The Life and Times of Caughlin Mare
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Chapter 1: Enter Caughlin Mare and Dr. Whooves
Discordian Era, year unknown
Caughlin stood on the director's stand, a stage that oversaw the large den of operations. She was a gray unicorn mare with a blond mane and yellow eyes - nothing that drew attention at first glance. As usual, the den was cluttered and buzzing with various activities; in one corner, a few ponies were examining a sample of cotton candy clouds, and in another corner, others were prodding at a curious crystalline material. It was a pity, she noted, that they could not afford to split the space into separate rooms. In the far end of the the den she could see her own workplace, a large, cylindrical glass-walled chamber, in which pink trees were growing inexplicably from the stone ground. She tapped a hoof impatiently as she waited for the unpredictable, yet confirmed visit of Discord, ruler of Equestria. Handling his visits was something she had to do. As lead researcher, she was responsible for taking care of the projects' integrity, and that meant distracting Discord from them. Having near-completed her own project - reality bubbles, from whence her cutie mark originated - she could afford to spend her time off it.
She rubbed her eyes and magicked a clipboard to her side. The group was small, less than ten ponies, crammed together into an underground facility. She could faintly remember the above world, but knew nothing of it; everypony in the Laboratory had been taken down here from childhood, and had lived here since. Not that it bothered her; she enjoyed science and research, and the new understandings they unveiled regarding nature despite Discord's permanent mark on it. She read off the clipboard. Team 4 was to present their results on accelerating grass growth by tomorrow, something she looked forward to. It would definitely help keep Equestria's ponies fed, considering Discord's latest boasts about turning whole fields of soil into worthless sand.
She took some time to reflect on her home. The Laboratory was simply space hollowed out underground, sub-divided into the main hall, where they all were, and bedrooms that branched out from the hall. The surface was smooth and fairly clean; it was reconstituted rock, easier to clean and walk on than rough bedrock or soil. Experimental bulbs lit the place brightly, recharged every time Discord made an entrance. The excess magic that flowed off his body was tapped and harnessed by hidden nodes. Not that Discord didn't know of them, of course, but rather for aesthetics' sake the spindly, ugly things were embedded into the walls, out of sight.
Speaking of the devil, there was a loud crack next to her. She turned and bowed. "Lord Discord," she murmured. Her heart was pounding; it had begun.
"My dear Caughlin," said Discord, smirking. "Well, well, well. What do you have for me today?"
"Well, as you know, we've been working on the consistency of your cotton candy clouds," said Caughlin, leading him down the steps to the ground floor. "We believe we have found the empirical composition of the clouds, and the relation to their retention of the chocolate rain. This in turn lets us delve into finding the rain seed crystals,which is very fascinating." They drew up to the table. The other ponies watched, their expressions blank.
Discord yawned loudly and stared at the sample hard. "And this means...?"
"Well, we should be able to make the clouds under controlled conditions," said Caughlin, her eyes firmly on Discord's floating hooves. She could not bear to look at the rest of him, let alone his face.
"Hmm. So if I were, say, to do this to Canterlot..."
Caughlin looked up in horror as Discord waved his arms. A mirror appeared mid-air, showing the town of Canterlot from afar. Slowly, a translucent cylinder glimmered around it, locking the residents firmly within its confinement.
"...you would be able to make it rain inside?"
"Y..yes," said Caughlin. "With enough materials and some more research, yes, we could."
"What about raining other things? Like frogs?" Discord waved his arms again, and Caughlin watched on as the heavens opened to shower Canterlot with frogs. Because of the cylinder, the frogs soon began to build up. Even though the den was deathly silent, she could imagine the screams and yells of ponies as they tried to run for cover, tried to avoid being smothered by frogs, the very ponies in the mirror and their looks of horror. It was not pretty.
"Yes, like frogs. But we need more research for that, too."
"Ah well." With a click of his fingers, the cylinder disappeared. The frogs, though, did not. "The prospect of ponies being able to cause chaos is so wonderful, Caughlin, but you make it so boring and methodical. You're not getting the heart of it right at all," said Discord disappointingly. "You hear me? Loosen up. Improvise. Let chaos do the work."
"Yes, lord Discord," said Caughlin, her face set like stone.
"Good. Carry on, then." With another gaze at Canterlot, Discord disappeared in a puff of smoke, and the mirror crashed to the floor.
Caughlin shook her head and swallowed a lump. The other ponies silently tread towards her and gave her a hug.
"I'm okay, everypony," said Caughlin quietly. "Get back to work. Somepony please clean up the glass. I want that out of here." She walked back to her own station. "Somepony could get hurt," she whispered.
A few days later, Discord re-appeared. This time, however, he had brought somepony with him.
"Caughlin? Caughlin!" said Discord, annoyed. "Where is she, that ditzy mare?"
"Yes, lord Discord?" asked Caughlin, trotting up to the stand from her work area. Discord rolled his eyes and poofed both of them in front of her.
"I don't really have time to join you today, I have an uprising to quell," said Discord. "But I thought I'd drop this pony off first. I found him in a corner of Manehatten. I find him interesting. Maybe you want to take him apart or whatever, surprise me. Now I'm off." As abruptly as his entrance, he left, leaving the two to talk. Curious heads turned towards the newcomer, who was very frightened.
Caughlin considered the newcomer. He was a light brown earth pony with a dark brown mane, blue eyes and an hourglass for a cutie mark, which immediately perked up Caughlin's interest. She stepped towards him, but he shied away.
And then... she hadn't stepped towards him, but he was even further away now, scrambling up the director's stand. Wait... what? Did I just miss something?
