• Published 31st Dec 2011
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The Three Whooves - Paleo Prints

Lost in time, Doctor Whooves' family must rely on his past and future selves for help!

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City of Death

The Three Whooves
by Paleo Prints
Chapter 2: City of Death

The Ponyville doctor walked into the waiting room. The only things he found there were the sounds of the terrible storm outside and the sopping-wet stallion that had brought in Mrs. Doo earlier that night.

“I hear you both came from the direction of that fire. Terrible thing, that.” His tone was measured, obviously at ease from a career of asking similar questions. “Are you a friend of the young mother?”

The strange pony nodded. “Known her for years. Well, years for her; a day or three for me. Well…it’s complicated.”

The confused professional sat down next to the perplexing pony. “I’m her doctor.”

The bedraggled form in the trench coat smiled. “Really? Good luck with that.”

“We’re having an interesting time in the delivery room. I’ve never had a patient yell at me like that. ‘Clean hair milking machine purple stretch far.” I’m not sure if I should be flattered or offended.”

His patient’s mysterious savior turned weary eyes to him. “She has aphasia. It’s a neurological condition; she speaks fine in her head but sometimes it’s a babble stew of sentences out of her mouth. It’s probably related to the wiring that makes her eyes move independently.”

The medical pony nodded. “I’m familiar with her history. Are you the father?”

A long sigh dragged out of the Doctor. “No. Tried it once. Kind of got mixed results in the end. Never felt very good at it.”

Knitting his eyebrows, the hospital pony let the painful confession pass without comment. “Well, I understand Mrs. Doo’s husband recently passed. Peacefully, I hope?”

The ancient-feeling stallion shook his head. “No, but it still wasn’t as much as he deserved. He tried to bring a thing through into this realm that…” He stared at the physician. “Um…he cheated on his taxes. And bucked puppies.”

The physician nodded as he sat down in a nearby chair. “I’ve known Ditzy for a while; she’s been here for treatment a few times. She has the uncanny ability to fall down stairs.” He cocked his head. “Now, I always found that surprising for a pegasus. Especially considering that she lives in a one-story cottage.” He looked at the mysterious visitor. “I don’t think a single pony in this town will miss her husband.” He coughed into his hoof. “The poor mare’s giving birth on the night her spouse died. Do you know what that young widow is thinking about?”

“I can guess,” the stranger ventured with a slight nod.

The physician smiled. “The only thing that she could get out clearly was about you. She asked about you.” The surgeon lifted an eyebrow as he stood up. “Spoke as clearly as a summer day. When I asked you that question I suspected Ditzy’s husband was no longer with us. If I were you, I’d reconsider your answer. That young filly needs a father and her long-suffering mother needs a husband. Consider it for a minute.” He set down a clipboard full of forms on the table as he walked off.

A pleading word from the pensive stallion stopped the surgeon. “The foal; is it okay? I was worried that it might have been affected by what the father did…on his taxes.”

The doctor raised an eyebrow. “Well, she’s got a horn instead of wings. With two pegasi for parents and no history of unicorns in the family, that’s kind of irregular. That’s already made it a case for the journals.” Seeing the mysterious stallion from out of town tense, he raised a calming hoof. “In deference to Ditzy, I think I’ll misfile that form. The People around Ponyville can wonder; there’s no reason for hotshot Canterlot doctors to come down here looking for a career-making case study. If you’ll pardon me, I hear Nurse Redheart calling me.”

He walked on, leaving the Doctor alone in the waiting room.

The soaking stallion picked up the clipboard. A slow smile spread across his face. “It’s a filly.”

Years later for him and years earlier for Equestria, John Smith tried to superimpose himself between adventure and his family. “Girls, go back in the nice blue box. There’s grown-up stuff I have to do.”

Dinky looked past her father to the other travelers. A grey stallion in a top hat waved at her with an inviting smile as a blue aged unicorn looked at her in shock. She briefly wondered if she did something wrong.

And then there were the blue boxes.

Dinky was amazed. Three of them were here! “Dad, are these people in the same club as you? They have the same time machine! Do you know them?”

Ditzy watched her husband’s reaction turn from worry to embarrassment. He started scratching the back of his mane in discomfort. “I know both of them incredibly well. Well, mostly. Actually I don’t know one of them at all, just almost everything about him.”

While Smith discussed things with his daughter more forms walked out of the blue boxes. Savory took her place behind her Advisor, waiting patiently for orders. She contrasted sharply with the amused form of Ripple Pond, who was conspiratorially whispering into the ear of her companion while looking at Ditzy.

In a stage whisper, the Colttish youth whispered loud enough for the crowd. “Doctor, do you ever actually travel with,” she paused to blush, “boys?”

John Smith looked at his teen daughter, his face flush with embarrassment. Dinky may have worn a confused look, but his wife was bristling at the implication.

“Doctor,” Savory said with a mischievous leer, eyeing the mature unicorn. “I really didn’t think you had it in you.”

His ears burning, John Smith leaned down to Dinky. Her look of confusion disturbed him.

So, what do I say? Little Muffin, I’m an alien who lives forever? These gentlemen are just different versions of me from the past and future! Don’t worry, we’re just looking at proof that I’m going to buy it one day. It could be this evening, or long after you’re dead! Try not to think about it.

“Dinky,” he started, carefully considering his words. “I’m not from Ponyville.” As she looked on expectantly, Ditzy rolled her hoof in a ‘get on with it’ gesture. What, that’s not enough?

As John Smith’s mind flew through sentences, the elegantly-dressed elder walked over and kneeled down beside him. “Little one, your…’father’ is from a faraway planet. He and I are…” The horned gentlepony pursed his lips, looking for the right word.

The ancient traveler in the top hat pirouetted into place in front of his past incarnations. “Cousins! Distant cousins! I’ve very far removed from everyone.” He played with his fore hooves as he cast a downward glance towards Ripple. “She always tells me so, anyway.” He shuffled from hoof to hoof.

