The Last Pony on Earth

by Starscribe

First published

One day, Earth. The next, everyone is gone and I'm a pony. What the heck is going on?

Until yesterday, my life was no different than anybody's. Go to work, pay the bills, sleep. Today, I woke up to a world without humans. The streets are empty, the power grid is running down, and not another soul is in sight. That might not be the worst thing, if I wasn't also a pony.

Where is everyone? Why is this happening to me?

Will l stay sane long enough to starve?

Now with a TVTropes page! Для тех, кто предпочитает русский язык, перевод можно найти по ссылке.

Note To E-Reader users: This story contains illustrations in each chapter, which will be lost in the standard fimfiction chapter export. The generous Phoen1x took the time to produce an epub version with all the illustrations intact, which you can download here.

A huge thanks to Zutcha for all his hard work on the art of this story. Also a huge thanks to my editors Two Bit and Sparktail, for tolerating my half-written crap.

Chapter 1: May 23

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Dear Journal,

I think I better get these details down before I forget them (or else go completely insane). If you (probably just me) notice that I’ve switched from pen-written entries to typed ones glued awkwardly into the book, know that I have a very good reason for that decision.

Actually, I’m using the text-to-speech on my laptop, this entry won’t be typed. Why? That’s an excellent question! Because I can’t. Can’t, you ask? Why could that be? Well, now you’ve asked the right question. Not that there’s much point… but no. Write. Write or go crazy in the silence. I read once that most people who go into solitary come out worse than if they’d been tortured.

Getting ahead of myself. So, I woke up bright and early like I always have to do, so I can catch the bus for my job down at the garage. I knew it was gonna be one of those days the moment I tried to stand up and I ended up falling what felt like a mile before I smacked my stupid face on the carpet.

It’s like my legs didn’t work right or something, or maybe my back didn’t work right. Didn’t break anything, but that didn’t make it suck any less. Wish it would’ve been the only thing that went wrong. I was still half awake, so I only sorta noticed how numb my fingers had gone. I tried to push myself back up, but instead of standing I only sorta flopped around like a stupid worm.

Two shocks in a row were enough to shake me out of my stupor completely, but because of the ungodly hour there wasn’t much light to see by. Still, I remember thinking how messed up my arm looked. Had I somehow managed to break one of my arms in my sleep? It looked almost blue with what I imagined at the time to be bruises. Yet it also hadn’t hurt when I tried to put weight on it. It just hadn’t been able to hold anything the way I’d expected, that was all.

Instead of trying to stand again, I crawled to the wall, where I might be able to switch on the lights and see whatever had happened to me. It wasn’t easy to reach the switch, but after what felt like forever I was able to get it on and get a good look at myself. My pajamas had come off while I slept, so I wasn’t spared what I can only describe as the most horrifying sight of my life.

I knew now why I hadn’t been able to stand; there was nothing even remotely human about the way I looked. I dunno if I fainted or not. Must have spent hours just laying there on my back, staring up at where my hands used to be.

I don’t know what’s caused it, and I still don’t. Beyond any doubt, I changed into some sort of animal. As best I can tell, I’m some sort of small horse. Small is a bit of an understatement here. Standing, I’m not as tall as most little kids, maybe three or four feet. I don’t look like anything earth has ever seen, pretty damn sure about that. At least, not unless there’s some sort of aquamarine horse from some remote corner of the world I’ve never heard of.

All my other proportions look wrong too. Head’s too big for my body, though I’m grateful it’s big enough for my brain (such as it is). These eyes are ridiculous, some stupid reddish brown color and way bigger than they ought to be. I’ve got a tail now, which is just fantastic, and it’s the same color as my hair. Both are sea-foam green, like I’m impersonating the Statue of Liberty or something.

I could go on, but I’d probably end up getting frustrated and breaking this thing over my head or something. It’s hard to think of what about this was the worst. For now I’m going to settle on the fact that I changed from one type of being to another. The change here is so fundamental that I struggle to accomplish even the most basic tasks. At first, that was just calling into work, because I sure as hell wasn’t going to make it in looking like I’d sprung out of a little girl’s daydream riding public transit in L.A.

Turns out cell phones weren’t made for hooves. Capacitive touch-screens or whatever. Even if these stupid bricks on the end of my limbs had some capacitive in them (whatever that is), they’re too big to press the buttons. Had to fish around in one of my drawers for that pen I got from the job fair with a smart screen stylus on the back, and used that in my mouth to make the screen respond.

Didn’t matter; nobody at work answered. That didn’t make sense; the garage has always been open 24/7. Tried my boss’s personal cell and got the machine, which was even weirder. It wasn’t like the calls didn’t go through, which could’ve happened for any number of reasons. I left a message as best I could, though God only knows what he would’ve thought if he actually heard it.

I knew my voice sounded screwy by then, but that wasn’t enough to change my mind about what I knew I had to do next. I had to call somebody, I had to get help from someone who would take me seriously. So I called mom. No answer. Called my little brother, nothing. Called 911. “All our operators are busy right now, please remain on the line”.

What was going on? My initial thought was that whatever had happened to me had happened to everybody, all at once. Maybe my family and acquaintances were just less confident in changed voices (mine still makes me feel weird to listen to as I dictate this, by the way).

This seemed like as solid a theory to me as anything. Maybe I was witnessing some sort of hallucination brought on by a gas attack, or something equally disturbing but also less disturbing than admitting that my body had been stolen. It was at that moment I realized something was conspicuously absent from my morning. Sounds.

I’ve talked about the crazy things I’ve heard before. I’ve got single-pane windows and thin walls, and it’d be dishonest to call this anything but a shady part of town. Like all good city-dwellers, I've perfected the habit of pretending that I hadn’t heard anything.

There was nothing to pretend not to hear this morning. There was no sign of life at all from outside, but I’d been so distracted with my own disaster I hadn’t noticed until right then. What was going on? I made my way to the window, afraid maybe I’d see some sort of warzone, or bodies clogging up the street. There weren’t any. There was nobody.

Maybe I’m reading this years and years later; maybe I’ve been alone so long that I’ve forgotten the way cities used to be. Millions and millions of people live in LA, and even early in the morning the streets of downtown should have been clogged with cars and people. There were none. No busses on the road, no trains moving down the distant Metrolink tracks, and no pedestrians on the street. Not just nearby, but nowhere my eyes could see. Every vehicle was stationary, parked where they had been left.

It took time to get up the courage to investigate, hours spent trying to master walking and calling every number I knew, including those of friends further and further from L.A. Worst case, this had to be local, right? I should get a busy signal from all the other people that would be making out-of-city calls, though if I was lucky it was also possible it might connect. Either one would have been reassuring. Neither one happened.

You’d think walking on four legs would be the same as walking on your hands and knees, or at least I did. This thought, however plausible it might seem, is incorrect. I won’t go into detail, except to say that I feel immensely proud to be moving at some small fraction of my previous speed. Were it not for my significant decrease in size, I would’ve expected to get much faster going to four legs. Otherwise, what the hell kind of good would four legs have in the first place? Jury’s still out on whether I’ll be faster one day, but I’m certainly not faster now. I still fall over when I try to stop sometimes, or when I try to make tight turns. Working on that.

Honestly, I can’t be upset with my progress thus far. When my grandma had a stroke, she took three months of physical therapy to learn how to walk again, and she never got out of the walker. This change seems equally drastic to brain damage (whole body damage!), and I can already move. Thank god.

Sorry, got a little distracted. I went down my entire contacts list, getting better at using the stylus to navigate from my mouth in the process. Couldn’t be more thankful I didn’t ever unplug the stupid thing, or else the battery would’ve gone dead in the hours I spent leaving messages for everyone I knew, even distant relations or friends from the Internet I’d never actually met in person. I called all fifty-two names in my contacts, and got fifty-one answering machines. The last, a distant relative from up in Canada, I'm not sure about. But there was nobody on the line for certain.

Hours wasted on that and I hadn’t heard any bombs fall from overhead, nor had anyone called me back or any emergency alerts shown up on my phone. I navigated to a news site I’d had bookmarked (a process in and of itself), but nothing on that page suggested anything unusual was going on.

I’d already felt enough to dismiss the possibility that I was experiencing some kind of elaborate dream based on the apparent authenticity of the sensations I experienced. Besides, even if it was, I felt that my best bet was proceeding under the assumption that it wasn’t. At worst, I could waste some sleeping effort. At best, I wouldn’t have squandered precious time delusionally avoiding reality because the facts I found there were too difficult to cope with. A day and a night’s sleep later, I am grimly confident that this is indeed reality I’m living in.

Of course, clothing was an absolute disaster. It took what felt like an hour to find a pair of gym shorts I could tighten enough to not fall off when I moved, with my greenish tail spilling out over the band. My tightest tank-top still slips down my body periodically, though I feel like I might be able to do better with children’s clothing. Unfortunately I never had any kids, so there was nothing that small to be found in my apartment. I did find a little bag I could sling over my neck, big enough for wallet and cellphone, and made my way to the stairs and eventually to street level. The silence seemed thick enough to see as I stepped out for the first time, and went entirely unbroken until I reached the end of the street and passed a house with a dog in the backyard.

After the scare sent me to my face on the sidewalk (at least I didn’t have as far to fall!), I made a hasty exit and followed the route the bus would’ve taken me if it were here, towards downtown LA proper. I figured that, considering the population is in the millions, the chances that I was going to be the only one not snatched up in a city of so many was so small as to be utterly insignificant. Fifteen minutes on the bus might well be two hours at my snail’s walking pace, but I could think of nothing else to do. Nothing but walk, walk, walk. My feet— hooves I guess— made this loud clopping sound on the sidewalk, removing any chance I might’ve had at stealth. Yet I’d expected making a trip like this “barefoot” to hurt, and it didn’t.

I know horse-shoes are a thing, though I’ve forgotten exactly what their purpose is. Something about how hard surfaces wear away hooves over time. I wonder if I’ll have to think about getting some eventually, if I do a lot of walking.

Made it to downtown sometime in the afternoon, and there were no additional signs of life. Where I crossed a bridge over the freeway, I saw no vehicles, either parked on the side of the road or moving, any more than I saw on any of the side-streets. Still haven’t figured that one out.

I walked into a little corner deli I pass on my way to work, and found the doors open but nobody home. Walked around to the cooler and took a water, though opening it took another twenty minutes at least. Turns out my mouth is a crapton stronger than it used to be, can’t think of how it wouldn’t have hurt to twist the cap otherwise. Left a dollar on the counter and continued on.

I saw no evidence there is anyone else alive in LA, not during the entire trip. Work was deserted when I finally passed it, along with every major building and landmark in the city.

What sort of awful catastrophe could’ve possibly caused something like this? More importantly, why didn’t I end up dragged off with everybody else? I don’t know exactly what the bible says about the rapture, but I’m pretty sure it didn’t say ‘The righteous will go to heaven and the wicked stay on earth as blue horses.’

I wandered for hours, walking down the center of streets that were normally packed with motorists and sidewalks teeming with pedestrians. There were none of either, and I traveled alone back to my apartment. What else could I do? I ate an entire box of granola bars for dinner, since I didn’t want to fight with anything else. Didn’t taste all that different from what I expected, thankfully. My teeth look like… a horse’s I guess. Then I spent the rest of the night fighting with my laptop, trying to get online and failing utterly to discover anything useful.

I’m not sure what I’ll do tomorrow. If everybody’s really gone, then… the power’s gonna die eventually, right? No more supermarkets, no more gasoline, no more anything. I guess I’ll have to learn how to survive and stuff. Fighting off wolves and coyotes would be a lot easier if I had the fingers to use a gun!

I’ll try to be better about keeping this than I’ve been the last few years. I figure not having any humans to talk to probably won’t be terribly good for my sanity, so this should help a little.

—A

Note: After thinking about it, I believe my best bet for learning how to write again is with my mouth. To practice, I'm going to start sketching things when I can. Here's my best attempt at how I look. I'll admit, needs a little work. I was never really much of an artist even when I did have hands.

Chapter 2: May 24

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Dear Journal,

I survived another day, despite what you may’ve expected. I didn’t starve, though that almost seemed like a more pressing danger than anything else so far. Despite my expectations, the lights are all still on. I guess whatever automated equipment they use to keep the grid running can go twenty-four hours without human intervention. How long will it take for all the fuel in all the world’s emergency generators to run out? Another day? A week?

There were no visible changes to the situation when I woke up. Reality did not revert to its proper form as I slept, much to my chagrin. No cars had been moved, nor had any fliers been dropped by the millions from aircraft to litter the streets. I don’t own a TV, but I have plenty of neighbors who do. I found an unlocked door, and found that most stations have stopped broadcasting already. Of those that remained, I saw only signs of automation; old television shows and reruns and scheduled broadcasts. None of the news or local channels were broadcasting, though I spent nearly an hour scanning all of the remaining channels for signs of life.

I decided sometime early this morning that finding someone else alive is my first priority. Even if they think I’m a freak, even if they dismiss me as an animal at first, or consider my new form to be somehow responsible for what has happened, I have to try. The thought of being alone in the wreckage of a dying city, watching the weeds sweep in year after year to crack the streets and rust devour what civilization built; I can’t watch it alone. Maybe if I had kept my body I could’ve. I didn’t.

So I considered for a long time: if there were other survivors, scattered so that, say, one in a million had survived the strange culling, what were the chances I would wander into them by sheer chance? Very, very small. With such low numbers, low enough that I had seen no evidence at all they existed, it was possible we could all live together in the wreckage of LA without ever meeting each other, or spread to the vastness of the country where the chances of encountering each other shrunk even further.

Infrastructure is failing. It won’t vanish overnight, but I know that the delicate web that upholds a technological civilization cannot survive such depopulation. To keep a pale imitation of a first world economy going would probably require a million people. Does that mean we’re doomed to agrarian life? Is this the planet’s revenge for all we’ve done?

I can’t get ahead of myself. I have no idea what’s happened, or why. Only that some power, beyond anything I’ve ever suspected, is clearly at work here in California. The Internet suggests that either something similar has happened worldwide, or else something about local network connections requires close monitoring to function. Some quick searches around the net did suggest that sites located overseas were much less likely to still be up. The number of errors I encountered this evening was far higher than from this morning.

Granted I didn’t try very many. I’m grateful I spent the time and energy getting my laptop able to respond to voice commands, or else it might have been all but impossible to use. Maybe if this mess doesn’t fix itself, I’ll have to make a keyboard more suited to hooves. Of course, if things don’t go back to the way they were, there might not be much reason. It’s been two whole days with no evidence of a single human being in the city, or any changes to the net. If this was a localized disaster, surely someone on the internet would’ve been talking about it. As with the television, those few changes I did notice seemed far more like scheduled posts than active human activity. No post I saw anywhere had a single comment posted since yesterday morning, though again my search could not be exhaustive. It’s a shame all the evidence I might use to pinpoint an exact time is about to disappear.

Maybe if I had my fingers and knew what I was doing, I would try to make a backup of some of that. Time is the enemy now. The power grid is going to fail soon, and when that happens all contact with the world outside my city will be severed, maybe forever. I took the time this morning to copy a simple message to a few of the sites I frequent, as well as the others I could think of that allow user-submitted content. This simple message read: “If anyone is alive to read this, you are not alone. I am in Los Angeles. If you see this, call ASAP. Phones will not last long. I may be reached using my cell number…”

I would carry it with me the rest of the day, as well as making calls to my mother and brother whenever I got a chance. I left messages begging them to return my calls, or if they couldn’t get through, then to come to LA and join me here. Is there any chance any of my family is still alive? I’m not sure. Maybe whatever left me here has something to do with my blood.

Maybe it doesn’t have anything to do with anything. I don’t know.

A little browsing took far longer than it should’ve, but it didn’t take long. I’m no computer whiz’, but I’ve always good with my hands. Machines, particularly diesel engines and trucks in general. That’s what I do at the garage, since I’m the only one there with that kind of experience.

This unique knowledge gave me an insight I might’ve otherwise ignored. If anyone remained with any knowledge of how radios worked, it was quite possible I could get in contact with a CB radio. I know of (marginally illegal) systems with the power to easily reach out through the entire city and much of the county beyond. How hard could it be to turn something like that into a signal beacon? There are survivors. I know it in my bones. I don’t know if they’re like me… for their sakes, I hope they aren’t.

I refuse to accept any other alternative, except perhaps that I’ve gone completely insane. If this is a delusion, it seems to be holding up supernaturally well against scrutiny.

So ignoring the possibility of insanity for now (something to worry about when things have settled down a little), I decided to devote myself entirely to be as conspicuous and noticeable as possible. I will get myself discovered. I will NOT spend the rest of my stupid, tiny horse life alone. Who knows, it may not be impossible to reverse this. Maybe there’s someone somewhere who knows how this awful situation got started, and what we can do to put things right.

I walked to the garage, mostly because I’m sure we have a truck waiting for service there with far more than the legal wattage of radio transmitter. Walking is awful, and not just because I still haven't learned to do it properly. Even dressed (or my best imitation of wearing clothes), my body doesn't just let me ignore what I'm missing and pretend the new stuff isn't there. I'm a quadruped now, so it's all moving around all the time. I know from experience that a fall or two isn't going to hurt me that badly, even if walking around makes it impossible to pretend I'm still human.

I couldn't begin to drive the truck, with its complicated pedals and shifting column and my own limbs shorter than a little kid’s. I could, however, use a screwdriver and some clippers. I disconnected the antenna, ran some extension to the third floor window, and stuck the antenna outside to hang there. This particular truck had the makings of a pirate radio rig; enough for me to record a few seconds of audio and put it on loop. Connected the truck’s battery to the grid while I was at it; no sense in forcing the thing to idle away and fill the garage with carbon monoxide.

I recorded a simple message, saying that there were survivors and the address of the garage as a meeting place. I said that I’d be coming and going around that area, but I would leave a note about my whereabouts if the transmission went down and I relocated. Turned the speaker volume up so loud they were sure to blow out if anyone actually responded, and turned the thing on a cycle through all frequencies (even the two civilians are supposed to have a license to use).

Yes, I did all that without hands. No, I don’t know how the hell I managed it. I’m still tripping over myself when I walk. Still struggling to accomplish even basic tasks. I tried to microwave myself a hearty beef stew for lunch, and found the smell almost set me to heaving. Meat. Apparently tiny horses don’t do the meat thing. Too bad. Maybe when I’m through struggling I can fight through the instinct. Bet it still tastes damn good.

Brought a sleeping bag and a few other supplies to the building in short trips, so I could set my headquarters up in the manager’s office. Figure if anyone hostile is listening, I’ll at least be behind a thick locked door. Granted, I’d probably be safer if I stayed hidden… if my survival was some sort of accident, revealing myself so openly has all but guaranteed whatever force caused it will come for me.

Maybe they’ll take me away to wherever they took everybody else. I suppose that wouldn’t be so bad. At least I’d have company.

Barring that, I’ll focus on finding survivors. It’s good to have a goal. Tomorrow I’ll try to get more familiar with this body; maybe figure out a way of carrying more than what I can wrap around my neck or hold in my teeth at one time. Damn is a mouth good at getting things done, though. Guess millions of years of newborns using their mouth to explore as much as their hands had good reason for doing it.

Please, if there’s anything like a God out there, at least let me find somebody. I don’t care if they’re the most awful jackass in the world. Anything would be better than this awful silence.

—A

Note: Instead of thinking about my disgusting new body, I drew a radio.

Chapter 3: May 25

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Dear Journal,

I didn’t find anyone today. Power died sometime during the night, though the batteries in the truck haven’t yet. There were no streetlights on when I woke in the morning, and while my cell phone still sometimes claims to have service, I haven’t been able to so much as reach anybody’s voicemail today. So ends the connectedness of the information age. At least until everybody comes back. I mean; if the vanishing happened all at once for no reason, I see no reason the return of humanity couldn’t be for a similar cause and with a similar amount of preparation, right?

Maybe it’s just waiting to happen. Maybe this is some kind of test. Obviously not by us, since we never had anything that could make one person vanish, much less all of them. Or maybe… I was kidnapped in my sleep, given some sort of body or mind-altering drug, then placed in a scale recreation of my hometown, with access to some static backup of the internet instead of the real thing.

I wonder which is simpler. Were it not for the being a tiny horse thing, I’d probably suspect the simulation idea (while incredibly unlikely) actually made the most sense. With that addition, pretty much everything is up in the air.

If anybody responded last night, then the speakers didn’t wake me. I’m fairly certain with the volume level that couldn’t have happened. It was strange to wake up in my manager’s office instead of at my apartment. Can’t say I ever thought I’d sleep here.

I wonder, when I look for somewhere else to go, where it would make sense to live. LA is an awful place to build a survivor’s colony, all things considered. Even if millions of (hopefully human) people start flowing in from all over the country, the climate just isn’t conducive to a primitive society. The aqueduct won’t keep running forever, and there just isn’t enough rain down here to keep very much alive besides scraggly brown weeds and some cacti. Oregon or Washington might make better locations.

Of course it’s also possible nobody will ever show up. In that case, there’s no chance of me ever doing anything but survive. I’m sure there’s enough canned and dried food in the city alone to feed one small horse for the rest of its natural life.

I wonder how long tiny horses live. Regular sized ones don’t usually do better than twenty to thirty years. Does that mean I only have another ten?

Granted the more I experience in this strange blue body, the more evidence I see that it isn’t any breed of horse that’s ever lived on Earth. My legs can bend in ways I think gymnasts everywhere would’ve envied. Not only that, but in all my walking, I haven’t once grown tired. When a whole crate of cans fell on my leg today, it didn’t break and I was able to crawl out with minimal effort.

Thank god I didn’t break a leg. I would’ve been well and truly dead if that’d happened. No doctors after everyone vanishes, let alone veterinarians with the skills to treat injuries suffered by microhorses.

Okay, that name can use a little work. I’ll have to call whatever new species I’ve become something! In the absence of any natural individuals to argue with me, I suppose I can call myself whatever I want.

I’m wandering. Maybe I should go back to just talking about my day in linear order like I did before everything fell apart.

The loss of power changes things for me, and I realized today that one of the first things to go is going to be the produce keeping in hundreds of supermarkets all around the city. I know very little about this body, except that eating granola bars apparently isn’t fatal. The produce and meat and fish in the supermarkets will last a few hours more on their own backup generators, and then it will all begin to rot.

Given my involuntary reactions last night to even a subtle aroma, and the flat look of most of my teeth, it feels like I’m probably some kind of herbivore. It seemed the smartest idea to me to try as many of the different vegetables and fruits I could while they still existed. That would give me a good idea about the new preferences of this body, and teach me what to look for or eventually grow.

Like hell I’ll ever be able to grow anything. I’ve killed three window gardens since moving into my current apartment. Whatever.

Power generation for the radio would be important too, but that seemed like a bigger and slightly less urgent project. So I went to the closest grocery store, a Whole Foods I never could’ve afforded to do any actual shopping at before everyone disappeared. The walk was a pleasant punctuation to the quiet of the previous days. It's nice to leave the densest parts of the inner-city (if I'm going to steal groceries, might as well steal the best, right?). I think I've lived in crappy apartments for so long that I've forgotten real plants exist. Passed a park, with honest to god birds flying and chirping and doing their thing. More than just the occasional seagull flying west you occasionally spot or crow watching silently on a telephone pole.

It's funny how this awful experience and even losing what I thought made me human (the being human part) has reminded me of the things I used to experience. With the city ordinances gone and nobody blasting nests out of their houses with hoses, I suppose I'll start to see more and more of these little animals colonizing the parts of the city that have been almost desolate.

I'm seeing and hearing more evidence of LA's resident stray population. You never really hear much about them living there. In two years, I'd never even seen one. Saw more than a few today, though thank god it's been so hot. The few packs I saw left well enough alone from a distance. Guess after just a few days there's probably still plenty to eat that they don't have to get up during the hottest part of afternoon to hunt an alien horse. Maybe they expect me to be able to outpace them, since I'm a horse and all.

Can I gallop? Is that a thing that tiny horses can do? Do I even want to learn if I can? I suppose if the alternative is that or getting gored by teeth as big as my face, I'll choose learning to fight with whatever "nature" gave me.

Something else worth mentioning: I think my senses have changed. My hearing is much better. These stupid ears move for a reason, and they seem to know what they're doing without me getting involved. As much as they knock stray strands of this ridiculous mane into my eyes. I can tell where sound is coming from much better. I avoided a few streets that sounded like they had some active packs, and hurried inside a convenience store when it seemed like another group was actively hunting.

What are the dogs hunting if not for me? Rats? Each other? People's pets? Or are they breaking into buildings and eating all the rotting food and fresh-ish meat all over the city? That stuff's all bound to run out eventually. As I understand it, LA is quite unkind to rats compared to other cities, too spread out with an infrastructure too new to support them in the numbers like New York or Chicago. I fear that my local canines will soon run out of easy meals and start looking for the difficult ones. The four-legged, blueish greenish variety. How do quadrupedal herbivores usually handle predators who hunt in packs and run as fast (or close) as they do? Oh, right. Herds. Guess I don't have one of those.

Long hair sucks. There's a reason I wore it so short in high school. Maybe I'll cut it, spray it, gel it, something. What do people do with hair this long, anyway? What do people do with tails?

Can't say if seeing other living things was an improvement or not, though. Do I prefer the chirps and calls of real-life birds more than the horns and buses and human voices. God, not more than the last one. My own voice sounds awful, nothing like the one I'm used to. My earbuds won't stay in my ears, not with the way they twitch and move constantly and how strangely shaped they are. Maybe I'll have to get clips or something to hold them in. I didn't want to use a portable speaker too loudly for fear I might attract animal attention. Getting the attention of other sapient life is going to be a challenge if I have to simultaneously shelter from the non-sapient variety. Think I'm rambling, in any case. Let's focus!

The doors were locked, like I might’ve expected them to be if the place was being sealed for the night. I didn’t have to do anything to force my way in, because something already had. Several potted trees sat beside the store. None were large enough for trees, though each must’ve had a few hundred pounds of dirt.

One had fallen in, shattering the glass of one of the gigantic doors. Have I mentioned yet how big all the doors look now?

It wasn’t a terribly large tree. I probably could’ve pushed it over, if I still had the height to leverage it from the top. Or, it’s possible, a stiff enough wind could’ve toppled it, though I haven’t felt anything like that in the last week or so. I expect animals will eventually start taking over human spaces, but… none of them are smart enough to know how to use a tree to break into the one building that happens to be full of food, right?

This was one of two things: either a freak accident or evidence of another human survivor. I wandered the store, though I had to hold a flashlight in my mouth to be able to see anything. Either this particular store lacked any sort of automatic backup power systems, or else those generators would only be used to preserve the store, and not to light it.

I saw no sign animals had been into the store yet, no boxes torn or displays ripped open.

I tried much of the produce, smelling everything first and rinsing it as best I could. What I learned was either encouraging or unhelpful: it seems I can eat just about all of it. Leafy green vegetables in particular tasted far better than I remember. I couldn’t try everything, particularly the stuff that takes a long time to prepare or requires dexterity (how the hell am I supposed to slice a pineapple with hooves?).

When I was done with all that, I took a cart and filled it with all the tasty things I could. I left behind apples and carrots and other things I don’t expect to spoil without refrigeration (though I’ll have to get back and salvage them before scavengers do).

When in Rome? I can’t say I imagined an animal as small as I am could eat such a large volume. Then again, I also never really cared much for the sorts of foods I ought to eat. Now they’re all delicious. Please, tell me how that’s fair: why couldn’t I have had the same sense of taste before the end of the world? I would’ve been beach body ready all year round. Whatever the hell that even means.

Fortunately the door was one of those that can be opened mechanically from the inside, or else getting my haul out would’ve been hard. I tied some rope to the handles of the cart (a near-hour ordeal, by the way), then wrapped it around my neck to pull it. Worked okay I guess. Figure if I’m going to make a habit out of moving cargo, and I am going to have to make a habit out of it if I want to survive, I’ll probably need to get a cart figured out that doesn’t half-strangle me while I walk or rattle around like it’s going to fall apart whenever I cross a street. Bruised everything on the bottom layer just getting it a block down the sidewalk.

I kept by the same paths I had taken on the way in, and didn't encounter any large packs, though I could still hear them in the distance. I wonder if the rattling and noise scared them off. That'd be useful to know. Are they all strays? Escaped pets? I have to imagine if I've lived my whole life without seeing very many stray dogs, it has to be because they've trained themselves to avoid signs of human activity. Of course, the further I got from the more residential areas the fewer and fewer signs I saw of them, until I returned to the near desolation of the garage where I work. Guess any dogs that may've lived there have moved on to search for greener pastures. Wouldn't be harder; aside from the cart I brought, there isn't a green thing in sight.

One fear ends today: it does not appear that I’m going to starve. This body seems to handle most of the same things I (should’ve) had when I was human. I will experiment with grains next, though probably not dairy. Even if I could somehow find chickens, I’m not sure it would be worth the work of keeping them just for eggs. What am I going to do, bake cakes?

Horses can eat grass. I didn’t try that. It would be helpful to know if this body is capable, but… not today. Not ever. Not while I have any other option. Whatever did this might’ve taken away my friends, my family, and even my body, but I won’t let them take what scrap of dignity I have left. They won’t make an animal out of me. I might just let myself starve if it really comes to that. Besides, it’s not as if that stuff can be that good for you. Grazing animals have to spend all day eating because everything they eat is so poor nutritionally. Cows have like four stomachs. I don’t think horses have that, but… No.

I got a face full of grass plenty of times in the kid’s soccer league. I’m not gonna intentionally cause it now. Not to mention it's got to be nasty and dirty and covered in bugs. Can you cook grass? What about hay?

You know what? No. Moving on.

Power is my next priority. I started this building’s generator to keep the truck’s transmitter and radio working, as well as to refrigerate my produce haul. Running it on the lowest possible setting, I should only have to switch it on every six hours or so for a short period, to recharge the battery and rechill the fridge. I remember hearing somewhere that they’re insulated enough to keep food from spoiling inside even during a power failure so long as you don’t open them.

Tomorrow I’ll probably start looking for a new headquarters. The garage is central to the resources of downtown and it has the radio, but it’s also not very sustainable. With any luck, I’ll find somewhere within walking distance with a bunch of solar panels or something. Thank god for the green movement.

—A

I thought I'd draw the landscape outside the garage. How'd I do?

Chapter 4: May 26

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Dear Journal,

I had strange dreams last night. I saw a field of stars populated with thousands and thousands of charging horses, their hooves like a thunderstorm all around me. I felt like Mufasa must have, right up until they came stampeding over me. Can’t say I cared for it much.

But talking about dreams was more something I used this for before the whole world disappeared. Back when I had people to talk to about weird dreams and enjoyable work to do when I woke to take my mind off it all. Can’t say I don’t miss those days.

One thing I feared in the absence of humans, fires, have failed to materialize. Perhaps other parts of the country weren’t so lucky. Maybe there is already a great fire spreading from sea to sea, and it will eventually swallow me and what’s left of my civilization. I’ll be driven into the ocean, and lose any chance I had left of eking out some sort of pleasant existence. Then I’ll be eating grass.

My search for power met with modest success this morning. After topping off the fuel in the generator out back, I found myself a real estate magazine and started browsing through the listings for homes with some environmentally conscious options.

Can’t say I haven’t dreamed of having the money to have a house. Under the circumstances, I think I would’ve preferred to keep the apartment. I don’t even have a single other person to appreciate it with me. I could go to one of those movie star mansions in Hollywood, one of those sprawling estates, and now nobody would stop me. But what would be the point? Not to mention the distance; a few blocks is one thing, but no way some animal wouldn't find me if I had to travel that far.

Still might do it anyway if I can ever figure out how to drive. Might be fun to explore those houses, see what sort of neat things got left behind there.

But not now. For now, I need a place as close to downtown as possible, with as many different alternative power options as I can find. Though this isn’t the bay area, there were still plenty of listings. The prices of most of these homes were more than I would probably make in my lifetime, but that didn’t matter now.

Would you believe the GPS in my phone didn’t work to help me find my way there? Apparently you need a data connection or something, which is well and totally down now. Fortunately one of the cars we had in for servicing had a road GPS inside with a battery, and I took that along with me to check out a few of the properties that were closest.

I visited several, crossing into patches of residential that were just as deserted as the city proper. No evidence I saw anywhere during my walk indicated intelligent life, though I saw several raccoons and even a fox investigating an overturned trash bin. Only the first of many outside pioneers into this formerly human territory. As before, I moved most during the heat of the day, counting on that to keep the majority of the dogs indoors. Are stray dogs nocturnal? I don't actually know. I'm not. Wonder if tiny horses can change their schedules like people can, or if we just don't have a choice and get tired no matter what.

See that, how I used the word "we"? Yuck.

I wonder if being some sort of alien horse has made me somehow separate from the predator and prey relationships here, the way many animals even today would hesitate to attack humans for reason of novelty alone. I’ll probably have to figure out some sort of defense eventually. I can’t run yet, though I haven’t fallen over while walking in two days. Horses buck I know, but that works better when your throat isn’t within biting distance of most predators on the ground. I could take the gun my boss keeps in his desk drawer, but what would I do with it? I don’t have hands. Even if I could somehow pull a trigger with my teeth, I’d probably break one and there’s no chance I’d fire straight.

Could I build some sort of harness? Maybe rivet some brackets onto a gun, and wear it on my shoulders or something? A rifle would probably be easier…

The scent and touch of humanity is still strong here, and nothing large threatened me. Were I still human, I probably wouldn’t ever have to worry about predators here, except perhaps feral dogs if they got really hungry. Little in southern California is much of a danger to a prepared and alert human adult. Put a few shots into the air with a shotgun, and the dogs would probably go running. I bet a shotgun would rip my little hooves clean off, even if I did find a way to fire it.

Unfortunately, while I am alert, I am also the size of a dog, and much slower than one. It's possible one of the packs will eventually corner me and the last surviving human will meet a grizzly end. Not sure if that would be better than living my entire life in a world without another intelligent being to talk to. Guess we'll see which I get to experience. Of course, there may also be a day when mountain lions or coyotes or something make a go at me. Can't wait.

Not today. Today I found a home I think will do; a modern-looking building listed as having several key features. Not only was the entire flat roof covered in solar panels, but it also came equipped with one of those fancy new Tesla in-home systems for storing the power, instead of relying on the grid for day-night distribution the way most homes did. Even more useful to me, the shielded gutters connected to a large cistern instead of the city’s drainage system.

I didn’t break any windows to get in and look around, not when I considered the chances of being able to replace a window as a no-handed horse creature to be near zero. Getting into the gate and around back was difficult, but the home hadn’t been locked from the side-garage door.

It was eerie wandering through a house with the look and feel of being lived in. Photographs of an elderly couple hung on many of the walls, along with images of people I took for their children and grandchildren. The house itself was quite modern in construction, with several double-paned walls of glass (not on the sunward facing sides, a suicidal design choice in So-Cal), far nicer furniture than anything I’ve ever owned, and digital cameras and gadgets as well.

That wasn’t the only reason why I chose the location over the many others in the book with similar power choices. It might’ve also had a pool, an indoor spa, and several levels of basement. It might’ve been the proximity to downtown, or the well-outfitted workshop I found in the top level of the basement. Asking price? Just shy of two million dollars.

Needless to say, they got less for it from me. I found a spare key, and took it with me back to my headquarters. My search consumed much of the day, and I didn’t want to make a move at night. I wasn’t sure what sort of animals might come out at night to feast on humanity’s carcass, and I didn’t want to find out.

Passed through some familiar parts of town on the way back to the garage. You’ll never guess who I ran into on the street: my neighbor's dog, the one that scared me so bad on my first day in this joke of a body with his barking.

Somehow, he’d gotten out of his yard. Not all that surprising, really. I’ve seen dogs jump fences and dig underneath them with ease. I turned a corner near my old street and there he was, hurrying up to me. He seemed leaner than when I’d last seen him, his eyes a little wild from all the time alone.

By the look of him, I was afraid I was going to get attacked. Never could’ve outran him, and if my first few kicks didn’t scare him off, I’d be dogfood.

He didn’t attack, though. He growled, whimpered, and whined, but didn’t attack. Just stopped and looked at me, like he was as alone as I felt. Maybe he just missed having people around.

No way was a dog smart enough to figure out that I was really human (I AM!). Whatever the reason, the hungry dog just looked at me. Poor thing was absolutely huge, taller than me. I couldn’t say what kind of mutt he was, but I’m sure there’s some husky in his family tree. His eyes were that eerie blue huskies sometimes get, the kind that look almost human.

I wonder if they look more human than mine.

Not knowing what else to do (and because I’d done it back when I had a dog), I tried talking to him. “You know, you don’t have to be hungry. There’s a pet store on the way, I bet we could find something to eat for you.”

He just sorta kept looking at me. I didn’t run away, but I did start waking again, past him. He followed. Not closely at first; far enough away that he was out of reach. Almost as though he was afraid I was going to hit him. When I stopped to get a drink, he seemed to recgonize exactly what I was doing, and he got close enough to let me pour the rest of my bottle into his mouth.

By the time I got to the pet store he was walking almost beside me. I got plenty of good looks at those sharp teeth, right at eye level like that. I think I know what it’s like to be friends with a wolf now.

I talked to him during the walk. Not like he talked back or anything, just sorta talked about what I was doing and where I was going. It's nice to talk to some "body" even if it's just me doing all the talking.

Broke into a pet store. God, did it stink. More like a pet mausoleum. Small animals, fish… all dead in tiny boxes. Can’t say that wasn’t depressing. Cut open a big bag of dog-food, and waited while my friend ate. Not sure why. Just seemed like the right thing to do I guess. Unwrapped one of those big bone treat things and gave it to him. Have you ever wondered how dog treats taste? Awful.

That done, I set off for home. I thought I’d escaped, but turns out the dog was following me again. This time he didn’t look so hungry, and the glazed look was gone from his eyes. I could’ve sent him away (maybe), but even if I’d wanted to I wouldn’t have dared with such a large animal. He didn’t actually come into the garage. I wonder if he’ll be out there tomorrow.

Never knew his name, so I named him “Huan.” His owners aren’t around to argue with me about it. God, I wish they were. If Huan didn’t like the way I assigned him a name, he didn’t object. I wonder if he can read horse expressions as easily as dogs can read human ones.

I made it back before sundown, barely. Ate a delicious salad with some dressing from the rec room (I saved the dressings), and changed my recorded radio message to include the address of the new location I was moving to and the fact that the radio transmissions might be sporadic for the next few days while I got everything set up. I kept the part about wanting to meet up with and work together with any survivors that might remain.

God, I hope someone’s out there.

My (stupid) hooves are sore from all the walking on sidewalk. It’s hard to tell, but it looks like I may’ve worn away some of the surface. They look smoother than they were the first day. I don’t like the idea of wearing horseshoes one bit. The thought of nailing something into my feet is about as horrific as it was a few days ago when this all started. Maybe I can find child’s boots and strap my feet into them. Just so long as I can stop the bottom from being worn away on concrete, I should be okay. Assuming I can even get them on without my hands.

How the hell is there a species with brains large enough to stick a human mind but no opposable thumbs? How did this animal evolve?

I guess that question can go onto the table with some of my others, such as “how did every human on earth vanish at exactly the same moment?” I wonder which of those is harder to answer.

—A

I drew Huan! He didn't pose for me or anything. Also, I'm still using my mouth, so I can't capture how awesome he looks in person. Hopefully he'll look less hungry soon.

Chapter 5: May 27

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Dear Journal,

Today I began the laborious process of setting up something like a semi-permanent… base? Colony? It’s hard to feel like either of those words is justified when I’m still the only person using them. One might ask why I didn’t just keep living in my apartment (god, I wish there was anyone around to ask me that).

As much as it’s a fairly decent place, it just doesn’t seem practical to me when I’m going to lack the support of Earth’s infrastructure. Without people to do farming for me, to purify water and generate power, I’m going to have to do all of those things myself. How long do solar panels last, anyway?

I wonder what the smallest population is that could sustain itself. Five hundred? Are there even that many people left in all the world? Am I the only one?

Huan didn't come inside with me last night, but once I got out onto the street he found me in fairly short order. As before, I made the first part of my trip a mission to get food for him, this time from a nearby convenience store. Can dogs eat several-day-old sandwiches with partially rotten meat? Yes, as it turns out. They can. Course, my old dog used to bury things for weeks before digging them up and eating them, so I wasn't too worried. Once Huan was fed, he kept along beside me for my daily adventures, and thank god he did.

I found something a little better than rolling around a hard-wheeled grocery cart, one that threatens to fall over and dump its contents if I pull from the wrong angle or strike any obstruction. Before I started moving anything, I went to a toy store and found one of those wagons with the high sides and a more rugged suspension. While it can’t hold quite as much, it also doesn’t rattle around like it’s going to explode or threaten to dump everything all over me.

I found something else useful in the toy store: a harness and bridle. Oh, they’re toys, made of plastic and designed for plastic horses. The size similarities are so close as to be almost disturbing, and at present it’s held up well enough under light use. I wonder if I might be able to copy the pattern with something other than coarse nylon rope that scratches and chafes everywhere it touches.

I didn’t bring very much. Fit it all in one wagon, in fact. My clothes are almost all useless now, for one. Maybe I’ll have time to learn how to sew better and figure out how to make something eventually. When I have safety, stability, and company.

It was getting on in the day and was almost evening when I made the trip, and I knew it probably wasn't the best time to be walking into an unfamiliar (and quite suburban) part of the city. As I got close to the house, I noticed Huan starting to tense up, as if he was worried about something I couldn't see. Of course I saw it just fine when a pack of mangy dogs emerged from close by. Not a large pack, mind, maybe six animals, smaller and leaner than Huan, and a few inches shorter than I was.

Still pretty terrifying. They didn't rush right into attack the way I would expect, though. Instead, they surrounded us first, a prowling mass of sharp teeth and claws. My heart pounded in my chest like I was gonna have some kind of embolism, and the scent. God, I've never smelled anything like that in my life. Or, I've smelled dog before, but it didn't used to be that frightening. Why doesn't Huan smell like that?

Instead of attacking, they started barking, growling, and making other animal noises. Almost as though they were having some kind of conversation. I'm not sure where the idea came from, but the instant I thought it I couldn't help but look at the way they moved and see something different about it than any other predators I've ever seen or read about. Sure, they were probably just nervous about what Huan could do, standing beside me as he was in a defensive, fighting position.

Even if I had been able to fight, It would take at least a minute to untangle myself from the harness. Surely the sign of weakness and struggle would be an invitation to attack and a grisly end afterwards. I would have to fight without moving, if it came to that. After a few tense moments, the largest of the animals moved in to fight a brief, snapping contest with my new friend. The other dogs just watched, though their eyes were also on me. Somehow, I knew that to interfere would be to invite them to attack.

After what couldn't be more than a few seconds, the big dog broke past Huan and came straight for me, frothing at its lips. Unfortunately for the dog, I was ready, my back hooves braced against the concrete. I might not be very coordinated yet, but I've kicked forward plenty of times, like when that case of cans fell on my other leg.

I delivered a kick with every drop of adrenaline and fear in my body. In the contest of hooves vs teeth, it seems that hooves win. The dog went flying, sprawling several meters away. When it finally limped away, it was trailing blood and broken teeth from its mouth, whimpering all the while. The others soon followed.

Huan had been the one to do the real fighting, and he had several nasty scratches to show for it, though nothing more severe. He limped along after me the rest of the way. When we got there, I went inside and brought a first aid kit, and cleaned out his wounds. Honestly, he didn't look that bad. It didn't seem like the animals were really going for a kill. I don't know much about dogs, but none of what I saw seemed like typical behavior. He wasn't willing to come past the fence into the house, so I set out all the slowly rotting meat in the fridge for him and waved goodbye. I hope he's okay out there.

I transferred everything into one of the bedrooms in the new house. Well, house might be a bit modest: small mansion might be more accurate. Amazing, it’s only been five days and already I’m claiming everything I see for my own. Wonder if I’m really all that different from the animals after all. I’m sure there are predators doing that exact same thing all over Los Angeles. Only, I’m not a predator anymore, am I? Shame, meat was always a convenient source of food in lean times. Restarting a vegetarian society will be far more difficult, assuming there’s any society to restart.

Is that it? Am I assuming what happened to everyone now? I’ll admit, that option does have some minor appeal. If everyone changed, it means I wasn’t selected for no reason to have every familiar aspect about myself taken away.

Why? Why would anyone do this? The selective removal of humans and (seemingly) nothing else seems to demand an intelligence or will is behind this somehow. The changes to my body only make it more baffling. I wonder where everyone went… I refuse to accept that they might simply have been erased. There weren’t bodies… that has to mean they were taken somewhere, right? What would someone want with all the humans on earth? Why leave a few horses behind?

The water system is no longer working, of course, and apparently the cistern had been flowing to help water the palatial lawn. I shut down the sprinkler system. From what I can tell, the water flows into the house as well, because the taps still work in here when they don’t seem to anywhere else. I took a wrench and shut off the gas, though I don’t have the dexterity to do anything about the water-main, not yet. I need some kind of tool for this stupid hoof thing, something I can use to regain some of the precision and grip like a hand. Something to start thinking about.

I also need to make a trip to transfer my fresh food here from the fridge back at work. It will be an enormous pain to pack everything up in coolers. I’ll save the bother of talking about my struggle with every single thing from now on. You can… probably safely assume a great deal of struggle. Using a keyboard is still pretty much impossible, for instance. Wonder how big the keys would have to be to strike them accurately with hooves. Too bad I’m not some sorta mad scientist; maybe then I could’ve made some sort of boot that could separate into a mechanical hand at my command and work just as well as a real one. I’d give Tony Stark a call if the phones weren’t down (or he existed).

As much as I picked the house for all its many sustainability features, it didn’t come with a HAM radio set installed like the truck did. The simple solution would be to drive the truck here, but again I think that highly unlikely. Getting a drivable vehicle will be a priority for me once the necessities of life are taken care of, but I don’t think I’ll ever have a prayer of driving a semi-truck. Maybe I can convert one of those Smart Car toys into something quadruped friendly.

I’ve noticed a few other strange things about this body, all of which seem to reiterate the fact that I am not an Earth horse. My spine comfortably bends in ways that should probably break it, and I can even sit up on a chair the way I used to. It isn’t entirely natural; the way I seem to want to sit is on my haunches, like a dog, but I can do either without discomfort. My strength seems… difficult to easily quantify. There are times when I struggle to pull the wagon, and other times I kick a door open so forcefully that it gets torn off its hinges. I don’t seem to feel tired regardless of how much work I do, then it gets dark and I suddenly have difficulty staying awake. I wish I had a doctor who could speculate about what is causing that. Maybe while he/she’s at it, he/she can tell me how I can get my body back.

Oh, I spared some of the precious water for a brief shower. I'm not really sure what I smell like (if it's horse, I've never actually been around one before, so I wouldn't recognize it anyway). Cold showers are awful and I don't feel like I got nearly enough time. More than that is I've been using my mouth for more and more and I'm sure as heck not going to use it to spread soap around. I'll glue a rough sponge to a stick next time I try it, or just use standing water like the animal I am.

I’ll go shopping tomorrow, for the gear to get my radio working again and for some better-fitting clothes besides. I will probably forgo a top for the time being, and just see what sort of shorts I can modify to wear without bunching up when I walk. It isn’t as if there’s anyone around to complain about my modesty, and wearing something will easily identify me as unusual to anyone who notices me, even if I don’t see them first. Should avoid getting hunted that way, I hope.

—A

UPDATE: I was fiddling with a hand radio before bed when I noticed strange static coming from one bandwidth. The signal is far too faint to identify or pinpoint. Tomorrow I will take the radio with me and see if I can’t find the direction. It’s probably nothing, just something left transmitting when everything fell apart. I shouldn’t get too excited, and I can barely stay awake… in the dark…

Chapter 6: May 28

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Dear Journal,

I took my time with this one, wanted to see how good a job I could do if I really focused. As you can see, I've still got some work to do. Maybe next time I'll try some colored pencils or something. I wish I could draw somebody else. Maybe soon. Wait, what?

Yes, that's right, major breakthrough today! Exciting, so I’ll be as brief about everything else as humanly possible.

Went out for radio equipment, so I could keep a permanent broadcast from here and monitor as many of the frequencies as possible at the same time. Looked in the phonebook (older people still have those in their houses, thank goodness), and set off across the city. Rather long way away for a walk, but my coordination is getting much better. I don’t seem to get tired, and all it took was throwing a few water bottles into my wagon and I knew I’d be good to go for the day. Plus, with Huan to watch my back, I feel way less afraid. He looks to be healing well, no sign of infection or anything. Replaced his bandages before we started off, hid some vitamins in the scraps I brought for him today.

Hearing more and more barking and other animal noises, though nothing too scary. If there were any strays on our route today, they left well enough alone. Probably they’ve got as much to worry about as I do. Was it selfish of me not to spend all my time letting animals out of houses before they starved? I think I’m going to feel bad about it for awhile, even if they’d probably have killed me and I could never have possibly have made much impact. Hopefully they’ll get out on their own once it’s clear their people are missing. Or maybe some of the dogs and cats and things got taken when the people did. Seems unlikely, but… I don’t know for certain they didn’t, right?

Getting distracted, mind wandering. Happens when I’m excited sometimes. Found the radio things, and went to a clothing store. Obviously they didn’t make anything for tiny horses. Can’t say it was an enjoyable experience (and I’d never cared much for shopping to begin with), but I couldn’t say it wasn’t necessary. Lots of tight, athletic sort of clothes in the smallest sizes. I can’t say I was really concerned with what matched my strange bluish fur or this mane of mine. Maybe one day I’ll be able to care about style and fashion again, but not today.

All that day, there had been no signs of human life, same as every day before. But last night I found one of the civilian bands seemed to have some sort of transmission on it. Not silence, but static that stopped my radio when it was set to scan to what was apparently a constant broadcast. I left the radio on at its highest volume setting in my wagon, listening to the occasional hiss of static but not hearing much of anything that I could definitively identify as human.

That all changed while I was gathering up the clothes I’d found and preparing to leave the store, my radio made a noise I’d almost already given up on hearing again. Speech.

I don’t think I’ll ever forget her words. The first words I’d heard in five days that didn’t come from my phone’s MP3 player or my own lips. The voice was clearly female, high and thready and afraid. “Hello? I’m not sure if anyone can hear me. I keep talking into this thing… I really don’t think there’s anybody out there… but if you are, please say something.”

I practically shouted my response into the radio, but the silence on the other end went on and on. Eventually she said: “yeah, that’s what I thought. Nobody’s there. Nobody’s anywhere. Maybe tomorrow.” The signal vanished.

Of course, it wasn’t difficult to figure out what must be happening. Either she’s using a very powerful transmitter and I don’t have the range to send back to her, or she’s using a little civilian radio like mine, many of which mute themselves while transmitting. Her signal had seemed to be constant throughout the day, a steady static that only ended when she said something about trying again the next day. That must’ve been when she switched it off.

So how can I find somebody who can’t hear me to respond? There’s the idle hope she’ll mention where she is of course, or indicate a building or other landmark I can use to find her approximate location. But that would rely on chance. I am not willing to put the only opportunity I might have not to spend the rest of my stupid horse life alone in the hands of chance!

It’s a good thing I’m so good with my hands. Or… used to be good with my hands. Whatever. Made another stop by the store, this time for everything I need to directionally monitor signal strength. Got a map of the city too, some pins and markers and thread. New house already had a cold soldering gun waiting for me, though I’ll freely admit it took me over an hour to get up the courage to solder with my mouth. Never guessed my lips would be that strong and that secure. Didn’t even shake all that much. Pretty amazing.

Also got a portable speaker with the largest battery I could find for the wagon, one I can pair with my phone. Figure I’ll blast some awesome music while I’m at the search tomorrow, get her attention. The person I heard sounded distressed, as distressed as I feel. Maybe they’re not as practically minded as I am.

The only thing stopping me from curling up in a corner and doing nothing all day is having a concrete goal in front of me all the time. Maybe they don’t have that. She didn’t sound like she was in good shape. Will I sound like that in a few months?

No, I won’t, and she’s about to get better. Even if the two of us have nothing in common, even if we end up loathing each other every moment of the day, that would be preferable to being alone for the rest of our lives. Humans are social animals, right? Horses even more so. I can only assume that bright, colorful horse-creatures have both desires. Even if whoever that woman is kept her body, I’m sure she’d still want to talk to me if the alternative is nobody at all.

I don't think the significance of this discovery can be overstated. This is like finding life on another planet, only the other planet is Los Angeles and I'm an astronaut who never left my homeworld. And if there's one, there's got to be others!

Two people can’t be a society, but they can be at least a friendship, right? Wish me luck tomorrow.

—A

Everything's okay.

Chapter 7: May 30

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Dear Journal,

Sorry about not writing yesterday. I was otherwise engaged. Just wanted to say that things have changed. Everything is different now, and not in a bad way. If you’ve been reading these entries straight through, you can probably guess what I’m going to talk about. I’ll just assume you have been and offer minimal background details here as I go. Lots to talk about, and not too terribly long to talk about it. Staying awake remains a challenge, and it’s already night.

But if I don’t take the time to finish this, I’ll probably get out of the habit. Even given the changes to my situation, I fully intend to keep writing these as best I can for the foreseeable future. I'm sure they'll probably get shorter once I get into a routine. Flipping back to some of my older entries (before I was abandoned all alone), Some days I just wrote a few lines. It wouldn't be that bad to end up like that, once all the biggest problems of survival have been worked out.

Two days ago I heard the voice of someone broadcasting. While a human voice might very well have come from a recording (as the loop I set to broadcasting over the CB), the person speaking was in clear and severe distress, expressing thoughts of loneliness and abandonment just like my own. It wasn't a HAM radio broadcast, or anything over shortwave, just the sort of transmission you might hear over any handheld radio you could buy at a Best Buy or whatever.

I made finding this person my top priority, putting it before even my urgent unmet survival needs. The night before, I put together a quick device I could use to monitor the strength of the signal, and a map I could use to mark all my observations. Early in the morning I set out with the map in my wagon along with the radio, a big rechargeable speaker, and enough supplies to spend the night somewhere if I needed to. Wore my best pair of athletic shorts for the occasion, along with a necklace I used to wear before everybody vanished. Huan of course wouldn't have missed the trip for the world, though I'm not really sure what he does with his time. I'm starting to think maybe I should do more to get him to at least come inside the fence. It's got to be safer sleeping on the property (maybe in the garage or something) than out in the middle of nowhere.

I wanted to make it extra clear to the stranger, if she was human, that I was human too. Well… not physically obviously. I could only wish.

Describing the process is boring. I knew the city well enough not to need the map to navigate, only to mark my observation. When divided into tiny grids, I filled each square I traveled through with my observations. She was transmitting all day, though most of it came through as patchy static at best. She needs a new radio.

Only when I got close to where I’d been “shopping” for clothes the other day did I begin to hear her again. She wasn’t talking about anything in particular, just reminiscing about family and the people she missed and wishing they were with her. Talking about how she thought she’d probably starve before winter, because “let’s face it, I’m helpless enough to starve in a city full of food.” She said some worrying things, at least for the mental health of someone who has only been alone a week.

I was racing against the clock, though. If she signed out again, she might not ever sign on. Since I didn’t have a car, each step came dreadfully slowly, and it ended up being more a game of hot and cold than triangulation based on discrete points.

As the day wore on, my hooves got sorer and the sky got darker, and even as the signal grew stronger there was no sign of anywhere lived in.

I thought about turning around. The dog-barking and other generally disconcerting noises were getting louder, and I knew that the longer I waited the less likely I would be to make it back to my new home before it got truly dark and I lost the ability to see anything clearly. Huan would do his best to keep me safe, but there was no way we could fight off a large pack by ourselves.

