Autumnfall Change

by MSPiper

First published

Many a barrier stands in the way of pony–human relations, but none is so great that it can't be broken by just the right bad idea.

Magic and technology may have pierced the void and blazed a path between the realms, but that was the simple part. Adjusting to the changes that follow can be far more daunting.

Yet despite the complexities involved even in basic communication, Serendipity has found friends to talk to among humankind who can cheer her up when she's down. And occasionally inspire her to bursts of ingenuity unhindered by such trifles as foresight.

A trimmed-down version of this story placed in the 2019 Autumn Pony to Human TF contest, under the stopgap title A Minor Bout Of Lunacy.

Many thanks to Admiral Biscuit for prereading and editing, and to Syke Jr for helping with the short and long descriptions.


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Serendipity was still looking up at the gibbous Earth when a hand to her withers startled her from her thoughts.

Since she was sitting, her jump of surprise ended up as more of an awkward twitch. However, it didn't stop her from reflexively lining up her horn with the person who'd sneaked up on her.

Azahar pulled back out of accidental poking range with a probably-sheepish smile – it was always a bit hard to tell nuance on humans who weren't wearing those helpful moving-ear headbands, and Serendipity was no Peachy Keen or Princess Pinkie. She said something Serendipity thought was probably the English for "sorry", immediately confirmed it by making the familiar human gesture for apology, and held out her communications tablet as she sat down.

"Jumpy today, I see."

Serendipity snorted as she read that, and after a bit of telekinetic scrabbling to find where her whiteboard marker had rolled off to, she wrote her reply. "You know it's not nice to sneak up on ponies."

That got a laugh. "Walking around may be quieter up here, but I'd hardly call that sneaking. What had you thinking so hard you couldn't hear my thunderous footfalls?"

Serendipity probably should have looked up "thunderous" to be safe, but it seemed pretty obvious from context. Instead, she turned her head to look past the garden around her at the beautiful desolation beyond, absently tapping her marker against the edge of her whiteboard as she tried to assemble her thoughts.

Before she could, a comment from Azahar diverted her attention. Azahar was leaning back on her elbows in a way that would have left Serendipity wincing back before she'd gotten as used as she could be to humans' range of motion, and was looking up at the Earth with a... perhaps quizzical expression. After a moment's search Serendipity spotted Azahar's tablet, hiding behind her floating whiteboard atop Azahar's pack, and leaned forward to see what she'd said:

"Looks like Cloudsdale's finally conquered the planet. I can't make out anything this time." As Serendipity read, Azahar spoke again, and the text replaced itself. "Well, you won't see me complaining about the first part. Long may it rain."

Serendipity briefly puzzled over that, then tapped her hoof for clarification. Azahar sat back up and forward to look at the transcription, facepalmed, and picked up her tablet to tap out an edit.

Once Serendipity looked up "reign", that got a giggle out of her. "That makes a lot more sense. I was going to ask, you do realize that would destroy the city? I don't think the mayor would approve."

"Yeah, it's possible the voice-to-text isn't quite all there yet." Azahar laughed. "Would make it easier to figure out what on Earth I'm looking at though. So anyway, you going to answer what you were thinking about earlier?"

Serendipity frowned. "Change and seasons, you could say." As was her new norm, she blanked her whiteboard with a thought, but the usual thrill of her amazing new Blank Slate spell was muted by the topic. "I was scribing for the diplomacy and engineering teams earlier, and something about everything all lined up just—" She paused, and spun her marker end-over-end while she looked back out at the garden and the skillfully-crafted bubble that sheltered it from the void.

And again had her attempt to figure out what to say interrupted, though unlike before it was by a wordless huff. Azahar grimaced and gestured apology with her hand not holding her personal tablet, but didn't elaborate until Serendipity tapped her leg. "Well no wonder I couldn't make out anything. Antarctica blends right into the clouds and the Pacific is just about literally everything else." She tapped her personal tablet and then held it out, as though it would actually work for a Worlder.

Serendipity risked a look anyway, and to her surprise it wasn't an incomprehensible jumble of colors that shifted dizzyingly with every little movement of her eyes – the shifts were mild even when she tilted her head side to side, and the jumble of colors needed only minimal effort to resolve as an off-tint Earth with map lines superimposed. "Wow, how did you do that? I thought they still hadn't figured out how to make color screens we can use! Sure the color's way off, but I can understand it!"

Azahar grinned. "Yeah, they still haven't figured out true-color screens yet, but apparently one of the I.T. teams decided that didn't matter and they'd just make RGB fake it even though that's impossible. Obviously that didn't happen, but they did figure out how to use the bio data to customize RGB displays by species so they're at least a little intelligible. Well, to whoever's of the species in question, to everyone else it's a mess."

"I can't imagine what that's like."

"Oh, want me to show you?" Azahar shoved her personal tablet in front of Serendipity's muzzle and tapped rapidly, with the image changing each time – bad, less bad, worse, almost painful, human default that made Serendipity flinch, tolerable, and back to comprehensible.

Serendipity did her best to maintain a deadpan bearing in the face of a grin that she was certain packed as much cheek as a human's modest mouth could accommodate, but after a few seconds folded her ears and snorted in defeat. "Fine, I'll give you that one."