While the Doctors worked out an alibi, the young yellow UNIT mare casually approached Ditzy, who was pressing two comforting hooves on Sparkler’s shoulders to soothe the nervous teen.

Savory whispered into the older mare’s ear. “Whatever you managed to do, Love, a lot of girls before you tried.” The mailmare blushed angrily, her golden misaligned eyes flashing.

Dinky was looking at her father with a sense of wonder. “Dad, if you’re an alien how come you look like a pony?”

“I don’t look like a pony! You look like a Time Charger!” He bit his lip. “We did make that happen.”

The younger Doctor with the aged body regarded the inquisitive child’s interrogation of her father. Interesting. Most children her age would be asking more inane questions. His horn suddenly briefly flared in irritation. She’s a distraction! Deal with the situation.

Carefully controlling his frustration, the UNIT Advisor started pulling John Smith aside. “Pardon me, Little One. I have to discuss things with your ‘father.’”

As the two stallions walked away into animated conversation, Dinky felt a sense of uncertainty. Noting her worry, the unpredictable stallion in the top hat brought out a piece of paper with a flourish. The Traveler grinned. “Was this your card, madame?”

The amused filly smirked. “I didn’t pick a card yet, Mister.”

“Oh,” he responded with a crestfallen tone. The offending card was pitched over his shoulder. “Well, when it happens that’ll be the one! Mark my words.” Watching her guide pout put Ripple into a giggling fit.

The two remaining Time Chargers put themselves on the other side of the grassy hill from the collection of companions. Away from his family, John Smith’s apprehension at meeting his younger self returned. I don’t remember this part. Actually, I think I’m, starting to recall. I was…angry at something? How does this end, again?

“Now, let’s be serious for a moment,” began the lecturing blue scientist. “You’ve made the decision to stay in one place with children around?” He shook his head with a condescending style. “My dear boy, I can barely think of all the enemies I have now. I shudder to think how many new ones you added to the collection before setting up shop.”

Mr. Smith’s eyes snapped onto his "older" self. They flared with anger that had cowed dictators. “I made the choice to be happy. Believe me you’re going to want that someday.”

The blue unicorn me John’s anger with an exasperated sigh. “What we deserve and what others need of us are two ships that don’t meet, Doctor.” The determined dandy cast a glance around. “Let’s find a safe place to stow them and get to the bottom of this situation.”

The Unit Adviser was taken aback as Smith advanced on him, nostrils flaring. “I am not ‘stowing’ my family anywhere!”

On the other side of the hill, a nervous group turned away from the amusing failure of the traveler to draw a rabbit out of his hat. The sound of the arguing time travelers was loud enough for everypony to make out. Ditzy nodded in determination. “Children, watch the magic show. I have to get your father back on track before we sandwich blank sword comma normal.”

Sparkler gasped at the weird mess that her mother enunciated. As the mailmare walked off it was obvious to her children that their mother hadn’t even realized what she had said. Quickly seeing his audience walk away, the ancient traveler pulled a small device from his coat pocket and aimed a beam of light into his top hat. A blue tentacle reached out, squeezing his head with a wet sucking sound. Sparkler laughed and applauded, their parent’s troubles forgotten. As the three older mares watched the show, Dinky slipped off after her mother.

She saw her mother next to the old unicorn. Mrs. Smith had a scrunched-up expression; her daughter recognized it from every time Dad thought he was about to win an argument.

“Listen Sir, my family and I are not the problem here." She pointed a hoof into her opponent’s red dandy jacket. “He’s given us a wonderful life, and we’re ready to help him with the situation as soon as we genuflect umbrella.” She nodded with confidence.

John walked to his wife and rested his head and neck over his wife’s back. He gave a pleading look to his younger self, who breathed deeply.

“My dear,” began the weary gentlepony. “It must have been wonderful to fall in love while travelling the stars. I cannot imagine the epic sights you must have seen, the enemies you made, or the terrible things you must have run from.” He massaged his chin. “I wonder how many of those star-traveling fiends are still out there. Perhaps they’re just over that hill? I suggest you all wait in the TARDIS for your husband and I to return.”

Eavesdropping behind a tree, Dinky’s mind reeled. Dad has enemies? She could think of nothing that title could be appropriately applied to. Well, perhaps the toaster in his shop he’d try to repair for years. Quite possibly the mayor was an enemy; she was furious after Dad tried to fix the dam and made the river run backwards.

The young foal carefully walked to the group of raised voices and cleared her throat. The three adults regarded her.

“Mister Doctor Unicorn? I get that my Dad did something wrong. He does that a lot, but Mom always says he means well. Shouldn’t we be doing something about the fact that Equestria’s gone? I mean, it’s here now, but Dad says it’s going to go away later.”

A nervous shudder swept over Dinky. She realized that everyone was looking at her. Her father recovered first, clearing his throat and stepping in front of the taken aback azure adventurer.

“LISTEN HERE.” His aggravation was starting to come through. “My family is my problem.” As his wife and daughter stared, he waved his hooves. “Okay, not what I meant. What I mean is my family is not your problem. I doubt the Council of Time would send you both here to lecture me on settling down.”

The older unicorn considered this, staring at his future self for a good minute. “I don’t know; it seems like the perfect hobby for those busybodies. You’re right of course. Somewhere along that road is the problem at hoof. Now then, let’s brief your family on what they can expect.”

He turned to find Ditzy cheerfully passing out saddlebags to her daughters. “Remember girls, no talk of future things like Nightmare Moon or Discord. Pay for everything with the older bits in the bags. If anyone asks, say you’re from Croupwich. It’s far away enough that they’ll forgive any strangeness, and nobody ever goes to Croupwich, anyway.”

The unicorn in the red jacket stared in astonishment. John Smith only smiled. “She’s magnificent, isn’t she? Always bubbly throughout anything odd or bad, advertised right on that magnificent flank of hers.”