I was walking through tall, regular apartment buildings. They all looked the same, a dozen stories each with no obvious signs of present occupation. I decided to chance my safety on an assumption: even somebody who wasn’t doing everything I was probably cared enough to keep electricity going somehow. Generators, extra batteries, something. The radio might be handheld, but I was willing to bet if they went to the trouble to do that they would also keep some lights burning.

The only problem with using this assumption in my favor is that my night vision is now much worse than it used to be. While I seem to also be able to see colors in a much more vivid way during the day, it’d be tough work not to trip over my own hooves, even if nothing wild and dangerous tried to run me down.

Nothing did, obviously. As sunset came and the cloudy California sky turned scarlet, I saw a glow from within one of the apartments, one of the few to have a window open. I saw no motion from inside, but there was no mistaking the orange radiance as anything natural. With the power dead for several days, I didn’t think there was any chance it was happenstance.

The window was open. I had a speaker and a cell phone with plenty of music. I picked the loudest, most grating pop song from my library, angled the speaker upwards towards the window, and turned the volume up loud enough to blow the speaker.

When she came to the window to investigate, I learned I wasn’t alone, in more ways than one. I wouldn’t wish my suffering on anyone. I wouldn’t wish anyone else experience the awful loneliness of an apparently empty planet. I wouldn’t wish anyone lose their body, and be given an alien one instead. I wouldn’t wish that anyone have to hate the foods they crave and lose access to their skills because they lack the limbs to use them properly. Worse things.

When she came to the window, I saw a face that wasn’t human. Maybe I should be ashamed to say that I felt relief, but it would be a lie not to say so. I am not alone. Whatever strange magic changed me, I was not its only target. I’m not going insane.

Well, maybe I am. But it’s slow.

If I’m a little crazy, this new — mare — is downright insane. She wouldn’t give me her name, at least, not her real one. She said that she hated that person, and it’d be better for everybody if she had “died with the rest of them”. She wanted me to call her “Cloudy Skies” instead, after the pair of depressingly gray clouds on her butt.

Yes, she has a mark on the sides of her… whatever you call it on a horse. Butt isn’t right. I should find a horse anatomy book to read. Whatever.

They’re not tattoos. It’s right there in the fur. She’s closer to a natural color than I am, gray instead of this stupid aquamarine like me. I think there’s a drop or two of red in her fur, but it’s so spread out it’s more like a pastel twinge than anything else.

Of course, the weirdest thing about “Cloudy Skies” is that she’s got wings. Honest to god wings, coming right out of her side like she’s some sort of chimera. Only it doesn’t even look all that unnatural. They match her coat perfectly, feathers and all. They don’t seem particularly useful; they’re way too small to lift something as big as we are. You call that a Pegasus, right? Like the one that dude tried to ride up to Olympus even though he knew no mortal could go there.

I feel like finding another survivor is a little like that. I've kinda just accepted that I wasn't going to have anyone (dog not withstanding). What does it say about me that I was content with that after only a week?

Of course, Cloudy Skies is playing several different flavors of strange. She also didn’t bother to wear anything, saying “animals don’t bother, and that’s all we are now.” I can’t deny how uncomfortable clothes are against a coat, but I still reject her logic. Whatever. It’s not like I’ll ever care if a horse is naked near me or not.

So she’s a little eccentric. Well, more than a little eccentric. There are some signs of serious distress and a history of abuse here. Figures that at the end of the world I couldn’t find anyone stable for a partner. Well, I guess she does belong in — See, find just one other person to spend some time with and I've sunken to making puns.

I’m not sure if Cloudy Skies has always been unhinged, or if it’s a recent development. I can’t say I know the first thing about treating anything. All I can do is be kind, understanding, and patient. Given she is (at present) apparently the only other person in the world, you can bet I will try. My friends would say that I’m pretty lousy about being loving and understanding. My friends are all gone. Still, I can’t help but agree. I’m probably going to screw this up somehow.

She’s not particularly attached to the place — it isn’t her home from before. She wouldn’t tell me where she had come from, only “hopefully it burns down when the summer fires come.” I talked about all the nice things my home base has going for it, and she seemed to get convinced pretty quick. Of course, it might've been that she was convinced to not having to live all by herself. I can't say I cared for the lifestyle much.

She offered me her bed, but I took the couch of course. She didn't have generators or anything, just a bunch of flashlights and a huge box of batteries. No water either, just cases of water bottles she was using for everything. Super annoying, since you need fingers to open the tops on those. Had to punch a hole in each one to get the water out. Whatever, it was fine. I'm sure that was part of why she was so willing to relocate. As I had thought, her radio looked old and broken and she didn't really know how to use it. Doesn't matter though, really. It was good enough to lead me here.

Today, we loaded up her possessions (leaving behind the map and the blown out speaker to save space) into the wagon for the return trip across the city. Sky (if I just call her that it doesn’t seem so silly) wanted to help, and my neck and sides were grateful to have the awful nylon not rubbing on them during some of the walk.

Mostly she wanted to know about all the things I had learned and done. Mostly I had bad news for her, since I haven’t learned anything about what caused this or why. I told her that I wasn’t sure we would ever know that part, and that my first priority was survival. She agreed, and actually didn't mention being human or anything about the world before during our long walk back. My questions were met with obfuscation or simple confusion, though she wanted to know all about my work at the garage and my plans for the house here in town.

I do have plans. I’ve got a little prepper in my blood on my father’s side. Pity it didn’t manifest in me until after everything was already over. Now that I've got a reason to put in the effort besides my own simple survival, I have a feeling I'll work harder. I'm not the only one at risk if we run out of food or water now. Of course, I also don't have to do it all myself. Now I've got someone who will hopefully turn into a friend eventually to help pull the wagon. Plus, it's a she. Feels a little selfish to be thinking something like that now, but given what happened I can't help but be thankful for that. I'm not sure how I would've handled the alternative.

The headquarters has four bedrooms. With the new arrival, I’ve transferred all my crap to the master bedroom, leaving the others free for the others I’m sure we’ll find soon. When there was one, everything was awful and I was alone. If there are two, there are bound to be more. Whether dozens, hundreds, or thousands, that I don’t know. We will find them.

I haven't decided yet whether I want this to succeed. Is it better to let a handful of "humans" live on, or just let ourselves go gently into that good night. I'm not sure yet. I KNOW it shouldn't be my decision to make. I feel like there are billions of people who should get a say, but who have been silenced.

Next priority: simplify transportation. Maybe together we can make a real harness for pulling the wagon, or pad and reinforce the toy. It would be smart of us to start a garden too. I wonder if horses can operate rototillers.

Not forever alone after all,

—A

I did my best to capture Cloudy Skies, though I didn't have her pose or anything. I think I'm getting better. Guess it is possible to adapt to using just your mouth after awhile.

Chapter 8: May 31

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Dear Journal,

You know that old saying “be careful what you wish for?” I do. Maybe I should’ve tried to listen better. It seemed like the worst thing that could happen was being alone forever. I still think that. It’s just… that idea’s being tested now. I'm sure part of it just comes from being with someone new. You spend tons of time alone and you get to thinking that's the only way life ought to be. Then you add in somebody new, and they expect something completely different. It's an adaptation process for both of us.

Cloudy Skies has different priorities, I think that much is clear just in the “name” she chose for herself. Far be it from me to judge the coping mechanisms of someone with a history of abuse. What works for her works for her. I know we're just getting to know each other, but I want her to feel safe around me. I want her to feel like I care about what she has to say. That's why... well, you'll see.

It actually started off pretty nice. It feels like waking up earlier has been easier (I haven’t needed my alarm in three days), but Sky was up even earlier than me. When I woke up, it was to fresh omelets. Well, as fresh as omelets will ever be. They still smelled as good as I remember, and she was already eating hers, so…

I wish I’d been awake to see her cook. Maybe I could’ve learned something about how to use hooves if she can somehow break eggs without getting any shell into what we’re eating after only a week of having these stupid bodies. Granted, this might be one of the few refrigerators that isn’t at this moment filled with rotting food, thanks to having been on constantly since the Banishment. Since the Vanishing. Since the… thing that happened. Since the Event.

If we hadn’t both been sitting like children barely tall enough to reach the table, maybe we could’ve forgotten entirely about how stupid things had become. Well… and eating had been easier. I’ve been avoiding sit-down meals like this for this exact reason: I have no idea how to use silverware.

Cloudy Skies has a solution, and that seems to be extreme patience. You can use a knife or a fork with both front hooves together if you go slow. So she would make a single cut, then put the knife down and take the fork to pick up the piece she’d just cut, then repeat. When I asked her how she'd had the time to figure this out, she looked at me like I was crazy. I guess she hasn't been bending down to eat from her plates and bowls like a dog. What, you think I did that? Why on earth would I do that? Oh, cuz' I have no hands. That's why.

We talked about what we would do to survive. I told her about the plans I’d been making, about how I wanted to make some sort of vehicle we could drive, that way we could start transporting in supplies from all over. For whatever reason, the highways didn’t appear to be clogged with broken cars, so we ought to take advantage of that fact. Told her about the garden I’d like to start, and my eventual plans to explore the country searching for additional survivors.

Sky thought my ideas were okay, though she had one of her own I thought didn’t make much sense. She wanted to save some farm animals. She’s probably right that if we didn’t do something soon, all the work humans have been doing to domesticate them all will go to waste. Chickens could never survive in the wild, though goats and cows probably would. She talked about it like it was her humanitarian responsibility, like it had been tearing her up inside all week that she hadn't been able to go.

Sky is apparently passionate about… food? Animals? I can’t tell which, honestly. She hasn’t said anything that would make me think she was a vegan or even a vegetarian before all this started. Still, the thing that she thought was our most urgent goal was saving some farm animals.

I can’t say this didn’t completely baffle me. Farm animals? Most of which would be bigger than us, maybe stronger too? Does she even know how to take care of them? Or how much more food we will need?

Apparently she had thought about all of that. She grew up on a farm, or near one, or something… and she thinks we ought to have at least cows and chickens, for the milk and the eggs. She said that taking care of them would be her responsibility, but she needed my help to get them here. We needed to hurry, since they would already be in desperate need of food by now. I didn't argue, even though I thought it was dangerous to leave the city the same day we tried driving.

Did she know where we could find some? Yes, apparently. About thirty miles outside of the city. God only knew there was a farm thirty miles away from downtown Los Angeles.

Of course, walking was out. Thirty miles might be doable for experienced backpackers with a human stride, but not for tiny horses. Sorry, ponies. Sky tells me tiny horses are called ponies. When I asked her if ponies came in blue, she only stuck her tongue out at me.

So we couldn’t walk. More than that, we would need a way to get the animals back here. She said the cows could graze just fine on people’s lawns until she found somewhere to keep them, but that we would need to take care of the chickens. Apparently they aren’t picky eaters, so she didn’t think it would be a problem.

How, you ask, are we supposed to get farm animals thirty miles in just one day? Good question. I wondered about that too.

By truck, as it turned out. Sky suggested that, together, we might be able to drive one of those big animal transport trucks. One of us could sit on the ground and operate the pedals, and the other could stand in a seat and use the wheel and the shifter.

I pointed out that driving a semi-truck is much harder than just driving stick, that it requires special training and certifications and everything. Did I have any of those? No. But I had driven them around our parking lot back at the garage.

It didn’t matter if we went slow; even chugging down the highway at parking lot speed would be faster than walking. Maybe fast enough to get the animals.

I caved. Partly because I felt bad about all the animals that would be dying right now in the wake of humanity’s death. We would be able to help at least a few of them this way. Not to mention that, should we ever wish to return to anything like a normal life, we would need milk and eggs to bring back western cooking. It wasn’t as though chickens and dairy cows make for great company, but having them around would probably make things feel less dead (and more like the Little House on the Prairie).

I’d walked past a truck several times with one of those animal trailers. Had to break into the cab, but I know the little hiding places many truckers use to hide their spare keys. Took my laptop along for the trip, since we anticipated spending the night at this farm, and then coming back tomorrow with whatever animals we find. Also brought a radio, in case this long journey through LA and beyond would expose us to more survivors.

I’m not sure what steps others would be taking to find humanity other survivors after the… event… but I’m pretty sure that, like us, just about anyone would want to. Being alone for the rest of your life is a terrifying prospect.

Sky operated the pedals and I took care of the shifting and steering. Naturally, Huan wanted to come along. Sky was more than a little nervous to have such a big dog around, but he sat in the back of the cab and stuck his head out the window, like he do.

Driving worked well enough at low speeds and with nobody else on the road, though I wouldn’t have wanted to try it on pre-event road conditions. Though it might’ve been worth it to see the look in the police officer’s face when they pulled over a pair of tiny horses driving a stolen farm truck.

The farm Sky knew about proved to be more than thirty miles after all, though not by much. North, in that part of the county I rarely visited. We listened to the radio and looked for signs of life the whole way (never broke 30, so I had plenty of time to appreciate the “scenery”). We saw and heard nothing the whole way.

We made it. Small farm was about a mile off a main road. I didn’t dare drive a truck on a dirt road, so we parked it on the highway and walked that distance. I left most of the farm stuff to Sky, though she needed my help more than once to lift something or open a latch or whatever. We fed the chickens, but just released the bigger stuff. They didn’t have pigs or goats, just maybe a dozen dairy cows, a few bulls, and a handful of horses. Some chickens. No sheep, which I think is a shame.

It was a surreal experience. I’m not sure if humans experience this when they go onto the farm, but… I swear those animals were looking at us. That doesn’t sound weird; of course they were. But… it’s very hard to explain. It felt like…

God, if I’d known animals were this smart, I never would’ve eaten any. I’ve seen pictures of animals before, and they never look like this. Never looked so… damn… smart. Like they fully realized the situation they’d been in and felt genuine gratitude that we had come for them and trust that we would take care of them.

I’ve heard about animals being loyal to their masters. Shepherds and sheep come to mind. We’re not these animals’ masters, though. Hell, we’re not even the same species as their masters. I half expected them to talk to us; would’ve just figured that becoming tiny horses would impart all the secrets of the beasts.

Well that didn’t happen. They made all the regular animal sounds, though I swear they were feeling the exact same emotions that people would’ve in their situation. This isn’t right. This can’t be right.

I had a dog growing up, and he was not this smart. Loving, loyal… but not like this. More of what I’ve seen from Huan, when we were attacked. Not natural.

The horses were just another level of surreal. It isn’t as though we have any use for bigger, stronger, faster versions of ourselves. They didn’t stick around like the cows after we let them go, and they didn’t talk to us. Course they didn’t. Horses can’t talk. They can’t drive trucks either.

I can’t say I was happy to be around them. I was afraid the stallions might try something; I’ve heard about how fierce and unruly some of those animals could be. Would we smell like horses to them?

Apparently not. I thought I smelled like a horse, but smelling an actual barn has convinced me that the alien “ponies” we’ve become are only similar to horses. It’s a much milder smell than the genuine article.

No power out here, and I want to save some battery for tomorrow in case the return trip takes more than one day.

Guess I’ll find out tomorrow.

—A

Those chickens looked evil. I feel like they were planning something.

Chapter 9: June 1

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Dear Journal,

I feel like I never sleep as well anywhere that isn't my own bed. Of course, I used to think that I could never get a good night's sleep without the sound of traffic and the trains and buses constantly going by. I guess each of us have room to grow. Still felt kinda groggy when I woke up this morning, and I guess I felt that way the rest of the day. I don't really get it, because I'm used to going to bed and waking up early from my work schedule.

It felt too weird to use the beds here last night. I don't know why I feel comfortable doing it back in the city but feel terrible here. This house is inferior in every way, looks like it was probably built in the early fifties maybe. I wonder if it's because "my" new house in the city feels like it used to belong to "my people." I know city dwellers, even if they were the rich kind that lived out in the suburbs a little. I don't know farmers. I feel like the house itself wants me out. It made noises last night, shifting in the cold and the wind (as houses do). Can houses be intelligent too?

Sky must've felt it too, because she didn't want to use the bedrooms either. I crashed on an armchair and she hit up the couch, so that was okay. I'm so stupid small I could probably fall asleep on my old lap. No, not that small. Not quite. I might be too scared to face the world if I was that size. Huan probably would've mistaken me for a cat and eaten me. Fun fact, he actually went inside this house. Why won't he come in with us at home? That dog makes no sense!

Day two of surreal farm adventures dawned with more bizarre encounters with animals acting weird. What would you expect cows to do if they’d been released from their barn by a stranger? If you're me and you've lived your whole life in the city, you would expect them to leave.

Maybe they really liked the farm, so they wouldn’t wander too far away in their grazing. I was willing to buy that this morning. Things just got stranger when we made our way out. Of course this farm didn’t have power, but Sky apparently knows how to cook toast on a fire, so she did that. Can’t say I’m not a fan of having someone to cook for us both, that’s really nice. Wish having someone who likes to cook didn’t require that person also insist on taking weird trips into the middle of nowhere. Granted, this place is no less our home than the city was. If we really wanted, we could set up out here as much as there. Might even be easier in some ways. Except that the house (and the chickens) are out to get us.

Sky offered that option indirectly. She didn’t actually ask to move out here, though she said a few different ways that living on a farm was probably better than living in the city. I was firm with her; insisting that while it might eventually be an option, to get to that point we would want the abundance of machines and hardware that can be found in the city. Maybe long-term we could move out someplace like this, maybe in one of the northern states. Not now. What won her over wasn’t any of that logic, but the idea that there was almost no chance of anybody finding us out here. At least if we lived in the city, we would be likely to attract the notice of anybody else who traveled through the city in the months and years ahead. That is true, right? The chances of somebody stumbling into us living in a random farm are about zero. When we do finally leave the city, we'll have to make sure we paint very obvious directions to our new homestead, so people can find it.

So we tried to get moving as quickly as possible, knowing the scale of the task ahead of us.

I didn’t think the chances that all the cows would stick around through the night were very high. Maybe we’d get the most pliable to go with us. We weren’t herding dogs, and we weren’t cowboys, so… really, the plan was doomed. I’d be happy just to keep eggs at this point. I wonder if Huan could've helped.

Let’s start with the chickens. We didn’t use a cage to get them to not wander off. Sky fed them, talked to them through their enclosure, explaining we were going to take them with us to somewhere safe, and turned around to lead them back to the truck.

Yeah, pretty stupid, I know. They followed her. Honest to god, the whole group (flock? Murder? No, that’s just for crows) more or less mobbed after her down the road, the hens keeping the few chicks in line.

That left me alone in the farm, and a whole lot of loose animals watching me. Watching me. Like I was supposed to give a speech or something. A speech to whom, all the animals that don’t understand English? What was the point?

Apparently it worked. I watched Sky do it with the chickens, and it worked. Something to do with being animals ourselves? That doesn’t make sense. It can't be that I apparently don't like the taste of meat (despite my protestations), because animals are eating each other all the time! Just because I’m no longer (apparently) wired to want to eat meat doesn’t mean we’re somehow friends now, right?

This was all too silly for me. Still, what did I have to lose? Just as they couldn’t understand me, they also wouldn’t be judging me for thinking animals could understand me, right? In the end I said something like; “You’re not going to be safe here anymore. My friend and I want to lead you somewhere better. We’ll take good care of you, if you follow us.” Whatever. I don’t really make speeches, let alone for cows and a few grimy looking farm cats.

I started walking towards the truck. Like something out of a horror movie, they started following. All of them. If they said anything back I didn’t understand it in all the animal sounds (they still can’t talk, right?) but they followed. Soon I’d caught up with Sky, and she noticed I was leading a herd now. Even the cats followed along. Post-apocalyptic Dr. Dolittle. I’d tolerate another terrible movie if it meant people came back to make it.

This changed things. We couldn’t leave any of the animals behind, not if they were going to act this way. Sky agreed that they were acting strange, but what could we do? It might not actually be a good idea to bring more animals into the city with us. How long will our food last? I know Sky wants to bring them, she wants to make their contributions available to our diets. She says she’s willing to do all the work to take care of them.

Can we afford this much distraction? What if there’s a fire this summer? We won’t be able to drive a cattle truck at fifteen or twenty miles an hour to escape a wildfire.

Getting all the cows and chickens loaded into a truck was easy. I just opened the door and asked them to get in, and they did. Promised we were going somewhere safe, cuz’ we are. I still think it’s pretty stupid. But at the same time, it hurts to imagine all the animals suffering all over the world. For thousands of years dogs and cats and cows and stuff have attached their destinies to humanity. Now the humans are all gone, and they’re starving. We all go into that good night together. Humans gently, but many others in blood and horror. Mass starvation like nothing the earth had seen since the last great dying. Wonder if endangered animals were smart now too, so they could be smug about it.

Did turning into a blue pony make me soft somehow? Sky seems soft. She has a cloud on her butt. She’s got wings and feathers and talks about the animals.

I just want to survive. I want to put a colony together. Ensure that, even if humanity doesn’t live through this, maybe some kind of civilization can. Even if Sky felt the same way I do (and frankly I’m not sure she does), the numbers just don’t bear that out. How many of our strange new race would it take to have enough diversity for a population? How does reproduction even work for ponies?

Not gonna think about it. Something’s going to rescue us before that happens. Sky and me… we’ll get out of this. We’ll be back in reality before you know it. She can go back to… well, she probably doesn’t want to go back to anything. She can go to something new and I can go back to my life and my friends will be back and my family will still exist and everything will be perfect.

Maybe let’s be realistic, you and me. Probably none of that. I’m probably stuck like this. We’re both stuck like this. Too bad we both didn’t get wings. Then Sky and me could fly away, find more people. Guess she could leave. Well, if she could fly. She didn't fly today, or any other time I've been around her. That's why she can talk to the chickens! She's a flightless bird too!

Drove the truck back to town, and I had to drive slower with all the weight in back. Not that I wasn’t driving slow to begin with. We didn’t take the cows back to our house, there really isn’t space for such big animals. Fortunately, there’s a park pretty close to where we live, just over a block. It’s got fences… nothing big enough to stop a cow, but I’m not really worried. Plenty of food (until all the grass dies), and a pond big enough to last years before it dries up. Plenty of big buildings across the street we could convert into a barn.

No, not we. Cloudy Skies can convert into a barn. This is her project. I have important things to do, like making sure the people have enough food to eat. Like finding better ways to contact other survivors than hoping they hop onto the radio when I'm listening purely by chance. I've got some interesting ideas for when we're a little more secure. Maybe now that we're not taking silly trips I'll actually have the time to get some real work done.

Unlike cows, the chickens aren’t as safe wandering the city. Stray dogs probably couldn’t take down a cow, but they could easily kill our chickens. Fortunately, the house I chose has high walls and a backyard big enough to keep most of them out. I might have to put barbed wire or something on it if we find animals are a problem. The cats just sorta dispersed into the city. Not sure why they followed us at all, honestly. Glad they didn't stay. Would've been awful if they had stayed to hunt the chickens.

I never much cared for animals. Maybe this is some kind of karmic revenge.

—A

These guys became way more obedient once all the humans disappeared. Just look at those eyes. Is there a person thinking behind them now, or just another animal? My In-N-Out Burger isn't supposed to be this smart.

Chapter 10: June 2

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Dear Journal,

I’m not dead yet. Ten whole days have gone by in this awful body, and I’m not dead yet. I think how easy it would’ve been for fate to leave me with something familiar, but of course that couldn’t happen. It was all or nothing. I wish it took me too.

Sky did what she said and fed the chickens this morning, in addition to making more omelets (this time with cheese and peppers. Everything is better with cheese). Something tasted a little different about the eggs. Maybe it was having them fresh. Not a bad different, just different. Neither of us seems to be pooping blood or anything else so I’ll assume that we can indeed eat these things.

Granted, that’s one aspect of the transformation I’ve thought as little about as possible. The drains still work, and we still have water in the cistern, so the toilets still flush. Thank goodness they’re so much bigger. Oh god, the thought of how I’d have to clean up if I missed…

Sky said she planned on visiting the cows and seeing what the park would need to be safer for them. Probably better fences to keep other animals out. She asked if we could set up some kind of fence in the street, so that they could walk from the “barn” across the street (actually an empty discount store) into the park.

Yeah, we could set up some fences. If I had my damn hands, I could drive a forklift and set up anything she wanted. Or use a post-digger. As it stands, we’re both next to useless. This is why nothing without hands could evolve into a civilization. This right here. How are we supposed to get anything done? She doesn’t think it’s impossible, and neither do I. I just think there are other priorities. I made a list!

1. More comfortable walking transport (ie: better wagon)
2. Horse-shoes before our hooves wear down to the bone from all this walking
3. Restart and dramatically increase the range of the radio beacon.
4. Start a garden.
5. A vehicle converted to horse-driving.
6. ???
7. Human again!

Hopefully whoever’s reading this already knows what we did for six, because this crisis is over and everything's back to normal. None of this is fair. Humanity had some challenges to face in the years ahead (many of which were self-inflicted), but it isn’t fair to just make us all disappear! We didn’t even get a chance! I’m sure we would’ve done just fine if you’d let us keep trying.

Whatever. I’ll probably just be eating grass with Sky somewhere. Maybe those horses we set free will let us join their new herd. Puke, no.

I’ve tried writing with my hooves, and with my mouth. My mouth still seems like the best bet, but if you’ve seen my sketches you know I’ve still got a long way to go before I’m not dictating things. Thank god for computers, but I wish it was easier to add formatting. Pretty annoying. Wonder how long it will take all the printer ink in the world to dry out.

Worked on number one from my list today. Walked with Sky to the park, then into the city to a crafting store. Brought leather and lots of other sturdy fabric in my painful plastic wagon. Tasted funny to pick it up in my mouth, but I didn’t get sick or anything to be near it. I guess not being able to palate meat isn’t the same as being some kind of mind-controlled lifestyle vegan. It’s the small blessings.

Can you cut leather with a bandsaw? Yes! Can you use a sewing machine with hooves? Not easily! Did I get lazy and glue most of it instead? Heck yeah!

Obviously finding real rope was easy enough. I remember hearing once that horse-drawn carriages use only cotton or hemp rope because it’s easier on the coat of the animal, so I got some of that. Didn’t have to be very long, since neither of us is very big. Cloudy is only about half an inch shorter than I am, though I think the harness should still work for her. She’s a little leaner and more aerodynamic, in ways I didn’t notice before we spent time together. I wonder if we’re even really the same species.

Took most of the day to make the harness copying the general design of the toy. No bridle for the end, though, just made it to go around the shoulders and neck. No sense not being able to talk when I walk anywhere.

Sky came back while I was working, with an idea I actually thought was pretty good. She said that there was bound to be plenty of times when we wanted to be able to carry a few things with us but not lug around a wagon like pack animals. She suggested making saddle-bags, like the old cowboys used to use. Helped with that, modeling for me so I could measure using her body. Saddlebags weren’t actually that hard to make. The hardest part was that they usually clip on the saddle (imagine that). Started with some soft leather in the right size, just had to attach a few straps to wrap around the front of the body above the forelegs and around the belly (Sky says the word is barrel).

Once that was done, we just sewed a child’s zipper backpack to each side, no bigger than the protection of the leather. That way only the leather would touch the side of my body or Sky’s, and we wouldn’t chafe. Can horses even do that? Whatever.

Here's about how they look. Pretty simple, as you can see. Just got to keep it from slipping off, really.

It was pretty neat to do something with someone else again. That was my daily routine back in the garage, but before I found Sky it never could’ve happened again. There can’t be togetherness or community without a community to be together with. Having Huan around made it better, but by no means were things fantastic or stable. Being without someone to talk to was the pits. Sky’s a little eccentric, but it’s good not to be alone.

The second set of saddle-bags we made was much better than the first, so naturally she took it for herself and left me with the set that looks like it was cobbled together by some drunk primates.

I guess we’re not primates anymore. I wonder if we can get drunk. Bet I’m a total lightweight now. Okay, I was a total lightweight before. I guess… more so.

While working together with Sky I also learned something else interesting about her; she’s much lighter than I am. Almost knocked her over by accident while we worked, as I bumbled around with my typical clumsiness. When I stumbled into her, I easily knocked her to the ground, like she was made of foam or something. I wonder if those bones of hers are hollow. Is there any chance she could fly after all?

No, of course not. Nothing that awkward-looking could ever get off the ground.

I guess I’m going to be a study in whether attraction is learned or completely ingrained somehow. Being around someone who insists on being naked all the time is embarrassing enough, and that’s while she’s got a tail covering everything. Am I going to start feeling… emotions… for my new species? With everything that’s changed, will… God, I don’t want to think about that. I’m still so disgusted by my own body I can’t imagine feeling anything like attraction towards anybody else. I’m just a stupid horse.

Tried out the new saddle-bags, seem to work okay I guess. Hooves still hurt from all the walking. Looks like I’m wearing them down even more. Probably should focus on shoes I can wear if I’m going to be walking on concrete and asphalt all the time. Project for tomorrow.

Sky goes to bed way early. I can sometimes hear her crying in there when she thinks I’m asleep. I wonder if there’s something I can do to help her. It’s hard when I can’t really relate with the life she had before. I’m fairly sure that’s what she’s upset about. She seems to take her current life more or less in stride. Giving up your old name and refusing to refer to specific details of your past does seem to indicate she’s either adapted or is trying to hide from it.

Wonder which it is.

If I ever cried myself to sleep at night because I was an awful, disgusting, helpless animal, I certainly wouldn’t tell my journal about it, would I?

—A

Chapter 11: June 3

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Dear Journal,

Lots happened today so I’ll jump right into it before I collapse from exhaustion. Found some really interesting things, and invented the first shoes for horses. What, don’t believe me? Bet you will soon!

Sky is still taking care of the animals. She’s been scavenging for things she can feed to the chickens and apparently succeeding. I never thought chickens were picky about what they eat, but I guess she knows more about that stuff. Farmers.

Hey, at least one good thing came of this disaster: no more traffic! I feel like I make better time downtown on my hooves than I ever did driving there or riding the bus. Once I get a car worked so that I can actually drive it, it’ll be like the whole city is my playground. Get anywhere in just a few minutes. Of course there won’t be much reason to go anywhere…

My first priority today was horse-shoes. The old design has some severe disadvantages, such as the fact that there are freaking nails being driven into your foot. Yeah it’s like a big fingernail yeah you can’t feel it — no, you’re wrong. You can feel it. You can absolutely feel it. I can feel it every time I step on a little rock or a piece of glass, even if it doesn’t cut me. Not to mention that putting metal onto my hooves would make dexterity-dependent things almost impossible. With some careful patience, it’s still possible to do most things. My body’s flexible enough to make up for the lack of hands a little bit. That would absolutely not be the case if I nailed bricks to my hands.

Human feet are shaped perfectly for human shoes. They’re so long and wide compared to the thin ankles at the top that once the shoe goes on it isn’t coming off. Horses don’t have feet like that; our hooves are only slightly wider than… whatever we have that’s like ankles. I’ll ask Sky. Not to mention that the back legs move different than the front ones, and there are even more weird motions for the four different types of moving horses have. Sky told me about it today: walking, trotting, cantering, and galloping. I still can’t manage anything more than a walk (sometimes more of a shamble). Sky’s apparently been practicing, because she can go way fast with a trot. Probably about human walking pace. I wonder how fast we’ll be able to move when we can gallop. Maybe we can find videos of horses galloping and watch how they do it.

I’m rambling, probably a sign I should get to bed. I won’t though, because I’m a stupid horse who can’t adapt and change habits in the face of change. Look at me, writing a journal I’m almost certainly not going to have children to appreciate when I’m gone. Or… foals I guess. Foals to appreciate. Whatever. I’m not sure I want them if they’re foals anyway. I don’t suppose there are any underprivileged, precocious human orphans I could adopt.

Given my body these days, we’d probably be one of those buddy kids movies. I’d be the adorable animal sidekick and she would be always getting us into trouble. I would have to get us out again of course, without letting anyone know (apart from the audience) that I was really the one driving our success.

See, there I go. Came up with a horse-shoe idea that didn’t involve nails. Instead you’ve got a thick rubber sole like any western shoe, a hard plastic shell going to below the knee, and a thick foam interior molded to each leg and hoof specifically. The plastic shell could have clasps or something like a ski boot, enough to hold it in place no matter how energetic our activity became.

You probably notice this design involves several advanced parts, joints, and materials. The workshop had several tools I would need, but not all of them. The project would have been difficult if I still had my hands; without them it was going to be Herculean. Making two sets, even more so. My only advantage? Before the Event, I watched every episode ever of “How it’s Made.” Yeah, that’s right. I’m going to use what I learned from a TV-show to make our shoes. How bad can they be?

At least we don’t have all those tiny delicate bones to screw up like humans do. Strike that one up for an advantage to being a tiny horse. Still would’ve taken my old body. Even if everybody else was a tiny horse and I was human, doomed to be the last… I still would’ve taken it. Too bad nobody came to offer the trade.

I made up a boring list of everything we ought to need to make at least sixteen of the shoes (so I could screw up once per shoe if I needed to. Pretty depressing number), and set off with a newly comfortable wagon cart thing. I asked Sky if she wanted to join me, but apparently she had more work to do on the barn. As if it wasn’t already obvious, let nobody say a girl can’t get things done. Was it obvious? I don't actually know. I resolved to stop by the "ranch" on the way back from shopping and see what she had accomplished so far.

Or… that’s the wrong word. Mare? I shiver at the thought. How much is our language going to change? If we somehow meet up with enough of this new species to form a society, I wonder how we’ll talk in a hundred years. Will it still be recognizable as English with mare instead of woman and foal instead of baby and all the other horse-words? Or will we just keep using human words, changing their meaning so that they apply to new bodies that don’t fit them the way they were intended?

While I could get some of the ingredients at the crafts store close by, I couldn’t be sure of several of the others without going much further. I’m not worried; I might still have the coordination of a horse with three legs, but at least I’ve got stamina. An unnatural amount of stamina, if having Sky around is any judge. We’re about the same size and general build, so I’m not sure what could be causing the differences…

My map of the city tells me it’s about three miles one way. I’ve walked further plenty of times before, and every step was more practice. Maybe I could learn some of the new steps Sky showed me. The park didn't look like it'd changed all that much when I got there, except that the other entrances and gates had all been shut, except for the one nearest the discount store and the one nearest the house. Left my wagon by the entrance as I went in.

Sky was running. No, that's probably the wrong word. Cantering? Galloping? I'm not sure what the specific differences are. She was running around the lake, her wings flapping like a goose trying to get off the ground but not quite muscling the energy. It was almost sad to watch; she ran with all her might but clearly wasn't having any luck. Really, it was impressive she could run without falling. I couldn't do that.

I know, because when I went in to talk to her (making lots of noise so she could stop pretending to fly without knowing I'd seen), she went through the motion with me and I tried to imitate her. Got to say, there's no magic pill. A few minutes of doing the motions slowly didn't translate to knowing how to trot and canter like a pro. The grass is still alive enough to cushion my fall, though it's turning brown in places.

I swear the cows started laughing the first time I tripped. I can't be sure, since cow noises all sound the same to me, but they all stopped chewing and staring. I rolled the first time, landed with my head somewhere stupid and my butt straight up. Sky giggled, but I couldn't really blame her. I must've looked pretty stupid. I kept trying, but I never got it. Another day I guess.

It was pretty late when I got back, but I wanted to start work on the shoes. Sky agreed to help, though she didn’t see the need for them as much as she did with the saddlebags. She didn’t plan to do as much walking around through the city I guess.

Wasn’t too happy about the way I had to wrap her legs in plastic, smear them with lubricant, and submerge each one in a tray of goo. I just told her to pay attention since she’d have to do it for me once I made hers.

I worked several hours after dark, fighting through the tiredness. Cans of kick-starter, baby. Almost tastes as good as Mountain Dew. Almost. Most of the machines in the workshop take more wattage than the battery unit can offer. I’ll probably have to get my hands (that I wish I still had) on a generator. It isn’t as though there isn’t enough gasoline left in the city to burn it 24/7 until it all goes bad. Does gas even go bad? I’ll have to look that up.

I cheated a little bit: I’m actually stealing lots of the parts from fully assembled shoes that I’m cutting apart and gluing together.

Tomorrow I’ll finish hers and probably mine too, if I work hard. If I have the time, I think I’m going to try and get the parts together for a shortwave rig. For now I think I’ll put the best antenna I can on the roof. Long term, I know there’s a massive antenna fifty miles or so away that could probably cover the whole United States and much of Canada (if I could figure out how in god’s name to power it). But that's a little much. Short-term survival first. Thriving second.

—A

Chapter 12: June 4

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Can you please explain to me what this is? Probably doesn't look like much to you; it didn't look like much of anything to me except some graffiti. I guess it still looks like that, except for the way the paint looked so fresh.

It clearly isn't English or any other language I've ever seen before. Granted, I haven't been exposed to that many. Maybe it's Hindi or something. If the internet was still up, I would take a picture and post it to Reddit and see if anyone there can recognize it. Probably they'd say it was from a video game or something. God I wish it it was from a video game.

It isn't though. I'm digressing. Let me start from the beginning.

Dogs are getting bad. I can hear them barking and fighting every single day.

I wonder if we’re like, the children of this race. Could that even be? I'm not sure. I probably wouldn't be very happy if it was true. Being a stupid, awful, disgusting, weak…

Okay, focus. Nothing came to bother us. Maybe there's plenty of easier prey to hunt without trying to get over our fence. Thank goodness for walls and houses. I'm not sure what we would do otherwise. Living out there with them. Like if we just had a tent or something... I'm not sure if feral dogs hunt humans. Probably not. We spent all those years domesticating them and all. But if they don't, we're not human anyway, so...

Spent much of the day doing boring stuff not really worth writing about. Finished Sky's shoes and helped her fit them. She wasn't entirely thrilled about the idea, but she was still kind at least. Helpful. Once we got them fitted, they seemed to be working, but she didn't want to go anywhere, so she didn't wear them. She's concerned about the stray dogs now too, finally. I guess she can think about things practically if you give her enough time.

Where does that leave us now, though? We can't use guns to scare them off. We don't have any way of shooting them. Sky had a good idea, probably one of the best possible under the circumstances. Bear mace. They make it in these huge cans, and it sprays out a whole cloud of stuff in the general direction of danger. It would be fairly easy to spray it from a harness or even from your mouth. So long as it didn't get fired into a headwind, it could cover a wide area in deterrent without breaking teeth when we tried to shoot it. If you used it in a headwind, you might end up with an eyeful of the stuff and end up just as disabled as the dogs we were shooting at.

Whatever. I haven't thought of anything better yet, so it's a good start. It will have to do until I can think of a good hand substitute. I hope something like that is possible. I've thought about it. No amount of ideas have brought anything forward, though.

Hardly the first thing on my mind. I wanted to finish my shoes (and start them). Sky was eager for a little revenge after wrapping her hooves in plastic and leaving them in tubs for a long time, so she was actually quite helpful here. In the future, maybe not make whole tubs. It's a waste of latex and foam. So much material that we don't need. Not to mention there's some instinct being triggered here. It's horrifying. I've never felt so trapped in all my life.

It was evening when I was done, though the other steps were much quicker than making Sky's, now that I had perfected the process and could anticipate everything I needed to do.

Unlike Sky, I wanted to give them a try right away. How was I supposed to put those shoes to the test without some serious walking? No other way to see if they work.

I got outside the fence and started walking. Didn't bring anything but my journal and a pencil, in case I saw something worth sketching. Practice, right? Just because I've got the double-hand... uh-... something... disability... doesn't mean I can't learn to be functional again. If Stephen Hawking can keep living and contributing to society with just a little face twitching, then I can’t complain with a basically functioning body, even if it's weird and strange and small and weak...

Huan still never seems to want to come inside, though in truth I wouldn't have wanted him to. Inside and outside animals. Separation. Whatever. At least he comes with me when I go alone into the city. Even when I go at the worst times of day to keep away from the animals. That dog's a real trooper. I've stopped changing his bandages. The skin has scabbed over well enough I don't think he needs them anymore. Here's hoping he won't get any new injuries anytime soon.

That's when I found the thing I tried to draw. I did my best to sketch it. I'll probably go out to take a picture tomorrow, if I can find it. I'm not sure what would happen to it.

It looks fresh, but it didn't look like paint, exactly. Just patterns. Patterns burned or stained or marked somehow. I have no idea how they're supposed to be read or interpreted. I'm not sure if they even are words.

I haven't been on this street, but I can't imagine the city of LA would have let such a pattern remain in the center of one of their streets, obstructing the lane markings and distracting drivers. It wouldn't be hard to sand-blast it off, right? I have to think these marks were made after the disaster somehow. By who, I can't say. There isn't anyone left in the city besides us, right?

Maybe someone else is here. That would be wonderful. It would be best if the whole population was still here, but... if everyone was here, we could keep living. One city would be enough to preserve civilization eventually. We could repair it. Fix it. Buttress it. Whatever. Repurpose all those rusting machines. Granted, if there were millions of people in a city and nowhere else we would probably mostly starve...

Sky could make nothing of the markings, except to say they felt "familiar somehow". Not sure what that means. Of course, I'm not sure about lots of things Sky does. She seems to adjust faster to all of this stuff than I do. I'm not really sure if I ought to be jealous about it or what.

It feels a little more normal to be walking with shoes on my... hooves. Like a regular day in the city. Maybe I'll have time to make some real clothes soon. Athletic shorts chafe when you wear them on fur, I've learned. The elastic is too tight and the legs are too loose. Even a hole for my tail isn't enough, it feels like it's going to tear at any moment and show it all to the world.

How does Sky deal with it? I feel like less changed for her than changed for me. I'm too afraid to ask. I don't want to. She seems to know more about animals in general than I do. Maybe living on a farm her whole life might've made her more ready to be a farm animal. I don't know if her butt-mark is purely cosmetic or if maybe it indicates something else, though I'm not sure what the something else would be.

At least we don't have any proper horses. I'm not sure what I would've done if she had wanted to take those with us. There wouldn't have been a reason to keep them around in any case, when we can do everything they can to a lesser and weaker degree.

It hasn't rained once since everyone vanished. There's nothing new about this, it's actually what one would expect for California weather. I wonder what it would take to keep the grass growing in the park at least. I know it can hibernate to survive a drought, but that probably won't be enough to keep the supply intact with a tiny herd of cows eating it. Do cows even like grass? How do you ask them?

Actually forget I asked. I don't want to know. I want to go back to a world where people are people and cows are cows. Let’s stop riding the road in-between. Before I go completely insane. Wish the world was the sort that cared what anyone thought about it.

Sky couldn’t make anything more of the markings than I could. So far as I’m concerned, they don’t have to mean anything except that there is probably someone else in the city we haven’t found yet. They were further south in the city than I usually venture; I’ll have to make a habit of going in that direction more. Maybe I can find a flare gun or something. If there was one, there are bound to be more, right? We can still have ourselves a colony. The last dregs in the chalice of humanity. Rot away.

Tomorrow I'll go out and investigate that whole area. Maybe if there's one sign of life there will be more, and I can follow them to whomever made them. Could they be friendly? Well, they're certainly weirder than Sky is, even, if they're spending their days painting weird marks on the street.

Childhood’s end, right here. Too bad it wasn’t a nuke.

Oh, and the shoes work pretty good. They’re really tight on the legs, so I worry if they’re restricting blood flow or anything, but they felt comfortable enough. They didn’t feel like they were slipping off, though I was a little concerned that the welds were going to come undone if I twisted. Somehow I don’t think I could pass any safety standards. Maybe with a few weeks instead of a single day I could do better. They feel more like costume shoes than real ones.

—A

Chapter 13: June 5

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Dear Journal,

Today was the next big leap forward for my budding little colony. Gigantic leap. Astronomical. Maybe there’s a chance for us. Maybe not me, never me. I can’t. Sky, though. We have a chance. Maybe something of humanity will outlast our demise. See, I’m still human! I use words like “our”. Third person inclusive, that’s how excited I am.

I have to include you. Overwhelming evidence indicates the person reading this is also a horsebeast. Probably me, since I can’t imagine anyone else caring enough. But given the disposition of survivors, I now believe that all the sparse survivors of the depopulation will be horsebeasts.

If the present trend don’t call because sorry. Sky was still up. Heard me talking with the door open. She said I shouldn’t say things like “horsebeast.” I guess this software can’t really handle multiple speakers in the same room. One day I’ll have perfected some kind of hand substitute and I’ll be able to hand-write these again. I could probably finish these in half the time if I didn’t have to stop to fix software mistakes and insert all the formatting stuff.

This rambling would probably make more sense if I waited until after I described the day’s events. Yesterday I encountered some strange markings while testing out the shoes I’d made. They were right in the middle of the street, indicating they had to have come after the depopulation event.

Sky and I agree that we need an official name for the day when everybody disappeared. Right now “depopulation event” seems to work, though it hardly rolls off the tongue when written that way. DE for short, maybe? Just "Event"?

Regardless, I headed towards the south end of town. Didn’t carry much, just the saddlebag I made with some water and snacks. I continue to subsist on a diet of at least 1/3rd granola bars, though if Sky has her way eggs and milk will find their way back in eventually.

I also brought some scraps for Huan. I guess I’ve just come to expect him waiting out there for me after more than a week of his company. Wonder how that dog sees me now. He still hasn’t tried to come inside. I wonder if he walks back to his old house where his human family used to live at the end of every day and sleeps there. Plenty of dogs have been that loyal. Mine was.

I offered to let Sky come, but she didn’t really want to. Apparently the cows “don’t like sleeping outside”, and she’s helping them clear out the discount store’s interior so they can use it sooner than expected. I didn’t ask how she’d learned this fact. Probably she just made it up. God, I hope she made it up. Maybe she’s just used to having her solitude.

Whatever, I was fine with that. I went it alone for a week, I can do a few hours. Besides, I’d have Huan with me. None of the other strays would dare touch me with such a big dog by my side, right? Pity the animal hadn’t been wearing a tag with his name on it. Just one of those pet department serial number things. Lame.

Once I got into the south end of town, I started to feel like I was being watched. You know that feeling, when the hair on your neck stands on end? Or maybe you walk into a dark room, and you just know something’s up? It’s not rational, but that doesn’t mean you should ignore it.

Huan either felt it too or he sensed my agitation, because he started getting pretty jumpy too, ears darting around and sniffing all the time. I expected him to find whatever it was before I did. My ears and nose might be more acute than they used to be, but I’ve got nothing on a dog. Wolves, hunting, party. So long as they aren’t hunting me.

No, I was the hunter then. And what I saw wasn’t quite what I expected. It looked like… someone had been around the whole neighborhood with a crowbar, randomly smashing windows and doors and car windshields. A large computer store looked like it’d been recently looted, with broken glass inside and things fallen over. None of the weird circular glyphs appeared again.

I think I’ll dig out my old navigator’s watch, the one with the barometer and the compass and stuff. Solar power should keep it running, though god only knows if the band is wide enough to go around what pass for my limbs these days. Maybe if I wear it towards the bottom of my legs when I’m not wearing shoes…

The damage seemed to be forming a pattern of some kind, radiating out from a central source. I followed the largest signs of it, past the shops and into a small suburban neighborhood.

This was a mistake. Even if Sky wasn’t interested in exploring with me on foot (hoof?), I probably should’ve gone to get her for such a big development as this. We survivors have to have some group solidarity. Under such overwhelming evidence of another survivor (or at least something powerful and determined), I should’ve gone for backup. I did have my radio, but a quick call proved Sky wasn’t listening and I quickly gave up.I couldn’t resist the lure of another survivor.

Wandered past the fashion district and into residential before the signs of “occupation” became most pronounced (walking is really slow, by the way. I’ve got to get driving figured out. For some other reasons that will swiftly become clear).

There was damage to many of the cars and buildings that I couldn’t easily identify. I saw cars that looked like they’d somehow struck large objects while parked (wasn’t there a joke about that once?). Houses with windows ripped right out of the walls. Mailboxes uprooted like twigs planted in the sand.

Who or what could’ve caused all this damage? I learned.

I saw him out of the corner of my eye, first. A pastel orange (I was never really good with colors. What do you call that, tangelo?). Like a traffic cone left out in the sun for a few years. Anyway, he still stood out, because even a pastel orange is way brighter than the other colors all around me.

I didn’t get a good look, didn’t see his mane very clearly or even whether he had wings like Sky does. Mostly I saw his tail and his crazy-too-big pants as he tried to run away from me. He turned down an open fence, and tried to vanish between two houses.

You know what sets a predator off? Prey running away. I was probably never much of a predator as a human (never killed anything before), but Huan is. That dog needed no encouragement from me to take off after the fleeing pony, barking and wagging his tail. Honestly, I think he was having way too much fun.

I chased after as best I could, but I hadn’t tried to do any running seriously. It was all I could do not to trip over my own hooves, even with the “advantage” of rubber-soled shoes to grip the ground. I couldn’t keep pace with either one no matter how hard I tried.

Fortunately, our quarry wasn’t much faster than I am. The way he moved looked far closer to my own stumbling gait than any way those real horses moved when we saw them at the farm. Into somebody’s backyard and around the corner, and Huan lept up into the air and onto the pony’s back.

I now know what a bucking pony looks like. The stallion (I guess that’s the right word), started jumping violently around, enough that Huan went flying off his back. I was shouting for the dog to stop, for the pony to stop. Only one of them listened.

The dog. He jumped, got his teeth around the stallion’s neck, then he stopped moving, as if he knew that any pressure might cause serious harm to the pony beneath. I wonder if there’s some pony instinct to make them freeze if teeth get locked around their neck (or if that kind of rational thought came from what I could only presume to be a human inside).

“Don’t hurt him, Huan,” I remember saying that very clearly, along with, “Whoever you are, please don’t move. I haven’t known this dog very long, but I’m sure he won’t hurt you if you stay still.” Thank god I was right about that. Would’ve been pretty awkward if the dog had kept attacking him.

Is the fact he didn’t attack evidence that something really has changed about animal intelligence?

Whatever. Finally, because he had no other choice, the stallion finally stopped struggling and stood there, with a huge dog holding him from the side only a few feet from somebody’s pool. Can horses swim?

I got a good look at him now, approaching within a few paces. His mane was blue, brighter than my coat but not so bright it hurt to look at. He was taller than me by about six inches, and even though he was wearing a pair of backward pants it was obvious from his build I was looking at a male of… whatever our species is.

He didn’t have wings, but as I circled around to look him in the face, I saw what he did have. A horn on his forehead, like something straight off the head of a narwhal, except not like that at all because it was much shorter, probably six to eight inches long and colored similarly to the orange of his coat.

A unicorn, that was the name for the species. I was looking at a unicorn. “Get your dog off of me,” was the first thing he said. “Get him off, or I will.”

That was when something completely unexplainable happened: his horn started to glow. A reddish, pinkish light radiated from around it, not bright enough to overcome the sunlight but easily bright enough to see in spite of it.

“Okay,” I said, or something very similar. “We don’t want to hurt you. There’s no reason to run away.”

“I’d feel less like you were trying to hurt me if you didn’t have a freak dog at my throat.”

I told Huan to let him go, and I was afraid the dog wouldn’t comply. He did though, sliding back with a roll to land on his paws, putting himself between me and the stallion, growling. Only then did the glowing from the unicorn’s horn fade away again. He said something stupid and insensitive, and I replied in kind.

He didn’t run away again. Turns out his name is Joseph Kimball. Didn’t get to learn too much from him; I don’t think he’s got very strongly developed social skills. Can those really start to atrophy in just a few weeks?

I told him that there was at least one other survivor, and we were living together in a house with solar power and water collection and chickens in the backyard. We would be very happy if he chose to come and live with us, or at least near us.

Joseph was not easy to convince. He’d apparently had trouble with stray animals, and hadn’t been able to get very far from this neighborhood. Even then, he said he wouldn’t have made it without the liberal use of his magic for self-defense.

Magic, you ask? Yeah, that’s what he called it. Yeah, I thought it was pretty stupid too. No, I didn’t tell him so. His first impression of me was probably pretty stained after the whole “attack dog” thing. I wasn’t about to make it worse.

Joseph… Joe… can I call him Joe? Course I can, he can’t hear me. Joe proceeded to demonstrate his “magic” for us by lifting a nearby lawn chair over the protective fence around the pool and dropping it inside with a splash, all without touching it.

Yes, you just read that right. He lifted up a chair, all without touching it. Like that X-Men girl, the one that went nuts and killed everybody in the third movie. Only there was this little pink glow around it while he did it, as though the horn was blasting it or something. It wasn’t a heavy chair, but of course he’d accomplished the task from at least ten feet away.

Bleh, this is getting long. I’m gonna have to turn the font size down to something almost illegible to stop from taking way too many pages to fit a year in this book, and I’m not even finished with everything. Not to mention… how late it is… getting tired. Probably wouldn’t get everything right if I forced myself to stay up dictating this. So many more details to write down! Like, did he make the markings I found? Does he know what they are (won't answer that one). Blah, whatever. Tomorrow. I'll just get stuff wrong if I force myself to write it now.

I’ll finish tomorrow.

—A

PS: Here’s Joe. Tried to add a little color so you can see.

Chapter 14: June 6

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Dear Journal,

Not too terribly much happened today, which is a nice change. I’ll use the extra time to catch up on the things I missed in yesterday’s entry, then hit up the main points.

Just glanced back, seems I left off talking about when I first saw Joe’s magic.

If my mane wasn’t already green, it probably would’ve turned green with envy. I already had plenty of reason to be jealous of this guy. Now he’s going and manifesting freaking magic right in front of me, David Blaine-ing it up in somebody’s empty backyard.

I wonder how much he can lift. I wonder how fine-tuned the force is. This probably explains the strange damage to everything, all the broken glass and missing paving stones and hydrants ripped out of the ground. Pretty strong talent.

So maybe I didn’t like the reason that Joe decided to come back with me, but I wasn’t about to argue with him. We need every person. I went with him to his home base, a tiny house with a generator running in the front and no sign of damage (one of the only ones on the block not screwed up somehow). Everything he wanted to bring was computer related somehow.

Unlike Sky, he had no compunctions about his life before and didn’t try to hide anything from me. Told me he’d been some kind of important software developer (called it a Systems Architect or something, whatever), for an important tech company on the other side of the country. He had come south to help with the launch of a new product, and was living out of a hotel for another week before he flew back.

Well, obviously that plan never came to fruition. Wasn’t there a book about migrant workers like that? No, I think that was a different book. Whatever. Joe the pony had a similar story to Sky and me: left alone, didn’t know what to do or where to go. Scavenged for what he needed and kept alive however he could. More hospitable to life of all kinds where the ground wasn’t always made of concrete, and by the sound of it more of the hostile animals moved this way across the city. Guess that might explain a little of why he was so much more afraid to travel and had such a harder time going out without having to fight a little to stay safe.

You wouldn’t believe some of the stuff he said he did (me neither). The house wasn’t his, and the only thing he seemed to care about bringing was an extremely expensive-looking laptop and a duffel bag filled with portable hard drives. Yeah, you heard that right. A duffel-bag full. What’s in it?

Apparently the sum total of human knowledge. Or… maybe just a few tiny (but important) parts of the internet. Wikipedia, webMD, business directories and databases full of classic literature. While I was trying to get in touch with other human survivors (shut up, we are), he’d been milking the internet for all it was worth. Before there were animals getting in the way, he broke into every house he could and ran some sort of thing from a thing and did… he explained it in exhausting detail, but it went a little over my head.

Honestly, I don’t really care how he did it. What matters most for us is that he could. Of course, you might want to know (as I did) how a quadruped with gigantic fingernails at the end of each arm instead of hands managed to use a keyboard and accomplish any of these things. Personally, I thought that this indicated he was deceiving me about the things he’d done, but of course I’d misjudged.

He proceeded to demonstrate his “magic” telekinesis could also do precision work, like pressing the keys on a keyboard.

Why couldn’t I have woke up able to do that? Why couldn’t Sky? If we could do things like that, rebuilding a civilization would be far easier. Being able to manipulate things in the human way, essentially keeping our hands, would’ve made this awful transformation at least slightly more tolerable.