Azahar pumped her fist in exaggerated triumph, insofar as she could while seated, and claimed her victorious scritching as she resumed her explanation. "So anyway, the guy who gave me this version said they'll probably finish ironing out the last couple bugs in the next week or two, so hopefully we'll see it released by next month. I mean, it's hardly perfect, but it'll still be super-nice to not be stuck with physical copy for everything that can't be black-and-white. Though I—" As Azahar worked back up along Serendipity’s poll, she brushed her horn solidly enough to fuzz her horngrip, and Serendipity reflexively pushed away in an effort to keep hold of everything. "—Oh, sorry! Too much?"

"Nah, now that I'm over the scary parts it's fine again. Sort of all warm and tingly, kind of? Which is still weird when it's plants, but when I'm playing with the Expawdition pets it's pretty nice. I just didn't want you to make me drop my stuff."

"Oops, got it. That's only if I hit your horn though, right?"

"Yeah. If the touch is light enough I can cast through it, but it's harder. Like if you tried to do something on your tablet while I was floating your hand in place, maybe?"

Azahar blinked. "Wait, you can do that? I thought the Quench kept magic from affecting Earth life this side of the Gate, and I just answered my own question didn't I? Wait no, my tablet wouldn't work in Equestria, so—"

At which point Serendipity drew off some extra magic from the converter and waved Azahar's hand in front of her startled face. She smirked at Azahar's gobsmacked expression – astonishment was one of the few she'd seen humans make enough to comfortably tell nuance on, and it was always fun. "Not quite. You just need to put in enough more magic that it can't unravel it all."

After a moment, Azahar leaned over with an eagerly-curious grin, another expression Serendipity had seen enough to learn the nuances of. "That's awesome! I have so many questions for—" And then twisted away and let herself fall supine with a groan. "And I never even let you answer my first one did I? Some representative of humanity I am. Maybe you should do that before I distract you again and you never get to finish." She flipped herself back up to sitting with only a bit of overshoot, then paused. "It won't distract you if I start on dinner, will it? Cause I may have distracted myself too, but I do kind of need to get something in my stomach soon."

Serendipity's attempts to remember where she'd left off meant her hornwriting ended up almost as scrawly as it had been before she earned her cutie mark. "As long as you don't have any pepino."

Azahar stopped halfway through pulling her food-purse out of her pack. "Uh."

Serendipity whipped her head around and gave Azahar her best pleading look – drooping ears, quavering eyes, her tail couldn't do much from sitting but she flicked it to curl under her belly just in case. She'd been practicing with some of the culture teams' human members and the local foals in Equestria, and perhaps that—

"Not a chance. Isn't there a question you're supposed to be answering?" As she spoke, Azahar opened her food-purse so the most glorious scent of its most glorious content could tease and taunt Serendipity's nose.

Serendipity drooped her ears and pouted. "What happened to the days when you were nice and shared? I miss them."

"That was before I realized if I kept giving in I'd never eat fruit again." Azahar started folding several foodstuffs whose scents Serendipity didn't recognize into some kind of mealwrap. "So what was it, something about scribing for the diplomacy teams?"

"Yeah. The diplomats were negotiating trade arrangements between Equestria and Griffa and the African Union, and unwise words were said, and during the vigorous debate that followed"— Azahar snickered at that, though not enough to divert her attention wholly —"accusations were kicked about that certain parties were attempting to destroy certain other parties' cultures and ways of life. So business as usual with Commander Granite Sky involved"— Azahar's reaction to that was enough that Serendipity thought she might have a chance, and she made a quick flourish with her marker to catch Azahar's eye while she telekinetically snagged a slice of pepino —"and it normally wouldn't have meant anyth—"

Faster than she had thought humanly possible even after spending so long around them, Azahar shoved her wrap halfway into her mouth and grabbed Serendipity's horn, fuzzing out magic and hornfeel with a burst of the phantom heat that dominated Serendipity's last clear memories of descending to Earth. Serendipity's whiteboard and marker and aspirant pepino all fell to the grass in the overcranked way she could never get used to no matter how long she spent on the lunar surface, but thankfully her marker bounced off of Azahar's pack and came to a stop by her hoof rather than making another bid for freedom.

Azahar angled Serendipity's head around until they were eye-to-eye, then very deliberately raised a fist above their heads and sharply jabbed her thumb toward the ground. While that wasn't a standard gesture, it did convey her meaning emphatically enough to compensate for how ridiculous she looked with her mouth so stuffed it might give even an earth pony some trouble.

After staring Serendipity down a moment longer, Azahar used her free hand to extricate her mealwrap and drop it in her lunch-purse by the beckoning pepino, then grabbed her communications tablet and held it in front of Serendipity's muzzle. "I'm wise to your tricks."

Serendipity dipped her ears and smiled sheepishly.

"So no more trying to magic off my food?"

Serendipity sighed but nodded.

"Okay, I guess you can have your horn back."

