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Moon Dancer's Hope Chest (/nmp/)

AngryWino Jan 30th, 2018 (edited) 1,721 Never
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  1. AUTHOR'S NOTE: TECHNOLOGY IN EQUESTRIA
  2. For the purposes of this story, I've done a little delving into Equestrian Technology. We know that sound systems exist, they've been portrayed several times in the show, but that computers do not. I think we've only ever seen a telephone once, and that was in the background. So I've written some plot devices on the basis that Equestria has electronics, but at a stage where they were around 1950, when the vacuum tube was still the only active device, and semiconductor devices like transistors were not being manufactured yet. Sound reproduction and reinforcement is more or less the same stage, before the advent of High-Fidelity.
  3.  
  4. MOON DANCER'S HOPE CHEST
  5.  
  6. >"You've changed, Lemon Hearts."
  7. >"You really think so?" the yellow mare grinned shyly over her coffee.
  8. >"Yes, you've become insufferable."
  9. >Lemon Hearts chose not to be insulted, and instead coquettishly stuck her tongue out at her cream-colored accuser.
  10. >"Now be reasonable, Moon Dancer," Minuette piped up, "she's just fallen madly in love. She'll settle down once she gets her hormones under control."
  11. >"Well that's easy for you to say, you've had your husband for almost a year."
  12. >Lemon Hearts paused and took a sip of her coffee before sighing dreamily.
  13. >"I've only just met mine."
  14. >"You can't call him your husband if you aren't married yet," Twinkleshine gently chided her friend.
  15. >"As far as I'm concerned he is. He's the one! I can just tell! And don't just sit there pretending you didn't go all goo-goo-eyed when you met yours."
  16. >"Yes, but I didn't go calling him my husband until after we were properly married."
  17. >Moon Dancer sighed darkly, feeling cut out of the conversation again.
  18. >Of course Equestria's lonely mares were enthusiastic about Princess Cadance's program to bring them husbands from another world.
  19. >And of course, the oddly-shaped beings from another world were everything Equestria's lonely mares dreamed of.
  20. >Charming, intelligent, attentive, gentle, and open-minded.
  21. >Minuette had been the first of their little circle of friends to wed one, and she was contentedly settling down into her new life, with her first foal on the way.
  22. >Then Twinkleshine, who had regaled the table with bawdy tales of her and her husband's ongoing efforts to conceive.
  23. >And now, it seemed, Lemon Hearts was well on her way to joining the happy wife club.
  24. >But to Moon Dancer, it all seemed so phony.
  25. >It was just too good to be true.
  26. >The experiences of her friends notwithstanding, she just didn't believe it could happen to her.
  27. >And if the truth be told, she was beginning to find her friends' conversation grating.
  28. >All they talked about these days was how happy they were with their husbands.
  29. >But she didn't want to become isolated from her friends again.
  30. >That path led to a lot of misery and despair.
  31. >And she'd already made that mistake once, and she didn't want it to happen again.
  32. >But an alien husband?
  33. >Moon Dancer cleared her throat.
  34. >"So I'm thinking of starting a new research project about the Crystal Heart, and why it seems to think this is the best way to-"
  35. >"Oh, well it's obvious, isn't it dear?" Twinkleshine interrupted. "They're lonely, we're lonely, we save them from a dying world, and they give us the love and companionship we desire. It's a win-win!"
  36. >"But the energy required to bridge dimensional barriers must be enormous! Are we really getting the best deal for it?"
  37. >Moon Dancer shrank slightly as her friends shifted their attention from their coffee to her.
  38. >"How can you doubt it?" Minuette asked, "Isn't true love worth everything?"
  39. >"It isn't that I doubt it, it just seems way too convenient, as though there's a hidden flaw to the whole thing, or a hidden price yet to be paid."
  40. >A brief, awkward silence descended over the table until Lemon Hearts broke it.
  41. >"You're really over-thinking this, Moonie. Sometimes good things can happen, and sometimes they just take a little bit of work. Isn't that worth it?"
  42. >Moon Dancer grumbled in frustration and pushed back from the table.
  43. >"Easy enough for you to say. Agreed, outcomes speak volumes, but... it just doesn't feel right. I'm sorry, I should go."
  44. >And with that rather abrupt statement, Moon Dancer whirled and left the coffee shop.
  45. >"Oh dear," Twinkleshine said sadly, "she's in one of her moods."
  46. >"I don't suppose I can blame her," Lemon Hearts said thoughtfully, "Here we are going on about our husbands when she hasn't gotten hers yet."
  47. >"But I don't think she's even sent an application to the Crystal Empire."
  48. >Twinkleshine shook her head, her concern for her friend evident on her face.
  49. >"Well," Minuette mused, picking up her coffee again, "perhaps another agency might lend a hoof."
  50. >Minuette took a sip of her coffee to hide her smile, but it was too late.
  51. >Twinkleshine's jaw dropped in shock.
  52. >"Minuette, you didn't!"
  53. >Minuette set her cup down again, her smile widening.
  54. >"Well, I had to call in a favor from Twilight Sparkle, but she was more than happy to help, and after all her brother is married to Princess Cadance. I think she wants Moon Dancer to be happy as well."
  55. >"Oh my," Lemon Hearts said nervously, "she's going to be so mad if she finds out you did that."
  56. >"Well, now that I've taken you both into my confidence, I trust I can rely on your discretion?" Minuette replied with a meaningful glance around the table.
  57. >"Oh, absolutely!" Twinkleshine affirmed enthusiastically.
  58. >Lemon Hearts nodded. "You bet. Mum's the word. I just hope everything works out well for her."
  59. >"We all do, dear."
  60.  
  61. >======<
  62.  
  63. >Moon Dancer headed straight for Twilight Sparkle's research library on the campus of the School For Gifted Unicorns, and the extensive collection of books that her friend had given her care of.
  64. >She didn't know how much material Twilight had collected on the Crystal Heart, and she was fully prepared to supplement her studies with a visit to the Royal Library if needed.
  65. >But in the meantime, she had a lot of confused feelings to clear out of her head.
  66. >And the best way she knew of doing that was to stuff something more interesting in there.
  67. >Moon Dancer let herself into the tower with the key Twilight had given her, and performed the simple spell to light the lamps before closing the door behind her.
  68. >Then she turned to greet what she considered to be her one true love - knowledge!
  69. >"Alright, show me what you've got!"
  70. >Twilight didn't organize her books the same way that Moon Dancer did, but she had quickly gotten used to her system.
  71. >In about an hour, she had stacked half a dozen books onto the expansive reading table that dominated the center of the room.
  72. >Deciding that was a good start, she lit the large reading lamp over the table, and settled in to get to work.
  73. >An hour later she had skimmed and outlined two of the books, determining that their content was almost entirely folklore and legends.
  74. >Still, she reflected as she got up to make herself some tea, there were grains of truth to be found in such tales, if you knew how to look for them.
  75. >A gaggle of students passed by outside, laughing and talking about stallions they liked, of course.
  76. >Moon Dancer did her best to tune them out as she picked up a quill and began outlining the third book from her stack.
  77. >She was about half-way through the fourth book before a sudden thought struck her.
  78. >Twilight Sparkle's research collection pre-dated the re-appearance of the Crystal Empire, some three or four years previously.
  79. >That meant that the only books in here about the Crystal Heart WOULD be just folklore and legends, since the Crystal Empire had disappeared off the face of the world for over a thousand years.
  80. >She would have to go to the Royal Library after all, to find what modern-day scholars had written about the Crystal Heart.
  81. >A frustrated groan escaped her lips, and she banged her head on the table.
  82. >"Stupid. Stupid old maid," she berated herself.
  83.  
  84. >======<
  85.  
  86. >It was getting late in the day, and Celestia's sun was sinking towards the horizon, so the Royal Library would be closed.
  87. >She would get an early start in the morning.
  88. >As one of Canterlot's eminent academics, she had a standing research pass to the Royal Library, and the notes she had made in Twilight's library would at least help to guide her research efforts.
  89. >She re-shelved the books meticulously, taking care to put them exactly where they had come from, then extinguished the lamps and made her way to the door.
  90. >As she got there, though, something on the floor caught her eye.
  91. >An envelope had been posted through the library door's mail slot.
  92. >The research library still got the occasional mail, usually from scholars making research requests, which Moon Dancer handled now that she was in charge of the place.
  93. >Researchers didn't usually use pink envelopes, however.
  94. >Moon Dancer's horn glowed pale purple as, frowning slightly, she picked up the envelope from the floor and examined it.
  95. >The front bore the Royal Seal of the Princess of Love, Mi Amore Cadenza, Regent of the Crystal Empire.
  96. >But what really made her eyebrows shoot up was that the epistle was not addressed to the library, as library mail should be, but to her, personally.
  97. >Moon Dancer levitated her glasses off her face and wiped the lenses with a handkerchief, before carefully replacing her spectacles and examining the letter once more.
  98. >"To Miss Moon Dancer, Librarian, Princess Celestia's School for Gifted Unicorns, Canterlot."
  99. >This had to be some sort of a joke.
  100. >After all, why would Princess Cadance be writing to her, personally?
  101. >She'd just started this research project, and wasn't even thinking about traveling to the Crystal Empire yet.
  102. >She certainly didn't know Princess Cadance personally, being aware only of her public reputation and title.
  103. >It was getting late, and Moon Dancer had a busy day planned for herself tomorrow.
  104. >And this is a school.
  105. >Student pranks are things that exist.
  106. >"Not in the mood for a wind-up, whoever you are."
  107. >Her horn brightened, and the mysterious missive was deposited, unopened, in the Library's IN box.
  108. >She'd deal with it when she had the time.
  109. >Moon Dancer left the library, and took care to ensure the door was locked before heading home.
  110.  
  111. >======<
  112.  
  113. >The sun had set and Luna's stars were beginning to come out as Moon Dancer arrived at her cottage on the outskirts of Canterlot.
  114. >It was a lot cleaner and more homey-feeling, since her friends had come over to make repairs, clear away the uncontrolled plant growth, and give it a fresh coat of paint a couple of years ago, but tell-tale signs of neglect were beginning to make themselves known once more.
  115. >Chief among them was the mailbox, which had been knocked down by a storm and now rested haphazardly on the low garden wall out front.
  116. >With a weary sigh, Moon Dancer opened the mailbox and pulled out a few envelopes, leafing through them as she closed the mailbox and walked towards her front door.
  117. >Bill, bill, advertisement, School Newsletter, and another pink envelope.
  118. >What...
  119. >Moon Dancer paused by her door, glaring angrily at the unexpected piece of mail, which was a virtual twin to the one that had been delivered at the library, the only difference being that it bore her street address as well.
  120. >Unbelievable.
  121. >Some prankster was actually STALKING her, for the sake of some weird joke.
  122. >The NERVE! The absolute, unmitigated gall!
  123. >Grumbling, Moon Dancer unlocked her door and went inside, where she sent the bills to her kitchen table, and the newsletter and the pink envelope onto a pile of unopened mail that took up nearly a third of her couch.
  124. >The advertisement went straight into the waste paper basket.
  125. >The mail pile on the couch promptly fell over, spilling envelopes all over the cushions and the floor.
  126. >"Arrrgh!" Moon Dancer complained, glaring at the newly-created mess.
  127. >Still grumbling, she went into the kitchen to heat up some soup for supper.
  128. >It was her own fault of course, she reflected bitterly.
  129. >She needed to get organized, and putting things off like that was certainly not helping matters.
  130. >As the soup sat in its pot, slowly warming towards her preferred temperature, she went over to the couch and began to gather up the errant letters, when a thick purple envelope caught her eye.
  131. >Moon Dancer knew only one pony who used that stationery.
  132. >Of course she'd written. She promised she would.
  133. >Moon Dancer felt a pang of guilt at seeing the postmark, which indicated the letter was more than a week old.
  134. >She carried the letter with her as she went back to the kitchen to stir the soup, then sat down at her kitchen table and opened the envelope.
  135. >Twilight Sparkle had written her quite a wordy letter, four pages covered front and back in her own careful, neat script.
  136. >A greeting was followed by wishes that she was still doing well, and making progress with her friends in Canterlot.
  137. >From there it launched into a detailed account of some of the things she had been doing, along with tales of her friends in Ponyville, a few paragraphs about her new student, one Starlight Glimmer, and a bit of good-natured grumbling about some of her royal duties.
  138. >Moon Dancer got up and poured the soup into a bowl, and seeing as it was slightly too hot to eat, sat back down with the soup to read the rest of Twilight's letter.
  139. >She was surprised to find herself laughing out loud at Twilight's comical description of some of Pinkie Pie's antics at a recent birthday party at Sugarcube Corner.
  140. >The letter closed warmly, repeating wishes for her continued good health, expressing Twilight's high esteem of her friendship, and hoping to hear from her soon, which gave her another guilty moment.
  141. >There was even a cute little postscript from her long-time assistant, Spike.
  142. >Her soup had cooled off, so Moon Dancer ate it while formulating her reply in her head.
  143. >After washing the bowl and setting it in the sink to dry, she retrieved her own stationery and quill, and sat down to write.
  144. >"Dear Twilight Sparkle, Thank you so much for your letter, and I'm so sorry it's taken me this long to compose a proper reply. As you can imagine, I have quite a lot going on, including a new research project..."
  145. >Two pages later, she closed her letter with, "Ever your friend, Moon Dancer" and sealed them up in a cream-colored envelope, addressed to Twilight Sparkle, Princess of Friendship, Ponyville.
  146. >She carefully staged her letter, along with the bill payments, by the front door, so that she would remember to take them to the Post Office on the way to the Royal Library in the morning.
  147. >Stifling a yawn, Moon Dancer extinguished the lights in the front of the house, and walked to her bedroom to retire for the night.
  148. >The mysterious pink envelope lay forgotten on the floor under the couch.
  149.  
  150. >======<
  151.  
  152. >After a quick breakfast of porridge and coffee, Moon Dancer left her cottage early to begin her research into the Crystal Heart.
  153. >A few minutes later, she returned to her cottage and grabbed the letters she meant to mail along the way.
  154. >Gotta get better organized.
  155. >The nearest Post Office was in a large public square not far away.
  156. >Even with the sky still streaked with the light of dawn, there were quite a few ponies in the square.
  157. >And even a few humans.
  158. >With Princess Cadance's husbandry program in full swing, the aliens were becoming a familiar sight, especially in large cities like Canterlot.
  159. >Moon Dancer couldn't help but feel a little envious, seeing obviously happy mares with their human husbands.
  160. >They certainly were affectionate, embarrassingly so in some cases.
  161. >She made a conscious effort to push those feelings out of her head, concerned that they might bias her research, and made her way to the Post Office where she put the letters in the Outgoing Mail slot.
  162. >"Oh, Moon Dancer!"
  163. >She looked up at the sound of her name, and saw Minuette waving to her.
  164. >"Moon Dancer! Over here!"
  165. >One of the tall, gangly aliens was standing next to her, as was Lemon Hearts.
  166. >Moon Dancer hadn't met any of the aliens yet, and found her curiosity piqued.
  167. >In a purely academic way, of course.
  168. >She noted that they all wore clothing, probably a concession to modesty, given their anatomical differences.
  169. >"Is this your husband?"
  170. >Minuette, Lemon Hearts, and the alien all grinned at the question.
  171. >"Oh no, Charles is at home, working on a composition for the Canterlot Symphony Orchestra. This is Lemon Hearts' betrothed, Anthony."
  172. >"Hi," said Anthony, "nice to meet you."
  173. >"What are you doing here?" Moon Dancer asked, completely ignoring the alien's friendly greeting.
  174. >"Well, since I've already been through all the citizenship stuff with my husband, I'm helping Lemon Hearts through the process. We were just going to submit Anthony's passport application."
  175. >"I really do appreciate the help, I don't think I could bear to be separated from him now," Lemon Hearts said dreamily, as she possessively wrapped one of her hooves around Anthony's lower leg.
  176. >Anthony blushed in response, and gave Lemon Hearts an affectionate head rub with one of his hands, drawing an appreciative coo from her.
  177. >Moon Dancer rolled her eyes.
  178. >Celestia, save me from fools in love...
  179. >"Anthony is a chef, can you believe it? He knows all about human cuisine!" Lemon Hearts enthused.
  180. >Anthony's blush deepened.
  181. >"I studied at a culinary school on Earth, but the best work I could get after I graduated was as a line cook flipping burgers in a fast food joint," he said modestly. "It was misery."
  182. >Moon Dancer's curiosity reared its head, and she turned to Minuette, who she thought would be most likely to be able to answer her question.
  183. >"Are many humans employed below their skill level where they come from? It seems terribly inefficient."
  184. >"Um, hello," Anthony piped up, "I'm standing right here..."
  185. >Moon Dancer realized that she was being a little rude, a quality she was trying to change.
  186. >"Oh, er, I just... find it hard, looking up all the time to talk to humans," she said apologetically.
  187. >Never mind that she hadn't actually talked to any humans at length before.
  188. >Still, it wasn't entirely untrue; she was much more comfortable looking down at books.
  189. >Moon Dancer looked nervously around the square, finally settling on the largish fountain at its center.
  190. >"Can we talk over here?" she said, making her way towards the fountain.
  191. >Minuette caught up to her.
  192. >"So, how's things at your end?"
  193. >"Oh, well, you know me. Same old, same old."
  194. >"Really? Nothing new or exciting? Some interesting mail, perhaps?"
  195. >"Not really... oh wait!"
  196. >Minuette's expression brightened.
  197. >"I did just answer a letter from Twilight Sparkle. It was nice to hear from her."
  198. >"Oh? What did she have to say?"
  199. >The ponies and Anthony reached the fountain.
  200. >"Well, the letter was about a week old, mostly news and stories from Ponyville. She does love to write, doesn't she?"
  201. >Inexplicably, Minuette's smile faltered, and she exchanged looks with Lemon Hearts as Moon Dancer hopped up on the rim of the fountain and turned to face Anthony, now closer to his level, so to speak.
  202. >"There, that's better. So... I think I was asking about unemployment, or underemployment, in the human world?"
  203. >"Oh, right. Yeah, I would say most of the guys I know are stuck in pretty crummy jobs."
  204. >Moon Dancer's horn glowed and she produced a notepad and pencil, and started taking notes in neat shorthand.
  205. >"Really? Well, why don't they just find better jobs?"
  206. >"Good jobs are in short supply. And I had to do something, I had a big student loan hanging over my head from Culinary School."
  207. >Scribble, scribble, scribble, went Moon Dancer's pencil.
  208. >Minuette and Lemon Hearts turned to look as another human entered the square, accompanied by a "minder", one of the quiet, efficient, married mares who were assigned to help new humans adjust to their new world until they met their special somepony.
  209. >"So, vocational training isn't freely available in your world? How do they develop a skilled workforce?"
  210. >Anthony laughed ruefully.
  211. >"By making the skilled workforce bear the costs. Some guys are in their forties before they manage to pay off all their student debt."
  212. >As an academic by trade and inclination, Moon Dancer was positively shocked by this revelation.
  213. >"That's so inefficient! I mean, I don't mean to cast aspersions on the world you grew up in--"
  214. >Anthony laughed again, good-naturedly.
  215. >"Believe me, it's nothing new to me. I have a few aspersions to cast myself, having grown up there, so cast away."
  216. >"Don't any humans go into business for themselves?"
