face fixed in a mixture of sorrow and stoic determination.

“I will support you,” Martel said after a time. “My company has resources which you will find quite useful. I will even permit you to periodically examine Green Grass to see how he is developing. But I will never see you again. I will not talk with you, or work directly with you for any reason under Sun or Moon. Every time I see your face, I will be reminded of my unborn son. It is not your fault. It is just the way things are.”

The doctor nodded. “I understand. Will you be keeping the supplement company open?”

“Yes. Not everypony will benefit, of course.” He heaved a short, labored breath. “After all, Pollychan’s Disorder displays symptoms in a spectrum depending on how much essence flow blockage there is from mother to foal during development. Foals with resulting weak essences may require daily supplements for their entire lives, while those with flaws too deep will still require your services.”

After a few silent moments broken only by the thump and clunk of Green Grass playing among the chairs, the doctor stated, “There are those who would use such a product to squeeze every bit they can get out of desperate parents.”

“Yes.” Martel touched one hoof against the glass with a quiet click. “That is why I will continue to control the company. I suspect it will run at a net loss until I pass into the shadowlands, but I don’t care. It will save lives.”

“That is what we all intend,” said Doctor Gentle.

“Each in our own way,” said Martel. “Goodby.”

Martel made no effort to see the doctor off when he began to pick up his things and prepare to leave. It was far easier just to keep looking at his newest daughter through the window and try his best not to think. The faint click of the closing door threatened to unleash the floodgates of his pent-up rage and frustration, but he thought of the pills in his coat pocket and his helpless wife until calm once again filled his mind. Throwing a fit would not be productive. It would be a childish exercise in futility, and stood a possibility of triggering yet another heart attack.

Lies.

There are some doors that should remain closed, some secrets that deserve to remain forever hidden from Moon and Sun. As a father, he wanted to know what had happened with his wife’s pregnancy. That had only revealed another door which he was determined to keep closed, at all costs.

As an entrepreneur, Martel wanted to know what Doctor Gentle Arrival had done with his son. Sons.

As a father, he forced himself to remain ignorant.

Life. The chain of life. From father to son to grandson and beyond. There were always broken links in that chain, and worse, males could only play a supporting role. Mares were the ponies who bore the terrible weight of every link, ensuring life and families would continue instead of dwindling to a halt.

Spring had held Green Grass in her belly for months, endured the resulting risk without complaint, remained silent when other families ‘implied’ it would be better for everypony if he were simply discarded like some sort of messy trash. Much like her husband, Spring Fresh was a stubborn pony, and to attempt to change her mind was an exercise in growing frustration. How deep had those supposedly ‘kind’ words from other unicorn mothers cut into her own motherhood? What kind of commitment had she gone through in order to deliberately break the contraception spell on her own body, then use a fertility spell, a working that had its own substantial risks?

Or worse, had she done it for him, out of some misguided drive of a subordinate to satisfy her husband’s desire for an heir to the company? If so, she had severely misunderstood him, much like he had underestimated her.

Spring was anything but subordinate to his will. Theirs was a marriage of equals, with each taking their own roles where they were strongest, and stepping back where they were weak. That was why he spoke with Doctor Gentle Arrival on her behalf, and why he had bent to her request to purchase the supplement company, so fewer mares would have to suffer as she had. He owned that tiny company now, but she ran it, and the decisions she made were final. He may have been the expert at unicorn workings and all things mechanical, but Spring had motivated the scientists at the supplement company into action when their morale had been lowest, and they practically worshipped her every move from then on.

Actions and reaction. They were an integral part of creating unicorn workings, and applied as much to the magic as to the ponies involved. The same instincts that could drive a device experimenter to dive for cover moments before the experiment blew to bits also worked for seeing the tiny twitches in a pony’s coat or the way they would shift their eyes while talking. And Martel was extremely good at experimentation. Where to poke, where to pull, how much stress a component could take, what effect happened when certain criteria were established. How he could be so aware of others and their reactions and still so blind to the mare that he shared his life with…

It deserved thought, although while he stood there in the darkened room, looking at his daughter while listening to his son thump and bump through the chairs behind him, those thoughts were difficult to capture.

Still, time passed despite his wishes, and Martel tore himself away from the enticing vision of watching Frost sleep. Flowers. Mares appreciated flowers. It had been so long since he had given his wife roses that he could not remember what kind she liked. Perhaps a dozen of each variety, an extravagant display of love and appreciation for the words he had never said and could not say out loud. Admittedly, that would be a small thing compared to the gifts she had given him from her own body, but one has to start somewhere.

“Son, it’s time to go,” he called out. “We want to give your mother a hug before we go home for the night, don’t you?”

The clattering among the folding chairs grew more intense and Green Grass emerged, covered with dust and trailing cobwebs, but no worse for wear. He galloped over to the stroller, giving it a firm butt with his head and making it shift positions.

“Sitr,” he declared before rearing up in front of the foal compartment and spitting out what he had been carrying in his mouth. “Sister,” he repeated, much more intelligibly.

“You scamp,” said Martel, stifling a laugh. He brushed off the cobwebs, scooped his son up in his magic, and tucked him into the foal’s compartment on the stroller, removing the item which Green Grass had put inside.

It was a stethoscope, which struck Martel as odd that one of the doctors would leave such a valuable piece of medical equipment behind the chairs in the pediatric observation room. For a moment, he thought it looked suspiciously like the stethoscope that Doctor Gentle had tucked into his little black bag, but that was highly unlikely. His bag had been closed and locked with unicorn wards. Far more likely some medical student had just dropped the expensive tool, and Green Grass seemed to enjoy it, so Martel slipped it into the foal’s bag on the back of the stroller and proceeded on their way to the hospital florist.

