Act II Part 4 The First Divergence
The moon shone brighter than Twilight had ever seen it before. The stars were a thousand glistening spearpoints in the sky. The thousand wasn't a wild estimate, either. When they had begun appearing she had counted each one, but she knew that would quickly become unfeasible, and she adapted a new strategy. She counted the rate at which she found new stars until that too was impractical. From there she extrapolated.
"You really think there's a thousand of them?" asked Luna, her stargazing companion.
"Nine hundred and sixty three, actually. But who's counting?"
"It sounds like you are," said Luna mischeviously.
Twilight quieted, flushed with embarrassment. She didn't understand why she was getting so nervous. Luna's comment wasn't really that humiliating. Everything had been planned out, by the books and with a rigid schedule. Wasn't that supposed to make it officially fun? You're trying too hard to impress her, thought Twilight. Relax, enjoy the company. This is the perfect night for stargazing, using your deck and your telescope.
That wasn't a guess either. Twilight had asked Rainbow Dash for a favor, and as a result there wasn't a cloud in the sky.
Luna seemed to sense that Twilight was withdrawn. "Is everything alright?" she asked sympathetically.
Twilight blinked, as if she were just noticing Luna for the first time. "Yeah," she said with fake cheerfulness. "Yeah," she repeated, this time despondently. "But I'm not impressing you, am I? You probably already know all about the sky. You got a closer look than I ever did." She instantly shut her mouth, afraid that she'd just crossed a very serious line. "Oh gosh," she stammered. "I'm sorry, I didn't..."
She was interrupted by Luna nuzzling her cheek. "It's fine," she said, but the wavering in her voice told Twilight that it wasn't. "Tia told me to make friends, and she recommended I start with you. You do a really good job."
"What are you talking about? I'm terrible at making friends."
"But you're really close to the others, even though you've only been in Ponyville for a week. I think Fluttershy admires you a lot. So does Rainbow Dash, although you'd never get her to admit it." Luna reclined and watched the stars. "Do you know why I like the sky so much?"
"Because you're the moon princess?" guessed Twilight.
"Only until the coronation. Then I'm the moon queen."
Luna had mentioned this once before, confusing Twilight. "Why isn't Celestia queen?" Twilight asked. "She's never given me a straight answer."
"Probably because she couldn't tell you. Not without bringing me up. Twilight, Celestia isn't the heir to the throne, I am. Under Equestrian law, she can't become queen unless I die."
"Not even if the current heir is trapped on the moon?"
"Her advisers probably wanted her to, but instead she waited. She became acting ruler, but she continuously refused the title. She was keeping it safe for me, because she knew that one day I'd be coming back. The reason I like the sky is because it doesn't change. Sure, it's different depending on the seasons, but the constellations never go away forever. A thousand years ago tonight, the stars would all be in the same positions."
Twilight felt a pang of sympathy for the temporally displaced mare. "I imagine it can be hard to get used to. All the new magic research, a less conservative culture..."
"Tia's changed a lot too," murmured Luna, making clear that she didn't really care about what Twilight was saying. "What's she like now?"
"You keep bringing up the princess," said Twilight. "I know she hurt you, but you need to let that go."
Luna snorted. "It's not because she hurt me. It's because she's my sister. I love her. And she loves me. That's why she waited a thousand years for me to return. I want to now how she's changed. I'm worried about her well-being."
Twilight was about to say something to calm Luna, but she was distracted by a unicorn that was watching the pair from the ground below. Something about the unicorn bothered Twilight. It's because she's not supposed to be here, part of her said. This is wrong. She wasn't here the first time around.
"Excuse me for a moment," said Twilight and she stood and leaped off the edge of the balcony. Luna watched in amazement as Twilight fell, decelerating as she neared the bottom. She slowed to a near stop just before the grass, and she landed gently on four hooves.
The other unicorn chuckled at the display. "'Twilight' doesn't know how to do that trick yet," she pointed out.
Twilight sized up the stranger. The mare's coat was the same bright purple of Twilight's, but she was taller and older, and her mane was styled differently, flowing neatly down the back of her neck instead of getting in her eyes.
After half a minute of intense scrutiny by Twilight, the older mare gave up. "Yes?" she asked.
Twilight peered up into the stranger's eyes. "Do I know you?"
"You tell me. I've already given you everything you need. Do you remember any of it?"
The mare looked incredibly familiar, and it disturbed Twilight. She knew she had seen the mare before, but she couldn't figure out where. Around Twilight, the world seemed to be blurring, melting into new colors. The only things that stayed constant and real were Twilight and the newcomer.
"Do you know where you are right now?" asked the older unicorn.
"That's a stupid question. I'm outside my house," answered Twilight.
"Wrong. You're outside Twilight's house. I know you wish you were her, but you're not. For starters, she's nowhere near this antagonistic."
