The Sparkle Chronicles: Chapter 1

Finding a glass bottle in the driveway was nothing particularly unusual, though it’s far more common to turn up a bottle made of plastic, typically reeking of the sort of cheap booze appreciated only by cheap boozehounds on foot. I shrugged, picked it up, noticed that there was no screw-on cap and no place to screw it onto if there had been, and then dropped it — slowly — into the bin. The recyclers would pick it up Tuesday.

About an hour later, I noticed that I’d forgotten to close the garage door, and hit the remote switch. The door had reached the halfway point when I saw it: another bottle, same place as the previous one. I hit the switch again, the door reversed its descent, and I walked out to the driveway. Before I could pick up the bottle, it vanished. Disappeared. The whole classic into-thin-air bit, in about one second, and not a magician in sight. I was ready to write this off as pure hallucination, but it had been something like 18 hours since the last time I’d popped an Ambien, and anyway I was pretty sure I wasn’t asleep, since if I had been asleep I wouldn’t have been wearing these old khakis and a T-shirt. Still, no other explanation presented itself, so I decided I would come back out in an hour or so and see if Bottle Number Three had made an appearance.

At the forty-minute mark, I took a look outside. No stray glassware. Fine. These old eyes are not above playing tricks on me, and I hadn’t been wearing my glasses for most of the afternoon anyway; all manner of possible explanations that didn’t require further explanation traipsed through my head, one after another. I went back inside and loaded up my trusty browser, on the off-chance that someone else, preferably someone else presumably sane, had experienced something like this before.

Two minutes later there came a sharp rap on the door glass. “Um, we do have a doorbell,” I muttered as I went to the door.

And as I opened the door, it occurred to me that the fact that I had a doorbell wasn’t as obvious as I thought it was, though I didn’t have a whole lot of time to entertain that thought, what with having much of what I thought of as “reality” being ripped away at that moment. This can’t be happening, I said, or at least I would have said, had I been able to speak.

My visitor, or so I presumed her to be, was utterly lovely. Television, even in high definition, clearly hadn’t done her justice, and the tiny imperfections that would never show up on screen were downright endearing in, um, person.

“Person.” Yeah. Right. I needed to get out of that mindset in a hurry. And by the time I’d finished gawking — honestly, that’s what it was, and there’s no point in being apologetic about it now — my tongue had finally managed to untie itself, and I was able to address the unicorn on the porch. “Twilight Sparkle, I presume?”

– = * = –

She had been smiling, but the smile didn’t last. “You, um, know my name?”

Whoops. Bad move. Never be able to explain that. Backpedal? No, she’s too smart for that. She’s smarter than you, you pinhead, said the none-too-helpful voice in the back of my head.

So I finally decided to try Act Like Nothing’s Wrong Mode. “The finest young practitioner of magic in all of Equestria? And Princess Celestia’s personal [oops] protégée? Doesn’t everypony know you?”

Just a hint of a smile, and then a frown. “I see no ponies here.” She took one step back, as though she were taking inventory, and then looked at me again. “Have you seen a boron-crystal flask?”

“Wait just a moment,” I said. I made a quick dash to the garage, plucked the bottle from the recycle bin, and brought it back with me. “Something like this?”

Her expression this time was closer to relieved than to annoyed. “I had sent three of these through the portal, and only two returned. I didn’t want to experiment further until I had some idea where they were going.”

My turn to look puzzled. “And yet you came through there yourself?”

“A chance I had to take,” she said. “Evidently this is one of the human realms they mention in the old history books. I’ve never seen one before.” She smiled again, though I suspected it was forced. “It seems … very nice.”

I was getting ready to say something to defend my world, but once again, mouth led brain by half a lap. “The old history books? What about the new history books?”

“They’re mentioned, but they’re said to be mythological, legends from the days before Night Mare Moon, when humans and ponies could see each other on opposite sides of the Breach.” I could be wrong, but I thought I saw the hint of a grin. “Wherever that is.”

“And were you looking for the Breach?” I asked.

“I wasn’t looking for anything,” she said. “I had found a discontinuity in a star map, and I was trying to figure out either where it came from or where it went. I still don’t know where it came from, but at least now I know where it goes, wherever this is.”

So I told here where we were, and our approximate position on the planet. “Now I wish I’d brought a quill to take all this down. I really didn’t expect to find anypony, er, any humans here. I thought they’d all vanished by the year 600 or so.”

“What year is it now?” I asked.

“One thousand two. It’s the second summer since Princess Luna returned. You perhaps count your years differently.” She paused for a moment. “There was a great streak across the sky when Night Mare Moon was banished. It returns four times every three hundred years.”

At least I could still do simple math in my head. “So it will return in just under fifty years?” She nodded, I did one more calculation, and then: “I think I’ve seen it.”

Of course. Edmond Halley had seen it in our year 1682, and calculated that it would return in 1758. Which it did. I remembered that I saw it in 1986.

And suddenly the doorbell rang. Still my turn to look puzzled, I figured.

“I’m sorry,” said Twilight. “I must have set off that chime. Temporary burst of energy to reinforce the Retrieval Spell, or else I can’t go home.”