  217. >"Just a few. That was my plan, but it takes a lot of capital to start your own business. Plus there's licensing, registration, oversight... it's just about impossible to get a business going without help from an expensive lawyer."
  218. >"Expensive? The lawyers charge fees to help you start your business?"
  219. >"Big fees. You think you're making your dreams come true, but you're just stumbling deeper and deeper into the labyrinth of debt. Even with help, most small businesses fail in their first year. Then all you have left is the debts to pay off."
  220. >Moon Dancer concentrated on her notepad as she wrote down what she heard, along with further questions to ask.
  221. >The minder was distracted by meeting somepony she knew, and her human went wandering towards the fountain, taking in the sights of Canterlot's architecture and inhabitants.
  222. >"This is fascinating. I wonder if all humans have similar experiences. I think I would like to talk to more of your kind, to get a better idea of why the world you come from makes you want to leave everything behind to start a new life in a new world."
  223. >Minuette found her growing smile impossible to suppress.
  224. >"I think you'll have a lot of opportunity for that soon, Moonie. Maybe in ways you don't expect!"
  225. >Lemon Hearts, however, saw a situation developing with potentially disastrous consequences.
  226. >"Oh! Look out!"
  227. >Moon Dancer felt something bump into her, and as she tried to compensate her hoof slipped on the wet rim of the fountain, causing her to lose her balance.
  228. >Instinctively, she reached out to steady herself, coming up with a hoof-full of fabric.
  229. "Hey!  What the..."
  230. >Gravity did the rest.
  231. >ker-SPLASH!!!
  232. >The minder heard the splash and, immediately realizing what had happened, excused herself hastily from her conversation and ran to the fountain.
  233. >One damp human and one damp pony rose from the fountain at the same time, both coughing up water and trying unsuccessfully to stand up.
  234. >"WHY DON'T YOU MIND WHERE YOU'RE GOING, YOU... TOURIST!" Moon Dancer yelled at you, fishing around in the water to retrieve her glasses.
  235. "I'm terribly sorry miss, this is my first day here. Are you alright?"
  236. >"NO I'M NOT ALRIGHT! I'm all wet! I've lost my glasses, and this... CLOWN SHOW is cutting into my RESEARCH TIME!"
  237. "Oh... here,"
  238. >You offered her a pair of glasses.
  239. >Her horn glowed and the glasses floated over to her and settled on her nose.
  240. >"What did you do to them you klutz? They don't fit right and I still can't see anything!"
  241. "Er, I think you must have my glasses, because these don't fit right and I can't see anything either."
  242. >With a grunt of exasperation, Moon Dancer picked up both pairs of glasses, transferring hers to herself and uncharitably dropping yours into the water.
  243. >You retrieved them quickly and, shaking off the water, resettled them on your nose, allowing you to see a very wet and angry mare glaring up at you from the fountain.
  244. >Well, you can do something about one of those things.
  245. >You reach out to help her out of the fountain.
  246. "I apologize, miss, that was entirely my fault. Please, allow me to--"
  247. >"YOU'VE DONE ENOUGH!"
  248. >Moon Dancer's horn glowed pale purple and she disappeared with a loud "PAFF!", reappearing instantaneously just outside the fountain.
  249. >"I don't need YOUR help!"
  250. >Moon Dancer did not teleport often, since she didn't have deep magical energy reserves like Twilight Sparkle.
  251. >That she did so this time was largely a measure of her irritation, and her desire to quickly put as much distance between herself and this alien as she could.
  252. >You climbed out of the fountain, the low wall not presenting a serious obstacle to your long legs.
  253. "Again, I'm so sorry about that, I've only just arrived and I'm looking for--"
  254. >"SHUT UP!"
  255. >Your minder immediately came to your aid, checking you over to see that you weren't injured.
  256. >"Moonie, if you could calm down for a moment--" Minuette began.
  257. >"I have to go home and dry myself off before I go to the Royal Library now. Thanks a heap."
  258. >The cream-colored unicorn turned to you with a deep frown.
  259. >"Under the circumstances I can't say it's been a pleasure, and I hope you'll understand when I tell you that I never want to see your stupid face again!"
  260. >And with that curt dismissal, the dripping mare turned and stalked angrily out of the square.
  261. >"Oh my," Lemon Hearts observed, "that's not gone well."
  262. >Minuette turned to you and did her best to put on a smile.
  263. >"Umm, I apologize for my friend, she's not usually like that."
  264. >You took a break from wringing out your clothes to reply.
  265. "I suppose she's usually drier."
  266. >Minuette, Lemon Hearts, Anthony, and your minder all smiled at your humorous quip.
  267. >"Well, let me make it up to you. My name's Minuette. Would you like some coffee?"
  268. "I'd love some. And my name is Anonymous, but everyone calls me Anon."
  269. >Minuette's face changed drastically on hearing your name.
  270. >"That wouldn't be Anonymous J Incognito, would it?"
  271. "Yup, that's me."
  272. >You offered a hand to shake, but Minuette seemed lost in thought.
  273. >You tried to fill the awkward silence.
  274. "I, uh, just came here on the train from the Crystal Empire this morning."
  275. >"Yes," Minuette said, looking at you with a new intensity, "and I expect you're here to meet someone, right?"
  276. "Yeah, that was the plan until I suddenly decided to go swimming instead."
  277. >"Uh-huh. And... um... who are you here to meet?"
  278. >You pulled a piece of paper out of your pocket and struggled to read the dampened letter.
  279. "Ummmmm... Moon Dancer."
  280. >Minuette seemed to deflate slightly, her ears and tail drooping.
  281. >"Of course you are."
  282. >Lemon Hearts came over to her friend and put a comforting hoof on her withers.
  283. "Do you know her?"
  284. >Minuette took a deep breath and put on her bravest smile.
  285. >"Yes, I know her, she's my friend. The very damp, grumpy one who just left."
  286. "You mean... oh.  Oh heck."
  287. >Realization struck Lemon Hearts at the same time.
  288. >"Oh my. That really hasn't gone well at all."
  289. >Minuette took another deep breath.
  290. >"Cheer up everypony, I'm sure everything will get sorted out. It just might take a little more effort. Lemon Hearts, do you think you and Anthony can get along without me?"
  291. >"Huh? Oh, sure! You've explained everything so well, we should be able to manage."
  292. >"Thanks for all your help so far, Minuette," Anthony adds.
  293. >"It was my pleasure."
  294. >Minuette turned to your minder.
  295. >"Thanks for bringing him to Canterlot, dear. I'll take it from here."
  296. >"As you wish, madam. If you'll just sign this release..."
  297. >"Hmm?  Oh, of course."
  298. >Minuette signed the proffered form with the proffered pen, and accepted the proffered file folder from your minder.
  299. >"It was nice meeting you," your minder told you with a friendly smile. "Be sure and look me up if you're ever in the Crystal Empire again. I love hearing about how my charges are getting on in Equestria. The name's Nightlight Charm."
  300. "Thanks. I'll remember it."
  301. >Nightlight Charm smiled, taking her paperwork, and headed back towards the train station.
  302. >"Anonymous, I'd like you to come home with me and meet my husband. We'll get you dried off, and then... I think I owe you an explanation."
  303. "And coffee?"
  304. >"Yes, coffee! Of course! Come along with me Anonymous. I'll do my best to clarify the situation for you."
  305. "Sure."
  306. >You took one squelching step before a hand heartily clapped you on the shoulder.
  307. >Turning, you saw Anthony smiling broadly at you, and offering you a hand to shake.
  308. >"Welcome to Equestria, friend! Trust me, it gets better."
  309. >Glad to make the acquaintance of another member of your species in this strange land, you shook Anthony's hand and returned his smile.
  310. "Thanks. I sure hope so."
  311. >Then you turned to follow Minuette, as Lemon Hearts and Anthony walked to the post office.
  312.  
  313. >======<
  314.  
  315. >Arriving in Minuette's home, you noticed a firmly closed door, from behind which an occasional piano chord, or muttering issued.
  316. >"It sounds like Charles is working on his composition for 'Starswirl and the Dragon's Tears'. You'll get to meet him soon enough, but it's best if we're quiet while he's working in his studio."
  317. "Gotcha."
  318. >"Sit down and make yourself comfortable, I'll get you a towel and make some coffee, and fill you in about Moon Dancer."
  319. "Thanks."
  320. >You removed as many articles of clothing as you were comfortable doing without and set them on the back porch to dry, then toweled yourself off as best as you could before going back inside and sitting down.
  321. >You listened carefully to Minuette's explanation over coffee and pastries.
  322. >Minuette actually makes pretty good coffee.
  323. "Let me see if I have this straight. Moon Dancer didn't petition the Crystal Heart, and you decided to do it for her, so she hadn't the slightest idea that I was coming, right?"
  324. >Minuette sighed. "Yes, that's about the size of it. She's one of my oldest friends, you see, and I was worried for her."
  325. "Because of her complete lack of social graces?"
  326. >Minuette made a sour face.
  327. >"She wasn't always that way. Another friend of ours, Twilight Sparkle, accidentally hurt her feelings."
  328. "Really? How so?"
  329. >"It was several years ago. She didn't come to a party we were throwing for Moon Dancer, and she left town without saying good-bye. In Twilight's defense, she was following a Royal Order direct from Princess Celestia herself, but Moon Dancer was crushed. After that she became something of a shut-in."
  330. "She seems to get around a lot for a shut-in."
  331. >Minuette brightened slightly.
  332. >"A couple of years ago, Princess Twilight came back to look up her old circle of friends. Lyra Heartstrings, Twinkleshine, Lemon Hearts, and myself - it was such a happy reunion for us all. But Moon Dancer had trouble accepting it. Twilight practically bent over backwards to prove to Moon Dancer that she never meant to hurt her feelings. I think she's forgiven Twilight now, but she's still very cautious about putting herself out there. I think she's afraid of being hurt again."
  333. "Wait... Princess Twilight?"
  334. >"Oh my, yes! She's the Princess of Friendship now!"
  335.  
  336. >======<
  337.  
  338. >Moon Dancer presented her researcher's pass at the Royal Library and was allowed admittance.
  339. >She grunted in exasperation on catching sight of the clock.
  340. >Half the day was already gone, thanks to that idiot at the fountain.
  341. >To make up lost time, Moon Dancer decided to concentrate her studies on contemporary articles written about the Crystal Heart, so she made her way to the Periodicals section.
  342. >The Royal Library was extremely well curated and catalogued, of course, so it was the work of only twenty minutes for her to pick out a selection of published works, and get started.
  343. >The Royal Program for the Assuagement of Loneliness in Equestria (the program's official designation in bureaucratic circles) was a recent initiative by Princess Mi Amore Cadenza, who had dreamed of a world where love was dying.
  344. >The dream recurred several times, so in consultation with Princess Luna, she made a determined effort to locate this world, and investigate it using the power of The Crystal Heart.
  345. >The observations the two princesses had made were truly heartbreaking, and Princess Cadance determined that an effort must be made to bring love to the strange world.
  346. >Of course Equestria had problems of its own, including a declining birth rate owing to a vast gender imbalance, which meant that many eligible mares never married nor had children.
  347. >They had become worried that the problems of this alien world could eventually afflict the world of Equestria as well.
  348. >Princess Cadance requested and received permission to interview some of the aliens, to determine why love and compassion were withering in their world.
  349. >The first interviews had been conducted via Princess Luna's Dream-walking power.
  350. >They had been strange and erratic, but had helped to paint a much clearer picture of the problem.
  351. >Princess Cadance's conviction grew that the problems of the two distantly-connected worlds could have a common solution.
  352.  
  353. >======<
  354.  
  355. >A sad tune came from behind the closed door, simple and stark, yet possessing beauty in its melancholy chords.
  356. "So there's a Princess of Love, and a Princess of Friendship here?"
  357. >"Of course!  I realize that things are quite different where you come from, Charles told me a lot. But here in Equestria, Love and Friendship are two of the most important things in the world to us."
  358. "And that's why you... um..."
  359. >"Ponies. You can say it."
  360. "Right. You ponies bring guys over here from our world, where friendship and love are in short supply, but there are still some of us willing to give it a chance."
  361. >"That's one of the main search criteria of the Crystal Heart. Regrettably, it's too late for many in your world. According to Princess Cadance, a lot of Humans have suppressed their feelings and given up, or else they've misdirected their love to material things."
  362. >You took another sip of your coffee, contemplating the bleak, but essentially accurate picture of your world from a pony's point of view.
  363. "Yeah, I know a lot of people like that."
  364. >The music stopped and the door banged open, admitting a well-built man with short, curly, sandy-colored hair.
  365. >"Hey, I heard voices, do we have guests?" He had a hearty voice and an open, easygoing manner about him.
  366. >"We do! Charles, this is Anonymous, he's only just arrived from the Crystal Empire. Anonymous, this is my husband Charles."
  367. >Charles came towards you with a friendly smile and an outstretched hand, and you rose from your chair to shake it.
  368. >"Welcome to Equestria, friend! Sorry about the noise, I'm composing music for a play."
  369. "Thank you, and I was rather enjoying the music, actually."
  370. >Charles beamed, and after a couple of firm shakes, he released your hand and turned his attention to Minuette.
  371. >"And how's my loving wife this morning?"
  372. >Minuette reared up on her hind legs and nuzzled her husband, who reciprocated with a kiss and vigorous belly rub.
  373. >"Ah!" she cried, blushing, "Careful dear, I'm with foal! They're very sensitive now!"
  374. >You sat down and concentrated studiously on a cheese danish while Minuette took a moment to compose herself.
  375. >Charles grinned mischievously, grabbing himself a raspberry tart and taking a bite.
  376. >"Is there any more coffee?"
  377. >"Yes sweetheart, in the kitchen."
  378. >"Great!" Charles went to get a cup.
  379.  
  380. >======<
  381.  
  382. >Moon Dancer rubbed her eyes and set aside the papers she had just finished outlining, and picked up a glossy magazine.
  383. >She had already filled up several pages of notes, underlining recurring concepts from the various articles.
  384. >Teams of mares drawn from the Royal Guard Corps were dispatched from the Crystal Empire, through a portal created initially by The Elements of Harmony, to retrieve candidates considered best-suited to supply the love and affection Equestria's lonely mares so desired.
  385. >The program had a couple of false starts until Princess Cadance had consulted with Princess Twilight Sparkle to refine the Crystal Heart's search criteria.
  386. >Some Humans apparently had inflexible religious ideologies that made it very difficult for them to comprehend and accept the existence of another world outside their own, let alone the differences between Equestria and the world they came from.
  387. >They did not adjust well to life in Equestria, and had to be repatriated to the world they had come from.
  388. >With some further refinement by Princess Celestia herself, the selections of the Crystal Heart were now generally considered to be nearly infallible.
  389. >The few Crystal Heart matches that had failed apparently did so because either one partner nor the other wasn't willing to do the heavy lifting to make the relationship work.
  390. >One fashion magazine had stated it more plainly: "The Crystal Heart is never wrong", in an article encouraging mares not to waste the opportunity given to them by the Heart.
  391. >Moon Dancer remained skeptical of that claim, despite numerous written testimonials from happy mares who had participated successfully in the program.
  392. >After checking the contents, she flipped the magazine open to an article which described the "husband hunting" process and related some harrowing tales, including one hunting team that was pursued by human authorities and only escaped by returning to the portal.
  393. >It was accompanied by a sidebar article entitled "The Human Home World", written by one of the Husband Hunters.
  394. >It wasn't strictly relevant to Moon Dancer's research, but it was short and it piqued her interest, so she read it.
  395. >It described a vast city crowded with towering structures that blotted out the sun.
  396. >It talked about the insular lives Humans led, and the crumbling sense of community among them.
  397. >It spoke of unchecked avarice, and of dependency on technology powered by burning various fuels, resulting in visible air and water pollution.
  398. >It included a photograph of a great grey landscape of discarded refuse, from which they had retrieved the Human they were seeking.
  399. >He had been operating a monstrous yellow machine that pushed the refuse into piles.
  400. >And hanging over it all, a near-constant threat of strife, violence, discord, and even war.
  401. >The article closed relating that the author, a veteran soldier who had grown up on a farm, had wept, and needed to take a leave of absence to recover from the shock of what she had seen.
  402.  
  403. >======<
  404.  
  405. >Charles was not sorry to have left his old life behind.
  406. >He was a composer, and was sick of turning out inane dreck like commercial jingles for clients who typically paid late, if they paid at all.
  407. >"So what sort of work did you do back in The World?" Charles asked.
  408. "Not a lot, I had a couple of reliable recurring gigs, but they didn't pay that well. I'm a Sound Engineer."
  409. >Charles sat up with interest.
  410. >"No fooling? How'd you get into that field?"
  411. "Well, I've always had an interest in musical theatre, but my dad wanted me to be an Engineer, so I studied Electrical and Electronic Technology. When that career field didn't pan out for me, I started recording. First as a hobby, but that led to live sound gigs and eventually sound design and Foley work."
  412. >"Huh," Charles mused, scratching his chin. "Have you ever designed sound for theatre?"
  413. "Just a few shows, but mostly film work."
  414. >Minuette grinned as she watched the wheels turning in her husband's head.
  415. >"You know, if you're interested, we could use you on the production team of 'Starswirl and the Dragon's Tears'. We still need a Sound Designer."
  416. >How about that! First day here and already a good lead on a job.
  417. "Sure! I'd love to have a look at sound systems here, though I guess I'm kinda going to miss what I was able to do with Pro Tools and QLab back home."
  418. >Charles laughed good-naturedly.
  419. >"Tell me about it! I had a Yamaha Genos workstation there, and now I'm back to writing musical notation by hand and trying out tunes on a piano! But I'm loving it! Anyhow, come to the theater with me this evening and I'll introduce you to the Producer and Director, I'm sure they'll be happy to have you on board!"
  420. "Fantastic!"
  421. >You now had something to look forward to doing, maybe.
  422. >"Anonymous needs a place to stay until we can straighten things out with Moon Dancer," Minuette said.
  423. >"Aw, that's no problem," Charles replied, standing up, "we have plenty of room, Anonymous! You can have the guest bedroom until you get yourself settled! The doors in our house are nice and tall, a feature you won't find in every pony home!"
  424. >Minuette smiled happily. "Perfect!"
  425. >To her the situation was ideal, since it allowed her to keep an eye on both Anon and Moon Dancer.
  426.  
  427. >======<
  428.  
  429. >Moon Dancer looked at the clock and sighed, turning to the last publication in her stack, a prestigious legal journal.
  430. >Her stack of notes had grown, and she was looking forward to parsing them and getting them organized into a scholarly publication.
  431. >Her bibliography was already coming out to two pages.
  432. >Moon Dancer had little patience for legal minutiae, but when it came to research she was a completist, so she opened the journal and began reading.
  433. >Of course there had initially been some heated debate about the propriety of immigrating aliens from another world to satisfy the longings of lonely mares.
  434. >There had also been objections raised over the moral rectitude of removing humans from their world, even though most agreed that the human world had serious problems, and that rescuing anyone from such a situation was an honorable thing.
  435. >Equestrian authorities had at first closely tracked the behavior and habits of the human expatriates.
  436. >In general, the trend had been towards improvement.
  437. >Some humans expressed a nostalgic longing for the life they had been living on Earth.
  438. >But the vast majority of them were not only happier but healthier now, having adapted to their new lives with remarkable ease, supported of course by the love and comfort of their equine spouses.
