In a burst of powerful, blinding light, a lavender alicorn stepped onto the floor of her laboratory with her baby dragon assistant clinging onto her tail.
"Spike! Get our inventory list, and some more parchment! I need to make a list of what we'll need," Twilight Sparkle ordered. She dragged out her chalkboard, firmly grasped a piece of chalk within the glow of her magic, and began writing in what looked like a complete arcane language.
It was a long day of running around Canterlot for 'Royal Duties' and he was exhausted. Spike opened his mouth to complain, but one look at Twilight caused him to just shut his mouth and do what she told. One, because Twilight was nigh impossible to stop once she got her inspiration, and two, it's been a while since she went into mad scientist mode and Spike missed it. Kind of.
He sighed and dragged his weary body off to do as she commanded. Twilight didn't hear his sigh nor the groans of fatigue her own body was trying to inform her of. No. Twilight Sparkle had that glimmer of inspiration twinkling in her eyes. And though some may confuse it with insanity, they could not deny that Twilight gets done what she wants to get done.
Four days later, her five friends were called to the castle with vague explanations from her messenger, Spike.
"I'm sorry sugarcube, but why are we here again?" Applejack asked as they followed Spike down the crystal hallways.
"Twilight—" Spike paused as he let out an elongated yawn "—wants it to be a surprise." He rubbed his bleary eyes as he tried to focus on navigating the overly complex layout of his new home.
"Um, are you alright, Spike?" Fluttershy asked in concern. He didn't really look 'alright' at all. Spike's scales were duller than usual and his green fins even drooped a bit. His eyes were tinged red from lack of sleep and he was walking a little unsteadily, occasionally stumbling over nothing before continuing his fatigued gait.
"I'm fine," he waved off the concern as he rubbed his puffed eyes. "I'm just going to nap forever after all this.”
"Speaking of naps, this better be ultra cool ‘cause I'm missing out on one right now," Rainbow Dash grumbled.
"Oh come now, Rainbow Dash. We haven't seen her at all in the past week. Considering it's Twilight we're talking about, I'm sure that whatever she wants to show us will be nothing short of bedazzling," Rarity said.
"Ooh ooh! Wanna guess what it is?" Pinkie Pie bounced.
"We're here," Spike declared as they reached the double doors of the lab.
"Cupcakes! I guess cupcakes!" Pinkie Pie quickly exclaimed.
"Whatever it is, it’s probably lame," Rainbow Dash grumbled.
"What’s got Rainbow's apples in a bunch?" Applejack whispered to Rarity. Rarity shook her head in equal confusion. All the commotion died down as the doors were pushed open and the group trotted in.
The new lab was certainly spacious compared to the old one. It had the same tables with flasks and beakers with varieties of mysterious, colorful liquids bubbling and hissing with untold secrets within their chemical structures; the same large chalkboard on wheels that Twilight loved to flesh out her ideas on and not one, but three big clunky machines that Twilight had attempted to use to comprehend what was going on in Pinkie's body during the whole Pinkie sense fiasco. But alas, though there were many fascinating sciency whatchamacallits in her lab, the spotlight was stolen by the large monitor and speakers that were hooked up to the mirror portal in a mess of wires and control boards in the center of the room. Twilight lifted her head from her work at the sound of hooves clopping on the floor and her face split into a wide grin.
"Friends! I'm so happy that you could make it on such short notice!" she cried out gleefully.
The group shared concerned looks with each other before turning their eyes back to Twilight. She looked... surprisingly normal. Seeing Spike's tired face had caused them to expect her to be high strung and looking as disorientated—if not more—than he was. But nope, she looked good. Great even.
"I'm just triple checking my to do list," Twilight explained. "Please gather before the monitor here as I explain what I present before you today."
Twilight quickly checked off her last item on the list with an ecstatic flourish and cleared her throat for her in depth and thrilling explanation.
"Twilight made a thingy that lets you see alternate worlds like the one she and I went to," Spike interrupted as he made his way to the corner with a blanket in claw.