The instant after Azahar let go, Serendipity's hornfeel crashed back with an intensity that left her shuddering and shaking her head. Having her magic fuzzed out by the Quench always felt so much... softer, for lack of a better term, than having it snapped by a hornblow or counterspell, that she could never keep herself from expecting its return would be more like the gradual way her senses had been restored as she'd been carried through Earth's sky back towards orbit.

Azahar made the familiar human gesture for okay as she tilted her head questioningly, and Serendipity nodded. "Alright, so before you so rudely interrupted yourself"— Serendipity rolled her eyes —"you said the diplomatic teams exemplifying their name didn't matter because?" To Serendipity's disappointment, Azahar spotted and grabbed the fallen pepino slice as she reached over to prop her communications tablet back on her pack.

"No, it usually wouldn't have mattered, but then I took dictation for the engineering teams and they were talking about how their new project would completely revolutionize the whole World." As she wrote, Serendipity paged through her dictionary to "exemplify" and laughed. "And right after all the yelling about destruction of culture..."

Serendipity tapped her marker as she glanced out past the garden, and turned back to find Azahar looking beyond her with a new slice of pepino held loosely in hand. Before she could stop and second-guess herself Serendipity lunged at it, and bit it out of Azahar's grip as she landed across Azahar's outstretched legs.

Azahar yelped in surprise, then exclaimed something and whapped Serendipity across the withers as she smiled innocently up. Once Serendipity had the whole thing safely in mouth to savor, she craned her neck back to see what Azahar had said:

"No, bad Serendipity! I thought we agreed no stealing my food!"

"Hey, I didn't magic it!"

"And loophole-abusing unicorns deserve to go find their own flipping pepino! Seriously, they barely send me any as is!"

Serendipity dropped her head to the grass with a groan. "I've tried. Pepino must be the only Earth plant without a variant somewhere in the World, because nopony and nobody I've asked has been able to find it anywhere. Are you sure you can't get them to send you some with seeds still in it?"

Azahar scoffed. "They're still taking it slow with testing new plants and animals." As Azahar spoke, Serendipity lifted her head so she could follow along, then decided to rearrange things so she could read without getting neck cramps. "There's no way they'd pay extra to send up seeds they don't want us—" And as she did so accidentally spilled Azahar's communications tablet, which she reflexively caught by its entirety rather than just its TK-grips. She only got to read half of Azahar's second sentence before it crashed.

Serendipity winced as she dropped it on Azahar's pack in front of her. "It could've been a cosmic ray?" Naturally, that was when it locked up halfway through its automatic reboot.

Azahar sighed as she grabbed Serendipity's marker from her magic. "Doubtlessly. So why did that get you down? Normally you're an excited puppy about any new toy they come up with."

It was always weird to see human script that wasn't a name on her whiteboard. Serendipity took her offered marker back, and ducked her head out of the way as Azahar reached down to grab a replacement pepino slice. "I'm not quite sure? I think it's maybe because I've been worried about how fast Princess Twilight's team's started making progress. It makes it easier to get stuck thinking of all the harder parts of change as fall instead of autumn."

That got another probably-quizzical expression from Azahar, and she said what sounded like a command to her personal tablet as she picked it up. Serendipity started flipping through her dictionary just in case, though of course Azahar finished first. "This says those both translate as the same thing. What's the distinction?"

"Fall comes before winter, autumn comes before spring." Serendipity frowned as she verified that her dictionary also translated both identically, then looked up at Azahar, who made the human gesture for continuation. "Fall is what you usually do on Earth, I think, where you get the land ready to sleep deep for a few months of winter. Autumn is when you just have it doze for just long enough to stay on cycle and then wake it back up for spring."

Azahar's eyes widened. "That would explain why it's somehow always spring or summer when I go over. How often can you do that? I assume not always or you wouldn't bother with winter at all, right?"

"It depends on the place." As Serendipity wrote, Azahar tapped briefly on her personal tablet, then dictated a short message to it. "Some do fall and winter almost every year, and I've heard that a few sometimes skip them for a dozade straight. Where I grew up we had them every two or three years and did autumn the rest. I don't know how the ponies in charge choose which to do though, so you'll have to ask one of the weather crew about that."

"Gotcha. And I flagged that for the translation teams, so I might need you to protect me from their wrath for the next few days. I do not envy whoever has to read through three years of legal documents for the entire planet to make sure that misunderstanding didn't screw anything up."

"I'll make anyone who goes after you sub in for me every time Evergale needs dictation until they beg for mercy!" Serendipity giggled, and Azahar almost dropped the last of her food laughing. "But it's probably just a mistake by whoever wrote the dictionary, right? There's no way the translation teams could miss that for years and years without anypony noticing."

"You mean like you?" Serendipity glanced up and back in time to catch Azahar's lips quirked. "You'd be surprised how much can slip through the cracks sometimes." That idiom Serendipity could guess from context. "I bet seasons are one of the things they translated back before anyone knew enough to communicate nuance and they never got around to double-checking it later because nothing came up where mistaking one for the other led to an obvious impossibility. Probably didn't help that English actually has two words for—" Azahar snapped her fingers "—and that's got to be another one of those inexplicably convenient coincidences that's been driving everyone up the wall. I'd bet you anything they're going to just split the meanings between them, redefine one and leave the other as-is."

