-IceMan-

Mad Science: Chapter 8

Jun 24th, 2018 (edited)
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  1. Mad Science
  2. By IceMan
  3.  
  4. Chapter 8: The Pauli Exclusion Principle
  5.  
  6. >Time proceeds at a constant rate of one second per second.
  7. >This, of course, is not necessarily true.
  8. >The amount of coordinate time for two different observers varies based on their reference frame, related to the geometry of spacetime around them and their velocity relative to the speed of light.
  9. >Fortunately, both Twilight and yourself were within the same gravitational effects and neither of you were approaching luminal speeds.
  10. >Of course, you could simply measure in proper time, which would eliminate the issue entirely by adjusting for each reference frame.
  11. >In this case, time proceeds at a constant rate of one second per second, and two weeks of your life passed by according to this rate.
  12. >This time was consumed with a mutual blossoming of knowledge, though not perhaps as you would have expected.
  13. >You taught Twilight much as you had been taught: lectures, problems, questions, answers, solutions.
  14. >She had yet to be stumped by anything you presented, boiling through a semester’s worth of physics in just that brief period.
  15. >Through the laboratory component, you were able to continuously probe the properties of this universe.
  16. >You finally managed to finish your experiment with the photoelectric effect you had begun what felt like an age ago.
  17. >However, much to your disappointment, you failed to learn anything that you hadn’t already learned.
  18. >Physics here behaved much as you expected it would, barring the presence of magic sneaking in.
  19. >Twilight’s own “lessons” (and you were uncertain if you could even call them that) were of a form you were not familiar with.
  20. >You were uncertain as to how, for example, helping Fluttershy with her animals helped you learn more about friendship, particularly as you had no idea how to help the sick field mouse in front of you.
  21. After staring at the creature for a few moments, you eventually proclaim, “I am unfortunately unable to give a diagnosis, if that is what you expected me do. I am a physicist, not a veterinarian.”
  22. >Twilight giggles.
  23. >“That’s not the point, silly. The only way to learn about friendship is -”
  24. “To spend time with other people, yes, you’ve told me this.”
  25. >You shove your hands into your pockets and rock once on your heels, a look of vague boredom and disinterest impossible not to smear on your face like sticky cherry filling at a pie-eating contest.
  26. “You said this wouldn’t take long,” you say.
  27. >“Fluttershy said she just had to grab a few herbs from her garden.”
  28. “Yes, but we also have much more pressing things to do than care for one sick mouse. There are millions more of them.”
  29. >“It’s not about the sick mouse. It’s about -”
  30. “Spending time with Fluttershy. Who is currently not here, and has not asked us to help her.”
  31. >At that moment, the backdoor to Fluttershy’s cottage gently swung open, and, softly humming to herself, the pegasus calmly plodded in.
  32. >Twilight raises her eyebrows and smirks at you.
  33. >You fold your arms over each other.
  34. >“Is there anything we can do to help?” Twilight asks.
  35. >“Oh, no, no,” Fluttershy replies, grabbing a mortar and pestle from a shelf. “It’s all under control. I just need to make a poultice, and then we can have our tea. I’m sorry I left you guys in the lurch here, but I just couldn’t leave this poor mouse unattended to, could I?”
  36. >“Of course not,” Twilight says, looking to you. “We totally understand.”
  37. >You nod politely.
  38. >Fluttershy returns to the wounded rodent with a few micro-sized strips of cloth and a tiny wooden bowl of greenish fluid.
  39. >She soaks the bandages in the poultice and applies them to the mouse’s stomach.
  40. >The creature groans slightly then appears to sigh in relief.
  41. >“Now you get some good rest,” Fluttershy says. “You should feel better in the morning.”
  42. >The mouse squeaks (possibly by means of a positive reply, but you could never possibly interpret it), crawls over to a neatly-made mouse-sized bed and settles beneath the covers.
  43. >Fluttershy mumbles something about a mouse flu spreading through the fields, but it barely registers in your auditory cortex as you try and process the Stuart Little scene that just played out before you.
  44. “Very well,” you mutter to yourself, perhaps a bit too loudly, as Twilight gives you an odd look.
  45. >You shake your head in an attempt to recenter yourself.
  46. “My apologies,” you say. “I was lost in thought.”
  47. >“Oh, no need to worry,” Fluttershy says. “We all get caught up in daydreams.”
  48. “Of course. Now, we were going to have tea, yes?”
  49. “Oh, yes, of course!” Fluttershy says, her voice rising to just below normal volume. “Let me get the kettle.”
  50. >You take a seat on one of the nearby couches, drumming your fingers on the armrest.
  51. >Twilight follows suit in a plush armchair, minus the finger drumming considering the lack of said digits.
