"And we need Discord's help, why?" Starlight Glimmer inquired, stopping her work for a moment.
Twilight Sparkle didn't lift her eyes off the experimental machine. "Because as skilled as I am with teleporting, the mechanics of that and tearing reality into pieces are very different." She grabbed a rag with her magic, wiping off the rivers of sweat slipping down her muzzle. "The energy needed and the raw scale are far too much for any pony, even an alicorn. No Discord, no wormhole."
Starlight trotted over to her mentor, analyzing the (technically still WIP) wormhole generator, with all its various tubes, dials and levers that didn't seem to actually do anything. "I still don't understand why it's so important. Weren't you researching a method to grow plants that used less water than a cactus?"
Twilight held numerous tools in her telekinesis, tinkering with all the unfinished pieces of the machine almost by instinct; her ability to work without seeing her project would've been breathtaking, if Starlight hadn't lived with this pony for months. "And that is a priority, yes. But teleporting is a unicorn-only transport method, and even then, far above the skill ceiling of most. If we can develop a way to create safe and stable wormholes, then literal tons of cargo can be moved instantly across thousands of kilometers. It'll revolutionize-"
"The transportation industry, yada yada."
Both Twilight and Starlight jumped like cats, fur raised on end. They glanced frantically about for a moment, until Twilight rolled her eyes and returned to her work.
A random teacup sitting on a table across the room randomly gained a comically large arm, and seemed to pull itself into the shape of Discord, but still with the teacup's colors. He sneezed a gale, and "blew" the teacup colors off of him, leaving his natural shades.
Discord released his characteristic smirk. "Ah, greeting on this fine morn, young Sparkle. I do hope I'm not intruding upon precious 'friendship time' with the former cutie mark dictator."
While Starlight blew a raspberry, Twilight continued adjusting various parts of the machine. "Showed up on time, actually. I just about have the thaumo-spatium receiver done, or at least the small version. I was about to call for you; I need your chaos magic to fuel it."
Starlight glared half-seriously at the Spirit of Chaos. "Ostensibly."
Discord performed a bow, taking his head off and tipping it dramatically. "Of course, Lady Sparkle. Your wish is- well, still just a wish, but I'm in a good mood."
He floated idly over to the wormhole generator, head still cradled to his hip. "You've told me what this creation does, but I'm afraid I wasn't listening."
Twilight rolled her eyes again. "It's an experimental machine, designed to-"
"I didn't ask. Just tell me what to mess with."
Twilight finally looked away for a split second, narrowing her gaze at Discord. "You don't 'mess' with anything. The machine is extremely delicate; chaos magic is unpredictable as is, I don't need you treating it like a toy."
In his non-head-carrying claw, Discord summoned a tiny replica of the generator. "Oh, but it is a toy! Coming now to a market stall near you, pre-order for a complimentary Princess of Friendship plush."
Twilight shook her head, turning back to the machine. "Give me a minute, it's just about-" clank "-ready." She backed away from the generator, stepping to the opposite end of the room.
"Right. You see the little dial with your face on it?"
Discord plopped his head back on, peering at the mentioned instrument. "My face is not that fat," he pouted.
"Fill the immediate area with chaos magic until the needle hits your long tooth. Specific spells don't matter; I just need the energy."
Discord performed an exaggerated salute, then snapped his claw. An entire orchestra of giant amoebas appeared, with assorted instruments and outfits. One began 'singing' in an absurdly high voice. "Do re mi-"
Discord himself summoned a conductor outfit and baton, and began miming out instructions. Starlight and Twilight could only watch in half amusement, half confusion at the 'band.'
After a solid minute of this majesty, a slight ringing sounded. Discord stopped the orchestra, looking at the dial. "Looks like your doodad is juiced up."
Twilight flitted over to one of the many levers. "Excellent, thank you. Now we can see the generator in action. I'll set it small for now, from one end of the room to the other." She yanked on the lever with her magic.
The machine began humming, then rocked slightly. Twilight grinned, but Discord had a small frown. "Dear Sparkle, what exactly does this do with my precious chaos?"
"Well, it condenses into an extremely small point, then uses a sliver of the magic to create a local copy, using thaum tunneling to send it wherever we desire."
Discord's frown deepened, and he began to approach the generator. "That may not be a wise idea. Just like when I was a statue, chaos despises being tra-"
The machine's thumping became much more violent, and magic started to leak out, causing strange lights and aromas to filter into the air. "And that happens. Twilight, shut it off."
