• Published 25th Apr 2021
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The Earth and Sky - Syke Jr

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Chapter 3

~Evening Rose~

The airship trip isn’t too long. I only have to share the space with Frosty for a couple of days, and she’s plenty happy using a hammock slung between the balloon rigging. I probably could have teleported us both there—my magic is probably strong enough now. I had never tried to teleport myself and another pony that distance before, though, and flying the Eden Song is fun.

Dad is there to meet me at the dock. The mountain—his mountain, as I think of it—is a much prettier place to be docked than the city’s highrise. Once I’m tied down, I jump off of the deck and embrace him just like always.

“My Evening Rose,” he murmurs. “How’ve you been?”

“Fine. Great.” I pull back and look at him. “A little bored. Until you called.”

“Heh.” He watches as Frosty flies down, alighting hard onto the dockwood. “Hey Frosty. Enjoy the ride?”

“Yes! We batponies can’t fly as high as pegasi. I think about stealing this thing all the time.” She slaps me with a wing. “This one doesn’t even need it. She could teleport from here to Canterlot if she wanted.”

“I don’t think I could,” I protest. “I-”

“The fact that you’re not sure speaks volumes.” Frosty rolls her eyes and walks past me. “Do you have any fruit, Silver?”

“Plenty,” Dad says, falling into step with me as I follow my friend towards the stairs to the house.

“Did you say we were leaving today?” I ask him.

“Yes,” he responds. “I channel the spell in the invitation, and we all appear… there. In the outer realm. In her space station.” He sighs. “I guess she made an orbital ring.”

“Orbital ring?”

“Space elevators with stations at the top, connected by a gigantic ring. It doesn’t matter. Everything will be virtual, other than the view, until we transfer to surface holograms.”

I shiver. “We’re really going to see it? From space?”

“Apparently so.” He smiles for the first time. “Going to space used to be the ultimate ambition. It’s funny how we get to do it all these years after it became a pointless one.”

“Hmm.” I rub my head against his for a moment as we enter the house. I can hear Frosty greeting Mum somewhere down the corridor. “I’m excited.”

“I am too,” he says as we make our way up the gentle interior steps. “Even if it seems like I’m not.” He sighs again. “It just doesn’t feel real.”

I’m pulled into a winghug as soon as we’re inside the living room. “Hi Mum.”

She just nuzzles me a little before pulling back and glancing and Frosty, who’s balancing a pineapple on her nose. “I think there’s going to be food at the party. You can eat something now if you want, though.”

“Oooh. Good point.” Frosty flicks the pineapple back onto the counter, giving it an annoyed look when it doesn’t land upright. “I don’t need to eat your food if there’s gonna be a fancy fruit platter.”

“Then… I think we can leave whenever we want.” Dad takes a deep breath. “Are we ready?”

“We’re ready if you are,” Mum says quietly, brushing a wing against Dad’s flank.

“Yes! Let’s go,” Frosty says, trotting over to where we stand in the middle of the huge room.

Dad levitates the invitation, closes his eyes, and channels the spell. In a flash, we’re gone.

***

~Silver Star~

I open my eyes. I’m standing on a metal floor, with metal walls all around, illuminated by appropriately science-fiction feeling lights. In front of me, I can see ponies filtering through a doorway, where a unicorn is giving out badges for ponies to wear inside. I look to my left, where my daughter and her friend grin and start walking, and my right, where Gingersnap is giving me an excited look.

We’re here. We’re in the outer realm.

We approach the gateway, leading into a short tunnel, and the unicorn smiles. “Your names?”

“Gingersnap, Silver Star, Evening Rose and Dark Frost,” Snaps says confidently.

“Ohhh… kay. That’s one emigrant, two family, and one press pass.” He gives out the badges accordingly, slipping the lanyards over our necks. “Welcome to Earth.”

“Thanks,” I say as Frosty giggles excitedly and we move forward to what I can see is a huge space beyond. Ponies are milling around, carrying plates of food, but many are simply staring at something off to the right.

We get to the end and round the corner. The others gasp. I simply stop breathing.

