The Life That Late He Led: Chapter 7

The train does stop at Foal Mountain, but there’s no station: only a siding, and not much of one at that, with a little wooden hut that showed no signs of recent occupancy just beyond the far side of the tracks. “It’s not like anypony was expecting us,” Desert Brush quipped as he set down their bags. “We could probably leave all this stuff here and it would never be noticed.”

“Or it would never be seen again,” grumbled Twilight Sparkle. “I’m surprised there’s no storage space.”

“The pegasi fly in,” Brush pointed out. “If there’s any storage space at all, it’s probably on top of the mountain.”

Twilight stared at him. “You think the entire staff is pegasus? Because if they have any unicorns or earth ponies working here, they’re going to have a difficult time getting up that mountain.”

Brush nodded. “Or maybe they live on the premises.”

“I hadn’t thought of that,” said Twilight, spreading her wings. “Maybe I’ll just take a look up there.”

“You do that. I’ll sit here and do whatever it is I do when I’m not doing anything.”

She smiled at him, and took off at an angle so close to vertical he could have sworn she was going straight up.

<======>

“So what did you find?” he said as she landed.

“I didn’t see anything up there at all. Not even a window. Just endless stretches of rock.” Twilight shook her head. “Good for an impenetrable fortress, maybe, but not so good for a fertility shrine, or whatever it’s supposed to be.”

Brush grinned. “Evidently the pegasi live by those two ancient human rules. Rule one: never give away all the information.”

“And rule two?”

He just stood there, still grinning.

“Well?”

“Uh, see rule one.”

“Oh.” She summoned up a frown, but it wouldn’t stay in place. “You are a very silly pony sometimes.”

“You’re just now noticing that?”

“What am I going to do with you?” she asked in that fake-sorrowful voice she trotted out for just such occasions as this.

“For that matter,” he said, “what are we going to do? Obviously there’s nothing here for us, and — when’s the next eastbound train?”

Twilight pondered. “About twelve hours, I think. Right after sunrise.”

“I suppose there’s no chance you could talk Celestia into speeding things up?”

“She’d have to have a better reason than this,” Twilight said.

“In that case,” Brush declared, “I say we just sit here and wait.” He backed himself up against the base of the mountain, flicked his tail out of the way, and sat.

And jumped right up again, startled by a whirring noise coming from right behind him.

Twilight pointed to the neat little rectangular opening in the mountain. “Freight elevator. How did you know?”

“What makes you think I knew?” he replied.

<======>

Brush read the sign at the office door: “Foal Mountain Clinic. Practice limited to pegasi.” He shook his head. “Do they have to come up the same way we did?”

“I didn’t see any openings anywhere on the mountain,” Twilight answered. “Perhaps they tell you how to get in when you call for an appointment?”

“How would they know if you’re a pegasus over the phone?”

“I assume,” said Twilight, “they’d bring that up before the end of the call.”

“Makes sense to me. What do we do now?”

“This,” she said, pushing the doorbell.

The door popped open, and a dark-grey pegasus with a stern expression inspected the visitors. “You did see the sign, did you not?”

“Uh, we were just passing through,” Brush muttered.

“There’s nothing we can do for you here. Our practice is strictly limited.”

“Let them in,” said a voice from within. “We never get any visitors, and we’re not exactly busy right now.”

“As you wish, Doctor,” the pegasus said, her expression unchanged as she turned back toward the door. “Welcome to our facility. The doctor will see you shortly.”

<======>

Inevitably, of course, there was paperwork. Twilight finished hers in silence in a matter of moments; Brush kept asking questions like “What do they mean by that?” and “Is this serious?”

“Is what serious?” she asked.

“Why would they need my parents’ cutie marks, for buck’s sake?”

“To cross-reference with other existing medical records, of course,” Twilight explained. “Just put down that they’re deceased, and leave that part blank.”

“I come from a long line of blank flanks,” he quipped. “What happens after this?”

“I assume they’re going to draw blood, and probably, uh, something else.”

“Oh, my.”

“Oh, your what?” asked the nurse as she reentered the room.

Brush shivered. “We were just discussing the possibility of…”

“Of having bloodwork done,” Twilight interrupted.

“We will be drawing” — she stared at the stallion — “several different bodily fluids, as needed. Does this bother you?”

Brush forced a smile. “I’m willing to pretend that it doesn’t, just to get it over with.”

The nurse gave Twilight the sort of half-frown, half-wink, that could only be interpreted as “You poor filly, I can’t imagine what you must be going through.”

“He’ll be fine,” Twilight said. “It’s just that sometimes…”

“Yeah,” Brush grumbled. “Sometimes.”

<======>

About an hour later, Dr. Winter entered the examining room. She was, Brush thought, the oldest pegasus he’d ever seen; on the other hoof, he conceded, what he knew about pegasi would probably fit into one of the sample tubes, maybe even the narrow one they used for blood.

“Pegasus medicine,” the doctor began, “derives from a wholly different tradition than those used by other tribes, one which traces its origins to before the first days of Harmony. Unable to wield magic for surgical purposes, pegasi have long treated physical ailments with actual physical treatments: herbs and potions when applicable, body and wing adjustment and manipulation when necessary.”

Brush was sure he’d heard something like that before, in his distant past.

“Pony reproduction, as it happens, is well standardized among the tribes today,” the doctor continued. “The tests you were administered were appropriate for ponies of any tribe, though I must confess that I was not expecting some of the results I received.”

“I can explain that,” Twilight began, but the doctor cut her off. “You’re fine, Miss — Sparkle, is it? Apart from having a horn, which I’ve never seen on anypony who wasn’t royalty, you read like a fairly normal pegasus, though your wing power appears to be somewhat erratic.”

Twilight blushed. “I’m not the greatest flyer.”