  52. >“Is something bothering you?” she asks quietly.
  53. >You shake your head.
  54. “I’m fine.”
  55. >Twilight raises an eyebrow.
  56. >Fluttershy returns with a porcelain tea set and a plate of cookies.
  57. >“I hope this is enough,” she says. “If not there’s more.”
  58. >“It’ll be plenty,” Twilight says. “Thank you so much for having us!”
  59. >You pour yourself a steaming mug of green tea.
  60. >Twilight nudges you with her gaze.
  61. “Yes. Thank you.”
  62. >“It’s no trouble,” Fluttershy says. “I always need some company. I’m sorry about having to deal with Mr. Mouse there, but I just couldn’t leave him out in the field looking so ill.”
  63. “Not a problem. If there was anything I could have done, I would have, but biological sciences were never for me. Living creatures are very messy,” you say. “Unpredictable. Hard to quantify and control. ”
  64. >“Oh, yes,” Fluttershy says. “Especially if you can’t communicate with them well. Animals can be tricky, and it’s taken me a long time to learn how to recognize their wants and needs.”
  65. “Yes,” you say, taking a sip of tea to break the subject.
  66. >It’s still a bit too hot, and you burn your tongue.
  67. >Twilight again flits her eyes from you to Fluttershy.
  68. “The tea is… good,” you say with a wince.
  69. >“I’m glad to hear it,” Fluttershy says. “But I usually let it cool a little more.”
  70. “Do you now?” you reply, trying to keep sarcasm out of your voice and failing.
  71. >“To be perfectly honest, I’m always a little frightened when I drink something hot,” she says, either ignorant or oblivious of your tone of voice. “I’m always worried about scorching myself by accident.”
  72. “Uh, sure.”
  73. >Undisturbed silence passes for a brief moment, as you have absolutely nothing to follow that with.
  74. >“So, um, Fluttershy, did you hear about….” Twilight begins, and instantly you are able to stop being concerned with having to carry the conversation and retreat back into your own thoughts.
  75. >However, even there you are not able to find solace, just stalled ideas and tormented theories.
  76. >Two weeks had gone by and little progress had been made on your vital project.
  77. >Acquiescing to Twilight’s friendship lessons did little to soothe your displeasure, and perhaps deepened it by robbing you of time you needed to work.
  78. >On the other hand, that tiny kernel of you - a mere percentage of a percentage, a gasping voice in the crowded vauxhall - was telling you for the first time that, perhaps, listening to her advice was a good idea.
  79. >You elected to flip that voice a nickel for it’s trouble and ignore it for now, staring out the window onto the verdant pastures, and the giant brown bear wandering into Fluttershy’s garden, which you register and then also ignore.
  80. >“Is Mr. Bear here for his back scratch already?” Fluttershy says, apparently having made the same observation. “I guess you guys had better go. I’m sorry we couldn’t get more time, but I imagine you are also busy too, yes?”
  81. >“Not too busy,” Twilight says before you can get a word in. “I’m sure we can do this again another time.”
  82. >“Of course,” Fluttershy says with a small smile.
  83. “Agreed,” you say, turning to leave. “But, unfortunately, for now we must be going. Thank you for having us.”
  84. >“See you later, Fluttershy,” Twilight says, following you through the door.
  85. >Your footsteps crunch on the gravel path back towards town.
  86. >“How do you think that went?” Twilight asks you after a few minutes.
  87. “Just begin your lecture,” you say. “I’m not in the mood for self-analysis.”
  88. >“Alright, then let’s start from the last couple lessons I’ve tried to teach you, because I’m starting to figure out a pattern. When we went to Sugarcube Corner to help Pinkie bake muffins, why didn’t you help?”
  89. “Because I do not know how to bake and demurred to her expertise.”
  90. >“And when Applejack invited us to pick apples, why didn’t you help?”
  91. “I was actually devising a device to automate her process, considering I do not have the strength to kick an entire tree’s worth of apples down.”
  92. >“And when Fluttershy -”
  93. “Yes, I understand. I should have offered to help with the sick mouse, but what help would I have been? I most likely would have made the situation worse.”
  94. >“But that’s not the point! All of these things were for you to just enjoy doing something with someone. Sure, maybe you wouldn’t have baked the best muffins or picked the most apples or cured rodent flu forever, but the point was just for you to try an activity someone else likes.”
  95. “And what happens when things go irrevocably wrong?”
  96. >“First, that’s not going to happen, and second, then you apologize and your friends forgive you because they’re your friends!”
  97. “I appreciate your optimism, but in my limited experience when you kill something in your friend’s house, they tend not to be happy about that.”
  98. >“Okay, we would cross that bridge if we came to it. My friends are more... forgiving than you would think.”
