Chapter 5 – Aftermath
Applejack gave a yawn as she rolled over in bed. Then her eyes snapped open and she blinked a few times, trying to focus. She brought her foreleg up instinctively to wipe across her eyes, and found it to be familiar flesh and bone, under an appropriate cover of skin and fur. The light resolved itself into the familiar surroundings of her bedroom back at Sweet Apple Acres, and not the room she'd gone to sleep in.
She pushed herself up and yawned again. "Hoo-ee! That was the darnedest dream I ever had!" It was remarkable. Compared to regular dreams, which faded when you woke up, this one remained as clear as a real memory.
She realised she hoped that was exactly what it was. While things had been scary at first, those mechanical legs had been mighty useful once she'd gotten used to them. Now that she knew that she would only be visiting rather than trapped away from her family forever, she was looking forward to going back there if she could.
It certainly felt good to have helped people, and good people they were, no matter how funny they looked. She didn't want them to be just figments of her imagination, though she wouldn't have thought her imagination could have come up with something like that anyhow. She slid out of bed, feeling as if she'd shrunk, and looked around for some sign that something had happened.
At first glance everything seemed exactly as she'd left it when she'd staggered to bed after the party. Her hat was on its peg, so was her lasso, and a quick check confirmed her gala dress was still hung up in the closet. Then she realised her saddle-bags were sitting on her dresser, not on their regular hanger. A quick look inside gave her the proof she sought; an empty canteen, and more importantly, the Kerium nuggets and a shiny, star shaped badge.
"Sweet sugared apples! It all really happened!" She found herself pleased to say it. J.B. had been a good friend, and it looked like Marshall Bravestarr and the others she'd met could become ones as well, especially Thirty Thirty... she blushed, now where had that thought come from? It wasn't as if they'd gotten off to the most spectacular start.
He wasn't exactly the most diplomatic of ponies, but then she wasn't exactly winner of the All Equestria Tactfulness Competition herself (last year's winner was Fluttershy). In fact, she was the last pony to cast nasturtiums about somepony being plain spoken (well second to last, after Rainbow Dash). He was clearly passionate about protecting people, which gave them another thing in common.
He'd also been impressed with her skills without being intimidated. A lot of the stallions around Ponyville _were_ intimidated, if not by her reputation, then by her big brother. It was kind of pleasant to have some-pony look at her and not see all the baggage that came with being an Apple of Sweet Apple Acres.
She shook her head, enough wool-gathering. She had a whole passel of chores to get done once she'd completed her morning ablutions, and the sooner she got them over and done with, the sooner she could drift on over to Sugarcube Corner. She wanted to talk it over with Pinkie before telling any-pony else, even her family, as Pinkie had been there. In fact telling any-pony else might have to wait until she got a proper handle on it herself.
With that decided, she set off for the bathroom.
Scents of extreme deliciousness wafted from the doors of Ponyville's premier provider of perfect pies, pastries and pakes... cakes. Applejack didn't often go there to shop, as she did a lot of her own baking, but although she'd never admit it to any-pony else, even she occasionally liked something other than apple themed desserts.
However, today she was mainly there for Pinkie Pie. The pink pony of laughter usually worked the morning shift, and right now they were in the lull between ponies picking up a breakfast pastry and the lunch rush, so they'd have time to talk. That was assuming Pinkie Pie remembered last night's dream excursion.
"Hi Applejack! Did you enjoy your trip?"
Well that answered that question. "Yep, I've gotta admit, that was one crazy birthday wish, but I'm sure glad I went. I don't know if J.B would have made out as well as she did if I hadn't been there to back her play."
"Who's J.B? I hadn't realised you were going anywhere after the party."
Twilight's voice came from behind Applejack. The scholarly unicorn was just on the threshold of Sugarcube Corner, and had clearly heard their exchange. This made things a bit more complicated. Applejack hesitated for a moment and then sighed. It wasn't like she hadn't intended to tell her friend eventually, and if anypony would be interested in what had happened it would be Twilight Sparkle.
"Did Pinkie get you some sort of trip as a birthday present? You did say things were quiet around the farm at your birthday... But where did you get the time? Where could you go in a single night? What..."
Applejack just put a hoof up to Twilight's lips. "If you'll slow down to my speed for a moment sugarcube, I'll explain. I still haven't told Pinkie everything that happened."
She then proceeded to retell the tale of her adventure on New Texas, right up to the point of waking up back in her own bed.
