• Published 9th Mar 2013
  • 7,326 Views, 374 Comments

P-Theory - Balthasar999



"You ever unwittingly use a magic letter to Celestia to roll a joint? Well, if you're wondering why I'm like, a girl unicorn now, that was the short version." Will this finally teach Rob not to be such an insufferable hipster?

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With Good Intentions

CHAPTER X

With Good Intentions

Anyone who has no need of anybody but himself is either a beast or a god.

-Aristotle

+ + +

I just sat.

I was tired and my leg hurt.

And I simply didn't know what to do. There was no way I could outrun them “driving stick” as I was, and judging by the looks of concern on their faces, they Knew What's Best for the animal in front of them and were determined to make sure that I—that "it"—got it.

They approached together, slowly and with their hands held slightly out at their sides, as if they were unsure of their balance. “Who put all that shit on her!?” the young man said with a kind of righteous disgust.

Oh come on, I thought. Would I have to go through this song and dance every time a human saw me? I felt a pang of empathy for people who have something they “don’t want to talk about.” How many times had I seen friends answer the same battery of insipid questions about this or that syndrome, traumatic event, or unclear ethnicity? Being turned into a talking pony, I supposed I now had one of each.

The woman mirrored her friend’s sentiment with a dismissive “What a buncha assholes!” and spat. “Think they can fuckin' do whateeeeever they want!” she continued with an exasperated drawl towards the end, as if this were something she'd needed to say far too many times.

It was then that I consciously noticed the pair's vaguely punk-ish appearance, a constellation of piercings across the man's face and gauges in his ears, with scrawny light brown dreadlocks, while the woman had close-cropped bleached hair and extensive tattoo sleeves, which she'd no doubt cut the arms off her Black Flag t-shirt to display.

“What're we gonna do with her? We could clean her up at Duncan's place, or get him to come over, he's got that huge tub or whatever...” The man whispered while looking sideways at me. I was going to be worried if he could tell that easily that I was—that this body was female, but he might have simply been defaulting to “she” to show off just how hard his Privilege had been Checked.

“Yeah...” the woman replied distantly, as if she weren't paying attention. She was staring right into my eyes, which made me extremely uncomfortable and my gaze started darting around as I thought of what to do.

“Plus I think he knows a bunch of farm people, that's sorta his thing.” The man continued. “Or like a ranch or whatever. She's probably real fucked up—I dunno what you do for a... 'rescue horse.'” They were still walking towards me, only about eight feet away now.

I really wanted to tell them to just fuck off.

“Lookit the poor thing...” said the woman. I’ll grant her I was in a sorry state. My forelegs were laid in front of me, my left pressing on the wrist I’d strained, never having used it as... a knee before, and all over me was the evidence of my bumps and falls. I’d been sweating, and along my sides and shoulders it had soaked into my coat, surface tension pulling the hairs into dozens of little shark’s teeth, to which clung numberless gritty specks. The weight of it was whisper-light but unignorable. One more new thing to take care of. The woman spoke again, quietly, shifting her head slightly towards her friend. “I’m pretty sure she’s been abused, by whoever... whored her up like this.”

Well thanks, Ms. The Illustrated Man. That slight to my inborn looks drove home just how frustrated I’d become at their patronizing approach. In working to not to upset the dumb beast they thought they saw, they were upsetting the language-using person I actually was.

If you're really up there, please save me, Wittgenstein!

They probably would have granted me sapience right away if I’d looked more like a cartoon character (whether they’d have stuck around is another question), but a real-life Pony turned out not to look radically different from, well, a real-life pony. But a horn and a coat color are what they are, no matter how stylized, and I wasn’t going to escape notice even before they picked up on the many unmistakable differences that marked me as an equine apart.

The man caught himself at the beginning of a no-doubt habitual toss of his head, and instead tried to blow his thin white-guy dreads out of his face, before finally giving up and whispering back to his friend. “Yeah... That’s so fake... She doesn’t look anything like a real unicorn would.”

That’s it. It might not have been my real body but it was still mine, even if I felt a twinge of worry over what it meant that I was now coming to its defense.

I let them approach to within about twice an arm's length, then tilted my head up and back while sighing casually to give them a second of warning about the whole ‘talking pony’ thing, and looked back at them. “You guys, I'm... I really am a magical unicorn, OK? I'm supposed—Whoa, be cool! You alright?”

The man had been in the process of crouching down, no doubt to pat my head, and fell over backwards almost immediately, while the woman simply froze and stared.