A series of images flashed in front of Twilight's eyes. Stone Wall. The cave laboratory. The botched spell in the Everfree Forest, and then Twilight realized where she was. "I'm dreaming," she said softly. Then she looked up at the mare. "If this is my dream, how are you here?"
"We had this conversation a long time ago. At least, I did. You're just experiencing it for the first time. I could also say I'm experiencing this right now, and you haven't yet. I remember you, and now you get to remember me. The circle of life."
Twilight stared blankly; she didn't understand a word of the mare's strange ramblings.
"We've met before, Twilight, and we'll meet again. Remember when, and where." The mare turned, as if to trot away.
"Is this why you brought me here?" Twilight asked. "Just to let me know that we'll meet again?"
"You assume too much, Twilight. I didn't start this dream. I have about as much control as you do. If you really want advice, though, hear this. When the dog barks, run. And don't be afraid to follow your dreams."
"Why the riddle? Why can't you just tell me what's going on?"
"Would you listen to me if I did? You still have a lot of growing up to do, Twilight Sparkle." The image of the larger pony began to fade away.
Twilight felt the air grow thicker around her, as if she were under water. The air was forced from hung lungs, and she saw the bubbles she expelled float gently up toward a light somewhere above her. All the remaining colors of her world melted away, and suddenly Twilight was rocketing upward, toward the unknown.
Twilight broke the surface and gasped for air. She was in a white tent, lying on a bed; Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy were looking over her. Twilight tried to remember where she was, how she had gotten there, but the cacophony of different thoughts and memories bouncing around in her head forced her to lie back and try to sort things out.
This wasn't the first time she'd had such a detailed dream. It only took her a few nights to figure out what was going on. Somehow, the other Twilight's memories were still there. The transfer hadn't wiped her mind of its previous occupant's history, only suppressed it. And every time she woke up, the new experiences battled for dominance or a place in her timeline until they finally gave up and just hovered, fragments without a reference point, a beginning, or an end.
The other Twilight appeared to be on a first-name basis with Nightmare Moon, who seemed to be quite a bit smaller than Twilight remembered from her battle. She made a mental note of this and decided to ask one of the other ponies if the right moment presented itself.
"Shes... alive," said Fluttershy, tears falling from her face.
"Of course she is," stammered Rainbow Dash, whose eyes were red and puffy. "I told you she was going to be all right." She noticed that Twilight was now looking at her, and she balked. "I wasn't crying!" she squealed, before any accusations could be made. "I don't cry. Really. It cramps my style."
Twilight glanced around groggily. "Did it work?" she mumbled. She didn't recognize her surroundings, so she figured that maybe there was a chance they had made it across. "Where are we?"
"Nurse Redheart's. Worst case of fatigue she'd ever seen. But with a little bed rest you'll be fine."
At the other unicorn's name, Fluttershy gave a cry and burst into even harder tears. "Rarity!" she moaned, before running out of the room.
Twilight slowly turned back to Rainbow Dash, a look of horror on her face.
"Rarity's fine," explained Rainbow, exasperated. "She woke up before you. Pinkie Pie and Applejack are looking after her, and Applejack's crying like a foal." She then added, quietly, "Seriously, what's with all the tears? I'm like the only pony here who isn't sobbing." She leaned in toward Twilight, sticking her snout in Twilight's face, and her demeanor instantly changed. "Good thing she's not hurt. If we found a scratch on her, I would have bucked your face in."
Twilight stopped breathing, the sudden change in mood startling her.
"Look," said Rainbow Dash. "Everypony makes mistakes, and I'm glad that you're trying to atone for yours. But that doesn't change the fact that you're dangerous. Like a rabid animal. And the most humane thing to do to a rabid animal is to put it out of its misery."
Rainbow's features softened. "Yeah, Twi?"
"What happens if we don't find a way across?"
The question shook Rainbow Dash, even though she had already given it a lot of thought. She would have been surprised if one of them hadn't considered the possibility at least once.
"Then life goes on," she said at last. "We'd have to grieve the loss of a very close friend of mine, and we'd be reminded of our loss every time we look at the pony who murdered her, who looks exactly like her."
Twilight swallowed, and her body trembled.
Rainbow grimaced. She had been expecting to feel better after putting Twilight down. After all, it was justified revenge. Yet somehow, her behavior only made her feel worse. Rainbow Dash wrapped her forelegs around Twilight and pulled the unicorn close to her. "But you will find a way, Twi," she said, trying to comfort. "I know it. This is just like the Best Young Fliers competition. I didn't think I'd be able to pull of the Sonic Rainboom, but when my friends were counting on me, I found a way to pull through and save the day. So don't sweat it."
Twilight frowned. "What did you just say?"
"Don't sweat it?"
"No, before that. You mentioned a Sonic Rainboom."