Is it fair that I’ve got this tiny pot of boiling rage for Joe right now? Okay, rage is probably too strong a word, and it’s not for Joseph. He isn’t the one that left me a useless, weak, small, helpless…

He didn’t do that. It’s not his fault he can still do things the way a proper being of a proper intelligent race can.

Granted, I don’t know if I would trade Joe’s “magic” if it also came with his complete lack of practical skills. Can you believe he’s never learned to drive a car? Almost thirty years old, and he still relies on taxies to get anywhere. Not only that, but he appears to have subsisted for these two weeks entirely on instant pancakes. I found a dozen empty boxes in the kitchen (he hadn’t taken out the trash, yuck!), all of the same brand. This one’s less his fault, but I could tell from the smell of the place he hadn’t showered since the Event. Stallions apparently get quite an odor if you let them fester.

Fester is not a word you should ever have to use about a person. Just… not. I don’t think there’s a single context where someone festering in any way is a good thing.

Joseph showed me his near-complete backup of the english Wikipedia pages, and it was incredible. Then he proceeded to explain to me that there was no way we could get across town, because the animals would all eat us. I would have to stay and live with him, since he could keep me safe with his “magic.”

I think he’s probably way smarter than me, bordering on the point where you lose the ability to function as a regular person in society. I explained we wouldn’t have to walk across town, no matter how dangerous it was, because there were two of us and we could drive (though I was going to make him take a nice long dip in a pool first).

He protested that he didn’t know how to drive, and I told him he’d only have to sit there and press the pedals lightly when I said so. He could fit everything he wanted into the car, and we could be there in minutes. Everybody wins.

He’s extremely stubborn, but he caved in the end. Guess my threat of leaving him behind if he wouldn’t come motivated him after all. Seems like even those people who pretend not to care about social contact really crave it after all.

I shoved him through the doorway and into the pool to get clean (no desire to be around for that) while I loaded his crap into a pickup truck nearby, one with the most spacious cab I could find. He was still damp when he made it back, but smelling like soap and chlorine was way better than the alternative.

Can’t say I liked how close we had to get to do the actual driving, to say nothing of how nervous and tentative a driver Joseph was. I say driver, but it was more like “accelerator! More, more… good… less, less…” for twenty minutes or so. Huan rode in the passenger seat, sticking his head out the window and having the time of his life. Pretty sure that’s some kind of dog genetic imperative.

Got back safely, made some introductions, all that fun stuff. Still tons of unanswered questions about Joseph, but after being around me for so long he was starting to shut down and I feared pressing him would do damage. Sky and I helped get his crap into the basement bedroom even though he has that stupid unfair cheating magic stuff and could’ve done it easier himself. We had to hold bags in our freaking mouths and carry them between us, but you didn’t see him helping, did you? Too lazy for my shirt.

Actually, nobody wears shirts anymore. After yesterday, I’m considering moving shirts up the order in priority.

I wonder if we’ll find enough people to fill up this house and start having to share bedrooms, or branch out to other houses. That’d be pretty awesome. Maybe the next one I find will have laser vision, or an extra set of arms coming out of their neck. Maybe they’ll have a skunk tail, or bat wings.

How does he know how to use that magic stuff, anyway? You’d think there would be a huge learning curve. Took me weeks to learn how to drive stick without grinding the transmission every now and then, and that’s got one lever and a pedal. The amount of power Joseph can manifest with that stupid horn boggles the mind.

Today came, Cloudy Skies did the breakfast thing for everybody, and Joe Glow just ate the pancakes, nevermind that she’d done plates of fresh crepes with the last of our strawberries and cream she’d whipped herself.

Got to admire the dexterity of a meal cooked with somebody’s freakin mouth. Well, a little hooves. You stay this way long enough, and you start learning little tricks. Ways to bend and grip things that hold them in place.

Of course, we wouldn’t have to if this stupid disaster had been a little more egalitarian with its cheating powers.

I don’t even want to think about how it must work, or the implications the mere existence of such an ability has for our understanding of reality. The Event and all the missing people is hard enough. Still, of all the people to get a power like that, did it have to be the one with no practical skills whatsoever?

Joe was incredibly awkward when around both of us, barely speaking ten words during the whole meal and staring openly at Sky more than once. Well duh. I’ve tried to get her to wear clothes around me. Joe’s got a few ugly pairs of shorts, so I can only assume (like me) he actually wants to feel human still.

I wanted to know about his powers, about how maybe he knew them and could teach us, but all he said was that he didn’t think he could and the way he knew it all was complicated and he didn’t want to talk about it right then.

When that was done, he went back in his bedroom, and didn’t come out until late afternoon. He spent most of the day setting up computers and rearranging furniture, or at least that’s what Sky says he did.

Some time ago I wished that I could find other survivors, even if they were the worst jerks in existence. I would like to redact that wish, and re-file under the wish “find someone with practical survival skills and maybe some plumbing, or electrical experience”. We’re probably going to need more solar if Joe runs his crap night and day.

It appears the question “can ponies control their schedules enough to stay up at strange hours and sleep during the day” is answered with a resounding “yes”. Way to go, Joseph, revolutionizing the new field of four-legged science.

Whatever. He has strength and precision. Tomorrow he can go get a gas generator and hook it into the grid. Well, probably he’ll go get it and make me hook it into the grid, since of course he wouldn’t possibly know anything useful like how to actually install a generator. Back at his old place, he actually used daisy-chains of extension cords to get power to the computers and video game consoles.

Yes, he was playing video games. Yes, he brought the consoles with him.

No, I’m not going to strangle him. That wouldn’t be very neighborly. Besides, strangling him would be strangling hope. Pretty sad state the world’s in.

Still, least I’m not alone. I do prefer this to nobody. Eccentric, strange, but also someone going through some of the same things. Maybe one day we’ll have our own colony after all. Our own herd.

It’s hard to tell from his spotty responses, but I think Joe knows something about the strange markings I saw in the street the other day. I think he may’ve been studying them, or… causing them, or… something. Maybe they’re a clue about why this happened.

Maybe tomorrow I’ll pester him enough to actually get an answer.

—A

Chapter 15: June 7

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Dear Journal,

Today was incredibly productive. It wasn’t the sort of productivity that just happened. It was hard to force it to be productive, but I managed. You would think that herding horse like creatures would be easy. As it turns out, it isn’t. Ponies, at least the ponies I have for company, can be quite difficult.

See, I’ve felt like I have a large enough group going now that we should start coordinating and planning group goals together. It’s not like being alone, when all the effort and all the reward for working hard just came down to what I did. Our group can be greater than the sum of its parts.

At least, maybe in some dreamworld version of reality. That’s saying something, since the world I live in these days is already so much like a dream. Been an animal for better than two straight weeks, a full half month now. Walking with confidence and even doing a little of that thing Sky calls trotting. Still not confident enough to try a canter, though I’m starting to feel like the instinct is all in there somewhere. I mean, I knew how to move my limbs when I first transformed, so I’m not sure why the connections required for all the different movement patterns couldn’t be in there too. Can’t baby horses stand and walk minutes after birth or something? I could ask Sky, but every time I ask about horses I end up getting more than I really want.

We don’t even really know that we are horses, anyways. Similar, absolutely. But is something true for a horse true for us? How did the ancient doctors study the human body? Oh, right. Corpses. Probably won’t be any volunteers for that.

So I got everyone together for a meeting to plan out what we would do next. Pretty simple. I asked everybody to list off their talents and skills, and got pretty much what I expected as answers. All of Joe’s stuff was computer-related somehow, which is just great when we barely need computers at all anymore. Of course, he’s also got that horn, which does expand his use considerably. Cloudy Skies, meanwhile, talked mostly about her farming experience. She also said something like “maybe one day I’ll be able to fly.”

Joseph objected to this, saying what I personally thought, that there was no way those stubby wings could get her off the ground. She responded by saying that a bone on his head couldn’t make him move things with his mind either, and “why would I have wings if I couldn’t fly?”

Joseph didn’t mention penguins or ostriches, and neither did I. Instead, we made a long series of lists. A list of lists, because everybody loves those. Glowjoe tried to leave twice, but I stopped him each time. He doesn’t really know how to argue, so it was easy enough to stop him. Even though he could, of course, lift me right out of his way with that stupid horn of his.

I started things off with a simple question: What did we want to happen to us ten years from now? Twenty years?

“Be human again” went to the top of the list, though interestingly enough neither of the others seemed to react either positively or negatively. Are they really adjusting that fast? Can’t be… there’s no way… don’t want to think about it. I’m not going to be alone. Not going to be alone. Not going to be alone.

Obviously we had no way of planning for this one, so I ignored it (and the wish things would go back to normal) in favor of things we could actually try to achieve. I put “found a successful colony” up beside “preserve human history and achievements”. (I printed them out beforehand so I wouldn’t have to write on the whiteboard with my mouth as much as possible).

I don’t know what I would’ve done if they didn’t agree. Joseph was immediately supportive of both goals, maybe a little more than I was comfortable (why make such a big deal out of supporting my ideas?), though he wanted to add “find out why this happened” to the board. I made him write it with his stupid magic. Of course his writing was stranger than the runes we’d seen on the street, and just as hard to read, but we got the idea.

Sky looked nervous, and despite prompting she couldn’t be made to offer anything by way of suggestion. She just said, “I like yours, those are fine.” And I didn’t press her.

Once we’d listed out everything we wanted long term (it’s quite a list. I’ll just insert it instead of referring in detail because it would take forever to go over everything we talked about. Plenty of these ideas weren’t mine, though I did jot them down afterwards), I’m sure more things will come to mind the more we think about it. Yeah, I know it’s a pretty pretentious agenda. We’re planning for a distant future, we’re allowed to make it as awesome as we can. In fact, I think we’re required to.

What about other survivors? What if they have radically different goals? What makes you qualified to be the ones that redefine the whole world?

If we run into another group of survivors, one with a better idea of what they’re doing than we do, then we’ll be happy to join their thing instead of asking them to join ours. But as it stands (didn’t tell the others this), I expect other survivors to be either unwilling or unable to think this far ahead.

I don’t have Cloudy Skies's talent for animals or cooking, I’m probably not as smart as Joseph. But I’ll be damned if I’m going to let humanity waste away. Something already took my humanity away, and at present there’s nothing I can do to bring it back. If I can’t get my body back, then I’ll make sure whatever did this doesn’t win. If humans are all gone, but their knowledge and culture survives in some form, then it hasn’t really won. We owe it to the billions before us to keep whatever we can of humanity alive. I will drag GlowJoe and Sky bucking and screaming to survival if that’s what it takes.

Long-term planning was actually the fun part, since it basically involved writing our grocery list to the universe without much to back it up. The next part, the near-term planning, was much harder (and harder to keep my companions invested). In the end, we came up with the following plan: remain in the city of Los Angeles for one year. This will give us time to decide on a future relocation site, plan in detail for the colony, and continue searching for survivors. In order of priority, we (mostly me), made the following short list of our plans and goals. Practical, as you can see. All things we can start on right now and get done within days or weeks.

We’ll have to do much more, obviously. This list is only the beginning. There are plenty of apparently minor issues I’ll devote what free time I can to (like designing clothes that are actually comfortable to wear and don’t threaten to rip when you move your legs too much). I want to research those weird marks, see which culture they correspond to. “Rob” a bank and burn lots of money. Hah, money. Remember when that was a thing?

I wonder if we can find the original Coca-Cola recipe before it’s lost to history. I’ve continued to drink it without apparent side-effects, though I know I’ve got a year tops before all the Coke in the world has gone bad. Future generations deserve to know that taste.

See how well I focus? (Not very). Now imagine how much worse the others have to be that I’m the one who has to keep them on task. It’s a little discouraging.

On the plus side, I used all the time when things got off-task to draw while I waited for things to get focused again. I was sitting across from Cloudy Skies, so I drew her. I think I'm really getting better. I look at what I made my first day and wonder how I possibly could've scratched out something so ugly.

I think we’re probably almost out of water. I hear the pump downstairs whining whenever I turn on the tap, and occasionally I get this awful rushing sound. It’s too bad, because there’s plenty of clean water all over the city. We won’t die of dehydration, in any case. But the convenience of having a quick shower in heat and privacy will be a sore thing to lose. We’ll have to accelerate the water stuff in our planning.

Joseph is apparently the master of gadgets, and he told us about a thing called an “atmospheric water generator”. He searched his “Kimballnet” (real humble guy), and determined that our local office store sells them. How he knew to backup common company websites, God only knows. Humidity here is quite low, so it would be a HUGE energy hog to produce as much as we use on a regular basis.

We do have one advantage, though: unlimited fuel. With such a low population but such a large area to scavenge from, we probably have enough fuel stored in gas stations and trucks and facilities in this city to last us until all the fuel in the world is rotten. Tomorrow all of us are going to go to a hardware store together and pick out a nice generator for the house, I’m thinking one of those huge 20 kilowatt standby generators. While the real owners of this house seemed concerned about the environment, very little I’ve found suggests they were preparing for any sort of disaster. Otherwise, I’m sure they’d already have one of these ready. A system that large will also give us the freedom to run an air-conditioner when we choose to. God, I can feel that cold air blowing down my face already.

It gets pretty hot inside during the day. I’ve thought on and off about using our pool (while we still can) to relax, but now that Joseph’s around I think that option is right out. What would horse swimwear even look like? Shame, really. The water level has dropped a few inches since we got here, and it’s bound to only go down unless there’s a large rain or something. Would covering it stop it from evaporating so fast? It’s already in a glass enclosure, for some reason. Winter use I guess, because that’s environmentally friendly. Guess I should close all the windows to discourage evaporation. If we’re not going to be using it anyway…

Guess it’s finally hitting me that we can actually make a community now. I’m crossing my hooves for another few survivors nearby, hopefully enough to balance out the gender ratio a little better. Right now, the only balance I’m comfortable with is being as far from the ratio as possible. Sky seems like she’ll be the first to adapt, and good for her. Joseph, well… he’s probably never had sex in his life anyway.

Why am I even thinking about this? Other survivors would mean we can do more. Make ourselves more stable, venture out further, reach even more people. I figure this house could comfortably house about six. Four bedrooms, but it wouldn’t be hard for two to double-up.

Something about Joseph has made Sky much shyer than she used to be. Don’t know what that would be; he’s not the one not wearing pants (thank God!). She says even less than usual if he’s around. Further evidence of abuse?

Whatever, I’ll keep helping where I can. I know the others need time to work on hobbies, because “honest hard work” doesn’t seem to do it for them like it does me. Joseph’s got his video games, which is perfect for our limited electrical situation, but all I’ve seen Sky do is cook. I wonder if she likes doing something else. Maybe it would help her if I expressed some interest and offered to help her.

Shut up, I don’t have ulterior motives. I just think there’s something special about the first person you see after so long in isolation. Like I owe her somehow.

Fed Huan before bed. He seemed a little bummed, as though he were upset that I hadn’t gone wandering today and taken him with me. I promised to make up for it tomorrow, and he seemed to understand. Almost two weeks of this, and it’s still weird. I wonder if I’m the one who’s going crazy. Maybe being a horse only makes me think animals are smarter than they really are. Maybe being human let me see the truth, and now I’m drowning in an illusion. Whatever, it doesn’t really matter. Huan saved my life.

Joseph still won't talk about how he learned how to use magic. He doesn't seem to spend any time practicing during the day (though he doesn't seem to practice walking anytime either). I asked him twice about where he had learned, and he wouldn't give me anything useful. Just that he had "seen something." Something that made him bold enough to try it. Freakin' garbage. You're lucky we need you so bad Mr. Stallion, or you'd be out on your stupid smart backward pants ass.

Oh, probably I’ll start writing shorter responses unless something really cool happens. I’m going to devote a little more of my time to sketching and writing with my mouth. If you see my entries switch to an awkward, awful handwriting, you’ll know why.

—A

Chapter 16: June 8-12

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June 8, 2015

Dear Journal,

Went to Home Depot. Used to be one of my favorite stores, back in the day. Wasn’t a problem I couldn’t fix at home by shopping there. Brought a generator home, really nice standby unit with variable production levels and everything I need to patch it into our house and the solar network we already have. Already measured the entrance to the side of the house, and found a good location very close to the garage entrance where we wouldn’t have to run much cable. Had to guide Joe through how to use a forklift to get the thing into a truck, though we used those huge metal wheelcarts once we got it home in order to get it into position.

Also brought tons of little hardware things back with us, like the floodlights, as well as several dozen of those solar landscape lights. The entire backyard sparkles at night now, without having to waste any of the power we’ve stored for the house.

Filled the truck with hardware and tools. Joseph complained the whole time, though Sky gave it her best. As usual, the two of us working together couldn’t do half of what Glowjoe could do by himself without even trying. Didn’t actually install it, that’s tomorrow’s project. I was all for it, but Joe was too tired to learn how to use power tools, and I need his dexterity to get this done. I wonder if you can get electrocuted when you’re using telekinesis. If Joe pulls a hot dish from the oven, will it burn?

You know what else the store had? Composting toilets. As gross as that sounds, it would save us having to do as much to deal with our waste water. I don’t know exactly how the mains work behind the scenes, but I’m pretty sure they need pressure to deal with waste and they’re going to get backed up. Composting the nasty stuff would mean we could use the gray water from the sink and shower and stuff for something else. Quick filter and it could go into watering the garden, probably. Sounds smarter than just dumping it into a big storm-drain.

I know I’ve said this before, but toilets were not designed for ponies. Sitting in general just feels weird. Using a raised platform now around the toilet, just standing and… and yeah. Can’t believe I’m talking about this.

Turns out there is something Sky enjoys: board games. We picked up a few today. Got a Coke to keep me awake, think I’ll take her up on her offer and end the day with some Monopoly.

—A

June 9, 2015

Dear Journal,

I wanted to put in the generator today, but Joseph was “too worn out” from yesterday to help. Read pages and pages of generator documentation from this huge binder we found in the store, figured out how to install it. It needed his skills, as it turned out. His “having something equivalent to hands” skills. I didn’t want to pressure him after he’d been so helpful yesterday, so I got him to commit to help tomorrow and moved on to something else.

Sky came with me into the city. We drove, mostly to keep the animals away. Huan caught up and came along for the ride. I don’t mind having to cooperate to drive, I think Cloudy Skies and I have a rhythm down, but I think it would be even better if we didn’t need anyone else. So we had two stops to make. The first was to a store specializing in accessories for the disabled. See, they make these hand-pedal things you can connect to the wheel and control the pedals with your hands. Of course we don’t have those, but some foam to get closer to the wheel and make the seats hurt a little less, and you’ve got yourself a pony-drivable car.

Went car shopping with our new accessories. Did you know LA had more cars than people even before the Event? Now it has… tons and tons more cars than people. Sky had no taste and just wanted a pickup truck like her mom used to drive, so we picked a brand new diesel one with those double tires in back for hauling big loads. Leather interior, fridge in the console, all the new gadgets.

I’ve worked on cars my whole life, and I’ve thought many hours about what I wanted for my dream car. There aren’t any in town, though there is an Audi dealership, and that’s almost as good. Black Audi A8 with turbocharged diesel… car talk. Nobody’s going to understand this. Just trust me, it’s a really, really nice car. Had to muck it up by putting wedges of foam into the driver’s seat along with drilling a few holes in the dash and the pedals. It hurt to see such a beautiful machine soiled, but it was that or not be able to drive it.

We drove home separately. We’ve done pretty good so far choosing all diesel engines for everything we use. Should make fuel much easier to come by when it all starts rotting. I wonder how hard it would be for Joe to turn that computer brain into a chemistry brain, maybe he could churn out some biodiesel.

Huan, being my loyal friend, wanted to come with me instead of Sky. I laid out a blanket for him on the backseat since that car’s been in enough pain today, and claws aren’t going onto the list of things that’ve scratched it up. Being trapped with him reminds me I’ve started to stink from lack of showering, but it’s nothing compared to him. I wonder if dogs can appreciate the need for a bath.

Joseph didn’t even notice there were two new cars in the driveway, or if he did he didn’t say anything about it.

Figured he wouldn’t. Bet if he had driven anything before everything got ruined, it would’ve been hideously ugly. Maybe a Prius. What a complete loser. Seriously, how can Sky stand him? How could anyone stand him?

—A

June 10, 2015

[There is “handwritten” text taking up most of the page, sloppy with extremely large letters.]
Oh God kill me.

June 11, 2015

Still no water for showers. Want a jacuzzi tub. Stupid j should stupid stupid it in. Can’t plumbing.

—A

June 12, 2015

Dear Journal,

Productive again today, because that’s the kinda’ pony I am. Imagine cool sunglasses for that part. I’d have them if sunglasses didn’t fall off my face when I tried to wear them now. You’d think having this muzzle thing would make it easier to keep them on, but apparently not. Ears do more to hold glasses than I previously realized. I keep thinking I’m going to trim my mane, but I don’t. It’s way too long. Just another one of those tiny insults. I’ve started brushing it and tying it off to keep it from getting in the way during the day. I feel like some kinda hippy.

Guess most hippies would probably be pretty happy with me. Embrace Mother Earth, man. Don’t eat your brothers and sisters, spread the love. Just got to replace my work ethic with some recreational drugs and I think I’ll have this whole situation in the bag.

Brought Joe, used him as my hands. He’s still awkward and uncomfortable around me, but I think the fact I wear clothes makes it easier on him than with Sky. I also talk to him like a normal person, which makes one of us in this house.

I don’t think he likes being dragged away from his computer “work”. He’s really taken to the mesh-network idea he brought up during our meeting the other day. He imagines large transmitters all over the neighborhood, connecting our smart-phones and computers and acting like short-range radios. Nevermind we’re such a small group we could probably just tell each other in person and save the trouble. Whatever, it’s fine. At least he’s doing something. I explained that this sounded awesome, but that I’d probably keep needing him until he came up with something I could use for hands.

This led naturally into asking about how he’d learned this “magic” so fast. He tried to avoid the subject, but he was working with the cables and our grid then. I think he was afraid trying to leave would put him at risk of electrocution. I may’ve fostered that misunderstanding, even though he was working with cables that hadn’t been connected to anything and I had already shut down the house’s grid.

After putting the pressure on, he eventually caved and admitted it was the weird circle of strange marks on the ground that had done it. He said he didn’t expect me to believe him, but he’d done it so it was true. He’d been wandering the city when he found it, and he went into the middle to trace some of the symbols.

He’d seen something in that circle, some sort of… vision. That was when he’d got the mark on his butt, like the one Cloudy Skies had. He only got more embarrassed when I asked him to show me, so he just described it as a laptop computer with a heart on the screen, and he wasn’t comfortable with anybody looking at his butt.

Can’t say I don’t understand, though I wish he’d made an exception in the interest of research. He eventually promised to take a picture and crop out everything else so I could see. It looks something like this:

What a cutesy piece of crap. Tons of questions open up now, like “why would marks on the ground give you this? How does your magic relate to this mark? Sky has one, why can’t she do magic?” I didn’t ask any of those, because they were the sort of questions that I could try and figure out on my own. I just wanted to know what the “vision” had been. Did I believe him? After everything that’s happened to me so far, yes. Yes I did.

He was even more reluctant to answer. Eventually I got him to tell me; I’m not sure I believed him. He said he’d seen another world, a place where ponies were so numerous they had covered the countryside with villages and farms and cities. He saw unicorns like himself, saw what they could do, and... this is where I get fuzzy. Because he wouldn't tell me anything else, no matter how much I prompted him.

I would’ve thought he was screwing with me if I thought Joseph had a chance of lying with any skill. No, he got this wistful, distant look on his face when he was talking about it, like talking about a painting or a movie he couldn’t put into words. I’m not surprised, since so far as I know he doesn’t read or appreciate any of the arts. Maybe he would’ve done a better job if he’d been a poet before the Event (not a good name, but that’s what stuck).

Why hadn’t he wanted to tell us about it? Because he was afraid that would make me want to visit (it did). He said that his new sense for "magic" helped him see it was breaking down somehow, that it wasn’t safe for somebody else to use it, though he couldn’t explain why. He had been searching the city for the mark’s creator until the strays drove him back into his retreat neighborhood. He made me promise not to go back.

I’m going back tomorrow. Unijoe sleeps in, so it won’t be hard to leave before he wakes up (and do some other salvage on the return trip). When we were done with the cables and stuff, I told Sky about it and she was totally down to come. She already had a butt-mark, but I think she’s as eager as I am to trade a glimpse at pretend-land for the magic to pretend she has hands again.

I’m not sure I want to see any visions about what life could be like in a world of tiny horses. But at the same time… I feel almost guilty saying so, but… it’d be nice to know that kind of life was possible. Maybe it would be enough to make me feel less like we didn’t have a prayer of getting it right. A butt-mark’s worth a thousand words or something.

—A

Chapter 17: June 13

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Dear Journal,

I’m writing this from the hospital. Wait, what? Yeah, I am. Sky’s here, and Joseph's just down the hall keeping the generator running. I’ve told them both I’ll be fine sleeping here alone, but Cloudy Skies doesn’t think I should be alone. Not sure what she’s worried about; nothing feels broken, and the burns aren’t that bad. Really only cost me my eyelashes and a little fur. I could do with less of both anyway.

You … I told you … No Sky, I get it. I should’ve listened. He warned me. Yeah, I got all that. Just let me finish before my laptop dies, okay? I’ll sleep when I finish! … You know, I think I will leave it in!

So when I said I was in the hospital, I did mean that literally. Promise Hospital, to be precise. No, that isn’t because everyone came back and I’m getting an injection of distilled human so I can be normal again. I could only wish it was like that. No Sky, I don’t feel like sleeping. Morphine doesn’t make me sleepy; if you would let me I’d get in the car and drive us home just fine. Yeah, whatever. I’ll sleep when I’m done telling the story.

I don’t normally record these for an audience. All the more reason to master mouth-writing or make a pony-sized keyboard I suppose. I wish I could go online and find people with only a few fingers to ask how they type. I bet they would have exactly the insights I would need right now.

So anyway, look at yesterday, you’ll see what I was planning. Joseph told me how he’d learned his “magic.” Sky and I wanted magic too. You can probably guess it didn’t work out, since I’m still using Dragon to do this entry. The hospital thing was probably a clue too. … You don’t have to stay in here, you know. Huan’s got the door. Nothing’s gonna get me in here. I feel fine!

Sigh. Okay, I guess she wants to hear. Make sure I get the details right. Not sure why Sky cares if I get things right. You know I could just go back and change it if I wanted to lie in my journal, right?

This mare is impossible. Yeah, I don’t even care that you can hear me! No, you’re a jerk!

She’s not really. If Sky hadn’t been there and what happened today had happened, I would’ve been left for the strays. It still hurts like hell, I probably wouldn’t have been able to get away. Huan couldn’t protect me on his own, even if I know he wouldn’t have left my side. Dogs are loyal like that. Apparently ponies are too. Would you believe Cloudy Skies plans to sleep in here? Brought in some blankets and stuff, and she’s going to use the bed next to mine, to make sure nothing happens.

Psh, as if something would happen. Even if dogs did come in the door’s shut and Huan is right outside.

I guess not having anything medical on our list was a major oversight. Should have planned better, then maybe we wouldn’t be sleeping in this dark hospital. Got a few bandages, and my mane is now appropriately short (to get rid of all the stuff that burned off.

No, I don’t care if you thought it looked better long! I like it short!

I’m never doing another journal entry with someone around again. The constant interruption makes it so hard to concentrate. See how off topic I’ve gotten? I haven’t even said how I got here, or all the other things that happened. I’m gonna tell the story now. Sky says she won’t talk again while I’m working.

The runes were unchanged from the last time I saw them. Sky said again that she thought they were familiar, though she couldn’t tell me where she had seen them. We weren’t really sure what to do, since all Joseph had said he did was stand in the center of the diagram. Was that it? Just walk into the middle and expect “magic” to happen to us?

Apparently yes. I said it was silly, so naturally Sky had to show us just how silly it was by going first. It’s a good thing she did, since she managed to use the spell without any other side effects. Honestly, I’m afraid those delicate little pegasus bones couldn’t have handled what was waiting for them when the spell ended.

There wasn’t anything to see, really. Sky already had her buttprint, so even though she’s still pretending to be a nudist — sorry, actually being a nudist — nothing new appeared. I didn’t see her vanish or grow a horn or lights appear anywhere they shouldn’t. She just shrugged, turned, and walked out of the circle.

I was pretty worried about her. Yeah, I’m gonna say that with you in the room, don’t give me that look. I want it to be authentic. It’s not my fault if I worry about you. You don’t worry enough about you.

Of course, we hadn't come all that way just not to try it. Sky... didn't seem to want me to go in. Guess I wish I'd listened to her now, whatever. I did anyway. If all it took was walking inside then not trying would've been completely stupid. So I did, marched straight in and dared the spell to do anything to me. That put me inside the circle, exposed to the full brunt of what Joseph called “magic.” After what I saw, I think I might believe him.

I swear it was exactly like he described. I didn’t feel like I was looking somewhere else, more like looking sideways. If that makes any sense. It wasn’t a mystical vision, it was just giving me better senses for a little bit. I saw grassy fields greener than anything I ever saw, and I felt… damnit, I know Sky’s not going to let me live this down, but I felt like it just looked so good, maybe I would eat it. The water was clear and perfect, no bacteria or mercury swimming around in it, you could just drink it right from a stream if you wanted. Cities and towns and villages sprawled out, none too close together.

I saw the city all around me, but it was changed somehow. The buildings weren’t as tall, and there was cobblestone instead of asphalt. Ponies moved about instead of people, all of them with those stupid butt-marks like Sky’s got. Plenty of them were like me, but others had horns and still others flew about in the sky overhead like overlarge birds or tiny aircraft. It was hard to tell for sure, but it seemed like the ponies acted different than people do. Somehow more… friendly, or whatever. It’s hard to put my finger on it, since I don’t have any of those left. Whatever.

A little further away I saw the suburbs, where the city melted quickly into farmland. It was all hornless, wingless ponies there, but that didn’t seem to stop them. They organized, they planned, and together I saw them use practicality and common sense to get fields planted and accomplish the affairs of daily life in their primitive society. The earth bloomed under their touch, and whole harvests matured so fast I couldn’t keep track of them all. I wanted to be there.

The vision changed, and I felt suddenly like somebody was watching me. Somebody who saw my confusion and distress and wanted to help. There was somebody I knew I wanted to meet, even though I didn't know why. For a second, I felt like I was close to understanding. So close I could’ve grabbed on and held with all my might, if I’d only had my real limbs back.

The vision was gone like ripping the cable from a television. That wasn’t the worst part, though it sure feels the worst now. No, the worst part was the explosion. Nevermind that the “spell” was just a bunch of marks on the ground. Evidently they weren’t concerned with the rules of just being symbols on the ground, which I suppose I should’ve taken from what they’d been doing for me so far. Still, I never expected them to explode.

I got thrown a good fifteen or twenty feet, not to mentioned singed up pretty bad. I was knocked senseless, so you understand I don’t actually remember this part. Sky tells me she drove to the nearest hospital, though she didn’t expect to be able to do much for me.

As it turns out though, I’ve apparently got iron bones or something. I didn’t break anything in the fall, even though I would’ve expected to be a paste inside if I’d been human. I’m sore everywhere, but even the fire didn’t seem to do more than get the surface layer of fur and make things tender underneath. I think… I’m not sure on this, but I feel like from what I saw that this isn’t entirely unexpected. Hornless ponies are stronger than the other two, at least from what I saw.

I didn’t get a mark on my butt, like Joseph. I guess I just feel… like maybe I understand what a regular pony is supposed to be. Regular pony, that’s me, no flying and no horn. I still think I’m gonna envy Joe’s horn a little, but if all the ponies I saw could make do without them, I don’t know why I couldn’t too. I’ve never been much for heights in any case; I’ve always been uneasy in high places.

I wonder if things are going to change for Sky now. She won’t tell me what she saw, assuming she even saw anything; sorta reticent about it all, like Joe was. She’s been squirming in her seat while I talked about it, like she thought I had to keep it secret too even though mine didn’t last long enough to learn why. Did she even have a vision? She won't say.

It appears Joesph may’ve been right about the spell “running out” of power, and being unsafe when it did. I count myself lucky I’m still alive, and don’t need massive skin grafts or surgeries (there’s nobody to do any of those things). Cloudy Skies has helped animals with some minor things on her farm before. Even helped a mare deliver a foal once (my disgust brims at the prospect). She knew a little first aid and thank god we didn’t need anything more.

Joe was furious with me for doing exactly what he was afraid I would do. I told him that it wasn’t up to him what risks we took, and that what we learned probably outweighed what we sacrificed. Besides, the explosion wiped those weird marks right off the floor, so it’s not gonna happen again. Even though I didn’t get to finish mine.

I was going to wrap it up there, but Sky just left to find a bathroom before bed. I just wanted to say that I feel a little… poorer, not to have seen it through to the end. I feel like having one of those marks is something I should have. Almost nobody in the vision was wearing very much clothes, and none like mine. Got some great inspiration from that for outfits that might actually fit this body. Granted, most of them failed to cover anything important…

I wonder how long it will be practical to dress like humans do with these inhuman bodies. Joe doesn’t seem in any hurry to change, and at least in that tiny way I agree with him. Still, after seeing that, I know those marks are somehow fundamental to our identities. The fact I don’t have one… almost makes me feel like I’m missing an identity.

From what I saw, Sky is going to be able to fly one day. Joesph can already do magic. Where’s that gonna leave me? Will they even have any reason to keep me around? Another few years… crap, I think she’s coming back. Already?

Oh, good. It was just Joe checking in. Apparently the generator’s prepped. Sky won’t let him sleep with us, so he’s going to use the room next-door. Doesn’t want the door open, in case something wanders in during the night. Can’t say I disagree. Huan’s going to be our alarm-system, so that should keep us pretty well informed. I said sorry for not listening to him, even though I would probably have done it again. I’d do it ten times if that would mean I got to finish.

Joe didn’t make that spell. Yes, I’m going to call it that now. Joseph the glowicorn found it, exactly as it was. You know the strangest part? It doesn’t feel like it was something left there intentionally. It’s more like… a door left swinging open. I never felt like there was any guiding intelligence behind what I was seeing, not until those last few seconds, when I felt like someone had noticed me. Joe said the same thing, said that was why it was so unsafe.

The spell wasn’t put there for us to find. It was decaying on purpose; it would’ve been gone completely in another few days (or so Joe says. I have to take his word for it since I can’t “sense magic” like he does. Freakin’ jerk). Still, even if it was an accident, I can’t help but see it as proof that there’s at least one other pony out there. One with… magic, probably, since Joesph can sense it so well. Probably way better magic than his, so that they can create circles that accidentally give us glimpses of another world.

Does that mean it was a doorway? We… humans… became ponies, like the ones we saw in the vision. Could it be this was some kind of attack from whatever place we saw? Could this whole awful disaster have begun from that circle? It brought death to billions, and to the dregs it just gives us a glimpse at the faces of our killers?

No, couldn’t be. Those creatures looked so nice, so friendly, so loving… they wouldn’t want to harm anything or anyone. Maybe they… sensed more of their own kind, and came here to help us? If so, they don’t use their magical power very well. You’d think the three of us would have been easier to find.

This doesn’t change much. We still need to gather supplies, protect knowledge of our race. Still need to keep our eyes open to a way to put things back to normal. Find out where all the missing people went. The only thing this changes is that now, maybe, there’s a little hope. Somebody besides Joe made the circle. Maybe they’re still out there. Find them, and maybe we find the truth.

Or maybe we don’t. Only one way to find out.

—A

Chapter 18: June 14-15

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Dear Journal,

So maybe I overestimated my ability to recover overnight. There’s that saying that it always hurts worse on the second day? That saying is true. Particularly when the pain mmediaedications wear off. They could’ve given me more, but I don’t want any. We don’t really know what the long-term consequences might be for these bodies. We aren’t human, and in some ways we don’t even seem to be from Earth. Pretending that we are seems particularly dangerous when it comes to medicine.

I would be home already if Sky had let me. I can walk again, I walked this morning when I had to use the bathroom (any toilet will flush once after the end of the world, and only once). I’m swollen all over, like some kind of pony version of a grape. I’m risking aspirin against the pain, and it helps a little with the swelling.

Made that stuff once during my one semester of community college. Biochemistry. Seemed like fun. Too bad tuition was so expensive.

Joseph wanted Sky to take him back home — he can’t drive yet, obviously — Sky wouldn’t do it. Seemed pretty silly to me, but whatever. She says the swelling should go down tomorrow, and by then it should be safe enough to go home.

Sky has been searching the hospital for supplies to take home with us, and Joe went with her. Lots of stuff didn’t make it. How was I supposed to know that so many medications needed to be refrigerated? Of course, there’s plenty of stuff that should still work fine. Still, it’s a good thing none of us are diabetics. There goes the insulin.

I drew in my free time, when I felt well enough. Nothing on the hospital TV obviously, but I’ve got some shows on the laptop here. Generator at the end of the hall keeps some lights we brought in and my laptop and stuff running, which is cool I guess. Guess I can catch up on the TV shows that will never finish. There’s not even anybody to complain to! How messed up is that. I guess I can just make up the endings when I get there.

I hope Sky is alright alone with Joseph. It’s not that I think he’d do anything, but she’s pretty fragile in more ways than one. I don’t think he knows how to talk to other humans very well. Or… you get the idea.

—A

Addendum: I woke in the middle of the night. I felt much better, enough to take my laptop (gently) in my mouth and go off down the hall into another room. I haven’t been up this late since the Event, and not just because the day is most productive for me and my weaker night senses. I think strange dreams are becoming more the rule than the exception, because I woke up in the middle of one.

This time I saw cars, boats, buses, planes. A train appeared without tracks, tumbling through the jungle, snapping trees and dumping ponies from the windows as it tumbled. An intercontinental military jet soared over a storm with a dozen confused, half-uniformed pegasai. A sailboat appeared suddenly in someone's backyard, surprising a little gathering of ponies there before toppling sideways and making a nice big hole in the roof. I felt like an invisible pair of eyes aboard each one, watching as ponies all struggled to drive things not meant for hooves.

I wonder what it says about me that I'm not even human in my dreams anymore.

The moon was very full, I’m not sure I’ve seen it so big in years. A harvest moon, I think they call it. Dunno; Astronomy was never really my subject. It’s amazing how much more of the sky you can see without all the light pollution. I wonder how many cities in the world still have lights to block out the stars.

I saw the milky way once, during a power outage when I was younger. Rolling blackouts. Though whoever’s reading this might not remember those… or remember power at all. Hard to predict I guess.

I can see the Milky Way. Even with my weaker eyes, it’s almost cloudy up there with how bright it is. I guess this isn’t the only thing that’s shifting back to normal. Insects probably aren’t confusing the position of the moon, or those night-birds and bats and stuff. Hardly seems worth the trade for all we’ve lost.

I feel like the moon is watching me. Every time I look away, I feel like something’s moving from the corner of my eye. But when I turn, it’s exactly where I expect it to be. It’s the same moon, so far as I can tell. I’m sure the Apollo laser reflectors would still be there if I knew where to look.

Whatever, I should probably get back to bed. Tomorrow I should really put together that radio. The parts have been sitting in the garage for too long. Maybe check on the “ranch” too, to see what’s Sky’s been up to.


June 15, 2015

Dear Journal,

Finally got out of the stupid hospital. I don’t look swollen up like a plum either, though you might make the argument for some kind of grape. It’s hard to see bruises through all the fur, but I can definitely feel it. Also, my skin is really pale under all that fur. Good thing I’ve got it, or I’d probably burn walking everywhere. Burn all over the place, since I walk around practically naked everywhere. One day I’ll have the spare time to make real clothes. Put that on the list of a million other things I have to do. I feel like I’ve started going insane again, just in a different way. Can a person work themselves to death?

I took it slower than my usual today. Put together the pieces for a midrange shortwave radio transmitter. Antenna went all the way to the roof. Put together it was like one of those old TV aerials, but bigger. I would’ve climbed up there without thinking not long ago, but that was back when I had a monkey’s coordination. Say what you want about humans, but we were good climbers. Ponies? Not so much. Maybe Sky could’ve done it. If she slipped, she always could try to glide her way down.

Of course she’s afraid of heights, she’s already told me so. I put the thing together with Joseph's help, then he raised it up with his magic and tied it down with stout wire. Fairly sure it could survive a good wind up there now, and he didn’t even have to shade any of the solar panels to do it. That unicorn’s got talent.

Of course he didn’t even know what a shortwave radio was. I had to explain to him how such a small transmitter was going to give us such fantastic range, its waves reflected by the ionosphere to a point somewhere far away on Earth’s surface (even the other side). I’ve only ever been a listener, so I couldn’t say how to do a precision aim like that (and what would be the point?). He didn’t appreciate just how much we could benefit, wanting instead to finish his mesh network project.

Apparently he’s got some simple nodes he thinks he can connect to some satellite network or something.Not sure what he thinks we have to gain, working with such advanced technology. How long are they likely to last up there, anyway? Already the GPS directions I get are whole streets off. Even if there are other satellites up there that keep working for a few years, or a few decades, it’s not sustainable. Without a population of millions, we’re not seeing rocketry again in our lifetimes. At least Sky’s help is focused on the practical. Feeding cows or whatever.

Set up the rest of the radio without glowicorn’s help, just a desk for now. Maybe one day we’ll have a whole broadcast booth up there. Or maybe that’ll have to wait for our new places. Whatever. Recorded a simple message to broadcast on maximum power on the highest bandwidth commonly accessible to receivers. My message was as follows: “If you are hearing this, you are not alone. There are other survivors. We have resources and a growing community. We are presently located in Los Angeles, California at the following street address... We will listen on the following frequency for any replies…message will repeat.”

Short and sweet, not to mention it would make it easy to hear anyone who found a way to return the message. Assuming anyone ever does. If Joseph is any guide, the technology is apparently no longer well known.

So I wanted to test the range (as best I could), and I wanted to see how Sky’s personal farm is doing. I put the two missions together, and tossed a radio into my saddle-bags and set off to visit the park. I didn’t offer Joseph to take him with me. I swear that stallion has got an eye on Sky lately. Can’t say I’m entirely comfortable with that. What were they up to yesterday while they were “looking for supplies?”

Maybe I should ditch the clothes, if that’s what it takes to get attention. Or get attention. Or… No no, focus! I’m not some dumb animal. I’m not going to get involved, I’m not going to get involved, I’m not…

So I went to the ranch. Brought some ice-cold lemonade (not the real kind, unfortunately) from the fridge, since I figure she’s probably pretty thirsty from being out in the hot sun.

I’ve got to say, Sky has done some impressive work. I guess I’m not the only one who’s learned to use their hooves better. Though, since she spends so many of her days here, I guess it would make sense she would get stuff done. I wonder how much she had to bring Joe to do some of the difficult bits.

She’d set up dozens of those pop-up canopies, all around the edge of the lake. A big-ole pump went right into the water, floating on a raft in the center (and probably held on by duct tape). Hose on that thing fed a crazy daisy-chain of garden hoses with those circulating-sprinklers on the end, all spread out (with gradually decreasing water pressure, by the look of it. The lawn was quite brown once you moved more than a few dozen meters from the edge of the lake, except where her sprinklers kept things watered. There, the grass seemed overgrown, and unnaturally healthy. Clearly, the cows weren’t grazing any of that down. Temporary barricades covered every entrance to the park, reinforced by chicken wire kept in place by piling heavy objects behind it. Only one entrance remained clear, the one protected by more barricades crossing the street and straight into the “barn”.

The water level on the lake looked notably lower than I remember. Sprinklers ran, and a single horsepower diesel generator croaked quietly away in the background. The cows lounged under the canopies by the drying lake, mooing contently and not seeming to notice or care that I was there.

Only Sky worked, though I didn’t see her at first. Only with a little searching did I spy her faintly pink form in the “barn”, doing something silly. Yes, she was sweeping. Yes, she had the broom in her mouth. No, it didn’t look comfortable.

She didn’t notice me until I got close to the front door of the old building. The empty dollar store hardly looked recognizable, not with all the shelves completely pulled out (how the heck did she do that?). Hay… yeah, hay, had been spread on the floor, though she was sweeping it out into an empty storm drain. The grate had been removed somehow, letting all the refuse drop down into the darkness beyond.

Told her how impressed I was with her work (particularly considering how little I thought she knew about machines). Guess the pegasus can figure things out when she really needs to. I didn’t bother asking how she had got so much done so fast, though I was curious.

We talked, shared some minute maid, and with a little prompting, she eagerly gave me the tour. Explained how she’d built everything, and the trips she’d made to get around. Said it had been the cows who helped her, at least with all the heavy lifting. A little of Joe, though she sounded frustrated whenever she talked about him.

I turned on the radio for her, demonstrated our little broadcast. She thought it was neat, hoped we’d get “some more nice ponies” to join us here. I did too, though I’d still prefer to call them “nice people.” Are people and person species-specific terms? They don’t seem to be, but I don’t… really know about words and stuff.

I’d meant to turn the radio to the “listening” frequency to see if anybody had replied yet. Didn’t get the chance. It was getting late already, and she asked for my help bringing the cows in. Not really sure why she needed it. Just sorta yelled, and they came back to the “barn”. Weren’t that many, and it’s a pretty big store, though I could see Sky had opened some of the high windows for ventilation. Guess I shouldn’t have second-guessed her farming skills.

I had walked, so I rode in the passenger’s seat of her pickup. Huan wasn’t in attendance; hadn’t been all day. Not really sure what happened to him… but I’m not terribly worried. He’s a smart dog, he’ll be fine.

We really need to bring him a doghouse. Maybe if he had a place that was clearly his own on the property, he’d be more willing to come inside the fence. I keep him fed well enough that I’m sure he wouldn’t attack the chickens, even if he somehow managed to get into the backyard.

Tomorrow, the radio. Listen, scan, hear what we can hear.

—A

Chapter 19: June 16

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Dear Journal,

Holy crap have I been stupid. Majorly, royally, inhumanly stupid. Give me some credit: I’m not human. My head is smaller than it used to be, I figure my brain must be smaller too. Some of that might be smaller body to control, but it can’t all be that simple. Some of it’s got to be less brains. Maybe we’ll do an MRI or something and figure out the specifics.

Maybe you'd like to ask why I was so stupid. If you've been reading my journal straight through until this point, you probably already know. You've probably noticed what I didn't, and are probably screaming at my stupid book about what I should've done. What haven't I been doing?

You know I've been listening to my short-range radios, had a handset and a HAM and all that crap and I've been scanning those. That's how I found Cloudy Skies in the first place, so obviously I'm not a complete failure on that front.

Unfortunately, I neglected the shortwave. That radio that might be able to reach the greatest distance, from anywhere in the country or anywhere in the world. There are even emergency channels specifically designed for times like this. Why didn't I check sooner? Why wasn't that the very first thing I did? Maybe I was too concerned with short-term survival and not concerned enough about what I was going to do long-term. Maybe I would have sooner if I hadn't found other survivors. I don't think I'd trade Sky (or even Joseph) for having acted sooner, but it's still pretty lame.

You can probably see where this is going. When I was setting up the system that would monitor the frequency I indicated for responses in my broadcast, I did a little cursory scanning of the airwaves, more playing than anything else. There was nothing on the frequency I asked survivors to use to respond. There WAS something on one of the reserved emergency frequencies, though. Yeah. Exactly where I should have listened in the first place. Exactly where even crappy radios could've tuned to at a moment's notice. There are tiny solar handsets and crank radios that could've tuned into it for "sale" in hundreds of stores all over the city.

Maybe if I had acted sooner, I might know what the message actually was. It's still broadcasting now, on an endless loop exactly like mine. The transmission is full of static (not all that unusual for shortwave), but it's still clear. There's a synthesized female voice reading, and it sounds like this... "22-13-23-13-22-24-3-6-5-19-4-8-23-1-11-11-13-23-23-14-1-18-8-4-19-8-13-24-5-12-13-4-11-13-8-19-14-8-23-1-22-24-5-24-19-22-23-9-8-3-18-13-2".

Are these the words of another survivor? Or a ghost of dead humanity striking out from beyond the grave? Obviously I have no idea what it's supposed to mean. I can't believe that anybody would take the trouble to transmit something that wasn't a message for somebody. But what's the message, and why are they sending it in code? It's got to be a code. I don't know how to pinpoint a shortwave radio signal like I can with other kinds (there might be a way, but I've never heard of it). It could be bouncing here from anywhere in the world, right?

I don't know for sure that it started after the disaster (though I can't imagine a pirate radio broadcast violating an emergency channel lasting for long prior to everyone vanishing). Maybe it's some off-grid soviet tower running from a cold-war nuclear battery, too weak when there were other signals but now coming to the forefront.

Or maybe it isn't, and there's some government organization that survived. Or a group of at least one (not really a group then) skilled survivor(s). But why would other survivors want to hide messages and send them in code? God, if anything of the government or military survived, would they be trying to help what few US citizens are left?

I don't know if maybe the early transmissions explained how to use the code, and since we missed them we just won't be able to get any of those important messages now. There could be a whole colony already going, and we won't be able to know how to get there!

Of course, this is all speculation. That transmission might be instructions for the second shooter in the Kennedy Assassination for all I know. Even Joseph seems interested in figuring this out. Apparently he did his master's thesis on automated decryption with neural networks or something else that makes no sense to me. I'm not hopeful about his chances, but this does seem like the sort of puzzle he might actually have some hope solving. When he found out about this, he went on and on about what he was going to do, but none of it made sense to me. I'm an auto mechanic, not a codebreaker!

All of us hope it's a post-disaster transmission, as you might imagine. There's no proof of course, and no guarantees. We might not ever get a chance to know what it really means. I’ll keep pressuring Joe, but I doubt I’ll need to. Unlike the practical matters of survival, this doesn’t seem like the sort of thing he needs reminding about. Puzzles are fun!

Meh. I haven’t even talked about anything else that happened today. Like I said, I’ve started to feel that we should start paying attention to security. If there are mysterious codes floating around, then there might also be ponies (animals, humans, monsters, gods) who want to hurt us. Fighting will be a secondary concern, but I would like to make sure the house itself is secure and that we’ll be warned if anything comes our way. Picked up about a dozen ultra-bright solar motion floodlights, and put them up on the house facing the backyard and in the backyard facing over the fence. Going out there at night (tried it) is like some kind of eighties lightshow as they all come on one after another. Okay, probably not. I wasn’t actually alive during the eighties, so I might just be assuming that based on what I’ve heard. Big manes and big tails, lots of neon.

Okay, we didn’t have those. The lights go off pretty quick once the motion is gone, but that’s plenty to see. I wonder if we ought to get night vision goggles or something and fit headsets to wear them. I think I’m getting better at forcing myself to stay up if I really want to. At least until the world’s caffeine reserves run dry.

I feel a little safer now that at least nobody could sneak up on the house without us knowing. Not to mention all the lights today gave me an idea: what about a searchlight? Those things hog power like nobody’s business, but one of those nearby and people would be able to see the house for miles and miles around at night. Even if they were too tired to travel (I wouldn’t want to leave the property these days with the level of canine activity outside after dark), they would at least see there was someone else out there and be able to know the general direction.

It would probably take a dedicated generator or a significant increase in renewable power to get one of those running, probably a nice battery-bank too. I’m sure there are plenty to find if I drive down to Hollywood. Maybe Sky and I could drive down there tomorrow and take a look. Might take the “homes of the stars” tour while we’re there. After this crap with the radio, it would be nice to blow off a little steam and do something fun.

I asked Sky what her favorite movie was, and do you know what she told me? “I never really got to watch movies before.” Yeah, really. She couldn’t even remember the name of a single one, not even “It’s a Wonderful Life” or something from Christmas. Seriously, what kind of life did she live? Is she serious?

I’d go back to that apartment I found her in and check, but I remember seeing pictures in there and they didn’t look anything like her. Wait, that’s not as stupid as it sounds. I mean it looked like older men had lived there, and she’d just picked the place by chance. I haven’t bothered trying to pressure her for more, since the few times I’ve tried that only makes her shut down faster. I guess my own curiosity is less important than her mental health, but it’s still pretty frustrating.

Not to know the people you’re around. Particularly when you like the people you’re around.

She can’t hear me, can she?

—A

Chapter 20: June 17-19

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June 17, 2015

Dear Journal,

Had fun with Sky. Went on a tour of the houses using a map from a store. Couldn’t get past lots of the fences, still locked. Brought home a projector, speakers, and all the best movies we could get on DVD. Set them up downstairs. New movie room? Needs theater seats. Will go with Joseph when we can get him away from his computer. Nice to spend time with Sky. Think we might have an actual friendship going. First steps, right?

—A

Had another strange dream, worse than last time. This time I was floating through space, no ship or suit or anything. Still a stupid pony, because life sucks. Floating towards the moon. Kicking and screaming, fighting. Freezing, choking, dying. Hundreds of others just like me, maybe thousands, all dying too. All had butt-marks, all except me.

There was a face on the moon, not a man. She saw me, reached out. I died anyway. No more accidentally falling asleep while watching creepy movies. Think I’ll go tuck in Cloudy Skies, then head up to my real bed.

June 18, 2015

Dear Journal,

Found an LED searchlight (who knew?), one almost as bright that won’t take a dedicated 5 to 10 kilowatts to run. Runs on 2, which is nice. Put it a few houses away, where it doesn’t face any of the bedroom windows but is still close to the house. Drew some arrows on the ground next to it, and hooked it up to a single-stroke diesel. Little generator should run all night easy without refueling, it burns so slow. Good start. No return signals on the radio.

Been eating canned produce for weeks. Salvaged plenty of boxed food from grocery stores, but the animals have caught on. Plenty of food is just rotting away in the heat. Good news is that the cans should survive well enough, and we can get those out at our leisure. Dog packs seem less plentiful, but they also seem less transitory. I’m afraid they’re settling into territories now. Those still alive are the ones that can hunt enough food to feed their members.

Frightening detail: many of them have set up shop indoors, even though almost every building is intact. Maybe some got left open, automatic ones or whatever, but plenty more seem to have clearly been pushed open somehow. Either somebody’s done it for them, or they’ve figured out somewhere to shelter from ambush and the elements. Makes scavenging into interiors difficult.

Sky is a really good cook. Her meals are wonderful, when she gets the chance to make them. Fresh breads seem to be a particular talent of hers. Good thing too. White flour apparently stores for longer than many other goods. If we can’t get agriculture going again, we may be eating white flour for many years to come. Assuming we don’t die of scurvy first.

Brushing your teeth as a pony is incredibly inconvenient, by the way. My solution? Velcro. Few days ago I made these Velcro “socks” for hooves, with a strap to keep them on real tight. Wrap a little Velcro on something you need to hold onto (like a toothbrush), and it will stick real snug. Works for tools too, so long as I don’t need to use too much force at once.

Solar shower: a silver plastic bag with a tiny tube on the end. Hang it in the sun (scorching) and you get a trickle of warm water to bathe with. Easier to use when you have hands to control the flow. We have a stick it’s taped to, so the flow is in one place, and you can move yourself under it. Privacy shade of some blankets around it, which I’m very thankful for. Sky brags about how much sense it makes not to wear clothes, how freeing it is and how not-sweaty she gets. Can’t say she’s wrong about that part. But we’re talking about the mare I sometimes catch running and flapping her wings about like a goose about to take off (she never does).

Sick of this, and for once Joseph is on-board. Tomorrow we’re going to get those water-producing machines and set them up on the roof, pouring drinkable water right into the cistern. We’ll use generators at first, but a few of our neighbors have solar units of their own. Will use sturdy cable and connect those too for total zero-maintenance. Very dry here (~30-40% humidity), so it will take several machines and much effort to get anything like enough for our needs. Cattle lake is draining. Living in this city is not sustainable long-term. Shame to leave it behind one day.

—A

June 19, 2015

Dear Diary,

Thought I’d mix things up today. Is there any difference between a journal and a diary? Never heard of a stallion — sorry, a man — who kept a diary. Probably shouldn’t mess with success. Managed to keep daily entries through injuries and magic and worse. Never a dull day in Los Angeles.