There was much still left to be done for his family.

Comments ( 18 )

There we go. Hm... comments are a little thin.

We shall make these comments less thin!

If I ever have children of my own, I hope that I will be just as strident in their defense.

There were a lot of great Easter eggs for the Continuum here, but this one was fantastic in the emotional response it got from me.

In any case, fantastic look at Greenie's parents. One of the better parts of the Traveling Tutor series was how Martel went from obstacle to ally, and this showcases just how dedicated he is to his family. And why it took so much for him to see Green as anything more than the infant he had to coax into taking his medicine. Great work. Thank you for it.

Great story. Although given this is the Triptychverse I can't help but think that having a Earth Pony raised in a primarily unicorn family would be something to see given the nature of the secret.

Dan

Does Greenie know? That's the kind of thing a parent would be ashamed to tell and them not finding out until a deathbed confession in a "very special episode."

9826954 Adult Green Grass would not know, because this would not be something his parents would tell him. (Honestly, can you imagine Martel having that kind of heart-to-heart?)
9826873 I would presume an earth pony with that low level of earth pony magic *might* just barely be able to hear the Song if he holds still and listens. Remember, Pinkie Pie could not hear anything until nearly the end of Tryp.
9826172 The poor kid is doomed to be overwhelmed by his parents, under a lot of pressure.
9826153 I've come to the conclusion that my silly humorous pieces will get far more comments than something this serious. But it's nice that I *can* write this serious if I have to, without my usual approach. I *have* written heartbreaking sentences in various stories:
Scootaloo jumped. in Letters From a Little Princess Monster
“Yes, Mister Rich.” (as above)
Beet Salad held onto his brother and wept. in Buggy and the Beast

Some very rich character work here, and an interesting meeting of fictional worlds!


9826873
Given the comments in this story about how Green Grass would likely never master the Cornucopia Effect following the transfer of Unicorn essence, I’m guessing that he’s much like Pinky when it comes to Earth Pony abilities... that would make things much easier for an Earth Pony among unicorns when it comes to their secret.

9827140

9827214

That's true but I think at lest some Earth Ponies would be paranoid enough that they'd want to try and keep an eye on him just to make sure he doesn't give away the secret to his family

Looks like Green Grass is going to be a troublemaker in this shared universe as he is fully in yours.

Still trying to grips with the decision Martel made with the doctor, and I wonder how much he told Spring.

9827214 Yes, but. Remember, Pinkie would have died at birth without Doctor Gentle's procedure. Green Grass lived for over a year after delivery before his syndrome was catching up with him, therefore Greenie has more earth pony magic in him, and less unicorn magic.

9827514 We've had this discussion in the comments of the blog. I really don't believe the Secret can possibly be as secret-secret as optimistically proposed. I'm of the opinion that it is more like the Secret Rituals of the Masons or the Mormon Church, with pepper on it. So there may be a few books out there 'Earth Pony Magic For Dummies' and the like that tell about parts of the Secret and have chunks of made-up things too. I can picture Green Grass with one of the books and a potted fern, muttering as he tries to get something to go green "There's got to be something I'm missing here."

I'd say he has just enough earth pony magic to 'register' with other earth ponies but not enough to do anything, while his unicorn magic is nearly completely passive, and only acts when he's in danger from other magic. Since he wears unicorn shoes and has a number of educational unicorn devices and tools in his vest, any unicorn who knows he's an earth pony will put that faint 'unicorny' feeling off as feedback from something he's carrying, and any unicorn who *doesn't* know he's an earth pony will pick up the feedback and figure his natural magic is probably underneath it somewhere. So an earth pony who meets him knows he's a really weak earth pony, and a unicorn who meets him 'knows' he's a really weak unicorn, *unless* he's not wearing his hat, in which case they're going to wonder.

9854693
Hm, thanks.
Though I'm not sure I follow why the Cake twins' example would tie tribal supremacists up in knots for essence flow reasons particularly, if I'm reading you correctly?

9854993 Easy. EACH of the twins get their essence from their mother, an earth pony who the pegasus and unicorn supremacists treat with disdain. And yet each of the twins has proven to be at least as strong as a pureblood of their type, or more. Kinda puts the kibosh on all that "Need to breed true in order to keep the blood from being diluted" and such crap. Then again, Harry Potter had much the same cognitive dissonance with pureblood families.

It does bring up a point. If the foal gets their essence from their mother of a different race, how is it therefore *transformed* into the type the foal can use? Things that make you go hm....

9855009
Ah! Thanks. :)

9855009 After watching Tirek just generically suck up any magic of any kind, I'm kinda in the camp that it's just like electromagnetic radiation, and merely comes in different wavelengths... but that with the right tricks you can change it into whatever wavelength you need. A magical photophore, so to speak.

Tirek just has all the magical chlorophylls, and can even use the gamma-radiation that is Discord's Chaos Magic... so that means Tirek evolved in a melted-down magical nuclear reaction in Ukraine... where they mine for Ukrainium to make nuclear bombs! :applejackconfused::pinkiecrazy:

9972354 Season 9 also showed he can suck up changeling magic, so even the magic black rock out in the changeling hive won't stop him.

10225477 Season 9 just liked to randomly hand out new powers to everyone without explanation. :facehoof:

Heyyyyy, it only took me two years to get around to reading this one! Anyway, good stuff as usual. Nice back story going on.

Login or register to comment