Jeremy woke up at what had come to be his usual routine, meaning a little after eleven am, at least according to the wristwatch he still wore. He’d been thinking of selling it, but it wouldn’t bring enough bits for the only thing he actually wanted that he couldn’t currently afford, and besides, he’d been wearing a watch pretty much continuously since he was about seven years old. It’d feel weird without it. Ponies had some pretty nice pocket watches, but it just wasn’t the same.
Waking up was a little bit of a chore. He’d learned to duck when he went through the doors of his Ponyville apartment, and thank god for the pony love of vaulted ceilings, otherwise he’d really hate the place, but facilities made for four foot ponies weren’t exactly suited for his six foot frame. Reminded him a lot of Gandalf in Bilbo’s house. Still, he managed well enough. A varnished wooden stool in the shower kept him from throwing out his back standing under the showerhead, and fortunately, ponies required longer stalls than humans could get away with, giving him room to sit.
Ponies had enough equivalent toiletries that the rest of his daily grooming was straightforward enough, though he’d grown a short beard about the length of pony fur, since that’s how pony safety razors trimmed beard hair. Ponies, being naturally fuzzier than your average human, didn’t go for completely bare faces, and their medical razors that would actually result in bare skin were little better than straight razors. Jeremy avoided them under the principle that an itchy and annoying beard beat slitting his own throat, and the local barbers weren’t any better with them than he was.
Clothes weren’t much of a problem. Getting them was easy, Rarity was appropriately enthusiastic, though it’d been something of a chore to get her head wrapped around the idea of casual clothes. Ponies didn’t do casual clothes. For them, getting dressed meant getting dressed up, and while admittedly she’d come up with a deep purple zoot suit looking outfit that he thought was probably the snazziest thing he’d ever owned, getting her to make jeans and t shirts was somewhat frustrating. Ponies had a denim equivalent for protective clothing, but he still felt weird about the polished amber she’d used instead of rivets, and what he thought was fire opal for buttons.
The real problem, clothing wise, was that, given how uncommon actually wearing clothes was, no pony had ever bothered to invent an automated washing machine. Instead, washboards or magical dry cleaning was the order of the day, which, given he didn’t actually know how to use a washboard, meant sending his clothes out to be cleaned. It was an annoying and persistent expense that reminded him of being in college and having to use a laundromat.
Breakfast was the last third of a baguette of dark brown bread, slathered in butter and toasted in a gas oven that was easily the most advanced technology in the apartment. Ponies were generally lower tech than humans by a fair margin, but they took their baking seriously. The bread itself was top notch, earthy and crusty with a molasses on cornmeal hint of sweetness. It was even better now, once he’d convinced the Pies to make a few loaves without the shredded hay, just for him.
After he ate, he set a stack of laboriously handwritten, and in some cases rewritten with annotations, loose papers in a small flat box and tied it up with string, putting a Canterlot destination and his return address on the outside. He stacked a folder of papers on top, grabbed his still surviving sunglasses, and stepped out his front door, whereupon he was promptly clobbered by a grey pegasus mailmare.
Ponies, man. But at least she saved him a trip to the post office.
A little over an hour later, Jeremy sipped a glass of iced tea at an outdoor café table, grateful for the shade the umbrella over the table provided. It was getting on up into summertime, and ponies hadn’t gotten around to widespread implementation of air conditioning yet. The thought of air-conditioning made him brood even harder.
When he’d first been looking around for things to tell ponies how to make, he’d been fairly excited by the idea of introducing air conditioning to them. After all, efficient air conditioners were complex, fiddly bits of machinery, and he didn’t actually know the most efficient way of synthesizing ozone safe refrigerant off the top of his head. That could have kept him busy for years. But no, ponies knew HOW to make them, even more efficient that humans in some ways, thanks to their magic. They just generally did not consider them worth the expense. Much like automatic washers and dryers, the customer base just wasn’t there to support it.
Just like with high efficiency internal combustion engines. Ponies were too strong to need the assist most of the time. And long lasting fluorescent lights, assuming he could figure out the pieces of their manufacture he wasn’t sure about, since ponies used candles and lamps for a surprisingly huge amount of their light needs. And they had the finicky but incredibly bright halogen variants needed for spotlights and powerful flashlights. LEDs would have been awesome, but he didn’t know how to make those. Plastics would have been wonderful, since his degree was in chemical engineering and he knew a ton about polymers. But ponies had plastics, vegetable oil based, actually, for the few things they needed it for, and used wood, metal, and stone for everything else. Without the abundant, cheap source of large hydrocarbons spun off by a thriving petrochemical industry, plastics were not cost effective to make. And ponies did not HAVE a thriving petrochemical industry. They barely used the stuff.
Just as bad as all the things they weren’t interested in was the things they were. Ponies had primitive computers, about as powerful and versatile as the old EDVAC, successor to the better known ENIAC. Like the EDVAC, pony computers actually used a binary language, but maybe that made more sense to a race that only had two front hooves instead of ten fingers. They were admittedly smaller and less energy intensive, thanks to their components being largely magical, and were used almost exclusively to perform elaborate spell computation, a field he knew nothing about. However, his descriptions of modern human computers, plus his examples of a ruined smartphone and a fortunately working tablet he’d had with him, had sent pony researchers into paroxysms of glee. Twilight had flipped out when the calculator ap on his table turned out to be able to run some sort of fantastically complex mathmatical calculation unicorns had been puzzling over for years, and it did it in a few seconds of output, and he’d basically become some sort of mythical figure to the entire field of equestrian mathmatics. Researchers lined up for a chance to use his tablet, but it was illsuited, program wise, to much of what they wanted to do.
The only solution was clearly for ponies to build their own, and petitions, grants, and various other financial support had poured in to a new team of scientists devoted to reverse engineering his gear. Computers were something they wanted, badly. Twilight had offered some cautious words, however. She had apparently had a few bad experiences with social media in the human world.
He didn’t know how to make a computer though, especially not given the equestrian tech base, and, despite being rather proud of his computer skills and understanding of the technology and the history of computers, it had actually taken less than a day for him to explain all he actually knew about their operation and programming. It was depressing. The only thing left was to sell what he had for start up money to live off of in Equestria. He could have gotten more, even a lot more, but on the off chance the pony researchers managed to figure it out, he gambled on a long term royalty payment option that would probably make him rich as hell. If, again, if, the ponies figured it out. Luckily, his smart phone and his tablet both used the same processor and ram, so they could dissect the waterlogged phone while still preserving the tablet.
Still, that didn’t leave anything else for him to do. All he’d managed to contribute to the project was a couple of examples and a little bit of knowledge. That didn’t give him a job where he was doing things and researching things and making shit happen. Goddamn it, a fucking degree in chemical engineering and another in business management should mean something when you’re stuck on a world where the inhabitants still think steam locomotives are a pretty amazing idea, and half the time end up getting out and pulling the damned things themselves to save on coal and water!
In fact, the only thing he’d managed to actually contribute, technology wise, was-
“Hi, Jeremy!” Twilight called as she trotted over, Spike sitting comfortably on her back. “Sorry I’m late, I had to prepare a report on regional trust harmonics for the Princess and quadruple checking my work ran a little longer than I thought because there was a semicolon I wasn’t sure about and my copy of Essential Equestrian Elements of Style got buried under a stack of reports and it took me almost an hour to find it.”
“Mornin’, Twilight, Spike,” he offered, ignoring her rambling greeting. “I haven’t ordered yet, was waiting on you.” He dug around in his pocket and pulled out a pair of ink pens, which he handed over to her. “Got something for you. The machine shop Filthy Rich introduced me to finished some prototypes for our ballpoint line and I wanted you to have one to try. I think you’ll find it’s not just a little bit easier to use than a quill or even a fountain pen, but, like, a lot easier.”