Dogs are getting increasingly territorial. Pack tried to scare us away from the Home Depot where we had to pick up the atmospheric water generators. We scared them off instead with a cloud of bear-mace and some air horns. Take that, animals! See what we’ve done with our opposable thumbs and science? Wait, we don’t have either of those anymore.

Well, Joseph makes claims to the last one, but I’m not so sure. We haven’t got a translated code yet. Haven’t got replies either, but I digress. The code did change today. Joseph's research has put a name to what the thing is called: a number station. Apparently they’ve been going almost as long as radio itself. Really mysterious stuff, mostly for spies (there’s a wikipedia article about them on the Kimballnet). Ugh, I just called it that.

So the voice on this station didn’t change, but the numbers did. There’s a pause between each repeat, so I’m pretty sure the transmission is: “17-8-1-21-3-9-5-21-20-1-16-0-4-13-0-0-13-17-16-0-5-13-16-5-2-17-0-5-1-16-11-2-3-0-6-5-13-2-2-5-13-16-23-3-0-21-13-11-1-21-3-5-1-16-9-5-20-3-18-17-20-21-6-5-22-11-3-16-3” Now call me crazy, but I swear there was less static this time, and the voice was a little louder. Getting closer? Is that even possible? Wouldn’t the angling change or something? I might not actually know how to do this shortwave stuff. For all I know I might be sending our signal straight into the pacific ocean.

We need a beach day. Joseph hasn’t ever seen the ocean (God’s honest truth, at least according to him), and Sky’s never actually been in it. Weather’s been so nice lately I figure we ought to take the time to enjoy ourselves. Drive out there, have a nice fire, camp one night. Can’t go more than that, since there are a few cows that need milking and the chickens need feeding and such.

Set up water machines on the roof. Have to run our power generator constantly to keep them on. On the plus side the tap works again and there’s hot water and I feel wonderful and clean. A pity we can’t count on technology like this long-term, or else we might be able to stay in southern California. We’re going to have to move eventually. Not sure if we’ll go north or Midwest yet, though. Maybe another colony will show up and answer that question for us.

Maybe this signal is another colony, somewhere not too far away. Hear how I say another like there’s already one, and we’re them. We’re not them. We’re not a colony, though I think we’re friends. Even Joseph, insufferable as he is sometimes. It’s hard not to be drawn together by a shared difficulty.

Okay, he’s not really going through it the same way I am. That dumb smart stallion couldn’t even imagine how much worse it is to be me. Doesn’t have to be helpless. Doesn’t have to feel helpless. Joseph has to worry about blasting a hole in the wall (he keeps away from most magic inside the house to avoid wrecking the place like his shelter from before we found him).

Nobody new flocked to our searchlight yet. But with the total darkness of the city, I’m sure it can be seen for tens or even a hundred miles around. It might take time to get here. Assuming someone who saw it even wants to find other survivors. I would.

I wonder what other ways I haven’t thought of there might be to get in touch with other survivors. Maybe we could play constant rock music from the house during the day (not at night, shoot me). Shoot signal flares at night? God no, what if one of them started a fire? A fire could take everything away from us.

We’re in the middle of fire season now. If there’s still a god somewhere, maybe the lack of humans around will help us make it through the year without any. That’s no guarantee, since so many start spontaneously. No more water planes or trained wilderness fire experts. Maybe one day there will be pones who wear small water tanks on their back and carry little hoses in their mouth. That actually sounds pretty cute! Maybe they’d look like…

Like that? Needs a name. If Sky named her, she’d probably be called… Fiery Courage. Or… Water… something… her idea of names make no sense.

Went to watch her try and “fly” again today. It’s actually the running that’s most impressive to watch. No, not running, galloping. Joseph is still as coordinated as a safe rolling down the stairs, but the two of us have been practicing.

I think I may’ve done it right (without tripping) for the first time ever. Without the shoes, since wearing them makes everything a little harder. I can barely even describe how awesome it felt. The park is only a few blocks across, but that’s plenty of time to appreciate just how fantastic it feels.

Galloping isn’t like running the way I used to. I don’t think I was ever really built for it before. Swimming, maybe, but not running. But I spend every day on my legs these days, and they’re the only muscles I have. I probably couldn’t have even done it when I first changed.

Now, though? Now’s different. It’s hard to remember the feeling of feet, those tiny toes and that soft skin that you could tear on stuff. Human running is like oscillating on two springs, bouncing back and forth constantly from step to step. It’s obviously worked for us, but…

It never felt magic like this does. It takes some doing to get into the movement (that’s why I practice around the lake, a face-full of grass isn’t nearly as bad as a face full of concrete). Once you can shift into the pattern. Back-back front-front, fly… back-back front-front, fly…

I’ve seriously never felt anything quite like this. The ground is just blasting past you like you stuck your head out a moving car, and you know if you trip you’re going to go tumbling and probably break something. The air is rushing past you, mane’s blasting back, tail must look like some sorta freaking flag.

I wish it hadn’t taken me this long to learn. It’s gonna be awhile before I dare it when not on the grass (though the sand at the beach will probably work okay. So many videos of “real” horses seem to be at the beach for some reason).

It’s not fair. Just like eating healthy, running was never this fun when I was still human. It sucks that there were a handful of awesome things that came along with the horrible awfulness of getting my body stolen. It’s hard to say absolutely that being a pony is a bad thing.

Sky can gallop too, and I think she’s less likely to fall than I am. There was no contest when we ran, though. So long as I didn’t trip, she had about as much chance of keeping up with me as the cows. I would’ve paid to see Joesph try it. Let the cows laugh at him while he practices.

Maybe we’ll be able to get him to try at the beach tomorrow. I’m really looking forward to swimming again, though I’m not sure I’ll take Sky’s advice and swim without my clothes. Humans did that all the time, didn’t they? I wouldn’t be an animal if I enjoyed the water without slimy salty fabric making my coat all sweaty and crusty. Warm showers or no.

We picked out an RV to take with us to the beach (diesel, because that’s how I roll). Used the usual handicapped bars and connectors and such to make it drivable. Fun thing about RVs is they’re like smaller versions of what we’re trying to make our house, and we don’t have to do any work to get them that way! They already have water storage, efficient appliances, a generator, and so on.

Sky and I packed it tight with supplies for the trip, including my toolbox in case anything goes wrong. I would worry more about leaving the house unattended, but there’s still no sign of other survivors nearby. Even if some dogs have managed to open doors, I doubt they’ll be getting into the tall, locked gates. Generator and lights will all still be working, so it’ll probably look like we’re home.

Whatever, we can always mace them out if we need to. Worked well enough last time. Even smarter, we haven’t seen any sign of the dogs using tools.

The day stray dogs start breaking into gun shops, God have mercy on us all.

—A

Chapter 21: June 20

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Dear Journal,

Holy crap what a day. Out of the freakin’ sky. Who does that pony think she is? Does she have any idea how much damage she could’ve caused? The injury or death of one of the last few survivors could guarantee no colony ever succeeds! Particularly when the success of a colony depends far more on having a large number of females than on males.

Not that it matters, since for all I know we’re all only going to live another decade or so. Even if we start breeding like rabbits (God no), ten years and we’re dead and our children couldn’t possibly have learned enough to preserve much of human culture. A few more short generations later and the huge structures and ruins rusting and crumbling will seem like the monuments of forgotten gods, wrought by no hooves at all.

Well, that last part is still true. No hooves did make any of it. Of course, I’m feeling a little (maybe a lot) like a hypocrite just now. Joe may’ve warned me about that spell, and I might’ve ignored that threat to my own safety (and enabled Sky to do the same). Aren’t we necessary too?

Well, we’ve been here longer.

I feel like when I have more to talk about, writing in order keeps me on task (and stops me rambling on and on about how fun it is to gallop. Just looked back at that, yuck. Was I trying to write a pony infomercial?) So, I think I’ll try to boil everything down so I stop wasting ink.

I could probably switch to mouth-writing if I really wanted to, but I see no reason since I’ve gotten so good at dictating everything. There’s a pattern to speaking that makes it work right, not to mention that the program trains on your voice. The day I first changed I had to go back and change all kinds of things, correct mistakes and such. Now it generally gets things right, even when I say something about our glowicorn and his stupid cheating face. Guess I’ll need to come up for another name for him now.

I was talking about focusing, wasn’t I? So today was supposed to be a day to relax. To spend an afternoon pretending the whole world hasn’t fallen apart and try to cut back on the stress tearing all of us apart. I can tell the others are feeling it, even if they show it differently. A short vacation was the answer.

Everything was going exactly according to plan. Sky had packed us brown-bag lunches (store bread is stale by now, but she can make bread from scratch so it’s no big deal), I packed an RV with everything I thought we might need, and Joseph had done nothing practical to contribute as usual. We planned on an overnight trip, and being back by early afternoon the next day (the longest Cloudy Skies was willing to let the cows and chickens go unattended). Huan came too, because he’s my buddy.

The traffic was the best I’ve ever seen, big surprise there. Made it to my favorite beach (Zuma, one of the lesser known Malibu beaches). Had to use bolt cutters on the gate, but then we just parked the RV less than two hundred feet from the surf. Beautiful.

Turns out my surfing ability has suffered tremendously for this transformation. Nah, I didn’t bother bringing a board. No point even trying. I don’t think even Joe and his cheating could’ve made that possible (and he was scared of the water anyway, so whatever). No, jellyfish aren’t that common. No, there was no reason not to have fun. Yeah, he found a way. We had fun. Swam, ran for what felt like miles over the sand (the key is to focus on the wet part, but not too wet. The area past the waves but before it starts to dry is the most stable for hooves).

Fires aren’t legal on this beach. When it started getting dark we had a bonfire like something out of Backdraft. Four cords of wood, tepee style and Girl Scout water. Like all “stallions” who haven’t had fun with fire, Joseph wanted to play with it, so I let him start it. Good thing too, since there was this fireball when he brought the lighter over there, and a huge plume of black smoke. Probably would’ve got some serious flash burns from that much gasoline otherwise. His levitation magic is apparently not susceptible to burns.

Got a grill going too, though that was terribly lackluster. Veggie kabobs could’ve been okay if we hadn’t got the veggie out of cans and dehydrated packets. It’s just not the same. Coke still tastes the same though. Vanilla, since it was a special occasion. Always saved the vanilla for special occasions. Apparently Joe loves tacos, and he’d found a taco MRE somewhere (first mistake). No, that flavor is not vegetarian. He ate it anyway. Or he tried, I should say. He couldn’t get it down. Man did he try though. Should’ve seen the look on his face, trying to put on a brave face for us about how strong he was and how he wasn’t going to let the transformation take his favorite food away. That unicorn won some points in my book for his efforts today.

It wasn’t long after sunset, when the sky is still purple and blue and you can see without too much trouble. All of us have been getting better about having more human schedules, or at least not having to fight as hard to stay up in the dark. Sky usually doesn’t bother, but I think being around me fighting the schedule has worn on her a little. Joseph, of course, had conquered it even before we met him, so no fairness there either. Maybe the horn goes back far enough into his brain that some of the magic shoots back that way by mistake whenever he floats something around.

As fun as all this was, the day might not have been that significant if that had been all we did. Obviously if I’m writing this it means that wasn’t everything. You’re right, it wasn’t.

We were thinking about turning in for the night when we heard it: an engine. Pony hearing is pretty good, and we could all tell it was coming from above (it would have to be, since there are these cliffs just behind the beach that would block it off from the sound of the county beyond). It wasn’t terribly loud, obviously it wasn’t a jet engine or anything. Looked up in what was left of the light, and we could see it coming towards us along the beach, flying very very low.

It was an airplane, a two-seater prop plane flying slower than most cars drive, getting lower and lower along the sand. The landing gears were not extended. My first thought was to scream and panic, there was a plane coming right at us! Sky and Joe did just that, but I took a deep breath and rose to my hooves calmly instead.

Actually, the plane didn’t come right at us. It was too close to the water, right at the boundary where it’s easiest to gallop. It was maybe thirty feet up, coming down in a very gradual arc. I couldn’t see the pilot very clearly, even with as slow as she was moving.

Everything happened in just a few seconds. Plane touched down about thirty feet from our campfire, sliding along the belly. The ground shook when it touched down, and I almost fell over. Water and sand went spraying everywhere, splashing us even with as far away as we were. Blasted past us, listing to one side. Fiberglass on one wing shattered and the thing wobbled, almost flipped into a spin. Nose was too high off the ground, or else the prop digging into the sand probably would’ve torn it to pieces right there.

I felt it more than I saw it. Joseph dug his hooves into the ground, and there was this pink glow from beside me, almost as bright as the campfire. I saw it on the plane too, not exactly coordinated, just a pressure forcing it down along the top, stabilizing it for just a split second. It didn’t roll, but rapidly lost momentum as its belly slid along the ground. Needless to say, I don’t think it’s ever going to fly again.

The engine sputtered and finally died, and then the whole thing started to smoke. I’m not sure what happened to Sky, but Joseph and I ran right over as fast as we can. Should’ve seen that unicorn go: ripped the door of the plane clean off. Wasn’t far off the ground anymore, so I shielded my face as best I could and ran right in.

There was a pony inside. I didn’t get a good look at her then, just wrapped a hoof around her and tugged her free of the restraints. She’d been buckled in, and there were clothes on the floor of the cockpit (though she wasn’t wearing any). Once I got her clear Joseph helped me haul her away. Good thing too, because that little plane turned into a fireball about a minute later. We were far enough away that none of the shrapnel got us, though the explosion sent my ears to ringing. I have to wonder if Joe’s magic didn’t protect us somehow. Like I said, that pony earned mad props today. I take back every bad thing I ever said about him.

Maybe not take back. He’s still lazy. He’s just not a coward.

Sky had calmed down when we got to the RV. She’d cleared a space for us, turned on all the lights, so we could lay out the pony. She wasn’t in good shape: there were numerous lacerations, some of them deep and bleeding badly. I almost retched when I realized how bloody I was.

We had medical supplies this time, and Sky had a trauma kit ready. Sky isn’t a real doctor, but there’s a chemical coagulate that’s fairly easy to use. We laid out the pony in the shower, and cleaned her up as best we could, they dried her and sprayed the cuts. A few were definitely deep enough to need stitches, but the worst by far was on her head.

The pony had been a unicorn. I said had, because some terrible impact had shattered her horn. Looking at it was worse than any of the cuts, and coagulate would do nothing for a wound like that. Sky didn’t have the stomach (and we didn’t have the gear) to treat the pony on the beach. I sped us home as fast I could, riding on caffeine and adrenaline to stay up. She was still bleeding a little when we made it home.

Thank merciful god that pony wasn’t conscious. Joseph took care of stitching her up (using Sky’s instructions), and I performed the first ever partial horn amputation. Got it down to about two inches… there was no saving the rest. Had to cauterize it. Stopped bleeding after that.

It’s later than I’ve ever stayed up. It’ll probably be morning soon. I thought talking about this would make me feel better. The shower did… God, the water was so red. It feels wrong for such a great vacation to end like this. We were having fun! Bonding! All the stuff friends do.

On the other hand, this pony wouldn’t have stood a chance if we hadn’t been there (was it the smoke from our huge fire that showed her where to land? Was she even conscious for any of it? I can’t imagine touching down that well just by chance). We have her in the third bedroom, and someone is going to watch her round-the-clock. I’ll take my turn in another hour or so, when Sky’s done. She’s breathing, believe it or not. Guess all those things I thought about Joseph's body being light and weak might’ve been premature. Sky says there’s no guarantee she’ll ever wake up. We don’t think anything’s broken, but there might be internal damage. She lost a lot of blood, and we have no idea what kind of stress losing most of a horn might be for a unicorn.

Joseph had planned on doing the amputation too, since I’d been so squeamish around the blood. He started retching and I had to step in anyway. I found him later clutching at his horn with both hooves and shaking like a leaf. Brought him some hot chocolate and a little something more to take the edge off, and he’s sleeping now. He can do third shift.

She still hasn’t woken up. It’s my shift now. She’s in bed, and she’s breathing, and she’s safe. We’ll see about helping her take food tomorrow. I think I’ll try to draw her healthy. A little scotch couldn’t help me feel better, so maybe art will. Couldn't fit the mark in on the drawing, so I put it next to her so you can see.

—A

Chapter 22: June 21-24

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[In ugly, gigantic letters]
Dear Journal,

She didn’t wake up yet.



June 22, 2015

Dear Journal,

New pony still isn’t awake yet. Settled into a routine, as good as we can. Now that it’s clear she’s not just going to die for no reason, we don’t keep her watched 24/7. We just don’t have the manpower. Realistically, it’s not like keeping someone with her is going to make a life-or-death difference, right? We have no trained doctors, no trauma surgeons or even any EMTs. The best we could’ve done was make sure she didn’t wake up alone.

Assuming she ever does. Used a little honey and water to help her body recover. Sky and me clean her every day (Joe’s too grossed out to be useful). Apparently it’s not the wounds that set him off, at least not mainly. I heard him arguing with Sky about it when neither of them thought I was around. Well, I use the word “argue” pretty loosely in Sky’s case.

“She looks like she’s healing well. No infection. You can touch her.”

That won’t heal, I know it. She’ll be disabled forever.”

“I don’t have a horn either, you know.”

“Yeah, well… you’ve got wings. Obviously you wouldn’t have one.”

“Are you saying Day is disabled?” You go girl, you tell him. But I couldn’t listen. I didn’t want to hear him say what I already knew. I was disabled, just like that unicorn. We wouldn’t ever fly, we wouldn’t ever do magic. What good are we?

Oh yeah. I guess I haven’t talked about that yet. Cloudy Skies has come up with “proper” names for Joseph and me, which she uses like nicknames (I’m relieved that she still uses my real name whenever she has something important to say). She says that after hearing me record journals a few times, she thinks my name ought to be “Lonely Day.” She says it will be “waiting for me when I’m ready for it.” So never. Toss that one into the bin with not wearing clothes and having a mark growing from my butt everybody can see.

And who knows! That unicorn has a chance! Horns are magic apparently. Maybe she’s got enough left to still do a little magic. Or maybe horns do grow back. The only one who’s guaranteed not to have any magic at all is me.

Not that the normal ponies I saw in that… place… were useless or anything. They seemed to get all the hard work done, growing crops with what must’ve been some mad fertilizers. Either that or way better GEs than we ever did. Too bad about the end of that. Though I guess we don’t need a wheat that grows five times as dense per acre when we only have a handful of ponies. Ponies can eat grass anyway, can’t we? Eugh, no. Not this one. This pony is still a person inside.

Pretty lousy ending for our vacation, but you already read about that. Sky has started making cheese. California used to have several heirloom places that did that, and a few had little operations right here in the city. More and more it seems she was right after all about getting the animals, even if I’m still not sold on what we’ll do with them when we relocate.

The longer we stay here the more inevitable it seems to be that we will need to leave. Even if we could turn asphalt into farmland, the land is just too dry. We don’t have an aqueduct to turn a desert into a paradise anymore. How many centuries will it take before we’re able to do public works like that again?

Went to a specialized warehouse and brought a huge spool of monster-sized cable on the back of a truck. Took Joseph's help, because of course I can’t get anything useful done without a unicorn hovering behind me. Stupid Joe. It’s not his stupid fault, I know. He didn’t ask to keep everything and only get a little smaller.

I didn’t ask to be an adorable plush toy instead of a person. Count my blessings, I guess. At least I’m not comatose.

So many unanswered questions about this pony, though. The biggest one is the flight itself. It’s been nearly a month since everybody vanished, so why did she try to fly a plane now if she didn’t know how? It’s not like I just hop in any car and expect to be able to drive it with my hooves!

Did she run out of unicorn magic mid-flight, maybe? It seemed like she was doing okay up until the crash. Looked like her descent was pretty controlled, angle was perfect, picked the flattest part of the beach… It’s like the code! We’ll never know that unless we can find the source (which I don’t know how to do), and we’ll never know the pony’s deal until she wakes up and we can ask.

I take it as a positive sign for Sky’s sanity she hasn’t come up with a silly nickname for the sick pony. At least she knows where to put up boundaries.

—Lonely Day (hah, never)


June 23, 2015

Dear Journal,

It’s a little depressing none of my attention gathering schemes have worked. Radio, spotlight, posts on the Internet (hah, that was a thing once), and there’s no real sign of any of those things actually bringing people here. Well, with one possible exception. Maybe the blond pony came here because of my messages. I guess we might not ever know.

Yeah, she still hasn’t woken up. Doesn’t smell like she’s rotting away, but she also doesn’t really look like she’s getting better. It’s hard to tell if there’s been improvement. Okay, so maybe getting a doctor should be a priority. Obviously we can’t just grow one, but it might be that we could learn from books and home-study texts (at least enough to be better than unskilled). Joseph’s magic makes him an obvious choice, but his laziness probably means he’ll never manage to drive himself to study.

Cloudy Skies might be able to do it. She already has a little experience helping sick animals, so there’s a foundation of vet-science to build on. What do you even call the doctoring of horses, is there a specific word for that?

Obviously I’m disqualified, since I’m the only one exclusively focused on our survival. Like yesterday: I’ve been focused on expanding the “protection” of our house out into the surrounding streets and properties. Spent the day setting up fences, blocking off the road and connecting us to the property on the other side of the house. Wouldn’t stop small animals, but I can’t see many big dogs being able to get through (is there anything bigger?) I can thank the California Department of Transportation for so thoughtfully loading the temporary fences onto one of their trucks before the Event, making my job extremely easy.

Mostly brought in food today. Took Huan with me to the Costco, loaded pallets up onto our converted cargo semi, and brought ‘em back. We’ve got a propane-powered forklift out front now, so unloading ‘em is pretty simple too. Reinforced the temporary fences from yesterday with cans of vegetarian chili and crates of powdered drink.

Yes, you can convert a forklift to drive with hooves. Not as hard as I thought it would’ve been. Damn do I miss those Costco hot dogs and pizza.

Had to carry in the fifty-pound bags of flour one by one. Joseph so graciously volunteered his magical talents, not to help, but to lift them onto my back each time. Turns out I can handle about fifty pounds of cargo without too much difficulty. Probably wouldn’t push it past that, though… it also felt like any more would’ve made it hard to move.

Two projects waiting on tomorrow: starting the garden or replacing our toilets with the composting variety. I haven’t ever done plumbing or farming before, though Sky says she’ll be happy to help with the garden if I do that.

Yeah, wonder which of those I’ll pick. Spend all day with my mouth super close to the place people… (disgusting)… or get some quality time with Cloudy Skies getting sweaty together.

Gee, this is a tough decision.

—A

June 24, 2015

Dear Journal,

She still isn’t awake. We’re doing our best to care for her, and it doesn’t look like she’s going to die on us. Cuts are healing nicely, might even be able to take out the stitches in another week or so. But just because the cuts turn into scars doesn’t mean she’ll ever wake up. She still looks way freaky around the cuts, where we had to shave the fur of her coat away. It’s coming back, but pony coats just don’t grow fast enough to erase wounds like that in a few days.

Spent the day farming with Sky. She was the expert here, so I was more her assistant than anything. I was afraid Joe would ruin our alone time, but the thought of leaving the strange unicorn (is she still a unicorn even though she doesn’t have a horn anymore? Does she just count as a regular pony?) alone in the house made him feel uncomfortable. He spends more time sitting in that room than either of us do. Maybe it’s a species thing.

We’re using a chunk of the spacious backyard, the part not occupied by chickens (who have been wired in by now, strange behavior or not). We tried to use one of those hand roto-tillers, but they take way more control and precision than we could manage. Instead we took a rusting plow from the rustic interior of the house, and attached it to my back using the harness.

Ever think you would live to see the day you would pull a plow with your own body? Me neither. I didn’t really get all the farming things Sky said, just google them if you care. Oh wait, there’s no Internet anymore. Guess you could use the index on the Kimballnet and see if anything comes up. Assuming it’s still around.

Ground plowed, it was time to plant. Sky wanted to try lots of different kinds of seeds, see what would grow best in the soil here. I did as much as she did, tilting a few seeds from a packet into the ground and covering it over with a hoof.

It felt strange. Like I was constantly being watched from the garden, but I couldn’t find anyone actually looking at me. I took the right two rows, and Sky took the rows on the left. Between the two of us, I’m sure somebody planted something that will survive.

I’m putting my money on Sky. She’s the one with real experience. Everything I water dies. Of course, watering is going to be a little bit of a pain too. Part of why we were able to set up the garden as easily as we were was the ground was so dry, and the lawn had been dead for awhile. Spread bags and bags of soil from the store, and plowed it as good as I could.

Probably going to need a better harness for that, by the way. I was strong enough, but it felt like the thing was going to tear at any moment under the pressure. My harness was designed for pulling wagons, not tearing up soil.

When we finished, we put a hose on one of those timers and put a circulating sprinkler on the end. Should get the whole garden pretty even for now, though it will cost more of our precious water to keep it going. Hence the composting toilets.

Whatever, another day. Maybe tomorrow. Still have plenty of water-jugs. We can always keep supplementing the cistern by dumping those in. It’s not like the plastic in those things will survive forever without tainting the water.

Sky was too tired to cook, so we did microwave meals and listened to music on the back-porch when it was all done. Huan joined us in the backyard (first for him), and we watched the sunset.

There are still some nice things left after the end of the world. It’s not a long list, but it’s not an empty list either.

—A

Chapter 23: June 25

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Dear Journal,

She’s awake.

Rest of the day can’t really compare to that, so I’ll stuff it in up here. Went to get the electrified wire for the wall, turn our base into a predator-proof base. Too much crazy stuff going on lately; between crashing airplanes and weird signals we can’t translate, not to mention the packs of feral dogs. Once we get this stuff installed up there, I’m confident we’ll be able to sleep soundly at night, despite being tiny colorful horses. Brought the stuff in from a warehouse stocking farming supplies for shipping to the Midwest; whole system is meant for cattle. I figure anything that will shock a cow should give a wild dog something serious to think about.

We didn’t get to put in any of it though, even though we’d planned on it today. Not with our rescued pony finally conscious again. I was there for the whole thing too, so I don’t have to tell the story second-hand.

It was afternoon, when Sky and I usually clean the pony and replace all her bandages. We were drying her off with a towel when we notice something we hadn’t seen before then: her legs starting to twitch. Naturally we pulled back and tried to get out of her way, as she coughed and spluttered into conscious life.

It would be understating things to say she was shocked, and the first thing she did was try to fight us. She fell over sideways in the bathroom, trying to wiggle to her hooves as though she’d forgotten she needed all four of them to stand.

We got out of her way in a hurry; didn’t take long for the pony to reduce herself to a quivering, pained mass from all her struggling. I think the first real words I understood from her were “I’m hungry.” Can’t tell, they got pretty buried in everything else.

The pony’s name is Moriah Strickland. We learned this once we had carried her back into the bedroom, and replaced her in the bed she’s been resting in these last several days. She was barely coherent, and very little of what she said came through as English words. Still, we’d understood the thing about food. Sky left to prepare an early supper while I tried to calm the mare down.

It worked, eventually. I was glad as she started to seem more and more relaxed, though I was also worried she would go back to sleep or slip back into her coma. Surely her fighting had taken much of her energy, energy she could scarcely afford after subsisting on honey and flour-water for the last several days.

She didn’t sleep though, and once I told her who I was (couldn’t get anything out of her without going first), she explained her situation. No, I’m not sure if I believe it. But she was very convincing. IF she’s an actor, she’s an exceptional one.

According to, Moriah, she was making a night flight around Los Angeles, racking up a few more logged evening hours to bring her closer to her pilot’s license, when she must’ve dozed off at the controls.

I did my best to remember her exact words for this next part, because they seem so strange and this seems like the sort of thing I should try to remember. What if she slips back into a coma? This doesn’t seem like the sort of information we should risk losing.

“It was like flying through lightning, only I’ve never flown through lightning. Woke up with white all around me, and the whole cockpit shaking. Suddenly I was looking up at the flight controls from below, and my whole body felt like it didn’t fit in the seat.”

She went on to describe finding out she’d been transformed, though she hadn’t been able to get a good look at herself. She was, after all, still flying a plane, soaring down the coast at about four thousand feet with fuel constantly draining.

According to her, she couldn’t radio the tower, and couldn’t do any fine navigation anymore. It was all she could do bouncing between the yoke and the pedals to bring the plane into a gradual descent. The whole coast was pitch black, but she found a single fire and a few tiny electric lights, and she honed in on those.

She said that sand wasn’t the worst thing to use for an emergency landing. She would’ve preferred water if she thought she could’ve swam as a tiny animal. I can only take her word for it, since I don’t know how to use planes.

You can guess where the rest of the story goes from there. The fire she found was ours and we rescued her. I told her all of that, and she seemed relieved. Sky arrived with her food and she started to sip a thin broth while we talked.

Obviously there’s one glaring flaw with this story, I’m sure you’ve noticed it by now. I had to ask Moriah several times to make sure it wasn’t just misspeaking somehow.

Yes, she was describing a flight that had taken place on the night of the 23rd of May. No, she had not been a pony when she took off. No, California hadn’t been experiencing a “power failure” when she took off. Yes, she had been able to use her radio during the flight until then no problem.

When we told her that everybody vanished, she seemed angry, confused, and disbelieving. She continues to refuse to believe us, even though we showed her the dead city out the window. Said she’ll “believe it when she sees it.” If Moriah is acting, she’s damn good at it.

Unfortunately anything that might’ve corroborated her story was lost in the explosion, and the rest was probably washed out to sea by now. Even if tiny planes like that had flight data recorders (they often don’t), it isn’t as though we have any way of tracking it in the bottom of the ocean as tiny horses.

For all that she doesn’t believe us, she’s convincing in other ways. She was as bad at feeding herself as I was on the first day, spilling two bowls and eventually just giving up and slurping it. When I told her her horn had to be amputated, she had just laughed it off and said “guess it won’t block my view of the sky then.”

The heck is wrong with this pony?! How can she be so nonchalant about giving up the magic that makes Joe’s life so much easier? Okay, we didn’t actually tell her about the magic, and Joe was too frightened to come in and visit her. Seriously, he was worse even than the way he is around Sky and me. One of his own kind, and he couldn’t even stop in to say hello. That’s how much her injuries disturb him. She’s not even slightly phased by them.

That’s not even the strangest thing she said. At one point she asked me to hold a mirror behind her, so she could look. I thought she was looking at her butt mark, but her comments made it pretty clear she wasn’t. “Am I female?” she asked. We told her yes. She just went quiet, and we didn’t press her.

We couldn’t interrogate her (as much as I wanted to). She was weak and tired, and after her meal she needed to rest again. We left her to do that, though we also put a walkie-talkie by the bed she can use to get Sky or me if she needs anything during the night.

I look forward to learning more about Moriah, other than that she was trying to do more night flying and that the date she claims to have come from just doesn’t mesh with the reality we know.

She can’t possibly hope we’ll buy a lie that big, right? What is she really hiding? The acting is so good, it must be rehearsed… unless it’s not. Maybe we’ll learn more tomorrow. I hope the poor pony isn’t bedridden for too long. I know I’d go insane. Two days in the hospital was way too much for me.

The rest of us got together to talk about what we thought. They were all pretty reticent, Joseph actually more than Sky for once. Our running theory is that the impact that fractured her horn also caused a severe concussion, and she forgot the events leading up to her takeoff. Small aircraft like that wouldn’t have had a terribly large range. Unfortunately this is California, which means there are probably a dozen or more place she could’ve taken off in range of a tiny plane’s tank.

Only one detail about that theory disturbs me: the first part of her story, about flying at night. That’s obviously a plausible reason to be up in the air in the dark, but that’s just the problem. I’m not a doctor, but this seems like very convenient memory loss if that’s the case. A chunk just the right size that circumstances around it seem to make it fit into memory.

I feel like I’m missing something, something important. Joesph still hasn’t cracked the code, much to our chagrin. He says he’s close, though I’m not sure if he’s really being honest or just telling us what we want to hear.

The code changed again today. I almost didn’t notice, except that I always go upstairs in the evening to see if anyone has noticed my transmission and check on the number station. Its transmission is: “15-17-21-4-6-3-2-15-0-21-4-8-0-20-22-6-12-3-15-26-4-11-6-20-7-17-20-21-4-21-1-20-23-12-23-17-20-21-5-4-0-3-4-20-17-1-22-0-5-4-21-6-8-20-6-16-0-3-22-17”

You’d think that having more and more of this stuff would make it easier and easier on Joe to get this stuff into English. Apparently that isn’t the case, though his explanation as to why went over my head. Tomorrow we will try to get Moriah onto her hooves. Despite having a buttsymbol, she continues to insist that she has no idea how to walk, and even tilting her plane into a landing had been almost impossible. Joseph still hasn’t told her about magic, and neither have any of us. I don’t want to think about how much worse it would be to have magic and lose it than to never have had it at all.

Of course, there also haven’t been any more magic circles that she might be able to use to download things into her brain. Maybe it’s impossible to learn magic without that, I don’t know.

Oh, and one other quick note. You can tell I live in California because this is newsworthy: It rained today. Had to have been less than half an inch, but it was godsend for the plants and even better for the cistern. Too bad we get most of our meager downfall in November and December usually. That's an awful long way to wait. We might not even still be here. Still, felt wonderful. Spent a full hour just running in the rain with Sky. Felt like we could fly out there. Stopped an hour or so after sundown, and lots of it started turning right back to steam. Whatever. Enjoy it while it lasts I guess.

—A

Chapter 24: June 26-27

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June 26, 2015

Dear Journal,

Moriah isn’t out of bed yet, but she woke up just like anyone else this morning and she’s been difficult ever since. She’s practically demanded we make clothes for her immediately, which is understandable though it entirely fails on the priorities. Sky took her measurements, and I’m gonna pick up what I can today while I’m out doing my usual salvage. She can join the backward pants club with Joe, or perhaps she’d prefer athletic shorts with me. I guess she’s decided not to be a nudist, that’s a decision I can get behind. Eh, see what I did there?

It’s funnier when you say everything out loud. Text-to-speech programs never appreciate me.

Today’s salvage agenda: become a criminal. Well, trespass on federal land. Los Angeles Air Force Base, baby. Back again, though not the way mom always wanted. Officer training, balls, that whole deal. She got a loser and a mechanic instead. Whatever. I got in after all!

Needless to say, the security was considerably more lax than it used to be (not that a single checkpoint was ever very strict). What were we looking for? Hardware. The shooty kind. What are we going to shoot? How are we going to shoot? No idea, but at least the option’s open now. Stored it all in the basement in a locked room, crates and crates of these import guns that I’m sure nobody in the air force actually wanted to shoot.

Ever heard of a p90? Probably not, since there aren’t nations and stuff anymore. It’s a little baby gun, light enough that I could easily carry it on my shoulder and with basically zero recoil. I don’t know if we’ll ever need guns again, but it seems like the perfect weapon for a pony. Small, light, with box magazines even hooves can get undone. Aiming will still be a problem, but I’ll work on that. Maybe. If I have time. Not starving is still first priority. I’ll just sleep a little sounder knowing I’ve got these little guys in the basement. Plenty of other toys too, things we’ll probably never need. Brought in as much as Sky’s pickup could carry. Honestly, she wasn’t too happy about using it for that.

But we got a good inventory of what the base had in terms of supplies: not very much. I want to find the huge crates full of thousands of MREs, so we can get them frozen and stored ASAP. Those meals might be a critical supply for us when we’re trying to build a colony one day.

Of course, to have any hope at a colony, we need the hooves building it. Having another female will be a huge blessing, but it’s nowhere near enough. We need more diversity than just a few can provide. We also need strong, hardworking ponies. Will Moriah work hard, or will she stay inside and build a mesh network all day? Will she be another Joe?

Oh, he’s done with that now, and I guess those are pretty cool. Okay, more than just “pretty cool.” Maybe I can excuse him for a little of his time-wasting if we can actually get this whole system to work for us (how long?). The idea incorporates the local network in our house with a connection to the Iridium satellite network.

You wanna talk about a system we can’t rely on indefinitely, that’s a good one. But whatever, use what we can while we can. You’ve got these little box-lookin’ things, which Bluetooth with your phone and give it satellite connectivity so long as you’ve got a clear sky. He’s got the house set up to look like another peer on the network, and he’s written an app and blah blah blah computers.

Don’t you have to pay for satellite phone service? How did he get this thing to work? How are the satellites still working with all their ground stations offline? So many questions! I didn’t understand any of his answers, and he got frustrated and just said “I used my unicorn magic, okay!”

We tested the system today though and I was able to make a call back to him while out getting the supplies with Sky. Way more delay than I’m used to, but he said that part was normal. It’s better than the cellular service we were getting before, which was nothing.

Apparently if we want to use it long term we’re gonna have to bring power back to at least one of its offices and do a thing. Something to do with GPS or something. According to him, the nearest one is in Sacramento. It’s not a terribly long trip, but if we don’t get it done, the system won’t last nearly as long. I don’t understand all the technical details, it’s beyond me.

Point is, he wants to make a trip north, and for once I’m having a hard time coming up with ways to say no. Satellite phones, if we can get them working, would enable communication worldwide. Granted, nobody’s called us using the system (yet), so if there’s anyone operating this whole technical mess, they haven’t noticed us abusing their services.

That’s another advantage to finding the office, though. From there, we’ll be able to look at usage worldwide. Make calls to any units we want. He says we could camp there a few days, and he could call every customer in the world using a program. All we have to do is figure out a way to get power to the building.

Lots of other advantages to the trip, besides just this phone thing. Sacramento is a big city, another population center. The chances of finding other survivors have to be pretty good. Okay, it wasn’t nearly as big as LA. Maybe we should visit San Diego and see if anyone’s gone crazy yet from being alone for a month. Future trips, maybe?

Is it safe, though? That I’m less sure about. What if we break down going up the grapevine or something? I used to be able to fix anything, but that was back when I had hands. We might be stuck walking fifty miles through emptiness. Not a positive prospect.

If we were willing to wait, we might be able to use another resource we only just got our hooves on: a pilot. Moriah clearly had a less than successful flight the last time she tried it… but could she do better with a few weeks of practice? There are plenty of tiny planes nearby she could play with, see if she can find one to her liking. Having a pilot could change the game, at least while there is still high-octane fuel to burn in our engines. Ponies everywhere would see the plane flying, would know that there were other survivors. It could bring information to cities all over the country much faster than we could drive (and safer too).

But Moriah can’t get out of bed yet. Joe’s not at the top of the list of the ponies I’d like to take a trip alone with. He’s too smart, he’s awkward, and he’s a stallion, an obvious drawback in people I’m going to be alone with for long periods. Granted, the choices here are limited. He’s the one who knows what to do. Sky’s the one who knows how to keep the farm machinery churning, and Moriah is still new enough that changing over her caregivers might not be a good idea. Sky’s still the closest pony we have to a real doctor.

So maybe one advantage then; if he’s with me, he isn’t going to be alone with Sky. I think I know what might happen if they were alone together. Even if it might be better for us if they did.

Not taking my new car for this trip. We’ll be in a new environment, with all new potential dangers. Finding a new place to live would be one of the worst of those. As silly as it feels to be driving it so far, I think it’s the RV’s time to shine again. We’ll bring a nice long siphon to refuel at gas stations along the way. Toss a few of those new guns in there just in case, along with fully loaded saddlebags in case we’re forced to abandon it. Should be a great field test of the phones, if nothing else. Joe’s so sure it’s going to work he’s not going to bring any music to listen to during the drive: he’s going to stream it all from his computer back home.

Whatever Joe, we’ll see. We know you’re smarter than us. Let’s see just how much smarter.

—A

June 27, 2015

Dear Journal,

Today was the day. Today began THE GREAT SATELLITE HUNT.

It didn’t take long to get all the supplies we wanted into the RV, since we’d already packed it pretty good. Mostly came down to topping off the water, refilling the fridge, and stuffing some saddlebags for trail-living should the need require it. It’s already got solars on the roof (not enough to run everything, but enough to keep the fridge running or pump water every now and then).

Joe (and for once I’m glad he’s such a typical stallion) thought the gun thing was way cooler than it is. He insisted in taking the thing out to shoot, which was okay I guess. He’s honestly way more likely to hit anything than I am with his cheating magic, so better he know how anyway. I walked him through it (though I’d only learned anything from reading the instructions that came in the boxes, I’ve never shot a gun like this before). He’s pretty okay I guess. They’re not terribly long-range weapons, but at least I know if a mountain lion or something comes at us we’ll be able to put it down.

After those were safely stowed under the dining room seats and a satellite receiver was bracketed to the roof, our RV was ready to go. Sky saw us off, regretted she couldn’t come, but promised she would keep the base from burning down while we were gone. Said she would keep her new phone on her at all times and tell us if even something minor happened.

My buddy Huan wanted to come, and I was glad for that. He’s one big dog, bigger than me (but not stupid Joseph), and big enough to scare off lesser predators. I hope? At least we’ll be warned by the barking. Much to Joseph’s chagrin, my dog got the passenger seat. My car, my rules.

We drove until evening, but it was already pretty late when we left. Must be most of the way to Sacramento now. Lots of fields, but I’m sorry to report that the only life I saw was animal. Apparently some of those huge beef herds escaped their enclosures, because we saw them roaming around everywhere, grazing and stuff. Horses were out too, though there were fewer of them. Most of the animals stopped and stared at us as we passed down the road. I wonder if they could see the pony and the dog through the big glass windows in front. Maybe they were just startled to see another car pass by after so long.

Didn’t want to be tired when we got into town, so I didn’t keep going the rest of the way. Parked in a rest-stop, between a pair of semis that look like they’ve got about a month’s dust. How are they still here? Whatever.

Tomorrow we’ll make it into town, find this office. We’ll have to get it power, which might involve a few days work. Not sure. We’ll find out when we get there. Seems like Joseph may’ve been right about these phones, because we called back to Sky and she was able to talk to us. Still an annoying delay compared to the way phones used to be, but I guess there’s no getting around that.

Tomorrow, adventure!

—A

Chapter 25: June 28-July 2

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June 28, 2015

Dear Journal,

Welcome to the city of trees! Most trees per capita in the world, that’s what the sign says! I guess it’s… probably not true while we’re here. Two more ponies in one place probably changes the population a great deal. God, what I wouldn’t do for a whole capita. That’d be a colony. Probably plenty of ponies who know more about running things than I do. Let someone better take over. I’ll fix your cars.

Okay, probably can’t count on that. Won’t be boring. Got into the new city, totally different wildlife here. Not as many big predators, lots of raccoons and squirrels and stuff. Few bobcats, but they’re smaller than we are (barely). Guess the natives did a little better here than further south with all this nature around.

Found Joseph’s building, intact. No signs of habitation yet, but we haven’t searched very wide. Went in, found the power dead, and the backup generators (pretty much anything communications-related has them) out of fuel. Brought in gallons and gallons and the office was in business again. Turned on my big boom-box again, because how better to attract the ponies than with awesome tunes. Can still hear the radio broadcast from LA, and the satellite signal is coming in clear.

Not really sure what Joseph did for most of the day. I’m going to call it computer magic, if that’s okay. He’s doing something he thinks will keep the system working longer. Disabling things that would shut the satellites down as the GPS starts to drift, stuff like that. “It’s not a perfect fix” he says over and over. Keeping this station powered is going to make a huge difference for the satellites up there. It has programs to do… something something… course corrections… science stuff.

It all sounds like magic to me. The one question I keep coming back to is: how long will it last? A few more months? Years? I got an encouraging answer, or at least more encouraging than having a new pony delivered to you in a near-fatal aircraft accident. He says that we’ll probably still have some use of the system ten or even twenty years from now, because science science smart pony reasons.

Whenever someone gives me an estimate like this, I cut it in half. Five years of global communication. Five years to travel far and wide and bring the ponies in to build a community. Would it be possible to fix the problems with the GPS network the same way? We’d probably need to visit several different stations to do that. How many solar panels would it take?

Of course, I’m getting ahead of myself. Here we are moving through the state like we’re the masters now. Everyone else is gone, so we’re free to do what we want with what’s left. But is that even really true? Maybe there are thousands of ponies we haven’t found yet, like… if the depopulation was concentrated somewhere close to California and spread out over the country, so that the east is still full. Not sure why we wouldn’t have heard from them by now…

NYC. Got to go there soon as we can. If the depopulation was even across the globe, then we’ll find more ponies there than anywhere else in the US. Hopefully they made a way for themselves all this time. Wonder if they’ll want to start a colony with us.

Digression. Tomorrow we’re going to find some solar stuff. Have to convert another truck first. Joseph can earn his keep and levitate the panels in while I work. We’ll blanket the roof in the things. Getting power to last at night would be harder, but… one miracle at a time. We’re trying to work fast, after all.

Probably will be too tired to say much these next few days, but I’ll make sure to if anything important happens. No meaningful news from home, so that’s probably for the best. Huan keeps me company better than Joe could. He’s a good dog.

—A

June 29, 2015
[The following entry is not typed, but written in large letters, still taking up the whole page but better looking than the last ones]

Dear Journal,


Joseph is such a lazy jerk! Couldn’t be bothered to do anything useful. Doesn’t work nearly hard enough. Stupid sitting on his stupid computer all day. He came with me to the warehouse, but only after I’d already found it. Mostly I used a forklift to do the work, after I converted the damn thing. Remind me again why I bother keeping this guy around? Impossible to get along with. If Sky were only here. We could play monopoly until Joe decided to pull his weight.

—A

June 30, 2015

Work work work. Flat roof solar on top I’ve been working all the livelong day. Joe just puts them up there and I do everything. Run out of room. Will have to use stands on the ground too. Can’t break the panel. Rechargeable tools all by myself. Velcro and hard work. Smell like death, way more humid up here. I knew Joseph wouldn’t come up, ditched the shorts while I was working, so damn sweaty.

Useless. Is it him or me?

—A

July 1, 2015

[Particularly sloppy]

No work like stallion’s work. No stallions work. Solar panels going roofside signals. No satellites wish Sky. Hugs

July 2, 2015

[typed entries resume]
Dear Journal,

I thought about cutting out the last two entries, didn’t seem like they were adding anything constructive to the journal here. It would actually be more work to take them out though, since I just wrote right on the pages. Whatever. Just skip over a few dumb pages. Way easier than what I did.

Nothing’s better to get through stress than hard work. It was harder to do everything without another pony to help (like Sky), but I didn’t really want to be around Joseph. Got the whole roof done, and that’s enough power to do plenty of stuff during the day apparently. The whole building is filled with those UPS battery things, and Joseph has already written a program to shut everything down at night and start it up again about ten once the sun’s come up in force.

Not a perfect solution, but we don’t have too terribly much time to devote to this. I find myself more and more grateful for all those green energy subsidies before the Event. Solar tech has come a long way, and now there are panels everywhere right for the taking. I keep this kind of work up, and I’ll be an electrician yet.

I wonder what our union seal would look like. Maybe some hooves and horns and coils of wire or something. Not that unions really make sense when there aren’t even enough of us not to go extinct, and at present I am totally unwilling to help bolster those numbers.

How anyone else could even consider. Damnit, Sky! How can you be thinking… it’s only been a month! Were all those nihilist philosophers right all along? The human animal, that’s all we ever were. Not me, dammit. Never me. If she wants a tiny horse for a boyfriend, then more power to her. Not me.

Sacremento always had fewer people than Los Angeles. I would count myself lucky if we could find just one. We haven’t yet, though I have seen evidence that a few shops and things have been looted. Grocery store was broken into, so that’s a good sign. Maybe our rock music scared them away. I’ll switch to the national anthem, maybe. Something safe.

Joseph is having more trouble than he initially thought he would integrating with the satellite network, but he says it’s “inevitable” he’ll figure it out, working from within the network and not having anyone trying to shut him out. One or two more days, tops. I still need his help with anything that requires anything more than tacit precision, but I’ve been making do. You wouldn’t believe how much work can be accomplished with some simple levers and dragging and your mouth. Industrious little horsy, that’s me.

Not by choice. I’d probably have finished yesterday if I’d been human, with hands and without distractions. Whatever. If I’d still been human, there probably would’ve still been other humans, and I’d still be working the garage. I miss my friends. I miss my mom, my sister. I hope they’re okay. Maybe I’ll be able to make a trip up to Oregon soon, check to see if they made it.

Shut up, it’s not impossible! It might be genetic! Neither Joseph nor Cloudy Skies have any relatives nearby, so how would we know? And Moriah, well… relatives are the least of our unanswered questions about her.

Learned from Cloudy about things back home. Lake is drying up; she gives it another month before it’s totally dry. There are a few smaller ponds in town, but none terribly close. Either we’ll need much more power (and a few industrial water extractors), or a way to syphon water from the river. We don’t have any plumbers, but she said she’s going to find the nearest access to the river and see what sort of flexible hoses she can find around the city. Maybe we can daisy-chain some fireman-style hoses and a few industrial pumps. It’s not like water for the cattle has got to be sparkling like dew literally sucked from the air.

Moriah is up and moving, walking short distances. Sky says she’s “doing super great”, but that she’s tripping over herself like a foal and she probably won’t be able to walk properly for another week or so. None of her memories have come back either, except one: there is something important in the plane. She seems to think it may’ve survived, and wants to make a trip to get it.

Sorry Moriah, but that little plane has probably washed out to sea by now. We plan on taking a trip to find out, but only after we make it back home. If it hasn’t washed out yet, I don’t think another day or two will make much difference. Not that I think it’s likely anything could’ve survived. Maybe if she was carrying something in a fire-safe, but otherwise not a chance.

We will make something of this world yet. There have got to be others out there somewhere. We’ll find you, ponies scattered to the winds. Whoever, whatever did this to us, we’ll show them we can’t be stamped out so easily.

—(not) Lonely Day

Chapter 26: July 3

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Dear Journal,

Success! It’s good to be right every now and then. Okay, all the time. Because I was right. For once it wasn’t about something depressing, either. We’ll build this colony yet!

I finished installing about 10 kilowatts worth of panels on the roof and the grounds all around the office, earlier than I ever could’ve thought possible. It’s kinda funny how hard work just sorta blurs together. Get started, and next thing I know I’m already finishing up. Take that, everybody. I might not have magic or wings but I can still get things done. Try and stop me, I dare you.

Joseph was still doing computer things, so I stepped out to wander around the city. Huan kept me company, though I had mace with me too in case we ran into something dangerous. We didn’t, though as I got further from the office, I noticed something I hadn’t.

Singing. It wasn’t very loud, the voice haunting in the early evening. Good thing I hadn’t turned the music on so loud while I was working. Haunting, old-world song about a fairy who can’t leave her wood. I’ve never heard the song before; folk was never really my thing. But as clear as it came, it clearly wasn’t electronic. It was a pony. In person. Leading me right to him with his voice.

My ears are very good, and it wasn’t hard at all to follow the voice back to its source: the hospital.

I wasn’t the only one drawn in by the sound: dozens of squirrels and birds had stopped to listen too, clearly watching the building with too-intelligent eyes. They barely seemed to notice me at all.

Whatever, that’s okay. I didn’t really want them too. I’m just glad Huan didn’t chase any of them; I know how much dogs like to chase squirrels. My old one sure did.

I had to walk all the way around the parking lot to find the speaker, though I couldn’t see them at first. There was a garden back here, in much better shape than any further south (much more rainfall I guess). It didn’t look like any garden I’d ever seen, though. Rather, it looked like the Garden of Eden come to Earth again.

A cobblestone path (probably pre-Event) was more or less the only way through. Huge sunflowers rose on the edges, with blankets of forget-me-nots and daisies and hundreds of others. A few oaks stood beside mature apple and pear trees, in a loose ring. The path led to a gazebo, and it was there I found the pony.

He was like me, lacking horn or wings, built sturdier-looking than either of the other two (species, breeds?). His body was purplish, mane bright. Granted, I couldn’t see too terribly much of his body; he was wearing a tailored coat, like any doctor from the hospital a few feet away might have worn, only trimmed and adjusted to fall over his back, his forelegs in the sleeves and the middle tied around his barrel.

He didn’t notice me at first, which was fine. I wanted to hear how the song ended. His jacket was dusted with dirt, and the pockets held gardening tools instead of medical ones. As I watched, he passed between the plants, trimming a rose-bush with the shears. His song was interrupted briefly as he ate one of the blossoms, biting it right off the plant.

Don’t they eat roses in Asia or something? I can’t remember now. Guess we eat them here too now. “We.”

“Excuse me,” I eventually said, as quietly as I could. “I don’t want to interrupt you.” I still did. Kindof an empty thing to say now that I think about it.

He jumped, ears and tail going alert. Funny how much easier it is to see pony emotions, even when you can’t get a clear view of the face. I think our scents change too, but I don’t actually know how to tell that apart yet. It’s all musky stallion to me, something the RV has enough of to saturate my clothes as it is. Well, clothes and saddle-bags. Everything. When are they bringing dry cleaning back? Pity it uses so many freaky chemicals. Maybe we can get an industrial washer for the colony. We’ve got the whole world full of essential oils.

Anyway, pony introduced himself as “Oliver Pittman”, at least when he’d calmed down enough to speak. Had he heard us playing loud music in town? Yeah, and he’d heard the generator running too. According to him, he hadn’t wanted to “let himself down” by going to investigate it but not finding anything. “If someone was really here, they would find me. If not you would go away. I knew it would work out.”

We swapped stories in the garden there. Oliver has been completely alone in the city for the last month, barring an exception I’ll go into later. He is (or was) a doctor doing his residency at the hospital here, though he’s originally from the other side of the country. He “didn’t see the point” of leaving the hospital when everything went bad, since they’re so well stocked for disasters. Stretched things as best he could, running the generator for just a few hours a day and going out for fuel every few days. His first priority had been keeping the medical freezer running, and he had given up everything else (including electric lights, running water, hot food) in order to do so.

Gardening had always been one of his hobbies, and he’d taken over the grounds to have something to occupy his time (when not scavenging fuel or batteries). My question was (as you can probably guess) why his hospital had kept the garden so overgrown. He answered that they hadn’t, but that it’d just been a few flowers and a few seedling fruit trees when he started.

I’m not sure exactly how to put it, “the plants are all listening,” something like that. According to Dr. Pittman, a little attention was all it took to make them grow like they were some freak GE experiments gone wrong. He told me how he’d eventually got so sick of dried cereal that he had tried some of the plants in the garden, and found he could eat almost all of them.

I’m not sure if difficult is quite the right word for this pony. Generous? I don’t know. He wouldn’t let me go any further without trying several different parts of the different flowers and shrubs… picked and washed into a salad of sorts. Damn you, Doctor. I’ve resigned myself to eating my produce from cans.

I’ve never had a salad that good in my life. People aren’t supposed to eat most of those ingredients, I don’t think. Some of those leaves were right on the twigs they’d come from. It was basically just garden clippings rinsed and drizzled with a little sugar-water.

Plenty of the supermarket veggies had tasted that good. But it’s been almost a month since I’ve eaten them fresh. Too long. We really should’ve started a garden sooner.

I told Oliver about our little colony, and it seemed like nothing I could say would make him willing to even consider leaving the hospital behind. You know what did it?

Yeah, it’s when I talked about Moriah. An injured pony, one who might not recover correctly without the ministrations of a real doctor. I may’ve exaggerated her condition a tad (not that much!), but whatever. We need him. He can’t spend his life alone tending to an empty hospital in an empty city! How can the loneliness not be driving him insane?

Oliver had conditions. He wants us to bring the drugs with us, the ones he’s been carefully preserving all this time. To do that, we will have to find and convert a freezer truck. He can drive the RV, while I drive the truck, and we can caravan back to “civilization.” Not that I wouldn’t want to do that anyway. Will we need any of those drugs before they go bad? Not sure, but it does seem a shame to let all his hard work over the last month go to waste.