  99. >Twilight looks down at the ground for a second.
  100. “We also need to talk about your poor conversation skills today, but something did seem to genuinely be on your mind, so I’ll drop it for now. The main point is -”
  101. >Twilight crosses from your side and turns so she’s in front of you.
  102. >“You’re not trying hard enough.”
  103. >You blink.
  104. “What about the successful friendship lessons though? Reading with Rainbow Dash and-”
  105. >“Those were all things you like to do regardless! If you want to have friends, you need to learn about their interests through either doing those things or through talking to them.”
  106. >You lean against a tree near the path and cross your arms, thinking for a moment.
  107. >“Well? What do you have to say for yourself?” Twilight asks, pacing towards you.
  108. “I have a solution.”
  109. >“A solution? I’ve given you the solution, you just need to -”
  110. “Yes, and that is almost precisely the problem. Do you think I give you easy problems in our lessons together?”
  111. >She stops.
  112. >“No, but -”
  113. “You need to challenge me.”
  114. >“That’s - I understand what you mean, but if I do that, you could seriously hurt…. No, it’s out of the question.”
  115. “Consider it a test then.”
  116. >“And what if you fail?”
  117. “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. Plus, you have said your friends are more forgiving than most.”
  118. >Twilight paces for a moment, back and forth, then gives you a look you’ve never seen before.
  119. >Her eyes pour vindictive schadenfreude like a scalding shower on a frigid December morning, and for a brief moment you wonder if you’ve made an unfortunate mistake.
  120. >“Very well,” she finally says. “I will give you a challenge. We’re going to solve one of my friendship problems.”
  121.  
  122. “Why are you here?”
  123. >You again awaken in the void of your mind, vexed by a familiar figure with a chimeric form.
  124. >“I had a nightmare,” Discord says, shrinking down to a more cherubic form with eyes the size of watery yellow dinner plates. “Can I sleep with you?”
  125. >You remain stone-faced as the chaotic being returns to normal size and slumps his shoulders.
  126. >“Ugh, you’re such a bore,” he says. “Can’t you just have a little fun?”
  127. “Not when you continue to intrude in my subconscious. Get out.”
  128. >“I don’t think I will.”
  129. >Complete silence - not simply from lack of speech, but lack of any sound at all, as if the two of were in vacuum - passes as you stare at the demon infecting your restful sleep.
  130. >Discord makes a variety of silly faces at you, pulling on his eyelids, yanking on his ears, and puffing out his cheeks in different configurations, none of which make him any more handsome than a chaise lounge made of tire-tracked possum fur, which he, coincidentally, also turns into.
  131. >It is fortunate that you cannot smell in dreams.
  132. >“So, how are those friendship lessons going?” the chaise lounge asks, its cushions flapping like meaty lips and spattering blood onto the non-existent black floor.
  133. “That’s not your concern.”
  134. >“It is absolutely my concern. How are you ever going to complete our agreement if you spend so much time on these… inane wastes of time?”
  135. “We never made an agreement.”
  136. >Discord returns to his usual form and frowns.
  137. >“You’re eventually going to leave this universe, and then all this effort that you’ve made into making friends with Ms. Sparkle will be completely worthless,” Discord says. “Your philosophy has proven successful up to this point, so why put in so much effort to change it?”
  138. “It’s an experiment.”
  139. >“Oh, an experiment? And where are you going to publish the results of this experiment?”
  140. “Not that type.”
  141. >“Then what’s the point?”
  142. “Not your concern.”
  143. >Discord narrows his eyes and smirks.
  144. >“It sounds like you don’t even know. I mean, I guess I could just root around in here to find out, but you never know what might happen. I might cross a few wires.”
  145. >You don’t respond, and Discord’s smug visage quickly vanishes.
  146. >“It just so happens I have some experience with friendship lessons,” he says. “It’s why I’m not trapped in a stone statue in Canterlot. Twilight gave me a chance, and I proved that I was trustworthy through a number of good deeds.”
  147. >The chimera paces in front of you.
  148. >“Twilight and the rest of her friends think I’m reformed. And maybe I am. But maybe I’m not so reformed as I’d like to be. Maybe I’d like to spread sweet, sweet chaos across the entire multiverse. Maybe I’d like the entire fabric of reality to come crashing down like a burning theater, so that I can rebuild it in my glorious image and then tear it down a second time.”
  149. >He refocusses his gaze on your flat expression.
  150. >“No reaction to that, even? I’ve just given you my entire character motivation and -”
  151. “I don’t care.”
  152. >Discord stomps closer to you, so close you can count every individual greasy brown hair on his horse face.
  153. >“What did I tell you about interrupting me?”