"Spike!" Twilight admonished, thwarted from the build up of the many-worlds interpretation she was about to explain. Well, she could still expl-
"Neat!" Rainbow yelled, her wings fluttering in excitement. "Turn it on, I wanna see."
Though annoyed at being repeatedly interrupted, Twilight graciously swallowed her pride and began prepping the machine.
"First I have to at least give a general explanation about what this machine does," she said, tinkering with the control panels. "Based on my experience at Canterlot along with a riveting conversation with Princess Celestia, I’ve found that there is not only one world with our alternate selves, but possibly an infinite number of worlds. And with this information I have found a way to view these worlds in real time using the mirror as the base. All I had to do was adjust a few settings, add this fluxmeter, tweak this-"
"Twilight," Rainbow groaned. "Can you get on it with it?"
"Don't be rude Rainbow," Applejack scolded. "Let Twilight explain!"
Rainbow crossed her forelegs and pouted.
"Thank you, Applejack," Twilight smiled. "As I was saying, we can basically see and hear what our alternate selves are doing in these different universes. All I need is to feed the machine a few strands of hair from one of you for DNA and we can track what you're doing at this very moment in other universes!”
A collective 'ooh’ filled the lab.
"That's amazing Twilight!" Pinkie screamed and squeezed all the air out of her lungs, then let go as quickly as she appeared.
"Awesome! Here, take this!" Rainbow Dash pulled a few strands out and hoofed it over to the breathless Twilight. "Find a world where I'm a Wonderbolt!"
"Ahem, well I'm certain that there will be at least one world line where that happens. Finding it on the other hoof..." Twilight looked around to her other friends. "And no one else wants to go first?"
"I just had my mane styled today..." Rarity said apologetically.
"It's alright if Rainbow goes first," Fluttershy conceded peacefully.
Applejack just shrugged and Pinkie nodded her head enthusiastically.
"Alright," Twilight said and she fed the strands to machine.
"If you look at the numbers here," she pointed to a Nixie tubes set with the numbers 0.2239. "That's how different the world will be from ours. The higher the number, the higher the difference. You girls ready?"
They nodded and Twilight turned on the machine.
"Twilight! I love you!" Rainbow Dash cried out on the screen, tears overflowing from her magenta eyes.
Twilight turned off the machine.
An uncomfortable silence drifted about the lab as five heads slowly turned towards Rainbow Dash. The mare in question stared at the blank screen in growing confusion and horror as her mouth opened and closed repeatedly with nothing but strangled noises leaking out.
"What was that?" she finally squeaked, her face bright red. "I don't even swing that way!"
"Maybe the other Rainbow Dash meant it in a platonic way," Fluttershy offered helpfully. That was the last straw as AJ fell to the floor in an uncontrollable fit of laughter.
"I... I can't... even!" She tried to speak between her fits but to little success. Rainbow Dash scowled at her but couldn't say anything back.
"Um," Twilight began, her mind beginning to wonder if this was all just a really, really horrible idea. "so that was just one world. Let's move onto another one." She was about to increase the numbers on the Nixie tube but Rarity caught her hoof.
"Wait! I simply must know what happened! Turn it back on," Rarity asked, now replaced by her inner romantic, eyes sparkling and all.
"Rarity, I think Rainbow Dash and I would both be very uncomfortable seeing what comes next," Twilight resisted.
"Nonsense! This is all just a bit of fun! Come now, Twilight, you can't tell me you aren't at least a little bit curious as to see whether other Rainbow Dash's endeavors worked out?" Rarity continued.
"Well..." Before Twilight could concede, Pinkie popped out from behind her and turned the switch back on herself. The screen once again showed Rainbow who was now in a touching embrace with Twilight, their wings wrapped tightly around each other.
"Oh, hugging is a good sign," Fluttershy nodded.
"Ah yes, I'm so happy for them," Rarity sighed with a dreamy smile on her face.
"I'm sorry Rainbow," other Twilight whispered, her voice slightly tinny through the speakers.
"Oh no," Rarity whispered, pulling out a hoofkerchief for upcoming waterworks.