Oliver wants another few days to get everything in order. We’ll take at least that long retrofitting a truck to drive and loading all the drugs into it. Besides, Joseph hasn’t finished yet. He said it would probably take days to call every phone on the network, and somebody would have to be there in case anyone answers. He plans on also sending a “system” message to every phone, a status text up to 128 characters long. Plenty of useful messages we could send, even without the ability to send anything longer.

Only one thing Oliver said disturbed me more than his talk of the impossibly-fast garden. It was connected to the reason he hadn’t come to investigate us. He’s been hearing engines overhead sometimes, and said he’s seen “military planes” flying high above. Can he be telling the truth? I’m not sure why he would lie about something like that. It isn’t as though we haven’t seen our own private confirmation that airplanes can be flown (badly) by ponies. Some of them had “sounded like helicopters.” Could ponies ever hope to operate such complicated aircraft?

I haven’t seen any in the time I’ve been here, though it’s possible we failed to hear the sound of them passing overhead since we had music playing so loudly at night. A mistake we intend to correct.

It seems weird that every pony we’ve found so far has useful skills. Yeah, even Joseph. Why haven’t we run into more fry cooks, retail salesman, and pencil pushers? One farmer (cook), one mechanic (handyman), one programmer (hacker), and now a doctor (gardener). Hey, if anybody’s up there listening, can we get a civil engineer and a chemist next? Maybe someone who knows how to work those 3D printers. Wait, Joseph could probably do that if I asked. Um… a mechanical engineer? Material scientist? Bureaucrats need not apply.

Is this just an accident, though? Just a coincidence? Or does it suggest some sort of guiding intelligence? Maybe if we knew more about the criteria for staying behind, we could guess at the motivations of whatever force did this.

Oliver doesn’t think so. When we talked today, he seemed to think that, whatever did this is so vastly beyond us that we’ll never stand a chance of comprehending it. It’s like a surgery. Sometimes you can save a patient, sometimes you can’t. All we can do is make the best with what we have. Knowing what caused it won’t change the fact it happened.

He’s right about that, I guess. I don’t know if I can give up on knowing so easy, though. Haven’t given up on reversing this.

Mom, Jennifer… I didn’t forget you. I’m coming. Soon, I hope. I love you.

—A

Here's Oliver. He looks way more like a stallion than Joseph does. I guess he lifts or something.

Chapter 27: July 4

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[The following entry is clearly written by “hand”, sprawling from one page to the next]
July 4, 2015

Diary,

I think I’m safe in here. God, I hope so. I don’t hear engines anymore. I think they’ve all gone. I’m not going to chance the laptop, just in case. Talking would be too loud, and anyway Joseph would hear what I was saying. No thanks. Time to start practice writing for real. If I can draw, I can write.

Oliver the regular pony (like me! :) ) was right. There were aircraft passing overhead here in Sacramento. Only they didn’t just pass overhead, they landed.

It was in the late afternoon, and I was with Oliver in the hospital garden (Joseph didn’t want my help and the power situation was taken care of), when we heard them, roaring down from the northeast. It sounded like a flock of helicopters (do helicopters come in flocks?), roaring towards us. I ran out from the cool garden and got my first good look at the two of them.

Two aircraft, flying in fairly tight formation. I’d never seen their like before, not when I had been studying every different plane and helicopter and other craft used by the USAF. Black, elegant birds, with the strange angles of radar deflection. Their main means of locomotion appeared to be massive props integrated into the stubby wings, which could rotate independently of the craft. I know that, because I watched from the shelter of the trees as they circled the airport perhaps a mile from where I stood, shifting smoothly into a hover and beginning to descend.

One of them was quite large, not quite Galaxy proportions but nearly as massive. The other was much smaller, about the size of a bus.

Can’t say I felt good about this, so the first thing I did was call Joseph. Thank god I did; he’d been too absorbed with his work to notice anything. Told him to shut everything down and hide somewhere. Who knew what was going to happen, but I didn’t like the idea of whoever was flying in those mysterious airplanes finding us. He was to take the ditch bags (where I kept this journal) and hide in the basement of the most boring building he could find, far away from the satellite office. Told him to move his ass faster than he’d ever moved before.

Maybe it was the anger and fear in my voice, but he didn’t argue for once. I’d already brought Oliver a new radio, and he seemed just as eager to hide. I told Huan to stay with him, and the dog actually listened. Like, seriously, I just shouted and he did it.

Ditched everything I was carrying except the gun and my radio, then galloped off for the airport faster than I’ve ever run before. Good thing I’ve been wearing my shoes full-time now. Galloping is really loud on hard surfaces, but the “pony sneakers” kept it from being any louder than a running human. Probably made better time than I could’ve when I was human. Finally starting to get good enough that the body is an advantage instead of a detriment.

Made it to a hilly street overlooking the airport through all the trees (this city has a lot of trees), and I could see the big one touching down. Each one had three letters painted in bright white on the black, “HPI”. At least, I think that’s what they were.

The airships landed, taking up much of the runway and taxiway left vacant when humanity vanished. Ramps on the rear of both airships opened. From the larger came several vehicles, though only one rolled out of the tiny one.

All were black and totally enclosed, like more graceful versions of the APCs fighting in the Middle East. I didn’t recognize any of them, though they had the same “HPI” logo painted in bold white letters.

One parked by the airships (at least, that’s how it looked from my distance), while two more turned away and started driving rapidly towards the road access (and me). A flatbed cargo vehicle without a visible driver (automated) followed between the armored cars, a huge container on its back.

I wouldn’t have long to find somewhere to hide. I picked a nearby building (the tallest I could find) and started climbing as fast as I could. Kept listening, but the armored cars barely made any noise at all. Did they even have engines?

Whatever, I kept glancing at the windows, so I didn’t miss them as they went by. Either they hadn’t seen me from a distance, or they didn’t care. Didn’t even slow down as they went by with their nearly-silent cars, speeding away towards the heart of the city and my friends.

Was it stupid of us to hide? You might say: You’ve been doing everything you could to get noticed for a month, and now something big finally seems to be headed your way. Instead of running to that rescue you’ve been waiting for, you run away. Why?

I’m not sure I can explain it. I just… got this feeling. The closer I was, the worse it got. The whole back of my mane stood up and my insides got cold. I felt afraid, terror in my chest worse than when Sky cast the foam for my boots and my legs were immobilized for almost an hour straight.The closer those trucks got, the worse it felt. Nearly ran away from the window while they were passing by. Nearly pissed myself.

There was nothing natural about that feeling. It was gone as soon as the trucks were a mile or so down the road, and I could think again. The planes just sat there, pretty much. Nobody or nothing emerged, not to refuel from what had to be ample supplies at the airport. Not to get more food, nothing. Come to think of it, there were no windows visible on any of them. Call it a hallucination, but as it got dark, I thought I saw little sparks glowing along the surface of each plane, like each one had a bolt of lightning locked up inside that was leaking through the cracks.

I didn’t feel tired this time. Kept climbing, all the way to the roof. Dared the satellite phone then, because I didn’t know what was going to happen and I didn’t want anything to happen to us without telling Sky. Told her about the ships, told her the direction they were flying and that I wanted her to start loading up the animals into the truck as soon as possible. If the caravan continued south, I wanted her to take everything back to the farm.

For once, I didn’t feel the least bit tired. Used my hoof to break into a vending machine for the snacks. I knew the motorcade was coming back by the grinding, empty feeling in my chest, and I forced myself to watch at the window. Motorcade loaded back into the airships, one by one. Ramps closed, and rotors roared to life. They took off almost as one, rising up into the sky.

Just as I feared, they flew south, almost exactly along the highway that leads to Los Angeles. I was super panicked, but I tried to make myself sound normal when I called Sky. She was already prepared, truck already loaded with our herd, just waiting for the signal to leave. She would drive them with Moriah’s help. Said she’d be fine and not to worry.

But I am worried about her! Sky’s my friend! First friend I made after this whole disaster started. Nothing, nothing that makes me feel as empty and frightened as those trucks did could be good. Nothing at all. We have to stay away. We can’t let them find us.

When the planes were gone, I kept calling Joseph until he answered, told me where to find him. I said I’d head over as soon as I investigated where the ships had landed. I forced myself back down to the ground floor. A bobcat along the way thought I’d make a great supper. After the stress of the day so far, poor thing didn’t even get the time of day. You know how hard ponies can buck? Hard enough to break bone, that’s how. That cat’s lucky I didn’t use the gun.

Made my way back safely, obviously. Joseph and I huddled into a basement to sleep, in case those planes come back. Wouldn’t want to be parked in an RV with prominent lights right there in the center of town. I asked him about the caravan, and he said it’d driven right past him on its way towards the outskirts of town, traveling very fast. He had felt similar discomfort, but he had been able to put words to it with his magic-horn-thing that I couldn’t with just my gut.

I don’t know how much of this I buy, but I’ll pass it along anyway because it’s the closest thing I have to an explanation right now. According to Joseph, there’s “magic” in everything. He can sense it, like a rattlesnake senses heat. It’s most concentrated in ponies, less so in animals, and only passes through everything else like a gradual breeze, hardly slowing down. The vehicles had been absolutely devoid of magic, like black holes drawing in all the magic that neared them and swallowing it. He looked downright revolted as he described this for me, though he was unable to explain why.

Magic. I wonder if I would’ve felt better if he used another word all this time. Like “energy” or “radiance” or “uncertainty” or something. Just because I’ve never been able to explain why his horn works the way it does doesn’t mean it’s really magical, does it?

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. Maybe this is a biotechnology. I couldn’t say these bodies aren’t really alive, not after seeing so much of Moriah’s insides. That blood was real.

I regret making it so easy to find us. I’ve been giving directions right to our base for all this time, thinking we would be leading ponies in our same predicament to us. We could join together in solidarity, spit in the face of a cruel fate.

Now I fear that maybe I made a serious mistake. Maybe it was better to live quietly. Die alone, but die peacefully.

Or maybe this is instinct talking. Maybe there’s nothing at all dangerous about those ships. They had English letters, I can only take that to mean they all had once human crews (unless they were drones I guess). None of it looked familiar, but none of it looked like stuff existing technology couldn’t do.

Could it have been a PMC? Or… the remains of one, salvaged by ponies? If so, WHY HAVEN’T THEY ANSWERED US?! Skill and determination like that is exactly what the dregs of humanity need.

Not sure what we’re going to do tomorrow. It’s the wee morning now, and I think the adrenaline is finally wearing off. I’ll turn off this lantern and go back to get some sleep. For once I’m glad to have another body close by. Maybe that’s an instinct too. Whatever. I’m too worn out to care right now.

—A

Chapter 28: July 5-7

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Dear Journal,

It’s a little earlier than when I usually record these. I’m alone in the truck, figure I might as well pass the time and get this stuff out of the way now. After last night, I’m getting tired and it isn’t even full dark yet. I know when we stop I’m going to want to drop dead and not have the energy left to do any journal-writing.

Satellite communications project is cancelled. Joseph added the office to our network as another node, I figure even if we can’t do the call thing he should at least be able to finish whatever configuration crap he was trying to do remotely. He agrees, though he doesn’t like it.

At a time like this, it seemed even stupider than normal to separate from our small group. The caravan didn’t get near the hospital, so Oliver never felt how… awful… being near it was. We couldn’t move him to see just how important this situation was. He insisted on the drugs, refusing to leave them behind. So Joseph went to help him load up a truck, while Huan and I did the hoof-handicap conversion. Okay, Huan watched my back while I did the hardware stuff, but you get the idea.

Amazing how fast a determined unicorn can load a truck. Joseph’s been getting better at his levitation; he lifted whole shrink-wrapped pallets like they were cardboard boxes on moving day. Filled the truck with contents of the hospital freezer, or at least the things Oliver determined were most important. I only helped with the last part of that process. Wasn’t as hard as it sounds, the hospital had such a great loading dock.

Naturally Oliver wanted to be the one to transport the drugs, felt like nobody but him could appreciate their value and drive with “appropriate care.” Unfortunately for him, I can drive a semi (much better than I could a month ago) and he can’t. Sorry, no time for training. No time to cater to your eccentricity when my friends are in danger.

Well, they might not be in danger. Maybe not. I feel awful leaving Cloudy Skies alone. We ought to face danger together, the same way we’ve been doing all this month. She’s too delicate to be alone, with only a recently rescued stranger. Maybe Moriah’s a great pony, just the kind of strong-willed mare our group needs.

But she’s not right now. Right now she’s injured and can barely walk. Sky needs me… and even Joseph. Moriah probably needs a real doctor, and now we’ve finally got one.

I’m starting to think being a little eccentric was also somehow the determining factor for being left behind. Left behind. Like that movie, only it’s not something I’m laughing at from the theater and there’s no god in sight. Interesting thought, though. What if the rapture crazy people on street corners were yelling about has come at least? Maybe it didn’t come exactly the way we thought it did; no Gog and Magog, no mark of the beast or any of that other insane stuff. Were the righteous caught up to meet God at his coming or were they all the wicked?

First magic, now religion. Next thing you know, I’ll be praying to a tribal spirit and pouring blood on a cactus. Blood for the blood god. Pony for the pone god.

No, no. Recent developments don’t change anything. Those airships weren’t divine, and they (absolutely) weren’t magic. They were iron and copper and steel. Blood? Not sure about the blood. Never saw a face. Never saw anything humanoid, or equinoid for that matter. No idea what was inside.

Vehicle looked like it was built to hold humans, but that doesn’t prove anything. Everything we drive was built to hold humans too, so it feels super roomy and spacious even when we know it shouldn’t. I bet we could save a fortune staying in the cheapest of cheap motels, cram a dozen ponies all in one room. I wish we had a dozen ponies to cram in one room

Sky and the cows arrived safely in that old farm, and she managed to get power to the well pumps somehow. Whatever. Once they got some water, they turned everything off again. Live electrical signals would be a beacon for those… people. What if they turn around and come upon the caravan driving down the highway? There’s nowhere to hide here, and even if we turn everything off… there are very few vehicles on the side of the road, and so many stretches of highway where there aren’t towns or anywhere to hide.

Just because something feels strange doesn’t mean it’s dangerous. It might, or it might not. Guess we’ll find out. There’s no way they could have hidden everything in the base in time. Sky says she didn’t turn off anything; the radio is still transmitting, the water generators are still water generating… there won’t be any mistaking that building for anything other than the home of living ponies. Now we see just what kind of ponies these are.

Looks like Oliver is moving to pull off. I’m feeling kinda tired myself, so that’s probably for the best. A little cramped in that RV: too many stallions. I think if Joseph pesters me again I’ll just sleep on the couch. Whatever.

Yeah, I’ll sleep in the buff in front of basically a total stranger. Yeah, I know it’s weird. It’s Sky’s fault, she’s the one who suggested I start at nighttime. Blame her if human culture goes extinct. Guess that’s better than all of us going extinct with it.

—A

July 6, 2015

Dear Journal,

Made it to Bakersfield. Sky said the planes went into the city and haven’t left. We’re going to stay here, hiding until they leave. She’ll call us as soon as it’s safe.

Good thing there’s so much diesel to scavenge. This trip would be really hard when all the fuel goes bad.

—Pone-A

July 7, 2015

[This entry is not typed, but written in slowly-improving handwriting.]
Dear Journal,

This waiting is downright infuriating! I don’t understand why the stupid aliens or soldiers or ponies or whoever they are can’t get the move on in Los Angles and let us come home.

We’re calling back to Sky every hour or so, without difficulty. Thank god Joseph transferred all the calling-related stuff to the office in Sacramento. Otherwise if (when, let’s be real) these soldiers found our base they would know what we were doing with the satellite phones. Seems like an organization with enough power to have a fleet of airships after everybody disappears probably has the resources to overhear (or shut down) our satellite phones.

Joseph has an interesting system in place to keep the phones working as long as possible: the phone shuts down automatically after five minutes on the line. We want to minimize system use, and that seems like a good way. He said before we left he managed to put the whole system into some kind of maintenance mode, which should make all calls free to anyone with a phone AND direct any calls to the operator to his master phone instead of wherever it would’ve gone.

We can only hope somebody thinks of using the system that way. How many people even know satelite phones are still a thing? I wasn’t on the list until Joseph told me. Damn unicorn and your smarts. Oliver is smart too, but he doesn’t cheat. He has to use his mouth like any pony else would.

I wonder if there’s some way to go back to the farm we didn’t think of. It isn’t like Sky ever wrote it down. She led me there from memory the one time we went, and there was no reason to ever expect we would be going back. I hope the dogs don’t tell them.

Is that something dogs could do?

Not Huan, he’s my buddy. He’s slept with me these last few days, and I’d rather have him in bed with me than either of the stallions (shiver). No safer way to sleep than with a gigantic animal who won’t hesitate to tear anyone apart who wants to hurt you. I’ve seen him do it; you don’t mess with a dog this size and not expect consequences. Am I warning anyone in particular? Not really. Just want every pony to know.

They can’t hear me. I’m not actually talking out loud. Not that I think the doctor would. It’s nice to have someone to talk to who can hold a normal conversation. Someone who doesn’t have to be so insufferably smug about their stupid horn and all its stupid magic.

You see that, Joseph! Look at Oliver! He’s a doctor! He’s good with plants, and he’s got an awesome voice! You only wish you could do all that with your horn, and you cheat!

I’d never thought anything would make me eat plants, but Oliver’s showing me how stupid I’ve been. I’ve been pretty open with how disgusting and primitive I think it is, and he’s been pretty sensitive. “We’ll just have to find the ones that taste too good not to eat then.” Why do you have to be so right?

Sky’s not going to let me live it down if she sees me eat a single flower. God, I don’t even care. Actually, I welcome it. Let her give me as hard a time as she wants so long as that means I get to see her again. Don’t find her, invader-people! Take me, if you have to take a pony. I’ll volunteer. Let the colony go on without me.

Okay, maybe not. Realistically, it’ll have some advanced technology and the best milk and eggs but absolutely nothing else if I’m not around. Maybe Oliver would be enough to keep every pony fed. I don’t know. Guess we’ll see when we get back there and we learn if what happened at the hospital was a fluke or if it’s something he can somehow replicate.

You know what else would be convenient right now? If Sky could fly. A flying pony, like the ones I saw when I saw that vision, could easily hide in the wild if the airplanes started moving. Way better than a truck full of cattle, anyway.

I wonder what they’re all eating in that deserted farm. Probably hay. There was tons of it (not that we used any). I wonder if horses can eat hay. Pretty sure real ones can. Pretty sure that wouldn’t taste as good as the herbs Oliver carefully selects for his artisan “salads.”

Now that’ll be neat. Put those two together on a meal. Bet it’ll be the best food has seen since real people. I’d probably even try hay and oats if both of them agreed it was the tastiest way to cook… whatever.

Hey, that’s something to ask! Maybe Oliver can do something about the way I can’t stomach meat anymore. Maybe there’s a spice I can use to cover up the nasty. I don’t think Sky would let me turn one of the herd into top sirloin, but there are still cans of meat the world over. I’m craving a chicken sandwich something fierce.

Please be okay, Sky. Don’t be discovered. You and that hurt unicorn just lie low until we can all be together again.

We’ll be the best of friends.

—Lonely Day (without Sky)

Chapter 29: July 8

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Dear Journal,

We know now.

Okay, maybe I should rephrase that. We know whether the “people” we saw were hostile. Or… we have a better idea? All of this is so freakin’ confusing. I want to go back to being a mechanic. Life was easy and safe then. I knew what I was doing, I knew I wasn’t going to hurt anybody by accident.

We’re playing with fire here, and we’re not the only ones who pay if we lose. The future generations of tiny, helpless, horsebeasts will pay too. Though it’s probably for the best I don’t help with that anyway. Maybe it would be better if all the next generation had those magic horn things. I guess wings might be cool too.

FOCUS! Wasting paper and time. Should sleep, but this first. If I can keep this damn journal for a month and a half, through being transformed and having everything I cared about being taken away, I can keep a journal through this. Okay, I’m going to tell the story. For real this time.

So I got sick of sitting around and doing nothing in Bakersfield and waiting for the “HPI” to either destroy the city so we couldn’t live there anymore or track down and hurt my friends. It’s probably a reflection of some serious personal flaw that I thought the only way they stood a chance was with me there to help, but whatever. That’s me and that’s exactly the way I felt. Huan came with me to the local Home Depot, and a couple of auto shops in town. Went on hoof, so the others wouldn’t suspect what I was doing. They thought I was just going for a walk.

Despite being newer, I think Oliver suspected. He wanted to come with me (he likes walks as much as I do), but I told him no. Why? Because Joseph will be just as screwed without someone practical around as Cloudy Skies and the recovering unicorn are. I’m not sure if he realized the magnitude of what I was doing, or if he even cared. He didn’t fight me or say anything that might’ve alerted Joseph, and for that he has my respect.

Took my satellite receiver and my phone. Broke into a house with a reliable-looking SUV out front. It’s amazing how easy doors are to kick down when you’re determined. Just plant my hooves and “buck” with the back legs like I’m trying to kick over a tree. Doors don’t usually do well, and this one was no exception. Found the car keys inside, then mounted those hoof-controls for the pedals like I was in some kind of speed challenge (for Sky’s life).

Stopped at the gas station for a quick syphon from the underground tank, as well as stuffing the back with dried nuts and water bottles from inside (the easier containers had all already been looted by clever animals).

Drive down to Los Angeles was uneventful, though I felt like I might explode from the guilt of abandoning some of my friends or the worry for the ones I was going to save. How would I “save” them? I didn’t know.

In retrospect, going alone wasn’t the smartest plan of my pony career. Joseph’s probably the closest thing we have to a weapon, leaving him behind if I really intended to investigate the city was one of the stupidest things I could do.

On the other hoof, leaving him out of this meant that the rest of our extremely small community was likely to have the advantage of his help even if the worst happened to me and I was killed in the city. Sky said I was brave, Joseph said I was stupid. Oliver was just disappointed.

I could’ve stopped at the farm, but of course I knew that if it came to a fight, we’d be shot to pieces without being able to dent those stupid planes. Armored tanks and stuff couldn’t just be bucked over the way doors could. No, the only help in a fight such a tiny, useless pony as me could ever be is for information. I’m a good runner, and I know the city better than any pony. None of the others could’ve possibly done what I did.

Of course, there’s still the chance I didn’t actually do anything I think I did. I didn’t really sneak into and out of Los Angeles without being detected, they just wanted me to think I did. Maybe I’m carrying a virus that I’ve spread to the other ponies by coming into contact with them.

Instead of saving what passes for humanity in our little corner of the country, I’ll get them all poisoned.

Okay shut up okay focus okay there’s nothing I can do and that probably didn’t happen and there would be way easier ways to kill us and I don’t even feel sick
[continues like this for several lines]

So the way in from Bakersfield didn’t give me any hilly overlooks for me to see the whole city. Maybe I could’ve driven to one, but I wasn’t exactly thinking clearly with this plan. Okay, I wasn’t doing anything even close to thinking clearly. Why the hell was I driving straight towards the ones who had felt so unnatural to me?

I didn’t get out of the car right away, but of course I didn’t really need an overlook to know where they would be. There are plenty of tiny airports nearby, it’s true. But if I was the one running the airships like that, I’d want the best place to land in the city: LAX.

Give me a little credit, I didn’t drive right into the airport and bang on the airplane doors with my hooves. I drove all the way to a hotel across the street, parked right in front, and scrambled to the top floor. I wasn’t in a terrible rush, not since they’d been here for days.

I’m getting stronger, or maybe just better at using my strength. Kicked the locked door to the roof clean off, like I do. Dodged past the new birds nests and air conditioners to the edge, where I could see over the roofs of neighboring buildings to the runways.

They were exactly where I thought they would be. I was far too far away to make out things like motors, though I did feel a distant emptiness I probably could’ve followed if I really wanted to. The more I feel it, the more I compare it not to terror, but just to something unfamiliar. It was the terror of the unknown.

I’d felt it before though, so I knew what to recognize. It was also much further away than the motorcade had been in Sacramento, so that might have been contributing to a decrease in my level of fear.

Whatever the reason, I was able to think clearly, scanning the city all around for signs of their activity. Both of the strange craft were parked, though only one tank had remained behind. The other two were at large, though I could not see where at the time.

I didn’t have to wait long. Granted, I’d been climbing stairs for long enough (dammit if I don’t miss elevators). Still, I hadn’t actually been looking long when I saw the convoy moving in.

They weren’t traveling very fast, perhaps thirty miles an hour. Three automated vehicles moved through the center, led by the armored personnel carrier I had seen back in Sacramento. The strange feeling I had sensed earlier seemed substantially reduced, though that was probably just a function of distance.

I was not too far away to recognize the yellow-and-black patterns along every surface of the crates the automated carriers were hauling. I don’t think I’ve ever been this close to that many nuclear warnings, particularly as the vehicles drew near and passed me on their way to the airport.

Again I was filled with unnatural discomfort as they got close, but this time it was fleeting and mild. Perhaps I’m adapting to it?

The massive ship opened, and automated cargo trucks vanished inside one by one. The APC went last up the ramp, sliding inside before its twin that had waited on the tarmac for hostile invaders that never came. Engines roared to life, huge blades began to spin, and the airship took off, clearing the entire runway of dust but creating comparatively little sound for its size. Again I was struck by how silent the huge ship was as it vanished into the sky, turning eastward into the twilight.

I waited until I was sure it wouldn’t return before climbing back down to street level and driving back to our home. No way I was letting my friends come back before checking myself if it was safe. If any pony was going to be blown to a fine red paste, it was going to be me.

There were no claymores waiting for me though, at least none that I found. What I did find was the shelter in disarray. The fence around the block had been flattened by tank treads, and the door had been left swinging awkwardly open on the breeze. I shortly found the entire house had been ransacked, with drawers and cabinets dumped on the floor.

Every room had received more-or-less that treatment, though at my cursory inspection nothing seemed missing. The servers were all still in the basement, the automatic lights all still came on, and even the radio transmitter had been left alone.

There was one change; a slim box waiting on the kitchen table for me to find it. There were two things inside. The first was a note, clearly handwritten. It read:

“Survivors: We won’t leave you food, since it’s obvious you don’t need it. We need your help. We did not think any other groups had survived.

We’re sorry if our arrival frightened you. We won’t pursue you again, but we hope you’ll come to us. Enclosed is a simple communications device. When you feel comfortable, please contact us. Humanity needs you.

-Cpt. Adam Wright”

That was it. That, and what was clearly an older-style satellite phone, like the ones the military still uses (probably on their network, though I don’t know for sure). I searched the house for a good hour, but when I finally didn’t find anything, I decided it was probably as safe as it was going to get.

If they had hidden anything dangerous, they’d done a damn good job because I couldn’t find it.

Maybe we were stupid to come back. Maybe we should have turned our backs on the old base and never looked back.

Or maybe not. These guys could have searched for us. Could’ve torn up the streets, or blown up our base. They didn’t. Just left a note and flew off. You know what that says? I don’t think they want to kill us. Wish to god I knew what they did want, though. The note seems quick to say how much they need us, but less speedy to tell us why.

I didn’t turn on the phone, of course. A decision like this should be made by everybody. Tomorrow we’ll talk about it, see what everyone thinks. Personally, I think we should. Once Joseph goes over the thing to make sure it isn’t really a bomb, I’m not sure what we have to lose. It isn’t as though they don’t already know where we live, so revealing that information is hardly a danger. I guess maybe showing we’re inside, but… no. Getting paranoid again.

Tomorrow we’ll see whatever everyone thinks. So far all they’ve told me is how stupid I was for going in after this mysterious adversary with its mostly-automated vehicles. Still haven’t seen a pilot. Nor do we know what they were doing here, besides looking for us. We know those caravans didn’t come for us; there wasn’t anything missing (certainly nothing that needs to be nuclearly shielded).

Whatever. Tomorrow. Live in the moment or whatever. Not looking forward to driving back up there tomorrow and getting the medicine truck here. Got to get those fools some learning about how to drive trucks post-haste.

—To-Day (sucked)

Chapter 30: July 9

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Dear Journal,

We picked up the pieces. No, I don’t just mean cleaning up the damage to our house (that took a freakin’ long time though). I mean putting our lives back together after all the insanity that’s been taking place. Nice to get a day of respite from all that.

I spent last night alone in our base, a base covered in refuse on every floor. I heard the dogs barking at night and I was afraid they might get in and get me. Is that even a thing they do? Food has got to be getting scarce out there. They’ve already eaten each other, eaten rats and cats and roaches. How much longer will the rats and stuff last living off the refuse of my city?

God, please let everyone come back. I get it, you’re mad. We’ll repent. We’ll change. Whatever, just bring them back. Mom, Jennifer, I hope you’re okay. Wherever you are. I’m thinking about you. We’ll get through this together.

I missed having Huan with me, for sure. My buddy would’ve kept me safe. As it was I barely slept, even with all the doors locked. Dogs can’t open doors, right? My bedroom is on the third floor, the master at the highest level of the house, so I don’t think they could’ve got in even if they wanted.

Sleeping alone reminded me of just how awful it would be not to have all the other ponies to keep me company. It’s true that we aren’t really meant for a solitary existence. I still remember how awful that first week was. I’m not sure how long I would last on my own, even though I don’t think I’d ever starve.

The next morning, everyone came back. Sky and Moriah made it first, since they were so much closer. I wanted to stay and help Sky get the cattle herd back into pasture, but there was no time. I had to leave again. This time, for a better reason: getting our medical supplies.

Driving down to Bakersfield was a bit of an adventure. I don't think there was an airtight seal on the gas tank in this car, and unlike our trucks and things (which have been constantly cycling diesel for some time now, with no fuel left to sit around), this one just sat there. Yeah, I filled it with fresh fuel before I left town, but I was kinda in a hurry. Didn't drain the mostly empty tank or flush the lines or anything, like I would've if I'd still been working.

Why, you ask? Well, this probably doesn't matter anymore, since refining oil into gasoline is damn difficult, but fuel doesn't last forever. I had to look it up a few months back (MONTHS? MONTHS! Almost). Oxygen reacts with all those delicious hydrocarbons, lowers the octane and all sorts of other nasty stuff. Gasoline normally stores for about three months, if the temperature is moderate and there's not a lot of air. That should mean that the gas in most cars would still be perfectly fine to drive, right?

Well, the SUV I picked must've been open to the air or something, because I got halfway up the grapevine and the whole thing started shaking and sputtering. If I hadn't been in the middle of nowhere, I might've stopped it right there. God knows continuing to drive it was doing horrible things to that engine. I drove it anyway, praying to Vulcan and Hephaestus and all the other forge gods I knew of it wasn't going to break down (or worse, burst into flames and send me into an accident on one of the cliff sections of the road).

It appears the gods of the forge heard my prayers, because I made it to Bakersfield, rolling in at about twenty miles per hour with a car that was belching smoke by then. I walked most of the way from there. Huan found me, and I followed him back to some angry looking friends of mine.

Moral of the story? I've been making the right choice to use diesel for everything. It's not perfect (fungus can grow in it. FUNGUS!), but it seems to last longer than gasoline. Which is good, because we're gonna need the fuel for way more than three months. What an awful shame, really, that we've got a whole world full of fuel and it's all rotting away. Whatever. We talked about it later.

I didn't even tell them about my adventure getting there, just got back into the medicine truck, which still had a quarter tank (it'd used lots of the fuel keeping cold yesterday I guess. At least Oliver knew enough to keep the thing running so it would have power. He'd probably hate me forever if I'd been the reason all that medicine went bad). Drove back home at some safe highway speeds, and didn't feel like I was going to explode once the whole way.

New unicorn seems to be healing very well, considering. There are still thin patches of fur where we had to use stitches (really poor job we did, by the way. She’s gonna be rockin’ scars under her coat for the rest of forever). She can walk now, though not terribly stable. Still wearing bandages on her head (I’m glad, not excited about looking at that stump all day. Maybe we can make her a prosthetic horn?).

I think she was angrier about what happened to our base than anyone, and she hasn’t even done anything to help build it. Thought we should go after them, rough up the “HPI” for what they did to us. I told her that was the stupidest thing I’d ever heard and we sure as heck weren’t going to “rough up” a coordinated military force, even if it looked small. She could shut up and help us clean, or get out of the way.

To her credit, she did help us clean. Got to learn a little more about her then, which was nice. Apparently she was the oldest of three from some rich Northern California family. Her father was a commercial airline pilot, which was why she had wanted to go into the business. She hadn’t really taken life seriously up ‘til now, or else she probably could’ve been. Yeah, I think all of us fit that bill a little.

More than all that, I wanted to learn her skills. Not much there. She’s done metalshop and a little welding, but she insisted she “had never been very good at either”. Perfect.

Well, in all seriousness, having a pilot could be a huge advantage. We still have fuel (after a fashion), might as well use it to travel around. The “HPI” didn’t seem to be flying north again, so it might be safe for all of us. I want to see if I can find my mother, my sister. I know Cloudy Skies doesn’t, but… maybe Joseph has someone he would like to look for too. We should have plenty of selection for planes.

I suggested this, and Moriah seems enthusiastic about the idea, wanting to check on her own family. I’m not sure how we’ll handle it yet; but no matter what I don’t want Cloudy at home alone. Of all of us, she’s the least able to defend herself. Maybe we can go in pairs, Moriah and one other pony, until everyone who wants to has tried. Of course, a few failures might alleviate the need for future trips. Here's to hoping whatever tanks store plane fuel were more airtight than my SUV.

I hope you’re still around, Mom. Maybe you’d be a regular pony, like me. Maybe you’d have a horn. God knows Jennifer would have some of those wings, couldn’t ever stop her from flying away.

Joseph and Oliver were pretty miffed about the way I left them. I couldn’t really argue; it had been stupid and selfish and I knew that. I just didn’t care. I wasn’t going to let my friends put themselves at risk. They’re all more important than me. I’m the only one with skills we can afford to sacrifice. We don’t need a generalist, but we sure as hell need a doctor.

Had a trump card, though. I’d saved that moment to tell everyone about the letter and the package. Everybody together, read the note, dumped out the communications device. Freakout.

I’ll spare the gory (boring) details of every pony’s reactions. Cloudy Skies and Oliver were both in favor of contacting them, the former almost immediately so. Joseph was on the fence, and Moriah wanted us to smash the communicator to pieces and burn the note, then check ourselves for anthrax.

Anthrax, seriously? They could’ve just hidden a bomb in the house if they wanted to kill us. Anthrax might not even work on ponies, anyway. Just because some pain meds seem to doesn’t mean anything else will.

In the end, we gave Joe the communicator to go over and check for safety. I figure if there is a hidden bomb, it would go off when we use the thing, so we’ll make sure nobody’s anywhere near the base when we call. It would be horrible to lose our home, but… I’d rather find out it’d been boobytrapped when it was empty then while we were all sleeping some night.

Eventually Joseph and Moriah came around to the idea, but only after we promised to convert another RV and pack both with the supplies needed to make it on the road. If the call went south, we could be on the road and leave everything behind. Moriah didn’t seem to realize that neither Sky nor me would be willing to leave the flock behind, but I didn’t point that out and neither did Sky. At that point we just wanted her to shut up.

Oh, she’s got clothes now. Shorts, like me. Wants me to make her horseshoes, the “epoxy on kind”, because “she’s a horse anyway so it’s not like she would take them off”. Whatever.

Joseph, I’m sorry I ever complained about you, I am. You were actually quite a reasonable stallion. Deplorable standards of personal hygiene, but that’s something else entirely.

Moriah, I know how hard it is to go through what you’re going through. I’ve been through it. My first week was the pits. Thought about throwing myself off skyscrapers a few times. Pretty sure if I hadn’t been alone I would’ve taken the opportunity to be happier about life, though. Maybe embarrassed that I was in a permanent horse costume, but still happier. It’s good to have friends. Do you want to be ours or not?

It isn’t like her precautions weren’t good ones. Our meeting resolved, we got to work. The medical truck would just be parked outside the fence, adding to our barricade, and wired into the power system for the house. We had already planned on adding a few more kilowatts, and the generator can probably handle the slack in the meantime. We’ll put a canopy up over the truck, get it out of direct sunlight, but not now.

Of course, my problems with gasoline, even though I didn't tell anyone, have brought the life of our fuel rushing to the front of my mind. What would we do without the standby generators? The heat of summer without air conditioners would be the least of our worries when we're reliant on such technological absurdities as atmospheric water extractors. Mid-term we'll have to switch to electric vehicles and solar panels, for the five to ten years their batteries hold a charge. Maybe longer, if we can get a warehouse full of replacements insulated from temperature swings. Long term though, we're going to need to switch to biofuels. Reduce our electricity demand, and use those old-timey generators (or maybe even something wood-fired, the ultimate in low-tech renewable fuel).

What did I do? Drive around the city with a dog and a crowbar, opening up the holding tanks of gas stations. Pretty well sealed, these puppies, but I wanted one with some particular features. One with a full diesel tank, or as close to full as possible. One with one of those cone-drain things on the inside to get the water out without me having to interfere. Took me awhile, but this is Los Angeles and there are thousands of gas stations. Found one eventually. Topped it up with our fuel truck (basically draining it), and then in went my SECRET WEAPON (TM). Actually, the Department of Defense's secret weapon.

We found it during our adventure in that Air Force base, not too long ago. Fuel Stability Foam. According to the package, it says it'll preserve diesel for ten years. TEN YEARS! Given I didn't put this stuff in on day one, and we're in California here, I give a more reasonable estimate at maybe half that. Still, we don't even really need it to last that long. We're not staying in LA for five years.

So that was my adventure. The others put together the house, got the truck plugged in, all that. Just getting it into the system went a long way to keeping Oliver happy. Keeping those drugs intact has been almost an obsession for him over these last almost-two months. I wonder how much more gardening he’ll be able to do with that worry taken care-of.

Oliver’s pretty laid-back about most things. We don’t have any more bedrooms, but he doesn’t mind sharing with Joseph. It was a kid’s room anyway, and that unicorn never bothered removing the other twin-sized bed, so it’s already set up for two ponies. Human beds are so gigantic we could probably share even smaller ones, but we won’t push it. Having to “grid-up” another house would be an incredible pain, and split our resources in ways we probably don’t want to do.

Figure if we get many more ponies we’ll turn the master into a “dorm” of sorts, fill it with Ikea bunk-beds. Maybe turn part of the basement into more sleeping areas. We could probably do as many as 15 ponies in this house, though we wouldn’t be able to meet all their needs. Water, specifically. Composting toilets can’t handle that many people per day as it turns out, not to mention showers. I honestly don’t think we’d get more from atmospheric water even if we wanted to. Maybe if we lived in Florida or Missouri, but we don’t.

It’s a good thing this isn’t our long-term place. But if it’s not… where will we go? Is the country way less safe than we thought? Will our future colony be attacked by HPI jets and ransacked by mysterious beings? Not to mention… of all the ponies who stayed behind, there had to be a few that were crazy or criminal, right? Or… who might be driven to that, if they were in an area without much food. How long before ponies like that become a problem? Are there even enough ponies in the whole world for that to matter?

Right, the agenda. After our brief meeting I picked out another RV (also diesel, also an automatic transmission because proles), and put in the hand-pedal things while the others started loading supplies. It’s funny how many vehicles we’re gathering around our little compound. I wonder if the HPI can look at satellite cameras of all the stuff we’re doing. I wonder if they care to.

Tomorrow we’ll make the call, and see what these “HPI” ponies are really about. I’ll probably use my computer to record the whole thing, so we don’t miss anything that might be significant later. Our first chance to talk to a group that’s apparently this powerful should not be squandered, that’s for sure.

Assuming they’re even still a group. I haven’t ruled out sentient computer program. Maybe it has drones it can use to ransack a pony’s house and write notes "by hand." I wonder what it wanted with all that nuclear crap. Maybe it will tell us tomorrow.

—A

Chapter 31: July 10

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Okay, I’ve got it on speaker. Show me a sign so I can mute the mic before you talk. Assuming anyone even answers. Maybe you were right, Moriah. Maybe it’s just a detonator. Let’s find out.

Hello survivor.

Survivors, plural. There are several of us here.

It is a pleasure to be speaking with you, survivors. I am Dr. Edmond Clark, to whom am I speaking?

Why don’t you call me ‘Lonely Day’ for now. After what you did to my home, I don’t exactly trust you. What is the HPI?

The Human Preservation Initiative. I deeply regret the accidental damage we caused to your home. My people expected to be able to use your shielding when they arrived, but they didn’t find it. Evidently you’ve mastered the energy-efficient portable shielding device. If we had been given access to technology like that, many more lives might’ve been spared.

Alright, he’s muted. What do I say to that?

What is he talking about?

Shut up, he’s still talking.

We couldn’t stay to pick up after ourselves. Whatever you’re doing to stay alive out there, it must be working well. That base was hotter than any other site we’ve visited.

We’re on— That’s just California; it’s always been hot enough in summer to fry eggs on the sidewalk.

Haha. Very funny ‘Lonely Day.’ We’re grateful you contacted us. The HPI does not particularly care how your group managed to survive. We thought we were the only ones, not nearly enough. But if you made it, maybe others did too.

I hope so very much. We want humanity to have a future.

Do you know what caused this?

We may know more about it than you do. We might be willing to share that information in exchange for some sharing from you.

We don’t know very much. We’ve just been trying to survive the collapse of society. Rebuild, adapt.

That’s exactly what we’re interested in learning. What shielding mechanism are you using? We couldn’t find radiation anywhere near your base to suggest portable nuclear… why in God’s name did you chose to live somewhere so hot? Almost all of the city is less active than that.

We’re muted. Does anyone have any idea what he’s talking about? No? Fine. Stay quiet— We don’t have a shielding mechanism. We use fences to keep the animals out. We’ve been thinking about putting up electric fences, but we need the power for other stuff. There isn’t really anywhere with better weather in the whole city. We plan on leaving one day, but not yet. There are still enough supplies to keep our group alive for months to come.

Obviously you must have some shielding mechanism, or you wouldn’t still be here. Lots of government bunkers were stuffed full, but not even lead and dirt was enough to keep them around; they’re all empty now. We looked.

Could we have one without realizing it?

Okay, muted.

Are they going to say anything?

We can’t assume there’s more than one of them, can we?

That’s not the point, Moriah.

Isn’t it? I think it’s exactly the point. Whether this is a massive organization or just one person working on their own. We would fight them completely different ways.

Nopony said anything about fighting them.

Do you have to use stupid words like that, ‘Cloudy Skies’? That’s not a real word.

Shut up Moriah.

He’s right, you don’t have to be mean about it.

It may be possible. Telemetry just came back from the communicator’s location. You’re in a park about five miles from your central location, yes?

Shit, he knows.

I’m unmuting us— Yes, why?

[pause] Look at the screen!

Oh my god.

I didn’t know satellite cameras could get that close. Pretty neat. Let’s see… yeah, it can see me waving.

Hello satellite camera!

Shut that damn thing off! We’ve got to get away from here.

I didn’t mute it this time, guys.

Please explain the purpose of this ruse. Even the energy for this call is precious; we cannot waste it. If you won’t deal seriously with us, we will continue our search for survivors elsewhere.

No! Damnit, we’re being serious! Shut up, everyone! Good. There’s no ruse, Dr. Clark. I don’t even know what you think we’re lying about. If you can see us, you should know that.

We don’t know how you are redirecting the signal, or what you have done to alter the behavior of those animals. It doesn’t particularly matter. What matters is your low-energy shielding technology. We have resources to offer in exchange. My technicians tell me that little base of yours is running on about 30 peak kilowatts. We could have a portable thorium reactor rated to a megawatt on your doorstep in four hours in exchange for technical drawings and a single functioning unit of whatever portable shield you’re using.

Please, there are too goddamn few of us left to fight. We’ve been searching for months, examined every facility worldwide even remotely capable of installing a shield, and only found empty rooms. We’ve scoured cities and towns and wilderness areas and found only animals. We already don’t have nearly enough for a viable population; we’re going to need every individual in your group. THERE ARE NO OTHERS!

My people are the only chance of turning this thing around, but we might not be able to do it without help. Technology like yours could change everything. Who knows; maybe my boys could figure out a way to scale up what you’re using. Decontaminate a whole city. We won’t know if you don’t help us.

Muted. Okay guys, please, someone have any idea what he’s talking about. Joseph?

I don’t, Alex. I’ve been listening, but he doesn’t make sense.

Moriah?

Got nothing.

Anyone?

He seems to believe that the surface is unsafe somehow. Obviously that’s not true; the animals all seem to be doing fine. My geiger log has only shown an increase of about a quarter from what it was before the Event. Honestly, with all the waste ponds going, I would’ve expected more.

I’m more worried that he called us animals…

Dr. Clark, we don’t know what we would be shielding from, and we don’t have any unusual technology to do it. I don’t know if it’s been the same for you, but all of us have been… for lack of a better word… transformed into… whatever we are now. Horses, ponies, it doesn’t matter. We’ve been doing our best to survive in spite of that.

If you’re still watching, we can prove it. Joseph, take the spare gas tank off the back of Moriah’s jeep. Good… that dirt, right there. Write the word “clark” if you can. Yeah, magic’s fine… Just don’t use too much. Now light it.

You see that, Dr. Clark? Would you like these ‘animals’ to do anything else we couldn’t possibly have been trained to do? Like, get in this jeep we converted to drive handless and drive somewhere in the city? We could. Moriah’s actually pretty eager to drive around more.

Mute.

Why do you think he would say that? Is he leading us on?

I don’t think so. There wouldn’t be a point.

Keep that communicator with you. We may be in touch.

It says the call’s ended. Picture is gone too.

He might still be listening. The mute button might not have done anything either. He could be spying on us.

I don’t think it matters if he does. We don’t have anything to hide. And he can already watch us from the sky, so…

That doesn’t make it right! He’s already done so much to violate our privacy, our peace of mind, our safety!

Hey Joe, could you grab the extinguisher? Looks like the wind is picking up. Thanks. I hope he’s watching this. Pony firemen!

Firestallion. Firemare sounds better, but you’re not a mare. O-Obviously.

Not this again. What hit you on the head and forced you to mutate perfectly good words? Joseph is a fireMAN. He’s not a horse, and we don’t have to call him a stallion.

Actually, he is a stallion. If you want to get technical about it. So am I. You’re a mare, and so’s Cloudy Skies. We walk on four hooves and eat grass. What else would we be?

End transcript

Dear Journal,

I cut the recording right there. They just kept arguing, so there didn’t seem much point to letting it keep going, really. Dr. Edmond Clark didn’t say anything else. Maybe he was listening through the phone, maybe he was watching from the sky. We don’t know, and honestly I don’t care if he was. If he was listening and watching, maybe seeing so much clearly human behavior would convince him of what we are.

I don’t understand how it’s possible for him not to know. Right now I consider the most likely option that he’s lying to us (for some reason), maybe reading from a script trying to make us adopt some false assumptions like “there are humans somewhere because they thought ponies were animals.”

The more I thought about it though, the more his first question would fit with apparently still being human. Asking us over and over about our “shielding.” Could becoming a pony be some kind of radiation? A nanoparticle swarm? A field? Maybe this “Dr. Clark” thinks we have the secret to avoiding it and staying human.

If that’s true, he’s sorely wrong. We don’t have jack here; ponies all. I’m sure all of us (besides Sky) would have killed for a machine like that.

We now have many more questions than answers.

During the call, I learned something else I hadn’t known: Moriah is having migraines. Apparently the pain is centered a few inches below her horn, at the root of whatever bone is responsible for the unicorn horn. It’s a little beyond me, but Oliver gave her a “prescription” and it seems to be helping. There’s some medical stuff about water solubility and the size of a pony’s liver and some things he read in a vet’s guide to treating horses. I guess he was always planning on helping a group of survivors, even if he didn’t realize it consciously.

So what are our plans now? We talked about it a great deal. One surfaces before all others: we need a better location. Somewhere seismically stable, somewhere with a reachable water table, somewhere with soil for growing cereal grains. Safe from floods, safe from storms and tropical diseases. In other words, with a whole country (or world) to live in, where would you go?

Relocating, when we’re finally ready, would mean maybe we could get away from the watchful eyes of the HPI, if we wanted to. This city has enough to feed us for years, perhaps decades. Once all the cans go bad and the emergency rations are gone though, we (and our children) would all starve. Not to mention we’d have a miserable time living on all that dried stuff.

We planned on a year before we started. We might accelerate that process, though by how much remains to be seen. That will depend on the HPI. If they prove ambivalent, or even friendly, maybe we won’t need to do that. Snow will probably be a concern in any location we choose, so we’ll want to go before the roads get icy.

That means November, early December at the latest. At that point, we might not be able to drive until April. At least there won’t be salt on the roads eating away at steel and rotting everything. Little blessings, right?

Everybody’s really shaken up about what happened. Sky went out to see the cows and hasn’t come back. Joseph is swearing at his copy of Skyrim as though he thought his horn would let him Shout as well as levitate. Oliver — I didn’t even see him leave, but he’s not around anymore. Just me in here, de-stressing with this journal. I drew him from memory, cuz' I was thinking about him:

I wonder how many other ponies are keeping journals, right now. How many of them were transformed worse than me (a damn few I bet). At least I’ve got Huan. For the first time, he came inside with me. I’m not sure what changed his mind. Maybe he can feel how upset I am or something. I remember hearing dogs were pretty perceptive about human emotions. Guess I’m… not really human though, am I?

I think I’m gonna go fix something. I guess it doesn’t really matter what. It’s good to fix stuff.

—A

Chapter 32: July 11-17

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July 11, 2015

Dear Journal,

Not much to say, really. No word back from the HPI, assuming they’re even really a thing. House can’t keep up with numbers like this. It’s the water that’s the biggest problem; the AW generators just can’t suck anything else out of California’s dry air.

This is a terrible place for a colony. Even if it wasn’t for the dogs and the heat, most of our water was coming from aqueducts and other redirected waterways. None of that stuff still works when there aren’t any humans to keep the pumps running and decide when inlets should be opened and closed.

This isn’t like the north, we don’t have dozens of hydroelectric dams to keep things powered. What’s happening to that power anyway? Whatever, I guess it doesn’t really matter. It’s not coming here.

Maybe the HPI knows. Maybe they’re the ones who took it. They couldn’t really have… portable thorium reactors, could they? They certainly had drone vehicles. It might be the large aircraft had a human pilot inside, or maybe it didn’t. Guess there’s no easy way to know.

We’re planning the route and the location for the future colony; the real one. It’s got to be somewhere really, really stable. There actually aren’t that many places that fit the bill. When we go, we’ll have every single one of us driving. That means I’ve started semi-truck lessons with every pony in our group. Daily, one hour. SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO much fun.

Maybe not, but fuel is limited. Even assuming we can make biodiesel or something, the sooner we actually leave the more frequently we can travel out for supplies and the more we can bring to the colony site. It will probably be our home for the rest of our lives, so we better choose somewhere damn good.

Jury’s still out on where, though. Not here.

—Day

July 14, 2015

Dear Journal,

Every day I’m more conscious of the need to have fun. Maybe I’m just going completely stir-crazy. The stress of these stupid people hanging over our heads. How much damage could they cause if they wanted to? They managed to search our home quick enough. Wonder why we didn’t find any footprints. Proof it wasn’t humans? Or just proof they were careful?

We have a spot picked out for the new colony. Lots of debate, mainly between rural areas and city. A city would give us the advantage of having structures already built as well as tons and tons of salvage. It would carry some disadvantages though, like fire vulnerability and distance from farmland.

In the end, our choice might not have been the most practical (I don’t actually know). We decided against the city in favor of a small town in an extremely rural area. How are we going to build a colony all by ourselves?

That’s a good question. I’ll let you know when we figure it out.

Oliver came with me to watch Sky do her thing with the animals today, which I thought was nice of him. He watched her trying to fly, and made some interesting suggestions. He thinks she’ll be better off if she starts from somewhere high up already, making the muscles stronger that way. He suggested jumping from a building.

Naturally none of us liked that idea. Like a baby bird, failure would mean certain death. Did she really want to chance flying on something I saw in a vision? Maybe she did too… I don’t actually know. She won’t tell me. Psh. I told her everything I saw! She’s helped me so much in other ways… of all the other ponies here, she’s the one I trust the most. Why won’t she trust me?

Oh, and some good news! The garden's doing really well! Er- half of it is? It's really weird, because we planted mostly the same things, and they've been watered by a sprinkler. Oliver says they just need "more attention" and the other half should bounce back. Guess I trust him; he is the expert gardener. He sure did miracles with that hospital garden. Pity we don't have enough water to give these plants what they really need.

—A

July 15, 2015

Dear Journal,

Finally finished getting the capacity of the house upgraded. Wired all the solar units from every house nearby. We’re losing current along the way, but even half or less is better than the nothing we were getting when those houses were just pouring into the grid.

Joseph and Moriah have become my work crew. It was just going to be Joseph (that damn horn!), but Moriah insisted on coming along. Said that “we wouldn’t need a pilot forever," so maybe she could be an electrician. Most of the time she was just making doe-eyes at Joseph, confounding the poor stallion and making it hard for him to work.

I do feel bad for her, though. Moriah has long since learned about the difficulties of being a quadruped, about using your mouth for everything and the velcro leg socks and all that crap. She’s also seen the way Joseph doesn’t have to worry about any of those things.

He tried to give her a magic lesson yesterday. I heard her screams from several houses away when she tried it. Oliver gave her more morphine than seems wise for a human, and that seemed to help. Even so, she hasn’t tried since. Is her horn going to heal one day? Oliver doesn’t think so, says the bone’s broken for good. Anything that heals is bound to come in weird if at all.

Of course, that’s all based on what he knows of Earth animals. We have no guarantee those rules apply to ponies. Maybe she’ll make a full recovery.

I can relate to the frustration of being a regular pony, Moriah. I don’t have a horn or magic either. You don’t see me consoling myself by manipulating a stallion who’s probably never had female attention in his life, though.

Shut up, don’t even say anything. I’m not going after any pony. I don’t understand the appeal, okay? I’m human. I’m human, I’m not an animal… I don’t think about ponies… dream about them…

Let’s move right along. Solar’s wired now. With the lot of them, we’ve got about twice the power we did before (during the day). We aren’t going to bother with wind, since our time here is so scarce anyway.

Honestly, I’m starting to wish that the HPI would just call already. At least then, for better or worse, the stress would be gone. Decide whether you’re going to help us or tell us we’re going to be left alone! The stress of not knowing is much worse.

—A

July 16, 2015

Dear Journal,

This disaster has been going on too long; long enough that all of us are feeling like checking on our families can’t wait. Moriah is more than happy to fly us there, but first we need to make it so she can fly.

Had her pick out the best tiny plane, spent the day on conversions. Good news is that the fuel seems intact. I brought this test-kit you can use to check the octane, and it looks like the storage tanks were built to insulate against the temperatures here. Score one for human engineering! Tomorrow she’ll try taxiing around the runway on her own, and even take a quick solo if she feels up to it. Joseph volunteered to come along, but we ultimately told him no. It would be best for all ponies involved if we take the smallest risks we can. Giving up a female would be tragic, but not as tragic as losing an entire breeding pair.
Not that there are any breeding pairs. Nobody’s tried… we’re still humans!

‘Cept maybe Cloudy. I feel like she never really went through the species (ect.) crisis that I had to struggle through.

Too bad there aren’t any stallions brave enough, eh? What a jolly mess we all are. All aboard the extinction train!

—A

July 17, 2015

Dear Journal,

It would’ve been Jennifer’s birthday today. I’m not sure if she’s even still alive to celebrate it, but I’m going to find out soon enough. Moriah made her first test-flight as a pony, this time with much better results. Guess converting it so a pony can use the controls really does make a difference

We’re refueled and ready to go. Barring unseasonal weather, we’ll be lifting off early tomorrow morning. Flying to Oregon. Probably not a same-day return trip. With any luck, there will be two fewer empty seats on the plane coming home. Having two more females would be fantastic for our chances, but I couldn’t care less about that. Those “females” are my family, damnit. I’m coming back with them. It’s going to be fantastic. I won’t care how disagreeable Moriah is or how obtuse Joseph acts. If I get them back, I can tolerate anything.