Serendipity erased enough to give herself room to write in "That would make sense", then circled "driving everyone up the wall" and tapped her marker on it questioningly.

"Metaphorically making them insane because it's obstinately ignoring the fact it shouldn't be possible and just keeps on happening. On which note, you said something about Twilight's research?"

That was probably supposed to be some sort of joke, but if so Serendipity didn't get it. "Well, last time I was back in Equestria I saw her testing a spell or gizmo or something that let a human tablet take dictation from her just like yours does." Serendipity grimaced. "Did."

Azahar grabbed Serendipity's marker out of her grip. "You're pulling my leg."

"Sorry!" Serendipity jerked herself to standing fast enough that the low gravity couldn't keep her hooves from briefly leaving the grass. Before she could do anything else, Azahar patted a hand on her withers.

"Assuming whatever you just yelped was an apology, don't worry, that's just an idiom. My legs are fine. Though I was starting to wonder just how long you were planning to lie there like that. I can't see how it's comfortable."

Serendipity let out a relieved laugh. "Oh. Maybe if we were down below it wouldn't be, but up here the gravity's so weak I barely notice. I could lie like that all day. Want me to show you?" She grinned back as Azahar squeezed her eyes shut and made the human gesture for good. "So what does it mean?"

"Oh right." As Azahar wrote, Serendipity reared up and twirled so she was facing the Earth again, then sat back down alongside her. "It means you must be joking or teasing me. Twilight really had a magic-hardened computer, and they'd figured out how to get it to actually pick up magical speech? That's... just wow."

Serendipity let her ears fall limp. "Yep. Normally I'd be thrilled, but if I can't land something else to do here before her team figures out how to make enough for everypony I'm going to get sent back home and never get to do any of this again, and after all this time I still haven't got any real qualifications."

Azahar cuffed Serendipity upside the head before grabbing her marker. "Don't be ridiculous, you can do tons of stuff! Like, you always know more than I do about what's going on here, and you're practically fluent in English and Russian, and you're really good at magic! They'd be crazy to tell you thanks for all the help, here's the door! Well, portal."

Serendipity snorted. "I only have any idea what's going on because I take dictation for all the different teams, and I don't understand most of what they're talking about. You barely ever look up any Equestrian while I still have to check my dictionary every other minute when I'm reading English and twice that writing it, and my Russian is way worse. And if my brother ever hears you called me really good at magic, he'll laugh his ribs so sore he won't be able to fly for a week."

"Hold on, I know you can teleport, and I thought that was supposed to be a super-difficult spell. How can you possibly not be good at magic?"

Serendipity huffed a breath past her teeth as she let her head drop to the grass. "I can only do that here. Back home I can memorize all the spells in the World, but I still can't figure out how to draw off energy from the aether and have no idea why, and a single pony's own magic production is barely enough to do anything. If it weren't for the converter I'm not sure I could even blank my whiteboard." As she held her marker loose for Azahar to re-take, Serendipity spotted an errant overlong tussock and absently nibbled it back to even with the rest.

"Well, that's still something. I mean, that means they have to keep you here to make use of your magic, so that's halfway to problem solved right there!" Azahar gave her a grin almost as cheeky as before, and Serendipity rolled her eyes but bobbed her horn to grant the point. "And I still say you're being ridiculous dismissing all the rest, but even if it were true, think of it like this: the Princesses are all about friendship, right? So they'd try to find some way for you to stay so you didn't lose those connections, and if you did get sent away they'd make sure you could come back and visit." That was a consideration Serendipity hadn't pieced together in quite that way before. "Plus if absolutely nothing else, humans are always going to want to meet the first extraterrestrial to ever take one small step on Earth, so once they've finished ironing the last few kinks out of the skyhooks you're going to be swamped no matter where you are."

"Even if she was only first because she was a scribe for the actual VIPs who ran away from her minders in a bout of Quench-addled stupidity and got to the edge of the lot to lie down in the grass before they figured out how they should respond?"

"Details. Honestly, I think the fact that every single historic first has involved a screwup by one or both sides makes the whole thing better. It'd be easy to be way too serious about the solemn dignity of the most important events in the history of humankind if we didn't have some humor built right in."

Serendipity laughed. "There might be something to that. And I'm still not sure there's nothing to worry over about Princess Twilight's team's progress, but that did help." Azahar beamed. "Hopefully it'll be enough to let me be excited about all the good parts again. I think a little of what's had me feeling down is that I know it's ridiculous to be feeling down about all these improvements that will revolutionize Equestria and it's frustrating that I can't just stop. And I'd still like to think I'll get to visit Earth again somehow without losing my faculties this time." Serendipity looked wistfully up at the Earth shining bright in the blackness beyond. "My memories after we got below the Quench are mostly fuzzy and disjointed, but I remember standing at the edge of that lot looking at the endless plains and sky, and the overwhelming impression of beauty."

Azahar burst out snickering. "Of Texas? Really?" And held up her hands to ward off Serendipity's glare. "Sorry, not meaning to be rude or dismissive or anything. It's just that Texas is fine and all, but it's not really renowned for overwhelming beauty way a lot of other places are, and I kinda have to agree."