  154. “I don’t care.”
  155. >He snorts.
  156. >“Well, fine. Maybe I’ll go tell Twilight how rude you’re being to one of her friends.”
  157. >The chaos being turns to leave.
  158. “She won’t believe you. Or, rather, she will, but she will also listen to my side of the story as well.”
  159. >Groaning, he says, “Of course. You are correct.”
  160. Turning your back to Discord, you say, “Of course, now we both have something she wouldn’t like to hear. I’m fairly certain that if she found out that you were invading the privacy of my mind, and that you were only pretending to be reformed…. Well, let us just say Twilight is familiar with my lack of skill with social interactions, but if what you say is true, that would be a far more interesting revelation.”
  161. >You turn around with a slight smirk.
  162. >Discord quivers slightly and rubs his claw against his lion’s paw once.
  163. >“I should go,” he says.
  164. “You should go.”
  165. >With a small pop, he disappears.
  166.  
  167. >You had somewhat hoped that this would be a private adventure, but you couldn’t help but tell Rarity you were going to the capital for a few days.
  168. >She, of course, was planning a second shop there, and so had suggested that she come along.
  169. >As the difficulty in keeping secrets grows quadratically more difficult with respect to the number of people who know said secret, somehow Applejack and Rainbow Dash had heard about the trip the now three of you were undertaking, and elected to come as well.
  170. >They presumably told Fluttershy and Pinkie, and so now the six of you are waiting on the platform with your human companion, who looks somehow more morose than usual, with a grey pallid complexion and slight glower perfectly matching the tone of the foggy sky.
  171. >The black locomotive slowly squeals to a stop, spewing steam from its valves and passengers from the doorways at its brief stop while your party, in turn, boards into the warmly-lit carriage, grabbing a fairly large compartment for the seven of you.
  172. >Anonymous takes a seat across from you and pulls a book, one of many the two of you had brought for the trip, from his bag.
  173. >The two of you had brought a small library of reading: you some of the new books you had received from the Royal Library over the past few weeks, and him textbooks on magic.
  174. >“He always looks so sad,” Fluttershy whispers to you.
  175. >“Probably because he doesn’t have anyone who cares about him,” Rarity adds, at about the same volume. “He’s very polite, but just always… distant.”
  176. >You nod.
  177. “He’s trying,” you say. “But it’s hard for him.”
  178. >“How do you know that?” Applejack asks.
  179. “Well, I know the first part. I’m guessing the second.”
  180. >She grimaces.
  181. >“I just don’t know how you can trust him,” Applejack says. “Especially after -”
  182. >“I can hear you, you know,” Anonymous says, looking up from his book.
  183. >“Y-yeah? Well, it’s the truth!” Applejack says.
  184. >Fluttershy, Pinkie, and Rarity shoot her a trio of disapproving looks.
  185. >Rainbow Dash is, rather similarly, distracted by a book.
  186. >“I feel that is a question only Twilight can answer,” he says, casting his gaze on you.
  187. >Yours eyes shift from him to Applejack.
  188. “I don’t trust him. Not entirely,” you say cooly. “But I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. He seems to genuinely want to improve, perhaps as a challenge.”
  189. >“Which reminds me,” he says. “You’ve told me very little about who we are meeting, for one.”
  190. “You’re right.”
  191. >You sigh, composing your thoughts before you begin to explain.
  192. >The other five members of your party slowly return to their own separate conversations.
  193. “Before I moved from the capital I had a small group of… not really friends, but colleagues, who I studied with. I had known one of them since I was very young. It was her birthday when I was told I needed to move to Ponyville to complete my studies. Following that, I never spoke to her again.”
  194. >You furrow your brow.
  195. >“That seems a bit odd,” Anonymous says. “Did you never consider to write her a letter?”
  196. “To be perfectly honest, I kind of… forgot about her. I was meeting so many new people and going on so many adventures that it just fell out of my mind. When I did remember, something always came up that distracted me.”
  197. >“And she never wrote to you?” he asks.
  198. “If she did, I never received her messages.”
  199. >You frown.
  200. >“So you would like me to put the pieces of your friendship back together.”
  201. “Well, that’s one part. The other is for you to make friends with her.”
  202. >“Can you at least give me her name?”
  203. “Nope! You’ll need to ask for it. The first step to making friends is a good introduction and learning each other’s name.”
  204. >“Very well. I suppose this is an examination.”
  205. >You gaze out the window at the rapidly passing farmland.
  206. “For all I know the two of you may hit it off. If I remember correctly, she was working on something similar to you, though obviously missing the weak and strong interactions and from a different approach. She was trying to make an observation of some effect or something. I can’t exactly remember. I haven’t read anything she’s published in months. I also haven’t seen anything new from her.”