The tense atmosphere dispelled, the neurotic traveler gestured with a sopping sticky top hat and rose with a flourish. “Let’s go then, Madame! I can be your tour guide.” His soft smile contrasted with his determined tone. “I’ll keep you safe.”

Sparkler looked at her father. “Can we go with him, Dad? He’s a lousy magician but he’s funny.”

“Sparkler,” her father started. “Never, ever go with that stallion. I’ve known him longer than you can imagine. He’s…flighty. Impulsive. Erratic. He’s dangerous.” He raised a hoof as her eyes went wide. “Not on purpose, though! He’s not bad, he’s just careless. Flies to and fro without thinking about the people he leaves behind and the situations he puts them in.”

“Oh, I think you’re being too hard on him,” his wife interrupted. “He always means well.”

John’s shoulders fell as he relented. He looked his future incarnation in the eye and shivered. “You,” he began dramatically.

The gray stallion nodded as he bowed. “Yes.”

John raised his head with anger. “And…?”

The now-somehow clean hat was placed on the owner’s head. “Of course.”

Mister Smith smiled. “Then it’s decided!”

Ripple squinted at him. “Really? That was a decision?”

The white-haired Doctor paced past her. “Do try to keep up, young miss. Listen carefully next time.”

John paced on the edge of a dirt road. “I’ll go with the Doctor.” He gestured meaningfully to the older gentlecolt for the children’s benefit. “Ditzy, you and the children look around with…” He stared at the lanky grey Time Charger imploringly.

The skinny smiling stallion shrugged. “John Smith?”

Ditzy growled. “Absolutely not!”

The traveler rolled his eyes. “It’s such a good one, though. I call dibs next time. Children, Miss Pond, Mrs. Smith, call me Top Hat! I’ll be your guide today.” He gave a careful look to the mailmare. She nodded in approval as she pulled a picnic basket out of her TARDIS’s door.

The Doctor used his horn to nudge John. “In the meantime Miss Savory and we can investigate freely. We’ll get to the bottom of this; leave it to Uncle Doctor!” The aged adventurer started walking down the road.

John’s eyes narrowed at the retreating blue flank. “I’m six centuries old than you.” He ran to catch up with the motley group, coming up alongside ‘Top Hat.’ The Ponyville repairstallion rubbed his temples in irritation. “At least the Fourth didn’t show up. He’d send Mr. Well-Dressed into fits.”

His future self waved his hooves dismissively at the suggestion. “Nah, he never shows up for anything.”

Smith nodded in agreement, and then walked faster to give some words to his family. ‘Top Hat’ found himself alone with Ripple. She smiled. “So, Mister Hat is it? We had an even chance of ending up with Mister Bow Tie, didn’t we?”

Her traveling companion snorted. “Bow ties are cool.”

With a snicker she let the old argument drop. “So ‘Top Hat,’ you never seemed much like the marrying type to me.” She sighed. “I’m a fine one to talk, though. What’s it like to be hanging with your family?”

He was silent for a few seconds. “Like a hole in me with no bottom. Is there a word for that? Do holes need bottoms? I forgot the rules for holes.”

A small hamlet shortly rose in front of the explorers as they crested a hill. Nestled amongst dark and looming trees was a collection of quaint wooden structures. The village seemed well constructed, but the austere buildings unsettled John’s family. There were none of the decorative flourishes found in Ponyville architecture. On the opposite side of town a bulky stone building squatted protectively over a flowing river.

Ditzy regarded the signpost visible just down the road. “Violet Springs. The name’s the only thing there. They don’t even try to welcome us.”

UNIT’s Doctor clicked his tongue. “And what pray tell, students, does it mean when a town has no welcome sign?”

Dinky bounced in place. “They have something to hide?”

The smiling unicorn nodded. “Excellent! Full marks for you.”

Sparkler wandered over to her dad as the group gathered on the empty main street. “Father, I am feeling a sense of what comes before. I do not like this place.”

John placed a reassuring hoof on the quivering teen. “There’s nothing to worry my dear! Your old Dad’s here, isn’t he?”

The fretful young mare spared a glance at her sister and mother. “Last time, you were only able to save one of us, Father.”
John Smith tried to work his mouth and brain; neither listened to him at the moment.

‘Top Hat’ was standing in the middle of the square. He was moving his hooves in front of him like a conductor. “Can you feel it, Pond? The expectation building as the curtain starts to rise?” She giggled at his enthusiasm. Soon ponies started to peer out of windows and step out of doors. Everyone was staring at the strange group. A crowd of townsponies was starting to make its way toward the time travelers, walking down the main thoroughfare after appearing from behind a corner.

The Traveler grinned in anticipation. “The show begins, Ripple!”

A white-coated earth pony with a gigantic mustache and beard that seemed to be swallowing his face stepped ahead of the group. The other townsfolk stopped near instantly, watching intently. “Good morning, all. What brings you to Violet Springs?”

John Smith, Top Hat, and the Doctor all started talking at once. The two ‘earth pony’ Time Chargers looked at each other sheepishly. Their unicorn companion was nonplussed.

“Let me deal with this.” He stepped forward. “Good morning, mister…”

“Decks,” supplied the hairy representative. “Terrace Decks. I’m the head of the lumber mill.”

“Delightful, Mister Decks. Charmed, I’m sure. We’re travelers from a long ways away.” The blue stallion blinked. “Croupwich, as a point of fact.”

John Smith beamed proudly. “Like I said, magnificent.”

The genteel unicorn continued. “We’re here because we heard there were spaces available in your little colony! It’s so hard to find work these days in some places. I’m sure you’ve felt the recession here?”

The startled stallion was momentarily flustered. “I wouldn’t know about no recession. Things are fine here, and we don’t deal much with other towns.” He suddenly threw a suspicious gaze at the Doctors. “I don’t think we have any room for settlers, though.”

John stepped forward. “Come now, a bustling community like yourself? Colonizing the uninhabitable, spreading to every corner of the map. I love Ponies!” He threw a hoof around the neck of his distinguished gray-coated counterpart. “Surely you have space for my father and I?” He sudden leaned close to Decks. “Even if it’s just for the night? He’s not all right in the head, and sleepwalks if we can’t lock him up. Old age can be a terrible thing.”