Maybe Moriah will be luckier than with her horn and come back with some family of her own. It’s hard to tell if she wants to; she sounds incredibly conflicted about it. I honestly don’t know if she actually wants them to be there or not.

Doesn’t matter what’s motivating her, though. I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t check. Might as well fully utilize the benefits of a pilot while we have working planes. Also powered up the printer and made a simple flyer. “You Are Not Alone”, with directions here and our radio frequency. We thought about putting instructions for the satellite stuff on there too, but apparently Joseph has a custom app and the thing won’t work without it (not really sure the details, it’s kinda over my head).

Printed a few hundred and laminated them. That used to be so expensive. Expensive. We don’t even have a concept of money anymore. I wonder how long it will be before we do. Probably… not until we have a population bigger than a few. Goods and services, supply and demand, all that. Probably will need to think of something else to use. Gold and jewels are pretty abundant for us now, relative to the population size. Maybe I’ll go and see if Fort Knox really has any of that gold inside it one of these days.

Probably won’t be taking my diary with me. Too much chance something might go wrong, and I want my record to survive. I’ve given Sky explicit instructions not to read it, and to write in it only if something critical happens when I’m gone. She’s to call in that case too, though if we’re in the air we might not get it until we land.

Whatever, they’ll be fine. Just so long as those HPI people don't show up. That shouldn’t happen.

I’m more worried about myself. I feel like I’m learning the rhythms of this new body pretty well. Maybe I should wait awhile before going, until I know I’m going to be more stable. Nope. No more delays. Not one.

Please God, keep her safe. All of them. I don’t care if you burn my home to the ground and take away all our hard work. Just keep them safe. My friends are the most important thing in my whole world.

Only thing, really. You took away my whole identity. Seems like the least you could do would be to let me keep them.

—Alex

Chapter 33: July 18-24

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Hello Diary,

My name is Cloudy Skies, and I am an alcoholic. Woah, it’s pretty good about getting everything I say. No wonder Lonely Day likes doing this so much; this is way easy!

I guess I probably shouldn’t fill up this page with crap. Wouldn't put the page in if I did. Probably won’t anyway. Never met a pony more picky than that one. Pretty pony picky pony. It’s not my fault pony’s more fun to say than human! Human, newman, shoeman… That doesn’t even rhyme right, does it.

Sorry. This is a serious recording. I’m putting on my serious face. You can’t see it, but I’ve got my serious face on. See that, Day? I’ll take a picture so you can see just how serious I am. Everything is always so serious. Like instead of wanting a pretty pony, I get to be one.

I was only supposed to write if something serious happened. At least, more serious than life is for that pony every day.

Today’s serious stuff: the mean ponies who broke all my dirt bottles when they “cleaned” my room for me. I still haven’t said thanks for that. Maybe one day.

What did the mysterious ponies have to say? I didn’t record it or anything, and not everypony was there. Only Joseph and me. Been so long since we got time alone. Ever since that unicorn mare showed up…

How is that fair again? She hasn’t been here that long. She doesn’t even remember most of the time we’ve been ponies. So how come she’s not scared of anything, but I can’t even look Joseph in the eye?

I should really just say something. Maybe Day would listen to me. I wouldn’t be alone at least, and maybe two ponies could come up with something. Something more likely to get me where I want than what I’ve been doing. Which is nothing.

I guess anything’s better than that, huh.

Anyways. Anyways anyways. Sorry. The call was pretty short. “We would like to meet and talk in person.” Or something. Blah blah Doctor Whateverpants tried to be as scary as possible, but it was just us and I’m always pretty scared anyway.

Joseph thought it would be a bad idea to tell them we were weak. I just thought about what day seemed good, and the 27th seemed pretty good.

I asked the doctor what he wanted to talk about. Tried to sound as much like Lonely Day as I could. Pretended I was brave. I think he bought it. He talked about how having smart animals would be almost as good as shielding, since animals seemed to be immune to… to something. Something cool I guess? Something bad? Oliver says it’s bad, but it must not be that bad if it leaves all of us alone.

Maybe not all the way alone. I still can’t fly. Sun and moon in the sky, but I feel trapped down here. Can you even imagine? Ride the air currents, soar between the buildings, sleep on the clouds.

I’ll have Day make me some of those strawberry margaritas before I go. Too bad none of the others have wings. Maybe I’ll make some bird friends up there.

I already have some nice cow friends, and pony friends, and chicken friends. Dog friends seem like they’d be easy to make, but not many of those seem very nice. ‘Cept Huan. He’s keeping an eye on me while Day’s gone. I never thought about how soft and warm his coat would be. I bet it’s tons of work to keep him this clean…

I don’t think Alex is going to like my entry very much. I wouldn’t read somepony else’s diary, because that would be dishonest, but I bet if I looked back there, it’d be all business and boring. Probably lists. Maybe some diagrams. Spreadsheets. Powerpoints.

The others haven’t answered at all today. I hope they’re okay up in Oregon. Got a call when they landed safely, so at least they didn’t crash. I’m sure there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation for why they haven’t come back yet.

The meany on the phone says it’s gonna be hard to meet. The “pocket horses” are one of the sources for the mystery stuff. Mystery juice. Radiation? He says we can choose where to meet, as long as it’s got lots and lots of room for him to land all his machines. Even then, only one of us is allowed to go, and only if “they don’t have any extra parts.” Oliver won’t hear it, so that means we’re going to have to count on the fearless leader making it back in one piece.

Sounds kinda like a trap to me.

We couldn’t talk about it though, because our hiatus ponies are MIA. Possibly forever. Maybe it was just really overcast up there. Maybe Moriah is being a jerk. That’s kinda like her thing. Or maybe there just hasn’t been time to call us back, even about something this important.

We got the safe landing call. We know they didn’t crash. I’m sure they have a perfectly good reason for not checking in. Ten days from now, we’ll be meeting with the “HPI.” We’ll have our missing ponies back, and everything will be perfect.

Everything has been great. Everything is going to go great. I’ve got friends. I’ve got nice friends. Nice ponies. Alex will keep me safe. Huan will keep me safe. Joseph will keep me safe.

I should really stop. I’m just gonna ruin the journal if I keep writing. I can’t draw nice pictures like these. I’m gonna go. Maybe Joseph likes Monopoly.

—Cloudy Skies

Dear Lonely Day’s Diary,

It’s not my fault I’m writing again. You don’t see me taking long trips and then vanishing from the satellite phone.

I probably would, though, if I got the chance. I’m a pretty useless pony. Four whole days and I still haven’t said anything to Joseph. Is that my fault? I don’t know what I’m supposed to do. It’s a horse thing, right? You’d think being naked around him every day would be enough.

Alex thinks it’s gross. Gross, cuz’ human sex isn’t somehow. Oh sure, it’s okay when primates do it, but suddenly you’re an equine and now it’s bad. No romance, no love, no families.

That doesn’t make any sense, since Day cares so much about not letting the “human” race die out. Can’t have your cake and eat it too, pony! Either we don’t feel anything or we reproduce, but not both! Unless you want us to have foals but be really miserable about it. You volunteering to go first?

Sorry. I’m only supposed to write important things. Important things like this is the fifth day and still no more missing ponies. No radio, no planes in the sky, nothing. Just an empty city that never got enough rain.

Well, not that empty. Dogs are still around. I don’t think there are very many, but they attacked one of the herd today. Packs, you know.

Must’ve been desperate, because the herd was together grazing like they always are. I wasn’t really surprised that they could get into the park. One of the heifers ended up with several nasty cuts all down one side. At least they didn’t get one of the pregnant ones.

A pack of dogs working together is pretty scary. Not that I was there. God, I’m so glad I wasn’t there. I just know they would’ve gone for me. Flightless chicks always get eaten first. Is that how that goes? Flightless foals?

Daisy and Alice and Betsy (I wanted to give them better names, but they insisted), were all close when the pack went for Angel. Didn’t go easy on those dogs, either. Killed one of them, sent the rest away pretty bruised. They’re lucky it took that long for the bulls to notice, or else they’d probably all have been trampled.

I wish we hadn’t killed any. Hopefully the dogs don’t come back for revenge. Dogs don’t do that I hope.

There really isn’t any other news, though. I wish there was more, as long as it was good news. My friend won’t be gone forever… that would never happen. Day wouldn’t abandon me.

Talking to this journal is pretty therapeutic, though. I almost feel like I’ve got somepony to talk to who won’t judge what I’m saying. Even though I know by leaving it in it’s kinda like writing a letter to Day, so it’s not just going to stay secret.

Maybe I’ll write one to Joseph!

Dear Mystic Rune,

I’m just writing to tell you I think you’re really great. I like how your mane looks, even when you don’t do anything with it and you smell like stallion. I like watching you do magic and feeling the glow on my skin. I like listening to your accent when you talk to me. I like being near you and I wish I could do it more often.

Big boss Lonely Day says we’re going to have to make lots and lots of foals if we want to survive, so we should probably start soon. I think you should really take me on a date, somewhere nice. I can drive us.

Love,

Cloudy Skies

Perfect. I’ll just not print this now and never show him ever. >.> Those things are way harder to make with this recorder.

That’s where I told them to meet us. I hate that stadium… so I couldn’t possibly feel worse about it! Buck you dad!

Hurry that stupid blue ass, Day. I need your help.

Chapter 34: July 25

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Dear Journal,

I’m back, did you miss me? Guess Sky used up a few pages while I was gone. Probably a bit more liberal with what she wrote down, but whatever. If I’d wanted total control I would’ve told her not to write anything, or just taken the book with me. I could always paste entries over what she wrote if I really wanted, but I think I won’t. Having another voice will make my diary feel less lonely.

It would be pretty boring if I just went through every single thing that happened while I was gone, so I’ll pass on that. I think the most important question is why it took us so long and why we couldn’t stay in touch with the others back at home base while we were out there.

It’s all Moriah’s fault! Well, maybe not entirely her fault. It’s not her fault she lost her horn. Just like it’s not my fault I lost all kinds of things. Horn, tail, mane… pony parts are in weird places. Who designed us anyways? I feel like they should’ve given horns and wings to all ponies. Then we could all fly and we could all do magic, and we’d be a far superior species. I wouldn't be so sore about losing everything if I’d learned how to fly and do magic.

Mom, why isn’t life fair? You’d know. You always knew what to tell me when things sucked. You’d probably tell me not to be scared. You’d probably tell me that I can handle it. I want to hear your voice telling me I can. Tell me I can make it, please. I don’t know if I can.

Yeah, she wasn’t there. I guess that’s pretty obvious. I found the house, car still parked in the driveway. Nobody home. No sign of a struggle, no break-in, purse still inside. No sign she’d ever left.

God, my family’s gone. I guess the reason it took me this long to check… way more than the long distance and all the dangers we might run into on the way, was that so long as I didn’t go there, there was a chance. Mom and Jennifer were up there, they were okay. I would go to them one day and bring them back with me.

Why does this matter to me so much? I don’t think I was ever this emotional about anything before! It’s this damn body! Soft and fluffy and small and crying. Worse than a few days ago and every other time. Least there was nobody around but Sky or Moriah. No danger.

So you’re probably wondering why we were out of contact for so long. I know that’s what my friends wondered about when we finally landed in the Van Nuys Airport.

I wish I could say it was exciting. Like maybe we had a pitched dogfight in the air, but since we were just in a learjet I had to climb out onto the wings and punch ponies with my bare hooves. Or maybe say that we found a pony commune up there with hundreds and we’re going to join soon.

We didn’t, and we’re not. There is a little good news to report. There were signs of occupation in places, shops that’d been broken into and signs of vehicles tearing up grass and so-on. But that’s getting ahead of myself.

So first and foremost, we made great time in the air. Smooth ride all the way, and we’d already stocked the plane with fresh and storable foods. Autopilot did most of the work once we had our course and altitude. Moriah said she’d “never flown something so nice in her life” and that it “felt like cheating or something”.

She wouldn’t try the salad Oliver had made for us, even though he’d made it big enough for two. I wonder why I still remember that days and days later. Oh! Cuz’ this was the first time he’d ever put hay in a salad. Yeah, hay. Hay is for horses. I ate it.

It really wasn’t that bad. It really wasn’t anything, honestly. Sorta like eating lettuce. A little drier, a little more like grass. I didn’t dislike it though, which was probably my new anatomy talking. I can’t imagine many humans could’ve eaten that. I’d Google it, but, well… wasn’t the sort of thing Joseph saved. God do I miss Google. I wonder if we could find one of their server-farms somewhere and bring it all back.

ANYWAY — Moriah got into a pretty heated discussion after landing about magic. The details don’t really matter. She wanted to talk about lots of things. Maybe I thought she was moving a little too fast with Joseph. Maybe I thought lots of things. Maybe Moriah was going on and on about what happened to her, and I got incredibly sick of hearing it, as though those things never happened to anyone else.

Yeah, okay, I said some insensitive things. About her and magic and unicorn stuff. I’ll admit it. I wouldn’t have if she hadn’t been so incredibly awful!

She decided to prove me wrong with a little demonstration of magic, right there. Joseph had, after all, instructed her on how it worked… somehow? I wasn’t actually there for that. It was too depressing to learn how to do something I’d never be able to do.

As it turns out, Moriah can still do something like magic. It doesn’t seem to be very well controlled, though, or be very good for her. Thank God we were on the runway.

I don’t know exactly how to describe what she did except that it very much wasn’t levitation. She aimed her stump right at me and blasted with all her might. I happened to be holding the satellite transceiver in my saddlebag and the phone velcroed to my hoof at the time.

It burned all over. First the flash, so bright blue that I was momentarily blinded. When I came to, I watched the phone I’d been holding dissolve in front of my eyes. Case turned back into nurdles and then into petroleum sludge. Glass melted back into sand and flux, metals separated back into ore.

You have to understand, some of this I could only see afterwards, I didn’t fully comprehend it at the time. I didn’t, because my whole body was burning. I dropped to the ground without much resistance, contorting and screaming, though my eyes were still open. Facing the back wall, I watched my backpacks change back into cotton before my eyes, metal condensing into little nuggets as a plume of foul-smelling chemicals went up into the air. Of course I could barely smell it, since my head was below the thing. Probably for the best, it was probably chlorine or something.

It hurt so bad I don’t really remember much after that. Just that I thought maybe Moriah had killed me by accident. Turns out the truth was very nearly the opposite, though I didn’t know it at the time.

The first thing I noticed was rain on my face. Rain coming in through a perfectly round hole behind me. The body of the aircraft was gone, and nothing remained but a small pile of metal and sand on the ground. My clothes, more like a pile of cloth than anything at that point, fell off when I tried to stand.

There wasn’t really anything to be afraid of, though I felt pretty embarrassed at the time. Guess that proves I didn’t get hurt that bad.

Maybe not, but there was definitely some damage done. I didn’t know that yet though. I wanted to check on Moriah. I hadn’t actually seen or heard her after the “spell” happened, since I was so occupied with my own pain.

She was unconscious deeper in the plane, and she didn’t look good. Her horn, what was left of it, had cracked right open. A little puddle of blood was right there in front of her, and still seeping out where she’d cracked it open.

About crapped myself right there. Even though she’d “attacked” me with magic, I wasn’t just going to let a member of our little community lie there and bleed. The bleeding wasn’t bad, but I sure as heck wasn’t a doctor. How the heck was I supposed to force her horn to clot if it hadn’t already?

It wasn’t shattered (there wasn’t nearly enough horn left for that). I went to the medkit and found some clotting foam, blasting that crap into and onto her horn. It worked. Thank God it worked, I’m not sure what I would’ve done if it hadn’t. I’m not Oliver.

I didn’t hurt anymore, but something felt a little wrong. I guess I didn’t notice with the blood and the adrenaline, how things didn’t look quite right. I wasn’t really sure what happened, but I noticed when I went into the little bathroom to wash the blood off (still worked even with a hole in the fuselage, who knew?).

I’m not sure what I was afraid of. I guess that with pain as intense as I felt, I just knew something had to be wrong.

It is. Was. Will… whatever. I think her spell made me… smaller. Not by much! I think maybe three inches (though as a pony I’ve got few enough of those to lose). I think the weird thing I’d noticed was my mane, though: it was long again, just like my tail. I’m not really sure how a spell that made cotton fall apart would do that.

I’m glad I wasn’t wearing my shoes during that adventure… but even so, they’re useless now. My legs are smaller, and they don’t fit right anymore. Go up just high enough to stop my knees from bending right. Shorts feel loose too.

Whatever. After what happened to my body when this all started, losing a few inches isn’t the worst thing.

I’m afraid it might’ve done more. I feel more… God, I don’t know! Scared of stuff. Nervous being alone. Whatever, I’ve been ignoring instincts for long enough now, I can fight a little extra apprehension and loneliness.

I didn’t know enough to give Moriah any painkillers. The trauma kit had these pre-measured injections for serious injuries, but I felt like those are for humans and that much at once might kill her. Not to mention after seeing my reflection I was confused and way less decisive than I normally am.

Shut up, it got to me! It’s not my fault if it still does! You try being the shortest, weakest pony in your whole group, see if you like it. Biology is such an unfair jerk. I wish I’d known about all this before. I would’ve started a movement. Some protests or whatever. Against what? Where?

This might be my most eclectic entry to date. I think maybe I should delete all this and start over.

Screw it, I won’t delete any of it, but I’ll start over.


Got back from Oregon. The reason we hadn’t been able to talk with everypony — I seriously just said that. Every PONY — two words, Sky — was that Moriah destroyed the satellite communication gear AND the plane AND my saddlebags AND the clothes Sky sewed for me with her own hooves.

I liked that top you jerk.

She also seriously hurt herself, and either shrunk me somehow or made me younger, I’m not actually sure which. My voice is higher, but that might’ve happened if I was smaller too. Though… if there was a magic spell to just make things smaller, could I still breathe the same air? I think I saw this on Star Trek once…

Analyzing the physics of FREAKING UNICORN MAGIC aside, we were kinda screwed. The airplane probably would’ve been safe for us for several days if we were conservative with the heating and electricity, but now there was a huge hole in the side. A determined animal easily could’ve jumped a gap that size. A pony, even easier. Do you have any idea how far I can jump? Further than you can I bet, CLOUDY SKIES DIARY READER! Picture… uh… looker! Yeah!

I feel like my sleep deprivation might be influencing how emotional I feel right now. Maybe I shouldn’t write these when I’m tired. BUT I HAVEN’T WRITTEN IN SO LONG! Sky doesn’t count, even if the bit about a meeting with a big, scary, threatening sounding group of ponies called the HPI is coming up soon.

Or, they’re probably not ponies. I guess if they were, they probably wouldn’t have needed so much convincing that we weren’t animals. Or been so shocked by it.

I like how I still say “they” even though we’ve only ever heard one guy talking.

Also, the code changed. It now says:
“8-22-7-0-16-12-5-9-19-8-0-9-1-6-14-5-19-5-0-9-6-8-24-10-9-20-8-6-26-9-0-22-3-23-16-23-8-3-0-9-8-11-23-16-8-22-0-10-9-24-16-19-19-9-2-8-6-7-1-2-7-9-24-15-5-6-9-3-5-1-12-26-9-1-6-12-9-3-5-20-8-3-7-10-9-19-8-0-1-6-14-5-19-5-0”. Big news on that front: Joseph’s finally cracked the stupid thing! Apparently it’s some kind of substitution cypher. According to him, the messages use as the cypher the location from which they’re sent, with alphabet number substitution something something whatever boring.

He thinks that the system would be much more secure if you relied on a GPS signal or something to calculate origin that way the receiver would need two signals instead of one, since each message seems to also include at the end the intended destination of whoever is sending them.

Whatever, I know you’re smarter than me. That wasn’t ever up for debate. Joseph gave me the breakdown of the previous messages, which talk about some pretty ominous stuff, but nothing we didn’t expect. “Preservation successful”. HPI. I see a connection.

The most recent message says they’re waiting outside of town and they’re going to contact us soon. But we already knew that, right? We’ve been talking with the HPI for some time now. Why would an organization with such advanced machines need to use such a silly code to communicate? Who would they be talking to if they’re the only ones?

It doesn’t quite add up, though I’m not sure how. Joseph thinks it’s obviously the HPI and I should just stop worrying.

Joseph, that jerk. You know what he said to me when I got back? Not; “Oh, Alex, it’s so great to see you. I’m so glad you’re safe!” He said, “Why are you a midget?” Because that’s exactly what I needed after my trip. Whatever, Oliver is still nice to me. He knows how much life sucks. Even if he doesn’t know what it’s like not to have a buttmark.

Yeah, I asked him about that. Guess I should’ve written it down when I did. He started with his, same as Moriah (so far as she knows). He played Monopoly with Sky and me… okay, so he was really bored during Monopoly, but he did make us some fresh popcorn. Sky can’t get enough of the stuff ever since I showed her what it tastes like. Tastes even better with the fresh-churned butter we have (also, the only butter we have).

I’m rambling on again, and I’ve just about run out of space for today’s entry. I guess I’ll talk about my days on the lam tomorrow. Just finish up by saying that I got in safe, Moriah’s okay again, though her headaches have gotten worse and she’s taking Excedrin as often as the safety limits allow now. Apparently she lost all memory of the conversation leading up to her attempt at magic, so she couldn’t tell me what she had meant to do or why she got so angry. Guess that’s for the best. The only ones who know how mean I was now are me and these pages.

Wouldn’t be a very good leader if I made ponies resent me. Wouldn’t be a very good leader if I was a tiny, weak, possibly younger pony without any powers. Oh wait. That’s me.

Oliver says there’s some medical stuff he can do to figure out if I’m biologically younger or not. He’ll probably do that tomorrow. Also Cloudy Skies signed us up to an in-person meeting with the HPI on the 27th, so that’s exciting.

Really Feeling It Man,

—Lonely Day

I used a mirror and tried to do a self-portrait. I think I'm getting better. I wish I didn't hate myself so much right now.

Chapter 35: July 26

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Dear Journal,

Because I couldn’t keep my stupid mouth on topic last menight, I’m back to finish talking about my trip. I’ll try to be less of a worthless pony tonight. I’m sure I’ll have plenty to talk about tomorrow. I’ll bring my laptop and record the whole thing, so it’ll all be saved. It’s so much easier to record things than to type them up later.

That’s assuming I come back. Cloudy Skies is terrified for me. She thinks it’s a trap, she’s sure I shouldn’t go. Moriah thinks so too. Oliver and Joseph think this is our first real chance of making a meaningful alliance with a technical power. Our only chance not to slip back into the middle ages. Maybe they’re right about that, I don’t know. Against my better judgment, I’m going to side with them for once and go. I don’t care how awful being around those ships felt last time. I won’t be controlled by pony instincts.

I am HUMAN, damnit. Tail and mane doesn’t change that. Being even smaller doesn’t change that. Being transformed doesn’t change that.

I’ve been toying with a theory the last few weeks, ever since I saw the airship. I wonder if maybe what we’re seeing is the planet itself, striking back at humanity for all we’ve done to her. Some sort of planetary immune system we never anticipated. We polluted the seas, ate most of what wasn’t us, and dumped toxic gas into the air. Is this how Gaia gets her revenge?

You may take Cloudy Skies, you might even take Oliver, but you will not take me! No transformation can erase my spirit! Taking my family, my tribe, my nation… that won’t do it either.

Another theory: maybe this is some sort of alien experiment. The others are the control group, while ponies like me and maybe Moriah too are the ones they really use to test the limits of the human spirit. Maybe, like in Dark City, this whole world is some simulation meant to discover the nature of the human soul.

That would make the HPI the experimenters, right? Or maybe they’re exactly what they sound like. Human Preservation Initiative. Maybe the USA saw this coming, and the HPI is their answer. Tomorrow I’ll know. The others will not come with me; I insist on it. I’ve said it before, and I think it’s even more true now: I’m the most expendable pony we have. Even out of the gene pool, even at a slower rate of replacement without me (not much slower, I wasn’t going to help anyway), I still add the least. General competence can be replaced.

That’s tomorrow’s adventure, though. I wanted to get last week’s down before I forgot the details. At least if I die tomorrow (or get dragged off for dissection in some alien lab), my last acts won’t depend on Moriah to be remembered the right way. TO BE REMEMBERED, OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOH (terrible musical by the way).

Moriah was out, and it was late. I was still pretty alert, since I hadn’t done much to help with the flight over. Mostly that was the computer and my hornless unicorn friend. Still, with it getting dark soon I didn’t want to get too far. I hopped out through the hole (really missing Huan), with my P90 and nothing else. Stupid Moriah had ruined my one good outfit and my shoes didn’t fit anymore. I had some shorts, but they fell off when I tried to put them on, so that was out. It was time for my first (and only) adventure as Lonely Day the ordinary pony!

I might be small, and I might be naked, but I was also armed. Good thing I’ve been practicing, because honest to god as I made my way towards one of those stationary carts a freakin’ cheetah came out from behind a boarding ramp and sprinted towards me at sixty miles an hour.

Instinct screamed to run. I saw those teeth and those claws, now decidedly bigger than me. But I didn’t run. It wasn’t because I was thinking rationally, really. I didn’t know that I didn’t stand a chance in hell to out-pace a cheetah. I just knew that I’d kept the gun within reach because I intended to use it. Drop into a sitting position, raise gun, insert Velcro glove, wait until cat gets close, pull trigger.

My P90 was loaded with a full clip of hollow-point rounds. I’m sure you can guess what won. You wouldn’t believe the stopping power such a baby gun can have with antipersonnel rounds. I didn’t really know what I was doing, and I was too scared to really think. Instead of taking maybe one shot to discourage the predator, I blew the whole clip. Turned that cheetah into hamburger. So maybe calling the p90 a "baby gun" was a little premature on my part. I guess I just thought bigger guns would be more powerful? Whatever. I'll apologize to the next Belgian I meet for making fun of their gun.

Never-mind the absurdity of seeing an African Savannah predator creeping through the runways of the Portland Airport. Now there was one fewer. No silencer on the gun either, and the thing was so loud I felt like it might burst my eardrums.

Did a hasty conversion to get the little propane cart pony-operable (the pedals on those things are actually short enough to reach if I sit upright on the floor, look over the wheel, and turn it using my teeth). Tastes like nasty rubber. Spent the night driving around to the tiny private hangers, looking for a learjet similar to the one we had flown in on.

Couldn’t find one, but I did find a two-prop thing with controls that looked pretty close to what Moriah had been flying the day she crashed. It would have to do. Actually took the rest of the day to find the keys. Had to kick open several buildings, search through by flashlight, etc. Didn’t fancy the idea of hotwiring planes like cars. Way more dangerous (and I’ve never done it before).

I didn’t want to move Moriah yet, even though I was pretty sure she hadn’t taken any neck injuries. But if the alternative was a freakin’ lion finding its way into our plane, we wouldn’t have much choice. Well, we spent one night there. Moved her out of the cockpit and locked it, then went around from the ramp. Maybe something could break in, but it would have to be a species with opposable thumbs human-level intelligence. Raised the ramp again, and used a kick to bend the knob into the shut position.

Heard all sorts of animals that first night (and every night we spent there). I didn’t sleep well, particularly when I felt the plane briefly shake or something clawing at the cockpit door. Ultimately the metal proved better than whatever paws were trying to force their way in, because we slept safely.

My predicament had not reversed itself that morning by magic (hah, get it!), and I could barely reach the shower to use the controls that next morning. Didn’t let it stop me, and spent an extra hour shampooing and conditioning my mane and tail just for spite. Convert all my mass into hair and see if I don’t still take care of it (don’t think they work this way).

Oh, that reminds me. Oliver did a thing today. Took measurements and samples of me. Kinda embarrassing even if I don’t really mind spending time with him. He did his medical magic to see what had happened to me. He couldn’t be sure since he hadn’t measured anything before, but it seemed to him as though my biological age was that of a late adolescent, a pony past puberty by just a few of whatever amount of time passes for years. He said that he thinks if I were human I’d be sixteen. If that’s true, than Moriah’s “attack” reversed seven of my years.

Are ponies immortal? Did Moriah’s magic make me actually, physically younger? Or am I still really 23 and my body just looks like I’m 16? Still useful, even if I’d probably have waited until my thirties or forties to start with vanity spells. Joseph said he doesn’t see himself ever being able to do a spell like that. He said it was a miracle it didn’t kill one of us, and Moriah should never ever do magic again without him there. She promised not to. Hopefully she keeps that promise.

Could’ve been worse I guess. Could’ve been 14 years instead of 7. It’d be so freakin’ great to go through puberty all over again, horsey style. Basically nothing in common this time around, so that would be fantastic.

One disgusting land-mine avoided, even though it would’ve confirmed if I’m really younger or just look younger. Oliver says if I really care there are ways to tell if it’s my real biological age or not, like using the length of… telomeres? Is that what they’re called? I trust him. I said I wanted to know, he told me he’d work on it.

That was today though, and I’m trying to talk about the time I was gone. Zoom back, and I cleaned unconscious Moriah, then got her onto the new plane with our food and stuff. Figured out how to get the refueling truck to work, because I’m a mechanical boss, and I topped it up (not with jet fuel!).

We didn’t just come down to hang around the airport, though. I wanted to drive to my mom’s house and see if she was okay. I didn’t get to do that until the third day, when Moriah was awake. She was hurting like a mother, but she’d stopped bleeding by then and didn’t seem to be dying. I left her locked in the plane, since I knew she’d just slow me down.

Traveling through that city was like some kind of African safari. Okay maybe not, but I did see tons and tons of animals. Elephants browsing through the trees around golf courses. Flocks of zebras and antelopes. Big predators lazing around in the sun. Lots of animals stopped to look at the car I’d found (an airport security sedan with the keys still in the ignition, hadn’t been far from the hanger).

Got to say, I miss traveling alone with Huan. He was the one to have with me on my solo adventures, and I wished then I hadn’t left him to keep an eye on Sky. I’ll take him next time. It’s not like she’s in danger when she stays behind in our safe little base, but I sure as heck was!

I’ve already talked about the outcome. My family wasn’t there, nor was anybody else. There were some signs in a few stores I passed of activity, but I had no way of knowing which were caused by ponies and which by animals. I left laminated flyers wherever I saw it. I figured that, worst case, nobody would find them. It wasn’t as though the pride of lions I had seen would be able to read the directions and follow them back to California (I hope not).

I searched around in a widening circle from my mom’s house, but I didn’t find much. Eventually I gave up, and grabbed several family pictures off the walls, along with a big plastic crate of keepsakes from my childhood. Video and pictures of a life that’s gone. Left a flier on every bed in the house, along with a note I’m sure as hell not printing in here because it was for my mom and nobody else.

I hope she’ll see it one day. Laminated it, just like the directions, so it should do pretty well in the house. I wouldn’t be coming back to search, though. They weren’t here, and I’d left directions for them if they ever came back. I had to accept that Mom and Jennifer are gone now.

I’m sorry Mom. I hope you’re not mad that I’m letting go. I know you weren’t perfect, but… you gave me everything. I was a pretty terrible kid. Thank you for everything. And… wherever you are… keep an eye on Jennifer for me. I love you.

Didn’t find anybody. Wouldn’t be safe to be out in the open there anyway. Get eaten alive. Way worse than stray dogs.

Made it back, I scavenged food. Used my tools to convert the plane. Eventually Moriah felt better and she flew us home. Flight took FOREVER without jet engines. I was too sad to be furious with Moriah for shrinking me. Besides, she’d almost died. She was still in pretty awful pain. She got her punishment I think. Who knows, maybe we’ll find out she made me seven years younger. Could… always use a longer life, right? I’m Jenny’s age. We could’ve had a birthday together. Sweet sixteens! Besties!

Sorry I can’t make you my signature BBQ ribs. We don’t have any pigs, and I think it’d be inconsiderate to ask for the ribs while they were still using them.

—Lonely Day

Addendum: Sky came in late at night with a surprise she’d been working out: a new outfit! Not from scratch, like the last one, just alterations on human clothes. I feel like she’s dressing me up a little with the leather and the jacket; like a little blue Indiana Jones. Stupid Moriah; I should’ve shared a room with Cloudy Skies. No matter what happened it would be awesome to be around her.

She’s not a very good liar. Sky had a note or something with her, and she looked upset. She didn’t actually show me, though. Said she’d changed her mind and “didn’t need help after all”. Gave me a hug like I was a little kid and ran off. Watch it, Pegasus! I’m still stronger and faster than you are! Being shorter don’t change that.

I hope she’ll do it again sometime.

Please god let me live through this.

Chapter 36: Meeting Transcript (July 27)

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Microphone check, one, two, three. I hear you, Sky, Joseph. Good. I’ll just assume you can hear everything. Is the dictation working?

Good. I’ve got another microphone with me, hopefully it will be sensitive to pick up anything he says.

I’m walking into the stadium now. Just a few cars in the parking lot, look like they’ve been here awhile. Yeah, they parked one of their VTOLs here. No tanks I can see; guess they want me to feel safe.

I guess that’s possible. Yeah, I know this is stupid. I’m doing it anyway. No Moriah, there wouldn’t have been any point. If they wanted to kill me one gun wouldn’t be enough to stop it. Yeah, I know it’s stupid.

Walking through the gate now. I can smell the Dodger Dogs again. Not really, but I wish I could. Did you guys ever eat those? We used to get tickets in the seats where you could have one every inning, man those things were fantastic.

I don’t care if they keep. You want to try eating meat again, Moriah? You try; I’ll watch. I could grab a few for you on my way back if you want.

Yeah, that’s what I thought.

Okay, I can see them now. They’ve set something up on the field. Looks like… God, I’ve never seen anything like this.

Uh… looks like they’ve got a shipping crate in the outfield, on one of those wheeled trucks. It’s got nuclear logos all over it, and huge cables running out, thick as my leg. They’ve drawn a circle with paint on the dead grass.

Yeah, I see them now.

More than one.

Human.

They’re all wearing suits. Like… a hazmat suit had a baby with some riot armor. There’s this blue logo on the back, bunch of circles on it. HPI. Cables from the box go into each one, but I can see the air tanks on the back.

They’re they’re…

See me…

God!

Buck you, Moriah! You couldn’t… not gonna’ run… not gonna’ run…

Thanks. Keep… talking…

I can do it… I can do it… I can do it… I’m a strong pony… I’m a strong pony…

Keep talking? Sure… they can see me. They’re all looking at me now. I see two more… up in the seats. They’re… looks like snipers. Really long wires… Everything’s going into that box. I can see the symbols now. It’s got the blue and white thing, and… it says “SSTAR.” I don’t know what that means!

There’s… another thing in the middle… like a sphere? Right in the center of the circle they made. Huge cables going into that one.

No, it’s not very loud. A humming sound… but… God, there’s nothing in there! I can’t feel anything… Nothing should feel this way! Outer space… I’d take that. Up with Joe’s satellites…

They’re watching me. They can probably tell I’m talking to all of you. Or they think I’m insane. Haven’t shot me yet.

Alien creature; observe the outer circle. Do not approach past the yellow markings, or we will open fire.

That wasn’t him. It sounded different. Is the parabolic working okay? Deep voice. Joseph and Oliver don’t sound like that.

I guess I can talk to you all from right here! I won’t come any closer! I… might not be able to keep screaming like this for our whole conversation!

Uh, thanks I guess? They have this little drone, like the ones Amazon was going to use. Just dropped a speaker with a microphone. I… hold on while I get out my tools! I don’t have fingers to use the buttons!

Shut up Joseph, I’m not using my mouth. Unicorns shouldn’t be allowed to give the rest of us advice about how to do stuff without hands.

Okay, how’s this?

The one on the side has another communicator. He’s giving the microphone to the one without a gun. Yeah, three down here. Five total… yeah, I guess I do feel better. So long as I don’t think about it. It feels like there’s nothing, like it’s going to… going to… but I can see there isn’t nothing! There are people in there! Tall… way taller than me. Two arms, two legs. Fingers on their gloves. Can’t see the faces, though.

Are you the one who called yourself Lonely Day?

I am.

And I am Dr. Clark. I apologize for not getting any closer. We can’t.

Why not? My friend said there isn’t that much more radiation than there used to be. Maybe a little… but it’s safe. He said it wasn’t much worse than eating a few more bananas every day.

Thaumic radiation isn’t detectable with a Geiger counter or any other conventional tools. Specialized machinery is required. I’m putting it on the drone…

This thing got loud! How do I… oh, like that. Why did it do that?

Because talking to you is like talking to an unshielded reactor. Your body is producing levels about a hundred times greater than the environment. Even that would be lethal in minutes. If you got any closer… I’m not sure the shield would be enough.

You sound pretty sure… Wait a second. I’ve never heard of “thaumic” radiation. What’s that? Oh, thanks Oliver… Thaumaturgy? Like miracles? I can’t do anything like that.

If you were a unicorn, this circle would be as wide as the whole stadium. We couldn’t talk to you for more than a few minutes.

I’ll just assume you know what you’re talking about. What does this thaumic stuff do? And… if I’m that dangerous, why are you talking to me?

We brought a chair for you if you would like to sit while we talk.

Nah, ground’s good. Dead grass poking into my butt would be a pain, but that’s what the leather is for. Thanks though.

He’s just sent the soldiers away. They’re… coming back with a chair for him, and a table. He’s got a computer on it. They’re walking away again… looks like there’s a little door on the shipping crate. They just went inside.

I’m afraid I can’t take any chances, Lonely Day. My snipers will be forced to fire if you make any attempt to approach. Otherwise, you have my word we will not harm you.

Okay. I won’t.

I’ll be happy to answer your questions, but formalities first. I represent the Human Preservation Initiative. Have you ever heard of it? No, I’d think not. We hadn’t existed for too terribly long before the Collapse. Not quite three years, actually. That was all the warning we had.

Warning about… about the "Collapse?" You knew it was going to happen? YOU KNEW, AND YOU DIDN’T DO SOMETHING TO STOP IT?!

Please, calm down. The amount of radiation you’re producing has just increased by sixty percent. If you can’t calm down, we may have to cut this conversation short.

Oh… oh-kay. I will. Sorry. My question still stands.

We did all we could. Even with infinite resources, we were up against titanic odds. This machine here? This portable shielding device cost five hundred billion dollars to produce. Do you have any idea the resources that represents? Three percent of the entire product of the world’s largest economy. This is a single shielding unit, to protect a thirty foot sphere or so. Imagine what it might take to protect a larger area… somewhere large enough to live in.

It took the combined wealth of the entire world to retrofit our facility to protect a mere five hundred people. We’ve searched, but so far as we can tell, there aren’t any other humans alive on the entire planet.

I’m human. My friends are human too. Oliver, Joseph, Moriah…

No, you’re not. Humans don’t have fur and stand on four legs.

We were human, then. Is this… Is this what thaumic radiation does? Mutate humans into ponies?

It does not. Thaumic radiation does not affect the body or brain in any way our medical equipment can detect. Yet, when humans are exposed, they suffer rapid mental deterioration. I’ve seen… I’ve seen it turn a good man into a vegetable right in front of me. No way to treat it, no way to reverse the effects once exposed.

Okay. I’ll accept that, for the moment. Where did everybody go, then? If this… thaumic stuff… fries people's minds, and it’s everywhere now, why didn’t it just melt all our brains? Where are all the bodies?

We… We aren’t certain. We have suspicions. That isn’t what we came to discuss, however.

Okay. I’ll table that for now. You didn’t cause this, you were some sort of global conspiracy and you saved as many people as you could. But if just being near me is dangerous… if it takes all those machines, how can we possibly work together? It would probably make sense for you guys to aim that fancy ship as far away from every pony as you can, hunker down in your bunker in whatever God-forsaken corner of the world you built it in, and stay inside forever.

There are those within the Initiative who agree. I don’t. Having someone on the outside, even if they’re a… pony, you called yourself? Even an alliance with ponies might be useful, if there are others who haven’t gone feral, others with the intelligence and will to build all that you have.

Why? Sounds like you had plenty of time to prepare. You can’t need much.

Think, Lonely Day. How long could a completely self-contained facility last? My engineers have given me the numbers, and it’s a hell of a lot shorter than forever. Even after salvaging most of the spent fuel from the country’s plants, we can’t keep running forever. Even if we move on to collecting refined fuel and breaking down nukes, we’re on a clock. Once that reactor goes, so does the whole thing.

Long before that, we’re all going to be sick of eating algae and wheat-grass. We’re going to need salvaged supplies from all over the country, maybe all over the world. Traveling like this is exceptionally dangerous. If that little reactor goes, we all melt in our suits.

I still don’t get how you couldn’t know I was intelligent. I see how it’s a leap to believe that little horses used to be human… sometimes I wonder if being human was some kinda dream… but damnit, I never wonder if I might not be intelligent! I’m wearing clothes, using tools, talking in English. Are pony survivors so rare that you don’t know?

Not… precisely. We travel very rarely, and generally only to nuclear power stations and remote military locations. There seems to be an… instinct of sorts, as what few ponies we have seen avoided us. They ran like all the other animals did. We suspected it has something to do with the shielding generators we use, since all animal species have had adverse reactions to it even before the Collapse.

We hadn’t thought to monitor the radio, since any organization capable of surviving the Collapse would have used more sophisticated equipment. We discovered you by accident; your spotlight was visible as we came in for our salvage operation in Diablo Canyon.

You are the first pony to intentionally get this close. You don’t feel like running or attacking?

Running. Very, very much. I won’t run. I’m human. Only animals run, you said so. Wait… attack? Ponies attacked you?

A few. Not effectively. The problem is the radiation; portable shielding devices can’t handle so much at once. After I lost one team to an accident with animals like you, we’ve made an effort to avoid them. Even a single fatality is unacceptable.

Okay, let me try to understand. You want our help to… help you find things?

At first. There may be more.

Would anything we brought even be useful to you? If we’re radiation factories, contaminating everything just by being nearby…

We have ways of decontaminating objects, or else we wouldn’t be able to travel outside at all. Still, we don’t need you to find anything physical for now.

What is it you want from us? We… Don’t get me wrong, we want to help. It sounds like you Initiative folks are doing what you can to keep humanity alive. But out here, we’re just worried about starving. We’re worried about how we’ll deliver babies, and what we’re going to do to get water. We want to build a colony one day. We can’t be your private search team full time.

No, we wouldn’t expect you to. But we’re thinking long-term, just like you seem to be. If you’re a colony one day, you’re going to need trading partners; so are we. Do you think any of the other ponies in the world, feral or not, are going to be manufacturing new computers and automobiles? Keeping the most important satellites working as long as possible? Stopping waste fuel from catching fire and layering another level of radiation on the continent, maybe one you’re not immune to? No.

But forget all of that. Forget anything long term. Right now, we need your help with something simpler, something we couldn’t ever do.

What?

We’ve got a single satellite in orbit with the sensors to pick up thaumic radiation. It’s tracked an enormous source of radiation traveling gradually south. When we discovered you and started searching the civilian radio frequencies, we detected a transmission using a simple analog cipher. Its source seems to correspond roughly to the radiation hotspot.

I think I know the messages you’re talking about. We… thought it was you.

It is not. We estimate two days before it arrives, perhaps slightly less.

Okay. Tons of radiation. How can we help?

The most recent messages seem to suggest it’s heading for you. The fact it’s sending simply encoded radio transmissions suggests a physical being of some kind, but our satellite imaging never comes up with anything substantial. When it arrives, identify it, and learn everything you can from whomever it is. Share this information with us. We have… reason to believe whoever they are may know more about what really happened in the Collapse. They may be our only chance to ever learn the truth. Learning the cause might be the key to saving humanity. Even though you’re not human anymore, you must still care. You wouldn’t be talking to me otherwise.

I do. We do. I don’t… I want to help.

We’ll make it worth your while. We have technology that was not available to the public before the collapse, machines that might make your lives much easier. Learn everything you can, and share it with us. If you succeed, it might be the start of a working relationship. Even given the danger of working with your species, I think we both stand to benefit.

Give me a minute to talk to my friends. They’ve been listening, but I shouldn’t make any promises without them.

I understand.

Well? What do you ponies think?

Good. That’s what I thought.

Yeah.

Okay, I’ll tell him.

We’ll help. It sounds like the thing is coming towards us anyways, so we don’t have anything to lose.

Good. You have our communicator. We shouldn’t remain here any longer than we have to. If you would be kind enough to leave as quickly as possible, my people can start breaking this machinery down.

Does the shield have to keep running all the time? That must be a pain to set up.

There are portable units in the suits, but they can’t run without a direct line to the reactor here. Way too much power.

That’s the lightning-looking stuff?

Yes.

Okay, I’ll leave. Just… don’t shoot me on my way out. I think my friends would hear that. They probably wouldn’t want to help you if you kill me.

We won’t harm you, you have my word. I… would shake on it, but I don’t think I would survive getting that close. Besides, you don’t have hands.

Thanks for being so sensitive about it.

I’m walking away now. Put the communicator down. The snipers are watching me, but he isn’t. Nobody’s shooting. Looks like I’m safe. I’ll probably not grab the hot dogs this time, if that’s okay. Probably raccoons or something found them by now anyway. I’ll drive straight back.

Outside now, by my car. Getting in. I’ll hang up. Talk to you all when I get back.

End Transcript

Chapter 37: July 27

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Dear Diary,

I’m still shaking. I just spent the last few hours with Sky, but it didn’t help. Ever do something incredibly stressful, like argue with someone you’re really close to? Your whole body seizes up, and you feel so sick you might throw up all over the place. Well that’s kinda what happened today, except none of those things at all.

Today was our meeting with the Human Preservation Initiative. The humans. There are humans and they’re still alive and God they knew this was going to happen and they couldn’t stop it and they didn’t even warn us how am I even supposed to handle this right now?

Okay okay, focus. It isn’t like that’s even what makes me upset. Mostly it was being close to them for so long; the instinct to run away started to dull, but it was still grating. I think it all hit me at once as I was leaving, because boy did I run.

Just finished with the editing on the meeting transcript. Mostly just made it more readable; I’ll glue it in before this page, so hopefully if you’re going through in order you already saw it. I don’t want to rehash everything, not after having a recording listening to the whole thing.

A few things are less obvious in the recording: they looked human. Like, I’m not totally sure since I didn’t actually see the suits off, but there’s no way thick pony legs would fit through the tiny openings for their thin human ones. That neck, the head shaped all wrong.

Sorry, wrong. Guess I’ve been a pony a little too long. I’ve reached the point where I sometimes look twice at the characters in movies we watch and think that their ankles are going to snap when they move. It’s so frustrating, because I know full well human bones never felt fragile, but it’s hard to remember what it felt like to have them. I’ve stopped having my own body in almost all my dreams now. Sometimes I wonder if I was ever human at all…

No, focus. I have boxes of my old family photos. I can still see my face, even though I haven’t showed it to any of the other ponies. Not questions I want to relive right now. It sucks enough for me without going into detail with other ponies. Not even Moriah, though I did think about it. Ultimately I figured she’d probably just hate me more if I talked about it.

Such a frustrating pony in general, and I’m not even sure. She’s going all up ons with the romance stuff and I sure as heck wouldn’t do that. Maybe I’m just… what’s the word… projecting? Seeing things that aren’t there. Sure as hell don’t have the balls to just ask. That’d mean I knew enough to know what I was asking about. Not gonna happen.

So where am I now? Aside from frightened? Aside from sick...

And not even at the news! The news was good news! Learning that there was a group of humans out there, even a small group, is absolutely fantastic! It means that the weight of carrying mankind's legacy isn't entirely on our pony shoulders. There are others. It's more than just the few ponies we've managed to scrape together. There's hope. Maybe we'll die or just fail and it'll be okay because there are others and life will go on.

Even better, we get to help them. It isn't as though any of us (barring Sky as a possible exception) have any loyalty to whatever it means to be a “pony.” We don't know why this happened, we didn't give our consent, and we would change back in an instant if we could (whether I got my stolen years back or no). I don’t think my loyalty goes far enough to put my friends in danger, though. We want to help, but we also want to live. Even a pony life is better than no life at all.

I say even like it’s bad. Actually, it isn’t. If I think about it. Sure it’s got its suck; the quadruped disability. Not being able to stomach my favorite foods. Losing my family and friends. All that sucks. But I’m not alone, and in our way, we make the most of life. We take turns cooking things we think the others will enjoy. We watch our favorite movies in the theater downstairs. Sky and I go running together, just because we can (and none of the others can gallop).

We aren’t sick, we aren’t starving or thirsty or cold. Aside from Moriah, we aren’t even injured.

I won’t say we’re living in paradise, because that’s just all kinds of wrong. I’ve been attacked by wild animals in the last few days, got blasted again with transforming magic that almost certainly made me the youngest member of the group (hopefully not forever. It might just wear off!). Soon we have the prospect of uprooting everything we’ve built here and traveling east, building a colony. Fending for ourselves as all the old technology starts breaking down.

I guess meeting humans has made me a little existential. I’d started to take it for granted that there weren’t going to be others, and that the weight of the community (and by extension, all of human civilization) fell on me. If future generations were never born, or never knew what it was like to hear a concerto or see a beautiful sculpture, it was going to be my fault.

That’s got to say something about how incredibly self-centered I am, if I think nobody else on the whole planet could stop our memories from being erased. Heck, there are monuments so sturdy that they might last long enough for the freakin’ dolphins to evolve and see them. Mount Rushmore will still look like faces for millions of years. What will the ponies (sea-ponies, dolphins, whatever) think when they see Teddy’s stern face glaring at them. Or will they find the Statue of Liberty thickly patinaed in some sea and know that once, we were here?

I guess it’s wrong of me to be thinking about what might be happening millions and millions of years from now. Even prior to the Event there was no telling our society would live that long. It was probably a bit prideful of us to think western civilization would live longer than its predecessors. Virtus sola nobilitas.

The old Alex was so strong and confident that nothing like this could slow me down. The old Alex would’ve got everypony together for a meeting where we could talk about whether or not we wanted to help the Initiative.

New Alex was too scared of an argument with Moriah or Sky to try it. New Alex curled up and barely talked about it. I wonder if I have some kinda… sickness. Magic sickness. Antimagic? I didn’t go into their thing, or even near it. I didn’t wear one of their suits. So probably not that. Assuming it even would’ve happened. I don’t really know how making the stuff works.

Joseph yelled at me when I got back for not asking any of his questions. He wanted to know how their shields worked. I kinda wish I had, though at the time I was more worried about not getting shot and not running away. Both of those things took most of my attention, I’ll admit. Didn’t leave nearly enough for the more academic questions.

There’s nothing stopping him from using the communicator they left to call and ask. He hasn’t. Guess he didn’t really care that much.

It really doesn't matter how it works so much as it matters that it does work. There’s no reason for them to lie about it; some elaborate tactical misdirection doesn’t make sense when your enemy is inferior in every way.

Joe said, “We don’t know they were humans! Maybe they were the aliens that took all the other people away, and they were only tricking us!” Whatever. Doesn’t make sense. I want to help. Going to help.

Something is coming. Soon, just days away. Maybe its arrival will finally bring answers.

They thought we would all die. They hunkered down in some bunker to let the entire human race die.

I wonder if that makes them monsters. Or… I guess… they probably stuffed that base as full as they could.

But damnit if we didn’t deserve to know! I didn’t ask the reason for such an awful decision, but it’s easy enough to guess. Didn’t want to cause a panic that might destroy the base, or the organization, before the Event actually occurred. Or maybe they thought it was kinder to let humanity quietly die in its sleep.

Just because I would’ve rather known doesn’t mean everybody would have.

I guess… I guess I’m just glad I’m not the one that had to make the decision of what to do. I’m not sure history would’ve thought fondly of me either way.

Not that I’m going to be remembered. Not that there’s going to be a history. Just an animal now. We’re all just animals now.

Or… actually not, I guess. I’m not just an animal. Animals all run, or they fight. I didn’t do either. I’m human. I’m not an animal, I’m human, I’m human, I’m human…

Chapter 38: July 28-29

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Diary,

Today Los Angeles burned.

We’re alive. None of my friends died getting out, and most of our animals made it too. Very little else made it. The house is probably gone. The solar panels and atmospheric water generators are gone. The city of my adolescence, the city where I went to school and had my first drink and my first date and my first heartbreak are all gone too.

Or in the process of going. It’s still orange on the horizon. The year has been so dry, I’m not sure how far the fire is going to spread. Came down from the north, and it didn’t make sense to go south to more dry city, so we fled east.

Made it to Redlands, stopped in a park. Not sure if I’m hallucinating, or if I can still see the red of the flames on the horizon.

Maybe I’ll feel like talking about it tomorrow. Sky says I should shut up and get some rest. I think I will.

-Lonely

Dear Diary,

I’ve considered this might be the last record of our little colony. In fifty years, there might be no more trace of our little struggles to survive than this book filled with scribbles. If we all die tomorrow, I hope the acid-free paper of this journal might survive in the rainless climate here, protected from the wind by the shell of this RV, until some explorers stumble upon it and free it from the rot. What will they think of me when they read it? Will they even look long enough to care?

We struggled, we fought, we lived. Damn anything man or nature throws at us.

We don’t know what it was, even now. Chances are it was a little of both. The modern energy grid is so full of safeties, particularly in California. We’ve got layers and layers of failsafes, so much so that even during major earthquakes (like Northridge a few years back) we avoided huge fires or other big disasters. The city didn’t burn then.

But that was with a million people actively working to prevent something from going wrong. Not a whole city full of buildings that were simply abandoned overnight, left running right where they lay. We might not ever know what caused it. Maybe something blew over and sparked. Maybe pressure built up in a refinery or something. Maybe the HPI left a few napalm explosives on a timer for us.

It was early in the morning. I’d only been in bed a few hours when Cloudy Skies came banging on my door, saying that she smelled smoke. I didn’t even bother to get dressed, just ran outside to look, as naked as she was. She was right. Even though the sun wasn’t fully up, I could see the billowing cloud, putrid black smoke with flickers of orange. I couldn’t tell exactly what was burning; I only knew we didn’t have much time.

We didn’t have nearly enough “get out of dodge” supplies packed, we weren’t ready for anything like this. Maybe we should’ve scoured the city for anything that might cause trouble, or maybe doing that would’ve taken all our time and still not been enough. Whatever. Hindsight.

We’ve kept the cattle-truck near the ranch, and I sent Huan with Sky to get the herd loaded as soon as possible. Sky would drive the truck along the Ten and out of town, waiting on the highway itself as soon as she was out of the densest city. So that was two of us gone.

The others weren’t even up yet, though I yelled and screamed and pounded and eventually they started making their way downstairs. I explained the situation, and took charge. Only Sky had completed enough of her practice to actually know how to drive a truck, and Joseph couldn’t drive at all.

Of all we had, what couldn’t be replaced? Joseph’s data. I put the unicorns on that, cramming everything they possibly could into the nicer RV. We'd packed it for an escape more than a week ago, and the dry food was still inside. At least it was freshly fueled, too. When they were done, or when I gave the signal that the fire was getting close, Moriah was to drive it and Joseph was to ride out along the ten to meet Sky. Two more gone.

That left Oliver and me to deal with the necessities of survival, at least more than whatever we’d kept in the RV. We would load it into Sky’s pickup truck, which Oliver would drive. We briefly considered using the other RV, but in the end decided we could always find another one if we wanted, and that being able to get over rough terrain might be more important. That would leave me with the medicine truck.

We had maybe ten minutes before we saw the first flickers of flames. Perhaps an hour before the smoke started getting thick, a sure sign that we would have to evacuate quickly. Of all of us, only I had lived here, and had the luxury of any personal belongings. I brought my journal, my laptop, my new outfit, and my keepsakes from home. We filled the back of that truck with MREs, so cold from being frozen before that they burned our mouths and hooves whenever they touched them. Once we had the pickup stuffed, we covered it with a tarp, tied it down, and Oliver was out.

