The Sparkle Chronicles: Chapter 5

“What just happened here?” I asked myself, alone in the room, still down on the floor, the Retrieval Spell having activated itself on time and therefore much too soon.

At times like this — no, wait, there had never been any times like this. No basis for comparison. I mean, it’s not the first time something happened on the floor of the living room, but it’s the first time something happened on the floor of the living room with a unicorn. And a darn cute one, too, with that little pagecolt ‘do of hers and that … um, never mind. I never could get anything done with stream-of-consciousness. I’d have to make an actual Twilight-style checklist to figure out where I was, where we were, and if we were going anywhere.

First item: “Do Twilight and I qualify for the pronoun ‘we’ at all?” Surely we weren’t, as the gossip columnists say, An Item; we technically weren’t dating, although I had bought dinner several times.

I went back and looked at that phrase “gossip columnists” again, and had a horrifying vision of the next day’s Foal Free Press: “PONYVILLE LIBRARIAN IN SECRET TRYST WITH NON-PONY.” Gabby Gums may be retired, but more often than not, the unknown eventually becomes the known.

Then again, the weak link might not have been on the Equestrian side of the chain. I have children, and they have children, and they all live several hours away by any form of transportation known to humans — but not so many hours that they couldn’t drop in unexpectedly. It was safe to assume that they had no idea what was going on, but it wasn’t possible to assume that they’d never find out, either.

Having strayed from the point, I went back up to that first item. “Do Twilight and I qualify for the pronoun ‘we’ at all?” This implied another question: “Will that ever happen again?” Obviously I did not know; but I was pretty sure I knew the answer I wanted. First item: tentative check.

Second item: “Could this be made to work on a long-term basis?” I’ve always been skeptical of long-distance romances generally, and when the distance isn’t measured in miles or hours but in literal holes in the fabric of space and time — well, I’ve never encountered that before. And it’s not like there’s a halfway point where we could meet. Obviously one of us would have to relocate.

I couldn’t possibly ask Twilight to stay here. If she hated the weather now, in the waning days of summer, she’d hate it worse in the dreary days of winter. And it’s not like we could slip a few bits to the pegasi to persuade them to ease off a little, either. More to the point, her friends, her family, her studies, her whole life — everything was tied to Equestria. There was simply no way I would ever ask her to give all that up. Besides, she wasn’t the sort of pony who sought notoriety, and let’s face it, a lavender-colored unicorn on the streets of [name of just about any human town anywhere] is going to be distressingly conspicuous. Hide her away? Not a chance. Scratch this possibility.

But could I live in Equestria? Maybe. I’d have to make some serious dietary alterations, but then the medical community is always screaming about how most of us have to make some serious dietary alterations. If I had to subsist on fruits and vegetables, it wouldn’t be the end of the world. More to the point, though, Canterlot wasn’t officially admitting to the existence of my species; turning one loose in Ponyville was almost certainly not going to go over well with the Royal Sisters.

Friends and family? Well, yes, I had that same issue. But there was a difference, and it was purely chronological: I’m close to three times her age and would be written off by said friends and family far more quickly. Twilight had never actually said what a typical pony lifespan might be, but based on the equines I grew up with, who were generally considered full-grown at three to four years and lived to be twenty-five or thirty, and having learned that Equestrian mares didn’t exit fillyhood until well into their teens, I estimated that eighty to ninety years might be typical. (I wasn’t about to guess how old Granny Smith might be.) And should that be the case, even if the climate of Equestria should prove unusually salubrious and the diet especially healthful, she’d have maybe twenty years with me — I’m already pushing sixty — and then fifty years of … widowhood? “I can’t ask her to bury me,” I said out loud, and crossed out the words “long-term.” Second item: check, with reservations.

Third item: “Aren’t you jumping the gun here?” Well, yes, obviously I was. The alternative, though, was to view what had just happened as simply something that happened, that didn’t mean anything, that would be forgotten in a matter of moments. And I wasn’t about to believe that if I could possibly help it, even if it were true. Especially if it were true. Acting on the assumption that Twilight Sparkle does not take such things lightly, I left that third item unchecked.

Last item: “What, if anything, have you learned from this?” Only one thing for sure: I kissed a mare, and I liked it. Anything else was purely speculative.

– = * = –

According to the Standard Book of Tropes, in the Human Romantic Comedy section, there is one phrase which, when uttered by women, causes men to sweat visibly, their heart rates to turn erratic, and their brains to turn to tapioca. No, not that one. The one that Twilight Sparkle, not being at all human but definitely being female, would utter the moment she came through the door:

“We need to talk.”