The mortified Doctor tried to reclaim his dignity over the laughter he heard from behind him. Top Hat stepped to his other side and threw himself into the role. “Dotty as a fruitcake he is, you know?” The gray showman began playing with his lip. “Stip blip dribble,” he crooned, making a spinning gesture pointed at his head.

The distinguished dandy pushed them both away. “I am quite in possession of all of my faculties, gentlecolts!”

A commiserating tone sounded out from the crowd of townsfolk. “Isn’t that just something he’d say? Knockturn’s earth pony grandfather used to say the same right before he tried to fly.” The assembled crowd gave each other knowing smiles and glances.

The outpouring of misguided attention flustered the Doctor, but he was to the end a consummate actor. “Can you please show us some hospitality?” With a sigh, he flung himself into the role. “Ooby dooby scooby banooby.” He enunciated each syllable with care and as much dignity as he could muster.

Terrace rolled his eyes. “We could probably put you up for the night. I’ll tell the townsfolk to find you a place to stay.”

John nodded enthusiastically. “Great!” He turned to the maniacally grinning stallion in the top hat. “You keep an eye on the child while sister and I take Gran for his walk.” Savory and John carried the perplexed looking unicorn down the street.

Sparkler gave a start as the villagers surrounded the group, asking questions. Top Hat noticed the socially awkward teen turn in on herself. Suddenly flush with an idea, he turned to a nearby young foal. “You there! You look sick! I should know,” he claimed, pointing his hoof gently at the child’s face. “I’m a Doctor.”

Dinky walked up expectantly as the white foal her age stammered under the attention. “P-p-picket, sir. I’m Picket Post. Mister Decks is my dad.” He suddenly stopped in mid-introduction. “A doctor, you said? I thought you g-g-g-guys said you were s-s-settlers.”

The oldest stallion in the town leaned down with a conspiratorial whisper. “I’m a town doctor. I travel from place to place and fix towns.” He suddenly yanked his hoof away from Picket’s face. “And you, my dear lad, had an ear blockage of doubloons!”

The children moved away from Sparkler as a cloud of coins flew out of the surprised young colt’s ear.

As the lonely old stallion entertained the children, Ditzy attempted to strike up a conversation with the red-haired mare she found herself travelling with. “So, Miss Pond…where have you gone with your Doctor?”

The gleeful pixie-like girl grinned. “Oh, lots of different places. A little near the beginning of time, and little near the end of time. It’s a time thing, you know?”

The mailmare looked skeptical. “So, no trips to old Trottingham? He always loved the smog and the carriages. Space stations, maybe?”

Ripple snorted. “I don’t know what he sees in the stupid things. We always end up running down corridor after corridor.”

The golden-eyed time traveler leaned in with a whisper. “Did he ever take you to the Grand Galloping Gala? I’ve been trying to get him there for years.”

Having ignored the louder conversation the amateur magician turned at the latest whisper. “Oh, no. Never go to the Grand Galloping Gala. That’s my rule. My suggestion, really. I’ve never been very big on rules.”

Pond nodded. “I’ve never been able to get this old stuffy anywhere near a Gala. “ She switched from her Coltsland brogue to an impersonation of the Doctor’s clipped Trottingham accent. ‘What, we’ve found a black hole, fine, lovely. The Gala?Oh, never! Can’t deal with hors d'oeuvre, outright impossible.”

He gestured wildly. “The Gala’s always awful.” The Doctor hesitated. “They’re painful things.”

Just down a few blocks, Miss Savory kept a watched as the two Time Chargers conversed in an alley. The Science Advisor nodded at his future incarnation. “Now that the charade’s done with we can start investigating this place. That’s assuming of course that you can get your head in the game.”

Smith looked offended. “I am absolutely in on this.”

The Doctor shrugged. “I merely intimate that you of all three of us has a reason to be distracted.”

An angry hoof pointed at the dandy’s chest. “I suppose you’ve never felt the urge to try something stable. It’s not like us to travel alone, after all.”

John Smith was surprised as the calm and collected gentlepony suddenly became violently angry. “I remember what happened the first time we tried this!” The elder statespony was barely able to keep his voice out of shouting level. “I remember the pleading knocks on the door of the TARDIS that broke my hearts!”


The two Time Chargers turned to see Ditzy at the head of the alley. A small picnic basket had fallen out of her mouth to rest at her hooves.

Savory gave an embarrassed blush. “She brought you both lunch while you were having a row.”

Ditzy walked to her husband. At least, she assumed it was her husband. At the moment she couldn’t shake the feeling that the stallion she married under a diamond waterfall on Teclis 4 had taken off a party mask, and a stranger was staring back underneath.

“John? What’s he talking about?”

“I don’t want to talk about it.” The brown Time Charger turned his head.

Angry tears flared in her eyes as her hoofed lashed out, pinning her husband against the wall. He seemed not to feel it.

“I have accepted so many things! I’ve stared at the heat death of the universe. I kept to myself all the terrible sacrifices made in dark corners to keep this cosmos running done by good ponies only we remember. I accepted that muffins would never taste as good as they did on our honeymoon.”

She was heaving, tears flowing. “If I’ve accepted all of this, why won’t you purple empty lonely bubbles trust muffin?”

Savory’s eye goggled in shock at the verbal word salad, but her superior raised a hoof in front of her. His curious eyes implored her to give the Smith’s space.

The aphasia attack snapped her husband out of his funk. He rubbed a hoof down the side of her face. “Poor Ditzy Doo. So many feelings and thoughts. They just get in each other’s way sometimes, don’t they?” He placed his hooves around the sobbing mare. “I promise I will tell you as soon as we’re out of here.”

He slipped out of the hug, leaving his hooves on her shoulders. “Go to the children. They have a strong mother, a mum who never surrenders, and they’ll need her so.”