“Wow, thanks Jeremy! These are based off that spring loaded ball design you mentioned? I thought you were still having trouble with the flow channels?” She pulled the top off telekinetically and fished around for some paper to draw on, which she pulled out of her saddlebag.
“Yeah, Chisel and Gouge, the machinist ponies, figured it out. They’re expensive, these pens are likely to be a hundred bits each just for the cartridge, and more for a nice body, but they’re metal and they shouldn’t wear out for a very long time. The cartridges are refillable with the right equipment, basically just a syringe, a reservoir, and a centrifuge, which we’ll probably put in stores and charge a few bits per use. Even when you do finally wear out a cartridge, they’ll be getting cheaper all the time as production ramps up.”
“Amazing!” Twilight enthused, scribbling on the paper. Spike, on the other hand, looked at his more skeptically.
“So how long are these ‘cartridges’ going to last?” Spike asked. “I can’t just stop in the middle of taking down letters and run down to a store to refill the ink.”
Jeremy smiled and shrugged. “Dunno yet. Back home, I would usually get three to four weeks out of one with fairly continuous use, and years out of one that just laid around in a drawer, but I don’t know how efficient these are gonna be. That’s part of testing, Spike. But I gave you two, so if you run out, just switch to the other one until you can get them refilled. Just please write down some rough estimates on how much you’ve used it and any problems that you end up having, so we can fix it for the production line.”
“Oooh! You’re asking me to take notes on my note taking! I’ve always wanted to do that!” Twilight cheered.
“Um, yeah. You do that. Glad to help.”
An earth pony waiter that had been hovering nearby took the opportunity to show up with two more menus and an offer to get the Princess and her Royal Assistant some drinks. Twilight was well known enough in Ponyville to not cause too much of a fuss, but there was a certain local pride that their local librarian had grown wings and become an alicorn.
Twilight got a water and Spike got an apple soda, then they went ahead and ordered because Twilight and Spike already knew the menu by heart and Jeremy had been there for fifteen minutes. For his part, Jeremy went for a five egg omelette loaded with mushrooms, cheese, tomatoes, and onions, plus toast.
Once she’d ordered, Twilight pulled a folder out of her saddlebags and floated it over.
“Why didn’t you warn me that humans had solved the issues of fluorination?” she demanded without preamble. “You mentioned some interesting alchemy when you gave me this last Thursday but I wasn’t prepared for THAT.”
“Because we haven’t?” he asked, confused and unprepared for the sudden assault. “I mean, yeah, we figured out a lot of stuff and some handy uses, but the stuff is so dangerous there are some things even we don’t mess with much. Dioxygen diflouride will burn through a tungsten crucible. That’s insane. I just thought you might find the bit about chlorine trifluoride interesting, and could pass it on to the computer research team. You can safely store it in steel vessels and it’s such a strong oxidizer it’ll peel off semiconductor vapor from manufacturing equipment without having to take everything apart and do it by hand.” He paused. “Err, hoof. Just don’t ever spill it.”
“Jeremy, we haven’t done serious research into fluorides in decades because it’s so dangerous ponies kept blowing up their labs or getting poisoned. After Dimes and Nickels were killed when their compound ate through the fume hood and filled their lab with toxic gas… Well, fluorine research wasn’t outlawed or anything, but everypony has developed a fairly serious interest in… pursuing other avenues of research. And before that, Calferine O’Leary, the famous cow alchemist, burned down half of Chicagoat trying to isolate elemental fluorine.”
“…Chicagoat? What is it with you ponies and your insistence on having everything be some sort of species pun? Humans don’t do that.” He paused. “We did burn down Chicago, though. And why does a cow ring a bell…”
“What do you mean, ‘you ponies’? It’s a city founded mostly by goats, they can name it Chicagoat if they want to. And isn’t your last name Manley?” Twilight demanded in an affronted tone of voice.
Jeremy Elliot Manley thought about that for a moment, then closed his mouth with a click. “Okay, I don’t have a leg to stand on here, so I’ll shut up. But I’m still going to make fun of your town names to myself. In fact, if I ever get home, I swear to god I’m moving to Montreal, calling it Mantreal, and insisting to anyone that corrects me that it’s because of my accent.” It wasn’t as strong as the Apple family, or some of the other ponies, but Jeremy had a noticeable lilt of what the ponies called a Mustangia accent, and what he called southern. It would have been stronger but years of college had just about educated it out of him.
Although she was almost offended by his attitude towards pony naming conventions, her expression softened at the reminder he was stuck in a world not his own. “Aww, Jeremy, the portal will open in another twenty six months. If we can’t find another way to get you home we can at least send you back through there.”
“Ugh. Don’t remind me.” His expression soured.
He’d ended up in Equestria in the middle of Froggy Bottom Bog, thanks to a magical superposition incident the ponies were still investigating. He’d come through in his fishing boat, a nice, one year old bass boat he’d bought with pay from his job at a local Mississippi paper mill, where he’d been a process engineer. Although the bow of the boat had been crushed by the hydra that took exception to his invading its territory, and the whole thing had been buried in mud and water, the engine, some of the electronics, and his personal gear was mostly salvageable. Mostly. Once he’d stumbled out of the swamp, been found by ponies, taken to Canterlot, and understood the situation, he’d sold his right to the stuff to the ponies for startup money.
That was all well and good. However, as cute and friendly as the ponies were, he would have taken a trip back home in a heartbeat, if nothing else because he had an obligation to his dog and his cat. He was not amused to find out that the only reliable method of reaching Earth was through a magical mirror that only opened once every thirty moons, and had just opened a month previously. Admittedly, from Twilight’s description of the place she’d visited during her trip through the mirror, it sure as hell didn’t sound like his earth. It was a constant low grade worry.
While he supposed he could just hang back and consider the whole thing a two year vacation, or possibly coma-slash-psychotic episode, he’d always wanted to make his own business, and what better place to do it than a completely different world that didn’t even have a lot of the common stuff he took for granted?
Watching Twilight get briefly distracted and start writing notes about her new ballpoint pen, with a quill, natch, made him sigh.
“Here, Twilight,” he continued, passing over the folder he’d brought with him. “More of the same, really. Some stuff I remembered about cathode ray tubes, which we used to use for computer displays before we got LEDs figured out. You’ve already got oscilloscopes so you’ve got the basic principle down, so you might have some luck there if you hit a wall with LEDs. I also put in the stuff I remembered from an old friend of mine down at Tulane University who was doing some interesting things with cellulose based plastics and wood fiber, making extremely strong, rot proof construction materials. It’s great stuff for anything that has to deal with the weather. I also threw in some stuff he’d told me about moisture permeable contact lens material, but he was under an NDA for some of it so I doubt that’s gonna be much use.”
“Weatherproof plastics? Even sunlight?” Twilight asked, instantly becoming interested as she took the folder, pulling out a few sheets to look them over.
“Yeah, you just got to mix in or coat the outside with compounds that absorb the ultra violet spectrum without breaking their own bonds. Keeps the rays from hitting the base polymers. Sunscreen, basically. I wrote down all I could remember.”
Their waiter returned with drinks for Twilight and Spike, and a pitcher with which he refilled Jeremy’s tea. Giving a brief murmur of thanks, Jeremy took a sip.
“That could revolutionize our plastics industry!” Twilight said, having repressed her comments while she accepted her drink. “And that may actually solve a problem we’ve had with stable spell matrices in a malleable format. You see, we’ve never been able to use plastic as base for a spell matrix because most pony magic draws on the thaumic power of the sun, which reacts with the life memory of the plant based plastics to set up a discordant-“
Spike picked that moment to burp loudly, a tongue of flame curling out and forming into a scroll which dropped neatly into his claws. The royal seal on it marked its intended recipient, and he cracked it expertly, reading the top few lines.
“Here you go, Twi, it’s from the Princess. I think it looks urgent.” He let her magic lift it from his claws.