The mentioned princess looked over to Discord, aghast. "No! It's working perfectly fine. Just give it a bit longer, it-"
"Twilight, I am the Spirit of Chaos. I know how chaos magic works better than anybody, and that machine is the worst possible thing to do with it. Shut it down."
"It's perfectly fine, j-"
Starlight, until this point silent, suddenly retreated to the opposite end of the room, across from the generator. "Get away from it! It's breaking down the space around it!"
Twilight and Discord looked from each other to the generator, and saw Starlight was correct. The chaos magic had now begun colliding in its raw form with the surrounding space, causing something akin to a black hole. But whereas a black hole absorbed all light, this disturbance absorbed all reality. The space and time around it rippled as water, nothing more than a toy for the chaos vortex.
Discord tried to push Twilight away from the failing machine, but she'd already ran over, attempting to salvage it from a distance.
"It's too dangerous! You need to flee from it, now!" Discord yelled over the increasing volume of thumping and humming.
"It's fine, it's fine, I just need to-"
And then there was nothing.
Twilight didn't really "wake up", because there was nothing to wake up to. She was... lying down? It felt like it, but she couldn't see. There was no light- no, that wasn't enough. This wasn't absence of light, it was...
She passed out again.
She "woke up" once more, but this time, she was a bit more aware of herself and her surroundings. For what could be called surroundings, anyway.
She stood up- in relation to her personal feeling, she had no way to tell by sight -and looked around, both visually and magically.
It confirmed what she had feverish thoughts of before- this place was empty, in every possible way. There was no life; she should've been able to detect even bacteria with her magical sense, yet there wasn't a hint of microbes in- was it kilometers? She thought so.
The darkness wasn't so much simply absence of light, as it was a thing. A living, moving, viscous being. It was all-encompassing, warping its gelatinous mass around her. Light simply couldn't exist in an environment like this- the dark would devour it immediately and ruthlessly.
Nonetheless, she sparked a light spell at the tip of her horn. First somewhat dim, then brighter, then as bright as she could possibly make it, what would normally light up hundreds of meters' worth of ground.
She couldn't see her own muzzle.
She'd been walking for what felt like hours or even days, but there was no way to tell. No star, no moon, no light whatsoever- for all she knew, she'd been here for centuries or seconds. Time was more a suggestion than a law, this was apparent. She had created a timed magic bomb- small, of course, no unnecessary risk -and it would normally have detonated in around thirty seconds.
It had been roughly twenty hours, at her best estimates.
Twilight also discovered that movement here didn't work like Equus, or Tartarus, or even Discord's home dimension. In the former two, one could walk in a clear line from one end of a room to another, no spatial or temporal warping involved. In Discord's home, time and space may warp slightly, making a normally seconds walk take minutes, or ending up on the opposite end, but one could still physically move in relation to the environment.
Not so here. When she walked, she didn't arrive anywhere. She'd ran an experiment, as she was wont to do- forget that was what put her here in the first place -by dropping a magical beacon every twenty paces. She figured that, even without light, the magic should still be visible. This place didn't absorb her light or bomb spells, after all.
She was correct. Unfortunately, that led to a truly terrifying discovery- she didn't move at all. She went for exactly two hundred paces- she counted them out loud! -and when she looked back... the beacons were exactly the same distance, from her and from each other.
So wherever this was, neither time nor space seemed to work like it did on Equus- it very well may not have existed at all.
But she would continue on.
The alicorn didn't know when she'd begun crying, but she certainly hadn't stopped.
It was likely around the time she realized that, for all she knew, every second here was a decade or millennium on Equus, and all her friends had turned into skeletons by now. That, if there was a threat to Equestria at that moment, she could do absolutely nothing about it.
But Twilight Sparkle was not one to give up, even in trying times, and this was very trying.
She'd learnt something new about this pit of Tartarus- because time seemed either non-existent or heavily warped, bodily needs meant little. She was fairly sure she should've been, if not dead by dehydration, at least suffering from it. But as far as she could tell, no damage was done. Likewise went for hunger, sleep, and magical recharge.
Oh, she felt every agonizing moment of intense thirst and starvation, but she was alive.
"Twilight Sparkle, twenty-six, Ponyville- I love you Spike -Princess of Friendship, Twilight Sparkle-"
She'd resolved to reciting basic personal info as to not go insane or forget about herself in this blank expanse.
She'd been trying to, somehow, recreate or learn what exactly happened with the wormhole generator. She was convinced that if she only had a catalyst, either the machine itself or something with similar reality warping properties, she could reverse the effect and find her way out. Whether to Equus or another dimension entirely, she didn't know, but anything would be better than this. She needed to-
She saw a speck of red light. She ran towards it.