I put my thumb to my wrist. No cardiac issues yet. “Perhaps we do.”

“First of all,” she said, “I want you to know that I don’t do this sort of thing with just anypony.”

“I’m not just anypony,” I pointed out. “In fact, last I looked, I wasn’t a pony at all.” That came out harsher than I’d expected, so I bunted: “And anyway, I never assumed you did this sort of thing at all.”

Like that helped. I saw what I thought was a flash of rage. She took a very deep breath, and then she visibly relaxed. “Well, so much for my prepared remarks. I spent an hour this afternoon working up what I thought was an appropriate response to, uh, recent events, and you knocked me out of my train of thought in a matter of seconds. Nopony does that to me, either.” She smiled. “I keep forgetting. I can’t deal with you the same way I’d deal with a stallion.”

“Is that good or bad?” I asked.

“I haven’t quite figured that out yet. You’re a challenge, and I like challenges, but you’re also completely foreign to me, and I worry that I’ll do something really wrong or really stupid, and when I start worrying about that, I almost always do something really wrong or really stupid. Which makes me worry even more.”

“Positive feedback loops. They’ll be the death of us all.”

She nodded. “Anyway, what happened — can I just say that I wasn’t prepared for that?”

“I’ve always suspected,” I said, “that if you’re prepared for it, it doesn’t ever happen. Either it’s spontaneous, or it’s nothing. And when it’s nothing, you sit there staring at each other and wonder what else you could be doing right about now.”

“I’m no good at being spontaneous,” said Twilight. “Everything has to be planned, and everything has to fit into the plan. When it doesn’t fit, I have to improvise, and that means formulating another plan, and — you see? Another feedback loop.”

“So you’re not so good at flying blind. Neither am I.”

“I’m not sure what you mean by ‘flying blind.’ Please explain.”

“We can’t fly under our own power, so we have aircraft. Large metal carriages with enough power to get themselves off the ground. These work wonderfully well when the sun is shining and you can see where you’re going. At night, or in bad weather, not so well. You have to place your trust in the instruments in front of you, and in your own best instincts.”

“Rainbow Dash told me one time that she was caught in an unscheduled storm. She said that she’d tried to remember every last detail of the route she was taking and that she was just going to fly according to that pattern and hope that she was headed in the right direction.”

“Exactly the same idea. I assume she made it?”

Twilight grinned. “This is Rainbow Dash we’re talking about. She would never have brought it up if she had gotten lost.” And then, out of the blue: “You’d like her. She’s exasperating at times, but I think everypony is exasperating at times.”

I took the bait. “Maybe someday I’ll meet her.”

To my surprise, she didn’t go in the direction I was expecting. “On second thought, perhaps it wouldn’t be a good idea to let you run wild in Ponyville. We have some really beautiful mares in town.”

“Now wait a minute,” I said in mock protest. “It took me almost sixty years to catch the eye of one mare. You think I’m suddenly going to have time for a whole herd of them?”

Again with the sideways look. “You’re that old?”

I fell back on an old human cliché. “You want to see my driver’s license?”

Which, of course, she did. Just my luck. I duly popped open my wallet and showed her the little plastic card, which she scrutinized as though it were an artifact from before the Age of Harmony. “And what year is this, to you?”

“Two thousand twelve.”

“That explains the grey,” she said.

“Not so much. I started turning grey when I was in my twenties. It just, um, accelerated in recent years.”

“If you don’t mind my asking, how much longer can you reasonably expect to live?”

First, the shock; then, the guffaw. “The only time this is ever asked is —” and then I realized that the brain and the mouth were hopelessly out of sync again.

“Is when?”

I geared up for “You sure you want to hear this?” But of course she did, so I cut to the chase. “In bad dramatic productions, when the poor young woman is about to seduce the rich old man, hoping to get her, you should pardon the expression, hands on his money. I assume ponies aren’t so blatantly obvious in their behavior.”

“Don’t assume that. Some pretty horrible things have happened behind closed doors, even not-so-closed doors, in Equestria.”

“I’ll take your word for it.”

“But you still haven’t answered my question,” said Twilight.

“You noticed.” As the phrase goes, I knew when I was licked. Okay, maybe that was the wrong phrase. “Barring catastrophe, I should be good for, oh, fifteen or twenty years more. There’s just enough longevity in my family to give me some hope for more time. And allow me to point out, for the sake of drama, that you’re not exactly poor and I’m not even slightly rich.”