After leveling Azahar with a dubious look for a moment longer, Serendipity took her marker back. "If so, I guess I have even more to hope for. It might just be the different ways we're built though. A little while back I was waiting with a couple bio team members, and they were talking about how there's an English idiom about grass always seeming greener across the divide and that the way our eyes work means that's literally true. You know, your grass looks greener to us than ours does and ours looks greener to you than yours."

"No way, really? You're pulling my leg." Azahar smiled a probably-smirk at Serendipity, until Serendipity drew off enough magic from the converter to lift her knee up to her chest and she made the human gesture for stop with a giggle. "I did know World's colors tended to seem more vibrant than Earth's, but I didn't realize it went both ways. That's beautiful." She paused for a moment, then her eyes widened and she chuckled. "No pun intended. So anyway, you said you can learn spells just fine and it's only casting that's a problem, right?"

"Yeah, keeping track of a bunch of stuff in my mind at once is part of my talent whether it's written as well as spoken, so that takes care of the part most other ponies find hardest." Not that Azahar could see Serendipity's cutie mark for herself to be sure, but Serendipity had sketched it out for her before, so she at least had the general idea.

"And you said that here casting isn't a problem, so that basically means you can do anything anyone's come up with, right?"

"Not really, since the converter can only make so much magic at a time. If I tried to do anything too big it wouldn't work."

"But plenipotent within that limit." Serendipity didn't know that word, but she thought she remembered what "potent" meant and it seemed to fit, so she nodded and then looked it and "plenipotent" up while Azahar wrote. "So you could take care of all your worries and wants at once by finding a spell that would let you shrug off the Quench: you'd get to go to Earth, everyone would clamor to meet you there, and you know enough of the languages to talk back to them. Are you sure there isn't anything of the sort? I can't imagine Twilight hasn't looked into it, and maybe she's got something almost ready to go."

Serendipity twisted her mouth to the side and flicked her ears. "I'm hardly an expert, but from what little I could understand I gather right now the only options are to either saturate the area with too much magic at once for the Quench to unravel it all, which isn't going to happen in the middle of Earth's biosphere, or to actually be something from Earth, which also isn't exactly—" And then her mind caught up to what she was saying, connected it with some of the transmutation research she'd middlemared for, and left her wondering why she'd never heard anypony even hint at trying to cross the two.

After a few moments, Azahar tapped her on the withers, and she shook her head and blanked room on her whiteboard. "So, should I take it you do have an idea after all?"

"Maybe? It'd be really weird if nopony smarter than me had tried it, but I've never heard anything to suggest they have." Serendipity looked back out over the garden past the dome, but only got to tap her marker once before Azahar grabbed it.

"Well, it's something to look into going forward, so I'd call that progress! So no more being maudlin today, okay?" Serendipity quickly looked that up, then snorted and nodded. Azahar smiled and finished writing her next sentence with a touch of extra flourish. "So now that my amazing secret friendship therapy ninja superhero skills have saved the day from despair once again! I should probably go trade this in before it gets too late." Azahar shook her communications tablet, then watched it for a moment before sighing and slipping it inside her pack. "That would've been a nice time for it to start working again. Come on inexplicably convenient coincidences, work with me here. And you should come down too, you've been up here for quite a while. Keep my things for a moment in case my ninja skills forsake me?"

Serendipity cast one last look at the Earth above before she stood and turned toward the small clear pond separating her spot from the understation entrance. "As usual?" Azahar glanced at that as she finished closing up her pack and rolled her eyes. Before she could reply, Serendipity dashed over to the water's edge and leaped, holding her marker and whiteboard close with her. Her lack of practice with low gravity meant she ended up overshooting as usual and almost landed in a bush, but better that than the times she'd overcompensated and gotten soaked. She retrieved her muzzle from its unplanned investigation of the garden's scents just in time to turn and watch Azahar sprint across to catch her, sending up lunar-huge splashes with every step.

Azahar foundered as she reached the near shore, but managed to make it all the way over without falling in, and whooped in triumph as she recovered her footing. As Azahar jogged around to join her, Serendipity promptly made up for the lack of falling by stamping in applause, startling because she'd forgotten to reduce her force for the lunar surface, and overbalancing herself.

Azahar snickered as she grabbed Serendipity's marker and whiteboard. "I think your applause needs some work."

Serendipity huffed as she grabbed her marker and whiteboard back, then quickly scribbled out "So does your catching" and lobbed her whiteboard past Azahar's waist just out of reach. Azahar stumbled as she grabbed for it with a lifetime's instincts of full-strength gravity, then walked over to retrieve it from the bush while Serendipity got back to her hooves, and laughed when she saw what it said. She made the human gesture for good as she offered it back to Serendipity, then pointed to their packs and tilted her head.

At which point Serendipity facehoofed as she realized that in their haste they'd left them too far from the water's edge for her meager magic skills to reach. "One moment." She passed her marker and whiteboard to Azahar to hold, then leaped back over the pond to get in range, and carefully picked up Azahar's pack by its straps to float across while she put on her own.