  439. >Adaptability seemed to be a common trait of the human husbands who had been successfully integrated into Equestria.
  440. >There had been a couple of odd incidents, naturally.
  441. >In one case, a jealous, aristocratic stallion had forged a letter from Princess Cadance to a mare that he himself had intentions toward.
  442. >When she discovered the deception, the heartbroken and distraught mare had deliberately poisoned herself, and had to be hospitalized.
  443. >Moon Dancer remembered the case, it had made scandalous news in Canterlot.
  444. >Princess Celestia was shocked and saddened when she heard of the incident, and immediately decreed that intentional misuse of the Royal Seal of the Princess of Love, Mi Amore Cadenza, with the intent of misleading or harassing another pony, would henceforth be regarded as a criminal offense.
  445. >It was one of the few times in recorded history that Her Highness had seen fit to bypass the normal legislative process by Royal Fiat.
  446. >Members of the Aristocracy had complained about it, but the decree was well within Her Highness's Constitutional authority.
  447. >Moon Dancer's mind drifted to the pink envelope that had turned up at her research library the previous day.
  448. >Well, the prankster who sent that was in for a rude awakening, weren't they?
  449. >Maybe she should turn it over to the Guard on the way home.
  450. >Unless...
  451. >No, there was no way that letter could be genuine, could it?
  452. >She hadn't even sent a petition to the Crystal Heart for consideration in the program.
  453. >She tried to push it out of her mind, but the more she tried to push it out of her mind, the more she thought about it.
  454. >The more she thought about it, the more worried she grew.
  455. >The more worried she grew, the harder she found it to concentrate on her work.
  456. >Maybe she should check, just to be sure.
  457. >The Royal Library would still be open for another hour yet, but Moon Dancer found herself gathering up her notes and materials and stuffing them into her saddlebag.
  458. >She carefully gathered up the periodicals and reference works she had consulted and placed them on the returns trolley.
  459. >Then she hurried out the door as rapidly as academic decorum would allow, and made her way straight to the research library on the Campus of Princess Celestia's School for Gifted Unicorns.
  460. >Letting herself in with the key, she lit the lamp over the circulation desk and retrieved the pink envelope from the IN box.
  461. >She examined the letter by the light of the lamp.
  462. >The Royal Seal of the Princess of Love, Mi Amore Cadenza, certainly appeared genuine.
  463. >And the envelope was plainly addressed to her, using the library as a delivery drop.
  464. >Come to think of it, she had gotten a similar letter at home.
  465. >With growing trepidation, Moon Dancer broke the wax seal on the envelope's flap and opened it, withdrawing the neatly folded documents within.
  466. >Unfolding them revealed a letter, topped with the same Royal Seal and written in elegant, flowing script.
  467. >"Greetings and Congratulations, Miss Moon Dancer!
  468. >"Undoubtedly you must be surprised to receive this letter, since you have not made a Petition to the Crystal Heart for a husband. However, a concerned friend has petitioned the Heart on your behalf, and We are pleased to report that a Selection has been made for you!"
  469. >Glasses or no, Moon Dancer had no trouble seeing beyond the end of her nose.
  470. >Her "concerned friend" was almost certainly Minuette.
  471. >According to her research, one pony petitioning the Heart on behalf of another wasn't uncommon, though it was typically done by a parent or other close family member.
  472. >"Your prospective mate has a already been retrieved from the world on which he grew up, and as of this writing he is en route to Canterlot to meet you under the guidance of one of the Crystal Empire's professional Chaperones."
  473. >What? He's already coming HERE?
  474. >"Our actions are guided by Our fondest wish for your Happiness and lifelong Companionship, and it is our Sincerest Hope that your first meeting with Anonymous J Incognito will form the Foundation of a beautiful, blooming, lasting relationship that will fill your life, and his, with Joy.
  475. >"Enclosed with this Letter, you will find a short Dossier on Anonymous, along with a photograph to aid you in recognizing him when you meet him.
  476. >"Should you have any questions or concerns, please ask the Chaperone, or you may contact Our Office directly, and We will be pleased to assist you with them. Once again, Congratulations, and Best Wishes for Your Future Life Together!
  477. >"With Hope and Love, All Things Are Possible!
  478. >"Mi Amore Cadenza, Princess of Love, Regent of The Crystal Empire"
  479. >Moon Dancer lifted the letter to look at the page underneath...
  480. >And there was his stupid face.
  481. >Moon Dancer immediately recognized the human in the photograph that had thoughtfully been enclosed with the form as the idiot from the fountain that morning.
  482. >"Are you KIDDING ME?!!"
  483. >But of course, it's useless to attempt a discourse with a letter.
  484. >That... person couldn't possibly be her match!
  485. >Unbidden, a recurring theme from her research surfaced in her mind...
  486. >The Crystal Heart is never wrong.
  487. >The memories washed over her like an ocean wave as she replayed the morning's incident in her mind.
  488. >He certainly had NOT made a good first impression.
  489. >But then, neither had she.
  490. >She had been toweringly rude, in fact, over a simple, if graceless, accident.
  491. >Moon Dancer sank heavily to her haunches.
  492. >She had yelled at him, berated him, and insulted him.
  493. >While he had been doing his best to apologize.
  494. >She had made a horrible first impression, she realized.
  495. >The Queen Mother of all Bad First Impressions.
  496. >And if the Crystal Heart was never wrong... what had she done?
  497. >"Oh, no..." Moon Dancer moaned to herself, removing her glasses and setting them aside.
  498. >She banged her head on the desk in frustration.
  499. >"Stupid, stupid, STUPID OLD MAID!"
  500. >Moon Dancer extinguished the lamp, because she didn't want any pony to see her cry.
  501. >What had she done?
  502.  
  503. >======<
  504.  
  505. >"No! She really said that to him?" Twinkleshine gasped.
  506. >It was time for the morning coffee klatch, and Minuette had just finished telling Twinkleshine about Moon Dancer's meltdown at the fountain.
  507. >"Oh yes," Lemon Hearts confirmed, "Every word. I don't think I've seen Moonie that torqued off since that party."
  508. >Minuette and Twinkleshine nodded knowingly, remembering that party.
  509. >"Even so," Minuette said, "that party was a turning point for her. For all of us, really. It started bringing her out of her shell and it brought us closer together as friends."
  510. >Twinkleshine and Lemon Hearts both nodded in agreement at Minuette's words.
  511. >"So what happened to Anonymous? Does he go back?" Lemon Hearts asked.
  512. >"Absolutely NOT!" Minuette interjected. "Moon Dancer NEEDS this! Even if she doesn't know it yet. For the time being, Anon is staying with Charles and me."
  513. >"And Charles is okay with that?" Twinkleshine asked.
  514. >"Oh, Charles and Anon get along like a house on fire! Charles took him to the Theater he's composing music for, and the Producer hired Anon on the spot!"
  515. >"Really? Good for him! What's he doing?"
  516. >"He'll be designing sound for the play. He even has a budget to work with! Anon says he can't wait to get started!"
  517. >"Um, Minuette?" said Lemon Hearts, pointing towards the coffee shop door.
  518. >Moon Dancer had just come in, and as was her usual habit, went to the counter to get her coffee before joining her friends.
  519. >Even at this distance, Minuette could tell something was wrong.
  520. >Her ears and tail drooped a little more than usual, and when Moon Dancer looked in their direction, Minuette thought she saw tired, red-rimmed eyes.
  521. >"I think she was up late last night," Minuette whispered to the others. "Everypony be supportive."
  522. >Lemon Hearts and Twinkleshine nodded as Minuette raised a hoof and waved for Moon Dancer to come over and join them.
  523. >Moon Dancer paid for her coffee and walked over to the table and sat down.
  524. >"Well, good morning Moonie!"
  525. >An uncomfortable silence descended over the table as Moon Dancer took a sip of her coffee.
  526. >Then she turned to face Minuette with a heavy sigh and a strange sort of half-smile.
  527. >"Good morning, my 'concerned friend'," she intoned tiredly.
  528. >Ah. Well that cat was clearly out of the bag.
  529. >"Oh. Uh..." was all Minuette could muster at the moment.
  530. >"How are you feeling, dear?" Lemon Hearts asked.
  531. >Another uncomfortable moment passed with Moon Dancer staring at her coffee.
  532. >"I feel like a damned fool, to be honest."
  533. >The other mares at the table exchanged concerned looks.
  534. >"I got the letter from Princess Cadance. Two of them, in fact."
  535. >Moon Dancer took another sip of her coffee as her friends tried to think of something supportive to say.
  536. >She raised her head and looked at Minuette again.
  537. >"You could have said something, you know. Like telling me about this or something."
  538. >"Well, I wanted it to be a surprise--"
  539. >"Oh, I was surprised alright." Moon Dancer was beginning to sound upset.
  540. >"Er, and truth be told, I was hoping your first meeting would be a little more... uh, romantic."
  541. >"You could have at least warned me... before I blew up at him like.... like a Longshorepony!"
  542. >"Well I did try, and you're exaggerating, Moonie. You weren't that bad..."
  543. >Moon Dancer fell quiet except for a sniffle, which she tried to cover by taking another sip of her coffee.
  544. >"In fact, I didn't know it was him either, until he told me who he was looking for."
  545. >Moon Dancer looked up from her coffee.
  546. >"Does he know that... that was me?"
  547. >Minuette hesitated before answering.
  548. >"Yes, he does."
  549. >Moon Dancer slumped.
  550. >"What must he think of me?" she moaned quietly into her coffee.
  551. >"I had a talk with him. He seemed to take it pretty well."
  552. >Moon Dancer looked up sharply at Minuette. "He's still here?"
  553. >"Yes, he's still here," Minuette replied quietly.
  554. >Moon Dancer returned to staring at her coffee, on the verge of tears.
  555. >"Moon Dancer, I don't think you're a fool," Twinkleshine began.
  556. >"None of us do," Lemon Hearts affirmed, to a round of nods.
  557. >"You do some foolish things sometimes," Twinkleshine continued, "but then we all do. But do you know what the best part of that is?"
  558. >Moon Dancer sniffled and wiped her sleeve across her nose.
  559. >"What?"
  560. >Twinkleshine smiled and patted Moon Dancer's hoof. "The ponies who love us forgive us. We get past it, and we keep on loving one another."
  561. >A chorus of nods and affirmative noises crossed the table, and Minuette gave her friend a sympathetic and supportive pat on the back.
  562. >Moon Dancer looked up again, tears forming at the corners of her eyes.
  563. >"But he... left everything behind. He gave up his whole life... for... for me! And I treated him like THAT."
  564. >She sniffled again, looking to Minuette.
  565. >"What do I do now?" she asked quietly.
  566. >"Easy," said Lemon Hearts brightly, "apologize."
  567. >"Lemon Hearts is right. Lasting couples apologize and forgive each other. I think you'll find that humans are just as capable of forgiveness as ponies are," Minuette assured her friend.
  568. >"R-really?"
  569. >"Oh yes," said Minuette brightly. "Charles and I have had our differences, but making up is one of the best parts of a loving relationship!"
  570. >"Oh yeah," Twinkleshine added with a smile, "seriously, it's like, the best sex I've ever had."
  571. >"Twinkleshine!" Lemon Hearts gasped, scandalized.
  572. >Minuette could not help laughing, and was soon joined by Twinkleshine's embarrassed laughter.
  573. >Even Lemon Hearts started laughing.
  574. >Though Moon Dancer remained quiet with her attention riveted on her coffee, Minuette was encouraged to note that her eyes had widened, and a faint blush had crept into her cheeks.
  575.  
  576. >======<
  577.  
  578. >For your own part, you were happier than you had been in years.
  579. >Electronic technology existed here, but it was nowhere near as advanced as human technology had been when you left.
  580. >The theater used tech that was, by your standards, quaintly antique.
  581. >Their sound board was the size of an office desk and had only eight channels, with big rotary knobs instead of linear faders.
  582. >Two phonographs and a reel-to-reel tape machine were their playback devices.
  583. >The theater's producer was proud of that "state-of-the-art" tape machine; apparently it was a very recent acquisition.
  584. >Microchips? Completely absent, as were transistors.
  585. >A look inside the theater's power amplifiers had revealed glowing vacuum tubes and bulky discrete components.
  586. >Power supplies were unregulated, meaning that voltage sagging under load was a problem, but an easily rectified one.
  587. >Pun intended.
  588. >It hadn't taken you long to locate a specialty shop that sold tools, vacuum tubes, and other electronic components, and now you were soldering together a crossover network for the theater's loudspeakers.
  589. >You already had some great ideas for "Starswirl and the Dragon's Tears", and you were going to show these snooty theater ponies what human ingenuity could do.
  590. >You finished soldering the final component in place and waved away the wisps of smoke from the flux, then inspected the solder fillet to ensure the connection was secure.
  591. >"Anonymous? Are you here?" Minuette's voice called out from inside the house.
  592. "Back porch!"
  593. >You heard hoof steps inside the house and the back door swung open as Minuette made her appearance.
  594. >Minuette stopped in near shock at the creative disorder around you, her nose wrinkling from the lingering soldering fumes.
  595. >"Heavens, Anonymous! What HAVE you been doing out here?"
  596. "Soldering. I'm making a crossover network."
  597. >Minuette took a couple of breaths to steady herself.
  598. >"I... see. And... what are those?" she asked, pointing to a stack of eight bulky black boxes in one corner of the porch.
  599. >You grinned proudly.
  600. "Loudspeakers. I got a great deal on them from a DJ here in town named Vinyl Scratch, I was just giving them a once-over to make sure they were serviceable. Only a couple of them needed repairs."
  601. >Then seeing Minuette's face, you hastened to amend your statement.
  602. "Don't worry, they won't be here long. There's a cart coming this afternoon to take them to the Theater."
  603. >"Oh," said Minuette, relieved, "thank heavens for that."
  604. >Minuette took a calming breath and composed herself, then smiled at you.
  605. >"Well, put that smelly thing away and come and say hello to your guest!" she said, heading back inside.
  606. "Guest? What guest?"
  607. >You unplugged the soldering iron and set it in its stand to cool, then wiped off your hands and followed Minuette inside.
  608. >It took you a moment to connect the nervous-looking mare in the parlor to your memory of the very angry mare who had told you off the previous day.
  609. >"Anonymous," Minuette began pleasantly, "you remember Moon Dancer. She's joining us for lunch today."
  610. "She is?"
  611. >"I am?"
  612. >"Yes, you are," Minuette said as she went into the kitchen.
  613. >"Oh."
  614. >Moon Dancer seemed very interested in a spot on the floor, so you folded your arms in front of you and waited.
  615. >Unseen by you, Minuette gave Moon Dancer a look that would freeze a polar bear in its tracks.
  616. >"Ahem!"
  617. >Moon Dancer looked over with a guilty start and scowled, then refocused her attention on the floor.
  618. >"I...um... I'm sorry that I yelled at you... and said those awful things to you.  Yesterday."
  619. >You softened somewhat - she was clearly making an effort.
  620. "I'm sorry that I pushed you into the fountain. I really didn't mean to."
  621. >You wondered if ponies found apologizing as hard as humans did.
  622. >You knew people back home who would sooner eat worms than admit that they had done something wrong.
  623. >Moon Dancer raised her head now, and though she didn't look you in the eyes, you could see that her expression was contrite.
  624. >"I'm sorry that I pulled you in after me."
  625. >A faint blush crept into Moon Dancer's cheeks for some reason you couldn't fathom.
  626. >"Well, I'm sure you two have plenty to talk about now," Minuette's voice came from the kitchen, "Go ahead and make yourselves comfortable while I get lunch ready!"
  627. >Moon Dancer was clearly not comfortable.
  628. >She took a step towards the kitchen and hissed, "What now?"
  629. >Your hearing was better than she gave you credit for, and you decided to take the initiative and let the poor suffering mare off the hook.
  630. "Why don't we start over?"
  631. >Moon Dancer looked up and watched you intently as you crossed to the big sofa in the parlor and sat down, gesturing for her to join you.
  632. >After a pleading look into the kitchen and a moment's hesitation, Moon Dancer sighed resignedly.
  633. >She hopped onto the couch and settled herself at the opposite end, almost as far away as she could get from you and still be on the same seating surface.
  634. >The ticking of the hall clock, which you had never really paid much attention to before, suddenly seemed oppressive.
  635. >After a moment you couldn't take the awkward silence anymore.
  636. "So, my name's Anonymous, and I'm a sound engineer."
  637. >Tick, tick, tick, went the clock in the hall.
  638. >"Umm, I'm Moon Dancer, and I'm an associate professor of Natural and Revealed Magical Studies at Princess Celestia's School for Gifted Unicorns."
  639. >/The one the students hope they don't get,/ she thought bitterly to herself.
  640. "A professor, eh? That's impressive."
  641. >"Associate professor," she corrected you.
  642. >She had finally accepted one of the school's repeated invitations to lecture, and the Bits certainly helped, but she found dealing with her students to be trying.
  643. >Research and studying were her real passions, after all, and she had a reputation for expecting the same rigorous, disciplined approach from her students.
  644. >Tick, tick, tick, tick...
  645. "I've, uh, already found work here in Canterlot. I'm designing sound for a show at the Royal Court Theatre that opens next month, called 'Starswirl and the Dragon's Tears'."
  646. >"I'm familiar with the story, but I don't have time for the theater."
  647. "It's going to be a really fantastic show, we've got a great design team. I'm told that the script is largely faithful to the legend, though I admit I had never heard of the story before."
  648. >"No, I don't suppose you would have."
  649. >Tick, tick, tick...
  650. >Alright, enough.
  651. >Time to cut to the core of the matter.
  652. "You, uh... know why I'm here, right?"
  653. >"Minuette told me she was letting you stay here," Moon Dancer replied evasively.
  654. "No, not that. I mean... you know why I'm in Equestria."
  655. >Moon Dancer sighed heavily.
  656. >"Yeah. I do."
  657. "Okay. So, what do you think?"
  658. >Moon Dancer looked up nervously, but she still didn't meet your eyes.
  659. >"About what?"
  660. "Well, do you want to give it a shot?"
  661. >Moon Dancer looked downcast once more.
  662. >"It wasn't my idea," she mumbled.
  663. "Just because it wasn't your idea doesn't mean it's a bad idea, though."
  664. >Moon Dancer's brow creased in thought.
  665. >Tick, tick, tick, tick...
  666. >For the first time that day, a ghost of a smile appeared on Moon Dancer's face.
  667. >"... I guess..."
  668. >Tick, tick, tick...
  669. "What's that? What do you guess?"
  670. >"Well, that is... if you want to..."
  671. >Tick, tick...
  672. "Yes?"
  673. >"I was thinking... maybe you could help me with my research?"
  674. >Tick, tick, tick...
  675. >...What?
  676. >Her clumsy proposition made you somewhat cross.
  677. "Research? Really?"
  678. >Moon Dancer evidently didn't catch on to the change in your tone of voice.
  679. >"I have some questions that someone like you would be eminently qualified to answer--"
  680. "Is that what I am to you? A research subject?"
  681. >Minuette had been listening from the kitchen and decided that this was an opportune time to step in and try to salvage the situation.
  682. >"Okay! Lunch is almost ready! I hope you're both hungry!"
  683. >Moon Dancer became flustered, suddenly realizing that she had insulted you.
  684. >Again.
  685. >She felt like things were slipping out of her control, and she leapt off the couch and started babbling.