Through an enormous window, stretching all the way up to the forty-foot ceiling, is a spectacular view of the Earth. It’s no wonder ponies are staring. I would wager most of them are from my shard, and we aren’t exactly a technologically advanced one. Even compared to what can be seen in Equestria this is something else.

“Woah,” Frosty says.

“Everyone has seen photos, but…” Eve breathes.

“Yeah.” I swallow. “This is different.”

Snaps raises her camera.

“Welcome, Gingersnap, Silver,” a warm voice says. I blink. I hadn’t even seen her, but Celestia is standing right next to us, greeting ponies as they come in. “I think you’d be better served by the observation deck,” she says to Snaps with a chuckle. “No glass. Just you and the sky. And plenty of telescopes, too.”

“O-okay.” She lowers her camera again. “How do I get there?”

“Any of the elevators.” Celestia turns to me. “Your father is currently on the surface. You can call him through any of the communication panels, or embody yourself and go meet him if you wish. I believe he will be there for… some time, however, so there is no rush.”

“Okay.” I swallow again, still staring at the globe, the blue marble, as Celestia gently pushes our party onward with a wing. “Your friends will also be arriving soon. I’ll make sure they know where you are.”

“I want to see the observation deck,” Gingersnap says immediately, pretty much vibrating.

“Me too,” Frosty chimes in.

“You two go ahead,” I say absently, looking around at all the other ponies. “I need a minute.”

I’m aware of Eve and Snaps sharing a glance, but the two winged mares trot off to the elevators without another word. I walk toward the tables of food, gathering my thoughts. Eve walks beside me, still stealing glances at the Earth as we go.

Dad’s here. I knew he would be, but it’s been a long time since I’ve seen him. He and Mom left our shard a long, long time ago. I’m absolutely sure it’s been far more than a millenia to them; the last time he visited we’d talked about how he’s leading a fleet of faster-than-light starships. Part of me wishes he lived at the same pace I do, but that wouldn’t be fair. His paradise isn’t mine.

Mom visits more often. I’m not surprised she’s not here, though. Reminiscing about Earth was never something she enjoyed. She doesn’t relish painful memories.

“Celestia didn’t mention Random.” Eve brings me back to the here and now.

I snort. “Your uncle,” I say, levitating myself a plate of food, “Isn’t interested in, and I quote, ‘walking around that shitty ball of rock’.”

Eve laughs. “Are you surprised?”

“No,” I say truthfully as Eve piles her own plate high with what look like incredibly spicy wingroots. “But I miss him. It would have been nice.”

“Ah well.” She takes a bite and then glances over to the other wall, where there are dozens of huge monitors on display. “Look at that.”

I follow her gaze to see what I can only assume are live feeds of Earth. Each one depicts a human, most of them joined by a robotic pony companion, and a small countdown clock. “She’s really showing off her predictive engine, huh,” I say, swallowing a plum.

“I guess. Or it’s recorded.”

“No,” I say, as we walk toward the screens together, joining the ponies who are sitting on the floor watching them. “She loves this kind of thing. I hope at least one of them ends up being wrong, though.”

“Yeah, you like it when she’s wrong,” Eve says with a grin.

I don't answer. I look around the huge room again. There's a stage on one side, with a band setting up its equipment. Presumably there's a dance floor I can't see through the tables and ponies.

She laughs, watching a screen. “This is bizarre.”

“How so?” I say, following her gaze to a man trying to light a fire in an old potbelly stove. His timer estimates emigration in five hours and twenty-nine minutes. His hair is matted and long. I can’t see his face. He’s indoors, but it looks cold.

“It’s bizarre that these humans are alive right now. Down there, on the actual Earth.” She shakes her head. “I always thought of them as, you know… a thing of the past. Ancient history. Not even history. I’ve wondered more than once if they even really existed.” She glances at me. “No offense.”

“No, I get it.” I sigh.

The ponies around us cheer. Stomping their hooves. I look around at the screens to see one fading slowly out, a red earth pony holding an old woman gently on a bed. His right hoof supports the back of her neck. I know why.