As she landed back next to Azahar, doing so with much less bush than before, Azahar held up her whiteboard. "Couldn't you have just walked a little way around the edge and grabbed them from there?" Serendipity facehoofed again, and Azahar smirked. "I guess you really are jumpy today, I see." And dodged out of swatting range with a cackle, and made a break for the understation entrance while Serendipity gave giggly chase.


View Online

Serendipity was skimming through her notes one more time when Azahar answered her knock. "Oh hey there Serendipity. Didn't realize you were off-shift. What's up?"

"I was hoping to show you something. It's just you there, right?"

"Yeah, everyone else is either lucky enough to be gallivanting around Equestria or unlucky enough to be working overtime filling in for them. Come on in?" Azahar stepped back out of the doorway, and Serendipity trotted through and hopped onto the bunk facing hers. "So what have you got there?"

"Oh, just some notes on a spell that might let me deal with the Quench." Serendipity made a point of not looking up from her review, and had to fight to keep the amusement from her ears and face as she watched Azahar through the corner of her eye. "I figured you might have some interest in seeing me try it out."

Azahar bounced forward on her bunk. "Would I? I suppose that's one way to put it." She leaned toward Serendipity with a grin. "So, what's this going to look like? How does it work? How were you—"

Serendipity cut her off with a raised hoof. "Ah-ah-ah, shouldn't that be a surprise? We wouldn't want to spoil the fun." She smirked at Azahar's conflicted look – she might not be great at judging most human expressions, but a face that couldn't settle on one for more than a moment conveyed emotion all its own. After a quick scan through the remainder of her notes confirmed the spellforms she held in her mind matched those on the paper, she floated them across to Azahar's bunk and sat herself up in as close to a human posture as she could maintain. "Alright, time to see if this works."

As Serendipity began to draw off magic from the converter, Azahar grew mildly alarmed. "Hold on, does that mean you haven't tested this before?" Though Serendipity's talent let her keep far more pieces of information straight in her mind simultaneously than most ponies, it didn't mean she could divide her focus onto all of them at once, so by the time she registered what Azahar had said she had already poured more energy than she'd ever needed for anything but teleportation into her spell's foundational forms. "Shouldn't we have some kind of emergency backup here or something?" And there were so many more fiddly bits all trying to wriggle out of control that she couldn't spare an instant to do anything beyond note that the words on Azahar's tablet did, in fact, exist. A distant part in the back of her mind almost sideswiped her efforts into calamity by observing that it felt not unlike trying to perform the Clockwork Tower drill if all the gears were made of blackberry jam.

Azahar cut herself off when the magic leaking from Serendipity's spell grew intense enough that it began to glow in real light, and she shielded her eyes with her communications tablet as she averted her gaze. Serendipity felt a brief and faraway touch of thankfulness for the drop in distraction, but it was quickly replaced by a sustained and closer touch of panic as she had to draw more power than she'd ever used before just to keep her ever-more-intricate spellforms from bleeding away enough energy to fall to pieces. By the time she managed to lock them together into their stable holding configuration, her coat and mane were standing on end from more than just alarm. The moment her racing mind slowed enough she could think again, she poured in the burst of magic needed to complete her spell as she directed it to take Azahar as its template.

The book she'd found in Princess Twilight's Heavens Gate library hadn't given any real detail on what the transformation itself would entail, so Serendipity had spent many nights dreaming of how it might go. Would her coat vanish across her body like a shadow fleeing from the sun as a pegasus pushed a cloud aside, or would it disappear in a flash as if they had bucked the cloud apart instead? Would her hooves wrack her in agony like when she'd torn off a shoe as they branched into fingers and toes, or would they be as painless as if she had overdosed on morphine? About the only possibility Serendipity hadn't considered was that the transformation would be like a teleport – in a burst and a blink, everything around her shifted.

Serendipity got a split-second impression of Azahar staring at her in utter shock, and then she reeled where she sat as a vast wave of heat and fatigue crashed through her. A huge blast of brilliant sparks pulsed out from her and briefly filled Azahar's dormitory with noon-bright light, leaving her vision dazzled and dim. She heard Azahar yelling something and reached out a hand to reassure her, but as she instinctively stood to cross the aisle to her bunk, she staggered beneath a deluge of faintness.

Serendipity was lying on her back. That was odd.

And it was odd that it didn't feel odd. Ponies were supposed to lie on their bellies.

Ponies were. That made more sense. Serendipity cracked open an eye and held an arm in front of it. Yep, hand, though the colors looked weird. She let it fall to touch her face and giggled in surprise. It was bizarre – the sensations were alien in the most literal sense of the word, yet so natural she couldn't conceive of anything else.

Strange-sounding footsteps to the side caught her ear, and as she turned her head she realized it wasn't just her hand – all the colors looked weird. It was like some mad painter had taken all the colors of magic and mixed them into everything, so that even the bedspreads and Azahar's clothes gleamed with latent power. Was that how humans were supposed to see, or was it just because she was a unicorn underneath the spell?