  207. >“Strange,” Anonymous remarks, his eyes narrowing slightly. “Doubly strange that you never mentioned it before now or showed me any of her papers.”
  208. “She doesn’t account for any of the physics you know of,” you explain. “Already from what you’ve taught me I know that they’re incomplete.”
  209. >“Fair,” he says, nodding and returning to his book.
  210. >At that moment, you notice the title: “How to Make Friends with Others.”
  211.  
  212. >Twilight leads you down a dark alley, a trickle of water running down a shallow trough in the center.
  213. “Are you certain that she still lives here?” you ask, stepping around a grey puddle.
  214. >“I don’t think she’s moved. If so, then we can ask to where,” Twilight says.
  215. >Wooden arched door after wooden arched door passes you by, until Twilights stops by one with a wrought iron placard bearing the number 42.
  216. >“This is it,” she says.
  217. >You look at her briefly, then reach a clenched hand towards the door and sharply pound five times on the hard oak.
  218. >The door does not react to your knocking in any meaningful way for several minutes, so you try again.
  219. After a few moments, you remark to Twilight, “Have you considered the possibility she isn’t at home?”
  220. >At that, the door opens to reveal a cream-coated unicorn with knotted crimson hair dressed in a shaggy grey wool sweater.
  221. >She briefly furrows her brow at you, then notices Twilight and narrows her eyes.
  222. >“What are you doing here?” she says, her words coated in acid. “And why have you brought this thing?”
  223. >You clear your throat.
  224. “My name is Anonymous -”
  225. >“Oh, great. It can talk. What do you want? I’m busy.”
  226. “I don’t actually want anything in particular at this moment. Twilight has made it my assignment to make you my friend, but that seems more to be something that is decided mutually.”
  227. >She blinks twice.
  228. “I suppose some other explanation is in order. I am a human from another universe. I am studying magic so that I may better understand it and use it to return to my home. I -”
  229. >As you say this, her eyes continuously grow in size and her already long frown gets increasingly pained, until her upper lip curls and she slams the door shut.
  230. “- well,” you say. “I didn’t even manage to get her name.”
  231. >You look at Twilight for a moment, shrug, then again rap on the door five times.
  232. >Muffled from behind the door, you hear, “If you don’t leave, I’m going to call the city guard.”
  233. “That is an empty threat,” you reply, loud enough that you think the unicorn can hear you through the door. “We have not done anything that would constitute a crime, and I doubt that anyone would arrest Princess Celestia’s personal student or a being from an alternate reality.”
  234. >“It’s not about arresting, it’s about making you go away!”
  235. >You think.
  236. “If Twilight left,” you say, “Then could we speak?”
  237. >The door is silent while its occupant prepares her response.
  238. >Twilight raises an eyebrow.
  239. >“Fine,” she says.
  240. “I’ll see you in a bit,” you say to Twilight.
  241. >“This isn’t a good idea,” Twilight says. “What if something goes wrong?”
  242. “I have a plan. We can meet up... back at the Royal Library.”
  243. >You recall seeing a few signs for the library as you walked through the city.
  244. >You wave her off towards the entrance to the alley, and she slowly walks away.
  245. “She’s gone,” you shout to the door, which slowly opens again.
  246. “Good, so we have established that your quarrel is not with me, but with Twilight.”
  247. >“That’s a bit presumptive,” she says. “You’re already wasting my time.”
  248. “To the contrary. I expect this to be a very productive partnership. You see, Twilight has sent me here to make friends and mend her relationship with you. I, however, see a different goal.”
  249. >“And what would that be?” the unicorn asks sourly.
  250. “Before we can continue, I require your name.”
  251. >“Moondancer.”
  252. “Very good. Now, from my understanding, you were working on a Grand Unifying Theory that includes magic. I have been working on the same project as a means to return to my home universe.”
  253. >“How do you know that?” Moondancer asks, her eyes narrowed.
  254. “Twilight -”
  255. >“Oh, of course,” she says, rolling her eyes. “Listen, I stopped working on that theory months ago. There’s no way to make gravity, electromagnetism, and the Grand Law of Magic work together.”
  256. “To the contrary. I have found a possible solution. However, I now need an experiment to test it.”
  257. >You interlace your fingers.
  258. “That is where you come in.”
  259. >Moondancer leans against the door.
  260. >The left side of her face twists downwards, but then she shakes her head.
  261. >“Alright, fine. Come inside, I’ll show you what I did.”
  262. >You follow her, and she slams the door behind you.
  263. >The rotten musky odor of decay and old parchment floods your nostrils.
  264. >Disorganized books, covered in dust, lie on the table, kitchen counter, chairs, and floor.