"But it can't work. Our lives are too different. I'm a princess and you're a Wonderbolt. We're both too high profile for this to work. I know how much you care about your job and I couldn't bear to see a relationship with me cause you trouble in it."
"I'm a Wonderbolt?" Rainbow Dash's mortified expression quickly melted into ecstasy as she jumped into the air. "Woohoo! I'm a Wonderbolt!" She stopped in mid loop. "Wait, I'm a Wonderbolt and you're rejecting me?" She asked Twilight incredulously.
Twilight just looked at her helplessly between the screen and Rainbow, unable to explain for her counterpart's actions.
"Quiet!" Rarity hissed. "I'm trying to listen over here!"
Applejack's finally managed to get her laughing under wraps as she got up to her hooves while wiping a tear from her eye.
"Wooeee Rainbow, haven't laughed that hard since I found Big Mac sleeping with Twilight's doll!"
"Big Mac has SmartyPants?" Twilight asked.
"I don't care!" Rainbow's voice drew her back to the screen. "I love you more than anything else in the world Twi. I love you more than being a Wonderbolt. I... I don't want to be a Wonderbolt if it means that I couldn't be with you."
"Awwwww," Pinkie Pie cooed. "Rainbow Dash, I didn't know you could be so sweet!"
"Blech," Rainbow stuck her tongue out in disgust. "That's an imposter! I would never give up being a Wonderbolt for Twilight." She quickly glanced at the glaring alicorn. "Er, no offense."
Twilight dropped her glare and sighed. "None taken, Rainbow. I know being a Wonderbolt is your dream."
"Heh, thanks." Rainbow dropped back to the ground as she awkwardly rubbed the back of her neck.
"Rainbow, I could never forgive myself for being the cause of you giving up your dream!" Twilight protested but other Rainbow would have none of it. She shook her head and wiped the remaining tears off her face.
"I already achieved my dream to make it to the Wonderbolts Twi. I have a new dream now, and that dream is you." She smiled.
Rarity gasped and grabbed the hooves of the nearby Fluttershy and they squealed together in excitement as their eyes remained glued on the screen.
"Oh Rainbow Dash, I never knew you could be so romantic!" Rarity cried, dabbing delicately at the tears that were causing her mascara to run.
Meanwhile, Applejack couldn't trust herself to speak as she tried to contain the fits of laughter that were threatening to come spilling out of her mouth and she once again dropped to the ground, roaring in laughter.
"No! That's not me!" Rainbow Dash groaned as she fell to the floor and covered her face with her hooves. Spasms of cringe rippled across her body. "It's. So. Cheesy!"
Twilight watched the chaos unfold and looked in the corner where Spike was somehow managing to get some sleep through all this.
"That dragon always seems to know when to avoid trouble," she muttered under breath, envy lacing her words.
"Rainbow... I-I don't know what to say..."
"Just say yes..."
"Oh please say yes Twilight," Rarity exclaimed with Fluttershy nodding in support. Pinkie had joined their group and together they watched the unfolding events with growing anticipation.
Twilight raised the Nixie numbers and the footage cut into another scene showing Rainbow flying over Ponyville. "And that's enough of that."
"Twiiiiiliiight!" Rarity whi- complained.
"Finally! Thank you, Twilight," Rainbow grumbled. "I don't think I could have taken another second of that load of horse-"
"Oh come on Twilight! Couldn't you have waited like two seconds?" Pinkie interrupted.
"Nope, now let's see what Rainbow Dash is doing at 0.5325 divergence."
Not much. She was just practicing some aerial maneuvers and as skillful as she was, it was not quite as exciting as the previous scene.
"Next!" Pinkie exclaimed and pushed the button to raise the machine to 0.5326.
"Hey, I was watching that! It's not often that I get to see my awesome flying," Rainbow exclaimed.
"Sorry Dashie, maybe next time!" Pinkie said, not looking all that apologetic.
Rainbow wearily looked at the screen. She could still feel the heat in her face from the last screen and she could still hear Applejack chuckles grating on her nerves.