"Oooh! Sounds like you had a real adventure!" As often happened around Pinkie Pie, who would throw together a party on the back of a rampaging dragon given half the chance, cakes and drinks had appeared. As was also common around Pinkie Pie, they disappeared just as quickly. However, she still found space between mouthfuls to comment. "Space Appleoosans and magic wielding bandits! I liked the bit where you made him turn into smoke and run away, just like Nightmare Moon or that mean old King Sombra."
"It all sounds really far-fetched. A whole different world that you visited in your sleep? Caused by Pinkie wishing you there?" Twilight looked more sceptical. As Applejack started to bristle, the purple unicorn waved a hoof. "I'm not saying you're not telling the truth, I know you better than that, but I have to wonder if it really was just a dream."
"Pinkie was there for part of it." Applejack pulled the badge and the chunks of Kerium from her saddlebags. "And it ain't like I didn't bring back a couple of souvenirs."
"I was, and it was fun!" Pinkie added. "I liked Applejack's new friends. I've never met a human before, but they were really nice, and so was the robot pony guy."
Twilight had lifted the badge first, and examined it closely as it floated in front of her. "Even that in itself isn't conclusive. Princess Luna dream-walks as part of her duties, guarding the ponies of Equestria against nightmares. So a shared dream is possible, and considering her imagination, Pinkie might be supplying some of the ideas you weren't.
"But I wouldn't have picked either of you to read science fiction, especially the sort that describes some of the things you mentioned. This badge is interesting though, there are some lines in the back that have electricity running through them, quite powerful, and I don't see where you could fit a big enough battery."
Applejack gave her a puzzled look. "How do you know that?"
"It's a spell I found in '1001 Household Charms and Cantrips', to find buried electrical wires. Spike and I were putting up some extra shelves in the basement, and he didn't want to get zapped. What is it supposed to do?"
"Uh, Thirty Thirty told me it was something called a 'locator beacon', a way for folks to find me if I was out somewhere and got lost." She and the big grey cyborg had talked quite a bit over dinner, which as he'd promised wasn't fancy, but was hot and plentiful. He wasn't a bad cook, but she intended tonight to take some ingredients with her to show him she was a better one.
"Fascinating, it must be like an arcane mark for a locator spell, but how could electricity do that? To send a signal you'd need a wire..." The purple unicorn started to get a glazed, distant look until Applejack stopped her.
"I didn't ask, but maybe I can find out for you. They probably have a book or something..." Applejack realised her mistake even as she'd said it, but it was too late.
"A book, of course they'd have books, I bet that illusion generator was some kind of book, oooh, this is so exciting!" For once the pony bouncing up and down inside Sugarcube Corner wasn't pink and poofy-haired. "Please can you get me one when you get there? A book on how this works, oh, and some sort of encyclopedia, and a book on their history..."
"Twi... Twi!... TWILIGHT!"
"Yes Applejack?" Once again, Applejack had to check twice to realise it wasn't the pink pony saying it.
The farm mare sighed. "Tell you what Twi, make a list. But it looks like I can only carry what goes in my saddle-bags. I don't know how many I can fit in there, or how I'm gonna get them, but I'll do my best."
"Thanks Applejack!" Twilight seemed to have calmed down at least a bit. "You're the greatest!"
She noticed Pinkie Pie's mane droop just a little at this and added, "And you're the greatest too for using your birthday wish so unselfishly, Pinkie."
That perked the pink pony right up. "I'm just happy to see my friends smile! I made Applejack happy, and now I've made you happy too. A double whammy! The only thing better is double cream, or double layer chocolate cake with double cream, or a double helping of double layer chocolate cake with a double helping of double cream..."
While Pinkie kept doubling up, Twilight placed the star down gently and picked up a nugget of Kerium. "I've never seen this kind of crystal before. It seems to glow with an inner light, but I can't feel any magic coming from it. Do you think I could have one of them to experiment on?"
"I guess so, but you best be careful." Applejack placed the other items back in her saddle bags. "According to Thirty Thirty, there's big medicine packed in that little rock. Y'know, I'd have reckoned you'd take a lot more convincing than you did."
"Dreams generally don't leave real items behind, and besides, I may not understand how this whole thing worked yet, but I don't have to understand it to believe it's true, especially when all the evidence points to it. I learned that lesson after that business with the Hydra."