  686. >"That's not how I meant--"
  687. "Oh? How did you mean that?"
  688. >"I just want..." she trailed off, searching for the right words.
  689. "What? What do you want?"
  690. >Confused and filled with feelings she had never properly experienced before, Moon Dancer lost her nerve.
  691. >"I... I don't know what I wanted," she sighed in exasperation. "I don't know what I expected from this. I'm... I'm sorry. I should go."
  692. >Before Minuette could stop her, Moon Dancer made a dash for the front door and let herself out.
  693. >"Moon Dancer!" Minuette raced to the door, calling after her.
  694. >"MOON DANCER!"
  695. >But it was too late, she was gone.
  696. >You could do nothing except rub a hand across your face and suppress the urge to swear out loud, since Minuette had already told you she didn't approve of such language in her house.
  697. >But damn, you wish you had handled that better.
  698. >Minuette came back into the parlor, wearing a stern expression on her face.
  699. >"Anonymous J Incognito, we need to talk."
  700. >Well, you expected that, but at that moment Charles came in through the front door.
  701. >"Hey Anon! The cart's here for those speakers!" he told you, as jovial as he ever was.
  702. >He seemed to catch on to the tension in the house, but seemed unsure what to do with it.
  703. >"Say, was that Moon Dancer I just saw running up the street?"
  704. >"Yes," Minuette replied sadly, "it was."
  705. >"Oh-ho! So how are things between you and Moonie, Anon?"
  706. >With a tired grunt you pushed yourself up from the couch.
  707. "What makes you think I know?"
  708. >Charles and Minuette exchanged worried looks as you stalked off to the back porch to start loading the speakers.
  709.  
  710. >======<
  711.  
  712. >Taking the speakers to the Theatre turned out to have a utility beyond just getting the speakers where they needed to be.
  713. >It gave both you and Minuette time to cool off before she sat you down in the parlor, with some cider, for a talk.
  714. >Instead of lowering the boom on you, as you felt you richly deserved, she started by actually praising you for the way you had opened yourself up to Moon Dancer at first.
  715. >Which was definitely a good thing, since you already felt like a first-class pillock as it was.
  716. >Then she patiently explained to you that, to Moon Dancer, research and study were always solitary activities.
  717. >Moon Dancer had never, so far as Minuette knew, collaborated with anypony else on anything she had published so far.
  718. >"So you see, Anonymous, by inviting you to help with her research, she was, in fact, really opening herself up to you. I admit, I was thrilled, because I had never seen her open up to somepony like that before."
  719. >You took a drink of cider, mulling this thought over in your head.
  720. >"But then you shut her down pretty hard."
  721. "Well just what am I supposed to be to her? Her significant other or an experiment?"
  722. >"Both, actually."
  723. >You paused halfway into taking a drink of cider.
  724. "Come again?"
  725. >"Anonymous, I realize how new everything is for you right now. Adjusting to a new life isn't easy. It's the same for Moon Dancer. The whole idea of finding her mate? That's new to her. She's experimenting, trying to discover the answer to the biggest question she's ever asked herself."
  726. >You knew the answer, but you asked the question anyhow, just to be sure.
  727. "Which is?"
  728. >Minuette gently placed a hoof on your arm.
  729. >"Is he the one?"
  730. >For a moment, all you could do was breathe.
  731. >Your heart ached.
  732. >Minuette smiled.
  733. >"The Crystal Heart is just the start. It takes the work of two to forge love that's true."
  734. >You couldn't help but chuckle.
  735. "What, you're a poet too?"
  736. >"No dear, it's from the brochure."
  737. >The tension was broken, and you both laughed.
  738. >Finally, you managed to get serious again, though there was still a goofy grin on your face.
  739. "So what do I do now?"
  740. >"Just keep opening yourself up to her. And be very watchful, for when she opens herself up to you."
  741. >You took a deep breath and let it out with a sigh.
  742. "I'll do my best."
  743. >Minuette leaned over and gave you a quick, chaste peck on the cheek.
  744. >"I know you will. Now go wash up for supper."
  745. >So that happened - your first pony kiss.
  746. >Your bottle of cider was empty, so you grabbed a fresh one and opened it before heading out to the back porch, where you found Charles, also holding a bottle of cider, inspecting the equipment you had been working on.
  747. >"What are you making here, Anon?"
  748. "Crossover networks and voltage regulators."
  749. >Charles nodded and took a pull of his cider, and you followed suit.
  750. >"So how did it go in there?" he asked, with a certain amount of sympathy.
  751. >You sighed.
  752. "Your wife is an infinite reservoir of patience and wisdom."
  753. >Charles chuckled.
  754. >"Yeah, she'd have to be, being married to me."
  755. >Charles raised his bottle to you.
  756. >You clinked the neck of your bottle against his, and you both took a long drink together.
  757.  
  758. >======<
  759.  
  760. >The sun rose over Princess Celestia's School For Gifted Unicorns.
  761. >A lecture hall in one of the buildings was filling up quickly with boisterous students talking and gossiping amongst themselves as they made their way to their seats.
  762. >But all the chatter ceased when an unfamiliar green unicorn with a fiery mane and tail entered and made her way to the lectern, setting her notes and books on the desk.
  763. >"Good morning everypony!  Moon Dancer isn't feeling well, so I'll be teaching her classes today."
  764. >A colt's voice at the back of the lecture hall loudly called out, "Oh, thank Celestia for that!", precipitating a ripple of giggles that crossed the room.
  765. >The green mare fixed the errant colt with a warning look, causing him to duck his head self-consciously, and putting an immediate end to the laughter.
  766. >A green glow developed around a her horn, and a piece of chalk in the chalk tray.
  767. >"My name is Ivy Jewel," she said, writing her name on the blackboard as she spoke, "some of you know me from my Herbology class."
  768. >Her notes levitated onto the lectern.
  769. >"Now if we can dispense with the comedy for the time being, please open your Ancient Magical Artifacts textbooks to page 114, and we'll get started."
  770.  
  771. >======<
  772.  
  773. "Excuse me, is there some place I can plug this in?"
  774. >The elderly Zookeeper gave you a funny look.
  775. >"Whatcha got there, friend?"
  776. "It's a magnetic wire recorder."
  777. >You set the heavy case down and resettled the coiled extension cord on your shoulder.
  778. >The portable wire recorder was really portable in name only, and was the only audio recording format available in Equestria that was in any way portable.
  779. >It was still pretty damned heavy.
  780. >You were also carrying a bag with a better quality microphone you had borrowed from the theater, a pair of headphones, and some other odds and ends.
  781. >Since most of your living expenses were pretty well sorted, you had decided to splash some of your personal allowance on the wire recorder so you could make field recordings.
  782. >This morning you had come to the Royal Canterlot Zoological Park to try it out.
  783. >"Well, I got a plug back in the office," the Zookeeper said, indicating a low building nearby, "but what're you planning to do?"
  784. "I was hoping to record a lion's roar."
  785. >The Zookeeper scratched his head.
  786. >"Ain't got no lions. Got a manticore, though," the Zookeeper said, indicating a large enclosure next to the office building.
  787. >You had never heard of a manticore, so you asked the Zookeeper what it was.
  788. >"It's kinda like a lion, only bigger, meaner, and has a tail with a venomous stinger on it. Oh, and it has wings. Y'ain't gonna hurt the critter, are ya?"
  789. >From the description, you don't think you could if you tried.
  790. "Nah, just record the sounds it makes. Does it roar?"
  791. >"Oh yeah, he's usually pretty mouthy when he wakes up."
  792. "Perfect. Thanks a lot!"
  793. >You start setting up your equipment.
  794.  
  795. >======<
  796.  
  797. >"I'm sorry ma'am, we got a scroll from her this morning. She didn't come in today because she isn't feeling well."
  798. >Minuette had come to the school to try and have lunch with Moon Dancer, but was surprised to be told she was out sick.
  799. >That was unusual, to say the least.
  800. >Minuette had memories of the Librarian sending Moon Dancer home for fear she might get other students sick.
  801. >"This might be worse than I thought," she half-muttered to herself.
  802. >"Ma'am?"
  803. >Minuette snapped out of her reverie.
  804. >"Oh, er, thanks. I'll try her at home then."
  805.  
  806. >======<
  807.  
  808. >So far so good!
  809. >You got the manticore's roar, and now you had moved to the birdhouse, where you were recording a few minutes of the exotic birds calling to one another.
  810. >The Zookeeper checked up on you every so often, but seemed content to let you get on with it.
  811. >And then you noticed a snarl developing on the take-up reel and quickly shut the recorder off.
  812. /Yeah, that's why the medium didn't last long on Earth./
  813. >You grumbled as you worked to carefully undo the tangle.
  814. >"Hey..."
  815. >The thing that startled you about the voice was that it had come from about the level of your head, and not somewhere around your waist as you were used to hearing nowadays.
  816. >You turned and found yourself eye-to-eye with a blue pegasus pony with a multi-colored mane and tail hovering next to you.
  817. >So far you'd only met unicorns and earth ponies here in Canterlot, mostly the former.
  818. >"Whatcha doin'?"
  819. "Field recording. Well, I was recording, now I'm detangling."
  820. >You dismounted the supply reel and wound the wire back onto it, careful to avoid kinks.
  821. >"Oh. Well I'm Rainbow Dash!"
  822. >She zoomed up a few feet and spread her wings wide, striking a pose for dramatic effect.
  823. "Hi."
  824. >Rainbow Dash was unimpressed by your failure to be impressed.
  825. >"You know, THE Rainbow Dash? Star of the WONDERBOLTS? Element of Loyalty? Former leader of the Ponyville Weather Patrol?"
  826. >You gave her a half-hearted smile for her efforts.
  827. "I'm sure I'd be impressed if I knew what those things were, but I've only been here a few days."
  828. >"Oh," said Rainbow Dash, realizing that she had been wasting her time trying to impress you.
  829. >"Well you're in luck, because you've got a great opportunity to learn just how AWESOME I am! The Wonderbolts are putting on an airshow over Canterlot this afternoon! You should check it out!"
  830. >She handed you a flier for the show.
  831. /Eh, might be a good way to hit the reset button./
  832. "Okay, I think I've got time to-- hang on, did you say 'weather patrol'?"
  833. >"Yup!"
  834. "What does that do?"
  835. >"Oh? Well, we control the weather, obviously!"
  836. >An idea formed in your head.
  837. "Is that so? Say, if you've got some time, could you do me a big favor?"
  838.  
  839. >======<
  840.  
  841. >Minuette tapped gently on the door of Moon Dancer's cottage.
  842. >Silence was her only answer, so Minuette tried the door, which wasn't locked.
  843. >Inside was dark; all the blinds were drawn over the windows and all the lamps were out.
  844. >"Moon Dancer?" she called.
  845. >"Go away."
  846. >Minuette set her jaw in determination, walked in, and shut the door behind her.
  847. >"Not happening."
  848. >Minuette opened the curtain over the living room window, letting sunlight into the darkened cottage and prompting a groan from the bedroom.
  849. >"It was the strangest thing, Moonie. I dropped by your office to see if you were available for lunch, and they told me you didn't come in today."
  850. >"I didn't. I don't feel well."
  851. >Her voice seemed to come from a pile of blankets on the bed, with a pile of crumpled tissues sitting next to it.
  852. >"Like that's ever stopped you from working before. You're fine, you just had a rough day."
  853. >"Can we not do this right now?"
  854. >Minuette moved into the bedroom, addressing the pile of blankets.
  855. >"No Moon Dancer. Now is the perfect time to do this."
  856. >She opened the curtains in the bedroom, letting in more light.
  857. >Almost immediately, a pale purple glow appeared beneath the blankets and the curtains were shut again.
  858. >Minuette sighed.
  859. >"Moping doesn't suit you, dear."
  860. >She moved to the bed and sat down, then stroked the pile of blankets comfortingly.
  861. >"Why don't you tell me what's really wrong?"
  862. >Moon Dancer threw the blankets off her tear-stained face with an angry growl.
  863. >"You were there! You heard what he said! You saw what happened!"
  864. >Flop! Moon Dancer covered up her face again.
  865. >Minuette chose her words carefully as she continued to try to soothe her friend.
  866. >"Yes, I did. I saw a terrible misunderstanding that two friends I love overreacted badly to."
  867. >Moon Dancer released a prolonged groan at the memory.
  868. >"You know, I had a long talk with Anon afterwards," Minuette began.
  869. >"I'll bet. Oh, how can I ever face him again after that?" Moon Dancer moaned beneath the blankets.
  870. >"Well, I suppose you had better figure that out Moonie, because he still wants to see you."
  871. >After a pause, the blankets slid down slightly, revealing Moon Dancer's eyes.
  872. >"Really?"
  873. >"Oh, yes! Looking forward to it!"
  874. >Fresh tears appeared in Moon Dancer's eyes, and the blanket slid down a little further.
  875. >Moon Dancer sat up.
  876. >"But what if I say something stupid again?"
  877. >"Well..."
  878. >"He came all this way, and what if I screw it all up and he hates me for it?"
  879. >"Yes, that can happen," Minuette replied plainly.
  880. >Moon Dancer looked at her friend's face, sniffling.
  881. >"But that's only one possibility. Something wonderful could happen, Moon Dancer - something magical! You just have to believe!"
  882. >Sniff...
  883. >"Believe in what?"
  884. >"Believe in yourself! Believe that good things can happen to you as well as bad! Believe that you're worth loving and being loved!"
  885. >Sniffle, sniff...
  886. >"And you'll never discover the outcome if you don't do the experiment."
  887. >Moon Dancer giggled, it was one of her favorite sayings.
  888. >"Dirty pool, Minuette."
  889. >Moon Dancer hugged her friend, and Minuette returned it.
  890. >"So what do I do now?"
  891. >Minuette stroked her friend's back, letting her get the tears out.
  892. >"You know, Anon asked me the same thing. Would you like to know what I told him?"
  893. >Moon Dancer nodded. "Yes, I think so."
  894. >Minuette pulled back and looked Moon Dancer in the eyes.
  895. >"Just open yourself up to him. And be ready when he opens himself up to you."
  896. >Moon Dancer squeezed her eyes shut, clearing the tears, and nodded before she opened them back up again.
  897. >"I'll try."
  898. >"Good," replied Minuette, giving her friend another squeeze.
  899. >Rising, she pulled back the blankets.
  900. >"What do you say we get some fresh air and some lunch? I imagine you're pretty hungry now."
  901. >Moon Dancer wiped her eyes.
  902. >"Yes," she replied, smiling, "I am!"
  903.  
  904. >======<
  905.  
  906. >Moon Dancer did indeed feel better after a good lunch at a sidewalk cafe near one of Canterlot's open public spaces.
  907. >She found watching younger ponies playing in the park to be calming as she ate her sandwich and chatted with Minuette.
  908. >Minuette always knew how to cheer her up, it seemed.
  909. >Since she had been reunited with her old friends, thanks to Twilight Sparkle, her life had been slowly changing.
  910. >She had taken an associate professorship at the school, and had published a few articles in academic journals.
  911. >She actually had friends who cared about her and spent time with her.
  912. >She was a regular, if not a perfectly reliable correspondent with the Princess of Friendship.
  913. >And now, suddenly, she seemed on the verge of finding a partner...
  914. >No, a mate.
  915. >An alien, but there were many in Equestria taking that road.
  916. >Did it matter to her that he was an alien?
  917. >Certainly Moon Dancer felt her curiosity aroused by someone intelligent, whose experiences were different from those of anypony else she knew.
  918. >But could she ever have those kinds of feelings for one?
  919. >Well, she'd just read over a parade of testimonials from happy mares who had alien husbands.
  920. >And then there were her friends, Minuette, Lemon Hearts, and Twinkleshine.
  921. >They certainly seemed happy.
  922. >So maybe it could happen for her as well.
  923. >If she just kept herself open to the concept.
  924. >Adaptability, that was the key.
  925. >This should be easy for her.
  926. >As a professional researcher, she was committed to maintaining an objective view of things, to ensure that her conclusions were unbiased and correct.
  927. >But finding a mate?
  928. >That was a very personal, subjective thing.
  929. >And supposing he felt the same way?
  930. >He'd actually crossed dimensional barriers, and left his old life behind, on the basis of a promise.
  931. >SHE was that promise, Moon Dancer realized.
  932. >Anon seemed to be settling well into his new life, but what would that be worth to him without her?
  933. >"Moon Dancer? Are you still with me?"
  934. >Moon Dancer heard Minuette's voice almost peripherally, and realized that she must have zoned out.
  935. >She snapped out of it and smiled.
  936. >"Still here, just thinking."
  937. >"Oh, I was just mentioning that we seem to be in for a bit of weather."
  938. >Across the street, over the park, dark clouds seemed to be gathering.
  939. >That was nothing unusual in Canterlot, of course.
  940. >Most of the time the weather ponies kept the weather over the city sunny and clear, but the gardeners and groundskeepers often requested special weather to keep the plants watered.
  941. >"I only mention it because I remember that you used to be afraid of thunder."
  942. >"Heh, I still am, kinda. Even after a comprehensive study of Meteorology, sudden loud noises can be... unsettling."
  943. >"Oh, well maybe we ought to head inside..."
  944. >Moon Dancer smiled again.
  945. >"No, I'll be alright. If they're just watering the park it shouldn't be that bad."
  946. >A distant, basso rumble of thunder punctuated her sentence for her.
  947. >"I'll finish my sandwich and head home. Thanks for lending me your positive outlook, Minuette."
  948. >Minuette smiled brightly as another distant peal of thunder sounded.
  949. >"Oh, my pleasure! Do you want to stop by and talk to Anon?"
  950. >Moon Dancer found it hard to keep the hopeful smile off her face. "Maybe..."
  951. >"Well come on then, let's go!"
  952. >Minuette and Moon Dancer finished off the last of their sandwiches and coffee, then got up to go.
  953. >And then Moon Dancer caught sight of a familiar figure in the park, which was now quite overcast.
  954. >A distant flash of lightning preceded another rolling thunderclap.
  955. >"Anon? What's he doing here?"
  956. >"Where?" Minuette asked, following Moon Dancer's gaze.
  957. >You were standing in the middle of the park by the gazebo, next to some piece of equipment that Minuette couldn't identify.
  958. >There was a long cord coming from the device attached to a metal tube that you were holding up in the air, over your head.
  959. >In a thunderstorm.
  960. >"The idiot! He's going get himself killed!" Moon Dancer exclaimed.
  961. >Before Minuette could react, she was off, running across the street towards the park.
  962. >"Oh! Moon Dancer! Be careful!" Minuette followed her friend, being more cautious crossing the street.
  963. >"Anon! Get over here! It's dangerous!"
  964. >/Seriously, did they not have thunderstorms on Earth?/
  965. >/Didn't he realize the danger he was in?/
  966. >/What will I do if he gets himself killed?/
  967. >To discover that she actually cared what happened to you came as something of a revelation to her.
  968. >To her surprise though, when you saw the two ponies running towards you, your reaction was to hold up one finger to your lips in a gesture to be quiet.
  969. >"Anon, what are you doing out here?"
  970. "Field recording. I'm trying to get the thunder, so please be quiet."
  971. >And you held the microphone up over your head again.
  972. >Lightning struck at the far end of the park, making Moon Dancer and Minuette jump.
  973. >You held up a finger before your lips once more as the thunderclap rolled over you and away into the distance.