I was the last to go. I could see the flames flickering from house to house in the near distance, roaring out of apartment windows. Gas lines exploded with regular force, sending up roaring mushroom clouds into the morning sky. God, I didn’t know fire could even move this fast.

I could see my transmission tower out the window as the cooler truck started. I’m sure inside that loft room it was still transmitting the summons to Los Angeles with the promise of community, food, and safety. It burned. I didn’t stay long enough to watch it burn, but somewhere in my soul I just know it did. All these months without irrigation had already dried much of the city to kindling.

Lots of concrete and steel won’t ever burn. I wonder, if I return in a few months, how many of the buildings might still be standing, massive steel and stone skeletons to be colonized by tumbleweeds and wildflowers. How many are going to topple in those flames? Will any of the history survive?

Thank god for Cloudy Skies and her inhumanly early rising. If we’d woken to flames at our door instead of smoke, we might not have survived. Or we might’ve escaped with nothing but burns, to crawl away as dying refugees.

I don’t think it will swallow the whole state. Winds won’t help it forever, and it’s too dense in places. Go a little further north, and you hit greener and greener country. South, though… I wonder just how far that fire might spread.

We’re not going back. Not for months, anyway, and not on hoof. We brought everything we could, everything that couldn’t be replaced.

I couldn’t watch my city burn. I could barely drive through the tears when I left, and the wind whipped the smoke up into billowing clouds that made it hard to drive. The Event has taken everything I’ve loved away. My friends, my family, my body, my identity, and now my whole city.

Joseph called the HPI on our communicator. They say they had nothing to do with it, said they don’t have anyone within 300 miles, and there’s nothing they can do to fight a fire that size. I believe them about that last part, anyway.

Goodbye to the city I loved. Goodbye to the not-wide-enough streets, to the buildings with their history, the familiar sights and smells. Goodbye to Union Station, the auto garage, and my crappy apartment. Goodbye to our mansion and all the work we did to make it a home. Goodbye to the garden half-grown and the fences. Goodbye to the stray dogs that would’ve eaten us if they could, and whose barking sometimes kept us awake at night. Goodbye to the radio stations and the strange runes.

Goodbye my friend, city of angels. Thank you for keeping me safe these last three months. If I’m your last child, I’ll keep your memory. It can’t be heavier than the burdens I’m already carrying.

We refueled this morning using my homemade siphon. At least all our vehicles run on diesel; looks like most of the supply is still stable. While Cloudy Skies and the others watered the cattle and let the chickens out, Joseph, Huan, and I went to find another truck and get it retrofitted for pony use. We had to pick up some new tools too, since mine hadn’t made it out of LA. Came back in mid-afternoon with a standard cargo truck, one of the ones with the nice, livable cab. Not sustainable, mind, but at least it has a toilet and a fridge and a bed. Enough.

As she seemed the most adept at learning new vehicles, Moriah was the one I gave the crash-course on trucks to that afternoon. She wouldn’t need to do anything really but drive in a straight line and relatively slow speeds, so it wasn’t hard. We’ll have to stop and have me take them down one at a time if we encounter narrow roads or steep inclines or something. Whatever.

She wasn’t happy to switch out for Oliver as RV driver, not when Joseph spent most his time there. To our great surprise, he gave up gaming (though none of his consoles had made it, his laptop had, and he apparently had tons of games on that too.) But he didn’t even bring it to ride passenger with Moriah. Curiouser and curiouser.

I saw the letter Cloudy Skies wrote in here. I bet she’s not happy, if she’s not as overwhelmed by the fire as I am. We talked before our caravan started driving again in the afternoon, and she wanted to ride with me. She knew she couldn’t, but she didn’t want to be alone. We didn’t have enough ponies for that, of course. Oliver would be alone in the RV, she’d be alone with the cows, and I’d be alone with some drugs. So it went.

Used CB to keep in touch, and drove until one of us (Sky) got too tired to keep driving. Stopped for a meal of our last fresh greens in the RV, then Sky and I came in here to share the truck’s cab while the other ponies share the RV. Wonder if it’s normal to cry this much. Everything’s better with friends, even being sad. Maybe especially.

We should stop at a Toys R’ Us tomorrow. See if we can get a copy of Monopoly.

The bed isn’t very big, and I don’t think Huan will be able to share it with us. He doesn’t mind though, because he’s such a good dog. Yes you are! Yes you are! At least… somebody’s not completely lost it. Thanks for being here for me, you big dumb mutt. Alright, alright, I’m sorry! You’re not dumb! Get off me… damnit, don’t step on the laptop.

Here’s praying tomorrow is better.

The HPI told us during our meeting yesterday they needed us to meet with some force, possibly a pony, coming in our direction. I wonder if that pony caused the fire. I wonder if they died in it.

-Lonely Day

Chapter 39: July 30-31

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July 30, 2015

Dear Journal,

I’m sorry about being so emotional these last few days. I made an effort to compose myself before writing this. Hopefully I can be a little more… historical. Maybe being historical will make it easier.

Today we drove most of the day, all the way into Phoenix. Not much to say about it. Nothing on the radio besides the number station. Joseph didn’t get around to breaking it, though he said he’d “work on it when he got the chance.” Must’ve heard that damn thing a thousand times, and what it said was:

“10-14-21-26-7-0-3-20-5-6-0-26-7-11-6-2-21-20-1-26-6-11-8-7-0-1-10-3-21-6-11-7-2-22-20-23-14-23-1-20-7-10-1-17-18-1-22-4-11-7-3-
18-18-6-3-20-2-7-6-2-10-3-18-6-11-7-12-14-20-6-8-7-24-14-0-0-7-3-21-21-6-17-18-21-7-21-1-7-0-1-10-3-21-6-8-7-22-4-16-4-1-24-4-8”.

We stopped in the evening for the cows this time, so Sky could do her thing with the animals. I helped with the milking, though only two of the cows needed it. These animals might’ve been dairy cows before, but we’re not forcing them to stay artificially pregnant or prolong their nursing anymore. The extra milk of just a few cows is more than we can use as it is. Not many eggs from the chickens along the drive, but that’s okay. We’re not really in the mood to cook them anyway.

That done, we all got together for a meeting. The smoke of the fires are finally gone, and we need to decide where to go. We were going to wait a year, build up supplies for a proper relocation, and only then migrate out. Now though, with our city gone and no guarantee this might not happen to many others along the way, we’ve been forced to move ahead of schedule. We thought “while we’re at it, why not start the relocation now?” We could find a small, empty town and make it our own. We have a whole country to pick from, with population densities apparently so light we might never meet another soul along the way.

Joseph and Moriah thought to bring the guns and stuff in addition to the computers. Can’t say I’m not glad, with the prospect of a whole country to cross. After much consideration, we decided on the midwest as the site of our future colony. Joseph already had maps of the best farmland in the country, the safest and most stable places for us to build in. We were far from the coasts and their storms. Too far north for the worst tornadoes but not far enough for the worst winters.

As it stands, we have two possible locations in mind, both with their own advantages. One, about as small a town as we were comfortable with, is Paris, Illinois. Former population of just a few thousand, located in excellent farmland and within easy travel distance to Chicago, Indianapolis, and St. Louis.

The other was Jefferson City, Missouri. This was more like a very small city, with a much larger infrastructure, though it was centrally located only between St Louis and Kansas City. We haven’t really decided, though some of that decision might come down to what we can learn when we actually get there.

Right now Paris is the stronger option. Its infrastructure is so small and self-contained that it might actually be feasible to restart if the population grew into the low thousands. Unless the water’s all drained out by now, the gravity-fed system of water towers might still be running even now. If it is, there are several even smaller towns nearby we could probably use. Not to mention that a great deal of the people up there are farmers, so they have all the right machines just sitting there for us.

Even if, by our estimations, we’re likely to have stored food for fifty years at least, with a group this small.

Jefferson City is bigger, so figuring out how to seal off the gas and get the electricity flowing again would be much trickier. It could probably still be done. The city has some advantages over using a small town. Large public buildings there will probably last longer, not to mention it’s got a university and lots of other public resources a tiny town just can’t offer.

We’ll decide when we get there. Actually, we probably won’t have to decide for several days. We’re taking it fairly slow down the highway, and even though we haven’t encountered anything so far, we might. Fairly flat going, which makes it easier on our novice drivers.

We won’t really be stopping to try and recruit anyone in the cities we visit. We’ve changed our minds about that; when we’re already destabilized from losing our home, we really don’t want to try and expand the group. If somebody finds us, great, but we won’t be going out of our way to make it happen. Still, we’re a pretty big convoy to be driving through the country, so it’s not impossible we’ll run into some ponies along the way. We may switch out the cargo truck for another RV, and just use one of the rooms for storage. Most of this one is empty space and animal feed as it is. Wonder how much space we could save if all of us just ate that too. Then we could have a stallion RV and a mare RV. That’d be great.

Oliver told me matter of factly that Joseph and Moriah are definitely together, with a level of medical detachment I found almost disgusting. He didn’t check for other listeners though, and I know Sky heard. Know, because she was teary-eyed the rest of the night. I kept her company, pretended I didn’t notice, and shared some chocolate we’d found that day with her. It seemed to make her feel better. Huan didn’t even try to eat the chocolate.

Guess it’s good to have a friend. The fires might’ve taken everything else away, but at least I didn’t lose all my friends. Guess Sky and I in particular have gotten pretty close. Even if I’ve long since given up the idea that she might have feelings for me… this is good too. I can almost pretend, alone as much as we have been. It’s a pity the survival of our new species is at risk. Pity I’m such an inferior specimen.

Also a pity I’m still so small, maybe young too. I wake up in the morning and Sky is holding me like a doll. Well, I may not be that small, but… I’m used to being bigger. Maybe not bigger than her. Maybe I haven’t been bigger than any pony since the Event. Whatever. You know what I mean. Maybe you don’t. Maybe Moriah doesn’t. God knows I’m not… couldn’t imagine… wonder if it’s the stress. I’d be pretty stressed. I am stressed.

You don’t see me sneaking off and crawling into bed with- Okay, maybe I do crawl into bed with someone every night, but this is totally different! We’re not doing anything! She’s with the cows right now, or else I wouldn’t be able to… Yeah, I should just shut up now. Tomorrow begins our great journey. Journey to a new home. Hopefully one that’s safer than the old one.

—A

July 31, 2015

Dear Journal,

Change of plans. Joseph translated the message last night. The others didn’t want it to change anything, but it does. The force that came looking for us still is. The message didn’t say if it caused the fire, but that doesn’t matter.

Not only does the HPI need us to make contact with it, but I need to for my own sanity. That person, that being, that pony, whatever they are, might be the only chance we have of ever learning what really happened. Going back to investigate might be dangerous and foolish, but it’s also the only way I’m going to be able to sleep at night.

We talked for some time, our trucks all spread out around this big park. The others seemed pretty convinced whatever was back there was the reason the fire had started, and that going back was insane.

Maybe that’s true. I told them I was going back, and that was that. I was the best driver of the group, I could probably make it back there in a single day. And I would turn around if I ran into the fire or there was even a slight sign that something was up.

Needless to say, none of my friends thought that was a good idea. Cloudy Skies was most against the idea, though she didn’t say much. I just knew from looking at her. Oliver didn’t like it either. He tried to make all kinds of arguments about how important I was.

But I’m not important. I’m replaceable. Sorry Oliver, sorry Sky. Maybe if I don’t come back, you two can have each other instead. At least then some ponies will be happy.

Phoenix has all kinds of resources. Huan and I found a police car, and I did the things I do to cars. I’ve done so many conversions now it’s becoming rote. I bet if I opened up an auto shop in the post-Event world, that would be most of what my shop did.

Picked a PHXPD cruiser in this case, stuffed supplies (mostly water) in the back seat, along with some camping stuff in case things went south. Gun, bullets, and my buddy on the passenger seat.

I’ve got a satellite phone too, so hopefully I’ll be able to tell the others even if it’s clear I won’t be able to escape alive. I have no reason to think I won’t make it out alive.

Against my better judgment I’ve decided to take my journal with me. I take it with me in the hope of being able to write down the truth when I learn it. In the end, the others decided to stay in Phoenix a few more days. I told them, if I stay out of contact for three days, to turn around and keep going. I could always check Paris and Jefferson City on my own, if I somehow survive.

“Somehow survive”. Like I’m going to be outraced by a fire when I’m on the highway and can see the smoke for hundreds of miles. Or like I’m running into a source of “thaumic radiation” bright enough that the Initiative can see it from space. Nothing could possibly be dangerous in there.

Most of my journal should be fine if I don’t make it back. All the digital files I printed to glue in are all on my laptop. Even though, I guess I don’t really need to do that anymore. I can write pretty well with my mouth.

I drove halfway back, sleeping in a gas station in this little town called Blythe. Tomorrow I’ll drive the rest of the way in, and hopefully find the mysterious entity who knows what’s going on will be waiting there for me and be in a talking mood.

Turns out I’m coming back, city of angels. I hope you have a little love left for me.

—Alex

Chapter 40: August 1

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Dear Journal,

I found her.

Some of the mystery is solved at last, assuming what I’m being told is true. I found the one who made the runes, I found the one who’s been sending the coded messages. I found the one who’s been looking for us! She’s been looking for us as much as we’ve been looking for her! Too bad she doesn’t know how to use a car, or else she probably would’ve been here months ago and lots of the stress and mystery would’ve been circumvented.

She didn’t try to kill me, or do anything even a little threatening. Maybe the whole world isn’t as empty and bleak as it looked. I’ve learned so much, but everything I’ve learned is just the beginning to what I’m going to. Maybe there’s some hope for humanity after all. Maybe even for the survivors too.

I suppose I should write the whole thing down. She seems to have Joe’s sleep schedule (unicorn thing I guess), so staying up doesn’t seem to bother her. We’re in a locked warehouse, with a campfire burning right on the concrete. Never thought you could do that. Guess so long as we’ve got good ventilation. I already told the others what I’ve learned so far using the phone, I guess I should get it written down too before I try this sleeping bag again as a pony.

The fire is still burning. It doesn't seem to be spreading as far, not devouring the whole state like I’d been afraid of, but the plumes of smoke are still rising. There are refineries in that city that might keep burning for months.

But I didn’t have to get anywhere near the actual fire, because I found one walking towards me. Okay, maybe it’s wrong of me to make fun of the coloring of another pony. It’s not like I look like anything natural.

In all seriousness, she was straight up walking down the freeway, pulling a cart behind her like it was the most natural thing in the world. She wasn’t wearing anything, though with the sun beating down on her she seemed to be pretty exhausted.

As I got close enough for her to notice, she started watching the police cruiser approach, and it looked like her horn started to glow. Unicorn again, because that’s my luck. I guess it makes sense for her though, so I’ll give her a pass.

I started slowing down once she saw me, even though I was on the other side of the concrete median and in no danger of hitting her. I could see the signs of a frightened pony even at that distance, so I stopped about five hundred feet away and got out. I didn't even bring the gun; didn’t seem like there was any point for just one pony walking in the middle of the road. At the time I didn't dream this could possibly be the one I was looking for, just a happy accident I met on the road.

Every new pony for the colony, right? Granted, we’re already running short on stallions even without her. Let’s see if I can remember the exact words of our first conversation. It’ll be hard, since I didn’t have anything to record it all.

“Hi!” I shouted, hopping out of the car. Huan came after me, though he didn’t look very interested. Not like when we encounter other dogs, and he gets all tense and nervous. He was pretty bored honestly. “You know, gas isn’t so hard to find that we have to go back to wooden carts yet! Or did you have trouble getting hooves to reach the pedals?”

She stopped with the horn-glowing after that, and I hurried over to talk. She introduced herself as Sunset Shimmer, which I took at the time to mean she was in the Cloudy Skies school of stupid names. She also apparently came from the nudist camp of proper clothing, which I started to envy almost at once with the sweat wearing leather produced. California had not gotten any cooler just by burning one of the cities down.

She asked some pretty weird questions. Her first one was, “You couldn't be a princess, could you?” I just laughed, because that seemed like the right thing to do. Princess, yeah. That’s exactly what I am. A pretty pony princess. Diggin’ the alliteration though. “And you haven’t gone completely nuts?” That second question I could understand, and I stopped laughing.

I didn’t think the maniacal laughter would’ve been helping my case. “No, I’m not. I’m not sure any of us are completely sane after what happened to the world, but I don’t think I’m certifiable yet.”

We were much closer then, and I could see she had a buttmark. No, not a buttmark. They have a proper name. A completely stupid name, but a proper name nonetheless. A cutie mark (shudder). Can’t believe I just wrote that down. Some swirly, bright sun mark, I’ll draw it at the end.

Her last question was the really weird one, the one that made me think that maybe I’d found the pony I was looking for. “You’re not from Equestria, are you?”

I didn’t quite know how to process the question, and I didn’t want to give anything away, so I asked. “What makes you think I would be?”

“I have to ask,” she said. “I haven’t met very many ponies from here, but not very many are friendly and take good care of their mane.”

“Well, I am from here.” I pointed at the smoke coming up from behind her. “That was my home. Born there, grew up there… even stayed behind when my family left.” I probably sounded a little angry, or like I was gonna cry again. Maybe both. Shut up it’s not my fault! Blame Moriah! I had much more self control before! At least I’m being honest! “Did you burn my city down?”

She told me she didn’t, that she’d been just as surprised as I was and had to nearly exhaust her magic just to get out alive.

At that point, we figured we should get out of the sun to talk. I suggested as much, suggested that she should come with me in the car and we could find a better place to have our conversation than under the blazing heat and standing on asphalt. We could load everything from her cart into the trunk, then tie the cart itself to the roof. What, stranger things have happened!

She wasn’t excited about getting into the car, but I told her I’d been driving almost every day since the Event and it was totally safe. So she levitated, yes, levitated, her entire freakin’ cart right over the median, and I went to get the car unlocked.

That part doesn’t matter really. We drove back out and into a warehouse, like I said. Shared my food and water with her while she told me what she had come to say.

Yes, she had been the one looking for us, the one sending the radio transmissions. In her cart, aside from a tiny bit of food, was a machine that looked like it’d been made in some steampunk factory. Brass and wheels, with all sorts of electrodes and weird crystals coming off of it. She said it was a “Thaumic Arc Transmitter”, and she’d been using it to send messages home. I asked her if it used lots of magic, and she answered that it had to be powerful enough to send a message that would reach other worlds, so that meant using more magic than any individual pony could possibly generate.

Home, to a place called Equestria. The place she’d come from. She explained her mission to me in no uncertain terms, for which I was grateful. I think I’ve had enough of mystery these last few months. Sunset Shimmer said that she’d been sent here after the Event (my word, not hers), to see if any ponies had survived. If they did, she was to find “a princess, or the closest thing you had.”

Only there were far fewer ponies left than she had thought, and they were so spread out that she hadn’t seen any for a long time. Only when she had thought to try listening using her transceiver had she heard our message from Los Angeles and thought that she might have finally found “somepony” she could actually talk to.

She found something bitterly ironic about it, because she had started in Los Angeles, and met a pony on her very first day. She’d even spent the night with her, and suggested a new pony name. You wanna guess who it was?

Who is Cloudy Skies? You’re right! You’re the next… Jeopardy? However that game worked. I never actually watched it.

She hadn’t been looking for lone survivors though, she’d been looking for a community. A group, so that once she gave her knowledge, she could be reasonably sure that it would persist. At first she had wanted a whole city, though it was clear enough that there were less ponies than she had expected, and she'd been forced to scale down her goals progressively over time.

She had to say that I “looked a little young” to be a leader, because of course she would say that. I told her I wasn’t really much of a leader, we didn’t have anything formal like that, but we did have a community and we’d made it out of the city when the fire hit without losing any animals or ponies.

“Good; then you’re just the pony I’m looking for.” Of course I am. Just the pony. Not just the person. Just the pony. Because you have to put “pony” on everything even though “person” doesn’t specify a species.

Actually, she wasn’t quite that confident. It was more like “I wish I had the time to keep looking for a princess, but our window is closing. If I waited much longer, I’d have to stay behind, probably for the rest of my life.”

She couldn’t tell me what happened. She couldn’t tell me why. What she could tell me was that “the one who sent her knew.” Because that’s great.

It gets better though. She wasn't entirely mysterious. See, the one who sent her, someone she called a “Princess,” had known the trouble we would be in. She wanted to make sure that our rebooting society had all the tools it needed to be successful. She had a repository of knowledge prepared, a seed of the tree that might grow into our future society. It contained things like “spellbooks” for unicorns and “weathercraft manuals” for pegasi. What the hell is weathercraft?

I didn’t actually ask. Under the circumstances I had bigger questions. Why couldn't she just give it to me now? Because the princess wanted to tell "somepony" (yuck) in person what had happened, since she had “bad experiences with letters.” If I was willing, Sunset Shimmer would take me with her, I would meet this princess, and she would tell me everything.

Would I come back? Yes, she insisted. I would be sent directly back when it was done, so I could bring all that knowledge and my species wouldn't be left in the dark for the rest of forever.

But time is short. She’s actually not sleeping herself; going to be spending all night preparing this magic to get us to her world. She explained how the travel works, but it went over my head. Just that our worlds are drifting apart, and it might be a very, very long time before they come together again. Thousands of years, if not more. In order to make sure I wouldn't get stuck in her world, we would have to leave soon. Just before dawn, in fact.

The others aren’t happy, but I didn’t exactly give them a chance to object. I just explained everything and hung up before they could argue with me.

I know, it wasn’t a very friendly thing to do. I know they’re all worried about me. This is a pretty stupid thing to be doing, even ignoring how insane and impossible it all sounds. Completely impossible. Travel to another world, sure. That’s a thing that can happen. Because other worlds are a thing.

Sunset Shimmer told me a little about Equestria; a country very much like mine, only filled with ponies instead of people. A whole society all made of horses. I told her I might’ve seen it, and described the circle and my experience with it.

She confirmed that yes, in fact, that's exactly what I’d seen. That had been her doorway in, and she had expected a little of the magic to linger. I didn’t tell her it had exploded me.

Tomorrow then; tomorrow I’ll be going to Equestria. I’m going to be meeting the one who knows what happened to my species. Maybe she has the ability to reverse it! Maybe this is my chance to fix everything. It’s got to be as close as I’ll ever come. If these creatures, ponies, can do “magic” like travel between worlds, maybe bringing every vanished human back is also something they can do.

I didn’t ask the unicorn, she wouldn’t be the one to do it anyway. I’ll ask this “Princess” when I see her.

I’m sorry, Sky. I hope you’ll forgive me. But you lied to me! You've known me for three months, and never said a word about meeting this pony! I'm going to have a word with you about that when I get home!

-Lonely Day

PS: Set out all the water bottles I brought in one big bowl, along with all the rest of my food. Huan’s smart, and we talked about it. He’ll keep watch for me here until I get back. He’s not happy about it, but the unicorn says it might not be safe to bring him.

Here's what she looks like. She says I could probably get a drawing cutie mark if I wanted to work really hard for one. Call it that, and I don't think I'll ever want one, but thanks anyway.

Chapter 41: August 7

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Diary,

I can’t believe I took this long to get anything down. Been here a week, and I take until now to have time with my diary. I guess… I guess I’ve done better than any other universe-traveling member of my species before me. Or… I guess not, since I’m just a pony now, and ponies have done this before.

Just a pony. Maybe I should stop saying things like that.

Welcome to Equestria, population millions of earth ponies, pegasi, unicorns, zebras, and even a few gryphons (who knew those were a thing?). With some level of certainty, I am the only native of my world to travel here. I may be the last for some time to come.

I guess it goes without saying that the spell worked. We arrived in Equestria more or less in the middle of nowhere, somewhere Sunset said corresponded to the exact location on Earth. She said it would’ve been better to go into LA, but with the fires and everything… Yeah, we didn’t do that.

Overwhelming. That’s the only word I can use to describe all of this. A whole world, and there’s not a human in sight. There never was, and now I guess there never will be. Granted my first look wasn’t that impressive; just this little town.

A little town with more individual ponies in it than I’ve seen in the last few months, by at least a few orders of magnitude. Completely overwhelming. I wished I’d been able to bring Huan along. Guess in all the isolation, I didn’t think that maybe I wasn’t used to being around other people.

Well I wasn’t. Dang if ponies aren’t the friendliest creatures I’ve ever known. Sunset and I just appeared out of nothing, and practically the whole town rushes to get a telegram off to some central rail office to send a train for us.

Yeah, telegram. It’s hard to say exactly the level of technology this world has. Without a doubt, it’s much less than Earth ever had. If I had to guess, I’d say they’re somewhere in the mid eighteen-hundreds. The middle of an aborted industrial revolution. I guess necessity really is the mother of invention: why invent anything if there’s a spell that makes it happen for free?

Sunset Shimmer has been with me every day as we travel across the country. She’s taken me to several different cities, showing me the “industry” here in Equestria. Every time I’ve reminded her about how urgent she had been when we were back on earth, she tells me “the return spell is waiting for us at the end. Princess Celestia said you had to see everything yourself. Reading about it is no substitute for real experience” or something like that. I’ve forgotten honestly. Just as long as she kept promising I could go back to my friends.

I'm pretty sure she's also showing me to them, because we've only visited big cities generally and they're always expecting me. I get rushed around too fast to get questioned too much. They want to know how "humans" are doing. Sunset told me I was better off not answering these questions yet, until I knew from her princess what was happening. Lots and lots of ponies wanted to know what earth was like, so I drew 'em a little sketch...

Cloudy Skies, Mystic Rune, Oliver, Moriah… spend all this time around ponies, and I’m starting to think of their names as more natural. That much changing in a week? I’m gonna have to thank Sky big time for the name; it’s been something to tell the ponies I meet when I don’t want to give them a lecture on why I’m called “Alex.”

Not having a cutie mark, too. Cloudy Skies saved me there too, with this leather jacket that covers up my flank (that’s the word! Not butt!). So cutie marks are something every adult has. It seems to be part of puberty here to get them, though I still don’t have one. I can’t even blame Moriah, since I didn’t have one even before I got made into a teenager.

Everypony wants to know if I’m Sunset’s little sister. I don’t tell them to shut up even though I really want to. I’m nobody’s sister, damnit! My family’s gone!

I don’t really want the tour. Even if it’s really interesting to see the way Equestria manufactures its own seasons: yeah, you heard that right. Its orbit is perfectly even, no tilt, so no natural climatic variation. They have to manufacture it by manipulating clouds and wind and even their own orbit, all with magic.

So maybe it’s a little premature to think of Equestrians as primitive. They might not have 3D printers or nuclear fission, but they've so totally mastered nature that all the animals depend on them for survival and weather is scheduled instead of predicted.

Would we even want that for Earth? I never said so, but… that sounds like living in a fishbowl. A very peaceful fishbowl, granted. Earth hasn’t been like that for any part of our development. It’s been darwinism. Animals as weak and defenseless as these here would be devoured in minutes back on earth. I can’t help but wonder if a sheltered world has made the ponies a little sheltered too.

But I dunno. I haven’t come here to judge their society. Really, I couldn’t care less about their society. They’re wonderfully friendly and polite but I only want to reverse what happened to my planet. There are seven billion voices in my mind, and all of them demand action. Maybe the magic of this world, magic literally mighty enough to cause the sun to rise in the morning and set in the evening, is mighty enough to bring back my dead race.

Even if all the ponies on Earth were stuck as ponies forever, it would be worth it. Even if our radiation meant we had to be banished to live out the rest of our days on some small island forever, which would get so hot it would glow at night and be visible from space. I could still write letters to mom and Jennifer. It’d still be worth it.

Tomorrow I meet the pony who can make that possible. Princess Luna. Princess isn’t just a political office, though it is that. Princess is also the species, though I think it’s a little unfair! I already thought of this, weeks back! Making ponies have wings and horns both… that’s what an Alicorn is. She’s the younger of the two sisters, and I don’t really know why she’s meeting with me instead of the older sister. Whatever.

These beings are ancient beyond any sapient living thing on earth. They’ve both ruled for thousands of years, if the stories the ponies here tell me are true. When they took power, Alexander the Great was conquering the world.

Stretches of time that vast are hard to even fit in my dumb horse brain, though honestly I don’t think I would’ve done much better if I was still human. When you live for a hundred years, ten or a hundred times that seems unfathomable. Years must feel so short to them.

I’ll try to commit tomorrow’s conversation with her to memory as much as possible. If I’m right, if the HPI were right and Sunset Shimmer is right, then it might be the most important conversation in human history (posthuman history?). I will record everything about it. Wish ponies had voice recorders, or else I’d carry one of those.

I’m going to beg the princess to make my world right again. Sunset says she’s positive Luna will treat my request very seriously, though she looked sad when she said it. You better not know something I don’t, firemane horsebeast! She seemed pretty confident though. Apparently Princess Luna had taken her on when the other sister didn’t think she made the cut as an apprentice anymore. So horse politics, that’s apparently a thing.

Let’s see, I’ve picked up some helpful general knowledge. I’m what’s called an earth pony (some connections there?), and we’ve all apparently got a universal connection to the land. When I saw my vision and lots of earth ponies were growing crops, they weren’t using exotic fertilizers or weird GE plants, they were using magic. Innate magic, the same magic that makes me strong and not wear out the way other ponies do. Guess my group wasn’t just being lazy after all!

Then there’s unicorns, like Joseph. Pretty much knew he could do magic, but apparently magic is way more than just glowing and moving things around. He can learn all kinds of spells, spells to cure sicknesses and repair broken things and reveal what’s been hidden. Apparently I’m going to go back with tons and tons of books and things on that. Not really sure how I’m supposed to carry an entire library’s worth without a Kindle. Guess there’s probably a spell for it.

Pegasus ponies too, like Cloudy Skies, and they do way more than fly. They literally walk on the clouds, and can even make them into things. Including weather systems, but also freakin’ buildings and stuff. Jealous much? You betcha! I feel like whoever gave these powers away wasn’t fair to the ground ponies. I can’t help but notice during my Equestria world tour that earth ponies seem to be working harder than anypony else.

Crap, I just wrote anypony again. I hope Sky never reads this. Or Moriah. God, not her. I asked about the horn regrowing thing too.

Bad news! Moriah’s horn probably won’t ever grow back. Not even medical spells can do anything for it; something to do with it being a magic focus itself. Good news? The magic isn’t actually in the horn itself, but some tiny little thing in her head. Guess I kinda already knew that since she blasted me with magic without a horn. Whatever; horn’s a focus, but the magic comes from inside. She’ll be able to learn one day, it’ll probably just be way harder. So there’s hope for the grump after all.

I also had Sunset do a basic age spell; turns out I’m really sixteen, just like Oliver thought. I asked her about reversing an age spell, and she was just shocked that an age spell was even possible for somepony from earth. Apparently it’s really, really advanced stuff. Like, Alicorn level stuff. Most ponies would live their whole lives without ever seeing it done, and the effects were always permanent.

I could, of course, ask this Princess Luna to cast a new age spell tomorrow, but I doubt I will. I don’t want to distract from the real question. Only if she grants my pleas about humanity will I ask for anything for myself.

And if she can’t, well, at least we’ll know what happened. I would rather die knowing what had killed us than never know at all. Maybe it’s possible for humans to learn something from this. Guess that depends on what caused it, so I’ll have to get back to you on that.

It’s hard to get over how friendly the ponies are here in Equestria. Everybody wants to know your name, everypony wants to help. Just today, I met a pony who had to be the most elegant horse who ever lived. She insisted on replacing my outfit and recommending me a “mane-stylist” for my appointment with royalty tomorrow. Talk about generous.

Then there’s Sunset Shimmer herself. It’s weird how sad she’s been all the time, and I don’t know why. We stayed with her family two nights, and her mother looked like she would cry. Barely even noticed I was there.

Damn the food, though. These ponies know how to cook. Vegetarian horse-diet confirmed. You know what, though? They make it work. They don’t eat grass, seem to think of it as about as barbaric as I do. Hay is to them what wheat is to man, a pretty universal staple. Baking seems to happen too, along with lots of familiar human cooking methods. This week is the first time I haven’t missed meat since I turned into this stupid horse. I sure hope if Luna can’t make everything right she’ll include a few cookbooks with that library of knowledge.

Cloudy Skies would’ve loved it here, so much that she probably wouldn’t have wanted to leave. I’ll admit, after this last week here, I can see how nice it would be to live here. Everypony knows what it’s like to have to use their mouths for everything. They don’t care that I’m young, and they don’t expect me to save humanity.

I could make lots of new friends here. I think I already have, honestly. Sunset Shimmer’s really nice to me, and she doesn’t seem to mind when I screw up and do something “nopony would ever do, like, ever.” I asked her about it, and she just said “I know what it’s like to be somewhere new and not to have any friends.”

It’s hard not to like a pony when they do this much to look out for you. I think leaving behind my new friends will the hardest part about going back. Good thing I’ll have my old ones waiting for me. We still have a community to build… maybe. Or maybe I’ll go back and go back to my job.

Or… probably not. Guess that all still burned, huh? I wonder how much of the Earth will still be there when all the humans go back to it.

I hope we can all go back to it. This ponyworld is nice, but it’s not my home. This world didn’t compose Ave Maria, or paint the Mona Lisa. This world didn’t write the Magna Carta, or the Divine Comedy. This world didn’t land a man on the moon or split the atom.

It’s beautiful here, even wonderful. But it isn’t my home.

I want to go back.

—A

Chapter 42: August 8 (Part 1)

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Dear Journal,

When I asked Luna if there was a way to show ponies what I saw today better than just talking about it, she gave me this. It’s a memory spell, set into the crystal. I tried it, so I know it works. It’s… really weird, but I think it would be weirder if I wasn’t already me. Make sure you’re sitting, and touch your head to the crystal… Oh, and if you’re human, don’t do it. It’ll melt your brain. Thaumic radiation. Whatever, yeah.

So I won’t write any of it, not right now. Kinda overwhelmed. Heading back home tomorrow morning.

—Lonely Day

* * *

You’re nervous, more so than you can remember. This is really saying something, since in the last few weeks you’ve watched your home burn down, met with a group of magic-sapping armored humans, lost your body, and traveled to another universe. Being nervous (terrified really) has been generally true of your life since the Event that took everything away.

At least that nice unicorn gave you a dress to wear, elegant yet functional fabric in a lower layer of light cloth and a coat of similar design (but no real leather this time). The manecut helps too, since without careful straightening and styling it gets frizzy and disgusting in the humidity.

Of course, you hate when your mane is this long, but the lovely mares doing the styling refused to hear of trimming it. “It really brings out your eyes,” they said. “But you look so mature,” they said. You didn’t have the heart to argue with them, probably because you were overwhelmed then too.

You’ve been overwhelmed during your entire trip to Equestria, and a trip to Canterlot Castle has not made that easier. Towering marble rises all around you, and slip-on horseshoes click lightly with every step. Your tail is slightly less annoying than usual when it’s braided like this. You will probably keep it this way if you still have one when this conversation is over.

Your guide in Equestria, the bright yellow mare named Sunset Shimmer, is beside you, leading a path through the labyrinthine halls she obviously knows. “The stairs are the worst,” you hear her say. “I think maybe Princess Luna made her tower so tall to discourage ponies who weren’t really serious about meeting her.”

There are a great deal of stairs, and ponies don’t make them nearly so tall as humans do. It means many more steps to climb the same distance. “Could you do that thing again?” you ask, not sure of the word. “Where we just appear somewhere? That seems easier than climbing.”

You aren’t out of breath, though. You just offer out of politeness, since you can already hear her getting out of breath. It really wasn’t Joseph’s fault; even a pony born on four hooves is a wimp compared to you.

You’d still take the horn if you could, but you doubt that will come up. To your immense surprise, you haven’t seen any trace of unhappiness with one’s species here in Equestria. The earth ponies seem just as adapted to their role among the sweat and the plants as the pegasi are to soaring through the skies and the unicorns are to their magic.

You’d think it was something in the water if you hadn’t been drinking the water every day you’d been here.

“No, it’s not… a big deal,” she says, trying not to sound out of breath. She doesn’t do a very good job.

You get to the top, and Sunset stops at the door. “I’ll be waiting out here,” she says. “I think you’ll like the princess. She knows what it’s like to struggle.” You didn’t really understand the story when Sunset Shimmer had told it. Something to do with nighttime not being cool enough? It hadn’t made sense, like lots of things.

Even so, you take a step closer to the mare, ears flattening involuntarily to your head. You don’t want to say so, but you don’t like the idea of being away from her. She’s been your guide for a week now, always within reach to answer your questions and make the fear go away. It’s probably something to do with being younger. At least you’re not a foal. Could’ve been worse. “You can’t come with?”

She pats you on the head, and you feel more relaxed. “Sorry Day. It’s got to be just you. I’ll wait out here, ‘kay? I’ll be right here no matter how long it takes.”

You force a smile, then walk past her. You see a pair of huge ebony doors, carved with intricate representations of the stars and planets. Beyond them is a Princess of Equestria, a being so powerful she can move celestial objects with a thought. Beyond them is the reason humanity vanished. Maybe the mare inside can make everything right again. You intend to ask.

As if the door can sense your intention to use it, the wood begins to quiver, opening inward into a darkened room. You hurry inside, mostly because you’re afraid you’ll give up and turn around if you don’t.

The doors slide closed behind you with an ominous clicking sound, plunging you into the darkness of the room. Pony eyes haven’t gotten better in the dark as you got more used to it.

This time things are different, though. As you look up, you see a thousand swirling lights. The shapes resolve into a spiral galaxy, its arms elongating and seeming to fill your vision completely. You see millions, billions of stars, and the light from no two are quite alike. It comes with sound too, each star putting off a roar of radio that’s been shifted into your audible range. Beset by so many, it’s almost like the crashing of the waves.

You manage not to fall over, but only just. Your perception of time returns as you realize the room wasn’t quite so dark as you thought. The stars far above you in the vaulted ceiling provide a curtain of light that makes everything on floor level very clear. There is a pony standing there, a pony unlike any you have ever seen before. Your first glance almost tricked you into thinking she was part of the light show above you, because her mane looks like a swathe of the night sky, waving silently in an unseen wind.

“Welcome, my little pony.” She’s closer than you first thought, only a few meters away. You remember what Sunset told you and drop into a hasty bow. You nearly fall over in the attempt because you’ve only been a pony for three months and you still have the coordination of a blue whale writing calligraphy. “It’s a pleasure to finally meet one of you in person.”

Princess Luna returns the bow, though much shallower. You take this as a sign to rise, which is good, since you would probably fall on your butt otherwise. Then, to your great surprise, she extends a hoof to shake. You’ve seen ponies do this during your week in Equestria, but you never expected anything like it from royalty. You touch hoofs gently, afraid anything more might shock you with magical energy, or at the very least be a disgusting faux pas.

She giggles delicately. “What name would you prefer I use? Sunset tells me you’ve been using ‘Lonely Day’ while in Equestria, correct?”

You nod.

“An unfortunate choice. Let us pray it isn’t prophetic.” She looks you up and down, her gaze intent. You can’t meet those eyes, not even for a second. At once, you become a believer in the stories you’ve heard about her age; there’s a weight and weariness that would take you thousands of miserable years to acquire. “Or would it be more appropriate to use your true name, Alexander Haggard?”

Her words trigger a sudden cascade of emotions actually strong enough to drop you to your knees. Maybe before losing a few years you would’ve had the will to force back the rogue emotions; no longer. Anger, fear, and shame all flash through in an instant, followed by the cold grip of something more powerful than them all. The cold grip of self-loathing, deeper than any other feeling in your soul. “H-How?” you manage to squeak. “I never even told that name to Sky.”

The princess looks down on you with big, expressionless eyes. “Why not?”

No answer is forthcoming, though you consider your reasoning for some time. Eventually you stammer out an unsatisfying, “I guess I thought it was easier to heal from something if I wasn’t constantly reminded it was missing. My friend Moriah… she used to complain about it constantly, and she was always unhappy. I guess I thought if I just tried to keep living the same-” Your voice catches in your chest. You didn’t come here to talk about your pain. Not specifically, anyway. You couldn’t care less about all the cruelties the transformation inflicted on you so long as your fellow humans can be restored.

You feel the brush of wings on your shoulders in a brief, light hug. You’ve never felt wings quite like those before. It’s enough to still the tears you hadn’t even felt you were crying until then. “In fairness, I return an answer for yours: I’ve seen your dreams. All beings with soul enough to dream, dream together. The vastness of space and all eternity between us might blur and distort those images, but you have not been so far away since your arrival.” She turns away, walking towards a low table by the wall. You can see several objects resting there, though it’s hard to make them out through your tears. “Even had I not been told, I would have known one of you had come. I watched you very closely, even though you did not know it. I've been watching you and every other pony from your world.” She chuckles, though there is more bitterness there than humor. "With as few of you as were left behind, it has not been difficult."

She turns to face you again, and you see a flash of guilt in those huge eyes. “That is why it has taken this long; we had to be absolutely certain you among all others were fit to act as emissary for us. It would have been better to leave your people ignorant than to give our knowledge to one who might abuse it.”

“Am I the one?”

Luna answers by levitating one of the objects across the room towards you, setting it on the ground at your hooves. You see it now; saddlebags. They look far better than anything you could’ve made, with a stylized sun on one side and the moon on the other. You move to open it, but find one of Luna’s hooves on your own, preventing you. “Wait! You must hear first, or you will not understand.” She gestures at the center of the room, below the spiraling map of a galaxy.

“Your people are owed an explanation.” She gestures at the saddlebags again. “In there we have written the truth in great detail. This will serve your people well, but not so well as one who may hear and inquire as the truth is presented to you. We have already learned that, however similar, humans are not ponies. You do not think quite the same way we do, and an answer that might satisfy ponies might leave your species frustrated for the rest of time.”

You nod in complete agreement and follow her below the map of the galaxy. As curious as you are about what the strange saddlebags might be (sized too big for your age!), you care even more about how to reverse the change to humanity. With luck, all the magical knowledge ponies ever learned would be useless to humanity anyway, since they are all about to lose their horns and wings.

“When I have finished, feel free to ask whatever questions you may have. I ask that you hold them for the time being, since I expect a complete understanding will eliminate most of them.”

You nod, that gesture like many others seeming to cross between species.

“Very well.” The map begins to shift, zooming towards the center of the galaxy. “Let us begin with magic.”

Chapter 43: August 8 (Part 2)

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The map stops moving only once it’s focused on the brilliant disk of the galactic core. “Understand what you’re looking at is a carefully crafted illusion spell, made to represent all I have seen of the stars as I ruled over Equestria’s night.”

“This is the Galactic Central Point. There, twenty-five thousand light years distant, is the source of all magic.” She pauses for a moment, though clearly not for questions. You’re too stunned by the impressive fidelity of the illusion to ask any. “My sister is the greatest, wisest being I have ever known, and even she does not know the source of magic.”

“Regardless of the reason, regardless of the source, magic flows outward.” You see a sudden glow superimposed on the image, like a solar wind of pinkish flames traveling out in a torrent. Like all things, it is shaped by gravity, and is concentrated most in the arms. “It is not an intelligence, it does not respond differently to the same input. Magic is a force, a field that passes through space and matter alike without slowing.”

“Wherever magic goes, it is a force of creation and harmony.” The image focuses on a single distant corner of space, where you watch as the fundamental force your language calls magic swirls down into the primordial soup of a cold world and imparts the critical spark of life to a sack of lipids and organic compounds. A cell is born, and it begins to divide and spread. You don’t stay to watch it.

“Equestria itself is one such creation, as, we suspected, was all life on all worlds.” The image fades briefly, and you see a view of the room you’re standing in. That same pinkish field permeates it, passing through the walls and the books without slowing. Yet when it strikes a strange blue flower, the glow grows more intense. As it passes through Luna, it stops completely, making her whole body a brilliant fireball by comparison. You have to look away, and as you do, you see that it has done something similar to you (though nothing near as extreme). Your very hooves before you are bright red, enough to light up the whole room.

“As you can see, life is special. Life alone interacts with the thaumic field. That rare form of life, with soul as well as body, doesn’t just slow the thaumic field, but absorbs it.”

The image began to expand until the galaxy returned, then began to fade into the stellar background in the face of billions and billions of other galaxies. Eventually, though you had no words to describe it, you see the essence of the universe itself, a bubble of light as seen from very far away. It’s like some of the animations you’d seen at school or on the Internet, only much prettier.

“A little over a thousand years ago, a unicorn wizard greater than all before him invented a spell that could see beyond the physical spacetime of our universe.” You see another bubble pop into existence, nearly identical to the first. “And into yours. We suspect there may be others, yet the distance in the cosmic foam between us and these other realms is so vast that they are only pinpricks of light. Yet your home, for all its distance, was within reach.”

You lean closer to the vast image above you, wishing you had your previous height. Even a few inches closer would’ve been worth it, to get a better view of what’s happening. You watch Equestria's universe fade into the distance, and the one Luna described as your own grow larger and larger until you see your own galaxy, exactly like the Equestrian version save for a single change.

“The magic,” you stammer. “It’s gone.”

“These are the earliest images I ever saw through the doorway.”

Your eyes widen at the vibrant colors of your galaxy, captured more vividly than anything Hubble ever managed. “You can see all this?”

She smiles in response. “Princess of the Night, Lonely Day. It comes with the domain.” Her face grows more grim. “At the time, though your universe was close enough to observe, we imagined it lifeless. Devoid of magic, it could only host predictable, mechanical interactions. The soul and spirit couldn’t possibly function, or so we thought.”

“Perhaps you’ve learned the story of my banishment.” You nod, and she continues. “There are no images of the state of your universe, because I could not gather them. During the many years of my absence, the ponies of Equestria only knew that your world was in a state of drift, moving away from our universe in the cosmic foam. In time, it would be beyond the magical reach of even the most powerful unicorns.”

“Upon my return, investigating your world was at first only a matter of curiosity. I opened the doorway anew, as nopony had bothered in many years. Something had changed in my absence.”

Billions of tiny pink fireflies appear, and the glow of Luna’s horn zooms the image again and again, focusing in on a single, familiar planet. Earth. You can’t help but notice the glowing seems eerily similar to a photograph of Earth’s lights from space, concentrated most in the areas of human life. The ocean, by contrast, is almost entirely devoid of the illumination of magic. “This magic was unbelievably faint. Less than what a small village of Equestrian ponies might radiate, coming from the whole planet. It was possible it had existed before, but it had been so dispersed that I had failed to notice. I saw it now, however.

We were baffled by what we saw; it seemed that in the absence of magic’s presence in your world, something had developed to produce it. Understand this runs counter to our knowledge of the behavior of magic; we have always known it to be an immutable force, neither created nor destroyed. Ponies do not create magic, they merely absorb magic already present and radiate it out again in changed forms. Even the mighty Discord, spirit of chaos, cannot create magic. Yet something on your planet did. For the first time, I invested the power to open a doorway onto your planet's surface.”

Thousands of images flash before your eyes, in nauseating succession. Sprawling cities of complexity that dwarf anything on Equestria. Huge neighborhoods, markets, and nature-defying architecture. The ISS in its orbit. Millions, millions of voices briefly beset your mind, and somehow you recognize them as radio transmissions in every human language. Re-runs of I Love Lucy and a scratchy voice saying "Hello! Test, 1, 2, 3, 4. Is it snowing where you are Mr. Thiessen?" The vastness of technological civilization compressed into an instant.

“You found us.”

“Indeed. Your presence rewrote everything we knew about magic. Apparently lacking it, your mechanical universe had created its own source of magic: You. Every time one of you invented something new, every time one of you expressed kindness or goodness or love, another tiny packet of thaumic energy was released. Over the incalculable future of eternity, your universe would be as saturated with it as ours.”

You want to say something about the humans you found, about the way they described magic as deadly radiation that reduced anyone to a drooling vegetable. You don't, and not because she told you not to interrupt her. Rather, you don't want her to know about the HPI. Not yet.

“Ponies here in Equestria debated whether or not we should make contact with you. After all, while nopony could ever travel to your world for fear of the resulting thaumic starvation, we saw no reason you could not travel here. The incredible creations you had made defied our understanding, and we hoped we might learn their secrets from you.”

“So we created a doorway, made contact, and invited a number of individuals to Equestria. They came.” For the first time, Luna averts her eyes from you, her ears drooping. “They died.Painfully. What was left behind…” You see her shiver, and somehow smell her disgust.

“As best we could discern, exposure to magic millions of times more concentrated than in your home universe had precisely the opposite effect we had imagined. Instead of absorbing the magic through what you call the soul, the spirits of your kind were ripped away. I watched helpless as their bodies were left empty, and their magic-producing souls were drawn off to the Galactic Core.”

“We expected this to be the end of traffic with your people, as we had learned that traffic in either direction was fatal. Our worlds were simply too different.”

You can’t keep the bitterness out of your voice. “Obviously it wasn’t. I’m here.” And not dead. You can’t help but shiver in horror all your own as you imagine what it might be like to be ripped right out of your body and be drawn kicking and screaming across the length of the galaxy. You’re immensely grateful you weren’t one of the ones the Equestrians contacted. Maybe visiting Equestria as a pony instead of a person wasn’t so bad after all.

“Correct. All ponies but myself and my apprentice withheld from using the portal spell, and we restricted ourselves to opening the door high above your planet. Mostly we watched to see how the ever-increasing magic your world produced would influence the development of other species. How long would it take to make your animals like ours, for instance? While my apprentice studied this question, I focused on your stars, trying to learn what force served in magic’s place to guide the formation of life.”

“I never learned the answer. I did, however, discover something horrifying.” The image changes again, panning away from your planet and zooming rapidly through space. Stars grow more and more concentrated as the image narrows on Galactic Center. You see as a sphere of absolute darkness… at first. As you watch, flashes of pink briefly emerge, only to sink back in again. Thin, almost invisible trickles of magic pour in. Somehow, in defiance to the speed of light, you recognize that energy as coming from your home, or other planets like it.

“Magic has been pouring into this object for millions, perhaps billions of years. What I failed to notice during my earlier observations is that all that magic has been exerting a transformative effect.” You see spectacular geysers of pink, like huge erupting solar storms, emerging from the formerly dark object, rather than sinking into it. They bend back quickly under the force of gravity, but with each moment they grow more massive. “We saw the first clues of where magic had come from in our world. It seemed this object was on the verge of becoming for your galaxy what existed already in ours. What was worse, it seemed only years away.”

“That doesn’t make sense! I don’t know astronomy that well, but I thought looking at far-away things was also looking back in time. So lots of magic is dangerous to humans… and there was going to be lots of magic here… weren’t you watching something really really old? And wouldn’t it be like, another 25,000 years or whatever until the magic got to earth?”

Luna shakes her head. “Magic is not like light, Day. It doesn’t truly travel through space as light does, and so is not restricted by it. Only objects that also exist outside of three-dimensional space, such as what you call black holes and the spirits of living things, can influence it. Any change in the magical center of your galaxy would be felt instantaneously throughout. I did not use telescopes and light to watch, but powerful magic of my own.”

“Oh.” You wouldn’t have believed any of this three months ago, before the world fell apart. Now, after becoming a tiny pony, after seeing your world deserted and magic performed before your very eyes, you’re a little less skeptical.

“I judged a maximum of four years before this transformation would be accomplished, and whatever magical process taking place within your galaxy would be complete. While many insisted we had no place to interfere, Celestia and I refused to be idle witnesses to your genocide. It seemed a double cruelty to us, that the universe that had used your species to complete its transformation would reward you with extinction. There might have been millions, or even billions of other worlds with life in your galaxy. We didn't have the power to help them. We could, however, still reach your world.”

“So you… did something?”

She nods. “We had never in Equestria observed a species so creative and resourceful as yours. We expected that, if we made your kind aware of the fate that awaited them, they would discover their own solution. We could not travel there, but we no longer needed to. Equestrian radio technology had advanced rapidly in the years since the doorway opened, largely as a result of the observations we made of you and the machines your ill-fated travelers had brought.”

Her horn glows again, and another of the small objects float from the side of the room to the ground in front of you. This one is an older laptop, its components in various stages of disassembly. You see now that many of the objects on the table are human in origin; clothing, books, boots. You find this realization one of the most depressing things about what you’ve learned today. “We made contact. Once your people had verified the extra-terrestrial nature of our message, they asked for numerous demonstrations of magic, which we provided through the doorway. More humans died. In the end, they told us they had no way of saving their planet. There simply wasn’t enough time left, not enough energy. You were doomed. They cut communication with us, and requested we not contact your planet again. We complied with this request.”

“We did not, however, give up. Though we were disappointed your species could not discover their own solution, we still refused to allow such an injustice to occur. Celestia gathered Equestria’s greatest minds and its most talented allies, and together we created a spell.”

“The spell that made us ponies?” you suggest. “So magic wouldn’t kill us?” You’re not exactly sure kill is the right word, since until now you’d never even believed the soul was a thing. You can’t think of a better one.

She nods. “Yes; though not just ponies. The balance of my planet’s magic is maintained by the interactions of many species. Since we knew of no other harmony, we were forced to recreate that same structure in your world.” She smiles slightly. “The real brilliance was not the transformation itself. We had learned much about your world during our brief contact with your government. We knew your society would never survive the transition. In the chaos of the spell your civilization would likely tear itself apart. Your planet was so heavily populated your folk could not survive without advanced technology. Simply transforming you would have been to condemn the majority to starvation and death.”

Only your painful curiosity is enough to restrain your anger now. Indignation and fury come surging to the surface, but you bite them back. Luna is nearly done. You must hear the rest, and you might never learn it if you let rage master you now.

“The spell would transform every human on your planet based on the closest match between your souls and the bodies of our world, forgiving a certain repopulation bias. It would then use the quality of the match to distribute your vast numbers across time. Those the spell could match perfectly would remain behind to rebuild your society. As time progressed, the less ideal matches would reappear. Over the course of about ten thousand years, all your missing people would return, to a rebuilt civilization better able to see to their needs. By that time, the burden of all your numbers could be carried by restored technology, supplemented with the magic you would then have mastered. Their return would be staggered across time, coming in greater and greater numbers the further ahead you looked.”

“Thousands of Equestrians all worked together on the spell, knowing our time was short. Perhaps you noticed, but your people have a measure of celebrity here in Equestria.”

You had. Every city you visited treated you like a movie star, lavishing you with gifts to take back to “Equestria’s friends on Earth.”

Luna continues. “We knew our time was limited; your world was drifting further apart from our own, and once it crossed a threshold that may be days away we would not be able to send the spell across.”

“The spell required vast power, power that did not exist in your universe. When we completed it, I placed it above your planet, and left the door open so that the magical energy crossing from Equestria might sustain it until the transformation in your galaxy’s core was completed.”

“We were hopeful: the spell bent time as only Discord’s magic truly can. It would take place almost instantly, too swiftly for your souls to be drawn away. Our hope was not in vain, and the spell worked. It stabilized your technology so your world would not burn. It changed you to forms able to survive in the new levels of magic that would soon arrive. It sent the majority away to a future that would be able to feed and provide for their psychological needs. And that, Lonely Day, is how you have come to stand here.”

Luna falls silent then, and at last, you are able to give voice to the indignation and rage that has built during your conversation. Billions of the vanished have no voice but yours. You will be quiet no longer.

Chapter 44: August 8 (Part 3)

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Luna seems to sense your feelings, because again she avoids looking at you. Can she read your thoughts? You choose to proceed on the assumption that she can’t, lest you be paralyzed and unable to act. Only a flame of white-hot anger for your vanished brothers and sisters enables you the courage to speak with such confidence to a being obviously vastly beyond your power and intelligence. If Luna wanted, you know the magic she wields could sweep you away like dew before the sun. You don’t care. If you were silent now, you could never face your fellow man. You could never face yourself again.

“You had no right!” Your mother and sister’s faces seem to shine in your memory. “You told us first, and your first choice wasn’t to interfere with us. I appreciate that… ‘Saving’ us with this spell was a noble thing to do, but you had no right to make the decision to use it for us!”