She nodded. Fishing a small bag out of the overturned basket, she left it at John’s feet. Sparing him a look, she only said, “Muffin.”

Then she walked away.

John shook his head. He turned to the Doctor and saw a sympathetic look. “Ponies think dying is hard, don’t they?” The blue unicorn nodded with compassion.

“Dying is like a waterfall,” John continued. “By the time you’ve started going over you plunge down, too surprised to think about it. It’s living that’s hard.”

A larger green foal nearly smacked into Dinky as Top Hat the Magnificent pulled another coin from the ear of the crowd. As the child pushed his way forward, the Time Charger's nimble hoof reached into the leaf-colored ear, dragging out a brass triangle eight feet in length.

The mysterious magician paused. “Hm. A Triganic Pu. I had wondered where I put that.”

A young foal next to her laughed in Dinky's ear. “He's so awesome!”

The irritated time traveler’s child scowled. “I don't think he actually knows what he’s doing. He kinda reminds me of my dad.”

The crowd applauded as Top Hat waved a blanket in front of his bowing red-coated assistant. As he removed the blanket, Ripple Pond was nowhere to be scene. Ignoring the applause, the unpredictable traveler scratched his head, scanning the square as if looking for something.

Dinky sighed. “My Dad’s funnier, though.” Looking to the side, she noticed Sparkler was clapping on the floor animatedly. Her sister from afar had always enjoyed more childish things then other Ponyville teens. Dad explained that it was a difference in culture. He never stopped reminding her that her people “basically invented the theater!”

John Smith’s youngest daughter started to extricate herself from the crowd. At school she usually spent her time on the fringes of the playground, drawing in the dirt or reading Miss Cheerilee’s Big Book of Astronomy. Now the inquisitive foal found herself more interested in searching the strange town than staying in any group of ponies.

She walked away until the show was well out of sight. Oddly shaped shadows started to throw themselves across her path as the sky darkened. Dinky shivered as she looked up at the moon, finding the shape of a sinister alicorn gazing back at her. I guess time travelling can bring back the bad things, too.

Dinky stared at the stars, her eyes searching for familiar shapes. Quite literally spacing out for several minutes, her observation was broken by a high-pitched voice. “Are you looking for something? I can point out a few things.”

Dinky slowly dropped her head. She was startled, but fought to remain calm as she remembered her father’s advice. Never look scared, even if you are scared! That way you’ll be able to deal with scary things. In the dark she caught sight of a white spotted young colt. He reminded her of her friend Pip.

“I’m looking for the Seven Sisters. I always liked those.” She scanned the skies. Suddenly a white hoof poked into her vision.

“That way! Just by Orion. You can barely make him out through the clouds.”

Suddenly, the pointing young filly lost his balance. Dinky gave out a laugh of embarrassment as he fell onto the cobblestones. She offered him a hoof up.

“I’m Dinky. You must be Picket, right?”

He saluted. “Y-y-yes. Golly, you like the stars too?

She gave an appreciative nod. “My Dad always told me it was important to understand how the big stuff works. You realize that every one of those is a sun, maybe with its own planet with alicorns and ponies on it?”

Picket’s eyes went wide. “Wow! Your Dad sounds cool. Mine never wants me to talk about stars. I don’t think anypony else in town actually looks at them either.” He jumped onto his feet, brimming with ideas. “Would you like to meet him? I could invite you over for dinner if you’d like.”

His fragile enthusiasm was heart-breaking. Dinky thought that he’d be the kind of colt who’d hang out with her Crusaders friends and dodge Silver Spoon at lunch. He looks like he could use a friend. “Sure, Picket. I’d love to meet your family.”

He punched the air, falling over again. “Yes! I’ll go ask now.” Dinky smiled as she watched him disappear from view.

A few minutes and several streets later an eager young head popped into the Decks residence. “Hey, Dad! I met one of the settler ponies, and she’s real nice and smart. Can we please have her over for dinner?”

Inside the living room his Father was setting plates on a table that completely lacked silverware. A pile of ripped apart logs sprawled on a large plate. To the side of that a covered basket of bunnies sat. The bunnies thrashed against the bars of their wicker jail, straining in terror.

Terrace Decks patted his son on the head. “Well, you can try, but she may have a different diet than we do. They’re strangers, son. You never know what a stranger’s like. You can ask her though.” Picket beamed. He spared one hungry glance at the basket of struggling rabbits before he ran away.

Mister Decks sat down at the end of the room, eyeing the feast he’d set. His eyes caught a few empty plates, and he snickered. “There’s always space for one more at the table, after all.”

As night sprawled across the secluded town John Smith and his companions found themselves within a few streets of the gigantic lumber mill. It was a sprawling structure, showing apparent years of maltreatment.

The perceptive unicorn snorted. “I say, there’s no way a town would treat the source of their livelihood like that.”

His creamy-coated companion nodded, grinning in anticipation of adventure. “So, there’s where they’ll hide the monsters or bodies or the world-destroying machine, right Doctor? Shall we sneak in?” Savory looked positively overjoyed at the promise of danger.

John stared in admiration. “I had forgotten how fearless dear Miss Savory was.” He smiled as they carefully snuck around a corner.

The Unit Advisor rolled his eyes. “Believe me, I myself am constantly surprised. Then again, I just remember her familial relations.”

The working mare from Trottingham stopped. “My family? Doctor, who exactly are you talking about?” She looked with confusion at the two stallions.

As the refined gentlepony searched the area for clues he scolded his charge. “Come now, Savory. We shouldn’t listen to spoilers.”

She huffed unappreciatively. “Well, if we’re going to wander aimlessly we could at least nip into a bakery. You need to keep your company in mind, Doctor.” She stepped closer to the attractive brown Time Charger. “Your other self seems to have learned how to treat a girl.”

As the Doctor leaned over a patch of grass he shook his head in irritation. “My dear, it does neither of us any good to consider our futures. Come over here and look at this pastry I had in my bag.”