Twilight broke off her nerdgasm and read it immediately, looking increasingly concerned.
“Oh no! There’s an emergency conclave of the princesses being called because of the unrest in Saddle Arabia. Spike, we’ve got to leave immediately.” She suddenly stopped and looked up, aghast. “Oh no, but, we’re in the middle of lunch with Jeremy. I can’t just leave, that would be rude!”
Jeremy just twirled his hand negligently. Twilight seemed like a nice, intellectual, hard working girl, even if she was a pony. However, over the time he’d known her, she’d been getting more and more flighty, changing topics at the drop of a hat, and sometimes just barely able to pay attention to him long enough to get what he was saying, for all that she was utterly fascinated by every new thing he told her. He supposed that considering the ramifications of the knowledge he was trading ponies in general was taking more and more of her time, on top of an apparently increasing workload she was getting as a newly crowned ‘Princess’ in some sort of crazy ass government system he had yet to figure out. This was the first time she’d actually been called away in the middle of a meeting, but it was hardly a sudden surprise. Frankly, he worried she was on her way to burnout, but didn’t know her well enough to say anything.
“Happens. You know those Saddle Arabians. Always up in arms about wanting democracy or wanting to get rid of democracy or whatever it is a race of intelligent desert dwelling horses and camels get up to in their spare time. I’ve eaten lunch by myself before, I’ve never died of loneliness because of it. As long as inductive reasoning is justified, I’m sure I’ll be fine.”
Twilight bit her lip, giving him a look of serious misgiving. Maybe the inductive reasoning joke had been over the line. However, her ever practical assistant, Spike, just rolled his eyes and took the scroll back from her, stuffing it down into a saddlebag.
He chuckled. “I’m just messing with you, Twilight. From what I’ve seen, Princess Celestia isn’t the type to use ‘emergency’ lightly. Even that time she called for an emergency trip to the Canterlot Fair seemed legit to me. You were seriously working on some terminal OCD research overload. Go. We’ll talk about your plans to change the nature of the world as you know it next time.” He made a shooing motion at her. “Just make sure to take notes with that state of the art Rich Industries ballpoint in front of the princesses and nobles, get some hype worked up. I want those hundred bit pens to be THE thing to own by the end of this year.”
“Well, if you’re sure it’s okay. I promise I’ll make it up to you as soon as I can!” she swore, stuffing the folder he’d given her into her saddlebags as well.
He waved as Twilight got up and levitated Spike onto her back, then paused as something occurred to him. However, by the time he opened his mouth to advise her to get her food to go, she’d already disappeared with a tiny whoosh of displaced air. Shaking his head at the antics of Equestria’s mad scientist princess, Jeremy found himself looking around at the café, which was dotted with small groups of ponies talking and eating. He was the only solo diner in the place, now.
Sighing, he crossed his arms on the table and put his head down, doing his best to let his mind go blank. It didn’t work. Ballpoint pens kept intruding into his thoughts. He pulled his head back up and pulled his last pen out of his pocket, staring at the plain machined brass of the body morosely.
Pens. He’d been able to introduce ballpoint pens to ponies. Truly, he was the Edison of Equestria.
A scientifically irrelevant hack who nevertheless stood to make a lot of money off inventions and research made by others. He felt dirty. He wasn’t even a very good Edison. Filthy Rich, the already wealthy pony who’d fronted the startup money and stood to make the vast majority of the profits, was the real driving force behind the whole enterprise. He’d essentially sold the design to the Ponyville entrepreneur rather than the royal science academy, with the full blessing of the princesses, as per their agreement on introducing potentially dangerous human technology. He wasn’t a machinist, so Chisel and Gouge handled the actual grunt work of getting the pen working, and he didn’t have anything like the production and marketing base Filthy Rich had which would sell the pens and refill machines.
Oh sure, he could have gotten involved more heavily. Filthy Rich offered to hire him no less than twenty times to manage the project, offering him more bits every time, but honestly, he’d rather go back to Froggy Bottom and feed himself to the hydra. The fact that he’d end up extremely well off didn’t matter. Jeremy negotiated for the best deal he could get on his ideas because it was the smart thing to do, not because he actually cared about the money. So long as he had enough for the things he wanted to do, the compulsion some people, and ponies, had to amass greater and greater amounts of wealth had no appeal to him. Frankly, it sounded like a lot of boring middle management work.
That hydra was sounding better and better every day. A part of him did sort of want a rematch, after all. He’d really liked that boat. He was pretty sure he could take it, too. He just needed to make a ten pound shaped charge armor penetrator and stick it on the end of a long stick like some sort of god hammer. That was technically not a gun, right? He’d agreed not to build those. But a set of mounted hydra heads would look awesome in his den if he ever managed to get a nice house built.
“I’m here! Sorry I’m late, I had to go get Rarity because she likes daisy sandwiches and I had a craving for red banana velvet nut swirl confetti cupcakes for lunch!” called a bouncing pink thought train derailment as she sort of vibrated across the café to his table. “Red banana velvet nut swirl confetti cupcakes go great with caramel fudge brownies so together, we can save lunch!”
“…what?” he asked cleverly. He’d met Pinkie Pie, of course. From conversations with Twilight, he thought he had a pretty good working understanding of what the Bearers of the Elements of Harmony were, though he basically categorized them as the Power Rangers minus the secret identities. He’d even met them all on various occasions, both as a group and separately. He’d gotten the whole ‘Welcome to Ponyville’ party and everything. Still, going from brooding to Pinkie in no seconds flat meant he had to stop and process things for a few moments.
“Pinkie, you did ask for an invitation before you dragged us over to interrupt Mr Manley’s meal, didn’t you?” Rarity asked as she picked her way through the tables and chairs with feminine grace. She was wearing a wide brimmed sunhat with a turquoise blue ribbon set with huge, almost gaudy topazes.
“…Mmmaaaaybe?” Pinkie replied.
“Mmmmaybe as in no?” Rarity mocked lightly. “I’m so sorry, Mr Manley. We can leave if you’d rather be alone.”
“Don’t be silly! Of course he doesn’t want to be alone!” Pinkie said enthusiastically. “Just look at that face. That is not the face of somepony that wants to eat by themselves!”
“No? I mean, yes?” Jeremy shook his head, still tongue tied. Desperately, he fell back on mannerisms he knew he could count on. “I mean, Miss Rarity Belle, Miss Pinkie Pie, I would be honored if you’d have lunch with me. And, uh, Twilight and Spike already ordered before they left? How did you know?” He shook his head again, trying to hold onto the thread of his aplomb. “And please, call me Jeremy.”
Rarity smiled to herself. Although as informal as Applejack to most ponies, the human adapted his speech to his audience, getting remarkably formal with ponies like Filthy Rich and herself. The addition of Pinkie clearly threw him off his game. “And I’ve told you before, please just call me Rarity. Nopony but my mother ever uses my full name, and then only when she’s angry with me.”
“Like that time when you were twelve and you broke half a cabinet full of dishes and blamed it on Sweetie?” Pinkie asked innocently.
Rarity’s eye twitched. “Yes, Pinkie. Like that. And we agreed to never speak of that again. It was not an incident I’m particularly proud of.”
“How did you know that Twilight was leaving?” Jeremy asked again, politely changing the subject away from Rarity’s past transgressions. “She and Spike literally just left.”
“Oh, I had itchy hooves that told me that somepony was having to leave, and quiver in my heart that told me one of my friends was going to be left lonely, and I saw you out the window of Cupcake Corner right over there!” Pinkie replied, pointing across the street and slightly down the road at the eye searingly bright bakery and confectionery shop. “And I realized right away that Twilight was going to be off doing more princessy stuff and my third newest Ponyville friend was going to be stuck eating lunch all alone, but Twilight always orders daisy sandwiches from here, so I had to go get Rarity first, which is a happy coincidence because you two need to talk about business stuff I don’t really understand before I get to swoop in and save the day with a party!”