Eight months, seventeen days.
"Anna, how did this happen? We were on top of the world."
Eight months, seventeen days.
"Robert Scranton, rese- former researcher of the SCP Foundation. Former human being. Age... no goddamn idea anymore."
Eight months, seventeen days.
"I hope this isn't what Hell looks like. No one deserves this."
Eight months, seventeen days.
"Why, damn it?! All we wanted was to-"
Error, calibrating. New vocal signature detected.
Dr. Robert Scranton stopped. New vocal signature? But he was the only one near the LSS. And for that matter, why did it even have-
"Hey! Is somepony else here?!"
Somepony else? That didn't make any sense. But he was in SCP-F*ck It (as he self-designated it), where nothing made sense. So it ended up making sense, funnily enough.
He looked over where he heard the voice, and, as he'd assumed, he could see virtually nothing of the source.
Wait, was that a tiny pink orb? What-
Just as he was ready to stand up and investigate, a... purple horse with a glowing horn and wings ran up to him and the LSS.
He didn't really know how to describe it any other way. It looked almost-, no definitely cartoonish. The eyes were larger than the mouth, it was about half his height, and- he felt the need to reiterate- it was purple and had a horn and wings.
"Thank Celestia! I thought I was alone in this Tartarus, though it's sad to see somepo- somebody else trapped here. At least, I assume you're trapped as well?"
It spoke. Scranton had to admit, even after nearly a year in this hellscape, it was weird. He wasn't fully convinced what he was seeing was real, but then, he'd also had discussion with Red about his theoretical children.
And besides, "real" and "unreal" were highly subjective terms within F*ck It.
He realized she- it sounded like it, he wasn't about to guess at alien horse genders -was still waiting for an answer. It had been literal months since he'd had any human (or, close enough) contact, so he didn't immediately know what to say.
"Er- yes, I'm stuck here. I'm... God, I almost forgot, Robert Scranton, human being, or mostly one."
He was sure his slightly transparent hands weren't visible even with both the LSS and horn light; it was just too dark in F*ck It to see a detail like that.
She smiled- damn, he hadn't seen a genuine smile in an eternity -and spoke again. "Twilight Sparkle, alicorn. I... am going to guess neither of us know what the other is. I've never heard of a 'human being', though I have seen something like you."
He didn't exactly relax, but he was thankful to at least have someone to converse with, hallucination or not. "Likewise. My world has a species roughly similar to you, but much taller and without horns or wings. They aren't purple either."
'Twilight Sparkle' sat down near the LSS light, the red tint giving a slightly mesmerizing look to her purple eyes. "I'm guessing you've already experienced the 'quirks' of this place. No time or space, no magic, no light, and so on."
Scranton had experienced most of what she said, though 'no magic' was certainly a new one. "Yes. I've been here for-"
The LSS decided to pipe up. Eight months, seventeen days.
"-that. That long."
Twilight peered over at the LSS. "I'm not sure how long I've been here, though I have begun suffering from dehydration, so at least a few days. I don't have a recording crystal to keep track."
She looked at Scranton, tipping her head. "It... is strange how we both use the same spoken language, and the same time measurement."
Scranton shrugged. "Far from the biggest questions I have. I'd say that goes to 'how the hell do we get out of here?'"
Twilight stood up, stepping over towards the LSS. "I've been thinking on that myself, and I have a few ideas, though they're all far from guaranteed." She didn't touch the machine, presumably because she thought it was dangerous and/or she didn't have his consent. "What is this, if I might ask? It looks somewhat similar to the wormhole generator I was working on, but I can't tell any obvious purpose."
Well that was- wait, wormhole generator?! Scranton stood up, and walked over next to the horse. "It's what I refer to as the LSS, or a 'reality anchor.' It stabilizes reality within a certain radius, preventing reality warping or anomalies from being able to function. The SC- my company was using it as an experimental defense against certain creatures, but during an earthquake, it ended up malfunctioning. The rest is only a theory, but I've guessed that it tore open a hole in reality, bringing me with it."
Twilight put a hoof to her chin, which, despite the environment they were in, was almost adorable. "Like... like the space within two pieces of parchment?"
Had he miraculously met another inquisitive mind? "Yes, exactly like that. I haven't yet been able to find a way to escape, but I'm sure the LSS is key to it." He turned his head to her, hands on his hips. "You said something about a wormhole creator or generator?"