Excited, she galloped over just in time to watch the Doctor drop it onto the ground. He turned to her with an expectant smile. “Oh, Doctor,” she said with a crestfallen expression. “You certainly do know how to tease a girl.”

He clicked his tongue. “That’s not the idea, Miss Savory. Why wouldn’t you want to grab that custard from the ground?”

She threw her head back in irritation. “Doctor, it’d be covered in ants!”

His eyebrows rose. “Really? I’d take a look, if I were you.” He floated his glowing sonic screwdriver over the patch in question.

Curiously, she eyed it. “I don’t see any ants.”

“Indeed, Miss Savory,” he declared as he put away his trusted multi-tool. “We haven’t sighted an insect since we entered Violet Springs. Not a creature is stirring, not even a mouse, except for the ponies that call this place home.”

His assistant flashed pleading eyes at him as she stood over the fallen pastry. He sighed as he levitated the tasty treat off of the floor, his horn glowing as the dirt was carefully scraped from it. “I swear, for an intelligent race that eats flowers you are all so thoroughly obsessive about dirt.”

The excited assistant swallowed the hovering dessert in one gulp. Chewing thoughtfully, she scanned the corridor. Through a mouth of baked goods she mumbled, “Doctor, where did your future self go to?”

The Doctor began searching the outside of Violet Spring’s seemingly empty buildings for clues. “Wandered off on his own I’d venture. I expect he noticed something interesting. I rather thought he’d do it two streets ago. Regardless, I have things to deal with here.”

“Something in this town is anathema to living matter, and I shall have to be careful while analyzing it. I have just the equipment to deal with this danger.” The pleasure of discovery dominated his voice and expression. As he searched through his coat pockets, his young follower was startled at how entirely heedless he seemed to possible threats when intrigued.

A high-pitched nicker reached his ear as he adjusted his protective clothing. Turning to his companion he ventured an inquisitive glance. “Miss Savory, have I amused you in some trifling way?”

A yellow hoof barely contained a flood of feminine giggles. “Doctor, why are you putting on…socks?”

The exasperated wanderer sighed as he cast a glance upward, searching for familiar stars. “So far from home am I. My dear, these are gloves. They are a boon in the matter of protecting your limbs.”

She gave an incredulous smile. “Socks, you mean? You’re putting on socks.”

The irritated immortal grit his teeth. “Now then, the subtle difference between gloves and socks…” His eyes reached beyond her. An odd substance greeted his eyes as he rushed to a damaged door frame.

“…is entirely irrelevant. My dear, I think I’ve found something.”

As Top Hat lead his charges down the street, the dusty form of Ripple Pond kicked the side of the sheepish Doctor.

“You could have warned me about that last trick!” She glared daggers at him as Sparkler grinned. They sound just like Mother and Father when she pretends to be mad at him. Turning to her mother, the teen saw that Ditzy’s eyes were intently scanning the street for the lost form of Dinky.

The traveling Doctor shrugged, rolling his eyes upwards. “Miss Pond, I was supposed to make you disappear, after all.” He grunted as an angry hoof whacked against the back of his head.

“I’m not supposed to actually disappear, dummy! How did you expect me to get out of that food cellar?”

He stopped at a street corner. “Miss Pond, I assure you I could have just reversed the settings on the Zygon portable teleporter I used to make you disappear.” He paused for a second in embarrassment. “That is, if I hadn’t blown the batteries when I activated it.” He waved a hoof in her face. “But we learned that a house in a thriving town with few outside ties has an empty food cellar. Interesting enough, don’t you think?”

Sparkler laughed. “He is the silly of Dad’s kind of silly, Mom.”

The wall-eyed pegasus ignored the comment. “Mister Top Hat,” she began. “Couldn’t you use the sonic screwdriver to search for Dinky? I know my husband’s has great biological scanners. I could show you the program I’m thinking of."

Ripple snorted in indignation. “You know, her Doctor lets her use the sonic screwdriver.”

The ancient traveler meekly nodded. “Yes, and remembering what happened is why I never let you touch it.” He produced the multi-tool and started scanning. “Oh dear.” He looked around at the buildings with horror. “Oh dear me. Hurry, she’s that way.”

He ran forward five paces, and then turned around. His retinue crashed into him, sending the group of ponies all sprawling. Standing up, he spoke again as if nothing happened. “And don’t touch anything! Not a door, not a wall, not a window!”

His warning given, the Doctor made haste down the streets. As Sparkler and Ripple struggled to keep up, Ditzy flew forcefully beside him. “What did you see that scared you, Doctor?”

He ran with a lopsided gait, one hoof on his top hat, struggling to keep it in place. “Everything, I’m such a foolish old stallion. No, don’t correct me Muffin, I couldn’t stand to say ‘foalish’ right now.”

Stunned at the Doctor’s use of John’s term, Ditzy nearly swerved into a light pole. He frowned guiltily. “I’m sorry. I’m not him, and I won’t say that again but we’re all so thickety thick! The three of us never thought to scan the town because it’s wood, and the screwdriver doesn’t like wood, and I’m so THICK.”

He suddenly stopped at an intersection. Peering in both directions, he caught sight of Dinky running towards them, terrified of a dark-colored misshapen form the size of a shack chasing her with menace.

“This town isn’t made of wood, Mrs. Doo-Smith. Not at all.” He shivered. “It’s made of death.”

Picking up a stick with his horn’s power, the Doctor gestured for Savory to come closer to the strange congealed mass.

“My dear, we’ve found an important clue.” He levitated the stick into the mass, pulling back a smoky half of a stick. He grimaced in grim realization, and then felt a tap on his shoulder.

Savory gestured behind them to a distorted amorphous thing bounding in their direction. “I think they realized that, Doctor.”

John Smith stuck to the darkness as he made his way down the streets of Violet Springs. He knew he was nearing the lumber mill. Well, we’ll kill two birds with one stone. First I’ll get to what’s behind this. Second, I’ll get away from Savory. If it hurts that much to be around her for me I can’t imagine how my future self could stand to be around Ditzy.