“Are… are you real?”
Pinkie giggled and stood upright, pinching a little bit of her tummy between her hooves and stretching it out before letting it snap back with a jiggle. “I think I’m real, but who knows for sure? I asked Princess Celestia about it once but her answer was really long so I forgot most of what she said.”
“The ‘you’re as real as defined by the mark you leave on the world and the friends you make’ speech?”
“You’ve heard it?” Pinkie asked, surprised.
“Yeah, she gave it to me right after they carried me to her castle, back when I was freaking out.” He paused. “There was more to it, but I wasn’t really in a position to appreciate, understand, or remember it.”
“I know, right?!” Pinkie replied.
At that moment the earth pony waiter came back with the food Jeremy and his missing guests had ordered. Twilight had indeed ordered a daisy sandwich, which was cut into perfect equilateral triangles and had a little sprig of garnish on top. He looked at the pink and white mares in confusion. “Oh, I’m sorry. Will you be needing menus?” he asked.
“Apparently not, if I understood Pinkie correctly?” Jeremy answered questioningly, glancing at the two. “Twilight and Spike were called away to save Equestria again, and apparently Rarity likes daisy sandwiches? But Pinkie brought cupcakes…” He paused, thinking as he tried to parse everything Pinkie had said. “That… she wants to put on top of what Spike ordered. However,” he added triumphantly, “they will both need drinks.”
“Great job, Jeremy!” Pinkie cheered. He hadn’t even needed her to repeat anything.
He gave her a small, seated bow in return.
“That does look lovely, ” Rarity agreed, eyeing the sandwich. “Could I trouble you for a glass of tea? Three cubes and mint?”
“Do you have fruitti tutti crangrape punch?” Pinkie asked, placing her own order.
In short order, his new guests had drinks, Rarity had Twilight’s sandwich, and Pinkie had Spike’s caramel fudge brownie with ice cream and rock candy sprinkles, which she promptly topped with a heavily frosted cupcake.
Jeremy, for his part, dug into his omelette, which was stuffed like a burrito with everything he liked in his omelette except bacon and sausage. Surprisingly, at least to him, given how addicted to pork products he’d considered himself back on earth, he didn’t miss it that much. He’d totally murder a pig given the opportunity, but he hadn’t figured out the rules for animal sentience yet. He bought his milk directly from the goddamn cows, for instance, and Fluttershy’s creepy little rabbit had poured tea for him once as part of some oblique threat, but he’d watched cats take down songbirds and apparently that was okay. Avoiding some sort of horrific misunderstanding, like accidentally eating the squirrel high chancellor, sworn ally of all ponykind, was pretty high on his list of things to keep in mind.
“How was your meeting with Filthy Rich yesterday?” Rarity asked, after some chewing and polite napkin use. “I hope the suit fit the tone. He may seem rather formal, but he usually avoids the more outre mannerisms of the Canterlot elite.”
Jeremy nodded, swallowing. “Yeah, Mr. Rich is a nice guy. Reminds me a lot of some of the upper managers I’ve known back home, very driven and serious, formal but not flamboyant. I didn’t feel overdressed at all. Thank you, again, for helping me with my clothes since I’ve gotten here. I know ponies are perfectly at ease not wearing anything, but most humans can’t pull that off.” He reached in his pocket and pulled out his last test type ballpoint and showed it to the two ponies.
“As far as the meeting went, it looks like we’re going to be putting these on the market soon.” Impulsively, he handed it over to Rarity. “I gave two to Twilight and Spike for usability testing, but I wanted to save one for you. I know you use pencils for most of your marking, but I figure a pen that won’t spill and, hopefully, won’t leak ink all over your fabric if you drop it might come in handy. I wouldn’t trust it, but you probably won’t have to be quite as careful. I don’t think it’s quite as well made as the ones back home, but they’ll get better.” He shrugged. “Also, if you’re interested, we still need to pretty it up. Where I come from, really elegant pens are status symbols, and really popular gifts. There would be a percentage of the profits in it for any Rarity Special sold, or even just a one time fee for your services, but honestly I’d go for the percentage. You’ll just need to come up with a design and show it to Filthy Rich.”
Rarity took the pen and made appropriate noises, then passed it over to Pinkie, who looked around for something to doodle on, and ended up using her hoof.
“Congratulations on the pen deal working out. What about the other idea you were really excited about? The paper factory?”
Jeremy kept his face carefully neutral. “We agreed to put that project on hold for now. Unfortunately, the market just isn’t there to support it, given how expensive it’d be to make all the specialized machines to start with.”
Rarity laid her ears back sympathetically, and Pinkie, not really understanding, did the same.
He shrugged. “I was right, I mean, the combination of cheap, high quality paper and electrical generation would definitely pay for itself, even given some issues with Equestrian logging practices and availability of certain chemical feedstocks. Unfortunately, when Mr. Rich sent out some inquiries to various machine shops about the equipment we’d need, the prices were higher than I’d hoped. Like I said, it’d pay for itself.” He quirked his lips. “In about a hundred and twenty years.”
“Aww, Jeremy, I’m sorry,” Pinkie said, not understanding the details but sympathetic anyway. She patted his arm with a hoof now covered in ink drawings of her friends’ cutie marks. “Was that why you were out running late last night?”
Jeremy started, then quirked his lips. “Saw that, huh?” He had, in fact, decided to run himself tired so that he wouldn’t toss and turn in bed, unable to sleep because of the disappointment.
“Oh, Jeremy. I know you put a lot of work into that project. You must be terribly disappointed.”
He sighed. “A little. I worked at a paper mill back home, so I’m most familiar with its systems. I really wanted to give Equestria large amounts of cheap paper. Books, packaging, the softest, fluffiest tissue paper you could possibly imagine, with completely recycled bleaching agents and a net energy surplus that could have powered a nearby community.” He poked at a bit of leftover mushroom with his fork. “More than one community, even, given how little electricity you ponies seem to use.”
“Well, what about your other ideas?” Rarity asked. “I did like the idea of an automatic clothes washer.”
He shook his head. “Probably not workable. Not enough ponies have bothered to get electricity ran to their homes, and that on top of the low use of clothes in general means that the demand is almost nonexistent. There’s a difference between ‘oh, that’d be nice to have’, and ‘I’ve got to have this thing or it will negatively affect my life’. Maybe we can get some made, but they’ll be horrifically expensive. Back home, the stuff to make a basic automatic washing machine could be bought off the shelf from existing manufacturers, then assembled into whatever you wanted. Like, you could pretty much take your pick of dozens if not hundreds of varieties of electric motors. Here, the machine shop ponies take turns running on treadmills to power their lathes. They have exactly one steam engine powering their biggest one, and it’s a one ton monstrosity. Your sewing machine is pedal powered, for another example.”
“Pedal powered, huh?” Pinkie interjected. “I made my own flying cycle so I could visit my pegasus friends in the clouds, but I was just curious what it’d be like, and I had some spare balloons. Most ponies find it easier to just hire an aircoach.”
“That’s…” Jeremy froze, then held up a finger. “Actually, I’d really like to see that. We didn’t manage purely human powered flight until relatively recently. Humans just aren’t strong enough to do that kind of thing. And that’s exactly my point. You ponies have your natural abilities that let you do most of what humans HAVE to use machines to do. Fly? Oh, sure, you either already can, because you were born with wings, or you just call up some friends who do. Or use magic, like on your airships. Why would you ever need to make a super powerful, ultra lightweight marvel of engineering like an airplane engine when you can just ask your neighbor?”
Both ponies were staring at him, as well as some of the nearby diners. Abruptly self-conscious, he took a sip of tea and lowered his voice.