She nodded. "I was working on a way of magicless, instant travel for non-unicorns or alicorns. I don't know if you have magic in your world, so I'll just say it functions similarly to reality altering. The machine would take a single point of space and create a singularity, then split that singularity and move one end to another point wherever I chose. Wormhole created, and it could be resized or relocated as necessary."
Scranton crossed his arms, whistling. "That... is incredible. Humanity hasn't been able to make teleportation or wormholes work correctly yet. But... something like that would take inordinate amounts of energy. What kind of source did you use?"
She grimaced, and put a hoof to her face. "I... I used what we call chaos magic. If 'normal' magic or reality altering is a pebble, chaos magic is a mountain. I figured it would create enough disturbance to create the portal for us, and I was correct. Unfortunately." Then her eyes lit up. "You don't think-"
This was sounding better and better to Scranton by the moment. "That you could use the LSS as a catalyst for creating another portal? I don't know how 'magic' works, but if it's even slightly like anomalies in my world, it should suit well enough. I can't perform 'magic' or reality warping on my own, but I do know exactly how the LSS works, and what it does."
He could see Twilight's wings extending slightly, and it looked like she was almost trotting in place. "And I consider myself an expert in magic, both practical and theoretical. So we may have a combination out!" But then she stopped, looking down. "Although... while I can find my own dimension fairly easily by its magical signature, I've never experienced yours. It could take weeks, even months to locate your home."
Scranton thought, looking up into the non-existent sky. He'd already been here for nearly a year; Anna and his team likely thought- or hoped -he was dead. It would be at least three years, by his estimations, before his personal Hume levels dropped past rock bottom. And, if she was fine with and capable of it, Twilight could take him to her dimension. He highly doubted it had such low reality levels as this, so he'd have more time to wait.
Best case scenario, she figures it out quickly and they both see their loved ones again. Worst case, he ends up like he was going to anyway. Not really win-win, but he was aware of losing anyway.
He was firm. "Doesn't matter. I would rather drop into a volcano or venomous snake pit than stay here. Anywhere but here. If you think you can get us out of this Hell, I'll help how I can."
Twilight trotted around to the other side of the LSS. "We should start immediately, then. What did you use to create it?"
One year, three months, nine days.
Progress had been rapid. Scranton had heavily underestimated Twilight's mind; if she had been on Earth, she would've easily become a Head Researcher in months, possibly O-5 in her lifetime. She had no external resources, no calculators or computers, no research team- nothing but the prototype LSS. Scranton's knowledge, and her own mind.
And in seven months according to the LSS, she'd created, as she called it, a 'magical nexus relay.'
According to her, this relay- which wasn't visible to him, but she said it was a purely magical construct, so that wasn't too alarming -would create a 'hub' for dimensional points. It would collect all the dimensional entrances in the astronomical equivalent of thirty thousand miles (he'd explained human length best he could; turns out 'hooves' and feet were nearly exactly the same) and put them on display. Again, magical only.
She could then sort through these dimensional TV screens, easily discarding ones with no detectable life, though not ones with magic- Scranton didn't know if his own reality had magic like Twilight's somewhere outside Earth, so they couldn't risk it.
Twilight had already found her own home within a couple weeks, and he'd asked if he was able to join her, in hopes of delaying his reality degradation. She told him that she would, if finding his dimension took longer than six months.
It'd only been two, so far.
He still had to marvel at the fact she did all this with, for all purposes, nothing but elbow grease and her mind. Certainly, his knowledge of reality altering and the LSS sped work dramatically- she guessed he shortened the time by at least a year -but it was still incredible.
During the work, they'd also discussed each other, both personal and their world. Twilight learned of human ingenuity and stupidity, the elimination of smallpox and the Holocaust, and even the SCP Foundation (he figured there was no harm in telling her; she seemed to hold no ill will.) He told her about all the inventions of humanity he could remember; she was particularly impressed by airplanes ("How do you fly that fast without magical aid?") and space travel ("We can't get to the Moon even with magic!") and, of course, the Internet ("Billions able to contact each other almost instantly... amazing.")
In turn, she described her world to him. He very swiftly dropped his skepticism of horses moving their local star and moon, considering he personally watched Twilight teleport, and a demigod of chaos. She told him about her people, the Unification of the Tribes, Nightmare Moon, the Crystal Empire's return, the Grand Galloping Gala, and her 'School of Friendship' (she had been very clear that friendship was an actual, physical force where she came from.)
They'd also talked about each other's family and friends. The moment he realized he couldn't fully remember what Anna looked like, he'd nearly broken down, but she was able to calm him down. Her stories about the 'Elements' and Starlight Glimmer were hilarious, heartbreaking and inspiring. But the one she always came back to, the one who she mumbled about in her sleep, was Spike the dragon. She promised to the universe that, come Tartarus or high water, she would see him again.