He sudden paused in the middle of the street, stopping in thought. “Wait a second, how do you kill two birds with one stone? Build a stone boomerang? Drop a large rock on a nest?” He looked around, noticing his solitude. “I’m kind of rubbish without an audience, aren’t I?” He gave a long sigh, and then turned to the sight of a charging barely-bipedal mass head straight for him.

“Oh dear,” he said cheerfully. “It’s a monster.” His eyes narrowed. “Loneliness is one thing. I can deal with monsters.”

Ditzy screamed as the hideous form advanced. “Doctor, my daughter’s being chased by a monster!”

The Doctor adjusted his top hat and bow tie. “Goody. I can deal with monsters.”

The distinguished dandy stepped in front of his assistant. “Miss Savory, please stand aside. Monsters are something of my forte.”

In three places, one traveler from the far planet of Gallopfrey stood his ground, preparing to do what races across the galaxy had enshrined him into legend for doing.

The unicorn Doctor met his adversary first, rushing at the only-vaguely pony-shaped mass. With a shout he jammed his hooves into it. He effortlessly lifted the half-ton monstrosity over him into the air, sending it crashing through the wall of a house.

He turned to his stunned audience. “Aphroditan Aikido, Miss Savory. The only truly pacifist martial art in the galaxy. I believe we should find the others before that brute stirs.” He shed his gloves, which were already in the process of dissolving into smoking gunk.

She smiled like a child at the circus. “It’s that time again, isn’t it Doctor.”

He nodded. “Yes, indeed.” He returned the grin as he sped off. “Run!”

“Run,” shouted the top hat clad Doctor as he brandished his sonic screwdriver. The terrifying form loomed over him, drawing in chairs and benches that came into contact with it.

Ditzy screamed as Sparkler ran past her. The pink teen dodged a tendril of goo to meet her sister, quickly flipping Dinky up onto her back. She sped off as a tentacle from the bulk aimed for them.

“You saved me,” Dinky whispered.

Sparkler ran as she softly said, “Nopony is to be harming my little sister.” The young mare reached her mother as the Doctor fiddled with the controls on his screwdriver. The gelatinous monster screamed at the time traveler from inches away.

He turned to his companions with complete calm. “Sorry, old setting! Took a while to find!” He pointed his device at the goo and clicked a button. The massively slushly ogre fell into an inanimate pile.

Ripple stepped next to him, nodding in triumph. “That was a weak beastie. So, can we examine the body?”

Sudden a tendril of ooze reached out from the mass, merging into the side of a nearby house. Its doors started swinging of its own accord. The Doctor grimaced. “Who said it was dead? I know I’m impressive, but I told you all to run!” He screamed the least word as he pushed his companions in the opposite direction.

The oozing ogre charged John Smith. As the ghastly bipedal form raised a fist to smash the Time Charger, he only lifted his hooves.

“I surrender,” he happily chirped.

The monster stopped. It had no eyes, but it gave the impression of peering in disbelief at the Doctor.

“I surrender. Go on and take me to your leader. Allons-y!”

The towering brute laughed. It reached carefully down around the form of the fearless pony, looking like a child about to crush an ant. The Gallopfreyan adventurer stopped it dead in its tracks as he addressed it in a low, cheerful voice brimming with menace.

“Look in my eyes. Got no weapons, got a big nasty monster in front of me. See any fear in those eyes, big boy?"

The slime being stopped. An outside observer would have thought the Doctor was engaged in a staring contest with an eyeless being. They would have also thought he was winning.

“Let me tell you, monsters across the length and breadth of the universe are afraid of these eyes. The biggest and nastiest ran in fear. That was back when I was alone. Now I’ve got my family with me to think about. Just try to imagine what I’m capable of doing. So help me, you’re going to take me captive or you won’t last long enough to regret it.”

Dinky leaped over the front of a cart in a breakneck run. The wooden pole twisted for a second, reaching for her like a snake. She tumbled forward, landing painfully but keeping herself in motion as an awning leaned down to scoop her up. As she skidded into the center of the square, she saw her father a few blocks over. One of the shapeless things loomed over John Smith, whilst he stood motionless with his hooves in the air.

Ditzy flew past her daughter, using her head to whip the tiny unicorn into the air. With a twist the pegasus caught the terrified child right between her wings and spread down the street.

Dinky threw her hooves around her mother’s neck for dear life. “Mommy, what’s dad doing?”

Several houses threw their hanging establishment signs at the speeding mailmare. She ducked low for the first two improvised missiles, than soared upwards over the inn’s large wooden emblem.

“He’s surrendering, Little Muffin.”

The grey streak aimed for the sky, straining under the weight of her terrified passenger. Suddenly two rooftops unfurled from the building, erecting a wall over Ditzy.

“Mommy, I thought Daddy was a hero?”

She banked to the side, coming precariously close to a wall whose brick seemed to crawl like gooseflesh. Out of options, she dashed for the form of her husband.

“Give it a second, Dinky. That nasty thing is going to be sorry Daddy ever surrendered to him.”

Sparkler charged forward. Park benches began hopping toward her. The Doctor chased after her, holding his top hat to avoid losing it in chase. The cornered teen screamed out a defiant roar as her horn spiked and flared. Fiendish furniture glowed and pitched right and left. She threw herself into the chase again, staring with terrified eyes at the disappearing form of her mother.

Ripple ran into place beside her Time Charger companion. “She’s doing great work for a pony with gems on her flank.”

The Doctor nodded his head as they both leapt over a crawling street sign. “She got that mark by lifting a cart with foals across a lava stream.”

Ahead, Sparkler turned onto the street her mother had turned behind. She let out a shout of anger and despair as two of the buildings collapsed, failing to nail the nimble pegasus. Her path now blocked, she stared at the wall ahead as several doors bent themselves over like hostile inchworms in pursuit.

