• Published 10th Oct 2021
  • 1,815 Views, 31 Comments

Suddenly Twilight Is The Dumb One - Jay Bear v2



Twilight’s still smart, it’s just that everypony else is smarter. She’d better find out why before her friends finish their spaceship.

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Thinkie Pie, Brainbow Dash, Adeptjack, Flutterbright, Singurarity...

It was the middle of the night when Twilight Sparkle woke up, and the sun was screaming.

She sat bolt upright. She was in her bed in the Golden Oak library, but the room around her was utterly transformed. Brilliant light through the window bathed every corner. A deafening roar shook everything around her. Shelved books thudded together.

Twilight stumbled to the window. Dawn was breaking (literally for a vase that shook off of her nightstand), but it was breaking in the west. Not on the horizon, either: the sun was rising in the middle of the forest. Plus, according to her clock, it was still four in the morning. Much too early for Princess Celestia to start the day.

That last fact, more than anything else, convinced her that this was not a real sunrise.

“Spi—“ she started, but then spotted her number one assistant still in his basket, snoring under a quilt. Somehow he’d slept through the tumult. Whatever this was, Twilight could handle it without him. She cast a protective spell over his basket to muffle the roar and light in case it got worse. A baby dragon needed his sleep.

The light began to die down, and Twilight could look at it without burning her eyes. Silhouetted ponies moved in the flicker. A pegasus swooped and dove. Another cowered on the ground. An earth pony whipped her ten-gallon hat over her head. A unicorn held a club in her magic. And Pinkie was, for some reason, pronking in place.

Her friends were under attack!

Twilight teleported outside and took flight, zooming towards the forest. Hollers and whoops grew louder. The stench of burnt earth, with hints of a latrine, filled the air. She landed in a fighting stance, withers down, back legs tensed, magic shield up.

Pinkie was singing. “Happy happy happy happy birthday birthday birthday birthday to to—“

“What’s happening?!” Twilight charged her horn, ready to blast. “Are the Combustion Cousins back?”

Pop!

The sound came from behind. Twilight whipped around, her horn glowing with energy.

Rarity was behind her. She didn’t hold a club, but instead a freshly-opened bottle of fizzy cider. A few paces away from her, Fluttershy pulled tall glasses out of a case.

“Now that’s what I call ‘all systems go!’” Rainbow landed, sending up a puff of ash. “Marecury, here we come!”

Twilight looked around again. No salamantaurs, no grinfernos, nothing was around except her five friends, the forest, and an enormous metal cone lying on its side. The only foreboding thing was a red glow around the cone’s base. She turned to her friends. “Marecury, as in the star?”

“Not just any star!” Pinkie fluttered her eyelashes. “It’s a wandering star, and you know what that means!”

Twilight’s heart skipped a beat. She’d prepared lectures about every astronomical phenomenon, just in case any of her friends asked. This was the first time they had. “As a matter of fact, I do. A wandering star is one which moves relative to other stars from one night to the next—“

“Because it’s another world!” Pinkie said.

Of all the crazy things Pinkie had said before, this…didn’t even make the top ten, now that Twilight thought about it. But it was a different kind of crazy, hinting at something deeper and more organized. Twilight had no idea how to respond.

For her part, Pinkie sang. Somewhere, an accordion played. “And we built a super huge-a-normous three-stage rocket with 17,850 hoof-tons of thrust so we can gooo toooo Marecury! On Marecury a year is only eight-eight days long, which means they’ve got four times as many birthdays, and four times as many birthdaaaaaay partieeeeees!”

The other four nodded in time with Pinkie’s song, apparently going along with her train wreck of thought. That left Twilight with delivering the reality check. “Pinkie, Marecury isn’t another world. It’s just a star that behaves differently from most of the others.”

“If it’s like any other star, then why does it sometimes…” Pinkie appeared in front of Twilight, standing muzzle-to-muzzle. “Get so much closer to us?”

“It…What?” Twilight backed away a few paces. “Marecury doesn’t get closer. All the stars are just lights on the firmament hanging above us.”