  265. >Cobwebs hang from every corner that an arachnid could fit its fat cephalothorax into.
  266. >Plates, covered in a rainbow of different species of fungi and dried foodstuffs, fill the sink.
  267. >A few picture frames sit on the mantle, though you can barely make out the photographs inside them beneath the thick, fluffy layer of grime.
  268. >With a sharp exhale, you remove the filthy coating to reveal a most interesting image, whose contents you keep to yourself.
  269. “I don’t suppose you could take some time to tidy up before you have guests,” you comment, a lick of sarcasm entering your voice.
  270. >Keeping your back to your host, you quickly slip the picture from the frame and stick it in the pocket of your jacket, then replace the frame on the shelf.
  271. >Moondancer shoots you an acetic glance.
  272. >“I don’t get many visitors and cleaning up takes too much time.”
  273. “Of course,” you say, turning back to her.
  274. >Moondancer ambles over a cabinet next to her dust-dredged desk and flings a large stack of papers onto the floor with a loud fwump, then rifles through the back to find a unlabeled, overstuffed, pale grey folder.
  275. >Blowing the detritus off of it, she reveals the folder actually to be red leather and labeled “UFTM. Exp.”
  276. >Moondancer tosses the folder to you, and you barely catch it.
  277. >“That’s it,” she says. “That’s all the work I did on it before…”
  278. “Before?”
  279. >“None of your business.”
  280. >You brush aside some garbage from the nearby table and move a heavy stack of books off the nearby chair, then take a seat and open the folder.
  281. >Moondancer boils some water and makes a cup of tea for herself.
  282. >In silence, you read through the Unified Field Theory of Magic Experiment, taking a few second passes on a few sections, but manage to come to a conclusion quite shortly.
  283. “Yes. This will work quite nicely.”
  284. >The experiment details a device to create a pure magical field, then measure a variety of fundamental coupling constants to show that the field is controlling them.
  285. >Moondancer’s ears perk up slightly.
  286. “We will need to make some modifications to adjust for the actual ‘unified fields’ of the universe, as you are in fact missing two.”
  287. >“What do you mean I’m missing two? There are only two fundamental -”
  288. “I will explain shortly.”
  289. >Moondancer grumbles under her breath.
  290. >You adjust the cuffs of your shirt, then reach into your pocket.
  291. “I’d like you to tell me when this was taken.”
  292. >“Where in Tartarus - you thief!” Moondancer says, taking a short step back and curling her lips. “Why did you take that?”
  293. “The picture frame was dirty, and I was curious.”
  294. >The picture shows Twilight and Moondancer, both much younger, standing next to each other with a big blue ribbon on a science fair poster.
  295. >“I don’t care! You shouldn’t - urgh, you know what? You can keep it, I don’t even want it anyways.”
  296. >You shrug.
  297. “Very well. But you still haven’t answered -”
  298. >“Ten years ago. There, happy?”
  299. “Quite. That’s all I needed to know.”
  300. >You clear your throat.
  301. “Now, I believe I still have the answer to your questions in order. Would you perhaps have some paper to write on?”
  302. >Moondancer pulls out a ream from her desk and a chair for herself.
  303. “I will try to be brief,” you begin, but unfortunately you are not able to do that.
  304. >The sun has begun to diminish behind the mountains, casting long shadows on the litter surrounding you and highlighting every mote of dust floating in the air.
  305. >Moondancer asks a great variety of questions as you try to summarize the entirety of a century’s worth of physics in a matter of hours, but you manage to satisfy each one in turn.
  306. >To a certain extent, you appreciate her skepticism.
  307. As you finish with the final piece, the explanation of your current theory of magic, you conclude simply saying, “Does that answer everything?”
  308. >Moondancer yawns.
  309. >“I... suppose. Your theory seems reasonable.”
  310. >You nod.
  311. “It explains some certain features. For example, I noticed that you have not cast a spell to block out the odor of this house. Such a spell might work, fundamentally, by weakening the electromagnetic force that drives chemical bonds, breaking down the odor-causing compounds into less-foul smelling components. But this would require the spell specifically focusing on a group of compounds, which is not something the magical force can do.”
  312. >Moondancer narrows her eyes at you, but then nods.
  313. >“That’s correct. No one has found a spell that can make things smell less bad.”
  314. >You gaze out the window.
  315. “I suppose I have wasted enough of your time today,” you say after a moment. “You must have further questions, so if you would like to meet -”
  316. >“No.”
  317. “No?”
  318. >“I’m not interested. Show yourself out.”
  319. >You furrow your brow.
  320. “I understand that taking that picture was a bit rude, but -”
  321. >“It’s - well, that’s part of it, but... why did she send you here? I don’t want to even think about her anymore.”