“Anyway,” I went on, “I'm supposed to look like this, with the horn and the colors and...” Don’t say vagina. “…all that,” I lied, not being 'supposed' to look anything close to this. “So...just...y'know, go back to, uh, your stuff, and forget you ever saw me, OK?” I lifted a forelimb to wave a hoof a few times in a shooing gesture off to the side.

“What the fuck...!?” the man stared at me with an expression of confusion so exaggerated it was surely some affectation he practiced. “Is this for real? Are you real?” He got up and turned to his friend. “That's gotta be like some lady in a suit, right? Aw shit, there's no way—just...” he broke up into an incoherent stammer before suddenly turning to me and laughing with relief. “We thought you were like a real horse or something. That is one fine-ass costume. Are you doing some kinda film school thing back here? ...Oh my god, we're super sorry if we like, fucked it up or whatever!”

“No, it's fine,” I said cheerfully, “I'm just taking a little break. This costume is hot!” Thanks for that, guy.

“I bet! With the face and everything it probably takes like ten hours to put on or whatever, so it's not like you can just...”

“Haha, yeah,” I picked up, “It's no plain old rubber suit.”

“That's not a costume,” the woman said with measured calmness—Ostensibly to her friend, though she was still staring at me fixedly.

“What? It...” The man trailed off. He hadn't believed it, either, but I wasn't going to be the one to stop him pretending otherwise.

“Look,” she said, leaning towards him but still keeping her eyes on me, “The way her mouth moves, and the ears, and where her eyes are, and the legs in the back, that's all real!” she gradually became more agitated, as if making up for her earlier catatonia. As soon as she said “ears” I self-consciously clenched them down and back, as if that would somehow hide them instead of make them even more conspicuously alive.

Great. I was tired and hungry and I wanted them to go away, and decided to just tell them as much. “OK, look—I'm not supposed... Lemme start over: I'm here by accident, and I'm trying to stay out of sight, so...Can you just...? Look, can you just go home and forget about this? It can be like some little 'thing' between the two of you—'That time you saw the unicorn,' you know?” The fact that I was lying down let me make an imploring shrug.

“Are you lost!? Do you need a place to hide!? I mean, we can...” She was serious but very energetic. Technically I did need a place to hide, but I didn't want things to get any more complicated than absolutely necessary. Like adding a card to a poker hand, each new person multiplied the possible combinations of Fuck.

“I don't want to involve anyone,” I said flatly.

“Why!? Are you in danger?” She jumped in with absolutely no delay, then seemed to almost retract her legs into the air to fall onto the grass in a seated position. She reached out and put a hand on that part of my neck where the mane ends...'withers,' was it called? "It's OK now..." I tensed for a moment but decided to ignore the gesture. “But you've got to get help if you're in danger,” she said with such genuine urgency that I felt inappropriate and disrespectful just by existing in the same space, as if I'd worn a tuxedo t-shirt to the Crucifixion.

“No! I'm not!” I involuntarily protested too much, trying to clear that deadly pall away, my voice climbing to a register I'd never have thought possible before today, and that I didn't know how anyone could be happy hearing come out of their mouth. I brought it down to a more casual level. “I'm really not. I just want—I'm just trying to get home, with as few people seeing me as possible.” Oh well.

“Where's home? Is it—Are you—We can get you there, or if it's not, like, a place on Earth we can help get you what you need to get back there!” She was absolutely determined to help, and the look of concern on her friends' face as he watched over her shoulder made me think he was, too, and taking it all in while he thought of a course of action. I doubted even in Equestria they had magic that could get someone to listen to you once they thought they had you all figured out.

I began to consider just threatening them with a telekinetic display, but my stomach growled with unreal volume and I realized there actually was something they could help me with. It was a short-sighted move, but I wasn't going to be useful at long-term thinking on an empty stomach.

“Actually...” I smiled, and they returned it—Clearly they'd heard my stomach as well. “If you really wanna help, I am craaazy hungry. Do you guys have any food, or could you just like... go get me a sandwich or something?”

“A sandwich?”

“...Or something.” I shrugged, then half jokingly began, “Actually, some pierogies sound—”

“I know the perfect thing!” The woman brightened and finally took her hand off my back, giving it a little scratch as she did so. I'm not going to lie, it was pleasant for what it was, but it still made me feel like a toy. She stood up and turned to her friend, saying something I couldn't quite make out but apparently involving a car and someone named Jeremy.

“Oh no, no—No cars! I'll just stay here,” I protested.