“All I’m saying is, when I first realized what I’d gotten myself into here: a brand new world with intelligent alien life and a foreign culture that was so different yet similar enough I could kind of get a handle on it… I wasn’t scared. I was excited.” His voice rose again. “You had magic, for crying out loud. We don’t even believe in magic back home, because as near as we could tell, it didn’t exist. I certainly don’t have any, as proven by Twilight. And you were smart! And friendly, and nice and a thousand other complimentary things. Frankly, you’re nicer than us humans. I could have, I don’t know, ended up on the planet of the apes, and Charleton Heston already showed me how that would have turned out. Us monkeys are-“ he broke off as he realized he was about to curse in front of ladies, and coughed. “Not very nice. I mean, we are sometimes, but we can be pretty mean and nasty, too. But what we are good at is making things. And that’s what I’ve always wanted to do, you know? Equestria, it was like the answer to a dream I didn’t even know I had.”
Abruptly tired, he leaned back in his chair and ran his fingers through his hair. “I thought I had it figured out. I was gonna find me some smart ponies interested in what I could do and I was going to give you things you didn’t have, or just hadn’t quite got right yet. Seemed like everywhere I turned there was something else that I knew how to make that would make life better for you. Washers, motors, plastics, paper mills, microwaves, teflon, safety glass, fiber glass, carbon fibers, plywood… just all kinds of things I either knew how to make off the top of my head or was sure I could figure out. But a lot of that stuff requires things like household electricity, or oil, or is already done by magic in ways I can’t even understand, or are just plain useless given that your average pony can pull a thousand pound wagon without breaking a sweat. Ponies just don’t want what I have.”
Rarity had began frowning about the time he started mentioning all the things ponies didn’t have, and fixed him with a disapproving look. “Did you think so little of us?” she asked archly.
Jeremy just looked confused.
“Did you think you were going to be some big hero, swooping down to save us from our ignorance?” Rarity elaborated. “The wise and worldly noble explorer teaching the zebras how to brew tea and bake scones like ‘civilized’ ponies?”
One eyebrow, then the other raised as the concept of ponies as some sort of missionaries of baking going to Africa to convert the zebras ran through his imagination, and he almost missed her next words.
“I’m sorry we weren’t the helpless savages you thought we were, Mr Manley, but Equestria has been a successful country for more than a thousand years by the efforts of our own hard work and ingenuity.”
Pinkie was looking concerned, glancing back and forth between the two of them. Jeremy, on the other hand, held up both hands placatingly.
“Woah, woah. I apologize if I’ve given offense. I promise you, that’s not what I meant at all.”
“Was it not?” Rarity asked, arching one elegant eyebrow. “It certainly sounded that way to me.”
He opened his mouth, then paused, clearly thinking. Gradually, a rueful expression came on his face. “You know what? I think you’re right, a little. I guess I was being a little high handed. But really, I promise you I wasn’t looking down on ponies for not having that stuff, I just… I was just excited about things I thought I could do. I was like this back on earth, too. I just want to make things, you know?” He poked defiantly at the bit of mushroom.
“I’m really kind of selfish at heart, I guess. I just want to make things. To do something that matters, that makes a difference. I was going to grow up and be a scientist. I was going to invent things. It’s why I went to college for chemical engineering. But of course I screwed it up, and only finished up with a masters. If you really want to have your own laboratory and assistants in my world, you need a PhD, a doctorate, at the least. I could have been Doctor Manley, and made the same complaints my friends made about people coming to them with colds. ‘I’m not that kind of doctor,’ they’d say. Well, I’m not any kind of doctor.”
They both winced as he gave a small, bitter chuckle.
“And you know, at the same time, all these kids straight out of high school, or college drop outs, were coming up with businesses and stuff involving computers that was just blowing everyone’s minds. Things we’d never seen before, stuff we didn’t have but suddenly we had to have it. Multi-billion dollar companies basically overnight. Stuff so new they had to invent new words for it. But I’d studied chemistry, not computers, so I was missing out. And then I got here, and suddenly none of that mattered. Everything that was old is new again. It was a fresh start, but I also had all this knowledge from my world. I thought it had to be easier here. Not… not because I thought ponies were inferior. But because I just wanted it to finally be within my reach.” He clenched his hand, then slumped. “I’m sorry, Rarity, Pinkie. I’m not very good company. And I’ve managed to offend you when you went out of your way to keep me company. I’m very sorry.”
Rarity sat there for a moment, judging him with a critical gaze. Finally, after several long moments where she seemed to be searching his very soul, her expression softened. “It’s okay, Jeremy. I think I did misunderstand you. Apology accepted, and please, accept my own apology. We came here to find out what was bothering you, not make you feel worse.” Rarity patted him on the arm again. “You’re a nice colt and I know you wouldn’t be stuck up about your knowledge.”
Pinkie, not so restrained, bounded around the table and gave him a big hug. Surprised, he kind of awkwardly patted her on the back, and at Rarity’s rather pointed look, returned the hug in full.
“So I guess the whole town knows that I’ve been emo lately, huh?” he said wryly.
“I don’t know what emo means, but you’ve definitely been Grumpy McSourpants,” Pinkie told him, relinquishing the hug. “But we can fix that.”
“Sorry again. I’m usually better than this, I promise. I clearly remember not whining anywhere near this much back home, so I know I’m at least capable of being a functioning adult,” he offered, sounding embarrassed.
“You’re frustrated and discouraged. We’ve all had that happen to us,” Rarity consoled. “Even Pinkie, as cheerful as she is, got pretty grumpy when she was trying to learn how to make a volcano souffle.”
“They explode at the drop of a hat!” Pinkie assured him, back on her side of the table. “Literally! And it was funny hat day! You can’t not wear a hat on funny hat day!”
“And it’s not like you haven’t managed to accomplish anything. I’m sure if I was suddenly dropped into your home, I’d be living off the kindness of strangers for quite a while before I got my hooves under me. Even outside of the things you brought with you, you’ve been selling ideas left and right. You might not feel like you’ve accomplished much, but you only just got here, and you’re doing pretty well for yourself.”
“Yeah, I’ve made some money. And I’m glad. All the ponies I’ve met have been nothing but fair and willing to help, and I’m more than happy to give value for value. I wouldn’t even be worried about my dreams of making stuff if I wasn’t financially stable. I’d, I don’t know, be working a daily job somewhere just to make ends meet. But what have I managed to make? A pen. A… stupid… simple pen.” Frustrated, he finally just ate that last piece of mushroom. It was cold, but cheesy. Ponies had some good cheeses.
“But that’s something, right?” Rarity asked. “It is a thing that you’ve made that will change Equestria for the better.”
He shook his head. “All I did was explain how it worked. Filthy Rich and the machinists are the ones making it and selling it. I’m barely involved.”
Rarity looked shocked. “Surely Filthy wouldn’t have just cut you out of the process! He’s a much nicer pony than that!”
“No, no, I mean, I’m getting paid for it. And he tried to hire me to run it. Heck, he even offered to set me up with a lab and some assistants, just like I wanted. But I’d just be working for him. It’d be just like being back home. I’d get rich, he’d get, well, filthy rich. …And I’d still be an overpaid button monkey, just repeating things other people have already done.” He sighed and rubbed at his face with the palm of his hand.
Both ponies looked at each other again, each recognizing the fact that he’d dismissed the thing he said he wanted as being something he didn’t want.
“Were you happy?” Pinkie asked.
He looked at her.
“Before you came to Equestria, I mean. Were you happy? Did you have friends and a job you liked?”
His lips twisted. “I had a dog. And a cat. And a nice house, a nice truck, and a nice boat. And a job that didn’t ask too much out of me but paid well enough for me to have the house, truck, and boat. It wasn’t exactly what I’d wanted out of life, but it was better than what ninety nine percent of other people get, so I honestly wasn’t complaining.”
She frowned at him.
He shrugged. “I wasn’t not happy. It was what it was, you know?”