  322. “Twilight? She wanted me to make friends with you and - ”
  323. >“Fine, tell her you did that then. Just don’t come back.”
  324. “I cannot promise that.”
  325. >“You don’t need to promise it. Just leave.”
  326. >You frown.
  327. “I will need to meet with you at least a few more times to develop this experiment,” you say, passing the stack of notes back to her.
  328. >“Do it yourself. I’m not interested.”
  329. >She pushes the papers back towards you.
  330. >Your eyes narrow.
  331. “I could do that, but I am choosing not to.”
  332. >“Well, that’s a stupid decision. You clearly don’t need me for this. Plus I’m sure Twilight can help you.”
  333. >She telekinetically shoves the papers into your jacket, and then quickly throws the clasps through the loops to seal the garment.
  334. >“Now get out. I’m tired of talking to you.”
  335. >You give Moondancer a last glance, then do as she says and step out into the evening mist.
  336. >The magically-powered lamps of Canterlot cast a warm yellow glow upon the white boulevard as you stroll back to your designated meeting point at the Royal Library.
  337. >However, as you would have imagined at this time of night and after spending so much time at Moondancer’s, Twilight is nowhere to be found outside, and the library is closed.
  338. >For a brief moment, you stare at the towering cedar doors, as if hoping that you could telekinetically open them through deep thought.
  339. >Twilight had neglected to tell you where you were staying for the night (though you had a suspicion where), but, in hopes that she may return, you take a seat on the hard marble steps and wait.
  340. >However, you do not need to wait too long, as almost immediately an equine figure appears, silhouetted by the lantern light.
  341. >She’s too tall to be Twilight, and she possess both wings and a horn.
  342. “Princess Luna?” you call out.
  343. >“Indeed,” she says. “It is a pleasure to finally meet you in person, Anonymous.”
  344. “Where is Twilight?” you ask as you approach the Princess. “She was supposed to meet me here.”
  345. >“Twilight has retired to the castle. She grew rather impatient with waiting for you. However, she told me to meet you here when I sensed your arrival.”
  346. “Sensed?”
  347. “I am the Warden of Darkness and Lady of the Night,” Luna. “It is my solemn duty to ensure the safety of all the citizens and denizens of Equestria as they rest or travel through the moonlit hours.”
  348. “A noble goal,” you say, nodding.
  349. >Luna begins walking towards the castle, and you follow alongside her.
  350. >“How did your meeting with Twilight’s friend go?” the Princess asks.
  351. “Productively, though she is not Twilight’s friend.”
  352. >“Productively?”
  353. “I have made some developments on a unified theory that includes magic, based on Moondancer’s work,” you explain.
  354. >“Was that your goal?”
  355. “Partially.”
  356. >“If I am to understand correctly, the other part was to solve Twilight’s friendship problem.”
  357. “How do you know any of this?”
  358. >“Twilight told me.”
  359. “Of course.”
  360. >“But do not distract from the point. How did your primary assignment go?”
  361. “I made less progress on that front.”
  362. >“Care to explain?”
  363. “Moondancer appears to have significant issues with her relationship with Twilight that she would prefer not to discuss. Questioning her on those topics brought a distinctly negative response. I additionally made some errors in my approach that potentially jeopardized whether or not I could meet with her again, though I believe that reaction was driven primarily out of short-term emotional responses.”
  364. >Luna nods politely and remains silent for a moment.
  365. >“What do you wish to gain out of a friendship with Moondancer?”
  366. “Nothing in particular. Her experimental notes are helpful, but she seems to have no desire to assist. I may eventually be able to convince her to help me in that project, but -”
  367. >“You appear to be missing the point of the exercise.”
  368. >You frown, but then nod.
  369. “You are correct. The point is simply to make friends with Moondancer and amend Moondancer’s relationship with Twilight, for its own sake.”
  370. >“And why do you wish to do that?”
  371. “Because.... Because I value Twilight’s companionship.”
  372. >Luna furrows her brow.
  373. >“You are trying to become a better person to make Twilight happy. Why not simply do it for yourself?”
  374. “I... In a sense, isn’t doing things simply to make someone else happy not a part of friendship?”
  375. >“Yes, but you should be improving yourself because you want to.”
  376. “I have not reached that point yet, and as much as I would like to, I am still driven by my other inclinations. I do things because they may net me some benefit. As much as I would like to quash that mode of thinking I just... can’t.”
  377. >Luna nods.
  378. >“It will come in time. I sense that you are already on the right path.”
  379. “Those words are meaningless.”
  380. >“Yes. But having friends means sometimes saying empty phrases to support someone who needs it.”
  381. >You think for a moment.