  974. >You stopped the wire recorder and rewound a bit, then listened to the playback through the headphones.
  975. "Yes! Got it!"
  976. >"You're recording the thunder?" Moon Dancer asked incredulously.
  977. "Yeah, for the play! I met a pony who could help me get a great recording..."
  978. >You were feeling pretty enthusiastic about it, so it was something of a surprise when lightning struck again, much closer this time, followed by an immediate loud bang that caused Minuette to shut her eyes and flatten her ears against the noise.
  979. >When she opened her eyes again she saw Moon Dancer clinging to your leg.
  980. >"Sorry about that! Guess that one was a little close!" a raspy voice came from above.
  981. "Yeah, slightly. I think that's enough field recording."
  982. >A sky-blue pegasus with a rainbow mane and tail alighted nearby.
  983. >"Everypony alright? You got everything you need?"
  984. "Yeah, we're fine. Awesome work Rainbow Dash!"
  985. >The cyan pegasus puffed up with pride.
  986. >"Told ya so! Thunder and lightning, check! No wind or rain, check! You can tell a Master Storm Wrangler was in charge! Hey Anon, is that your special somepony?"
  987. >You looked down at Moon Dancer clinging to your leg, trembling, her eyes still shut.
  988. "Yeah, she is."
  989. >You reached down and rested your hand comfortingly on Moon Dancer's head.
  990. >Moon Dancer's eyes flew open at your touch, and her trembling stopped.
  991. >"Well, bring her with you to the show then! I gotta get this cleaned up and get ready!"
  992. "Okay. Thanks again!"
  993. >Rainbow Dash launched herself into the air and began kicking the clouds apart.
  994. "Hey, Moon Dancer, you alright?"
  995. >Moon Dancer felt something in your touch...
  996. >Like feelings of warmth, calm, peace, and security radiating from the simple contact of your hand atop her head.
  997. >She was astonished to find her alarm and fear from the thunderclap fading like ice on a hot stove, just from your gentle touch.
  998. >The sun shone on the park once again as the cyan pegasus cleared out the clouds much faster than you would have thought possible.
  999. >Clearing the last one, Rainbow Dash executed a low flyby with a barrel roll on her way out of the park.
  1000. >"TEN SECONDS FLAT!" She called out as she left.
  1001. "Moon Dancer?"
  1002. >Moon Dancer realized she had zoned out again, and looked around.
  1003. >"What?"
  1004. "I find it very difficult to walk with someone hanging onto my leg like that."
  1005. >Moon Dancer realized where she was and hastily disengaged herself, breaking her contact with you in the process.
  1006. >The feelings faded, and Moon Dancer was surprised to discover that she missed them.
  1007. >"Um, sorry about that..."
  1008. "No, it's fine, but what are you doing here? I thought you were working today?"
  1009. >Oh, I er... took a day off."
  1010. "Ah, I see."
  1011. >You unplugged the microphone and walked back to the wire recorder, coiling the cable as you went.
  1012. >Moon Dancer looked around and spotted Minuette, who had a big grin on her face.
  1013. >"What are you smiling for?"
  1014. >"Hope," Minuette replied simply.
  1015. >Setting the microphone and its cord in the bag, you started coiling the extension cord, which was plugged into an outlet on the nearby gazebo.
  1016. "That's not a bad idea, actually. Hey, Moon Dancer!"
  1017. >"Yes?" She looked in your direction.
  1018. "How'd you like to take in an air show?"
  1019. >You pulled out the plug and finished coiling the extension cord.
  1020. >Moon Dancer immediately became flustered and started to withdraw again.
  1021. >"Um, well, I'm not sure I have time for something like that..."
  1022. "Of course you do! You just told me you took the day off."
  1023. >Moon Dancer looked to Minuette for help, and saw her smiling and nodding while making a spreading gesture with her fore hooves.
  1024. >Be open. Right.
  1025. >Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
  1026. >Moon Dancer took a deep breath.
  1027. >"Okay, but I've never been to an air show before."
  1028. "Neither have I, so it'll be a new experience for both of us."
  1029. >You latched the case closed on the wire recorder and picked everything up.
  1030. "We'll just drop this off at Minuette's house on the way..."
  1031. >Minuette's horn glowed and a blue glow developed around your equipment as Minuette effortlessly lifted it.
  1032. >"Oh don't worry about that Anon, I'll get a taxi to take this stuff home. You and Moon Dancer go on and have a good time together!"
  1033. >You find yourself chuckling, because you know exactly what Minuette is up to.
  1034. "Well, if you insist. Be careful with it though, it's delicate!"
  1035. >"Don't worry about it, I've got it! Enjoy your time together!"
  1036. "Thanks! So, airshow, want to go?"
  1037. >You pull the flier Rainbow Dash gave you out of your pocket and show it to Moon Dancer.
  1038. >"The Wonderbolts?"
  1039. "Yeah, someone told me it would be awesome, and I think we could both do with some awesome, don't you?"
  1040. >"I guess so..."
  1041. >You both began walking.
  1042. >Moon Dancer still felt nervous though.
  1043. >An air show meant big crowds, and she wasn't terribly fond of big crowds.
  1044. >Still, there might be an answer to that..."
  1045. >"Anon, before we go, can I try a little experiment?"
  1046. >You put the flier away and look at her, Minuette's advice ringing in your ears.
  1047. "Sure. What is it?"
  1048. >A faint blush crept into Moon Dancer's cheeks.
  1049. >"Could you... please... pat my head again?" she asked shyly.
  1050. >An unusual request for you, but not an unreasonable one.
  1051. "Sure."
  1052. >You reached out and gently set your hand atop Moon Dancer's head, adding in a gentle rub for good measure.
  1053. >Moon Dancer felt the return of that same warm, comfortable, peaceful feeling.
  1054. >Yeah, that could work.
  1055. "So, what are the results, professor?"
  1056. >Moon Dancer looked up at you and smiled.
  1057. >"It feels... nice. Come on, let's go to the show!'
  1058. >You left the park together.
  1059.  
  1060. >======<
  1061.  
  1062. >The Canterlot Coliseum was filling up rapidly, and Moon Dancer kept close by your side, looking around her uncertainly.
  1063. >Occasionally she would rub up against your leg.
  1064. >Once she asked you for another head pat, while you were in the ticket queue.
  1065. >You had complied, noticing that the ill-at-ease expression she had been wearing melted away at your touch.
  1066. >The flyer Rainbow Dash had given you was also good for a discount off admission.
  1067. >The smiling cashier handed you your programs with a cheery “Enjoy the show!”
  1068. >Thanking her, you and Moon Dancer entered the Coliseum, which was decorated with banners for The Wonderbolts.
  1069. >And was also full of noisy, chatting ponies, some of whom were with humans.
  1070. >Moon Dancer practically stuck to you like glue as you made your way to your seats.
  1071. >”There are an awful lot of p-ponies here,” she observed.
  1072. “Yeah, don’t wander off and get lost.”
  1073. >There didn’t seem to be much chance of that happening.
  1074. >You made it to your seats just as blaring trumpets announced the start of the show.
  1075. >”FILLIES AND GENTLECOLTS! WELCOME TO THE CANTERLOT COLISEUM!”
  1076. >The hubbub of the crowd fell silent.
  1077. >”WE THANK YOU TODAY FOR COMING TO SEE A FANTASTIC DISPLAY OF AERIAL SKILL AND ART…”
  1078. >You looked around for the source of the voice, finally spotting a unicorn pony, her horn glowing pink, standing before a large brass trumpet.
  1079. >There were a number of such trumpets around the arena, all glowing a faint pink.
  1080. >Now there was an interesting sound reinforcement technique.
  1081. >”TODAY YOU WILL WITNESS FEATS OF PRECISION AEROBATICS THAT FOR CENTURIES HAVE KEPT OUR WEATHER MILD, AND OUR SKIES PEACEFUL!”
  1082. >The assembled crowd cheered, and Moon Dancer placed her hoof atop your hand.
  1083. >You looked over and gave her a reassuring smile.
  1084. >”YOU WILL SEE FOR YOURSELVES THE ATHLETIC PROWESS THAT HAVE MADE THE EARTH - UNICORN - PEGASUS GUARD OUR PROTECTORS IN TIMES OF BOTH STRIFE AND PEACE!”
  1085. >Another deafening cheer filled the arena, and Moon Dancer gave you a pleading look.
  1086. >You placed your hand atop her head and rubbed one of her ears, getting a smile for your efforts.
  1087. >You think you’re starting to detect a pattern here.
  1088. >”SO NOW, FILLIES AND GENTLECOLTS, GET READY TO EXPERIENCE THE AERIAL MAGIC OF… THE WONDERBOLTS!!!”
  1089. >The crowd cheered again, and five pegasus ponies flew into the arena from five different directions at high speed, trailing blue and yellow smoke behind them.
  1090. >They were wearing some sort of blue flight suits with yellow markings that reminded you of the U.S. Navy Blue Angels back home.
  1091. >The odd parallels between this world and yours never ceased to amaze.
  1092. >The five flying ponies converged in the center of the arena and pulled up in a tight formation, ascending vertically into the sky where they separated again, still trailing smoke, like a giant flower.
  1093. >The audience was transfixed, as collective “oohs” and “aahs” rose from the appreciative crowd,
  1094. >With their attention focused above, the appearance of the sixth pony caught everyone unaware.
  1095. >She flew in low over the arena at very high speed, so close you could clearly see her white wings and curly golden mane.
  1096. >The audience reacted, startled, children laughing with delight, as she released a spray of shimmering purple confetti in the center of the flower.
  1097. >The crowd broke into cheers and applause as you leafed through the program.
  1098. >”Wow… th-that was a surprise!” Moon Dancer shakily commented.
  1099. “Literally.”
  1100. >You held out the open program for her to see.
  1101. >The page had pictures of the Wonderbolts in some sort of military dress uniform, to aid spectators in identifying them.
  1102. >The white pegasus with the curly golden mane was named “Surprise”.
  1103. >Also appearing today were Fleetfoot, Soarin, Fire Streak, High Winds, and of course, Rainbow Dash.
  1104. >”P-please pat my head again.”
  1105. >You’ve definitely detected a pattern here.
  1106. >Soarin and Fire Streak entered the arena on reciprocal courses at near-suicidal velocity.
  1107. >Just when you thought a collision was unavoidable, they passed each other by a hair’s breadth, both arcing into the sky in a loop, and passed each other with the same narrow margin at the top of the loop.
  1108. >Then they did it again at the bottom.
  1109. >This was followed by Rainbow Dash, unmistakeable with her multi-colored mane, making a circuit of the arena so close to the crowd that ponies actually reached out and tried to touch her as she passed.
  1110. >Or she was just leading “The Wave”.
  1111. >Either way, impressive.
  1112. >She was followed by another surprise high-speed pass from Surprise, right over your heads this time.
  1113. >By now Moon Dancer was clasping your hand between her fore hooves and squeezing it every time something startled her.
  1114. >Alright then, time to try an experiment of your own.
  1115. >Recovering your hand, you leaned over and reached behind her withers and down, then pulled Moon Dancer into closer contact with your side.
  1116. >Her eyes widened and her muscles stiffened at the maneuver.
  1117. >Yeah. Smooth Anon is smooth.
  1118. >The surface under your hand didn’t feel like sweater, though.
  1119. >It felt warm and soft, silky, and just a little fluffy.
  1120. >Comparative Anatomy was by no means your strong suit, so it took you a little while to realize that you’d put your hand on Moon Dancer’s butt.
  1121. >Hot on the heels of that realization came the realization that she wasn’t wearing anything down there.
  1122. >Smooth.
  1123. >You froze, half-certain that she’d be offended and half-daring to hope that she wouldn’t be.
  1124. >She felt really nice.
  1125. >Moon Dancer was frozen as well.
  1126. >No pony had ever touched her quite like this before.
  1127. >Your hand also felt quite a lot different from a pony’s hoof.
  1128. >About a hundred different thoughts and feelings rushed around inside her head, bumping into each other in unlikely and confusing ways.
  1129. >But they were all slowly overwhelmed by the feeling of warmth, comfort, and peace that came from your touch.
  1130. >Moon Dancer’s muscles relaxed as that feeling grew inside her.
  1131. >It was as if your arm was a special shelter, just for her alone, that kept her safe from all kinds of harm, and stilled the raging turmoil of emotion that had welled up inside her.
  1132. >And beneath that, an unfamiliar and powerful feeling began to make itself known…
  1133. >Something that she would quite like to explore in greater depth…
  1134. >The crowd cheered loudly once more - you had both missed that stunt in the course of your own personal little drama.
  1135. >To your profound relief, Moon Dancer smiled and leaned into your side, resting her head on your shoulder.
  1136. >That touch stirred something new within you as well.
  1137. >Just like that, the two of you relaxed and watched the rest of the air show together, delighting in the athletic display of precision aerobatics.
  1138. >Almost before you knew it, the six Wonderbolts all came to a landing in formation at the center of the arena.
  1139. >”FILLIES AND GENTLECOLTS, OUR SHOW IS ALMOST OVER, AND WE HAVE NEAR-PERFECT WEATHER CONDITIONS TODAY!! SO WHAT DO YOU SAY, CAN WE GET HER TO GIVE IT A TRY?”
  1140. >The crowd responded immediately with loud enthusiastic cheering.
  1141. >”COME ON EVERY PONY!!! LET’S GIVE HER SOME ENCOURAGEMENT!!!”
  1142. >Several hundred ponies began to chant, “Rainbow Dash! Rainbow Dash! Rainbow Dash!’
  1143. >They were quickly joined by the rest of the crowd.
  1144. >Standing with her team-mates, a grinning Rainbow Dash rubbed the back of her head and loudly yelled, “Aw c’mon, you don’t wanna see THAT ol’ thing again!”
  1145. >In response, the chanting grew even louder, and the other Wonderbolts patted her back and egged her on.
  1146. >Finally they stood back, and the chanting began to fall off.
  1147. >”All right, if it’s gonna be like that, LET’S MAKE SOME MAGIC!!”
  1148. >With powerful wingbeats, the rainbows-maned pegasus lifted off to the accompaniment of delighted cheering, and made a circuit of the arena to gather momentum, before taking off in one direction, propelling herself to even greater speed.
  1149. >”What’s she doing?” Moon Dancer asked you.
  1150. “I don’t know, I’ve only been here a few days, remember?”
  1151. >Rainbow Dash began to climb now, trading her speed for altitude, and soaring up into the sky until she was hardly visible anymore.
  1152. >An electric hush descended onto the packed coliseum, tinged with a palpable air of excitement, as every pony and even the humans concentrated their gaze skyward.
  1153. >”HERE SHE COMES!! FILLIES, HOLD ONTO YOUR COLT-FRIENDS!!”
  1154. >Moon Dancer pressed herself further into your side, seizing your other hand with her fore hooves and holding on tightly.
  1155. >The speeding pegasus became clearly visible, diving straight for the center of the arena, using both gravity and powerful wingbeats to pile on momentum.
  1156. >Moon Dancer’s grip on you tightened.
  1157. >”Anon!  She’s going to—“
  1158. >WHOOMP!
  1159. >The chromatic burst caught you both by surprise as Rainbow Dash pulled out of her dive, a crackling ribbon of rainbow-colored energy trailing behind her.
  1160. >The colors spread out from the center of the arena in all directions like a massive wave, tinting the crowd and the arena below with their shimmering prismatic display.
  1161. >Your and Moon Dancer’s jaws both dropped in shock.
  1162. >”FILLIES AND GENTLECOLTS, THE SONIC RAINBOOM!!!!!”
  1163. >From the sound of her voice, the announcer was just as awe-struck as you.
  1164. >The crowds surged to their hooves and the arena erupted in cheers, hoots, whistles and stomps as Rainbow Dash took a well-deserved victory lap, still trailing a rainbow behind her.
  1165. >Moon Dancer cheered just as loudly as any other pony, overcome by the joy of the moment, all airs of studious academic decorum swept away.
  1166. >The cheering continued as Rainbow Dash flared her wings and set down at the center of the arena once more, and was immediately beset by her cheering colleagues.
  1167. >”FILLIES AND GENTLECOLTS!! THE WONDERBOLTS!!!”
  1168. >The cheering grew in intensity as the aerial team graciously acknowledged the accolades of the crowd.
  1169. >You sat down and embraced Moon Dancer again, bringing her back to earth, and you waited just like that for a bit as the crowd thinned out, before making your way to the exit.
  1170.  
  1171. >======<
  1172.  
  1173. >”That… was… AMAZING!!!”
  1174. “Yeah, you don’t get that from a book, do you? Not to disparage books…”
  1175. >Words continued to tumble out of Moon Dancer’s mouth in an enthusiastic rush.
  1176. >”I mean, I knew about the Sonic Rainboom from Twilight Sparkle’s letters, and I’ve read about the aerodynamic principles involved, but to actually see it performed! It was just…”
  1177. >Words failed her, so you finished for her.
  1178. “Awesome?”
  1179. >”Yes!” Moon Dancer agreed happily.
  1180. >She seemed imbued with an energy you had never seen in her before, barely able to contain her excitement.
  1181. >And you were pretty confident that no one would be able to knock that smile off your face with a hammer even if they had been inclined to try.
  1182. >You both emerged from the tunnel into the sunlight outside the coliseum, blinking as your eyes adjusted.
  1183. >Near the exit was a small receiving area, where the Wonderbolts, now without their hoods on, were greeting their fans and signing autographs.
  1184. >A small pegasus filly was bouncing up and down in front of them with giddy excitement as Soarin signed her program.
  1185. >”When I grow up, I want to be a Wonderbolt!” she exclaimed.
  1186. >Her mother, standing nearby, wore a patient yet proud smile as Soarin chuckled.
  1187. >”Sure, you can do it! Ya gotta train hard and do really well in school!”
  1188. >”Oh, I will! I will!” the filly happily replied.
  1189. >”Hey, Anon!” came a familiar raspy voice.
  1190. >Rainbow Dash flew over to you.
  1191. >”This is the guy I was telling you about! I was late today because I was helping him with something important! Go on, Anon, tell them I was helping you with something important!”
  1192. >You looked at the other Wonderbolts and dead-panned…
  1193. “She was helping me with something important.”
  1194. >”See?”
  1195. >You broke into a grin.
  1196. “And she was a really big help, too!”
  1197. >Soarin laughed good-naturedly at the exchange.
  1198. >”Glad to hear it!”
  1199. >”That was my first time seeing the Sonic Rainboom!” Moon Dancer practically gushed, “It was incredible!!”
  1200. >”Yeah, that’s kinda my thing,” Rainbow acknowledged her compliment with a cocky grin.
  1201. >”So, I promised you ‘awesome’, right? Did we deliver or what?”
  1202. “Yeah Rainbow, you sure did!”
  1203. >”It was absolutely thrilling!” Moon Dancer added.
  1204. >”Aw, thanks you guys! Hey, do you have your programs with you?” She held out a hoof.
  1205. “Yeah!”
  1206. >You and Moon Dancer handed (hoofed?) them to her.
  1207. >Rainbow Dash hovered in place as she produced a marker.
  1208. >”Anonymous and Moon Dancer, right?”
  1209. >”How did you know my—“
  1210. “I told her.”
  1211. >You looked at Moon Dancer and smiled broadly.
  1212. >”Also, Twilight’s told me about you, she really values your friendship.”
  1213. >Moon Dancer managed to look only faintly embarrassed.