Rainbow Dash was now lounging on a cloud, napping. The scene seemed to be an uneventful one until the unmistakeable voice and accent called out from below. Rainbow's eyes opened groggily before looking down at the pony calling her.
"AJ? What are you doing here?" Rainbow asked, her voice raspy. The group couldn't see Applejack as the footage focused only on Rainbow who was perched on her cloud as she hung her head over to see her earth bound friend. A rope suddenly lassoed around Rainbow and her cloud and she was wrenched down to the ground at a startling speed.
With an 'oof', Rainbow's cloud received the brunt of the impact and she found herself face down on damp grass as her napping cloud exploded into a fine mist.
"Hey, what was that for!” She angrily shouted at the earth mare that stood above her. Then blinked as she took in Applejack's state. "Uh you don't look so good Applejack. You okay?”
Applejack was sweating buckets which was a bit strange as it wasn't even a very hot day. Her face was bright red though and it looked that she hadn't combed her mane in days as it was a tangled mess of blond hair, twigs and... were those ribbons??
"Rainbow,"Applejack started as she took off her hat and started fumbling with it in her hooves. She looked over her shoulder at something off screen before facing her pegasus friend again. "I can't hide my feelings no more. I love ya. And not like a friend, but like- like a mare may love a stallion. 'Cept yer not a stallion but you get the point-"
"Aw ponyfeathers," Applejack muttered. All the joy previously displayed her visage had now promptly left to join up with Rainbow Dash who was now slapping the orange mare's back and proceeded to laugh herself to tears.
"This is a nice pairing too," Fluttershy murmured.
"Yes, though I can certainly appreciate the contrasting personalities and positions between Twilight and Rainbow Dash, there is a certain... charm in having such two like-minded ponies together." Rarity threw her bit in.
"We’re nothing like each other!"
“I ain’t nothing like her!”
They paused and their eyes widened slightly before they looked at each other in disgust.
"I'm so much cooler!"
"I'm not as pig-headed!"
"Oh, you wanna start this again?" Rainbow growled.
"I could say the same thing fer you," Applejack countered.
"I know we fight a lot and it looks like I get annoyed by you every second you open your mouth but in truth, I'm head over tails for ya."
"Applejack... I didn't even know your barn door swung that way," Rainbow replied dumbfounded.
"It doesn't!" Applejack exclaimed. "She's a liar!"
"Psh, she's the Element of Honesty isn't she?" Rainbow countered.
"I'm the Element of Honesty and I'm saying that whatever she's saying ain't true!"
"Girls, enough with the fighting!" Twilight teleported between them to pull them apart. "They're not you so there really is no point in arguing about this!"
Rainbow Dash and Applejack both had the grace to look a bit abashed as they lowered their gazes to the floor.
"You made my barn door swing your way," Applejack stepped up to Rainbow's ear and whispered just loud enough for all of them to hear.
A shudder, cold and sharp, pierced Rainbow Dash's and Applejack’s spines as they turned over to Twilight, eyes begging her to stop the horror.
"I'm team AppleDash!" Pinkie screamed which really helped the totally not awkward mood the room had now taken.
"Okay, moving on," Twilight quickly changed the numbers again. "There has to be a world line that doesn't involve Dash's romantic life."
"You're pretty popular Dashie," Pinkie said slyly as she slung her foreleg over Dash's back. "Ooh! Do you think you can find a world where Dashie and I end up together?"
"No, we're skipping all romance from now on," Twilight said.
The screen flickered to Dash and Fluttershy cuddling. Fluttershy meeped and her face turned bright pink.
"Next!" Twilight hit the controls and the screen switched to Rainbow and Pinkie Pie kissing.
"Ew!" Rainbow cried out in shock, raising her hooves protectively over her face.
"Hey, we did end up together!" Pinkie squealed. "I'm switching to Team DashiePie!"
"Next!" Twilight groaned, now exasperated.
Rainbow and Rarity were-
"NEXT!" Twilight switched screens before anypony could utter a word in response to the image now burned into their retinas. She angrily turned to Rainbow Dash, her wings extended in righteous fury.