“I understand,” I said, pretending to understand.

“But I still want to know how you know who I am. Nopony — or hardly anypony, anyway — crosses into this world, and we never see any humans.”

This was going to be difficult. “How long until that spell activates?”

“About forty minutes.”

“Are your minutes the same as ours?”

She thought for a moment. “How long was that, from the time you opened the door to the time the chime went off?”

Like I look at my watch when someone, um, make that somepony, comes to the door. “Seven or eight minutes.”

“Close enough,” she said.

“You are so not going to believe this.” I pulled a DVD off the shelf.

– = * = –

Twenty-two minutes of Friendship Is Magic, Part I later: “I told you you weren’t going to believe this.”

“It’s believable enough,” said Twilight Sparkle. “I was there. Oh, except that bit about Pinkie pouring hot sauce on a cupcake. I don’t remember that at all. I mean, that’s something Pinkie would do, but I don’t think she did it then.”

Ton of bricks, incoming. “You mean all this — actually happened?”

“Well, yes, of course,” she said. “What did you think?”

So I told her about Hasbro and generations and brushables and all manner of things, and she sat politely through all of it. Finally she asked the question I was least prepared to answer: “So how did this version of our history wind up as part of your culture? It doesn’t make any sense.”

I pondered a moment. “Is it possible that the same ley lines cross both my world and yours?”

“They do.”

“Okay, let’s make some unwarranted assumptions. This was the Summer Sun Celebration, and Night Mare Moon, as it turned out, returned, right on schedule. An event of this magnitude would cause some sort of magical disturbance, would it not?”

“It would, and it did,” she said.

“Now how impossible is it that someone on our side of the divide might have picked up on that magical disturbance? She wouldn’t have known what it was, but all of a sudden she had this idea for a story. A good storyteller doesn’t pass up anything that looks like an idea, right?”

“Are you a good storyteller?” she asked.

“Not in the least,” I said. “But I’m trying to make sense of this. Could Princess Celestia have wanted this story to be told to us? I mean, if she wants something, it happens, right?”

“She does generally get what she wants. I’ll have to ask her if she had anything to do with it.” She fumbled about for a moment, then did a wholly unexpected facehoof. “I wish I’d had enough sense to bring a quill.”

“Maybe next time,” I teased.

“Definitely next time,” she said.

And there went the doorbell.

“When are you coming back?” I asked, trying not to sound urgent or anything. “I mean, you are coming back, right?”

“Depends on whether the portal is still open. If it’s not, I’ll have to look for another one. It may be a day or two, or it may be a month.”

“Great! I’ll bring lunch.”

“That would be … very nice. Thank you.”

She stepped into the shade of the old mulberry tree, a circle of light appeared around her hooves, and suddenly she was gone.

Now to find a place that caters to herbivores, and that delivers.

– = * = –

Three days later, an email showed up in my inbox, lacking all the usual header information except for eight groups of four digits, which I guessed might be an IPv6 address. “And why shouldn’t Equestria have a gateway to the Internet?” I said to nobody in particular. It occurred to me that they were going to an awful lot of trouble to communicate with a species that’s supposed to have died out four hundred years ago. Then again, we’re constantly sending messages into deep space in the hopes of finding someone, so it’s not like I have any room to talk.

Besides, it was addressed to me, and it didn’t mention anything about overseas funds or Personal Enhancement Products, so I had to read it:

This is just a note to let you know that I will be returning tomorrow at 1800 hours your time. I hope this works. I have never tried this system of communication before.

Princess Celestia and Princess Luna send their best wishes.

Your friend, I hope,

Twilight Sparkle

All the usual Reply options were greyed out, so I filed the letter away in a storage folder — and then moved it back to the inbox, just so I could look at it some more.

Six o’clock. Kind of late for lunch. No matter. We’ll make a dinner of it. In fact, we’ll make it into a fanfic: My Dinner with Twilight. It will go unread, of course. And even if someone — oh, what the hay, somepony — reads it, what difference does it make? There may have been eight million stories in the Naked City; for all I know, there might be eight million stories in Ponyville, population, well, I have no idea, but it’s certainly less than eight million. And is “population” even the right word when discussing ponies?

I need a drink, I decided. Which is odd, since I gave up drinking on a regular basis long before the Great Streak Across the Sky. Something, and by that I mean “something other than the complete and utter implausibility of this entire episode,” was bothering me. Maybe it was just the idea of being mentioned in front of Princess Celestia. Or, for that matter, in front of Princess Luna. I shook my head: why was I worrying about this? What had happened so far that could be remotely construed as Bad? The species, contrary to the impression given by a bunch of history books I’d never even seen, is not actually extinct. And surely Equestria wasn’t going to declare a war on the humans. I mean, they said “Best wishes,” didn’t they? Everything seemed to be conspiring to reassure me, yet I would not be reassured. There had to be something wrong here, something terribly, terribly wrong.

Finally I got my mind around something that might conceivably be troublesome. The driveway is shaded by the old mulberry tree, and said tree feeds rather a lot of birds, and where there are a lot of birds — well, gravity makes it all complete. Satisfied that I’d gotten a grip on myself, I turned the hose onto the concrete and watched several gallons of none-too-clean water roll into the street.