  1214. >Rainbow Dash wrote in both of your programs, signing each of them with an extravagant flourish.
  1215. >”There you go!” she said, handing your programs back to you, “Thanks for coming to see the show!”
  1216. “Thanks for helping me out with my field recording!”
  1217. >”Any time!” Rainbow Dash replied as she rejoined her team-mates.
  1218. >You looked at what Rainbow Dash had written in your program and blushed.
  1219. >You looked up to see Moon Dancer also blushing as she read the inscription in her program.
  1220. “What did she write in yours?”
  1221. >Moon Dancer looked up as though slightly startled.
  1222. >”W-what did she write in yours?”
  1223. >You grinned mischievously.
  1224. “I asked you first!”
  1225. >Moon Dancer appeared momentarily flustered.
  1226. >”I’ll show you mine if you show me yours…”
  1227. >You fought mighty hard not to make a lewd joke about her proposal.
  1228. “Both together?”
  1229. >”Okay!” she replied brightly.
  1230. >You crouched down next to her so she could see.
  1231. “Three, two one…”
  1232. >You both opened your programs together.
  1233. >In your program, Rainbow Dash had written, “To Anonymous, Best wishes as you begin your new life in Equestria with your Special Somepony!”
  1234. >In Moon Dancer’s program she had written, “To Moon Dancer, Congratulations! He’s _definitely_ a Keeper!”
  1235. >If anything, you were both blushing even harder now.
  1236.  
  1237. >======<
  1238.  
  1239. >You offered to walk Moon Dancer home, and she had unhesitatingly accepted.
  1240. >So you walked together through the streets of Canterlot in the fading twilight, making a little small talk, but mostly enjoying the pleasure of one-another’s company.
  1241. >You stopped along the way at one of Canterlot’s many sidewalk cafes and had some coffee and pastries together, watching other ponies stroll by as the day waned.
  1242. >A lamplighter passed down the street lighting the street lamps, so you both decided it was time to wrap things up for the evening.
  1243. “So you’ve seriously never gone to see one of those shows before?”
  1244. >”Nope, never.”
  1245. “You’ve been missing out. Being from another world, at least I have an excuse.”
  1246. >Moon Dancer giggled softly.
  1247. >”I know. Twilight tells me all the time in her letters that I should get out more, and things like that.”
  1248. “I take it she’s kind of a bookworm too?”
  1249. >”Yeah, she is one of the fiercest intellects of our age, it’s no wonder she was Princess Celestia’s personal protege.”
  1250. >Moon Dancer stopped as a new thought crossed her mind.
  1251. >”And she’s always telling me how she’s learning so much more from life than from her books.”
  1252. “Huh, I guess that’s true.”
  1253. >Sure, life had been depressing back on Earth, but living it had filled you with more experiences than college.
  1254. >Some good, some bad.
  1255. >And now, here you were building a whole new raft of experiences on an alien world.
  1256. >A very pleasant alien world, to be sure.
  1257. >Maybe even another dimension, you weren’t sure of all the mechanics of your situation.
  1258. >Moon Dancer trotted forward, catching up to as you waited for her.
  1259. >”I guess life really is meant to be experienced, not just lived.”
  1260. “Can’t argue with that.”
  1261. >You walked on in silence for a bit.
  1262. >”So… this is my home…”
  1263. >You looked up, on one level disappointed that the pleasant, companionable walk was now over.
  1264. >Moon Dancer’s cottage could use a little work, from appearances, but struck you immediately as cozy and comfortable.
  1265. >Kinda like the cottage in the mountains you’d always promised yourself when you were ready to settle down.
  1266. >Oh yeah, Canterlot was half-way up a mountain, come to think of it.
  1267. >And the neighborhood seemed nice.
  1268. >You could even see the castle, rising above the center of town.
  1269. “It’s nice—“
  1270. >”I’m sorry, I’d invite you in if the place weren’t such a mess.”
  1271. “Oh.”
  1272. >That was kinda disappointing too.
  1273. >But you reasoned that respecting her boundaries was just as important as being on the lookout for her openings, at this stage.
  1274. >”Thank you. I had a very nice time today. I was feeling pretty low when the day started, and Minuette…”
  1275. >She trailed off, uncertain how to continue.
  1276. “How’d you like to have another nice time together some time?”
  1277. >Moon Dancer looked up at you sharply.
  1278. >”You mean… like… a date?”
  1279. >You adopted a comically confused look.
  1280. “Isn’t that what today was?”
  1281. >Moon Dancer’s eyes widened slightly and she cocked her head, thinking it over.
  1282. >A smile slowly bloomed on her face, coupled with a faint blush.
  1283. >”Yeah, I guess it was.”
  1284. ”Tell you what. ‘Starswirl and the Dragon’s Tears’ opens a week from Friday.”
  1285. >”Yes, and?”
  1286. “Come see it with me. Opening night. Royal Court Theatre.”
  1287. >”Wait, aren’t you in the play?”
  1288. “I’m just designing for it. Once tech week is done, I turn the sound board and cue list over to the Stage Manager and her staff.”
  1289. >”Well… can I see you before then?”
  1290. >You crouched down to get on Moon Dancer’s level and gave her a reassuring smile.
  1291. “Of course you can. And I’d really like you to come and see the play. It’s going to be fantastic! Oh, there will be a small party with the cast and crew after. It’s a little formal, but it should still be fun.”
  1292. >Moon Dancer hesitated.
  1293. >True, she could clear her time easily enough, but a party?
  1294. >Well, a small one.
  1295. >And you would be there.
  1296. >Take the plunge.
  1297. >”Yes.”
  1298. “You will? Fantastic! For a while there I thought I was going to be the only one at the party without a date!”
  1299. >Moon Dancer smiled at this.
  1300. >”I’m looking forward to it.”
  1301. >In truth, she was nervous about it.
  1302. >She’d never been to the Royal Court Theatre, and thought she might feel terribly out of place.
  1303. >She was already mentally reviewing her closet, wondering if she had a decent gown that still fit her.
  1304. >It really had been a while since she last dressed up for anything.
  1305. >But again, her inner turmoil fell to your gentle touch, and she looked up to see your hand resting atop her head, your thumb brushing her horn.
  1306. >Gosh, that felt so good.
  1307. “Good night, Moon Dancer.”
  1308. >Her heart was racing.
  1309. >/There was no way Anonymous could know about the significance of a unicorn’s horn, was there?/
  1310. >Her heart demanded she do something, anything, to demonstrate her affection.
  1311. >”G-good night, Anon,” she heard herself say.
  1312. >/No! Don’t let him just leave now!/
  1313. >To hide her face she turned to check her mail, and clumsily knocked the mailbox off the low garden wall and onto the ground.
  1314. >”Oh!  Oops!”
  1315. >She retrieved the mailbox and opened it, withdrawing two colorful letters from it.
  1316. >”Mail,” she explained.
  1317. “I see that.”
  1318. >”Good night!” Moon Dancer called back to you, smiling, as she walked down the short path to her front door.
  1319. >So short that she didn’t notice that she had reached her front door until she bumped up against it.
  1320. >She looked momentarily confused, then shot you an embarrassed smile with a girlish giggle before hastily letting herself in and closing the door.
  1321. >Moon Dancer sagged against her door, wishing that had gone better.
  1322. >She looked at the two letters she had brought in with her, one purple, one light green.
  1323. >So Twilight had written back, and Lyra had written!
  1324. >She hadn’t heard from Lyra Heartstrings in a while!
  1325. >Moon Dancer giggled again, remembering her friend.
  1326. >Very athletic for a unicorn, Lyra was prone to jumping up and down whenever she got really excited.
  1327. >The memory brought a smile to her face, or at least widened the one that was already there.
  1328. >Moon Dancer’s smile faded a bit as she looked around her home, wishing she had tidied up.
  1329. >Wishing that she had invited you in.
  1330. >And she needed to check her closet.
  1331. >Well, there was still time, and she was too filled with nervous energy to sleep anyhow.
  1332. >First, she would read and answer her mail.
  1333. >Then she would tidy up, at least enough to make the parlor presentable.
  1334. >Then she could check her closet before bedtime.
  1335. >The next time, she would definitely invite you in!
  1336.  
  1337. >======<
  1338.  
  1339. >Night had fallen in Canterlot.
  1340. >You took a moment to pause and appreciate the stars, replaying the events of the day in your head.
  1341. >Something had definitely changed today.
  1342. >As you approached Minuette’s home, you could see the light on in the study, and hear a haunting melody from the piano.
  1343. >So Charles was working on his compositions again.
  1344. >You opened the front door and walked in, immediately seeing Minuette seated beneath a reading lamp, holding a leather-bound book with her magic, and giving you her best “What sort of time do you think this is?” face.
  1345. >Well, she couldn’t quite pull it off, and broke into a grin as you closed the door.
  1346. >”So how did it go with Moon Dancer?” she asked, her grin widening further.
  1347. >You decided to make her wait while you hung up your coat and scarf in the hall.
  1348. “Well… we like each other…”
  1349. >Minuette’s grin widened further still.
  1350. >”Details!  Give me details!”
  1351. >You headed for the bathroom to wash up.
  1352. “In a minute.”
  1353. >”Anon, you missed supper, but I saved you a plate. Now get back here and tell me what happened!”
  1354. >You smiled to yourself as you closed the bathroom door.
  1355. >Of course you had every intention of answering Minuette’s questions.
  1356. >But right now you were having fun winding her up.
  1357.  
  1358. >======<
  1359.  
  1360. >You stepped back from the speaker to survey your work.
  1361. >That was the last speaker set.
  1362. >You had set a speaker in one end of the small lavatory, and a microphone in the other.
  1363. >Back home, it would have been much easier to achieve this effect - you would have just run the signal through an effects processor.
  1364. >Such a thing did not exist here, so you were compelled to go old school.
  1365. >Grinning with satisfaction, you left the bathroom, making sure that the cables were tied up and out of the way, and that the “Out of Order” sign on the door was hung straight.
  1366. >There were plenty of bathrooms backstage, one less wasn’t going to be a huge inconvenience.
  1367. >Back on the stage area, the armature for the Dragon had been constructed, looking like an immense wooden skeleton, still waiting for finishing and dressing.
  1368. >The Puppet Team was here, practicing some of their movements for the Dragon’s role in the play with the armature.
  1369. >Across the stage you spotted the Theater Manager entering, a slightly overweight Earth pony who worried about seemingly everything, but was pleasant enough to work with.
  1370. >Next to him was a distinguished-looking Unicorn with a graying mane and mustache, looking around the space with a keen professional interest.
  1371. >Given the title of the play, you had often wondered if ponies grew facial hair.
  1372. >”Major set construction is just about complete,” you heard the Manager explaining to the Unicorn, “so the Director will hold tonight’s rehearsal here so you and the rest of the cast can start getting used to the space.”
  1373. >”Wonderful,” the Unicorn replied with a pleasant smile, “it’s been so many years since I last played the Royal Court, I’m really looking forward to this show.”
  1374. >You didn’t pay too much attention as you made your way to the Drive Rack and turned on the power amplifiers.
  1375. >They would sound a lot cleaner, now that you had installed your voltage regulators in them, eliminating a major source of distortion.
  1376. >The crossover networks would ensure that both low and high frequency sounds would be properly handled, also resulting in a cleaner, richer sound.
  1377. >And now you were going to give your modifications a baptism of fire.
  1378. >You entered the sound booth, where everything was already powered up, and closed the door behind you.
  1379. >Moving to the microphone you had set, you brought the level up while testing for signal in the time-honored tradition of your homeworld.
  1380. “Check, check, check one, two… check one, two…”
  1381. >The meters for the channel and outputs swung into a comfortable zone, and a few ponies on stage looked up at the sound of your voice.
  1382. >So far, so good.
  1383. >Now comes the fun part.
  1384. >You had taken a while to edit, mix and process this effect.
  1385. >It was time to see whether your improvements had the effect you intended.
  1386. “Attention on stage, testing a sound cue, there will be noise.”
  1387. >Most ponies went back to what they were doing, with a few scattered voices replying, “Thank you, noise.”
  1388. >You set the level for the tape player close to unity, then rotated the player’s control to “Run”.
  1389. >After a brief delay, a low growl sounded in the auditorium that quickly escalated to a full-throated, unearthly roar that made every pony jump in alarm, before tapering off to a menacing rumble.
  1390. >”What in TARTARUS was THAT?” came a lone voice from on stage.
  1391. >It was a bear, a manticore, and an elephant rumble, in that order,  slowed down a bit and given some reverb by your set-up in the bathroom.
  1392. >The distinguished, gray-maned Unicorn turned to the Manager.
  1393. >”It’s a good thing he warned us about that noise, otherwise I might have lost my fudge!” he joked.
  1394. >You opened the sound booth door and leaned out.
  1395. “How did that sound out here?”
  1396. >”A little loud,” the Manager replied shakily, “I think you rattled the chandeliers.”
  1397. >”Hey Anon!” the Lead Puppeteer called over to you, “Was that the Dragon?”
  1398. “It sure was!”
  1399. >”Oh, fantastic!” the graying Unicorn called back to you.
  1400. >The Lead Puppeteer grinned broadly and asked, ”Can you do it again?”
  1401. “Sure!”
  1402. >”Anon,” the Manager called over, “this building is a couple of centuries old. Don’t break it.”
  1403. >You flashed him a thumbs-up.
  1404. “Check!”
  1405. >The Puppeteers moved to the half-finished dragon and picked up various bits of the armature.
  1406. >The distinguished-looking Unicorn took a seat on stage to watch.
  1407. >You closed the door to the sound booth and took the level on the tape player down a bit, then rewound the tape and played the sound effect again.
  1408. >As the growl built, the Dragon came to life, stretching its neck out and opening its mouth wide, seemingly giving voice to the unearthly roar that filled the auditorium once more.
  1409. >The bare wings flared out, and a skeletal claw slashed fiercely at the air.
  1410. >You stopped the tape again after the sound cue ended.
  1411. >The distinguished Unicorn clapped his fore hooves together with evident delight.
  1412. >”Oh, bra-vo!  Bravo!”
  1413. >He leaned over and said something to the Manager that you didn’t hear as you exited the sound booth once more.
  1414. “How was that, better?”
  1415. >”Awesome!” the Lead Puppeteer called back to you, grinning like a maniac.
  1416. >”Oh yes, brilliant!” the Manager replied. “Hey, come on over and meet the star of the show!”
  1417.  
  1418. >======<
  1419.  
  1420. >”Good morning, every pony!”
  1421. >Moon Dancer made her way to the front of the lecture hall and set down her reference books and notes by the podium.
  1422. >”Guess she’s feeling better today,” one colt near the back observed quietly to his friend.
  1423. >”Knew it couldn’t last,” the friend replied.
  1424. >Moon Dancer levitated her notebook onto the podium and opened it.
  1425. >”Sorry for my absence yesterday. Ivy Jewel tells me you’re on schedule, though, so we will be testing out of The Elements of Harmony tomorrow.”
  1426. >There were a few scattered groans.
  1427. >In any dimension, students despise exams.
  1428. >Moon Dancer was well-known on campus for setting essay exams, and taking points for poor grammar and composition.
  1429. >”I think the best use of our time together today is to review what you’ve learned.”
  1430. >Some students looked up from their notes with interest.
  1431. >Moon Dancer expected rigorous study habits from her students, and it was rare for her to revisit material, even with a test coming up.
  1432. >”So which one of you can tell me when the Elements of Harmony were first used?”
  1433. >A number of hooves went up around the lecture hall.
  1434. >Moon Dancer picked a dark-maned orange unicorn near the front.
  1435. >”Yes, Saffron, go ahead.”
  1436. >”The Elements of Harmony were first used by the Royal Sisters, Princess Celestia and Princess Luna, to defeat the Last Lord of Chaos, Discord, and turn him to stone, in ten-sixty-six.”
  1437. >”Well done!”
  1438. >A few more heads perked up with interest.
  1439. >It was rare for Moon Dancer to praise her students, especially for answering easy questions.
  1440. >”Why’s she being so nice?” the colt near the back muttered.
  1441. >”Gotta be a trick, Bet the test is really hard,” his friend replied.
  1442. >A young, pink unicorn filly sitting in front of him gasped quietly, her eyes widening.
  1443. >”She couldn’t be…”
  1444. >Her friend sitting next to her also looked surprised.
  1445. >”You’re kidding! Her?”
  1446. >She carefully watched Moon Dancer as she called on another student to describe the origins of the Elements.
  1447. >The usually dour associate professor wore a faint smile as she gently corrected the student on a key point.
  1448. >”It hardly seems possible, but you might be right…”
  1449. >”Right about what?” asked the disruptive young colt behind them.
  1450. >The pink unicorn filly rolled her eyes.
  1451. >”Stallions. It’s as plain as the nose on their face and they still can’t see it.”
  1452. >Her friend giggled.
  1453. >”See what?” the colt asked, causing another giggle.
  1454. >”Excuse me…” Moon Dancer called from the podium.
  1455. >Busted.
  1456. >”Something you’d like to share with the class?” she asked.
  1457. >”No Ma’am, sorry,” the pink unicorn filly said hastily, blushing as the class turned its attention on her.
  1458. >”Well in that case, speaking of sharing, maybe you’d like to tell us what you know about the Element of Generosity?” Moon Dancer asked.
  1459. >Still blushing, the pink filly stood up to deliver her answer.
  1460. >”Oh, ahh… Originally wielded by Princess Celestia, the current Element of Generosity is a Unicorn Pony, named Rarity…”
  1461.  
  1462. >======<
  1463.  
  1464. >At the Royal Court Theatre, the musicians were finding their way to their seats in the orchestra pit, assisted by ponies who brought out music stands and staged their cases out of the way.
  1465. >Each of them had a notebook, plainly titled “Star Swirl and the Dragon’s Tears”.
  1466. >They’d received the notebooks the previous day, so they’d had a chance to look at the music at least.
  1467. >Of course, many of them worked regularly at the Theatre and knew each other well, so they had a chance to catch up with old colleagues as they took their places and began to tune up.
  1468. >There were a few new faces among them, bearing some instruments of Eastern origin that they hadn’t seen before, and the Theatre Staff did their best to make them feel welcome.
  1469. >All the ponies looked up curiously as the conductor entered the pit, and the hubbub gradually died away.
  1470. >Some of them had never seen a human before.
  1471. >”Good morning, every pony,” said Charles, setting his own notebook down on the Conductor’s stand.
  1472. >“My name is Charles. I composed the music for this production, and since it is an original composition, I am directing the music as well. Now, as some of you may have noticed, I’m not from around here…”
  1473. >A short round of good-natured laughter from some of the musicians followed this particular bit of information.
  1474. >”I studied music theory and composition on another world, so I may do things a little differently than you’re used to. But if we’re all patient with one-another, I’m sure we’re going to make beautiful music together. And speaking of patience…”
  1475. >Charles reached into a satchel and brought out a sheaf of papers.
  1476. >”This is a brand-new composition, and I have a few revisions, so please pass these around. There are four pages, so make sure you each get a copy of all four pages, and put them in your notebooks, and take the pages they replace out.”
  1477. >A murmur of voices rose as the musicians passed the pages around.
  1478. >”He’s kinda cute, isn’t he? For an alien, I mean,” the flutist whispered to the oboist.
  1479. >”Yeah, but if he’s here, he’s probably already married. Look, see?” she pointed out the telltale gold gleam of Charles’ wedding band to her colleague.