Top Hat skidded to a stop in front of the aggressive archways, sweeping his sonic screwdriver out. As the little device beeped, one of the doors collapsed into a quivering pile of wood-colored goo. Pointing her horn at the prone portcullis, the rage-filled unicorn telekinetically swept it along the ground, battering her attackers into the wall. Ripple Pond could only stare at the snorting teen as Sparkler scanned the area for something to else vent her anger upon.

The Doctor whispered into the ear of the stunned youth from Coltland. “She’s not a jeweler, my dear. Her talent is protecting things precious to her.”

Looking around to make sure that no other foes pursued them, Ripple turned to the Doctor. “Are Ditzy and the lass going to be safe?”

The weary Time Charger tilted his head. “They’re heading for John Smith. I can’t imagine a safer place to be.”

“Something terrible is going to being done to them. I’m never going to see them again.” Hot tears splashed the pavement, and Sparkler cried with the force of a girl who trusted the world twice and was hurt both times.

Ripple sat back on her haunches, biting her hoof in frustration. Top Hat kneeled down in front of the sprawling teen. “That’s quite impossible.” His level, confident stare drew the inconsolable youth’s attention.

“It is wholly impossible that you will never see your parents again.” The crying girl from Coltland gasped, wondering if the Doctor was going to spill temporal secrets. With an even tone, he continued.

“I know that stallion. I know he would always return to you. Whatever bars his way will melt from the force of his anger.” He gently lifted Sparkler to her feet. “Even if it takes his final breath, he’s going to see you again.”

She threw her hooves around the ancient traveler’s neck and held him tightly, silently. His limbs moved around her without touching her, his bewildered gaze shooting at Ripple as if pleading her to take over. “Ripple,” he whispered forcefully. “It’s a girl! What do you do with…girls?” He looked at his tear-soaked bow tie. “She’s leaking!”

With an amused chuckle, Miss Pond placed her hoof on Sparkler’s shoulder. Still tearing, she shook her head at her companion in admonition. “I swear, Doctor. She has to be adopted. I can’t picture the alternative.”

Ditzy landed with a crash next to her husband. She stared at the immobile atrocity. Dinky quivered in fear, but her mother only smiled at John. In a cheerful tone, she said “Everything all right, muffin?”

The Doctor nodded. “This nice gentlething was just going to take me to his leader, right?”

The goo-thing reared back. It roared at the family, and then extended a dripping limb toward the lumber mill.

“Of course,” replied the cool-headed Time Charger. He turned to his daughter. “Come along Dinky. That was monster for ‘after you.’ Let’s not keep him waiting.”

As the Smith family walked on, Ditzy smiled back at their captor. She whispered into John’s ear. “Sparkler is with the goofy one.”

He nodded. “She’s in good hooves. He’ll crack time to avoid losing people.”

The neglected stone building showed years of wear from rain. John Smith raised his eyebrows and look at the dark monster ordering him forward. “Interesting. No ivy growing on it or any other structure in town. I know you folk, don’t I? I swear what you are is just on the tip of my tongue.”

The flowing freak roared. The Doctor politely nodded. “Of course. Let’s go inside, everyone. We’ll just wait for Mister Monster to bring his boss to this delightful temporary prison.”

As the group paced inside the darkened sawmill, John swung the door closed forcefully. His demeanor instantly changed. “Alright everyone, lock and bar every door and seal every hole.”

Dinky was staring at her father in disbelief. “Daddy, why was the monster so scared of you?”

He shrugged as he scanned the room with a strategizing look. “Maybe it’s heard of me?”

Ditzy placed a hoof on her daughter’s shoulder. “You father and I have something of a reputation, dear.”

The Doctor suddenly raised a hoof towards a seemingly empty corner of the room. “Come out, now. I didn’t hear a door swing, didn’t hear a window swing, but you got in here somehow. Come out where I can see you.”

The sobbing form of a young colt slowly paced into view. Dinky started. “Picket! You’re safe!” As she started walking toward him, her father placed his hoof in her path.

“No Little Muffin. I don’t think he is safe.” He turned to the shuddering form. “Who are you, and why aren’t you crying?”

Ditzy exhaled as she leaned toward her husband. “Look at the poor thing, dear. He’s shaking like a leaf.”

The Doctor’s vision never faltered from Picket. “He’s shaking. He’s quivering. He’s doing a lot of things but look! No tears.”

John Smith drew his sonic screwdriver to scan the child.

“I’m sorry,” Picket blubbered. “I never meant to get you in trouble. My Dad is really worried about yours, Dinky. I think he’s wrong!” He stepped forward. “I’ll tell him you’re my friend!”

The sonic screwdriver gave a few placid beeps, and the blood rushed out of its owner’s face. His eyes went wide as he nearly dropped his tool. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”

Ditzy’s heart skipped beat at those words. She had heard him say those words on worlds and times unnumbered, and they always meant her heart was about to break. “John, what is it?”

“There’s only one way you could have a village of shape-shifting ponies. Think about it; ponies who could absorb organic matter. A group of ponies who are all connected and controllable.”

The young Picket was shaking guiltily, but tears still wouldn’t come. That made the Doctor even sadder.

“A village of ponies who couldn’t cry because they can’t convert their biomass to water.” He shook his head.

Outside the lumber mill came the sound of crashes and roaring. Dinky put a nervous hoof on her father’s side. “Dad, we should go.” She saw several shapes darken the windows.

“I’m very sorry, Picket. You’re not a pony. You’re not real, and that means there’s a slight chance, maybe just a pinch, that we are all going to die.” He stared at the door with fear as it started to buckle inward from hammering blows.

His wife froze. She had seen those eyes lock gaze with innumerable tyrants and monsters, and she had never seen her husband quite so afraid. “Love, what are you talking about?”

John Smith put a gentle limb around his wife’s shoulder; she felt foreboding creep into her. I’ve never seen him look so defeated.

“Honey, those things out there are made of the same thing Picket is, and we can’t stop them.” His eyes caught a view of an amorphous purple shape pushing through the cracks in the door. “Nothing can stop the Smooze.”