Next day at 5:56, the doorbell rang, and my heart did a couple of half-gainers off Kilimanjaro. It was the evening repast: bean sprouts and hummus and stuff Fluttershy wouldn’t dare feed Angel and sort-of-freshly baked bread and a couple of bottles of what was probably filtered tap water from Wichita. I was sufficiently crazed to demand no change from two twenties. The fellow’s truck — what, he didn’t ride a bicycle? — had just barely cleared the driveway when the feeble little bleep of my thirty-year-old wristwatch announced the hour, and an oval of light appeared on the concrete. I stood there and watched, awed. I could swear, she seemed to be glistening.

Which, as it turned out, she was. “How do you stand this heat?”

“We hide indoors,” I said, and somewhere behind me, the doorbell rang again: two long chimes and a short one. “And dinner’s ready.”

– = * = –

Dinner, in fact, was quite charming, though more for the conversation than for the actual food. Twilight said she’d been up to Canterlot for the last few days: “Princess Luna asked me to come up and report on what I saw.”

“Luna, and not Celestia?”

“It’s a matter of jurisdiction,” she said. “Holes in the fabric of the universe are apparently Luna’s department.” She caught my expression and grinned back at me. “I didn’t know that either.”

“Was she disturbed that the humans had somehow failed to die off?”

“Oh, no, not at all. And neither was Celestia, though they decided that they didn’t want to order changes in the textbooks just yet.”

I chuckled. “No sense upsetting the population. If that’s the right word.”

She upended the water bottle over a tumbler and took a drink, all without moving a hoof. I wondered how I’d ever get used to that, and then wondered why I was wondering that, so I decided to change the subject: “So how did you find the Internet?”

“Luna’s idea,” said Twilight. “I’d told her what I’d seen, and some of what you’d told me, and she asked the Royal Canterlot Library what they knew about it. It wasn’t much, but the night shift is good at this kind of thing, and by morning she’d traced it and found an access point.”

“Just one mare on the night shift?”

“She’s very, very good. Her name is Secret Finder. She’s been there for about two years.”

Because I just had to know: “What’s her cutie mark? A magnifying glass?”

She sighed. “You humans pay too much attention to cutie marks. They show our actual talents, not what we really do.”

I thought about this for a second, for a few seconds more about the fact that what I had studied then and what I did for a living now were about a hundred eighty degrees apart, and then it dawned on me what she’d just revealed. “I gather you’ve seen more, um, episodes?”

“Princess Celestia insisted on reviewing as many of them as she could find, to see if ponies were being misrepresented.”

“And are they?” I asked.

“Not really, no. Well, maybe in a few instances.”

Apprehension grew. “For example?”

“The fillies you call the Cutie Mark Crusaders? They’re friends, yes, and they do want to get rid of their blank flanks, but they’re not obsessive about it.”

“Exaggeration for effect,” I said. “It’s a common theme in our literature. Still, if that’s the worst thing we did…”

“Really, Celestia liked most of the portrayals. Though she did raise an eyebrow over the destruction” — Twilight actually raised both hooves to do air quotes, which made me giggle — “of Town Hall. All that really happened was that Derpy knocked down a balcony and put a hole in the roof of the south wing.”

“Once again, exaggeration for — Wait a minute. Her name is really Derpy?”

“Yes. It’s not mentioned in the story, though. And her voice is way off.”

If only she hadn’t said that while I was actually taking a sip. Most of it wound up on the furniture. “What did I say?” she asked.

I fetched the DVD again. “This is how it went out the first time,” I said, and played the opening scene of “The Last Roundup.” An overly long explanation followed.

Twilight was not impressed. “That’s silly. It’s out of context. Derpy is a very sweet mare. She works very hard and she flies really well. That’s why she has bubbles on her flank. Her name comes from an old word in the Ancient tongue that means ‘lighter than air’.” She could have been a champion flier, except that she has poor vision and is kind of uncoordinated.”

I had to ask: “What does she do for a living?”

“She’s one of three mailmares in Ponyville. She works only part-time because she’s raising a foal all alone.”

Of course. “Does she make enough for them to live on?”

“I’m afraid not,” said Twilight. “The stallion who, er, had his way with her was never heard from again, otherwise he’d be paying foal support. Mayor Mare asked Princess Celestia for assistance, and the Princess set up a small annuity for them. If they find him, they’ll collect from him.”

“Is this a common occurrence in Equestria?”

“Not in Ponyville,” she said. “I’ve heard of one or two cases in Canterlot but it’s not at all common anywhere.”

“It’s routine among the humans,” I admitted. “We are a sorry lot sometimes.”

Twilight smiled. “Perhaps not all of you.”

The doorbell rang: two short tones and a long one. “I must run,” she said. “One minute until the Retrieval Spell comes looking for me.”

It was 6:37. “Not quite forty minutes this time.”

“We’ll worry about that next time. I’ll send you another one of those fancy electronic letters.”

“I am honored,” I said as she teleported herself out of the house and onto the driveway.

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