“That’s what I thought too! Except then I was trying to figure out why wandering stars get a whole lot brighter during retrograde motion.”

Twilight’s heart skipped a few more beats. Pinkie Pie knew what retrograde motion was?

“I went through sooooo many theories, but sometimes the easiest solution is the best one. What if wandering stars get brighter because they get closer? It’s like how a lantern a league away looks way dimmer than one right next to you.”

“That…” Actually made some sense. Wandering stars had to move around relative to other stars. Maybe they could move closer too.

“Now here’s the tricky part. How do you measure how far away a wandering star is? I tried to borrow AJ’s rulers, but I’m not allowed around her tools since the belt grinder incident.” She whispered that last part. It wasn’t quiet enough, as a vein swelled on Applejack’s forehead. “I asked Rainbow if she could try flying to Marecury, but she said she was way too busy and went back to napping. I was about to ask Rarity, but then I realized I could just look...if my eyes were really, really, really far apart.”

Pinkie shoved a hoof next to Twilight’s nose, blocking some of Twilight’s view. “See how my hoof is covering up my face?”

“Yes…”

“Okay, now close one eye. Doesn’t it look like my hoof moves all over the place?”

Twilight closed her right eye. It did seem like Pinkie’s hoof jumped to the right so it no longer obscured her face. When Twilight closed her left eye and opened her right eye, Pinkie’s hoof jumped to the left, again so it didn’t cover her face.

“Now do it again, but this time my hoof is going to be next to me!” Pinkie pulled her hoof back so it was next to her own nose.

Twilight looked out of each of her eyes again. The hoof seemed to move when she did, but not nearly as much as when it was closer. “Okay. So...you got two telescopes side by side and looked at the wandering stars?”

“Puh-lease! That wouldn’t cut it. To see how far away wandering stars are, you need ponies looking through telescopes on opposite ends of the world!”

Twilight girded herself for Pinkie to say she’d made another trip to the Everfree Mirror Pool and sent one of her clones to the other side of the world. Instead, Pinkie dropped a stack of letters.

“I wrote to all of the biggest observatories in Equestria—Canter Mantar, Cielo Sire, Ponehenge—and got their observations for all of the wandering stars. It turns out I was right! When the wandering stars are super bright, they’ve got a much bigger parallax, which means they’re way closer. And, when we looked really, really close, we figured out how to exactly measure their distance. Now we know all their orbits!”

Twilight blinked. “Wait, orbits? You mean like eye sockets?”

“I’ve got this one,” Rainbow Dash said as she slid Pinkie out of the way. “See, when Pinkie interrupted my nap schedule a second time, she told me how she’d figured out that the wandering stars got brighter because they got closer. So I asked a little more, and she explained retrograde motion.”

Twilight’s heart stopped cold, having given up on the whole concept of beats. Rainbow “Lecture Time is Nap Time,” Dash knew about retrograde motion too?

“She told me that wandering stars usually go from east to west, but when they’re at their brightest, some of them go backwards for a while. It kind of reminded me of this trick the Wonderbolts do called ‘Orbits,’ since it’s supposed to look like they’re the eye of a hurricane. They get seven pegasi in a line, starting from the center of the arena and going right up to the edge. Then, while the pegasus in the center starts doing aerobatics, all the other pegasi go in circles around her.”

“You mean like a race?” Twilight asked.

“Not really. Everypony is sticking to her own circle, but going around the same center. The pegasus near the center is doing the smallest circles, while the one on the arena’s edge is doing the biggest ones. Here’s the cool part.”

Rainbow dropped to her haunches. She held up one hoof, and then made circles around it with both of her wing tips. “To one of the middle ponies, like the pegasus in the number three or four spot, it looks like all the other pegasi are moving at different speeds. The pegasi close to the center catch up to her and pass her all the time, so it looks like they’re whipping around. If she watches the pegasi on the outside, though, it’s a little different. She sees them moving forward, but she’s catching up to them since she’s going a shorter distance. Then, when she gets really close to them, she passes them. Right at that moment, it kind of looks like they’re going backwards, even though everyone is still moving around their circles like they’re supposed to. I think that’s what our world and all the wandering stars are doing. We’re all going in circles around the sun. It explains why wandering stars sometimes get brighter, and why some of them sometimes go backwards.”