“What about your friends?”
“Most of my friends ended up in other states- far away, I mean,” he elaborated seeing their confusion. “But I had some local buddies I could hang out with now and then. I never really got into watching sports but we’d have cookouts and go fishing and… stuff, together.” He tended to leave hunting stories out of his conversations with ponies, even if none of them had actually freaked out at the idea so far. None of them had approved, either, so he figured it’d be best to just omit that part of his life. Fishing was a much safer topic.
Pinkie frowned harder, and assumed a comically serious thinking pose, rubbing her chin and looking off into the distance. She suddenly brightened. “Your cutie mark!” she exclaimed out of nowhere.
Rarity brightened as well. “That’s it, Pinkie!”
“My what?” he replied. “I don’t even have a cutie mark. Humans don’t get them.” Frankly, he found the idea a little creepy. What if you ended up with like, a cutie mark for being a janitor or something? Getting the fate of your career tattooed on your ass seemed like it would cause more problems than anything else. Unless you were like, a marine, then it was probably okay.
“That’s just it, silly!” Pinkie chortled, clearly delighted with herself. “You don’t have one, and you’re looking for it. You know what you want, but you just haven’t quite found that special talent. Maybe coming to Equestria really is just what you needed. We know all about cutie marks, after all.”
Rarity looked around nervously, honestly expecting her sister and the rest of the CMC to pop up out of nowhere at the mention of cutie marks. However, unknown to her, the adventuresome threesome were currently rather dejectedly cleaning up after an effort to get cutie marks in sugar sculpting. Applejack was not amused. Molten sugar really, really hurt when it got on you.
“I think Pinkie is right,” Rarity offered. “I don’t think you’ll actually get a cutie mark like a pony, but even griffons and cows have talents. You’re just still looking for yours.”
“But I have a talent. I’m a chemical engineer.” He frowned. “And I was a good one, too. I didn’t give up on my PHD because I couldn’t hack the work.”
“Oh silly billy, that’s not how a talent works,” Pinkie chided. “I make my bits from working in a bakery. I also play a mean game of pin the tail on the pony, and I grew up on a rock farm, so I know all about how to grow rocks. But those aren’t my talent. My talent is making ponies happy. I usually do it with parties, and that’s what my cutie mark represents, but it’s not just parties.”
“I got my cutie mark when I discovered that I could magically sense nearby gems,” Rarity added. “But I’m a fashion designer by choice, and also a seamstress. My talent isn’t just finding gems, or making clothes, but it’s actually all about bringing out the beauty in what I see. I don’t make beautiful clothes for ponies, I make clothes that bring out the beauty in ponies. Do you understand?”
He thought about it for a minute. Then nodded, and rather definitely replied, “No.”
Both ponies deflated at that.
“But!” he added hastily, “I don’t think I’m incapable of understanding, it just sounds like the kind of wisdom that takes a while to sink in. I think, maybe, just maybe, I see a little bit of what you’re getting at.” He frowned again. “Not actually sure what I’m supposed to do about it, though.”
Rarity smiled gently. “I’m going to give you the same advice I give my sister, when she comes home tired and frustrated and covered in tree sap and twigs. Be patient, try new things, and do what feels right. You’ll find a bunch of things you’re bad at, a bunch of things you’re good at, and eventually, you’ll find that thing that makes your heart sing.”
“That,” he said seriously, “is the most stereotypically wise and yet completely unhelpful advice I have ever heard.”
Rarity laughed gently.
“I’ve got some advice!” Pinkie said excitedly.
Both turned to look at her questioningly.
“You need to have some fun!” Pinkie announced. “Seriously, when was the last time you did something just for fun? You’ve been running around trying to find this thing you want to do, and you’re trying so hard to find the thing you love you forgot to have fun doing it.” She jabbed one hoof in his direction. “Doctor Pie hereby diagnoses you with a severe fun deficiency.”
Jeremy recoiled slightly from her accusing hoof, getting the feeling that a lack of fun was the most dire imprecation the pink pony could think of.
Pinkie scribbled on her napkin with the pen that was still on the table, ignoring the fact that it was cloth and that the waiter pony probably wouldn’t be happy when he saw it. Once finished, she reached across the table and placed it in his hand.
Jeremy glanced at the illegible scribbles, and what appeared to be a number of balloons, then looked back up at Pinkie questioningly.
“The only prescription is a party!” she announced gleefully. “Now, what would you like on your party?”
“What, you mean like a pizza?” he asked.
“No Mister Lackafun, I mean, what kind of party do you like? I throw the same kind for everypony when they come to Ponyville because I don’t know them very well yet, and pretty much everypony likes that kind of party, but I can do other types. What kind of party would you have back home with your friends?”
He thought about it for a moment, but it didn’t take long. “Honestly? We’d all down to the Pearl River and camp out. Sometimes we’d go up to Little Black Creek instead, because the swimming was better, but it was further away.”
“So it was a swimming party?” Pinkie pressed.
“Well, some. We didn’t swim in the Pearl much, but yeah. We’d build a fire at night and sit around it, toasting marshmallows and making each other laugh, we’d cook out on the grill, or maybe fry fish on a Coleman stove, a portable stove, I mean. Sometimes we’d boil crawfish, or shrimp, or crabs, with corn and red potatoes. Sometimes we’d fish all day, and fry the fish that evening. Sometimes we’d…”
Don’t say you ate cows! Don’t say you ate cows!
“…uh, cook other stuff,” he finished lamely. “Sometimes we’d just bring a stack of pizzas. We’d have ice chests of drinks. Cokes of all types, what some people called soda, or pop. We’d also bring cases of beer, which I haven’t seen any ponies drinking. It’s very mildly alcoholic, less than wine, probably about the same as weak hard cider.” Hard cider, apple whiskey, and various kinds of grape wine were about it as far as alcoholic drinks went in Equestria. And what they called whiskey wasn’t much stronger than their wine.
Pinkie nodded seriously, actually taking notes on Rarity’s napkin with the pen. “What else did you do?”
“Well, we’d talk a lot. Tell stories, you know.”
“Not so much. I mean, yeah, sometimes I guess. But mostly just embarrassing or funny stories about ourselves and each other. Just trying to make each other laugh. We’d also have a stereo out there, of course, so there’d be music. And if we had girls with us someone would usually end up dancing. Sometimes it was just guys. I don’t know how it works with ponies but human men don’t generally dance with other men.”
“S’mores?” she asked.
“Of course,” he replied. “Things like that still get me, you know? Not just that ponies have s’mores, but that you even call it the same thing.”
“S’mores are delicious,” Pinkie informed him seriously.
“So you swam during the day, then threw a party on the beach?” she continued. “We’ve got a great swimming hole outside of Ponyville. I’ve never thrown a party there, but I think it’ll be fun!”
“Well, yeah, we mostly swam during the day, but swimming at night was fun, too. A little dangerous, because there were a lot of snakes down there, and alligators too, but we were pretty used to that kind of thing.” He smiled, remembering good times past. “We’d set up tents, mostly just to keep the mosquitoes off, but sometimes we’d just get in the boat and drive up and down the river all night. We’d set out trotlines for certain kinds of fish that bite well at night, and run them until dawn.” He chuckled at a favorite memory. “Sometimes, late at night, after a few beers for courage and after we started getting tired of stories and started getting frisky with our girlfriends, we’d end up skinnydipping.”
There were several terms that neither of the ponies were familiar with, but Pinkie zeroed in on the one she felt was most relevant. “Skinnydipping? What’s that? Some sort of diet snack?”
He chuckled. “No, it’s swimming without any clothes on.”
Even Rarity was somewhat shocked by that, but not for the reason Jeremy would have expected. “Wait, you mean to tell me you usually swim with clothes on?”