Azahar spoke as she sat by Serendipity's legs, and Serendipity marveled at the tones – it was like her pony ears had been listening to a record so scratched even the faintest hints of meaning were nigh-impossible to glean, while her human ears heard a perfect copy for the first time. "Well, I've got to give it to you, you definitely got the surprise part down. I definitely didn't wake up today expecting to meet a twin I didn't have." Serendipity still couldn't follow Azahar's words by sound alone, but it was merely the impossible of a language she'd never learned to speak, not the impossible-impossible of sounds her brain simply wasn't optimized to process. "So, are you feeling alright?"

Serendipity nodded and cast out her mind to grab her marker and whiteboard, then started as she realized the blindingly obvious. It was possible she hadn't thought everything through.

Azahar smirked teasingly. "Finally noticed one of the flaws in your plan, eh? Well don't worry, we'll figure something out. You've even got a visitor who's an expert at it." She glanced across the room, and Serendipity followed her gaze as the subtly-off sound of hoofsteps drew near.

At first Serendipity had no clue who her visitor might be – it was as though the magic that seemed to pervade the room had been drawn wholly out from their coat and mane and tail, leaving just their base colors of deep dappled grey and near-black shot through with hints of dawn rather than the vivid masking hues that had always pressed against her horn when looking at a fellow Worlder. She'd known she wouldn't be able to see cutie marks as a human and was as ready as she could be, but somehow she hadn't made the obvious connection that it was because she wouldn't be able to see any magical colorations. But far more disconcerting was that even their basic details seemed... fuzzy to her mind, and she couldn't tell anything about them, even whether they were a mare or a stallion. And then a writing-board of some sort and a human tablet sprung free from their bags as they sat down before her, and far more immensely, intensely disconcerting was that she couldn't sense the slightest hint of magic from their floating objects or their horn.

Her visitor's expression shifted subtly, but for some reason Serendipity couldn't put her hoof on what it meant. "My apologies; I didn't mean to discomfort you. I know this is a lot to get used to." The instant she spoke, her scriptboard blazed with glowing English text and her tablet filled with Equestrian. Serendipity vaguely noticed something seemed wrong about the way her words sounded, but was too consumed by stunned realization to pay any heed – she had to be Princess Twilight.

"No, don't get up! You don't need to bow. Especially after I let you down so badly." Serendipity dropped back into the same human sitting position as Azahar, and giddy wonder that she'd moved with such ease overshadowed her confusion at the Princess's words. "Now, I suggest we start by seeing how good your handwriting is. If that skill carried over, it will make this a lot easier."

Serendipity imagined she looked as utterly baffled as Azahar did. Princess Twilight promptly elaborated. "Many ponies think of transformations as simply reshaping the body while leaving the mind unaffected. However, as you may be aware, all transformations between living creatures must alter the mind to some degree to allow it to regulate the new form's vital functions and to integrate its sensory channels. Although Lath recently reopened the debate on whether or not the basal layers responsible for those processes should really be considered part of the mind proper as such, and he makes some valid points that—" The Princess shook her head. "I'm sorry; lecturing is a hard habit to break. Perhaps I should simply summarize. Most transformation spells don't just incorporate autonomous functions and innate instinct, but also include a significant amount of the template's or templates' learned skills. You may have noticed that unlike a young foal or kid, you can perform basic movements without difficulty. It's possible that you also copied Azahar's procedural memory for more complicated actions such as writing."

It took most of Serendipity's concentration just to keep up with Princess Twilight's galeforce delivery, with old words vanishing from her tablet and scriptboard to make way for the new in a dazzling tempest. However, with so much lecture in a single squall, Serendipity couldn't help but hornpoint what had struck her as amiss with the Princess's speech – it sounded as if she were talking through an immensely thick fog while carrying a mouthful of blankets, until all the modifiers had been muffled away and only vague impressions of the base tones remained. But even if that strange realization were enough to break her focus, the last, most-important sentence hung still and bright after the Princess fell quiet.

"Whoa, really? That's kind of creepy but really cool." Azahar bounced in place and looked expectantly at Serendipity. Serendipity nodded and focused back on Princess Twilight, who floated over a whiteboard and marker from her bags.

Serendipity instinctively grabbed them in one smooth motion, then paused. After a moment, Princess Twilight spoke up. "Don't overthink it; it should come as naturally as taking hold of the marker did. Though it might help if Azahar showed you how?"

"Sure." Azahar reached over and took the Princess's marker, and scribbled "Ta-da!" while she spoke. "So considering why this all started, I have to ask, why didn't you just give everypony those glowy boards from the get-go?" She showed off the way she was holding it, then pressed it back into Serendipity's hand.

"We did consider it, but making the enchantments compatible with earth ponies and pegasi was complicated enough that the supply would have been severely limited for some time. Especially since— here, hold this for a minute, would you?"

Azahar paused in her adjustment of Serendipity's grip, then shrugged and grabbed the offered scriptboard. It immediately pulsed with a blast of glowing sparks that tingled warmly on Serendipity's skin as they washed over her, and its writing blinked out.