“Out in the open like this?” The man looked shocked.

“You can't! Trust us, this is our world and it's much safer this way if you don't want anyone to see you,” the woman said, looking back at me, her eyes large with concern. She nodded to her friend with a quick “OK, see you later,” and he took off back down the alley.

I groaned quietly and let my head fall to rest between my forelegs. She put her hand on my neck again and started running her fingers down the length of it through my, uh, mane, which she naturally assumed to be comforting but only made me feel awkward and patronized—Not that I told her to stop, though now I felt a little bit guilty on top of everything for secretly enjoying it.

Then it IS working, innit?

“Oh by the way, my name's Nicole, and that was Derek,” she said in a staccato burst as if she were trying to get it out of the way, then tried not to look like she was looking at me expectantly.

“Uhhh,” pony name, that's right, “Blue Shift.” I looked at her with a lopsided grin.

“That's a cool name, does it mean anything?”

“Oh, uh, well... So light waves, OK? We see their wavelength as color, so when something is moving towards—”

“Ohhh, that thing! Fuck... what's it called? The Dar... The Doppler Effect! Wow, I wouldn't have...expected a, a unicorn to be named after...science.”

“Well, we're mysterious...!” I said with exaggerated coyness. Telling her I just thought it was a cool sounding name that went with the color I turned out to be would probably have spoiled some of that mystique. “Uhhh... Think of short wavelengths that resolve lots of detail. Of keeping things densely packed. Like stars blending together in a glowing band across the sky.“

...Where did that come from? “It's sorta what the galaxy on my butt means.” I gestured back with my head.

She withdrew her hand when I moved and leaned over to look. “Oh cool...” She didn't seem particularly impressed by the mark, but then I suppose it wasn't much compared to her own tattoo sleeves. I saw an old sailing ship resting on the crease of her elbow, waves cascading down her forearm into an intricate Escher-esque collection of Japanese carp that I thought was particularly stunning. What special talent was that?

She inclined her head back towards me. “So... how did you get here? You can tell me if you’re...” Her eyes flicked to the side. “...running away from something.” Evidently she was still of the mind that I was fleeing some traumatic situation. I supposed in a sense I was, and my dirty coat did make me look the part, but it didn't feel right to wear that mantle over it. No one had been nasty to me, I had just unexpectedly become a walking news bombshell, and unable to easily perform daily tasks I took for granted. ...Could you go on disability for being a pony? Doesn’t hurt to have a backup plan, I guess...

Dude, I'm pretty sure the injection disabled horses get isn't into their bank accounts...

“Uhh, no... ” I replied hesitantly, “I’m not. I’m really not. I’m fine, just...” I didn't know what to say that would satisfy her and hopefully get her and her friend to leave me alone. My knee didn't hurt anymore and I considered just making a break for it, but she was still, on some level, operating under her first impression that I was an animal that needed help and wasn't able to ask for it. From her perspective, letting me run away would have been massively irresponsible. Even a display of magic to frighten her off would have just reinforced her belief I was scared and not behaving rationally. ...Maybe I wasn't. Would a rational pony... do what?

I'd seen over the years that people who decorated themselves to seem like something of a sharp-edged outsider, like she did, often had experience dealing with deadly serious drama, from family or friends or whomever, and might eventually become magnets for it themselves without realizing it (though of course sometimes they just thought it was a cool look). She was probably primed for this by long nights, in person and no doubt on her social justice Tumbr, of comforting her own friends as they tried to escape their issues, or being the one comforted herself. There were many, many worse people I could have encountered—Almost anyone, really—but none are so hard to shake off as an earnest do-gooder who thinks they have you pegged.

The fact that I was hiding so much about myself made me feel like I didn't have a right to be in the presence of someone so dedicated, and I guessed she could sense this, and interpreted it as a different class of shame. Should I have come clean and explained everything? It wouldn't be what she expected, but it was still a case of a person in trouble and with the potential to be victimized. I wanted to keep my true identity a secret, because I still believed on a fundamental level that I'd be back in my old life before too long, and I didn't want the time I spent as an impossible pony to define the remainder of that life or otherwise haunt me. No doubt that was the “running away” she smelled on me.

My family and closest friends were the only ones I could trust to help me and then let this lie, and theirs was the only help I wanted. And there was Steph now, as well, to whom I at least owed closure. But still, a part of me wondered if it might be somehow petty, or even just strategically unwise, to refuse these people's immediately available help.