She smiled at her friend, and glanced over at Pinkie, who was still babbling about doubling. "Besides I think that this J.B. person was on to something. That business also taught me that Pinkie could do things other earth ponies couldn't. If anypony could make this happen, apart from the princesses, it would be Pinkie."
"... in a double bed filled with doubloons!" gasped out Pinkie, then took a deep breath, which ruffled the other two ponies' manes and tails. "Okay, I'm done."
"Well I reckon I'd best be getting back to Sweet Apple Acres. Got to get the cart together to bring into town for market tomorrow." Applejack got up from the table and wiped some crumbs from her muzzle.
"And I'd better get back to Golden Oaks library and start to study this chunk of... Kerium, wasn't it? Ohh! This will make for a fascinating report for the Journal of Magic, Science and Technology."
"Uh sugarcube, I'd rather you didn't go spreading all this around. I guess you can tell Princess Celestia, I think she knew we were there when the Shaman was doing his viewing spell, but I'd rather not have folks coming around looking at me funny. You too Pinkie."
"But I don't come around and look at you funny anyway! I may sometimes come round with a funny look, especially when I'm trying out new party ideas, or even looking to have fun..."
Applejack put a hoof to Pinkie's lips and gave her a meaningful look. "I'm meaning, keep this whole business a secret?"
"I swear on my Grandmother's name it shall be done." Pinkie realised the other two ponies were looking at her oddly and giggled, "Oops! I mean Okie Dokie Loki!"
Twilight looked like some-pony had told her books had been banned. Her lower lip trembled and she teared up. "But the amazing things we could learn, the new ideas that could benefit pony-kind... "
"Twi, I know this ain't easy for ya, but if this gets around, things are gonna be a lot harder for me. Most ponies will figure I'm plumb loco, but the ones that believe me will be even worse! I ain't even told mah family yet, and I don't know if I will. Big Mac can keep a secret, but Granny gets a mite forgetful, and Apple Bloom, well, she's a good kid and all, but if you were her age, and your big sister was leading a double life as a space sheriff, would you be able to keep quiet about it?"
Twilight sniffed, and gave a weak smile. "I promise. I hadn't really thought of it like that, but no advance in knowledge is worth it if it hurts a friend, not even something as amazing as this."
Applejack leaned over and gave her a one armed hug. "You're a good friend, Twilight. I tell you what, if there's stuff you can tell people without them finding out it's me bringing it, then go ahead! Say you figured it out yourself, or that you managed to cast some kind of spell that let you look into other dimensions in your dreams. It's kinda what happened anyway."
"But then people would want me to show my spell-work... Y'know, if I can take some readings of you while you're asleep, maybe I could do exactly that, reverse engineer the spell Pinkie cast." She was getting excited again. "Oh my gosh! This is so fascinating!"
"Well I guess that won't hurt any." Applejack considered. "I can come over to your place for a night, we could say it was another sleep-over."
"Oh! Oh! We could make it a party too!" Pinkie Pie exclaimed, bouncing.
"I guess. Though if Rarity and the others hear about it, they might want to know why they weren't invited."
"We can cross that bridge when we come to it." Twilight already had a quill and paper out and was making a list. "It'll take me some time to figure out exactly what to test for, and I've got that Kerium... I'll tell Spike you found it at Sweet Apple Acres and imply it was a meteorite which you brought to me since, let's face it, glowing rocks aren't exactly common."
"Oh! All this secret stuff is super amazing fun!" Pinkie squeed, just as Heartstrings came in. "Not that we're doing anything secret, no, uh uh, just three good friends having a conversation..."
Applejack cut in. "While I'm here, I'd like a dozen assorted cupcakes, you know the kind I like."
Pinkie Pie disappeared from the table and reappeared behind the counter, ready to serve ponies, or rather to serve cakes to ponies. "Okay!"
"That's a lot of cupcakes," Twilight said as her magic rolled up the scroll of paper.
"I figure on taking some with me when I go to see my new friends."
"New... ohhh, riiiight." Twilight tapped the side of her muzzle with a hoof.
The two collected their respective orders, and headed off.
The rest of the day could best be described as same old, same old. However it wasn't a _bad_ same old, same old. In fact having temporarily thought she'd never see them again made Applejack appreciate her family all the more. However, the events of the day were no different from most. Of course, for a farm that was a good thing, but it made the prospect of finding something new and exciting on New Texas all the sweeter.