You don’t know their reasoning for not contacting humanity again with their intentions. Fear for what might happen to society? Obedience to the requests of Earth governments? Sloth? Frankly, you don’t care. “That was wrong.” It’s not what bothers you most, though. “Why couldn’t you just change us so we could survive around magic? If your race is powerful enough to change a whole planet at once, making such a minor change to an existing species should be easy!”

Luna meets your eyes, and you see her pain burning there. “I’m sorry, Lonely Day. What you suggest was our first hope. It would have required hundreds, perhaps thousands of willing human volunteers. It might not have ever been possible; we still don’t understand how your kind created magic, while we and all other forms of life depend on it. Yet the bodies of ponies and other Equestrian creatures we knew well. Perhaps with a hundred or a thousand years of study we might have made such a spell; we only had a few.”

You stew on this for some time, thinking. You know nothing about how such a powerful spell is made, or anything about spells at all besides Joseph’s levitation. Luna’s words ring honest to you; you do not believe she is the sort of pony to lie. After all the damning things she’s told you, you have good reason to think so. She could have easily sterilized pony influence from her story if she wanted, and she hasn’t. That trust does not extend to telling her about the HPI, however. Somehow, you still think doing that would be a betrayal. Let their existence remain a secret.

You sit down on your haunches, staring down at the floor. You find your anger rapidly waning away, replaced with a gnawing pit of hopelessness. The usual self-loathing is there stronger than ever. Luna’s explanation about matching souls to bodies cuts almost deeper than humanity’s “inevitable” extinction. Why were you, of all things, a young earth pony mare? Of all the bodies you could’ve had, that probably would’ve been your last choice.

“Whatever the reason… what you’ve done amounts to exterminating our civilization. Even if the people ultimately survive, the society we built will die. All we accomplished will fade into distant history. Even if the other survivors and I succeed, even if we manage not to starve, humanity as we knew it is gone. Fifty thousand years of crawling down from the trees and out of the dust, and you erased us without even asking!”

All your screaming will be for nothing though, unless: “Can you reverse it? This spell you’ve made… can you stop it?”

Luna shakes her head. “The spell already ran its course, Day. In the instant magic reached your world at last, it ran to completion and faded away. There is nothing to stop. Your people have, by great majority, been sent into the future, and not even Celestia or I could predict when any individual will arrive. A spell to bring them all back would be impossible. Likewise, the transformation was universal. As any human left behind would’ve been slain, we could not leave any out.”

You don’t correct her. It’s easy to cover up that lie of omission with plenty of anger. “What about as individuals? Could you change us back? Could you make me human again? All of us?”

She seems reluctant to answer, turning her eyes away again, and up at the stars. “Yes,” she eventually admits. “Easily.” You open your mouth to speak, but she preempts you. “However, the spell would mean certain death for anyone subjected to it. Transformation is a difficult, intensive process. It saturates the entire body with powerful magic, and strains each and every tissue. You would return to your human form only to suffer the same death every human exposed to magic has suffered before you.”

She reaches out, trying to rest a wing protectively on your shoulder again. This time you pull away in revulsion, glaring at her with all the impotent rage in your soul. She touched you. “I am sorry, Alex. I am sorry if you hate Equestria for what we have done to you. I accept that hatred freely, as this conversation would not have changed our actions. We could not stand by and allow a life like yours to be extinguished. Even if you find the necessary transformation detestable, even if you loathe Equestria for all eternity, we would still have chosen to save you. We could not have lived with ourselves otherwise. It is against our nature to witness the suffering of others and do nothing. This is the Equestrian way. Had we not acted, your species would've died a painful, universal death.”

“If it is any consolation, you will not have to loathe us much longer. It may be eons before our worlds touch again. In all likelihood, it won’t be in your lifetime, or your foals, or theirs, many times over.” She pauses, sitting down on her haunches where you were moments ago. The gesture is far more elegant from her, like a great ancient Sphinx more than a baby horse, which is how you look whenever you try anything.

“I hope, at least, that your hatred will be forgotten by then.” She sighs, and you hear the weariness in it. It’s the sound of mountains wearing away to dust, of stars growing cold in their orbits. The entropy of the universe itself. “So many ponies, when they learned about you, were thrilled by the prospect of friendship with your world. Perhaps their distant grandfoals might realize that promise still.”

Your anger has entirely drained away by then, and only hopelessness is left in its place. You collapse to the ground again, not far away from Luna. “I guess… I guess there really isn’t a way.”

Not for Equestrians, anyway. There is still hope. You’ll be traveling back with a vast library of magical knowledge. Maybe, in time, transformed human unicorns will grow skilled enough to work magic as Equestrians do. Perhaps they might learn to create a human body that can survive in magic, in close cooperation with the HPI and their settlers. Humans arriving from the past as ponies might be restored to their proper bodies then, and Earth’s forests might again see the unprotected feet of their first steward that had ever dared to dream.

But that dream was not one you wanted to share with Princess Luna. Either she could see your thoughts or she couldn’t, but you didn’t trust her completely. You had no doubt that, with the limits of magic now removed, she could easily track down and exterminate the few beleaguered humans if she wanted to. Even if you never imagined she really would, you would not risk their safety. They were your brothers and sisters, not her. No transformation would tell you different.

Even if that one day happened, it was true that human civilization as you had always known it would still be gone. Luna and the Equestrians had sacrificed it to preserve the lives of humans themselves. No amount of rage could reverse the spell. “What… The worst part of all of this is what’s going to be lost. The more time passes, the fewer resources will be available for a new pony just arriving from the past. My little community had basically unlimited food. A thousand years from now, there won’t be anything edible left made by human hands. It’ll all be dust.”

“Sure, ponies can eat grass. Maybe less of them would starve than would have… but lots of us will still die. And even if we don’t, our culture will. Nobody’s going to be thinking about art or the moon landing when they’re freezing to death and eating weeds and running from wolves. You’ve erased us, Princess Luna. The human legacy is gone, and nobody will survive to remember it.” Again, you don't mention the HPI, though you don't really count them either. With most people living as ponies on the outside, their lives are more like the last echos of a dream.

Luna is quiet for a long time. “We have considered the first problem. When this conversation is over, I’ll explain some of the solutions we had discussed. But before that…” She rises to her hooves, fixing you with those intense eyes. You’re grateful she’s not asking about humans, because you could never lie while under pressure like this. “Why do you let this burden trouble you, Lonely Day? You’re young, at the very beginning of life, and the weight of preserving the human legacy is not yours alone. Can’t you be content with all the other ponies in the world, and know that some of them will share your desire? I fear for your future if you allow it to consume your thoughts this way.”

It takes you several seconds to get the confidence to speak, and to put together words that are both correct and entirely honest. You can’t force anything else out between your lips when under such intense scrutiny from such a powerful pony. “I’m sure if those others were here, they’d say so too. But you wanted to talk to a pony from Earth. You wanted to know what we would think. This is it; we always counted on being remembered. Now it seems we’ve been damned, erased, and will soon be forgotten. Worse, there’s nothing we can do.”

Princess Luna looks away then, pacing around you in a wide circle. You’re not sure what she’s looking for, but you try to stand tall. Your anger is spent, and your determination is vastly running out. You’ve said your piece. Now you’ll face the consequences. Like Luna, you would not have done this any other way. You feel something in that moment, though you couldn't say what. A brief surge of understanding, of contentment, of the sense that your place in the cosmic scheme is finally clear. They will not be forgotten.

“Perhaps. There are no others here, no others to serve. There is no time. Since your arrival here, other servants of mine on your planet have brought other ponies here. None met my requirements to be Equestria's envoy. Some have even elected to stay.” She sighs, but it’s more amused than sad this time. “Our engineers could not be more thrilled. Still, of all those who will return, I would trust this burden to no other pony.” Her eyes narrow. “Lonely Day, are you willing to sacrifice your life to see that your people are remembered?”

You nod, without hesitation. You don’t even blink against the force of those eyes.

“Then perhaps, something can be done.” She gestures with one wing, striding briskly towards the door. “Come with me, my little pony. We must speak with my elder sister. There is much we must accomplish before you must return, and very little time to see it done.”

Chapter 45: August 9

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Dear Diary,

I wish the Equestrian Princess had given me another one of those memory crystals, so I could show you the feeling of being back on Earth. Equestria was a beautiful place. I’ve never seen grass so green, or water so clear. I’ve never met ponies so friendly and kind. Luna said there were humans from Earth who stayed behind. I can’t really blame them.

Not me, though. Even with the haze of LA’s ruined corpse in the distance, even the scorching desert heat cannot make home seem less sweet. Even with my city burned (still burning, probably), I would take Earth’s cradle over any paradise. Your transformation might’ve made me a pony, Luna, but it didn’t make me less Earth’s child. This is my home.

Thank goodness for those saddlebags, as by the time I’d finished my week-long tour in Equestria I’d received enough gifts to fill a modestly sized train. The saddlebags she’d said I “wouldn’t understand”? It’s magic. Apparently made by the Princess of Magic herself. (Princess Twilight Sparkle, that was her name, tried to explain how the magic worked, even though I told her like three times I didn’t get it. Whatever). Point is, it’s bigger on the inside? No, it’s not a police box, though it does apparently have a chameleon circuit (as it got small enough to fit a not-full-grown pony without a tanner or a tailor to make adjustments).

That’s how Luna intended to send me back with a whole library: there’s really a library in there. Pull the satchel open and you can literally fall right in. Maybe… three thousand books? It’s hard to tell. It’s surreal stuff, what these ponies can do with magic.

The other side, the sun side of the saddlebags is the same thing, but they never built anything in it. I just used it to pile in all the gifts they gave me. It’s also lighter on the inside apparently, because it feels empty no matter what I put inside. You should’ve heard that pony trying to explain how it works (probably not, it was extremely boring).

Said goodbye to Sunset Shimmer before dawn. She came with me on the train back to the little town we’d arrived in. Apparently Celestia and Luna had stayed up at night preparing the way back. The portal was so costly now it took both of them together to hold it open, even for a few seconds. After what happened yesterday, I’m still more than a little awed by the power they wield. A little glad they’re going to be a world away from my home. They’ve already proven themselves capable of changing everything, and we couldn’t do a thing about it.

Or maybe not everything. If what I’ve seen with the HPI proved anything, it was that their spell was not complete. Humans had a way to counter magic after all. Take that, ponies. Take that, me. I’m one of them. I’ve got a cutie mark now. Would you believe I didn’t even notice? I guess the stress of everything that was going on, and I hardly realized my own body had changed. Wish I could say better what it felt like. Just, while I was talking to Luna, I understood what I was supposed to do. Preserve the memory of humanity, no matter what. Whatever the heck kinda “special talent” is that, anyhow?

Sunset acted weird. Said she would “probably see me again,” right before I went through. Thought that was a little weird, but she’s the magic expert, not me. Are the universes drifting or aren’t they?

Little warehouse was exactly the way I left it. Not that I was too worried: I’d left my phone and stuff off to keep the battery alive during my time in Equestria, and the ponies sent me with enough food to be alone for months (and cookbooks, yay!). Came back with a few real outfits, which is neat. Ponies don’t seem to actually design these things for modesty (lots of uncovered butts and everything else back there), but at least I don’t feel like an animal. Better horseshoes too. Imagine that; a whole horse society actually knows how to maintain it. You can bet we’re gonna reverse-engineer the hell out of this stuff.

I was really worried about Huan. That big dog was literally sitting in the warehouse waiting for me. Patience and loyalty like that... Dogs might be smarter, but it doesn't seem like their essential nature has changed much. He's just more of a dog than he was. Does that make sense? The first friend 'Lonely Day' ever made. Even now, he's still looking out for her. Thanks, Huan. I always knew I could count on you. I'm glad you did okay in my absence.

Went outside, booted up the old Iridium, and prayed to the horse-gods that my friends were okay.

They were. Cloudy Skies (CLOUDY SKIES, OF ALL PONIES!) had taken over in my absence. They had ignored my instructions though, and waited for me in Phoenix. I don’t even want to think about how they found water for all those cows. I told them I’d drive straight there, so stay put. Hopped in my fancy-shmancy police car, and set off.

I’m glad these things are made so sturdy, and I didn’t really want to think about the gas in my tank. What would happen if I saw a repeat of my Bakersfield trip in the middle of the desert? The ponies didn’t send me back with any water casks. They did give me some fancy clothes and a title. Equestrian Envoy to Earth. I don’t think I’ll ever tell anyone. If they’d wanted somepony to represent them, they could’ve come themselves.

Or… actually, maybe I’m glad they didn’t. They’ve taken enough of our free will away as it is.

When I got to the next town, I spent a few hours finding something to drive that didn’t need gasoline and filling it from the middle of a gas station reservoir instead of whatever collected on top. Pretty sure I didn’t get any water or smell any fungus, and it didn’t explode. Guess I got lucky?

All that delay meant that it was just about getting dark when I got to our little camp, trucks and RVs and such circled up like an old-timey wagon-train. The cattle grazed nearby, on the rim of grass around a small pond. Public parks, hurray.

There was another RV in the caravan, and it didn’t look to be in good condition. Like one of those old Winnebagos, old and yellowed all over. Had some solar panels on top, but not set up right. More like those big camping ones, duct taped to the roof by someone who had no idea how to work with the RV’s electrical system. There was a little trailer too, towing behind it. It was largely stacked with dried wood, aside from an ugly stack of barrels and scrap metal, with pipes traveling out in several directions.

A gasifier? Must’ve been hell to build with hooves. I say this, because of course I already know it wasn’t a unicorn who built it. Pegasus named Adrian, as it happens. Pretty well-traveled stallion, from some of what he said around the campfire.

But that was later. I stopped not too far away, slung on the saddlebag, and headed over to my friends. The ones who knew what it was like to have your body taken away. Tearful reunion. None of your business!

Caught up with what they’d been doing (not too terribly much, aside from meeting this new pony and learning from him all the exciting things going on in the world at large). They wanted to hear everything. It took a very, very long time to explain what I had seen. Moriah in particular didn’t believe me. I had about zero patience for that, so I shoved her into the saddlebag library.

The saddlebags don’t actually move when there’s anything alive inside. I don’t understand how it works exactly. I had to leave them set down where I’d left them as I finished my story. It was worth having to repeat some of it to see her face when she finally found the door. She wasn’t much kinder, though at least she stopped denying it. I told her what I’d learned about her horn injury while I was there, and that seemed to make her feel better. The little blessings, right?

Any hope of reversing this easily and systematically is long gone. The problem will outlive normal ponies, even if we really live as long as Sunset Shimmer suggested (I have my doubts). One of these days I really ought to write down everything that happened to me over there. Like what Celestia and Luna did after the memory crystal ended, or all the things I saw during my tour. Another day.

I summarized it for my friends (the second thing. I didn’t tell them anything about the first thing). How humanity had become almost like celebrities over there, tons of ponies wanted to meet me and learn what “living in the magicless wasteland” had been like, and how much better my life was now that I had it. Reactions were more or less what I expected. Disgust from Moriah, ambivalence from Oliver, and Cloudy Skies muttering that she wanted to show me something.

I didn’t really hear her then, and I finished with the story. The meeting, learning what happened to Earth from Luna. Oliver wanted to see my memories, Moriah too. Cloudy and Rune? After seeing Oliver and Moriah’s expressions, the pain as they were forced to experience everything exactly as I had, they chose not to. I really wish there had been some sort of Final Cut program I could use to edit those memories first. There were parts I’d rather not have shared.

Oh well. I am what the Equestrian spell made of me, same as anypony else (well, a little of Moriah’s spell too). Guess it was only a matter of time before they learned I’d had a name besides Alex. God have mercy on their souls. Probably have to tell Cloudy about that, come to think. Honesty > Gossip.

It’s pretty disheartening, to think about the sheer magnitude of the task ahead of us. The Equestrian spell did not kill the missing humans, only sent them ahead in time. They’ll arrive in very small numbers at first… but by the time they start coming in earnest, we’re going to need a society built to handle them. A society with modern technology, modern infrastructure, all of which is rotting away before our eyes. At least we’ve got thousands and thousands of years.

If we can’t capture the essence of human inventions and discoveries now, it’s quite likely they’ll be lost, perhaps forever. It might not actually be possible to follow the same path, technologically. The easy coal and oil is mostly gone. Plenty of harder-to-get stuff down there, but nopony will ever know to try. Tough break. I wonder what it will be like.

Whatever, don’t have to worry about all of it at once. New pony Adrian, for his part, was pretty quiet as we talked. Didn’t want to “interfere”. Probably he was just overwhelmed by what I had to tell him. I know I was. He asked to see the memory crystal himself, and I shared it with him. Didn’t say a word when he was done, just seemed to grow a little more respectful as he went into his crappy RV for the night.

The next step, of course, is going to be calling our friends at the HPI. Hey Dr. Clark, I investigated, just like you said. Probably changed the rest of my forever, but I did it. Between the two of us we should be able to make sure that humanity makes it. Oh, and we’ll probably have a more enjoyable meeting next time.

Among the many gifts I piled in the other half of the saddlebags are restraints for each of the Equestrian races, used to contain the magic of dangerous criminals. The ones for earth ponies are shackles covered in runes; only gave me one for each of the races (Guess they don’t expect us to have many bad ponies. Here’s hoping the prison populations don’t return until we’ve got a way to deal with them). The HPI didn’t give us any of the magical-measuring technology, so I don’t actually know if it will make talking to them more practical or just take away my magically enhanced strength and endurance.

Tomorrow our caravan will travel northeast. Adrian the Pegasus is traveling with us (apparently he was looking for us to begin with, guess my radio station wasn’t a waste of time after all!). He’s excited to see “a colony founded firsthand” and to help. And no, he doesn’t actually know how his gasifier works, or any of the other modifications to pipe that gas into the engine. Somepony else built it all for him, he just drives the thing. I took a look, and it’s good work. He swears he can get a full mile per kilogram. Not sure if I buy that. He has news of other settlements, of the other ponies in this country and the others just north and south. I’ll ask him about it tomorrow.

I asked Sky if she’d thought about being honest with Joseph. She wasn’t yet, though she was sure she’d tell him one day. She didn’t want to ruin his relationship with Moriah. Whatever that relationship actually is. I asked if she’d thought about Oliver, or maybe if she liked the look of the new pony. She said, “Adrian seems nice, but I’d never think about Oliver. I won’t step on Moriah’s hooves, and I won’t step on yours either.” Psh. Got a little agitated. Told her some things she didn’t seem to even register, or if she did, she didn’t care.

Another question, then. The one I’d really been wondering about. Why had she lied when we first met? Why hadn’t she told me about Sunset Shimmer?

Should’ve seen the look on her face, then. I think maybe she thought because I hadn’t brought it up earlier that maybe I’d never learned that part. That maybe she’d scraped by. Sorry little Sky, not today. She broke down; started crying, but I was firm with her. Didn’t let her worm her way out until she’d answered me. Not going soft on you today, Sky.

Eventually she told me the truth. She’d been traveling when she saw Sunset Shimmer appear, in the magic circle we’d visited earlier. They spent the day together, and Sky had learned a great deal from her. Sunset hadn’t talked about Equestria, but she had seemed the nicest pony Sky had ever met.

But she hadn’t been looking for lone survivors, she was searching for our governments. Any sign that civilization had survived, really. She’d offered to take Sky with her, but the pegasus had been too frightened of traveling so far from home, and stayed behind. Sunset Shimmer had asked her to promise not to tell anyone about her before she left. Cloudy Skies hadn't even asked a reason, or if she did, she won't tell me what it was. She says that sunset was "just so nice", that she didn't think of asking why.

Now I'm wishing I'd known about this before, so I could've asked her when I'd been near here. I can't even guess. What was she possibly hiding from? For that matter, why was she encrypting her transmissions back to Equestria? Why not just use the radio to talk? I was so caught up in figuring out what happened to my own species, I never had the chance to ask why the Equestrians were acting so strange!

I tried not to be too hard on Sky, I hope things are okay. She doesn’t seem to want to switch with anyone for sleeping in here with me (which is good, because Oliver would be the only option). When we get a real colony, we can have real beds again. So that means she’s not scared of me either, which is good. I dunno if I’d be that graceful in her place.

If only she knew the half of what happened in Equestria, during that last day.

They did something to me. I just wish I understood what it was.

—Lonely Day

Chapter 46: August 11

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August 11, 2015

Dear Diary,

I was worried that travel might’ve been difficult, since now a full three months have gone by, but I’m happy to say things have been relatively simple so far. As we got further north, we left the temperature extremes of the south, and diesel fuel here seems to be in good shape (we’re still on borrowed time, but at least we’ve got a little left). That meant we did things pretty much the same these last few days. Cloudy woke up earliest, did her animal stuff, loaded ‘em back into a freshly-swept truck with animal feed to eat during the drive. We set off about ten, and drive until dark, stopping for lunch to refuel in whatever small town looks good.

Stayed mostly on the highway otherwise, so we didn’t see many signs of other survivors. Some fires at night, some light. A few scattered radio transmissions here and there. Again though, we weren’t really going out of our way to find other ponies right now. Chances are they already had stability in some form by now if they were still alive. Suggesting anypony uproot themselves to travel with us to set up a new city in the middle of nowhere only a few months before winter seems pretty silly.

Ultimately we know we're going to need way more ponies than we have now. A single family alone can barely do everything they need to survive, let alone maintain the level of wealth and stability of an industrialized society. Our number estimates for how many ponies it might take to get something like the old level of technology back don't look good for us, and they look even worse for the HPI. It seems like 500 people aren't enough to do anything more than keep the species alive, and maybe not even that. That might be enough if it wasn't for the fact that the earth is now brimming with magic that would scour their souls from their bodies if it could.

Neanderthal tech just won't cut it to keep the HPI alive. I wonder how many years it will take to have enough ponies to help. Luna explained that the return of our missing population was an exponential curve, with very few in the early years and many more in the later ones. Every year should have more people than the ones before it. Let's do some simple math, diary. 7 billion people / 10,000 years = 700,000 people would reappear each year if it was linear. Only most of them don't live in North America, only about 5% of them do. That means of the 700,000, 35,000 appear here each year. 95.9 of them would be reappearing each and every day, somewhere. Probably lots of them in the cities. I hope none of them show up in LA. It pretty much sucks there right now.

We're going to have to think of a gathering system, at least in the short term. Some way to attract ponies from all over the country. I wish it was easier to cross the ocean, or we could look at Europe, Africa, Asia, those places... but I guess we'd have to learn lots of different languages.

What about South America? I suppose the ponies there might wonder why we don't want to come down and live with them. Because it's hot and there are too many damn mosquitoes, that's why!

Princess Luna seemed to indicate that ponies would be coming much slower than this to start. I wonder just how true it is. Too bad we don't know exactly where all the ponies were that Luna expected would still be here. She thought there'd be enough of us to have cities!

Didn’t happen to run into anypony on the roads, which makes sense. Adrian’s been to several different colonies, and by his estimates, there might be 1000 ponies between the US and Canada, about half of which have collected into little groups.

It’s a sorry story he has to tell, though not one we didn’t expect. Most people living today in the modern world just don’t have the skills to provide for themselves. Our society had grown so specialized and advanced that our short lifetimes wouldn’t have been enough to learn everything, even if all knowledge acquisition ceased completely for the species while we lived. Many skills required specialized talents that were rare in the population.

What all this means is that most of the “colonies” have already started to regress in some ways, at least as far as Adrian explained. Those in areas without well-water or rivers had to migrate to those that did, or else survive on bottled water and be unable to bathe. Many have started learning the hard way that even huge underground lakes of gasoline (gas stations) are going to stop running their vehicles and generators long before they exhaust the fuel itself.

Plumbing, he says, is rarely still working, and in many places ponies are boiling water to drink and bathing in rivers and ponds. The exception seems to be those who found RVs, since these vehicles have their own self-contained grids, and water can be poured in using a funnel if you’re patient enough. Given there are so few survivors, he thinks finding trailers or RVs has been a very common strategy.

If this is true, we’ll have to keep it in mind for our colony. It may end up starting as a glorified trailer park, filled with farm animals. Alas, the ignoble fate of man. Not all of the colonies were having so much trouble, though. He apparently recently left behind a colony down in Bastrop, Texas that seemed to be doing okay, though he said something about them not sticking around for more than a few more months. Had some choice things to say about some of its members, but I’ll not buy into gossip. They probably won’t want to uproot themselves. Hell, we didn’t until the fire took our city away. We might have got to next year and decided to become a desert people instead. Animals and humans have been doing it before, it wouldn’t have been impossible for us. Just have to change our habits a bit. Grow some different crops.

But we didn’t. Adrian said that actual starvation was fairly rare, and he never encountered a single pony who had or heard stories of it happening (but if they’d been all alone and eaten by animals, who would’ve known?). I’ve learned from Oliver that we can eat and even enjoy many grasses and shrubs, and Adrian thinks ponies only would’ve really been in danger in the really dry areas. Haven’t had a winter yet, at least not in the United States. Maybe some of us will freeze when that happens.

The biggest news from Adrian is that somebody else discovered what “we” did with the satellite network! He discovered his phone was still working, and that it was no longer charging him. So he played around, and set up a few more. He’s been leaving them in every colony he visits, even the ones without electricity. Maybe five hundred ponies total are in settlements with access to the phones, and can use them to communicate. With the HPI keeping things working, we should have at least a few years with some coverage, so long as everypony doesn’t insist on a phone of their own and clog the lines.

Called the HPI today, when we stopped to let the animals out and to refuel. Told them I’d learned enough that I could never tell them over the phone. They wouldn’t believe me. Dr. Clark agreed to have someone waiting for us in town when we arrive. Paris, Illinois. Their aircraft confirmed it was empty and told us so, which was thoughtful. We probably would’ve picked a different town if this one already had ponies living there. It wouldn’t feel right driving in and claiming all their stuff. Nor would it have been safe. They could all have guns.

Tomorrow we’ll arrive. Tomorrow I’ll share my unbelievable story with the last humans on earth, and we’ll lay the foundations for a colony of some of its former humans. Tomorrow we’ll be somewhere permanent, where we can farm and grow and hopefully prevent a slide back into subsistence.

I told Luna that I wanted the burden of protecting the human legacy. For now, I think that means protecting as many of the former humans as possible. Once there are enough others to focus on the needs of survival, I’ll start worrying about the lost knowledge. Maybe I can turn the saddlebags into storage for books and artifacts I could take with me even in the event of a disaster, once we’ve got all the Equestrian books out and onto shelves for ponies to read.

I noticed something interesting today, while I was glancing back at some of my old entries: I may've acquired a photographic memory. I flipped through the journal before going on my usual refuel run tonight, and while I was doing the mind-numbing work of pumping fuel into each truck, I went back to reading the journal without even realizing what I was doing. I could still see the pages in my mind, sketches and all!

This can't be normal, can it? I've never had a photographic memory before! Whatever. That's about the least abnormal thing about whatever the Princesses of Equestria did to me.

Tomorrow, our new home. And peace, at least for a while.

—Lonely Day

Note: I probably should've drawn Adrian yesterday, but I was just so excited for my cutie mark! I drew him today. He's always got his left wing in that wrap. I wonder if I should ask why...

Chapter 47: August 12

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August 12, 2015

Dear Diary,

We’re here. After another long day of travel, we're finally here.

It's a good thing the cars on the road at the time apparently didn't stick around, because otherwise driving here with trucks and buses might be impossible (guess we could still off-road, but that sounds like it would take forever). Roads are all clear. Well, there's litter, rubber bits, maybe a few tiny branches that've blown into the roads, but nothing that makes driving too hard. Probably won't stay this way. I know lots of plants can sprout in cracks, send roots through concrete, stuff like that. Freeze-thaw cycles will eventually destroy the roads, and they'll be covered in soil and plants before that. I wonder if we'll need to put a plow on a big truck or something at some point to keep an aisle clear of all that stuff, keep the highway routes we care about most drivable.

Whatever, not yet. Soon, maybe, but not yet. I can still see them just fine. A few leaves. Honestly I'm afraid those might be a problem in some of the more heavily wooded areas we crossed before anything else. Did you know I saw leaves as wide as my face? LEAVES GET THAT BIG! Like, real leaves.

The longer I stay out of California the more I'm glad to see somewhere else. It will be better to raise foals here. Not... not me raising them. Cloudy, or Moriah, obviously. Some pony else. Hear me, Cloudy Skies? Two words! I can't let my language change just because I get used to hearing it for a week. Or a day.

Spent most of the day traveling, because traveling is what we do. Or did. Did, ladies and gentlemen, because we have arrived! Paris, Illinois, has climbed from population 0 to the staggering metropolis of... 6. Okay, maybe that sounded better in my head. Whatever. Circled up everything in the town square (a real thing!), since all we are is a train of settlers travelin' out west... dangit, we're going the wrong way! I give up.

The grass up here is overgrown instead of dead. A pretty incredible change for me. With no sprinklers running, I would expect it all to be dead. Not so. It’s as much as three feet tall in front of many homes. Like the whole town was simultaneously abandoned and got overgrown. Well okay, that’s exactly what happened… but I digress.

While everybody went to the normal routine (a campfire, dried food and conversation while the animals grazed), I took my saddlebags and went with Huan for a little walk. I had a town map with me, but I didn’t really need one. It’s way small. Didn’t take very long at all to walk to the fairgrounds, and we didn’t encounter any huge stray dog packs along the way. There are predators smells here, though. Dangerous for us? Guess that remains to be seen. We could fence off the whole town if it comes to that, but I doubt it'll have to. Ponies are fast, and we're not nearly as helpless as we were a few months back.

Of course, I knew who would be waiting for me here. We'd already discussed it, and their carrier had probably been parked here all day. There was a safety-line painted on the ground, closer than the one had been in the city. I wondered why, though I know now. One of the enclosed tanks sat parked outside, its weapons tracking me as I approached. A hatch opened, and out came a single man in a protective suit.

It wasn’t Dr. Clark, but Captain Wright, the one who led the team who ransacked our shelter way back when. He warned me to stay back, gave the same warnings about them needing to shoot me as before. I agreed to comply, then took the saddlebags off and opened the side-pouch. I’d left the manacles right where I could get to them, along with the key. He didn’t really have a good angle to see inside at that distance (and I couldn’t be sure if that would release some sort of mystical cascade that would overwhelm him and anyone else who had come along). I didn’t like the idea of bringing the space-warping magic of the saddlebags much closer, but I needed them to be close enough for him to see. About 500 meters was the ideal distance, right on the edge of the fairgrounds.

Short of it? They work. I know what it’s like to be a not-earth pony, now. All that strength ripped away, and the ground beneath my hooves not talking to me the way it’s supposed to. Very hard to explain… it wasn’t very pleasant. There was one positive side-effect, though: when wearing the manacles, I couldn’t feel the lack of magic from anyone else either. It sucked to be wearing them, but I didn’t have an irrational desire to constantly run away. Which was good, because I’d probably have tripped over my front hooves and landed with my horse butt waving in the breeze.

Captain Wright was pretty amazed by the sudden drop in my radiation (to zero), that he called out all his men. A half dozen humans poured out of the airship and the tank, many lacking anything but a basic bio-hazard suit, the ones with those clear fronts that inflate and look really silly. Human faces inside; men and women who look the way I used to look. Weary, curious, frightened. I came all the way over to the circle, and eventually they let me inside it. It didn’t feel any different, aside from the terrible constriction the manacles already provided.

I had the key on my neck the whole time, though. I could’ve taken them off relatively easily (I’m a pro at mouth-things now. Do it for three months and see if you aren’t too), but I never did. Might’ve killed all those people if I did — humans the Earth surely can’t afford to lose.

I told them everything, though of course my memory isn’t nearly as accurate as the perfect crystal thing. I wish I could've used that. Convey how powerful Luna felt, her honesty and frankness. You can't get that just from me telling the story, even if I tell it well (and I don't, I'm not a very good storyteller!). Eventually showed them my “proof” in the form of the magic saddlebags and the artifacts I brought with me from Equestria. Even took a drone with me into the library, which seemed to work so long as the flaps stayed open.

What was the point of the magical song and dance? The HPI already knew about Equestria. Though they hadn't known for sure (until I told them) what Equestrians looked like, they knew about their magical powers. Their ability to open doors in space, in particular. So it was pretty obvious I'd been dealing with Equestria.

I’m not sure if I proved anything other than the fact that the Equestrians (they already knew about them, big surprise) had tons of powerful magic. They didn’t corroborate Luna’s story of interacting with Earth, though they never denied it. I hope our relationship with them will get good enough that they’ll eventually be open with us.

I want them to succeed. The HPI are the last true humans left. I don’t know if they have enough in that base of theirs to keep replacing their machines as they break. Having us on the outside, able to move through the ruins of civilization without having our brains fried, might be what makes the difference between starving one year or surviving. Do they have any long-term plans? It’s going to be hundreds, maybe thousands of years before we can refine more nuclear fuel for them to use in their reactors. Even an apparent ability to use waste fuels won’t keep them going forever.

I wonder if our wizard-ponies will get as advanced as the Equestrian ones. If magical shackles are possible, maybe a magical magic reflector is too. Freed of the need to blow all their energy into shields, I bet they could have a way easier time of things. Maybe have some surface colonies, albeit protected like castles to stop ponies from wandering in accidentally. Or… on purpose.

But why would we fight? God, we did so much of that in the old world. Even if our goals don’t perfectly align, nopony can afford to solve their problems with violence anymore. There are damn few of us, and there’s going to keep being a damn few for hundreds of years to come. The first wave of colonists I brought here will all be long dead before we start seeing the .7 million/year worldwide numbers, assuming Luna was right.

Dr. Clark is genuinely excited about the manacles; when Wright called him, should’ve seen how excited he looked. He wants to bring me back to “Raven” as soon as possible, so they can learn how ponies tick. Wanted to take me right then, actually. I said no, that I’d need to be with my friends for a month or so getting our colony set-up.

He was fine with that; most of his people were in Europe anyway, still trying to deal with all their nuclear plants.

You miss that?

He didn’t try to force me. Could’ve. I was surrounded by armed humans and guns. They’re all bigger than me, and I didn’t have any of my strength. Huan was watching from outside the circle, so they could’ve shot him before he got close enough without even trying.

They didn’t.

So don’t you tell me former humans and real humans can’t be friends. If the ponies of Equestria can be friends with gryphons and minotaurs and weird monsters, then we can be friends with our true selves.

So I couldn't show them the memory, that didn't mean I couldn't explain the essence of what happened. The reason earth is deserted is because the ponies made a spell to save humanity. It worked, and here we are. Everyone else is going to come back as ponies and the other races from Equestria over the next long, long time, though the immediate future shouldn't see that many. The magic wasn't going to go away, at least not if what happened in Equestria's universe suggests the future of our own.

Wright asked me a question I hadn't quite expected: Would the "spell" that made humans into Equestrians before something that could be replicated? Would the former human ponies on earth now be able to do it again, on a smaller scale?

I asked him why, because I was kinda shocked he'd be asking at all. Wright said. "The HPI was meant to preserve humanity. If we reach a point where we've run out of resources, or our equipment is failing, we would serve humanity better by surviving as something else than dying as ourselves. I don't think Dr. Clark would consider it unless we had no other options. It would be useful to know whether the possibility was open."

You can't imagine how excited they are about all the books on magic I brought back. They want us to scan each one, so their engineers can start on them. It was like Christmas for them. I'm going to try and be as optimistic as I can for them, because humanity needs a little optimism when there are only five hundred real humans and they live in a tiny hole called "Raven." I know they built a thaumic shield in just a few years, but that was back when they had the best minds of the world working on it. How long will it take them when they've only got a few hundred?

Well, they managed to improve the strength of their shield pretty significantly with the same equipment, so that's good. I'm not sure if it counts, since the improvements were just based on not having ever been exposed to a field this size before. Just a manner of recalibrating for the way thaumic energy acts in reality instead of based on some theory. Still, I could tell they were pretty confident. Less tanks, after all, not to mention the shorter line. I guess this will make scavenging a little easier, even if I still can't get within thirty feet without those manacles.

Clark is going to come up in person next week, to get what happened in much more detail. Seems fine to me. Hopefully it can be the start of a friendship. After all, I did what they wanted. We investigated the mysterious magic. Learned it was a Thaumic Arc Transmitter making all the "noise" (even if I couldn't tell them why Sunset Shimmer bothered to encode her messages). We'll keep the fairgrounds off-limits except for these meetings, to keep the area from getting "hot".

Time to turn my eyes towards practical matters. We’ve got a colony to build. After that, who knows?

—Alex

Chapter 48: August 13

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Dear Diary,

Today was the official founding of our colony! It’s gonna be a bumpy next few years, but there’s no reason at all we shouldn’t be able to make it. We’ve got lots of talented ponies, and no reason we couldn’t start attracting more.

Today was inventmediaory day. If we were going to live here for the rest of forever and transform this place into a city, we would need to know exactly what we have to work with. Separated our little group into parties of two, and we each went out in a different direction. Came together for lunch courtesy of Cloudy Skies (I'm getting sick of canned veggies), then went back out with our clipboards. In the end, we put together as much as we could from what we could learn in one day.

What do we know? Well, Paris was a small town, population about 8,500 (before the Event). It existed primarily because of farming, and because of a few machine shops. The biggest one, NAL, made headlight covers or something. Also has some local construction employing the few other people. This is good, since we're going to need metalworking and construction materials in the months to come. Plenty of housing, including some of that "projects" style houses made of concrete that you hate to live in but will probably outlast more comfortable houses.

The town also has its own modest hospital, a primary and secondary school, and NO POWER PLANTS! Looks like all the electricity in town came in from elsewhere. We'll have to do something about that, but we can't exactly loot a whole power plant from a nearby city. Wonder what we'd have to do for the HPI to give us one of those reactors...

Went through town looking for solar systems, and you know how many we found? Very, very few. I guess the green revolution never reached here. Which is why we’d intended to come after a year of preparations, when we could come with truckloads full so that our setup would be effortless. As it stands we’re probably going to be burning diesel to keep things running for some time to come. Already planned an expedition to St. Louis for a few days from now to knock over a commercial solar warehouse, plus let any ponies down there know we’re here. One problem at a time.

There’s still water in the tower! No way to know how much just now; probably places all over the town where the water was left running. We’ll want to figure out how to shut it off to all but the parts we want in time, then maybe it will be worth it to pump water up into those towers again. Not right now, though.

So we picked one of the nicest little houses we could find for our new home-base. The town has a little lake, where the really nicest houses are, though they don’t build mansions here like in Cali. No self-contained cistern systems either… damn do I miss hippies. But that’s okay! We’ll figure it out! Might end up resorting to RVs like the other survivors Adrian found. Plenty of space to park them on the grass and empty fields. Having the lake is nice; and it doesn’t seem to be drying up the way everything in California was. Real climate, yay!

Just down the street from the first fields, too. Close enough to drive tractors, once we start doing that sort of thing. Probably won’t be doing too much for the first little while: we’ve got limited time when transportation is easy and a world full of supplies. Already talked about it; we’re going to use the local high school gym as our warehouse, since it has climate control (we could use if we had electricity). The goal? Four trucks, each with “living” cabs. Three pull empty storage trailers, one a fuel tank. We caravan into a city, grab what we need, refill the fuel tanker with more diesel, then make our way back. Regular caravan rotations, for as long as we can keep the trucks on the road.

We’ve got enough fuel to keep the medicine cold for the time being. Found a gasoline generator, and we’re using that. Gas is pretty much on its last legs, so we figure might as well get what we can out of it while it lasts. We’ll switch back to just letting the truck idle all the time if we see the gasoline giving us any trouble, but hopefully we’ve brought truckloads worth of solar panels and golf-cart batteries here by then. Deep-cycle, baby.

So we had ourselves a little meeting. Wouldn’t really call it a government or anything like that. But we are the founders of a new community, and that means coming up with a name. Many ideas circulated. My favorite was the one I proposed, the perhaps unimaginative “Nueva Angeles.” Honestly I’m not sure if I even conjugated that right (I haven’t taken any Spanish classes since high school). Whatever, it didn’t win anyway.

Against my objections, our little community will now be known as Alexandria (Groan). Yeah, it’s going to be a center of learning. Yeah, it’s going to house the world’s only inter-universal library. So maybe the name is fitting. Still feels pretty unfair they’re naming something after me like this. I’ve done less than plenty of them for our survival.

They wouldn’t hear it, though. Even Moriah supported the vote, when nobody came up with anything better. Guess I can hold out hope that somebody comes up with a really genius idea and we change it. Otherwise, future generations are going to be reading this journal and ask me why the heck I named a place after myself.

I’m setting the record straight, right here! It wasn’t my idea! I tried to stop them, you hear me? You… read me? Whatever.

I think there might be wolves out there, or at least a big pack of brave dogs. I’ve never heard a real wolf-howl, so I’m not sure I’d be able to tell it apart from dogs. They’re pretty similar, right? Genetically or whatever?

Guess genetics probably didn’t survive the Event, or the “Collapse”, as those HPI folk call it. Wonder which of those names is gonna stick, a thousand years from now. Or ten thousand, when every last human has finally returned?

Will we have figured out how to make humans who can live in magic, by then? All these big, universal questions are kinda over my head I guess. I’m just a little earth pony. I want to make sure there’s heat in pony’s homes come winter and food on their tables.

I tried to help with the big questions, and it turned out there wasn’t much we could do. Luna and the other ponies weren’t responsible for what happened to Earth, except for saving everybody’s lives. Maybe they hadn’t done so in the most ideal way. Maybe there was a better way I didn’t know about.

Maybe they purposefully ignored it in order to make our world like theirs. I don’t think we’ll ever know. A single encounter made me think they were upright, honest, and compassionate. But that may’ve been a lie. I don’t know. Maybe my body was lying and making me want to trust them.

I doubt we’ll ever know. Well, maybe I will. But my friends, they probably won't. Tempus fugit.

Life isn’t going to be easy, here in “Alexandria.” We’ve got a whole civilization’s worth of technology to preserve/rediscover. A reboot.

Adrian’s staying on in the short term, until we’re established. He says he always leaves a satellite phone in every community he visits. Even if we’ve already got them, he says he can’t leave one here until we’re a community. So that’s neat.

Maybe he’ll fall for Sky. Maybe she’ll keep pining for Joseph, or maybe she’ll move on.

I’m not sure about me. I feel a little young to be thinking about this, but I’m also kinda the de facto leader of this group. I should probably set an example or whatever. I dunno. Maybe when there are more ponies here to set an example for. My friends already know me. They know my word’s good. That I care about them.

We’re a long way from having a real government. Probably we’ll end up reusing most of what the country already had going… if we ever get that big, I mean. Joseph ran the numbers, and they’re not good. Regular growth rate for humanity? Two percent. Unless we really do live longer, like Sunset Shimmer suggested, it’s going to be a really long time before we hit numbers enough to support an industrial nation.

We’ve got a key principle: we’ve got to minimize farm labor. If we can keep just a few feeding the whole population, then we’ve got the recipe for civilization. For innovation, invention, and change.

With any luck, being the sole depository of Equestrian knowledge on Earth will draw some of that talent here, and some of them will want to stay.

Guess we’ll find out.

After more than three months of effort (almost four) Cloudy Skies flew today. I guess she got bored of waiting to show me, because she just took off, flapping her wings less than I’d expect for something her size. Stayed low, not more than three hundred feet up, in this awkward glide without turning. Ended up coming right back down about the length of main street.

But that doesn’t matter. Her glide ended in tears because we know she can do it. She knows she can do it. Apparently she figured it out while I was in Equestria, and has been eager to show me ever since I got back. She got impatient.

Bumped into Oliver during the walk back. Almost asked him if he wanted to watch the moon later. I didn’t. Next time I guess. He just sorta shrugged and kept going. Pretty patient guy. Or maybe he doesn’t care. I dunno. Those doctor types.

Good thing we have those. God knows I wouldn’t know how to deliver a foal without him, and Cloudy Skies hardly counted.

We ended our night with a big party, to celebrate our arrival and commemorate our future here. Raided the Walmart for lots of the non-perishable, shelf-stable celebration supplies. That carbonated Martinelli's cider was as delicious as I remember it.

To my chagrin (and everyone else’s amusement), Oliver wouldn’t let me have any of the alcohol. Horsecrap, it’s not like I’m not the one who picked it out, mixed what Joseph called my “girly drinks.” He said I’d thank him later, but I tried to take it in good humor. Everybody else was in good humor. I’ve never seen a pony drink as much as that Adrian, let me tell you.

Cloudy didn’t really have much and she was already starting to sway, so it’s clearly not a genetic thing. Took her back to the truck trailer, since we haven’t actually cleaned out any of the houses for our use yet. She’s still asleep on the other side of this divider. Dreaming pegasus dreams.

So yeah, diary. Things haven’t been easy these last months. Surviving on our own, fighting off predators, learning what really happened (according to the Princesses of Equestria). Traveling to another world, and coming back with Equestria’s reboot kit.

Learned how to be a pony. Learned how to be a mare. Learned how to convert trucks so hooves could reach or use a wheel. Learned how to eat grass and brush and flowers and enjoy it.

Maybe learned is the wrong word. We lived. And we live still, carrying the legacy of what we were along with us. We’ll be building from the wreckage of mankind’s great civilization. We’ll make sure humanity’s greatest creations aren’t just preserved in some secret, magically shielded bunker.

We’ll take them and make them part of our culture. We’ll use the inventions to keep our lives going. We’ll teach our foals that once we walked on two legs and ate meat. The HPI can do many things, but not any of those. It’s a time capsule. Without our work out here, humanity would, in effect, have died, with only a faint memory surviving, like a dream. A dream that might end and be forgotten with a single power failure.

Not out here, in the real world. The world of oil and tears. The world of iron and blood. Of unicorns, pegasi, and earth ponies. Of the other breeds I haven’t met yet. A world where I can be friends with a whole city at once.

Life could be worse. I’m not going to call things great. We might all freeze to death in the winter, or die of some weird horse-disease. We might get the gout or malnutrition. But we might not. Maybe Alexandria will grow to be a great city, known in all the world. Maybe our foals will grow up strong, hybrid offspring of two worlds. Maybe the disappearing “humans” will return to a world that’s as strong and stable as the one they left.

Maybe we’ll forgive Equestria for what they did to us, enough to thank them for what they gave.

Guess we’ll have to wait and see.

—Lonely Day

My friends (and me)

Epilogue: Interview

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It wasn't hard to arrange a private meeting with Alex. She's not the mayor anymore, even if she remains active in public life. I sent ahead and she set aside the entire afternoon to talk to me. It wasn't difficult, since she lives just across the street from my mother's house. Even after all these years, the founders have remained close together.

We chat for over an hour before I bring up the subject of my investigations. I want an accurate history of Alexandria, one ponies will be able to read and know how we got started. After some persuasion, she agrees to share with me. She starts by giving me a copy of some of her journals, and explaining what I shouldn't share. Then we move on to my questions.

"So you got to Alexandria. It's overgrown, it's empty. You're tired from your long journey across the country. What do you do?"

We built it.

"What does that mean? Cities don't just come from nowhere, Miss Alex. There's got to be more to it than that."

Oh, well obviously. I didn't see the point in writing it all down a second time. If anyone wanted to see how we built a city, they could just read my journal. Well... those parts. I don't think I'll publish the whole thing. Maybe when I'm gone—but until then, ponies can just ask.

I ruffled my papers, looking over everything we'd gone over so far. I had whole sections of Alex's journal here, with the relevant sections highlighted as I went. Most of what she had to say wasn't relevant to the story of the early settlers. Some was, though, and even more hadn't been included. "Why don't you give me the highlights? Ponies might be curious what happened next. The first wave of settlers didn't show up right away, did they?"

No, they didn't. But that was the way we wanted, really. Maybe it was selfish, but we thought we had the best ideas about how to build a city. The first ones to lay down bricks set the foundation for others to follow. We waited until we had the foundations before we put the word out for settlers. But I thought you wanted to talk about earlier. You didn't want to get into—

"No, I didn't," I agreed. "That's a different story. Just tell me about what life was like before that. You said you built it, what does that mean?"

She pauses for a moment to think. She stares out the window of her house, looking out at the street. A car passes by, with ponies inside. It looks like it's made from salvaged parts, just like every vehicle in Alexandria. I can practically smell the biofuel burning from here. Eventually, she goes back to explaining. Priorities are always the same, Amy. They were the same then as they are now, just with the resources a little different.

"You didn't have to grow food," I suggest.

We didn't! The way things used to be, before the Event, most people didn't know the first thing about growing food. Nobody had their own herb-gardens, and most people had never even met a farmer. We knew growing food would be important, but we didn't make it a priority that year. We didn't get hurt that often, so Oliver had a lot of free time. He spent it growing things, because that's what he likes to do.

"Instead of growing ponies, you mean?" I ask, grinning at her.

She glares at me in response, though she doesn't look as embarrassed as her diaries sound. Food wasn't a priority in the same way. The old grocery store had more than we would ever eat, even throwing out anything with meat in it. Which we didn't do, because we already knew about griffons from Equestria's books, and I knew we could probably use the cans and stuff for trade. Getting power came first, then water, along with a lot of cleaning things up.

"Why would there be anything to clean? Nopony was living there before you arrived."

Not like that. Like the lives of the people who used to live there. The family pictures hanging in our stolen houses, the nameplates, the desks, the decorated yards. We couldn't do the whole town—there were homes for eight thousand people after all. But the parts we usually visited, those we cleaned up. Some other little things to make the town lived in. Mowing the grass in the town square, taking down old flyers, cleaning the litter out of the streets. I spent two whole days fixing a street sweeper so we could clear the roads. And of course, there was setting up the library. That was going to be part of the reason ponies came to Alexandria in the first place. Come for the books, stay for the company!

"The security, you mean. You knew ponies would try and steal it?"

Duh! That's the way people work—anything rare has value, and anything with value people want. It didn't matter we let them read as much as they wanted, it didn't matter we'd help them copy the stuff they needed…

"Maybe they have a point. Maybe we're hoarding information, and we should just let everypony have as much as they want."

Alex's expression grows sour at this point. She takes a long time to answer. It's not fair. But that isn't our fault. Equestria gave us an impossible prospect: human society is predicated upon thousands of people all specializing. No, not thousands... millions. Equestria saw that we only had one way to live, and they took that away from us. What the world really needed was for us to gather everybody up into one place and force people to live together. Like it was at the first—let us spread out and grow naturally as we repopulate. Since going around kidnapping ponies would be wrong, we... found another way. Let them come to us.

"Some of them still resent it," I say, though I don't want to push this line of reasoning too far. "They think it isn't fair we have so many ponies and they have so few. Gives us all the advantages."

This time she smiles at me. That's the idea, Amy. We just can't breed fast enough. Our western attitudes about family size just don't match the world we live in anymore. I wonder if ponies are doing better somewhere families are bigger, like the Middle East. Maybe they'll grow better than we do.

"What about relationships in your group? With so few ponies around, it must've been difficult."

Yeah, I guess. It didn't feel that way back then. Most of us were from the city, we'd been used to being around people. More people than you can imagine, Amy. More people than you could fit in the whole city if they all stood close together. Going from that to just a few, well... I think we were glad to have anybody. Most of us had spent some time alone. Everybody but Moriah knew what it was like to wonder if you were the last pony on earth, wonder if you'd ever see another soul again. Even Joe was relieved to have us around, even if it was just to show us what exciting things he'd done that we didn't need. Like that whole software system he wrote for the library. A whole operating system just to stream PDFs from Raven, when we could've just used a room with locks on it. Or coming up with a wideband protocol for the Kimballnet, he was real proud of that. But before I found him, he just sat alone in a room playing video games and eating breakfast. Having friends is what gives us purpose. Now that we knew what had happened, we knew we probably wouldn’t see our families again.

"Except you," I point out. "You don’t have to worry about that."

She looks uncomfortable again. I didn't know that at the time, none of us did. It was just about being friends then, and we were. Well... more than friends, some of us. But that's how ponies are.

"You don't sound upset about that."

Why should I be? Who cares what my old self would've thought! Who cares what any of us used to be—that world is gone forever. Equestria killed it, and we didn't get a choice. We do get to choose what we do with the new world. My friends chose to move on. Some faster than others, but... we all moved on. And anyway, we knew we needed the next generation. Nobody wanted to admit it back then, but we all knew. Two children each is the minimum if all you want to do is tread water, and we wanted more than that. Still do.

"I want to get back to something you said earlier. Moving on—what do you mean by that? Are you talking about the ponies trying to resurrect human religions? Or the ones who change their names and don't wear clothes? The ones who live like this is Equestria?"

I don't think it's my place to decide how ponies live. You can see I gave up on trying to wear clothes all the time myself, eventually. For ponies who live somewhere warm, I think it's an objectively superior choice. Think of how much harder it is to hide a weapon, for instance. How much less a pony needs to survive when there's no expectation they'll be dressed? How much more convenient it is to pack your bags for travel. The rest of that stuff... I think you've gone in different directions by accident. Trying to hold onto our religions seems like the opposite of the ponies changing themselves to resemble Equestria. The names... they're stupid, but so what? To some people, Equestria saved us. It's natural to want to be like the ones who saved you.

"But that wasn't how you were then?"

No, we weren't. I'd say I'd never guessed it would've happened... but maybe I should've. Cloudy Skies already did it, before we even left LA. If there was one, there'd be more. More ponies who'd rather just wipe the slate clean and start over. She looks down at her hooves, blushing. Some of us didn't really have a choice. Our old selves were as gone as the world we came from. So maybe this is the natural process. It's always been that way, with the new generation finding a slightly different way of doing things than the old one. Everything gets washed away eventually. But it hadn't really started back then. I think this is too far for your story.

"Right, we should get back on topic. What about safety? Were wolves as much of a problem then as they are now? Did you ever have to fight them?"

Fight a wolf? God, I hope not, I'm sure I'd lose. Sure, we heard them. We thought about building a wall all the way back then, but we just didn't have the time with everything else that was going on. But we didn't go out at night alone, and that helped. I think Oliver has some stories to tell about that, you should ask him.

"Don't you remember?"

Alex only shrugs, smiling again. Sure I do, but it's his story. Important thing was that we weren't really worried about safety. There's no reason to be scared about raiders when the world is so big and there are so few ponies living in it. Food was everywhere back then, and luxury items even moreso. Why would anyone come out to the ass of nowhere when they could go to a big city and steal a Van Gogh? We saw deer all the time back then, they figured out real early on the city was safe, but that didn't matter. They always left us alone. The cows needed protection, and so did the chickens. Not so much us.

"But you were just talking about the library."

Alex waves me off. I guess Joseph was right about the security measures after all. But those ponies weren't raiders. We got a few of those too—I'll never know if they were after what we had, or maybe they just thought since everything was gone they could do what they want. Guess I'll never know.

"I guess that's about what I wanted to know, then. You... selected somewhere to live, cleaned out the remnants of what had been there before, got the infrastructure working, and started building the library. That's a lot for just a few months."

It was enough. Enough that we felt ready to start putting out the call. We wanted to present a united front to newcomers, since there would only be a few of us. I think that worked out well, considering what happened afterwards.

"Would the others agree? You should be honest, I'm going to interview them too."

Alex laughs again. Moriah will probably tell you she hated it, but she'd tell you that about anything. Adrian's gone, so... I think Joseph and Cloudy would. Cloudy in particular—she was so happy back then. Building a new home out in the countryside, exactly how she wanted. Knowing all about ponies, learning how to fly…

"Mom's happy about everything. That doesn't say much."

It did back then. She was one of the happiest to have a new start, and I think she used it the most. Didn't sit around longing after her old family when she could start a new one here. That seems like the smart way to do things. Joseph might not have understood that back then, but I think he'd see it now. Assuming you can get him to leave that school for five minutes to talk to you.

"I guess we'll see." We rise, exchange farewells. Alex tells me she'll be expecting me for dinner tonight. I promise to come, but I probably won't. It's going to be a long night putting all of this together. It's already been such a long time, but I feel like somepony should get all of this down. Ponies deserve to know what happened.