Jeremy laughed at that for several moments. “Oh man, for a moment I forgot who I was talking to. Yes, humans usually wear clothes while swimming. Shorts for men, bikinis for girls.” He’d already explained those items of clothing to Rarity before, while she explained the pony versions. “Being actually naked, especially in public, like on a beach, is pretty rare, and considered kind of adventurous, so we mostly do it at night, with close friends and girlfriends. It was kinda a fun naughty.”
“Ohhhh, you mean that kind of swimming,” Pinkie said, suddenly amused.
Both of them were entertained by the sight of Rarity blushing. “Well, I certainly think that those kind of, of seapony antics wouldn’t be appropriate for this party.”
Jeremy laughed and agreed. “No, I’ll keep my shorts on, thank you.”
Rarity shook her head. “I don’t mean the clothes. Don’t get me wrong, dear, I like clothes more than most ponies, but even while swimming? Lounging at the beach, sure, but there is such a thing as carrying it a bit too far. I just mean that there shouldn’t be any, err, frolicking, in the water.”
He smiled. “Duly noted.”
“So, let me make sure I’ve got this,” she said, the tip of her tongue sticking out in concentration as she went over the appropriated napkin. “Camp out, by the water, bonfire, food, drink, stories, music, dancing, girls, s’mores, and most importantly, friends.”
“Pinkie, are you seriously planning on throwing me a party?”
“Well duh, silly. You need a party, I provide parties.”
“I don’t have a lot of friends here,” he noted. “As you’ve pointed out, I haven’t been very friendly since I’ve come to Ponyville. I don’t even think I’ve been a good enough friend to any of you to deserve a party being thrown for me.”
Pinkie gave him a look that was half ‘are you serious’ and half ‘don’t argue with me’. “Friends. Check,” she announced, and made a little tick mark.
“Ooookay. Gotcha,” he replied, a little intimidated.
“So I’m going to go make preparations. You will be ready to have fun by no later than five.” She stood up on her stool, front hooves on the table, and looked him in the eyes. “You will be ready to have fun by five this evening.”
It was not a question.
“I will be ready to have fun by five this evening,” he promised, fighting back a grin. Pinkie’s idea of fun was weirdly infectious. “Do you need help? I mean, I’ve done this kind of thing before, and I don’t actually have anything planned this afternoon.”
“You,” she stated, “have done quite enough. I’ll provide the fun. You show up to have it.”
With a bound and a clink of bits left to fall on the table, Pinkie hopped over to the edge of the patio that marked the outdoor portion of the café, then paused again. One hoof came up to point at her eyes, then back at him.
“I’ll be ready,” he promised.
Rarity smiled. Pinkie was flighty and random, but she knew her work well, and when she’d came to Rarity after seeing Ponyville’s resident human running late at night like he was being chased by his own personal boogieman, well, Rarity knew they could solve the problem. It’d be just the warmup before they tackled Twilight’s new tendency to work herself into the ground with her princess duties.
“Well, this has been a productive meeting,” she said cheerfully.
“I’m not even entirely sure what just happened,” he admitted, feeling a little drained, “except you two just swooped in like Power Rangers on a giant crab monster bent on taking over the world.”
She ignored that. “I’m just glad you seem to be in a more cheerful mood now. Sometimes, you just need somepony to talk to.”
“Whine to, more likely,” he grumbled, looking away as he got embarrassed again.
“Venting is different from whining,” she said primly. “If you’d been complaining about it for weeks at every opportunity, you’d be whining. But expressing perfectly valid complaints as a one time thing is perfectly acceptable.”
“Is that so?” he asked, still faintly blushing.
“I,” she said, pressing a hoof to her breast, “happen to be an expert on whining. Remember my tale of the diamond dogs?”
Jeremy chuckled. “Okay, okay, point taken. I defer to the expert.”
“See that you do,” she said with a sniff. “And now, I must return to my shop. I still have a few things to accomplish today, especially if there’s a party this evening. I simply must have a new bikini if I’m going to attend.” She dropped bits on the table and got up, noticing that Jeremy politely got up as she did.
“Till this evening, then,” he said by way of farewell, privately wondering why the hell Rarity would want a bikini when she specifically said she thought swimming with clothes on was weird. Probably some fashion thing. He didn’t really understand fashion, having no artistic talent of his own.
Settling his own bill, Jeremy drained the last of his tea and stretched, feeling like it was truly the start of a new day. Sure, nothing was really resolved yet, but they were right. He’d only been in Equestria for a couple of months. And hey, a pen was something, right? Hadn’t he read some sort of thing about the invention of paperclips, a simple twist of wire, revolutionizing paperwork way back when? It was almost a pity ponies had paperclips.
Rarity was right, he decided as he ambled along the street. He had been kind of arrogant, assuming that just because ponies didn’t have certain things, he could swoop in and make it all better. Ponies had a functioning society, they obviously had everything they actually needed, and if they didn’t have it, they were smart enough to make it. Some creativity would be required if he wanted to make a difference.
Meanwhile, he’d have to relax. Have a little fun, see more of the countryside. Whole new world, hey? He wasn’t restricted to Ponyville, he’d just been encouraged to move there because it was Twilight’s home and there was a subtext that the Power Rangers of Harmony would be keeping an eye on him in case he turned out to be Hitler. Maybe he’d travel a bit. Go up to Fillydelphia, see what their version of a philly cheese steak sandwich was, that had to be hilarious. Maybe make fun of their city name for a while. Find their art museum and run up the steps yelling ‘Adrian’. What would the pony equivalent of ‘Adrian’ be? Maybe Pinkie would know.
Hell, it was summertime, right? He should be fishing. Four of his rods and six of his reels had survived the hydra stomping on the bow of his boat. One of his tackleboxes had been found, too. He still had most of that stuff in his Ponyville apartment. Instead of surviving off the combination pegasus fish market and pet food store, he could actually hit the river or the reservoir, see what was biting. A lot of the local fish were pretty standard fare, the same as earth, but some of it was new and unusual. Their rainbow trout, for instance… well, a subtle shimmering effect might be enough for a name on earth, but not in Equestria. And he’d been warned against messing with something called a banshee sculpin. Man did he want to find one of those and poke it with a stick. A long stick, mind.
There were also some local swamps and marshes not quite as far away as Froggy Bottom. Although he had to resist a southerner’s urge to sneer every time he heard the word ‘crayfish’, they at least had them, although they weren’t considered a food source like shrimp were. He knew how to make crawfish traps.
A resounding crash made him jerk out of his reverie, followed by the sound of wood splintering and a ‘fwump’ not unlike the sound a mattress makes hitting the ground. Then, ponies were shouting.
A little ways around a corner, three ponies were shouting at a fourth, who seemed to be both apologizing desperately and attempting to shield a foal from their wrath. The lead shouting pony was a brown and tan male earth pony that Jeremy recognized as Davenport, since he’d featured prominently in Filthy Rich’s plans for selling pens in Ponyville. The other two were a light blue pegasus stallion and a pale yellow pegasus mare that he didn’t recognize, but he did know the target of their wrath.
Ditzy ‘Derpy’ Doo, the same pegasus mailmare who’d fluttered into his chest earlier that day when he’d stepped outside. She’d been coming in for a landing to shove letters through his mail slot and he’d walked right into her landing zone. No harm, no foul; shoot, she’d even saved him a trip to the actual post office to mail his package. He’d actually met and talked with her briefly on several occasions, because she liked to know everyone in her delivery area so she could give them the mail personally if they were out. However, he was aware that she had a reputation for being clumsy, especially given her somewhat wandering vision. He didn’t recognize the little grey and blonde filly Ditzy was tucking under one wing, though.
The source of their wrath was readily apparent: an air sledge, a kind of lightweight cart made so pegasi could pull it through the sky for bulk deliveries. It was currently tipped onto its side, spilling four short stacks of elegant pony chairs into the street, some of which were clearly damaged, as well as a large bag of feathers, which had burst open.