  1480. >”Awww,” the flutist responded.
  1481. >”My parents have been after me to apply to the Crystal Heart. They really want grand-babies.”
  1482. >”Really? They can sire foals?” The flutist asked as she pulled the old pages out of her notebook and replaced them with the new ones.
  1483. >”Oh yes! Don’t ask me how, I don’t really understand it myself.”
  1484. >”Ooh, the mind races, hehe…”
  1485. >”Alright, every pony got the new music? Great! I should also point out that there are some non-traditional elements to this composition,” Charles said, indicating the Oriental instrumentalists, “but I think you’re going to love the way this sounds.”
  1486. >Charles picked up his baton, and the musicians set their music on the stands and picked up their instruments.
  1487. >”So if you’re all ready, we’ll just run through each piece once together, and then start working out the kinks. If I give you an adjustment, please note it on your copy of the score. Pay attention to the key signatures and time signatures, they do change from one piece to the next.”
  1488. >The murmurs died away as the musicians turned to The Overture and got ready.
  1489. >Charles raised his baton.
  1490. >The ponies raised their instruments.
  1491. >With an airy swing of his arms, Charles began conducting his first new composition in the world of ponies.
  1492.  
  1493. >======<
  1494.  
  1495. >Moon Dancer made her way across the Quad towards the Dining Hall, satisfied that her class was mostly ready for the test.
  1496. >As any class, she had the odd problem students.
  1497. >”Gifted Unicorn” did not necessarily mean “studious unicorn”.
  1498. >Learning magic and its proper applications took some work, and not every pony was willing to do the heavy academic lifting.
  1499. >Morning classes were over, and there was a two hour break before Afternoon classes began, so every pony could have lunch.
  1500. >Another lunch spent eating by herself.
  1501. >Or not…
  1502. >”A-anon? What are you doing here?”
  1503. >You rose from the stone bench outside the Dining Hall while Moon Dancer looked around self-consciously.
  1504. “It’s lunch-time, isn’t it?”
  1505. >”Well, yes, it is… but why…”
  1506. >Moon Dancer seemed to have trouble looking at you, her eyes constantly on the move.
  1507. >You held up a picnic basket that had been sitting on the bench next to you.
  1508. “You said you wanted to see me, so I thought we might have lunch together. Give you a change from cafeteria food, in any event.”
  1509. >Her face lit up in surprise, but was followed by a smile.
  1510. >”A picnic? Ummm, okay. But not on campus, alright? Follow me.”
  1511. “Sure.”
  1512. >You fell in beside her, carrying the basket.
  1513. >Something seemed off, she walked a little distance from you and kept looking around.
  1514. “You worried about the boss?”
  1515. >”Not really, no.”
  1516. “Who, then?”
  1517. >”The students.”
  1518. “What, seriously?”
  1519. >”Have you ever been a student, Anon?”
  1520. “Yeah, I studied Electronics.”
  1521. >She stopped now and looked you in the eyes.
  1522. >”Do you remember what you were like at that age?”
  1523. >You also stopped, thinking it over.
  1524. “Yeah, fair point. Off-campus it is.”
  1525. >Moon Dancer resumed walking at a brisk pace, and you jogged lightly to keep up.
  1526. >”I know a place not far from here. It has very nice views.”
  1527.  
  1528. >======<
  1529.  
  1530. “You weren’t kidding, this IS a nice view!”
  1531. >You were on the edge of the City of Canterlot.
  1532. >Quite literally.
  1533. >It was a small park, with a few trees and statues, overlooking the mountain range and the valley below.
  1534. >In the interior of the City, it was easy to forget that Canterlot was built half-way up the side of a mountain.
  1535. >Here, it was plainly apparent.
  1536. >The only thing between you and a dizzying drop into the valley below was a low, polished, white marble fence.
  1537. >You looked in awe at the vista of Equestria spread before you, as Moon Dancer unpacked the picnic basket.
  1538. >You noticed a steam locomotive drawing a train of passenger cars, making its way up the neighboring mountain towards a graceful bridge that would bring it to Canterlot Station.
  1539. >There was sunshine, a gentle breeze rustling the trees in the park, and a few white fluffy clouds so close you fancied you could almost touch them.
  1540. >”You didn’t make this, did you?”
  1541. “No, Minuette did.”
  1542. >You turned with your admission to see a pleasant lunch of potato salad, sandwiches, and fruit spread out on a checked blanket, along with a thermos and Moon Dancer smiling back at you.
  1543. >”So, Anon, was this her idea?”

  1544. >You smiled.
  1545. >Moon Dancer was very perceptive.
  1546. “Yes, it was. But just because it wasn’t your idea doesn’t mean that it’s a bad idea.”
  1547. >”Sort of. Minuette knows I like this park, I just don’t get to visit it often enough, even though it’s not far away from campus.”
  1548. >Her smile turned a little shy.
  1549. >”This is the first time in a long while that I brought somepony… someone else here with me.”
  1550. >You gave her a smile of your own as you walked towards the blanket and sat down.
  1551. “What do you usually do for lunch?”

  1552. >Moon Dancer blushed faintly as she opened the thermos and poured some coffee into two cups.
  1553. >”Usually I just eat something in the Dining Hall while I read. It has its charms… but I could get used to this.”
  1554. >Moon Dancer lifted the bread on her sandwich, peering inside.
  1555. >”Oh! She even made my favorite!”
  1556. >You looked at yours, finding what looked like avocado, chick peas and sliced peppers with some sort of light dressing, on a bed of crisp lettuce.
  1557. >Herbivores.
  1558. >But hey, you’ll try anything once, and thus far Minuette’s cooking had not been a disappointment.
  1559. >You idly wondered if Moon Dancer cooked at all.
  1560. >For that matter, you had been living on your own for a while, and considered yourself a fairly decent cook.
  1561. >You’d quickly tired of living on processed stuff warmed over in a microwave oven.
  1562. >Cooking for yourself took a little more time, but it helped control your weight, saved money, and generally produced tastier results.
  1563. >Moon Dancer set the last item in the center of the blanket, a small bud vase with a trio of differently-colored tulips in it.
  1564. >”If I’m not mistaken, this is Minuette’s homemade bread.”
  1565. “You’re not mistaken, she made the dough last night and baked it this morning.”
  1566. >”Wow, she is really going all-out.”
  1567. “Yeah, well she cares about you. Me too, I guess.”
  1568. >”You care about me?” Moon Dancer asked, peering shyly at you over a half of her sandwich she had just levitated.
  1569. >You stopped in the middle of picking up your own sandwich.
  1570. “Well, yeah, obviously. I mean… I don’t go having picnic lunches with just anyone, er… any pony. But I meant that Minuette cares about me.”
  1571. >Moon Dancer took a bite of her sandwich and chewed thoughtfully.
  1572. >”Perhaps it’s more accurate to say that she cares about us.”
  1573. “Heh. Yeah, I think you’re right.”
  1574. >You took a bite of your sandwich.
  1575. >It was really good, the dressing giving it a savory and slightly spicy kick.
  1576. “Do you care about me?”
  1577. >Moon Dancer looked at you, another blush coloring her cheeks.
  1578. >”What? Well… o-of course I do!” She stopped, seeming to regard you in a new light.
  1579. “What?”
  1580. 
>”I do, I really do care about you, Anon.”
  1581. >You picked up your coffee and sipped some to hide your smile.
  1582. “It’s a new feeling for me, having someone care for me. I’ve been living alone for a long time.”
  1583. >”So have I.”
  1584. >You both took a bite of your sandwiches, chewing slowly and relishing the combination of flavors that Minuette had assembled.
  1585. >”You’re right, it is a new feeling. I mean, I discovered it a little bit when Twilight Sparkle and my friends came to my house a couple of years ago, but this… you… this is different.”
  1586. >She was searching your eyes again.
  1587. >Behind her glasses, she had very pretty violet eyes.
  1588. >Moon Dancer felt it again.
  1589. >That same calm, peaceful feeling she had gotten from your touch at the Air Show.
  1590. >But this time you weren’t in physical contact with her.
  1591. >For that matter, you also found feelings of calm and peace, just from the look in her eyes.
  1592. >Both of you were lost in that feeling for a moment before the cry of a passing bird broke the spell.
  1593. >”Maybe there is something to all this Crystal Heart business after all,” Moon Dancer mumbled to herself.
  1594. “What business?”
  1595. >Moon Dancer blushed again.
  1596. >”Oh, er, just thinking out loud.”
  1597. “Really? About what?”
  1598. 
>Moon Dancer fidgeted shyly before answering.
  1599. >”Well, about how deeply I’ve come to care for you, in such a short time, really. Before now, I would not have thought such a thing to be possible.”
  1600. >You reached across the blanket and took hold of her fore-hoof, stopping her fidgeting.
  1601. “I never thought it would happen for me either.”
  1602. >This was something of a revelation to Moon Dancer.
  1603. >Not only that was she developing strong feelings towards you, but that you reciprocated those feelings.
  1604. >For her.
  1605. >The concept was somewhat dizzying.
  1606. >You released her hoof.
  1607. “Maybe we should finish our lunch before I start thinking of other uses to put this blanket to. I mean, it is a public park, after all.”
  1608. >You inclined your head towards another couple that had entered the park.
  1609. >Two young ponies, in this instance, clearly in love, and from their actions, not caring who knew it.
  1610. >Moon Dancer blushed more deeply, having caught on to your coy suggestion.
  1611. >”Yeah… m-maybe later, w-when we have a little more… privacy.
  1612. >Now it was your turn to blush.
  1613. >Minuette had counseled you to be on the lookout for openings.
  1614. >And that was certainly one hell of an opening.
  1615. >You and Moon Dancer decided, by unspoken agreement, to just eat lunch this time, and save that for later.
  1616. >The rest of the meal passed uneventfully, punctuated by stories you and Moon Dancer swapped about your respective pasts.
  1617. >It was a good, peaceful exchange, as each of you learned more about the other.
  1618. >You packed up the blanket and things in the basket, giving Moon Dancer the tulips for her desk, and walked her back to the school grounds.
  1619. >Both of you had things to do, and so you parted company, agreeing to meet for brunch tomorrow, since she had no classes scheduled then.
  1620.  
  1621. >======<
  1622.  
  1623. >”Hey, Anon! You ready for Cue-To-Cue?” Charles greeted you from the Orchestra Pit.
  1624. “Yep!  Got my Sound Operator right here. He’s also voicing The Dragon, and has operated this board before. Just have to make him aware of the modifications I made.”
  1625. >You pointed to a silvery-maned, orangish Unicorn with a microphone for a cutie mark, one “Dulcet Tones” by name.
  1626. >Charles gave you a thumbs up, and went back to giving notes to the musicians.
  1627. >Dulcet Tones was an experienced actor with a deep voice, but his age had made stage work hard on him, so he had moved into voice acting and theater tech, and was often called upon to voice movie trailers.
  1628. >He had a good handle on the sound equipment already, and you anticipated a short training session as you made him aware of the improvements you’d made to the sound system.
  1629. >You smiled, knowing that you were about to introduce the Canterlot Theatre crowd to the concept of High-Fidelity Sound Reproduction.
  1630. “Okay, Dulcet, if you’ll come with me, I’ll get you set up. First, let me show you the speakers I set, so you’ll know where to look if anything goes wrong.”
  1631. >”Sure thing, Anon!”
  1632. >That pony sure did have a deep voice.
  1633. >Like James Earl Jones.
  1634. >”Why did you put a speaker in the bathroom?”
  1635. “Ah, that’s an old trick where I come from…”
  1636. >Dulcet Tones was fascinated by your explanation of the concept of reverb.
  1637. >You were using that side-chain for the Dragon’s voice, and some of the sound effects.
  1638. >The Dragon itself, now nearly complete but for a few details, was surrounded by black-suited puppeteers as you made your way to the Sound Booth.
  1639. >On stage, the Director was trying to corral everyone into place, as the Technical Director began testing the lights she’d hung and focused the previous day.
  1640. >The Light Board took up almost an entire wall backstage with banks of stout levers ganged together to produce the different lighting effects.
  1641. >Relays clacked as different banks of lights were selected.
  1642. >Yeah, there was no such thing as DMX here yet.
  1643. >No digital anything, for that matter.
  1644. >”Actors on-stage please!” the Director called through his megaphone, “Could I have the actors on-stage please? Poppy, would you please check the Dressing Rooms?”
  1645. >The Stage Manager, Scarlet Poppy, picked up her clipboard and went backstage to make sure all the actors were on stage.
  1646. >As the actors came on stage, the Director set down his megaphone and gathered them together with a wave.
  1647. >”Alright, this is a Cue-To-Cue, so expect frequent holds as we fine-tune the technical stuff. Let’s all be patient, find your light, and we should be done quickly. Dress Rehearsal starts tomorrow, so let’s all make sure we get plenty of sleep and review your lines tonight. Alright, Places for Act One, let’s get this show started!”
  1648. >The actors responded with varying levels of enthusiasm.
  1649. >The experienced actors were used to this process, of course.
  1650. >A hush fell over the theater as everyone got to their positions, and the stage and house lights faded to darkness.
  1651. >Scarlett Poppy went to her desk and put on her headset.
  1652. >”Top of show, Music, go!”
  1653. >In the Orchestra Pit, Charles swung his arms and the haunting strains of his Overture began.
  1654. >”Light Cue one, go!”
  1655. >Dulcet Tones began reading the Prologue into his microphone in the Sound Booth, as the lights slowly came up, illuminating the scenery.
  1656. >You tweaked a couple of knobs on the sound board, tuning the microphone to bring out the best in his voice.
  1657. >So far, so good, as Dulcet’s voice resounded throughout the Theater.
  1658.  
  1659. >======<
  1660.  
  1661. >Moon Dancer looked over her notes and research on the Crystal Heart, deciding that she finally had a strong thesis from which to write.
  1662. >Of course, she had never expected her research to become so… personally involving.
  1663. >Not for the first time, she wondered if she had become too involved, if the strange yet wonderful turn her life had taken might color her research.
  1664. >Actually, there was no doubt in her mind that it had.
  1665. >After all, she had to admit that were it not for her recent experiences, she would not have arrived at her thesis.
  1666. >So she decided she would write from that perspective, using her own experiences to illuminate the points she was making.
  1667. >The question, of course, became whether that approach would survive peer review.
  1668. >She had published small articles already.
  1669. >This was her first major paper since she had taken the Associate Professor’s job at the Department of Magical Studies.
  1670. >To Moon Dancer, there was a lot riding on this.
  1671. >But she knew she had a solid case now, based on her own experiences, and supported by established data stretching back to the earliest days of The Initiative.
  1672. >And maybe, just maybe, her writing would shed new light on the Crystal Heart, and the amazing work Princess Mi Amore Cadenza was doing with it.
  1673. >Not only for their own world, but for a dying world in another dimension.
  1674. >Her mind was made up.
  1675. >Settling herself at her typewriter, her draft and notes on the desk beside it, she began to type her paper in earnest.
  1676. >She found herself thinking of you as she typed, working long into the night.
  1677.  
  1678.  
  1679. >======<
  1680.  
  1681. >Let’s skip ahead a few days.
  1682. >Mainly because the author doesn’t want to keep everyone waiting while he tries to write a bunch of slice-of-life fluff that doesn’t really add much to the plot.
  1683. >Sorry about that fourth wall, I’ll pick up the pieces later.
  1684. >It’s Opening Night for “Star Swirl and The Dragon’s Tears”.
  1685. >You had turned over your cue list and board notes to Dulcet Tones and Scarlet Poppy at the previous night’s final dress rehearsal, and you were tired, but satisfied that your design was in good hands.
  1686. >Er, make that hooves.
  1687. >Yeah, you’re still getting used to life in Equestria.
  1688. >The Director has now turned over the show to the Stage Manager, and had pronounced himself very content with every pony’s efforts.
  1689. >You had been paid for your work, and if the show did well, you could expect a further cut of the proceeds when the run ended.
  1690. >It was nice to be valued for your artistic endeavors.
  1691. >A theater critic had been sitting in the house for the final rehearsal, along with other invited guests, to give the cast and crew an audience to react to.
  1692. >You were celebrating this morning by having a little lie-in.
  1693. >After all, you had a big date tonight.
  1694.  
  1695. >======<
  1696.  
  1697. >Moon Dancer woke with the rising sun and headed out bright and early, because it was her habit to do so.
  1698. >She had cleared her schedule for the day, because she had a lot of personal things she needed to get done.
  1699. >After all, she had a big date tonight too.
  1700. >Chief among the personal things she had to do was to get a new gown.
  1701. >She still had a few things she hadn’t worn in years in her closet, but they seemed dated, even to her, and they were a bit tight.
  1702. >The sedentary life of a professional academic had taken a slight toll on her figure, after all.
  1703. >So she had decided to get a new gown, after the morning coffee klatch.
  1704. >The bell over the door of the coffee shop tinkled as she entered, and as she looked over to their usual table, she was surprised to see only Twinkleshine, waving excitedly to her as she entered.
  1705. >Ordering her coffee, she glanced at the clock and saw with some surprise that she was early.
  1706. >”Moon Dancer, right?” the pony behind the counter asked her.
  1707. >”Whuh…? Yes, that’s me…”
  1708. >”Here’s your coffee and apple fritter, it’s already paid for.”
  1709. >”Oh, er… thanks!”
  1710. >Twinkleshine waved for Moon Dancer to join her, wearing an ear-to-ear grin.
  1711. >”You’re here early!” Twinkleshine observed excitedly.
  1712. >”Well, yeah,” Moon Dancer replied as she sat down. “So are you, apparently.”
  1713. >Twinkleshine giggled, seemingly bursting with some sort of nervous energy.
  1714. >”Well, to be honest, I could hardly wait today!”
  1715. >Moon Dancer put some sugar in her coffee and took a sip, enjoying the warmth and flavor.
  1716. >”Big day today?” she asked.
  1717. >”I had a visit from the Doctor yesterday, because I wasn’t feeling well in the morning.”
  1718. >Moon Dancer shot her friend a concerned look.
  1719. >”Oh my, I hope everything’s all right.”
  1720. >”Oh yes, everything’s fine, couldn’t be better, actually!”
  1721. >Moon Dancer’s concerned expression changed to one of relief.
  1722. >”Glad to hear it,” she said, taking another sip.
  1723. >Twinkleshine’s grinning and nervous energy continued unabated.
  1724. >”Umm… do you have something on your mind?”

  1725. >”Oh yes! I have wonderful news, but if it’s all right with you, I’d like the others to hear it too, so if you don’t mind waiting…”
  1726. >”Not at all,” Moon Dancer replied, taking a bite of her fritter.
  1727. >That said, Twinkleshine apparently did mind waiting.
  1728. >”So how’s things going with you and Anon?”
  1729. >Moon Dancer could not keep the smile off her face.
  1730. >”Big date tonight. The play he was working on is opening.”
  1731. >”Oh, I know! So he’s taking you to the theatre?”
  1732. >Moon Dancer nodded.
  1733. >”First time I’ve been to the Royal Court Theatre. I admit, I’m not exactly sure what to expect…”
  1734. >”You mean, besides a show?”
  1735. >”I mean, from Anon.”
  1736. >”O-o-o-oh,” said Twinkleshine, nodding sagely. ”Have you two kissed yet?”
  1737. 
>Moon Dancer nearly choked on her coffee.