“You could be,” said the doctor, “if you could even out your power pulses. You average close to eight wing power, though you’d peak in the upper teens to the low twenties. Few pegasi can manage more than ten for more than a few moments.”

“And you found this out through a blood test?” Twilight asked doubtfully.

“Not the blood. We drew some of the fluid in your limbic system. It showed signs of magical adaptation, which we assume is appropriate to a pegasus with a horn.”

“Is that really relevant to foal-bearing?” asked Twilight.

“In most cases,” said the doctor, “it is not. We did the test for the sake of completeness.” She looked at Twilight, and then over at Brush. “How long have you two been married?”

“Three days,” Brush said.

“Isn’t it a little early to be worried about one’s fertility?”

He shrugged. “I had reason to think that there might be issues, somewhere down the road.”

“Good reason,” said the doctor. “How old are you, Mr. Brush?”

“Sixty-two on my last birthday. About seven moons ago.”

“And how is it that you’ve won the heart of a mare barely one-third your age?”

“I wonder about that myself sometimes,” Brush admitted.

“When was your last medical examination?”

He pondered. “Shortly before Winter Wrap-Up, ten-oh-four.”

“So, sixteen moons, then?”

“Approximately, yes.”

“Did you have major surgery at that time?”

Brush grinned. “You don’t know the half of it.”

The doctor scowled. “I do know, however, one of its effects. We tested your sperm, Mr. Brush.”

“Did it pass?”

For a moment, he thought he saw a smile break across her face; but perhaps he was mistaken. “We found, Mr. Brush, that pregnancy for your lovely bride is out of the question for the immediate future.”

“How immediate are we talking?” Twilight asked.

“At least a decade,” the doctor replied. “Whatever the surgical procedure he underwent, it reset the development timing on all his reproductive cells.”

“I’m lost,” Brush said.

“It’s like this,” said the doctor. “You do have, after a fashion, normal sperm. But they are normal for a colt just barely into his second year of life: extremely immature, wholly incapable of joining with an egg.” She shook her head. “This operation you had must have been extremely serious, and extremely unusual.”

“It was indeed,” he replied.

“I suppose it would be too much to actually tell me what happened?”

“Uh, it’s a Code X2,” said Twilight from the corner. “Experimental medicine, nature and description classified at the request of the Crown.”

“Oh, my goodness,” Dr. Winter said, her voice distinctly softer than before. “A matter of life or death, I assume?”

“I thought it was at the time,” said Brush.

“Were there other side effects?”

“This is the first I’ve heard of.” Brush contemplated for a moment. “And it wasn’t entirely unexpected.”

“Of course not,” said the doctor. “Otherwise you’d never have been desperate enough to seek out a pegasus medical facility based on a two-hundred-year-old legend.”

“We weren’t desperate,” Twilight insisted. “But we’d had this cloud over us, and we just had to know.”

“In about a decade,” the doctor said, “the problem may have solved itself, at the expense of another: budding adolescent sexuality. It’s annoying enough in an actual adolescent; I don’t think it will be much fun for a seventy-year-old stallion.”

“Thank you, Doctor Killjoy,” said Brush.

“This assumes, of course, that the appropriate cells continue to develop at the appropriate pace.”

“I’ll be sure to whip those little swimmers into line,” Brush quipped.

“And if the cells do not develop at the appropriate pace — well, there is a very good orphanage in Hollow Shades.”

“Do they get a lot of referrals from you?” Twilight Sparkle asked.

“More than I’d like,” said Dr. Winter. “Way more than I’d like.”

<======>

They stood beside the tracks, waiting for the eastbound train, watching the skies.

“One thing I’ve never figured out,” Brush said. “How is it that sunrises here look so much like sunrises where I used to be? The mechanisms are totally different.”

“Not so different,” Twilight laughed. “The sun and the moon aren’t moved instantaneously. There is some time delay between the time you see the moon lowered and the time you see the sun raised. And this is what it looks like.”

He looked at her, looked away for a second, then turned back toward her. “Did we learn anything today?”

“Only if it’s true that you’re carrying immature sperm cells, and that this will change as you get older.” She frowned. “I would have thought that the Royal Medical Office would have told me about this a long time ago.”

“New discovery, maybe?”

“I don’t know. Usually they’re up on everything. But like Dr. Winter said, the pegasi have a totally different medical tradition, and the Royal Medical Office is much more, uh…”

“Conventional?” he suggested.

“Yes. Conventional. The first time I suggested that a human might be ponified, they, well, let’s just say they took it badly.”

Brush smiled. “I did so enjoy messing with their heads.”

“No, you didn’t,” Twilight said. “You were scared out of your wits the whole time. If any head was messed with, it was your own.”

“Okay, you got me. But now we have a new factor in this equation. Assuming you’re still wanting foals, that is.”

“I do want foals!” she said. “I do! But … maybe not right away.”

“Can you wait ten years for these sperm to smarten up, or whatever the hay it is they’re supposed to do?”

“That,” said Twilight, “I don’t know. Right now it just seems like some indefinite time in the future, and I have all the time in the world, and …”

“And I don’t,” Brush said. “But I don’t have any reason to think I don’t have ten years. Or do I?”

“Nopony has ever gone through this before. There’s no way of knowing.”

Brush pondered. “Didn’t you once tell me that there was a changeling who got transformed into a pegasus? That seems like it ought to have been more difficult than what they did to me.”

“Except,” Twilight pointed out, “that she already had the ability to alter her shape and metabolism. You had neither.”

“Touché,” said Brush. “You win this round.”

“We’re not competing,” Twilight said. “We’re on the same side, remember?” She smiled. “And how do you know the word for scoring in Royal Guard swordplay?”

Desert Brush laughed. “I wasn’t exactly born yesterday, honey.”

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