Twilight found herself lost in thought. If Pinkie and Rainbow Dash were right, the night sky wasn’t a static firmament with a smattering of anomalies. There was an inherent order to things, something elegant in these circles nestled one within the other.

They were wrong, of course, but it was a pleasing kind of wrong.

“Girls, this is really interesting, but you said you were going to Marecury. That’s just not possible.”

“Yeah it is,” Rainbow said. She nodded towards the giant metal cone. “That’s what we built the rocket for.”

“A rocket is a big firecracker. It’ll go up and come back down.”

Rainbow sighed. “AJ, tell her.”

“Twi, if you’d told me that this morning, we’d have been two mules pulling the same yoke.” Applejack clapped a hoof on Twilight’s shoulders. “After RD came down to Sweet Apple Acres, all excited about worlds going in circles around the sun, I had to give some thought to a few things. So the next break I took from apple bucking, I started pondering. What got me is that things need a reason to move. If Pinkie and RD were right, what’s making all the worlds move like that? It’s not like an apple would ever roll around in circles all on its own. That’s when the funniest thing happened. An apple fell right on me! You know what I realized then?”

“I have no idea,” Twilight said.

“That I’d been lollygagging for right near an hour! So I went back to bucking. The more I went at it, though, the more I got those apples falling, and the more I imagined something a little funny. Suppose you bucked an apple so hard it went all the way around the world.”

“What?” Twilight said.

Applejack chuckled. “Now, stay with me here. We know a couple of things about our world. One’s that it’s round, and one’s that things fall towards its center. Normally, if I buck an apple, it goes flying off in a parabolic trajectory.”

The last time Applejack had said something like ‘parabolic,’ she’d actually meant a pair of ball salt licks she’d gotten for her cow friends.

“But if I bucked that apple awful hard, its trajectory stretches out until it goes past the edge of the world. It’s still got all its horizontal momentum, and it’s still being pulled towards the world’s center, so it keeps following the same curve until…”

An image popped into Twilight’s head. The apple kept going and going, eventually circling the whole world. It was like one of Rainbow’s pegasi circling an arena...or a world circling the sun.

“I figure that’s what the moon is doing around our world, and what all the worlds are doing around the sun. Gravity just works the same no matter where you are. That also means that if you get a rocket going fast enough, it won’t circle the world. It’ll spiral away, and then you can go wherever you’ve got a hankering to go to.”

“If one were to be precise, darling,” Rarity said as she sauntered beside Applejack, “the equations describe elliptical curves, not circles.”

“Ah, here we go.” Applejack rolled her eyes.

“Also, did you ever resolve that issue with the precession of the perihelion of Marecury’s orbit?”

Applejack waved away the comment. “That ain’t nothing but a hill of beans.”

“I’d hardly call an eight percent difference any quantity or shape of beans!” Rarity scoffed.

Twilight had the distinct feeling that the conversation hadn’t just flown over her head, it’d left for Marecury without any way of getting back. “The whozit of the whatzit of Marecury’s eye-socket-thingy?”

Rarity turned to her, letting not a drop of cider spill out of the glass she levitated. “A world’s orbit is just slightly elliptical. The point where it’s closest to the sun—the perihelion—tends to stray a bit, which one expects as all the worlds pull on one another. But Marecury’s perihelion strays more than it should.”

A picnic blanket started to glow with Rarity’s magic. It unfolded and floated in between them. “It’s almost as if gravity is more than a mere force between two objects. Perhaps it’s more like a…fabric.” She dropped a salad bowl onto the floating blanket, which sagged under the bowl’s weight. “It could be that space warps and twists under a massive object, pulling other massive objects closer to it. We observe the effect as gravity, but the façon de faire is more complicated.”

“Are you still talking about space clothes or whatever?” Rainbow Dash said. She swooped over the blanket, grabbed some salad, and downed it in one gulp.

“I have good reason to believe it’s a space-time fabric.” She sniffed. “But that’s a story for another day.”