"Yeah. It's when a sonic boom and a rainbow..."
"Sonic Rainbooms are impossible. You're joking."
Rainbow Dash grinned. She never got tired of this. "Maybe in your world," she explained. "But over here, you're looking at the only pony to ever pull it off." She struck a pose, raising her head majestically. The sudden shift left her unprepared when Twilight pushed her and stood.
"A controlled explosion," she mumbled, "a large burst of energy." She took off toward the door.
"Twi?" Rainbow Dash called after her.
"I need to check something," Twilight called back. "But I think I know how we're getting to the other side."
"For the last time, Applejack, I'm fine."
"Like hay you are. You can't even walk steady."
"Because you won't let me, you imbecile. You keep reaching out and grabbing me the moment I take even a single step."
The Doctor looked up from the book he was reading. The interruption was a real pity, he thought. He was just getting to the good part. He closed the book and focused on the door. He heard a "Hey, wait!" followed by rapid hoofsteps. The door jolted open, making a dull thud as Rarity impacted it and a louder one as it hit the wall. As Rarity stepped over the threshold, she tripped, receiving a jaw full of a welcome mat that read "Tome Sweet Tome."
"Now listen here, Missy," ordered Applejack as she stepped around the unicorn. "I'm going to help you, and you're going to..." She looked up. "What the hay is he doing here? And why is the door unlocked?"
The Doctor grinned and waved his forehoof. "What, I can't check up on my new friends? See how they're doing?"
"The door was locked."
"Then perhaps you should make it more difficult to force open. I suggest wood." The Doctor resumed his read, paying no attention to the other ponies. Applejack was about to resume bickering when she noticed the Doctor was reading Twilight's diary. She quickly ran forward and grabbed it in her teeth. Looking for a place to put it, she finally just dropped it the saddlebag that Fluttershy had left behind.
"What's yer problem?" she nearly yelled at the Doctor. "You can't just go reading other ponies' private writing." She just hoped he hadn't stumbled open the page at the halfway mark.
"It was just lying on the floor. I thought it could have some clues about finding your friend." He then stuck out his tongue in mock disgust. "Unfortunately, it was as dry as Appleloosa creek in the summertime."
"That's hardly the point," said Applejack, but before either of them could continue the discussion, they were interrupted by the sound of glass shattering. Rainbow Dash tumbled from a window, but she instantly righted herself. She was grinning sheepishly in a way that reminded Applejack of the time Rainbow got to spend a whole day with the Wonderbolts. She didn't notice she was bleeding, or perhaps she noticed but didn't care.
"Twilight's coming!" she shouted. "She has a plan! And it's about me!" Rainbow suddenly teetered unsteadily on her hooves. She looked down at her forelegs, noticed the cuts from the glass, and nervously laughed. Her other three hooves gave way, and she fell onto her stomach. "Gosh, this floor is comfortable," she remarked.
When Twilight finally arrived, Rainbow Dash and Rarity were both asleep on the floor, and Applejack was doing her best to push the Doctor out the door. The Doctor's ears were hanging low, and he was growling, but he perked up when he saw her.
"Twilight!" he cried.
The Doctor leaned in close. "Rainbow Dash says you have a plan. She seems really excited."
Twilight nodded. "You said we needed an explosion. I was thinking of a sonic rainboom."
"Those are impossible."
"In that case, you can't really help us, can you? I think we're capable of managing on our own, without you."
She didn't say what was really on her mind, but she didn't have to. The Doctor understood. "You don't trust me."
"It's nothing personal. A strange stallion showing up on my doorstep? Forgive me for not putting all my faith in you, when I don't even know your name."
The Doctor nodded and moved until he was standing beside Twilight, facing the opposite direction. "I guess I'll be on my way, then. However, can I ask you something? You told me your theories about this other world. It's remarkable research, really, and one part intrigued me. You said that magic causes divergences, differences between our world and theirs. You concluded that, sometime in the past, there was a very significant release of energy that created major changes, like a butterfly effect. Have you given any thought as to what this release was?"
"No, sir. I didn't think it mattered."
The Doctor was horrified. "You're trying to travel into unknown territory. Your only clue is that the world is defined by some critical moment, some Divergence. And you haven't even bothered to figure out what it is? If you ask me, that's the real mystery here. You solve the mystery of why the other world exists in the first place, you answer a lot of questions, don't you think?"
Twilight hadn't thought about this. It was something to be curious about, but Twilight didn't think that figuring out why there were two different worlds would actually benefit them. It didn't change their current situation.
"One more thing, Miss Sparkle, and then I'll depart," said the Doctor. "I'm not nearly as flexible as you make me out to be."
As the Doctor left, Twilight grimaced, confused. "And what is that supposed to mean?" she asked Applejack, who was watching from the doorway.
"Best not to dwell on it," mumbled Applejack, blushing.