“You spent twenty thousand bits on a machine to carry you places you could walk,” she said crossly.

“It’s a three-hour walk to where I work, and another three-hour walk back. And I don’t know if you’ve noticed or not, but it’s hotter than the east side of Tartarus out there.”

“Believe me, I’ve noticed,” she said, and then: “Why are we fighting?”

I shrugged. “Why does any couple fight? So they can make up later.”

Her eyes grew wide. “Are we a couple?”

“I have no idea,” I said. “When you came in saying ‘We need to talk,’ I just naturally assumed that we were going to discuss that matter.”

“Very well, then, let’s discuss it.” I was not even slightly surprised to see her produce a pad and a quill. “First question: are we actually dating?”

“No. Well, maybe yes. In the broadest sense of the word,” I said, “perhaps we are. We meet sort of regularly, we don’t have any particular agenda, and we spend a lot of time getting to know one another.”

“Along with everything else,” Twilight noted. “Getting to know one another doesn’t seem to be the major priority.”

“But everything else goes with it. Nothing in the universe is ever truly disconnected from anything else.” I sensed that I was on a roll. “Finding out what you think about such-and-such a subject is every bit as important as finding out your birthday. It tells me where you’ve been, where you’d like to be going, and what your values are.”

“Ninth of Fourmonth.”

“Um, what?”

“The ninth of Fourmonth. It’s my birthday.”

“Of course,” I said, comprehending nothing.

“The Summer Sun Celebration is the last day of the year. It has no date. The next day is the first of Onemonth.”

It took me a second or three to catch on, but given the officially-proclaimed equality of Sun and Moon, and a few stray astronomical facts I’d learned back in the Stone Age, I was able to piece it together. “So basically you have 13 months of 28 days, plus one at the end?”

Twilight smiled. “Very impressive.”

“A marvel of simplicity next to the random afflictions of our calendar — which, by the way, puts your birthday on our 25th of September.”

“I’ll tell Pinkie. She’ll want to throw a party.”

“From what I’ve heard,” I said, “Pinkie would throw a party to celebrate the opening of an envelope.”

“Well, yes, she would,” Twilight laughed, “but that’s just Pinkie. You get used to it after a while. She’d certainly throw one for you. When is your birthday, by the way?”

“Um … er … fourteenth of Sixmonth.”

She wrote that down for some reason, and then resumed: “So have we decided that we are technically dating?”

“Like I said, maybe in the broadest sense we are. Now the rule I’ve always gone by, in terms of human relationships, is that’s it’s a date if — and only if — both participants expect at some point in the future, not necessarily that night, to see each other naked. I don’t think this rule is of much use here.”

“On the contrary,” said Twilight. “It is very useful, especially since we’re both beyond that point now, aren’t we?”

“Point conceded,” I declared. “Let the world — let the worlds? — know that we are officially dating. Next question?”

“I hate to ask this, but I have to. How are your family and your friends going to react when they find out you’re dating a pony?”

Good question. Too good, perhaps. “I’d almost certainly have to introduce you first, before I could break the news to anyone. I hope that ‘This is my marefriend, Twilight Sparkle’ would be sufficient, and maybe for some of them it would be. A few of them, though…”

“Would turn tail and run?” she said.

“You’re finishing my sentences.” I think I blushed. “Already we’re starting to sound like we’ve been together for years.”

“You think they’d object?”

“Some of them, almost certainly. They’re going to hear ‘pony’ and they’re going to think I’m doing horrible things with some plow-pulling mare down on the farm. At best, it’s bad form. At worst, I’m going to be damned for all eternity.” I grimaced a bit. “It’s an old religious theme. And it makes sense for our culture, since our equines are not even close to being consenting adults. You don’t fool around with other creatures strictly for your own benefit. It’s just wrong.”

She looked off into the distance for a moment, which stretched into a minute.

“Was it something I said?” I asked.

“I think … I’m a little bit sad, knowing that if other ponies come to the human world, they might be treated badly.”

“We are a smug little species,” I said. “And much as I hate to say so, that’s one of our good points.”

“I would hate to see your bad points.”

“If I have anything to say about it, you won’t have to.”

The doorbell sounded. Twilight looked concerned. “That’s about three minutes early for some reason.”

“No time to worry about that now. Tomorrow?”

“Tommorow,” she said. “It’s a date.”