As if answering my thoughts, Nicole shifted to sit next to me so we were both facing the same way, and then with perfect candor said, “You don’t have to tell me anything you don’t want to.” Thank you, I’m going to take advantage of that.

In a way she did have me figured out, only missing an added wrinkle that, in terms of simply keeping me out of harm’s way, didn’t make much difference. As far as most things were concerned, I might as well have always been a pony.

Nicole shifted slightly. “So... If I can ask, where do unicorns... I mean, where did you come from...?”

“Seattle, originally.”

Nicole stifled a laugh. "Wow, shit... I should have guessed it’d be something I’m just not... ready to understand. I guess they do say Bigfoot’s up around there, though... You wouldn’t know if he’s real, would you?"

"I doubt it."

We sat in silence for five minutes or so, with Nicole periodically rising to walk from one end of the alley to the other to make sure we weren’t disturbed, and she moved a few more trash cans to block sight lines as much as she could. Feeling useless, I attempted to stand up and help push the cans, but like someone who won’t let you pay for a meal seeing you pull out your wallet, she insisted I remained where I was and that I should rest, and it struck me that not having the will to go through that whole “no I insist” back-and-forth meant she might once again be right about me.

I was somewhat relieved, not just because sitting around doing nothing is always preferable to a chore, but because I was still, on an only semi-conscious level, afraid for my right front knee. No doubt if I’d grown up in this body I’d have injured it countless times, and seen countless other foals weather the playground’s slings, arrows, and thousand natural shocks, but there was no one in this world to teach me what my limits were.

Nicole spent most of the time simply keeping me company, which was nice, and after she’d been “caught” staring at me a few times, I turned my head to lie facing away from her so that she could look all she wanted without feeling rude.

That backfired, however, and she pushed herself back a few inches before apologizing. "I’m sorry, I don’t meant to stare, It’s just that no one ever thought unicorns might actually be real.” Count me among them. “But I always knew it, that there was more. I knew there was more.”

“No... No argument here.”

“I guess it’s no surprise but you’re kind of different from the legends we have... Without the long tail or cloven hooves or the, you know, beard,” she said. What? Was that a thing? Why does everyone know more about this than me? “You’re more like... a pony, almost.”

“Mpff...I guess you could say that.”

“Oh wait, are you... An adult? Or... fully grown, if you don’t mind my asking?”

“Haha... As far as I know.”

“Can I ask how old you are?”

“Twenty-seven.”

“How long do unicorns—Excuse me.” A muffled jungle cat had roared from somewhere, and Nicole pulled a phone from her pocket to glance at the screen. “OK, Derek's back with the van, let's go! ...Can you walk OK?”

“Oh, yeah, I'm fine, uh—” I replied automatically before warning klaxons began sounding in my brain. They say if you're being assaulted, the one thing you should fight against, as if you planned to die right then and there, was being moved to another location.

But I wasn't being assaulted...was I? This was almost the opposite—Wasn't I being rescued? Didn't the exact words “rescue horse” come out of Derek’s own mouth? But I was still traveling into unknown territory and this had the potential to spiral wildly out of control. That's what it was: I was no longer in control of the situation but had let someone else take the reins, and now I had to walk down whatever path that rider chose.

Maybe in a way I was being kidnapped... “Uh...!” I stammered, “N...no, it's alright, I just asked for a little food, and then I'll be on my way! You know what, forget it, I’m not even that hungry; I mean thanks, but I—”

Nicole had gotten up to lead the way but then turned around to face me with a look of pained confusion. “You can't stay here! Just out in the open!? You've got to let us help you, you don't know how dangerous it can be around here!”

In this yuppie neighborhood? C'mon. No wait, wasn't some girl telling you her friend got shot outside of the Channel Club?

Sure, but he lived...! And who'd try to mug a creature with no pockets, anyway?

Regardless, I still couldn't bring myself to show my true colors. “No, really! Just listen to me! There's a lot you don't understand!” I implored, but I still stood up in spite of myself. It was no use, anyway—She was convinced of my traumatized irrationality and would probably go get Derek to help carry me if I resisted. Shit, I was being kidnapped!

She was looking at me, waiting for me to follow. I ran through my options but there weren't very many. I couldn't—didn't know how to run, not on this bumpy grass and dirt. I'd just hurt myself again and only make their case stronger. Maybe I could wreck the van with telekinesis, but I didn't have enough confidence in it's forcefulness and besides, that seemed kind of... evil. The best bet was probably to take a page from the Doctor, and simply go along with my captors until I could find a new opportunity to escape and rendezvous with my Companion and TARDIS, or friends and apartment in my own case. At least these people weren't planning to disintegrate me.