“Anyway, for something actually cool, come check out the spaceship, Twi! It’s a ship that goes into space!”

“You mean that?” Twilight pointed to the giant metal cone, as if Rainbow might have meant one of the trees or the salad bowl.

“Hah! Are you kidding? That’s just one engine I set up for a static fire. We couldn’t get anywhere on it. The spaceship’s got thirty-seven of them.”

Twilight stared at the monstrosity, slack-jawed. Rainbow had thirty-seven of these behemoths all put together? “How… When… Where did you get all of this?”

“I built it,” Rainbow said. Twilight’s jaw must have hit the ground, because she added, “What? It’s just rocket science.”

“Now hold on there,” Applejack said. “We built that spaceship together.”

Rainbow shrugged. “AJ helped.”

“I helped? Your engines would’ve been a heap of rusty grain silos if I didn’t tell you how to burn methane and oxygen.”

“Nor would we be getting back home if I hadn’t sewn those parachutes for re-entry,” Rarity added between sips of her cider. “At least, we wouldn’t be getting back in one piece.”

Pinkie pronked into the herd with, “And who knows where we’d end up without my patent-pending Whereyagoing-a-scope?”

The four descended into an argument, wielding words and concepts against each other that Twilight had never heard. She drifted away from them, her thoughts spinning. Her friends had gotten so invested in astronomy that they were talking about flying to wandering stars, of all things. On the other hoof…Twilight couldn’t even understand what that meant.

Fluttershy was the only one of her friends who hadn’t gotten embroiled in the argument. She simply stared at the dawn-tinged sky. That’s where Twilight made her refuge, by the gentle pegasus’s side. “I’m glad you don’t have some mind-blowing new idea to share.”

“Oh!” Fluttershy startled. “I’m sorry, I didn’t see you there. I was just…thinking.”

Twilight’s guts clenched. “Thinking about what?”

“The stars that don’t wander. If Applejack is right about gravity, then our sun must be pulling on them too. But no pony has seen them move, even after thousands of years, so they have to be trillions and trillions of leagues away. If they’re that far away, but we can still see them, then they must be incredibly bright—as bright as our own sun. Since our sun has worlds in orbit around it, some of those stars must have worlds too.” Her eyes glistened. “And some of those worlds must have life! Oh, I can’t wait to go out there and find all the new animals to snuggle with!”

Fluttershy was wrapped up in her fantasy, but then her expression faltered. She unraveled back to the ground.

“But if there are other worlds with life, then there must be other worlds with intelligent life. With so many stars, there could be millions. What are the chances we’re the first to discover all of this? That we’re the first who realized their world isn’t the center of the universe, that there are ways to move around, and who wanted to get started. It’s millions to one. And they could have been doing it for eons by now.” She turned to Twilight. “So when are they coming here?”

Pinkie, Applejack, Rainbow, and Rarity went quiet. They also stared into the twilit sky, taking in its terrible grandeur. Twilight wondered whether it was with even more eagerness, or a newfound trepidation. For her, it was a mix of both.

The night sky watched her distress in infinite, silent apathy.

She looked away, back towards her friends. “Why did you all get so interested in the stars?”

“Well,” Rainbow started, “Rarity bet me I couldn’t build a spaceship that went faster than light.”

“It’s not a bet, darling, it’s a thought experiment. Although I do expect you to model for my Astronomique line if I’m right.” Rarity added this last part with a jabbed hoof. “But I began when Applejack mentioned her theory of universal gravity to me earlier.”

“I only came up with that because RD told me how she reckoned that wandering stars went around the sun.”

“Which I got from Pinkie telling me that wandering stars get closer sometimes.”

“And that’s because Fluttershy asked me if it was normal for some stars to get all bright sometimes!”

All eyes turned to Fluttershy. She pawed the ground. “I suppose I have been doing a little stargazing with my new telescope.”

“When did you get a telescope?” Twilight asked.

“Just a few days ago. It was a gift. You see, Discord wanted to thank me—“

Twilight didn’t need to hear the rest. She was already rocketing for Golden Oak Library.