"Rainbow Dash! Is there anypony you haven't ended up with?"
"You can't seriously be blaming me?" Rainbow Dash asked incredulously, her own wings flaring. "It's your own stupid machine that's showing us all this! You can't expect me to believe that in all these different worlds, I end up dating one of you guys!"
"The science is flawless Rainbow and so far, yeah, that's what it seems like!"
"Guys! Look!" Pinkie cried out and pointed at the screen. A fairly innocent scene was playing out where Dash and Pinkie were hanging out at the SugarCube Corner's kitchen. Pinkie Pie waved goodbye to Dash, leaving her alone in the kitchen.
"Don't let your guard down yet girls," Applejack muttered. "There's still time for things to happen."
Rarity cleared her throat, a little light headed from the unsettling imagery she had just been subjected to.
"Perhaps," she started, her voice weaker than she intended. She strengthened it. "We've seen enough and should end this little experiment." She eyed Fluttershy whose face had yet to cool as she hid behind her mane.
"No!" Twilight seethed. "We are going to find a perfectly ordinary world where Rainbow Dash is pursuing ordinary goals not involving in a romance with one of us!"
"It's just the two of us now... All alone..." Rainbow Dash grinned as she fluttered her eyelashes.
"Oh great, who are you seducing now Rainbow Dash? Mrs. Cake? Mr. Cake?" Twilight growled.
"That's just gross, Twilight. They're both like a bazillion years older than me. Plus, they're married. There's nopony there. That Dash is obviously some nut case," Dash huffed, crossing her forelegs. "Like all the Dashes in these other worlds."
Indeed. No other pony was in the kitchen with Rainbow Dash. However, as the scene progressed, the six friends began picking up the hints of what exactly was going on and their ears drooped and eyes widened in disbelief that things—against all odds—just got worse than they already were.
"I know I only really met you yesterday but... Pinkie gave me her blessing and I never felt like this with anyone else before. I.. think I'm in love with you." Rainbow placed her hoof on the kitchen sink basin and stroked its shiny chrome plated surface. "I want you to marry me, Sink."
Rarity raised her hoof up to her forehead in a dramatic sweep and fainted.
"Oh... my," Fluttershy whispered, her confusion mirrored on all the other faces in the room.
Even Applejack could not bring herself to laugh at the ridiculousness of the situation. Instead, she placed a gentle hoof on Rainbow Dash's back.
"Rainbow... You do know that if yer feeling lonely or anythin', you can come talk to any one of us right?"
Rainbow didn't respond. She couldn't. It was like all the coolness she's collected over the years, all the hard work she'd put into being awesome and all the natural awesomeness she exuded had just disappeared and she was left with nothing. Nothing but the confusing legacy of falling in love with a sink.
"Aw, you asked Sinkie to marry you Dash? That's so great! He's had the cutest crush on you forever!" Pinkie Pie proved to be the only one immune to the strange scene unfolding before them. "But I still prefer Team Rainpie! Or was it PinkieDash?"
"I-I'm done," Rainbow crumpled to the ground like Rarity. "I can't take anymore. It just keeps getting worse. I can't do this anymore Twilight."
"Rainbow..." Twilight’s anger and annoyance slowly slipped off her face as guilt now surged to the surface. It was never her intention for her invention to break the strong-willed pegasus down into this state. "Wait a second, Rainbow!"
She quickly configured the settings back to 0.5325, the world line where Dash was doing her aerial tricks. Surely, the sight of her awesome flight techniques would cheer her friend up.
The screen filled with delicious looking cupcakes topped with light blue icing. They were waiting patiently on a counter but Rainbow was nowhere in sight.
"Cupcakes!" Pinkie cried out. "I called it!"
"That's odd," Twilight frowned. "The machine should be tracking you so why is it only showing these cupcakes?"
"Pinkie suddenly appeared on screen, happily taking one of the cupcakes and devouring it in one bite.