She made her preparations, and her food carefully. A big serving dish was filled with everything she needed to make a savoury vegetable crumble, and a separate bowl was filled with fresh salad, mostly picked straight from their kitchen garden. That, and the left over cupcakes would pretty much completely fill her saddlebags, but it would be everything she needed to bring a bit of Equestrian hospitality to New Texas.
Thirty Thirty's place had an electric refrigerator, though it had been filled with the sort of things you'd expect a bachelor stallion to have, things that were cheap, easy to cook and kept well. Fruit and vegetables being imported by starship were apparently expensive, and didn't keep well, so he hadn't had much along those lines. She reckoned a fresh salad with lettuce, tomatoes, spicy radishes and dandelions would go down a treat.
She'd considered making the crumble ahead of time, but he did have some sort of fancy electric cooker (she had no idea how a microwave induction oven worked, but as long as it did, she wasn't fussed) so should be able to cook it up on the spot, and vegetable crumble hot from the oven should taste mighty fine.
Of course, this was in addition to her regular cooking, and got a few questions from the rest of her family, but she brushed it off as getting ready to make something for a friend.
Twilight came around in the late afternoon with a tightly rolled parchment containing a list of books and a brass bound box about the size of her hoof. The box had dials and a ticker tape device built into it that emerged from between two rollers, passed along the surface and then disappeared back into the depths of the device.
Of course she didn't show this to Applejack until she'd gotten her away from the rest of her family. They went out to the barn where they could talk privately and the farm mare looked at the device quizzically.
"What the hay is that contraption when it's at home?"
"It's called a thaumometer, and it measures magical fields. I'd like you to take it with you in your saddlebags so I can get background magic readings from when you leave to when you return. Just flick this lever before you go to sleep and it'll start recording automatically."
"Well, if it's important to you..."
"Absolutely vital!" Twilight exclaimed, brimming with excitement. "With this information, I should be able to optimise my test gear for when you come over. I can tune the thaumic spectral distribution to much narrower phasic bands allowing increased sensitivity and lower chaotic variation."
Applejack's expression of confusion mirrored her understanding perfectly. "Well I hope that works out for you. Me, I figure I'll just go to sleep."
In fact, she was starting to worry. Shaman had said that she should automatically travel back and forth, but what if he was wrong and she didn't tonight? She was surprised to find out how much that idea hurt her.
"That's all you need to do. Thanks again for letting me in on the secret, I promise you won't regret it."
"What secret?" Apple Bloom was standing at the barn door, which was with metaphorical accuracy standing open. "And what's that funny looking doohickey?"
"Uh, it's just something between Twilight and me, nothing to worry yourself about." Applejack was poor at telling a convincing lie at the best of times, and convincing her own sister was far from a best-case scenario. "What are you even doing out here?"
"Granny Smith sent me to get a bundle of hay. She's feeling peckish."
"Well you just get it and skedaddle!"
"Okay, I'm going." Apple Bloom collected a bundle from the back of the barn, and flipped it onto her back. "That gadget looks like a thaumometer I saw in Mechanical Mares Monthly."
Twilight's eyes widened in surprise. "No, it's... an alarm clock, a new alarm clock I wanted Applejack to test."
The little filly's brow furrowed. "But Applejack doesn't need an alarm clock! She's always up before every-pony else, regular as clockwork."
"Well, of course!" Twilight threw out, then had a burst of inspiration. "That means she'll be awake to see that it is working correctly."
"Really?" The filly didn't look convinced. "I still think it looks a lot like a thaumometer, but okay..."
The pair of them heaved a sigh of relief after she'd left. Twilight asked, "Mechanical Mares Monthly?"
"Yep. She and the other Crusaders are looking to put together a float for the festival that's coming up. After the fine job she did on the club house I figure she might be getting onto her talent." Applejack smiled proudly, her unease forgotten. "From what she said, Scootaloo's getting into it too, she's even going to see if she can get parts from Boxxy."
"I suppose a pegasus cargo company would be the right place to start. Her dad can probably find her some hardware that isn't flight rated any more, but is fine for a float."
"That's the plan. And speaking of plans, I'd better get this stuff in my saddlebags and up to my room."
"Great! Ohh! I can't wait!" With that, Twilight left, and Applejack headed back inside. She got some queries about Twilight's 'alarm clock', but just shrugged and repeated Twilight's story. At least it made it easy to explain why she was taking it up to her bedroom.