– = * = –

Twenty-three hours and change later. “Since the subject has now been broached,” I said, “how are your friends and family going to deal with you dating outside your species?”

“I … do not know,” said Twilight. “I was hoping I could avoid that particular problem, and to be honest I was hoping I could avoid discussing it right away.”

The “Not Good” sign went off in the back of my head. “What’s happened since yesterday?”

“Please don’t hate me for this,” she said plaintively.

I slid closer to her on the sofa — not that there was that much distance to begin with — and put one arm around her. “I don’t do hate. Tell me what happened.”

“You’re probably wondering why I was asking about your age.”

“That did occur to me, yes.”

“I went to the Royal Medical Office in Canterlot with copies of the reports I’ve been giving to Luna and Celestia, to see what they’d think about your survival chances in Equestria.”

“That doesn’t sound so unreasonable to me,” I said.

“They said that they could not give a favorable recommendation, because the abrupt change in atmosphere and the inevitable change in diet would have an adverse effect on you.” Her voice dropped to near-inaudibility. “A year, maybe. And they don’t know enough about human anatomy to treat anything other than superficial flesh wounds, so it might not be even that long if something terrible happened.”

“I see.”

“It gets worse. And this is the part where you’re going to hate me.”

Not knowing what else to do, I leaned over, and I kissed her as though I had some idea about how she ought to be kissed. Which I didn’t, but unfortunately I hadn’t had a whole lot of time to study the matter, a situation I planned to remedy in short order.

Gradually she relaxed. “You can tell me,” I said. “I promise I will not scream like a banshee.”

“You have banshees in this world?”

“I’ve never seen one, but that means nothing. The Medical Office said I was a goner. What else?”

She shuddered just a bit. “I asked them if … if there was a chance you could be transformed into a pony.”

My eyes grew to about pony size at that. “Seriously? They can do that sort of thing?”

“Under certain conditions. Apparently not these conditions.”

I had to laugh. “Who knew? I’m not qualified to be a pony.”

“I’m sorry,” said Twilight. “I had to find out.”

“It’s all right. How would that even, you know, work? I mean, there’d have to be a lot of gene-shuffling, wouldn’t there?”

“Not that much, really. The pony genome and the human genome match up about 98 percent.”

“You’ve researched the human genome? How in the …” I stopped, because I sensed I didn’t want to know.

“Yes, they had a DNA sample. And yes, I got it from you.” She looked almost sheepish.

The little light bulb went off over my head. And apparently it was one of those twisty compact-fluorescent jobs, because it took a long time to muster up any brightness.

Finally: “You didn’t actually trip me, did you?”

“Oh, no, no, not deliberately. I would never have done that. Ever.”

I swear, I don’t know where this came from. “Cross your heart and hope to die?”

“Spit a sample in my eye,” she said, right on cue. Whatever else I may have been thinking at that moment, I had to admire her sense of timing — and, apparently, her ability to multitask.

“Just out of curiosity,” I asked, “how often does some other entity get, um, ponified?”

“It’s not very common. There was a young changeling this year who’s now living as a pegasus in Fillydelphia.”

“A changeling? Couldn’t she, like, turn into a pegasus any time she wanted?”

Twilight smiled. “After the big wedding, she was apparently the only changeling left in Canterlot. She approached one of the Royal Guards, and he was ready to throw her off the premises, but she talked him into letting her stay long enough to talk to the Princess. Luna agreed to speak to her, and she told Luna that she hated life as a changeling and would give anything just to be an ordinary pony.”

“And she wound up as a pegasus because…”

“She could already fly, so it made the surgical transformation that much easier.”

I whistled. “Somehow, I can’t imagine myself as a pegasus.”

“You wouldn’t have been,” said Twilight. “Even if they could fit you with wings, it would take years to learn how to fly. And as a general rule, they don’t make unicorn horns available for transplant. At best, you’d be an earth pony.”

“Not that there’s anything wrong with that,” I said. “I’m just a good ol’ country pony at heart.”

“And not that it matters at this point, but we could never have foals.”

“Just as well,” I said, “since it looks like we may not be getting married. Some folks frown on that sort of thing.”

Twilight smiled. “Sometimes you amaze me.”

“Sometimes I amaze myself. Where do we go from here?”

“We don’t have to go anywhere right now,” she said. “There are … couple-type things we could do for the next few minutes.”

“Do they involve DNA samples?” I asked.

“That,” said Twilight Sparkle, “can be arranged.”

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