And through all of that, Twilight had put the finishing touches on the relay. She said that it would be ready 'tomorrow', for all that meant. But he knew what she meant. He was ready.
He would see Anna again, and Twilight would see Spike again. They had to.
"Stand back twenty paces; put the LSS right there, where the white light is. To the left- perfect."
It was time. Twilight was in full 'scientist' mode, much like Anna had sometimes done when they worked on the proper Reality Anchors. There was nothing in her eyes but concentration, nothing in her body but grit and determination.
Her horn glowed what should've been blindingly pink, but of course, in F*ck It that meant very little. The relay finally became slightly visible to him- it was a collection of various symbols he had no comprehension of, likely relating to magic. They almost looked like 1548, funnily enough.
Twilight closed her eyes, sweat running down her face. Dozens of thin white lines ran up from the relay, then expanding into hundreds, and thousands, then becoming basically uncountable. They swerved through the space above them, weaving and circling and bending.
After a few minutes of this, they suddenly collided into one giant string, which began looping, turning into a circle, and-
He could see. He was just as blind as he was before in F*ck It, but he could see the dimensions. It almost felt like he was listening to colors, as perhaps mentally deranged as that sounded.
Perhaps it was for the best he couldn't interact with magic; he wasn't mentally prepared for it.
Twilight cycled through countless of these 'windows', discarding most for what he assumed lacking any signs of life. She flashed a few hundred in front of him, where he could 'scan' them for any hint of anomalies- they'd learnt that SCPs made a visible mark on a reality, when they'd randomly stumbled on 106's pocket dimension -and confirm or deny.
She already knew where hers was; they were just searching for his- there. He nodded at the 'window', and Twilight threw out all but the two confirmed: Equus and Earth.
Twilight turned to him, opening her eyes. "This is it. Once you touch that window, you should appear where you had disappeared with the LSS. it's been corrected for the movement of stars and planets, of course- wouldn't want to pop into empty space."
She gazed intently at Scranton. "If this is the last we see each other, and I almost hope it is-", she smiled, "-then it was a pleasure working with you, Dr. Robert Scranton."
He held out a hand, her reciprocating the shake. "It was a delight, Twilight Sparkle."
They both stood in front of their respective windows. Each gave the other a side glance, nodding.
Then they stepped through.
Twilight was in a daze; her entire body felt numb, but especially her horn. She was right that the bodily needs wouldn't be nearly as severe in their 'true' realities, but she could still feel the gnawing hunger and magical exhaustion.
She could barely see, but through rapid blinking, managed to find herself in the lib- castle. It worked! At least, she thought so.
Then she heard an all-too familiar, yet agonizingly absent voice. "Starlight, didja hear that? Something's going on in the generator room."
She heard two sets of steps- or rather, one set of hooves and one of claws.
She bumped into and clung to a table, trying to catch her breath and keep from passing out. She knew she wasn't in lethal danger, but she needed something to eat, to drink, something.
The steps reached what would be the doorway, not that she could see. But she could hear them, certainly.
"Is- Spike, is that-"
Twilight felt a pair of arms squeezing her, and the warmth of tears on her fur.
Dr. Robert Scranton, upon reentering his old lab, promptly smacked into a wall from delirium.
He was correct that being in F*ck It for so long would alter his body- he could already feel one of his hands melting into space -but he had made it out before the critical mass. Thanks to Twilight, he'd escaped.
He was still himself, still human, still alive.
He estimated that he would lose a hand, an eye, and possibly part of a lung, but that should've been the most of it. Possibly hair loss, but all things considered, he could've been far worse.
He blearily wandered around the lab, bumping into tables and shelves, still not able to orient properly.
She was right- their bodily needs were only equivalent to roughly a week without water, a month and a half without food. Still bad, but he could get to the infirmary now.
The pain of losing multiple body parts was, of course, not fun, but it was almost invigorating. He knew he was real and alive, because he felt pain and- oh, that was a lot of blood.
Even through his disorientation, he found a Site Alarm button. He smacked it, hearing the sirens go off. He felt bad for the innocent security personnel who wouldn't find a breach, but he needed medical attention now.
He slumped against the wall, ready to pass out and wait for the guard, when he heard a voice. A voice belonging to a face he nearly forgot.
He forced himself to open his eyes, to see. He held out his arms wide, readying for the pain of the hug. He didn't care.
He blacked out.