You don’t know that, maybe the Men in Black have gotten really into zines.

I stepped forward, and felt only a ghost of pain in my knee, so light it was almost certainly my imagination. At least something was going my way. I followed Nicole around the corner, and paused as she checked the street for witnesses, then motioned for me to enter the back of a scuffed, forest green minivan, one corner of its front bumper made into a little crumpled cove by some forgotten collision.

I reached far into the van's hold to place my forehooves on the hard felt-covered surface, then jumped with all four legs, landing on my side with my back against the rear seats. I rolled over onto my stomach and raised my head to signal my safe arrival to Derek and—Who the hell is that guy?! I knew it, I fucking knew it...

“That's Jeremey, we're going to his place. You can clean yourself up there and we'll cook you something,” Nicole said as she prepared to close the back door, while the puffy, freckled man in the passenger seat gaped at me and shook his head. “Derek's a really good vegan cook. Hors— Uh, unicorns are herbivores, I'm guessing, uh, you don't eat meat, uh, right?”

“...Well I dunno, I guess if we were all in like a lifeboat, and there was no other food...” I said, completely surprising myself. My mouth had apparently entered some kind of holding pattern while I panicked upstairs about another person getting involved, but Nicole chuckled and softly shut the rear door.

You're welcome.

Derek leaned over his shoulder to ask if I was secure and I nodded affirmative—It's not like any of them were wearing seatbelts—And we set off along the tree-lined avenue.

At a red light shortly into our voyage, in the oily shade of some overhead train tracks, Derek leaned over his shoulder towards me again. “Do you like music...?”

What kind of question is that? Everypony likes music! I was startled that I'd just thought a ponyism without specifically intending to, but it somehow felt like the “correct” choice of words right then... Maybe this body was getting to me. Maybe some music would take my mind off it.

“Y...Yeah,” I said lightly, “Go ahead.”

“Is dub reggae OK? Uh, do you know what that is?”

I suddenly snorted, then grinned—I was always more of a ska fan but reggae was right up there. Maybe I’d get along with these people better than I thought. “Yeah, it's fine,” I tried to say as nonchalantly as possible—I still didn’t want to have a conversation about it.

He played something I didn't recognize. I thought about having that conversation after all, but doubted I'd still be able to remember the name he gave me the next time it even occured to me to go on iTunes. Instead I lay my head down on a forelimb to stare up out the window with one eye and let the rhythm relax me for the duration of the ride, lightly twitching a hoof as if I were strumming up on the 2 and 4 beat. I'd been saving up for a new bass guitar, but now even four strings seemed like too much to handle.

Even though my head was down so I wouldn’t be spotted, I recognized a lot of the tops of buildings or their signs I could see by looking up through the back windows—There was the 5AM taco place, the Family Dollar that was always out of frozen pizza, a bar I once got kicked out of but it so totally wasn’t my fault, the theater where a girl and I went to see a midnight showing of “Pink Flamingos,” and what used to be my friend Dan's apartment...Or maybe that was Paul.

The trip lasted about ten minutes, and then we pulled into a dirt driveway between two old houses in a part of town I didn't visit very often. Miraculously, only a bit of my progress walking home had been undone—Now I simply had to head west instead of south. That is, once I was able to... extricate myself.

When I raised my head I could see a stand of trees enclosing the little dirt parking area, and the mud-brown top of a boxy sedan as we pulled up along side it. “OK, here we are!” Nicole said cheerfully. “This is Jeremy's place. He's got a few roommates, but they won't be a problem. Right?” She turned to him.

“Yeah, they're fine,” Jeremy lazily called back to me, the first thing he'd said to me the whole time, only occasionally mumbling back and forth with Derek until now. I could guess who they were talking about.

I sighed. Of course he had roommates. I bet they had a dog, too, who'd be overjoyed to meet someone closer to his height. Nicole opened the rear door, and I timidly climbed out, back legs first. I followed them up a short flight of DIY wooden steps and through a screen door, into a dim, linoleum kitchen and then a stuffy living room, with huge mismatched couches and puffy chairs, and a coffee table covered with papers and all sorts of little domestic detritus, as well as a stout purple bong. There were a few earthy rugs in well-traveled spots on the plush gray-brown carpet, and a large TV on a Victorian credenza in the corner, sporting a jungle of wires that no doubt eventually reached the Xbox and DVD player and other gadgets on the floor in front.