I find myself stomping my hooves too. Whoever she is, she held out a long time, and made the right choice in the end.

“Some of these have really long timers,” Eve observes. “Days. Weeks. We aren’t going to be here that long, are we?”

“Maybe we will. It doesn't matter. I’m sure this is a fluid timespace,” I say. “We’ll all be right on time to see the last one.”

“Let’s go up, then,” She says, rising to her hooves. “I want a better look.”

***

~Gingersnap~

The observation deck is magnificent.

I can’t stop taking photos. The blue planet is magnificent enough, but the telescopes (which all have camera attachment points) make it even better. I zoom in on what can only be Great Britain and snap another. The sun, far above, illuminates everything brightly.

Frosty is using the telescopes liberally, too. She’d dismissed the Moon as “boring” very quickly and was moving to each of the fixed telescopes in turn, looking at whatever they were pointed at, presumably the other planets. I would do so soon, too, but the Earth and the expanse of space were plenty interesting without any telescope at all. The stars are dense—it’s less interesting than the Equestrian night sky, for sure, but there’s a strange kind of beauty to the colourless expanse of twinkling dots. I can make out the general direction of the galaxy’s centre.

It feels like only a few moments before a soft touch on my back alerts me to Silver’s presence. I grin widely at him, giving him a full kiss and tight winghug, making him grunt in surprise. “Your planet is beautiful,” I say softly.

“Hmmmm.” He nuzzles me appreciatively. “Maybe from up here. I’m glad you’re having a good time.”

I cock my head. “Are you not?”

“No, no, I am,” he says, staring upward at the stars. “Wow.”

“Yeah,” I smile. “Why so surprised? Isn’t it how you remember?”

“It’s not like this on the surface,” he says, shaking his head. “At least not anywhere near civilisation. I’ve never, ever seen it like this. Not even the time I was in the desert.”

“Oh. Wow.” I watch his eyes flit around the expanse for a moment longer, before he turns to look at the planet. “So only astronauts ever saw it like this?”

“Yeah. Cool, right?” He takes a deep breath. “And we don’t even need space suits or anything. Being a virtual pony is pretty great. I wonder what we actually are right now. Little gas-propelled drones, probably, with camera eyes.”

“Hahaha. ‘You think that’s air you’re breathing now?’” I step next to him and stroke him with a wing.

“Mmmm. ‘Some rules can be bent. Others can be broken’. I’m surprised you remember.”

“It’s one of my favourite human films,” I say, idly watching the planet turn.

“That’s incredibly funny.”

I grin. “I guess it is.”

Frosty and Eve seem to be arguing about something, pointing a telescope this way and that, pointed at Earth. “We’ll be going down, soon, I guess,” Silver says quietly. “What do you want to see first?”

I hum a little, thinking. “The places you’ve been that make the best photographs.”

He laughs. “Okay, love. Can do.”

I look around at the other ponies milling around the observation deck. “The instances are small. I wonder how many ponies are really here.”

“Has to be billions,” Silver says, looking around himself. “In fact, I’m probably wrong about the drones. I bet this is a nanite cloud.” He gazes at the orbital ring, stretching off impossibly far into the black until it’s invisible. It’s tiled with what I recognise must be solar panels. “And she’s probably using every station along the ring, too. However many there are.”

“Hm.” As I’m looking around, my gaze alights on a pony far across the platform. He’s looking up at the moon, small against the black, and waning. His back is to us, to the Earth.

He looks almost exactly like Silver Star.

I raise my camera and zoom in on him, eager to capture the coincidence. But this is Celestia’s party. There are no coincidences. Zooming in lets me see the unicorn’s cutie mark: a quill superimposed over a four-pointed star.

I still snap the photo. I can’t stop myself, even as my stomach drops. It seems unlikely that he heard the camera, but he seems to sense it regardless: he turns to look at me with a wry smile.

I’m cast back two hundred and fifty years, to another photograph of a unicorn against another sky. My breath catches as he starts to walk over to us. I nudge Silver as I lower my camera, and silently pray that Celestia knows what she’s doing.

Silver turns to see himself approaching, and blinks a few times. “...Huh.”