  1738. >Twinkleshine was still patting her back apologetically when the door tinkled again, announcing the arrival of Minuette and Lemon Hearts.
  1739. >As when Moon Dancer had entered, Twinkleshine waved excitedly to her friends, beckoning them to join her.
  1740. >Minuette and Lemon Hearts both got coffee and apple fritters, already paid for by Twinkleshine.
  1741. >”You seem to be in a good mood today, Twinkleshine, did you get these apple fritters for us?” Lemon Hearts asked as she sat down, followed by Minuette.
  1742. >Moon Dancer had recovered enough to take another bite of her fritter, followed by a swig of coffee.
  1743. >”I did! I have the most marvelous news!” said Twinkleshine, practically glowing.
  1744. >Minuette broke into a broad grin.
  1745. >”Well? Don’t keep us in suspense dear, let’s have it!”
  1746. >Twinkleshine’s smile broadened further, excitement shining in her eyes.
  1747. >”I’m expecting!”
  1748. >Minuette and Lemon Hearts immediately broke into delighted grins of their own.
  1749. >”Darling! That’s marvelous!  Congratulations!” Minuette exclaimed enthusiastically, giving Twinkleshine a warm hug.
  1750. >”Expecting what?” Moon Dancer asked.
  1751. >The other ponies at the table giggled.
  1752. >”Twinkleshine is going to have a foal, you prawn!” Lemon Hearts chided her friend good-naturedly.
  1753. >For the second time, Moon Dancer nearly choked on her coffee.
  1754. >”What? Really? That’s… amazing!”
  1755. >”Oh, I’m so glad to hear it Twinkleshine,” Minuette gushed, releasing Twinkleshine from her embrace, “You and Jim have been working on it for a while now, he must be so proud!”
  1756. >”Oh, he is, if a bit tired. He did so well, and now he can finally have a little rest. I’m afraid I’ve been keeping him up most nights.”
  1757. >”Oh, I can imagine,” Lemon Hearts giggled.
  1758. >”That’s… really good news, Twinkleshine,” said Moon Dancer, recovering, “congratulations!”
  1759. >”Well, that’s two!” Minuette sighed with a beatific smile, “Who will be next, I wonder?”
  1760. >She flipped her gaze meaningfully between Lemon Hearts and Moon Dancer, both of whom blushed.
  1761. >Twinkleshine poked Moon Dancer’s foreleg.
  1762. >”Better get a move-on, dear, I’m pretty sure Lemon Hearts has already got a head-start on you!”
  1763. >Moon Dancer blushed even harder.
  1764. >”Twinkleshine! Stop it!” Lemon Hearts gasped, smiling.
  1765. >Lemon Hearts’s reaction dispelled the tension, leaving all four friends laughing good-naturedly as they enjoyed one-another’s company.
  1766.  
  1767. >======<
  1768.  
  1769. >”It’s about time you got up!” Minuette chided you as she came into the house, shutting the door behind her.
  1770. >Reading a book you’d picked up at the electronics shop, dressed in jeans and a sweater against the chill, you had to laugh.
  1771. “Gimme a break, Minuette. I needed a rest after the week I’ve had.”
  1772. >”Charles was up for breakfast,” she pointed out.
  1773. >Charles was already off to the theater, in fact, doing a bit of last-minute rehearsal with some of the musicians.
  1774. “Yeah, that’s Charles. I’m not really a morning person. What have you got there?”
  1775. 
>”It’s your suit, Anon, I just picked it up from the cleaners.”
  1776. >Her horn glowed as she levitated the suit over to you.
  1777. “Aww… you didn’t have to do that. I’d have got it in plenty of time. You’re going to spoil me.”
  1778. >”Well, it’s a big night tonight, isn’t it? You need to be looking and feeling your best! What are you reading?”
  1779. >You showed her the book.
  1780. “It’s a current book on electronics. I’m just brushing up some old skills, since Equestria seems to be about seventy years behind where Earth was, technologically, when I left.”
  1781. >”Ooooh, seventy years? We must seem so primitive to you,” Minuette joked, smiling.
  1782. “It’s a simpler time. I like it, if I’m honest. The internet and social media were huge distractions, and I’m frankly glad to be rid of them. More time to concentrate on things that matter.”
  1783. >”What matters now is that you have a big date to get ready for, young man!  You’re going to need a good lunch in you.”
  1784. >Still smiling, Minuette went into the kitchen.
  1785. “I shouldn’t eat too much, there’s going to be a party after the show.”
  1786. >”Don’t worry, I know! Charles and I will be there too. You’re bringing Moon Dancer, right?”
  1787. “Of course!”
  1788. >”She is going to be so thrilled!”
  1789. >You were surprised to find that you felt a little nervous about it.
  1790. “Really? Because from some things she said to me, I gathered that she wasn’t much of a theater-goer.”
  1791. >”She isn’t, but I have a feeling that will change soon. Don’t worry about it, Anon. You just be yourself and show her the best time you can. I think wonderful things are going to be happening for you both very soon!”
  1792. “Minuette?”
  1793. >Minuette poked her head out of the kitchen.
  1794. >”Yes?”
  1795. “Thanks. Really, for everything you’ve done for me. For Moon Dancer and me… while we get things sorted out.”
  1796. >Minuette smiled broadly at you.
  1797. >”Believe me, it was a real pleasure. Now go get washed up, lunch will be ready soon, and after you eat you can take some to Charles at the theater.”
  1798. >She disappeared back into the kitchen.
  1799. “Sure thing, mom.”
  1800. >This got a bigger laugh than you thought it would.
  1801.  
  1802. >======<
  1803.  
  1804. >A bell jingled over the shop door as Moon Dancer entered.
  1805. >Moon Dancer was somewhat relieved to find that the dress shop wasn’t full of ponies.
  1806. >It had been ages since she last bought herself a gown, and she was feeling a little nervous.
  1807. >A tall, blue unicorn pony wearing a fashionable little black dress and a welcoming smile glided over to greet her.
  1808. >She was gorgeous and graceful, and Moon Dancer couldn’t help but feel somewhat self-conscious, dressed in her comfortable black sweater.
  1809. >”Good afternoon Madame, and welcome to Canterlot Carousel! How may we assist you, Miss…?”
  1810. >”Er… Moon Dancer,” she replied timidly.
  1811. >”Moon Dancer?” came a cultured voice from somewhere in the back of the shop.
  1812. >There was a minor commotion, and a white unicorn pony with an elegantly coiffed purple mane poked her head out between a pair of curtains.
  1813. >”Twilight’s friend, Moon Dancer?” Rarity asked.
  1814. >”Er… yes…” Moon Dancer replied nervously.
  1815. >”Oh, marvelous!” Rarity exclaimed, entering the sales floor of the shop, “Twilight’s told me so much about you, it’s a pleasure to meet you, my dear!”
  1816. >”Oh, you must be Rarity!”
  1817. >”Well of course I am! Thank you Sassy, I will be seeing to Miss Moon Dancer’s needs personally!”
  1818. 
>”As you wish, Miss Rarity.” Sassy Saddles replied with a smile, returning to her desk.
  1819. >”I thought you lived in Ponyville,” Moon Dancer said.
  1820. >”I do! Such a charming little place, you really should come and visit some time! I opened a shop here in Canterlot, which Sassy Saddles graciously manages for me. I just drop in from time-to-time to see how she’s getting on. So, what’s the occasion?”
  1821. >“Oh, I’m going to see a play tonight.”
  1822. >”Really? Where?”
  1823. >”The Royal Court Theatre.”
  1824. >Rarity’s face lit up.
  1825. >”Ooh! “Star Swirl and The Dragon’s Tears”?”
  1826. >”Er, yes.”
  1827. >”Oh, fantastique! There’s quite a buzz in town about it! Naturally, you’ll want to look your best?”
  1828. >“Well, yes, and I have a date-“
  1829. >”Say no more, my dear! Rarity is on the case!”
  1830. >Rarity’s horn glowed, and the spectacles suspended about her neck by a chain rose up and settled themselves onto her nose, and she peered at Moon Dancer with a critical eye.
  1831. >Moon Dancer flushed slightly, feeling self-conscious as Rarity walked in a circle around her, studying her carefully through her glasses.
  1832. >”Do you always wear your mane up like that, dear?”
  1833. >Moon Dancer looked up at the pink bauble tie that held her mane up.
  1834. >”It’s a very practical accessory…”
  1835. >”Yes, but it won’t do at all for a night at the theater,” Rarity clucked, her horn glowing.
  1836. >Moon Dancer felt a gentle tug as Rarity removed the hair tie, and her bangs fell down immediately, partially obscuring her vision.
  1837. >”Yeah. That’s why I always wear my mane up,” Moon Dancer grumbled, trying unsuccessfully to blow some of the hair out of her eyes.
  1838. >”Well, not tonight. I won’t have you looking anything less than your best in one of MY creations.”
  1839. >Rarity tapped her chin, apparently in thought, before her face lit up once more.
  1840. >”Idea-a-a-a-a-a!!” She sing-songed, and before Moon Dancer could protest, the fashionista’s horn glowed and she bundled her out the boutique door and two doors down into another shop.
  1841. >As they entered, Rarity called out, “Oh, Ricardo!” in the same sing-song voice.
  1842. >A tall, tan unicorn pony wearing gold chains and a fashionable mane-style walked into the front of the shop, beaming at the sight of Rarity.
  1843. >”Why, Lady Rarity! So good of you to come!”
  1844. >Rarity and Ricardo approached one another and made kissing noises in the air beside one-another’s heads, which Moon Dancer thought looked a bit silly.
  1845. >”And to what do I owe the honor of your presence this afternoon?” Ricardo asked.
  1846. >Rarity’s horn glowed and Moon Dancer found herself gently urged forward.
  1847. >”Ricardo, this is one of my customers, Moon Dancer, and as you can plainly see, she needs some help to look her best for a night at the theater. Do you happen to have an open chair?”
  1848. >”For you, Lady Rarity, my chairs are always open! I shall be happy to assist Miss Moon Dancer, she will become like a new pony!”
  1849. >Moon Dancer became slightly anxious - she hadn’t counted on a mane-style in addition to the new gown.
  1850. >“Wonderful! I knew I could count on you!”
  1851. >”But Rarity, I-“ Moon Dancer began to protest.
  1852. >”Ah!  Tut-tut, my dear, you just relax and let Ricardo work his magic, while I pick out a few gowns for you to try on. I’ll be back to pick you up in, say, an hour?”
  1853. >Ricardo nodded, smiling broadly.
  1854. >”That will be a sufficient time for me to transform her into a goddess!”
  1855. >Moon Dancer blushed visibly.
  1856. >”Marvelous! I shall leave you in Ricardo’s very capable hooves!”
  1857. >And with that, Rarity swept out the door.
  1858. >”If you would please follow me to the washstand, Miss Moon Dancer, I believe we shall begin with a cleansing mane and tail shampoo.”
  1859. >Ricardo stepped back, motioning for Moon Dancer to follow him.
  1860. >”But I just showered this morning!” Moon Dancer protested.
  1861. >”No,” said Ricardo, frowning slightly, “you do not know what you need. Ricardo knows what you need, and when I am finished, you will glow like a jewel! Trust me, you’ll be impressed!”
  1862. >”W-well, if you insist…”
  1863. >”I DO insist!” Ricardo smiled, gesturing once more for her to follow him towards the washstand.
  1864. >Moon Dancer decided to throw caution to the wind.
  1865. >”Well, in for a penny, in for a pound, I suppose…”
  1866. >Still feeling a bit out-of-place, Moon Dancer followed the mane-stylist into his shop.
  1867.  
  1868. >======<
  1869.  
  1870. >Moon Dancer was not used to giving her appearance this level of attention.
  1871. >Surprisingly, she found it relaxing, as Ricardo gently washed her mane and tail with a shampoo that he claimed contained special oils that would fortify and nourish them both.
  1872. >While they were still damp, Ricardo ushered her onto a barber’s stool, and using only a comb and scissors, proceeded to carefully trim and style.
  1873. >”You have a very beautiful mane and tail, Miss Moon Dancer, I think perhaps a natural style would suit you best, yes?”
  1874. >”Uh, thank you. Okay. I hadn’t really given it much thought-“
  1875. >”Yes, a natural style it will be then!”
  1876. >Again, the tan mane-stylist frowned slightly.
  1877. >”Oh, but I cannot leave such a job only half-finished. Giselle?!”
  1878. >Another pony approached, smiling.
  1879. >“Yes, Ricardo?”
  1880. >”A hooficure for Miss Moon Dancer, if you would.”
  1881. >”At once, Ricardo!”
  1882. >The smiling pony went to fetch her tools.
  1883. >”A hooficure? Oh, that’s really not necessary-“
  1884. >”Ah!  Tut-tut, Ricardo knows what you need, remember?”
  1885. >Giselle returned with a box containing various implements, and immediately set to work with a file dressing the edge of one of Moon Dancer’s fore-hooves.
  1886. >Well, perhaps a life spent mostly walking everywhere and paying scant attention to her hooves had taken a toll.
  1887. >Maybe it was time she did something about it.
  1888. >Moon Dancer smiled.
  1889. >”All right, it IS a special occasion, after all-“
  1890. 
>”THAT’S the spirit!” Ricardo exclaimed expansively, startling her as he went back to work carefully trimming her mane.
  1891.  
  1892. >======<
  1893.  
  1894. >After Ricardo finished trimming her mane and tail, and Giselle had dressed her hooves, Ricardo hustled her over to a drying booth , where a current of warm air ran over her while another pony gave her coat a good brushing.
  1895. >Finally, the whirlwind salon tour over, Moon Dancer was squinting at her reflection in a mirror.
  1896. >This was because she’d left her glasses on the washstand, and Giselle went to fetch them for her.
  1897. >Her glasses in place, Moon Dancer had to admit that she was rather startled by the results of the work Ricardo and his staff had done.
  1898. >”What did I tell you, Miss Moon Dancer? Ricardo knows what you need! You are impressed, no?”
  1899. >”I am impressed, yes! Thank you so much!”
  1900. >Ricardo beamed as Moon Dancer turned to face him.
  1901. >”So, how much do I owe you?”
  1902. >”Do not worry about such trivialities my dear! It is all part of a special arrangement with the Canterlot Carousel! I only humbly ask that when other ponies marvel at your appearance, you tell them that you had it done here, at Ricardo’s Salon!”
  1903. >Ricardo spread his fore hooves wide in an expansive gesture that encompassed his shop.
  1904. >As if on cue, the bell rang as Rarity entered.
  1905. >”Ah, Lady Rarity! Your customer, as you can plainly see, is fabulous!”
  1906. >”And perfect timing as usual, Ricardo! Thank you so much for your wonderful work!”
  1907. >”It is my genuine pleasure, Lady Rarity!”
  1908. >Rarity gasped, taking in Moon Dancer’s appearance.
  1909. >”Oh, well done indeed! I knew this would be just the ticket! Now let’s get you back to the Carousel for a fitting!”
  1910. >”Thank you again!” Moon Dancer called as she followed Rarity out the door.
  1911. >”Be sure and come back again!” Ricardo called back to her.
  1912. >”Special arrangement?” Moon Dancer asked as she caught up to Rarity.
  1913. >”Oh yes! Ricardo just opened his salon about a week ago, and he’s very talented, don’t you think? Sassy Saddles and I have been sending some of our business his way, and I DO think that our efforts complement each-other very well, don’t you? Here we are!” Rarity finished in a sing-song voice, holding the door to the boutique open for Moon Dancer.
  1914. >”You can hang your sweater up over there, my dear. Ricardo has worked his magic, so now it’s time for me to work mine!”
  1915. >”Oh… sure.”
  1916. >Moon Dancer took a deep breath, and her horn glowed, pulling her sweater off and depositing it on the hanging stand Rarity had indicated.
  1917. >/It’s for Anon, after all…for us./
  1918. >Rarity levitated a dress off of a nearby dressmaker’s dummy and helped Moon Dancer get into it.
  1919. >”Oh, I knew it! You’re almost exactly the same size as Twilight!” Rarity commented as she tugged the flowing skirts into place.
  1920. >”Really?” Moon Dancer asked, blushing.
  1921. >”Yes! Well, I had to change her designs when she got her wings, but in every other respect… now stand still, Moon Dancer, and let me take a look.”
  1922. >Rarity stepped back while Moon Dancer fidgeted in place, and settled her glasses on her nose again before examining Moon Dancer with the same critical expression she had worn before.
  1923. >”Well, it certainly suits you, dear, and it complements your colors beautifully, bu-u-u-ut…”
  1924. >”Er… but what?”
  1925. >”Well, this isn’t a garden party, it’s a theatrical premiere. Hmmm. Let’s try the next item I pulled for you. It’s a bit more of a formal cut, and it’ll take a bit more effort, but it’s much more suited to the Theatre Crowd. You wouldn’t want to look out-of-place.”
  1926. >”Oh. Sure.”
  1927. >As Moon Dancer undressed, Rarity levitated another gown from a different dressmaker’s dummy.
  1928. >”Oh by the way, did I hear you correctly when you said you had a date?”
  1929. >Still trying to divest herself of the first dress, Moon Dancer was caught off-guard.
  1930. >”Yes, I did.”
  1931. >”How wonderful! So, who’s the lucky stallion?”
  1932. >Moon Dancer finally wriggled out of the dress, and did her best to levitate it carefully back onto the dummy where it had come from.
  1933. >”Er, human, actually. His name is Anon, and he’s the Sound Designer for the play.”
  1934. >It was Rarity’s turn to blush.
  1935. >”Oh, forgive me dear, I didn’t mean to be indelicate. So… The Initiative, eh? How exciting! Do you get along well?”
  1936. >Moon Dancer grinned abashedly, remembering the incident at the fountain.
  1937. >”We didn’t at first, but I have to admit, he’s really grown on me since. But then, I wasn’t the one who applied to the Crystal Heart.”
  1938. >”Oh? Was it your mother?”
  1939. >”No, it was… a very good friend.”
  1940. >”Oh, how nice! Here you go dear, try this on. I’ll help you with the leggings.”
  1941. >This gown was made of a finer material, and came in two parts, not counting the leggings.
  1942. >As Rarity had cautioned her, it did take a little bit more time to get everything into place.
  1943. >”One particular advantage to this style of gown is that it won’t require any alterations, so you can take it home right away. Hold on, let me help you with the cloak.”
  1944. >Rarity carefully fastened the cloak into place, then gave a couple of tugs at the hems and seams to get everything straight, and stood back to evaluate her work again.
  1945. >This time, her critical expression rapidly gave way to a happy smile.
  1946. >”By George, I think we’ve got it!”
  1947. >Rarity paced in a circle around Moon Dancer once more, nodding approvingly.
  1948. >”Oh yes, simply smashing! Poor Anon, he has no idea what’s about to hit him! He’ll be absolutely stunned when he sees you in this!”
  1949. >Moon Dancer blushed at Rarity’s words, a happy smile etched into her own features.
  1950. >Rarity stopped by her head, frowning slightly.
  1951. >”Hmm, I just wish we could do something about your glasses, though.”
  1952. >Moon Dancer’s smile faltered a bit, she had a very hard time seeing anything without them, and admittedly she’d had them for a while, and they were somewhat the worse for wear as a result.
  1953. >Then suddenly her expression brightened.
  1954. >”Oh, I know!”
  1955.  
  1956. >======<
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