On the end of the wide wooden bannister fencing off the stairs, someone had placed an open laptop, its wallpaper a group photo of smiling protesters, just visible under a shotgun spray of icons. A few unframed, goopy abstract paintings hung on the walls, as well as some rather snappy posters advertising bands that seemed only vaguely familiar. The blinds were closed, and a few shafts of early afternoon light cut through the dim room to emphasize its coziness and autumn colors. It was actually quite nice in its way, like a big, broken-in sweater that smothers you a little but keeps you warm on house-bound Sundays. It smelled like... a burlap kaleidoscope. My nose wrinkled slightly on its own, but it was just too sensitive an organ for its owner to wrest much meaning from.

A gray and black striped cat oozed out from under the coffee table and crept silently towards me. “That's Lumpy,” Nicole said as the cat brushed against my legs, tracing a figure-eight around the two right ones before hopping up onto an easy chair to stare at me. I had no idea of the range of ordinary pony coats, but mine was shorter, thicker, and smoother than the slightly fluffy cat's. I guessed that I might look a little bit shiny if I were very thoroughly brushed.


Art courtesy of Paper Pony

“He's a rescue, too. Shit, I mean...!" Nicole waved her hands in front of her face, and I cocked my head to the side with a loose smile I hoped communicated I knew what she meant. "...Have a seat and just relax!” She indicated any of the chairs or couches.

"Are you sure? I'm kinda..." I looked back and forth at my matted sides.

Nicole laughed once and rolled her eyes. "Don't worry, Jeremy and them have long since given up trying to keep anything nice in here." She glanced around, then reached into the cushions of a chair to pull out a crushed, empty Hamm's can, holding it up as Exhibit A, then her shoulders drooped. "Sorry. That it's not...probably as nice as a unicorn needs, I mean, but I hope you can at least get comfortable."

“Ah...don't worry about that...!” I replied as a sleepy groan. This room was having a bit of an effect on me, and I climbed up onto a fat, pumpkin-colored corduroy couch, pressing my back into it and laying my head on an armrest, while letting my legs stretch out off the front to almost reach the coffee table. I sunk into the sofa and shifted slightly to bask in the little zone of comfort I'd discovered. I was almost tempted to take a nap.

From couch you came and to couch you shall return! Try going back to sleep—Maybe this whole time you just needed to turn yourself off and back on again.

“Derek's going to cook you something. Is there anything you like?” Nicole had her hands on either side of the entryway to the kitchen, and was leaning forward into the living room like the mermaid on the bow of a pirate ship.

“Anything he wants to make is fine, thanks...” I said in a thin, dreamy voice. I really was tired. Too tired to risk ungratefulness by saying no eggplant or tomatoes. Those could be Future Blue Shift's problem.

Everything in me wanted to sleep, but I couldn't afford to waste time and I didn't know how long I'd be unconscious. It's not like they would stab me in my sleep and steal my shoes, but I just couldn't stay here... Though before I left I needed some way to repay their generosity. I could at the very least play them a song, but I wasn't nearly dexterous enough with magic to touch anything more complicated than bongos.

The cat was still staring at me from its nest in the seat of a big fuzzy armchair. I hoped this body wasn't allergic to cats... Normally at this point I would never have let my face touch something in this house, but I'd put my trust in this body so far, and hoped with no small amount of selfishness that an allergic reaction wasn't something I'd have to think about anymore—Cat allergies are a curse for anyone living in a city who likes girls, because all urban single women own cats. All of them. Or are at least assumed cat-owning until proven innocent. But maybe now I would finally like cats as much as I claimed I did.

It'd sure simplify things if I were now free of animal allergies, but I immediately remembered a much bigger obstacle to dating human women was likely my being a small female horse. Where would I even begin? I'll start a “P for F” section in the classifieds, that's what I'll do, but we can't run a whole new section with just one ad, the editor said, so I threw a smoke bomb on the ground and split into eight projections of myself, so now you have enough, right, Mr. Editor, but can you tell which is the real pony and not just an illusion?