  382. “It’s no longer a matter of being convinced that friendship is valuable, it’s a matter of internalizing that.”
  383. >“Precisely,” Luna replies.
  384. “Do you have any advice on this?”
  385. >“No, I unfortunately do not.”
  386. >You frown.
  387. >“My skill at giving friendship advice is far more limited than Twilight’s. I can’t help you any more than I already have.”
  388. “Very well,” you say with a sigh.
  389. >The marble walls of the castle loom before you, the grinding of chains and gears lifting the gilded gate for the Princess of the Night’s approach.
  390. >Luna flares her wings.
  391. >“I must leave you here to return to my duties. The castle guards will be able to lead you to your quarters, and they know to look for you.”
  392. “Thank you,” you say.
  393. >Luna chuckles.
  394. >“They weren’t my orders. Twilight made sure of that.”
  395. >She gives you a wry grin.
  396. >“I appreciated our conversation tonight.”
  397. “As did I,” you say, turning to walk through the gate and throwing up your left hand by means of a farewell wave. “Good night.”
  398. >She launches herself silently into the night with a great downdraft of air from her wings.
  399. >Per the Princess’s description, a guard in shining ceremonial armor awaits you within the castle walls and leads you to your room with little conversation of note.
  400. >Being the only human in the entire universe makes you, for better or worse, easily identifiable, you note to yourself.
  401. >The guard opens the heavy wood and iron door to your quarters in one of the tall towers of the palace, lit only by solemn moonlight until you flip the switch on a magical lamp on the night table next to the four-poster bed.
  402. >A second door, adjoining yours to the next room down, opens, and Twilight slowly enters your room.
  403. >“You’re back,” she says, matter-of-factly.
  404. >You nod, the only response you can give.
  405. >“How was it?”
  406. “Not unpleasant. Moondancer and I had much to discuss.”
  407. >You pull the photograph from your pocket and set it in the warm yellow lamplight.
  408. >Twilight frowns.
  409. “It appears to me that Moondancer considered you to be a little more than just a colleague, and your falling out with her may have significantly affected one more than the other.”
  410. >She turns away from you and nods.
  411. >“I had become more and more involved in my studies long before that party. I wouldn’t have even been aware of it.”
  412. “That is unfortunate. Neglecting that relationship has had a distinctly negative impact on Moondancer’s life. She appears to have given up on just about everything.”
  413. >“Yes, I know. I saw. Why are you telling me this?”
  414. “I have a strongly vested interest in solving this problem.”
  415. >“What?” Twilight says, cocking her head. “I didn’t think that -”
  416. “Moondancer’s research could be key to proving a few theories, if properly developed. Unfortunately her emotional problems are becoming a hindrance.”
  417. >“That isn’t the goal here,” Twilight says, furrowing her brow. “You’re supposed to be learning about friendship first.”
  418. “That remains my primary goal, given that, at this point I could technically... forget about her.”
  419. >You gently pull the research notes from your jacket and set them on the table.
  420. >“You took her notes?”
  421. “No. She forced me to take them.”
  422. >Twilight raises an eyebrow.
  423. “Be skeptical if you wish. Regardless of what my primary motivation is, it would be best that I develop a more friendly relationship with Moondancer.”
  424. >“I... suppose,” Twilight says, flipping through the papers. “If what you’re saying is that you’re still going to try and solve the friendship problem despite having what you need to progress, then I get it.”
  425. “That’s exactly what I’m saying.”
  426. >“Then good. I have no problems,” she says. “Though, what are those motivations?”
  427. “One, to develop my research. And, two.... I want to ask you something.”
  428. >“Sure.”
  429. “Is making friends with someone else, because you want to make someone who you are friends with happy, real friendship?”
  430. >Twilight thinks for a moment.
  431. >“Can you explain more?”
  432. “Yes. Am I correct in saying we are friends?”
  433. >“Of course.”
  434. “And friends do things for one another that make the other person happy, even at expense of their own desires.”
  435. >“Sure. Okay, I understand what you’re implying.”
  436. >You nod.
  437. >Twilight paces back and forth a few times.
  438. >“It’s late,” she finally says. “Let me sleep on it.”
  439. “That’s unsatisfying.”
  440. >“I just need more time to think on it. I want to give you the right answer.”
  441. “Very well,” you relent. “But... it’s important. I want to know.”
  442. >“You should think about it too,” Twilight says. “I’d like to know what you think.”
  443. >She turns towards her room.
  444. >“Good night, Anonymous,” she says over her shoulder.
  445. “Good night,” you return.
  446. >You try to sleep for a while, tossing the question back and forth in your head, but ultimately cannot find rest.
  447. >Out on the balcony, you stare into the telescope, watching the unfamiliar stars dance and turn.
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