"Hey, come back down here! I'm not going to hurt you," said Caughlin, sighing and walking slowly up the stairs. The pony did not respond, opting instead to paw at the solid wall. "Look, if you just stop, we can talk this out reasonably-"
And then she was back at the base of the stairs, with the feeling that she had said something even though she had not. She paused and stared at the pony, frowning.
"Oh, I get it," said Caughlin, and lowered her horn. A shimmering bubble enveloped her and she made her way up the steps again. The pony watched her and squeezed his eyes, as if trying to use magic without a horn. Yet, nothing was happening to her; she advanced almost menacingly. He yelped and hugged the edge of the stand.
"Look, I'm not going to hurt you," said Caughlin, "but test my patience further and I most certainly will. You have a very unique ability there, by the way. I'm impressed."
"I don't know what you're talking about!" shouted the pony. "Let me out of here!"
"I'm afraid I can't do that," she replied grimly. "First off, Discord put you in here. If he comes back and asks for you, and you're gone, he'll wreck hell in here."
"So? I don't care!"
"But we're just trying to help, you idiot!" She lunged at him suddenly and pushed him off the ledge. He screamed, only to be caught in levitating magic just before hitting the ground. Holding him firmly in place, she trotted back then, bubble gone, and dropped him. "There. Yelled enough?" Then, as an afterthought, she raised her head. "Get back to work, everypony. You've had your fun."
"I just want to get back home," whispered the pony.
Caughlin sighed and put a hoof around him, startling him. "There's a second reason I can't get you out. None of us have ever been let out since we entered. This place is tens of feet underground, and only Discord has the ability to come in or out."
"But you're a unicorn, aren't you?" he cried. "Can't you teleport?"
"Discord disabled that particular part of time-space in this area," said Caughlin. "Speaking of which, I know why you're here. You have the talent of time manipulation, don't you?"
"Don't deny it, I'm no filly when it comes to these things." She helped him up and extended a hoof. "I'm Caughlin Mare, head of the R&D department of Equestria. And I sincerely swear on my horn that I will not harm you, nor will I let Discord harm you. You're safe in here, safer than above at least."
"How can you be so sure of that?" spat the pony.
"Because Discord likes us," said Caughlin, venom in her voice. "Everything we do, the inventions and the science - he doesn't need them, and he couldn't care less. All he wants is something to do, and we're a product of that. Somehow he finds us amusing. He keeps us here like pets because he gets a kick out of it. Don't ask me how, he just does. We're perfectly sheltered in here to do whatever we like because instead of causing us pain, he wants to watch us scrabble around like ants in a jar." She relented, and sat down, tired from the struggle. "I'll tell you more, but we have to get things straight first. I need you to settle down."
"Just Whooves? No first name?" asked Caughlin.
"Yeah," said Whooves, shuffling uncomfortably.
"Well then. Since you're now part of the only circle of educated ponies in the whole of Equestria, sad as that may be, we can call you Dr. Whooves!" joked Caughlin. This drew a chuckle from some of the older ponies who had been around during the inception of the televising machine. It was an invention of the R&D department, used in communication and broadcasting; it had spread quickly, and the many shows and series were a solace for ponies everywhere from the daily chaos that raged around them. Discord had allowed their use until he found out that they were being adapted for rebellion communication, and had destroyed them all in a flash.
Whooves made a face. "But I don't know anything! I didn't even go through Elementary Pony Ed!"
"Don't worry, you'll learn," said Caughlin, giving him a smile and a pat on the head. "But in the meantime, I'll show you to your quarters, get you fed up. The shock of everything must be too much for you. Just relax for today, and we'll talk more tomorrow."
When Caughlin went to fetch Whooves for supper, he was fast asleep. She figured it was the assault on all senses, physical and mental, and decided to just leave him some bread and cheese. The best part about living in an underground facility was that there were no pests to steal unattended food. She met up with the rest of the ponies in the middle of the den, where a large table had been set up. Meals were often cooked on Bunsen burners and served on petri dishes, due to the lack of room for normal tableware. It had taken all of Caughlin's persuading ability to get Discord to make bedrooms for them, each with a functional toilet. Still, she did not mind. From the occasional glimpse of the Discordian world above, she gathered that her life was nothing short of luxury.
When the food was ready - it was amazing how they managed to get the giant corn cobs cooked - Caughlin nodded, and everypony ate. The table was quiet with the absence of talk of ponies who spent nearly every waking moment together, and were possibly spied on by Discord. After dinner, they cleaned up with a combination of magic and experimental chemicals, and proceeded to "recreation" - reading, or less demanding, personal projects, or in Caughlin's case, sky-gazing. Her experiment chamber had a tube that led upward toward the sky; it was through this tube that she learnt about the chaos in the balance of nature, day one moment and night the next. A few times it had been both. She was content to sit there, looking through the tube at the changing scenery, letting her thoughts run free.
"So, what are you doing?"
Caughlin turned to see Whooves. "Looking at the sky."
"What's so interesting about it?"
"Well, it changes a lot."
"Yeah. Yes, it does."
"Did you have a good rest?"
"Did you have something to eat?"
"Uhh... okay," said Caughlin. She realized at that moment that she was not good at small talk. Honestly, who was? There was no need for small talk, only research and discovery. Science. She felt bad for not being able to entertain Whooves.
"Hey, uh, Caugh... miss?"
"Yeah. Thanks for everything. I must've acted like a complete idiot just now, losing my head like that," said Whooves, sitting next to her.
"Nah, it's okay. I think I can understand," said Caughlin. "Mind telling me a bit about yourself? Unless you've got something better to do."
"I don't think I do, miss," said Whooves, smiling for the first time. "So, I'm Whooves, and I was born in Manehatten..."