Suddenly I was back on the couch. I'd fallen asleep for a moment, and was startled by the jolt of being pulled through that tunnel back to reality. Maybe I should just let go—They'd wake me up to eat, right? Unless this became one of those “Oh you looked so sweet sleeping there I just couldn't wake you up” things... As an adorable pony, the risk of becoming my own living Do Not Disturb sign was probably a lot higher, but on the other hand it's not like the hotel maids really pay attention to those signs; I mean you could be trying to sleep in, or punch the clown or whatever before taking a shower and it's all Knock Knock Knock and in she comes Oh hey I know you! Sorry though can’t talk I have to go back over to the window and finish jumping out of it, and then because the cars outside slowed down to avoid hitting me time also slowed down of course (cars and time are the same thing you know) so I wasn't falling as fast and

Back on the couch again. The wall clock told me I'd been lying there for less than five minutes. A minute to win it, this is the big game son, and they're the rich kids' camp from across the lake who pushed the Fat Friend into the water when the panty raid went wrong before the scene where the monster turned out to actually be Old Man Withers from the abandoned

Couch. Yikes. I felt like I was getting whiplash. That seemed to have tripped some necessary switch, however, and second by second I was growing less tired until I no longer had to fight to keep my eyes open. Maybe it had jumped over to the cat, who now looked away from me and yawned, forcing me to do the same, and I was surprised by how wide my mouth could open if I really pushed, probably to assist in grasping more unwieldy objects.

I heard thumping in the kitchen, and slowly the scent of some kind of oil wafted into the living room to mix with the stuffy blend of soil and upholstery and untold summers' worth of pot resin that already filled it.

Nicole came back into the living room and grabbed the laptop off the bannister, then sat down on one of the other sofas, across the table and against the same wall as the TV. “Here, let me put on some music. Do you like Animal Collective—Haha, what am I saying...?”

“Whatever you want is fi...” It suddenly dawned on me that someone who had been so worryingly lax about not involving other people was now holding a device that could talk to anyone in the world.

“What's wrong?”

I bit my lower lip. Should I break the laptop? Is that what an “expert” would tell me to do? I “flexed” the strange presence inside my horn and tried to reach into it with my magic sense, but I couldn't clearly distinguish the components from the electricity running through them. It was a bit like sticking my tongue into a box of jittery iron filings. Glancing up, I could see my bangs subtly illuminated, but focused on her laptop as she was, Nicole didn't seem to have noticed my horn's faint activity.

...What did it matter, anyway? Derek could have snapped a photo of me and tweeted it to hundreds of people the instant he was out of sight. This house probably contained at least a dozen ways of getting online and there was no way I could break them all without being the obvious culprit, not to mention a huge asshole for breaking all their stuff. I'd have to just trust them.

I began to shift onto my stomach to once more sit pony style, but the way I shivered and then frowned halfway through made Nicole blink and lean forward. I could either let her think it was a painful memory, or tell her it was the corduroy couch's rather cheeky reminder of the two... objects between my hind legs. I sighed. “Nothing, it's fine.”

“You don't seem to believe that. I understand if you don't want to talk but I'm here whenever you do.”

“I know. And you're probably just dying to know what my deal is—I would be, too—But really, it's better for me in the long run the fewer people know about this.”

“I can understand that. But I don’t think it’s helping you to shut down or keep it all to yourself. I’d be lying if I said I don’t want to know all about you—I still can’t get over that this is even happening, really—But I’m not the lost unicorn and this isn’t about me. If it’s something you’re ashamed of, or something painful, I can understand, and I don’t want to push you, but you won't be able to get any real help if you don't open up.”

“Wow, uh, thanks... It is something... pretty embarrassing, I guess. But not, uh, the way I think you’re thinking of.”

“What way is that?” She lost no momentum getting a foot in the door.

“Oh, you know... the ‘Lifetime Original Movie’ way,” I obfuscated. From her expression, that seemed to be enough of a smokescreen to lose her for the time being. "Lemme, uh...Hmm...” I gazed upward in thought and Nicole blinked. “OK: I'm in a bit of a 'situation' right now, but eventually I won't be, and then I don't ever want it coming up again, because it would follow me and define me for the rest of my life. I don't want there to be any links between 'me' right now, and 'me' in the future, and telling you why would itself be a link. Does that... make sense?”

“Are you...being blackmailed or something?” It was a good guess, and it was a fair assumption on her part that if she sussed it out on her own, I might as well fully open up to her.

“Oh, no no no no no!” I backpedaled, then hesitated for a moment with a pinched “Well...” and then “No. Not like—No. I'm not.”

“It's not really my place to say this, but maybe whatever it is you should think about accepting it and not trying to run away.”