"Mmmmmm," Pinkie Pie moaned in delight of the influx of her sugar levels. Her voice sounded oddly distorted, more so than previous voices on the speakers."Rainbow Dash, I didn't know you could be so sweet!" She turned to look at the screen—no, she just happened to look towards that particular direction—and her face broke into a great, big, smile.
Deja vu hit Twilight hard along with a tickle of uneasy creeped-outness. Didn't... didn't Pinkie just say the exact same thing a little while ago?
And there was still no Rainbow to be seen, only the cupcakes. No... No, her mind was over analyzing things. She was still thrown off from the whole sink fiasco. It was probably a bug in the program and Pinkie Pie was talking to Dash who was off screen somewhere.
She turned off the machine and turned to look at each and every one of her friends. Rarity was still passed out on the floor and Fluttershy was looking after her with sad eyes, her face still flushed. Applejack looked worn and beaten down. Not in the good, it's been a long day's work kind of worn down, but the haunted kind of worn down where you’ve seen things you didn’t want to see. The kind that takes the sparkle right out of a pony's eyes.
Even Pinkie looked a bit off. Though she was cheerfully screaming about cupcakes a second before, she seemed a bit deflated and out of focus right now. Her eyes never left the blank screen and her mouth was mouthing words but no sounds came out. Concerned, Twilight was about to call out to her but Rainbow caught her eye.
The poor thing was sprawled on the floor on her stomach looking like she just lost her pet Tank again.
It wasn’t supposed to be like this. This was supposed to just be a fun way to see what their alternate selves were up to and then perhaps document everything for further research on multiple worlds, not make everything so weird between everypony and Rainbow Dash!
It didn’t make any sense that almost every scene they saw involved some sort of romance. Was it just Rainbow Dash? Did she have some strange magnetic quality for these sort of things?
There was only way to find out.
Her horn glowed, and she winced a little as she felt the sting of a few pricks on her head. She levitated the strands to the mouth of her great and terrible invention and it eagerly ate her sacrifice. Taking a deep breath, she randomized the Nixie Tube settings and turned the machine back on.
The screen flickered to life and on it-
Pinkie Pie snapped out of her daze.
“Hey it’s Princess Celestia!” She screamed, causing everypony to snap out of their trance and look at the screen. Even Rarity opened her eyes.
“And my parents?” Twilight was genuinely confused. “I-is that my house?”
Celestia looked rather out of place at the simple dining table before her. Twilight sat nervously at her side, constantly fidgeting as her eyes flickered between the calming presence of her mentor and the uneasy parental figures that sat across from them.
The plethora of dishes that her father Night Light had most likely cooked were untouched and a strange silence hung over them.
“Twilight, I think I speak for everyone when I say you’ve done messed around with that thingamajig of yours plenty enough,” Applejack warned. “It’d be best if we shut it down for good ‘fore we see something else we’d regret.”
Before Twilight had the chance to properly respond, a familiar voice caught her attention.
“I-I’m sorry,” Night Light said, looking extremely scared and extremely confused at the same time. “Could you… could you repeat that again?”
His wife, Velvet just sat frozen beside him, her eyes huge even by pony standards.
Celestia took a calming sip of her tea before continuing. She looked composed but her magic hold on the teacup was causing it to shake.
“I would like to ask for your permission to date your daughter,” Celestia said.
Everything imploded in on itself in a flash of violent purple light. The monitor, speakers, mirror portal, and even Twilight’s trusty chalkboard was not spared as all the equipment was compressed together at astronomical speeds and then lit on fire within the barrier that Twilight had erected.
Only the crackling of flames, tiny muffled explosions and Spike’s soft snoring could be heard.
“And we will never speak of what we saw or heard today. Agreed?” Twilight said as she slowly turned around with a smile, her head backlit by the flickering flames. Her friends’ heads quickly bobbed up and down before she turned back to watch the slow and steady destruction of pure evil.
Far away in a distant and now unreachable land, Sunset Shimmer was writing her newest letter about the importance of friendship when her journal suddenly and inexplicably burst into flames, caught onto her clothes and hair, and gave her third-degree burns.