A few fluttered down the street towards him, blown by the wind, and he paused to snag one.
Oh. They were quills. Why there was a combination furniture and office supplies store in Ponyville he had no idea.
“-sick and tired of you breaking everything you touch, you stupid mare! I’m going to have your job for this! Why the Pony Express was willing to hire a flying disaster like you I’ll never know! I will insist that they pay for the damages their incompetent employee caused!” Davenport was gesturing a front hoof wildly, his ears erect and focused, his earth pony bulk seeming twice the size of the pegasus mare in front of him.
“Sorry, I’m so sorry! I’m on break and I was just going to go home and make lunch for Dinky…” she apologized, protesting faintly at the threat to her job. “I didn’t mean for-“
“You didn’t mean to! You didn’t mean to? Oh, well, I suppose that makes it all better! Those are
six hundred bit Chevon Rouge parlor chairs! And my emergency quill order! It’s blowing away in the wind! Sorry doesn’t cut it, you fumble-hooved menace!”
Jeremy thought he actually saw froth forming at the corner of Davenport’s mouth, and the two pegasi deliveryponies seemed to be edging away more than anything, like they were just glad they weren’t the targets of his wrath. Concerned for his mailpony, he started walking over.
“I’m really sorry, we’ll help clean up…”
“No you wall-eyed twit! There might accidentally be something salvageable in this mess as long as you keep your derpy hooves off it!”
“Hey!” Jeremy called as he hurried up. He quickly noticed that the filly was trembling beneath Ditzy’s wing, and that Ditzy herself was crying openly. His face darkened. “Knock it off! You’re mad, fine, but don’t just keep jumping all over her! I thought ponies were better than that!”
“Knocked it all off the wagon, more like it!” the stallion replied, bristling. “Stay out of it! This menace has been breaking other ponies stuff for years and I for one am sick of it! Ponyville is the only town I know of where you can’t even get your mail delivered without it being crushed and broken!”
Jeremy lowered his voice and loomed over the irate store owner. “I said back off,” he growled, his hands balling unconsciously into fists. “Quit yer bitchin’ and we’ll get this cleaned up before all your feathers blow away.”
Davenport was clearly still pretty mad, but having something two feet taller than him aggressively interposing was a bit intimidating. He backed up, shrinking back from Jeremy with his ears twitching back.
Jeremy turned to Ditzy. “You’re on lunch break?” he asked sharply, not angry at her but tense due to the situation.
She nodded quickly, shrinking back just a little herself, though her ears couldn’t physically lay back any further. Tears were still leaving streaks of wet fur down her face, and she rubbed at it with the wrist of one foreleg.
He rounded back on Davenport. “If you’d just listen for one goddamn minute, you’d have heard that she wasn’t acting in her official duties as a mailman. So don’t even bring her job into this. Look, most of your shit is fine, it’s just fell out of the wagon.” Glaring at the pony with a look of disgust for a man who made a woman cry in front of her kid, Jeremy stalked angrily over to the wagon.
The two pegasi gave way before him.
He grabbed a short stack of four elegant polished wood chairs and yanked them upright in the street before looking them over carefully. The top chair, which had fell the farthest, and also had its legs on the outside because of how the chairs nested inside each other, had a number of scuffs and scraps on one side, but was largely unharmed.
“Look, this stack is fine, except for the top one, and it’s fixable with some sandpaper and varnish,” he announced.
Davenport, no longer quite as intimidated and getting angry at the treatment of his fine furniture, came closer, grumbling imprecations.
Jeremy grabbed another stack, but the top chair gave with a creak. The sack of quills, which was surprisingly heavy given how packed in the feathers had been, had landed partially on the chairs and broke part of the back of the top one. He separated it from the stack and put it aside before pulling the three remaining ones upright as well. “Well, one of them needs some work, but the others are fine.”
“Six hundred bit chairs!” Davenport reminded. “And who’s going to pay for it, huh? Derpy the tornado over there already owes half the town her paycheck from all the other things she’s broken.”
Ditzy, who was still sobbing quietly, again seemed as if she wanted to protest the unfair assumption, but didn’t want to argue, either.
“Goddamn it, I said enough!” he yelled, whirling on the jackass who had the gall to keep attacking a defenseless mare, even if it was just verbally. “You’ll get your fucking money, leave her alone!” He raised one fist threateningly.
Unfortunately, that was about the point that Davenport’s wives finally made it out of his shop a little ways down the street.
Ponies had a long and complicated history with marriage. Mares outnumbered stallions by a considerable margin, especially relatively small towns like Ponyville, and the ‘herd’ was a tradition dating back to pony origins. One dominant mare and multiple subordinate mares would share a stallion, much like wild earth horses at first, though intelligence and cultural drift conspired to complicate the hell out of things. However, advancements in both culture and technology had improved the gender ratio a bit, and monogamy had been growing in popularity over the past several hundred years, going from nearly unheard of to something not worth raising an eyebrow over. Still, with the relative lack of stallions, group marriages were the most popular choice, usually limited to two or three mares per stallion.
In Davenport’s case, much like the dichotomy of his cutie mark, he’d ended up with a pair of mares who were polar opposites of each other. Pillow Top was a big earth pony mare, dark green in color with a blue and yellow striped mane. She was a little pudgy, made great brownies, loved cuddling, and was placid and steady. She often worked the counter at the shop and sometimes helped Davenport with furniture repair. On the other hand, Featherflick was an athletic pegasus with a light blue coat and a lavender, violet, and royal purple tricolor mane. She was a part time weathermare, part time firefighter, played a mean game of hoofball, woke up every morning at six am sharp, and could be charitably described as ‘intense’ and uncharitably as ‘overbearing’. She handled most of Quills and Sofas deliveries, double checked Davenport’s records, and also swept the shop. Featherflick was also unquestionably the dominant mare in the relationship.
Featherflick did not like the sight of Jeremy standing over her cowering husband, fist raised.
Featherflick did not like that at all.
“Get away from my stallion!”
Jeremy’s head snapped around right as Featherflick flew into his personal space.
To her credit, she pulled up short, hovering vertically in the air in front of him. Of course, that was to both to look bigger and allow her to look him in the eye, and also hoof punch him in his big flat face if it became necessary.
To Jeremy’s credit, he neither threw the punch his upraised hand seemed to indicate, nor did he try to shove the pegasus mare away. Actually, she surprised him, and he took a half step back, raising his hands defensively.
“Whoa, lady! Your husband is being a jackass, I’m just trying to help!” he protested.
“Don’t call Davenport a jackass, jackass!” Featherflick yelled, buzzing closer and lashing both front hooves out in a hard shove to get him away from her stallion.
Jeremy had braced, but not for pony strength. The two legged shove put him on his ass and sent him sliding back, his head bouncing off the cobblestone road with a sickening thump.
A lot of things happened next. Ponies started shouting. Dinky started crying. Ditzy gasped in shock. Featherflick flew closer to the downed human, still aggressively defending her turf. Nopony threatened her and hers.
Jeremy came up swinging, his questing hands finding the broken six hundred bit Chevon Rouge chair he’d put aside earlier and swinging it with furious strength right into the side of Featherflick’s head with a crunch of shattering wood.
Featherflick went down in a heap.
Ponies shouted louder. Fillies cried harder.
Jeremy lifted the chair to strike again, then his eyes cleared and he got a good look at the downed pegasus. Aghast, he glanced at the now thoroughly broken chair in his hands, then tossed it to the side and clutched at his hair.
“Oh shit. I shouldn’t have done that. I should not have done that.”
Author’s note: Do not pass go. Do not collect 200 bits. Go directly to jail.
Special thanks to Dusttraveller, Lamb, Invictus, Random Encounter, Karazor, Anrodos, and Liz for help, comments, and betaing. Most of the credit goes to them, I’ll take any blame.