The rest of the day passed without event, other than those warm familiar events that occur when a family is living together happily. However, time passed, as time does, and eventually Applejack made ready to head up to bed, tingling with equal parts nerves and excitement.
She slung her saddlebags and stopped off in the kitchen, collecting her ingredients and getting them secured away in the bags. Some careful juggling allowed her to get everything in, and just barely leave enough room for Twilight's doohickey to go in. She was just starting up the stairs when Big Macintosh saw her.
"What are you doin'? It looks like you've got half the kitchen in those there saddlebags!"
"Uh..." Applejack had to think fast again. "Just a couple of snacks in case I get a mite peckish in the night."
"More like a meal for two ponies, big ones!" Some ponies mistook the laconic stallion's lack of loquacity as an indication that he wasn't quite bright. Applejack knew better, under that quiet exterior was a pony who saw a lot more than ponies gave him credit for, and could figure out things better than most. He just didn't see the need to chatter about it all the time.
"I... I figure I might have some really energetic dreams?" It was sort of the truth. "If I have food to hoof, I won't end up sleep walking downstairs in the middle of the night and do myself a mischief."
She could tell her big brother pony was not convinced, but he wasn't going to make a big deal out of it. "Very well sis, I guess you know your own mind best. Have a good night."
She smiled back at him, and there was nothing fake about that. "You too big bro, goodnight!"
When she was finally safe in her room, she switched on Twilight's gadget, and put it in with the book list and everything else. She double-checked the stuff in her saddlebags at the same time. Everything was ready, so she got herself ready for bed, but had great difficulty getting to sleep with all the thoughts racing in her brain.
Would things work? What would she find herself doing? Would there be another attack by Tex Hex? Would she be able to get Twilight's books? Would she and Thirty Thirty be working together? What kind of mare did he like?
That made her blush. She wasn't that kind of mare! Still, a little harmless speculation never hurt any-pony, if you didn't talk to anyone about it... Wrapped in warm and comfortable bedclothes, and warm and comfortable thoughts, her mind calmed down, and she drifted off to sleep.
Author's notes: Well, it took some time, but I've finally gotten back to this. I may write the next chapter to this before moving on, but we'll just have to see how the inspiration hits me. I know what I want to do, but sometimes getting the story to actually do it is another matter entirely.
I figure Equestria has electricity but not electronics, despite the one appearance of supposed video games in 'Hearts and Hooves Day'. I'm assuming they're either magical, or mechanical like some of the early 20th century board-walk games. If they were video games, even the early 1970's sort there would be other artefacts like televisions, or at least radios, which use simpler principles.
The headsets worn by the goats in 'Putting your Hoof Down' are another anachronism. Those are easier to explain, magical headsets enchanted to be parts of the whole. Anything one hears, they all hear. A lot of tech otherwise is 1930's, colour film cinemas, dirigibles, steam engines, hydro-electric dams. Refrigeration is a mix of new electric fridges and old fashioned ice boxes, with pegasi supplied ice being the cheaper option. I've had some people say 1950's for things like Twilight's lab, but I say that's more 1930's mad science than general use.
What they're missing is Maxwell's laws and all the technologies that derive from that. X rays were discovered empirically first, and fitted into electromagnetic theory later. However I figure Rainbow Dash's X-ray was done using a specialised light spell. We've seen things that look like valves (tubes to Americans), but none of them were triodes, so we have no evidence of valve based amplifiers, let alone transistors.
As for why they presumably have laser security systems ('Mmmystery on the Friendsship Express') but use phonographs rather than CDs, I'd say that was another type of light spell, a coherent light spell enchanted into an emitter. Easy enough to create a detector that will trigger a ghost sound spell when the beam is broken, but modulating it and deciphering a modulated beam is far more difficult. Trust me, in the dim and distant past I did a Masters degree in Electronics. There's a reason it took 40 years from the creation of the first laser to the CD.
Magic and pegasi cargo carts reduce the need to develop other forms of communication, which when combined with a lack of theory gives a reason that they don't have radio, even spark gap transmitters and crystal sets or valve based recievers, which are well within their tech capabilities. This explains why Twilight wouldn't understand the principles of the locator beacon. Of course, when she gets her horn on the data from New Texas, things will get... interesting.
Thanks to Ringcaat for pre-reading this chapter and coming up with a lot of great corrections and suggestions, and Cylon One for proof-reading the finished work.