Princess Twilight took it back as Azahar shook out her hand. "Since humans and enchantments don't get along any better than ponies and human microelectronics." The dark scriptboard flashed and began to glow with English again as she spoke. "It was much more practical to simply recruit from the existing pool of scribes. And furthermore, doing so was a perfect way to increase contact between ponies and humans, and give them the chance to form new friendships." The Princess bobbed her horn from Serendipity to Azahar and back.

Azahar smirked triumphantly at Serendipity, then glanced at her execrable attempts at handwriting. "Hey, not too shabby. I think. Maybe Twilight can understand it?"

Princess Twilight spun her whiteboard around and squinted at it. "How did I let you down so badly?" Her ears dipped, but to Serendipity's frustration she couldn't tell if it was with embarrassment, sorrow, or something else entirely. "This situation is ultimately my fault. I might not have been directly culpable, but I'm the one whose directions let you slip through the cracks, so I'm the one responsible."

"What do you mean?"

"Before today, the very possibility of magical transformation was classified on this side of the Gate, except as wild tales like in the various cartoon adaptations, pending a way to assuage Earth's governments' fears and avert any possible panic. When we first discovered how the Quench breaks conventional transformation spells, I decided the best way to respect that while keeping everypony safe was a hidden embargo on the subject, same as we use in academia for normal permanent transformations. But I obviously failed to adapt it properly for the new setting, or else Serendipity would have been identified as a candidate caster and warned."

Azahar whistled. "Applejack cannot have been happy about that."

"She wasn't, but she ultimately agreed after she couldn't come up with anything better." Princess Twilight snorted. "And then she tried to use it as another reason why we shouldn't make her a Princess."

Serendipity finally managed to get her handwriting halfway legible. "Aren't permanent transformations supposed to be so hard that nopony can ever figure out how to cast them?"

Princess Twilight shook her head, and her bearing shifted halfway back to lecture-mode before she caught herself. "They're actually far simpler than temporary transformations, and only difficult to cast because we intentionally teach the principles of magic in such a way that the student has to unlearn years of instincts to make them work. If permanent transformations were cast often enough to imprint on the aether..." The Princess shuddered. "Well, surges would be absolutely terrifying. Customs discouraging raising foals around high-magic institutes exist for very good reason. We don't want ponies to end up like you did, or worse."

Azahar glanced over at Serendipity and gave voice to her fears. "So does that mean Serendipity is stuck as my twin forever, then?"

Princess Twilight shook her head again, and Serendipity slumped in relief. "It's not quite so dire as that; I could transform her back into a unicorn without difficulty. The problem is... well, to put it in human terms, the spell she used creates a program to restore the target's original form and stores it locally in an enchantment, with contingencies in place to run it if that enchantment would be altered by an outside force. Unfortunately, those contingencies were in no way designed to deal with the target being transformed into a lifeform whose magic is expressed as any type of Quench. Since we don't have any external backups of her original form, that information is lost. I could use photographs and recordings to approximate her appearance, but otherwise it's a complete reroll of the dice for physical traits, magical affinities, and so on."

That sent Serendipity rigid, and after fumbling with the Princess's marker for a moment she simply gave up and waved it at her hips. Princess Twilight cocked her head, and then her ears perked up. "Oh! Your cutie mark is a reflection of who you are, so you don't need to worry about losing it. It might change over time now that you don't have an external anchor to keep that part of your self-image from drifting, but whatever it becomes will perfectly represent the pony you are when you're transformed back."

Serendipity's racing heart slowed back towards a human's rapid resting rate, and she managed to recover her meager handwriting skills. "As long as that's true, I can live with the rest."

Princess Twilight smiled. "That's good to hear." She spun her tablet around and looked at it briefly. "I need to go deal with more of the fallout from this so I can get back on schedule. I'll meet with you again soon to cover everything else. I suggest you see how much progress you can make on your handwriting before then." A surprisingly-simple lunch-purse floated out of her bags and came to a hover in front of Serendipity. "I imagine you're probably getting hungry, so I took the liberty of bringing you some food. Hopefully it will keep your spirits up." Before Serendipity could figure out how to grab it without dropping anything, Azahar came to her rescue and plucked it from the air. "I hope you have a good evening."

Serendipity pointed her hand at Princess Twilight and nodded, and Azahar called out "You too" as she pulled the lunch-purse open. The Princess rose and turned for the door, with her scriptboard and tablet dancing through the air into her bags as she went.

As the Princess's tail disappeared past the doorframe, Azahar muttered something under her breath, and Serendipity turned back to see what she'd said:

"Oh come on Twilight, not you too. Don't encourage her."

Serendipity tilted her head, and Azahar rolled her eyes and held out a packet with a gloriously familiar design. "Apparently your thieving ways are now royally sponsored. Why is this my life?" Serendipity grinned, and Azahar sighed, opened the packet, and passed her a slice of pepino.

Her grin lasted right up until it hit her tongue.

"What's wrong?"

Serendipity squeezed her eyes shut and swallowed. "It doesn't taste good like it did when I was a pony."

Azahar eyed a slice critically, then popped it in her mouth. She chewed for a moment, then her eyes went wide with mirth and she doubled over cackling. The moment she recovered, she fixed Serendipity with the smirk to end all smirks and grabbed another slice. "Now that's what I call karma."