I frowned at the empty air between us. This was getting irritating. I didn't begrudge her all that curiosity, but if she fully believed it was my prerogative to remain silent she wouldn't be trying so hard to drag things out of me, and so I decided to employ some of the same Bullshit I'd used earlier. “Look, I didn't want it to come to this, but I'm sworn to secrecy. All the information pertaining to what I'm doing here is classified on the orders of the Princesses, and there's no way I can break my promise to the alicorn royalty. Uh, not after all the trust they put in me.”

I didn't know if that would have any effect on someone with such an explicitly anti-authoritarian bent, but I wanted to at least give the impression I was beholden to the good guys. From the way she raised her eyebrows, however, I guessed that she was at least taken aback enough by the idea to not press me further. Part of me thought it was wrong to let her go on thinking I was a real unicorn—

You ARE! What the hell did you spend like twenty minutes staring at in the mirror!? You could be the very apex of unicorn actuality for all you know!

—But I couldn't gather the strength of will to come clean about having been human. There was a special kind of irrational shame to it, as if I were so bad at life I couldn't even manage to stay the same species.

Suddenly a door opened upstairs and I was immediately blasted with the ice-smooth pungency of extremely potent marijuana. One of those strains heavy-duty enough to deserve its own name, among the ranks of White Widow, Sour Diesel, Northern Lights, Bubblefunk, Strawberry Ice, Maui Mist, Blue Moon, Blue Velvet, Silver Haze, Crazy Daze, Wonderberry, Granddaddy Purple, and all the other background ponies.

There was some thumping from the second story and then a young man trundled down the stairs, a knit cap barely containing his wild black hair, and a flannel shirt open over his uniformly soft chest and stomach, thankfully leaving a visible square of striped boxer shorts in the front to prove he wasn't going totally bottomless. I clenched my teeth and shook my head. Whatever part of Nicole's brain had been making her so helpfully cautious back in the alley seemed to have completely died.

“Gonna play some Skyriiiiim,” the new guy croaked at the TV in the corner.

“Brandon!” Nicole groaned slightly. “You're going to fucking play video games? We've got a real live unicorn right over here! Her name is Blue Shift!”

I rolled my eyes, and fought an urge to look for someone behind me when she used a female pronoun. Brandon glanced over his shoulder at me after flopping down into an easy chair.

“Hey,” I said with my most disaffected nod.

“Whoa, haha, it's a 'my little pony,'” Brandon mumbled with a slight smirk.

My eyes bugged out and I pulled out a forelimb to wave hastily across my neck. Brandon nodded sagely. Nicole didn't seem to have picked up on any of this—Maybe she was used to ignoring strange things he said.

“Hey pony, you wanna watch me play Skyrim?”

“Yeah, OK,” I nodded and let my eyelids droop a little in imitation. This Brandon guy was alright. I seemed to have luck with pony fans coming down the stairs.

I heard more sizzling from the kitchen, then Derek walked out. "'Bout another half hour," he said, his eyes lazily drawn to the game booting up. "Hey Brandon. ... I said hey Brandon." Derek looked towards me, then grinned and shrugged. I was fading fast, and managed little more than raising my eyebrows in acknowledgement.

Nicole set her laptop on the floor. "Oh hey, I messaged Duncan, he's on his way over. I told him to bring his horse stuff." Wait, what...?

Derek twirled the spatula he was carrying. "Did you tell him why?"

"No, but I think he'll figure it out pretty quick."

I was too drowsy to worry about Future Blue Shift's problems. I watched Brandon's warrior or barbarian or whatever it was dither around the countryside for about ten minutes before, despite my token resistance, truly falling asleep.

Author's Note:

Trust is a lot more complicated than just whether or not someone consciously plans to screw you over.

Though I didn't really intend this, while in so many of these stories someone is worried about the pony being captured by some kind of organization, here she's been "captured" by essentially the opposite.

I've never played Skyrim, I just have a lot of stoner friends who are into it, so apologies in advance for not getting any references in the comments.

This chapter is 7,777 words. I thought about editing it to make it a less distracting number, but it's really no more or less likely than any other number of words...

Speaking of demystifying things, I just checked out Richard Dawkins' new book for younger readers, The Magic of Reality, the first and last chapters of which are very similar to that whole section back in chapter 3 about the reasons this all must have an explanation. I feel so validated.

Next is going to be another "interlude," seeing what's up back in Equestria—I'm excited to do a little myth making, and hopefully you'll all enjoy the ambiance and sense of Equestria as a real other world. Expect answers... but even more questions! Hopefully not because I make a ton of consistency errors!

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