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Old Time is Still Flying

by TheBalaklavaPony

        The tooth around Pinkie’s neck hung on a golden thread, somehow secure through a hole no bigger than the tip of a pencil. Just a white piece of enamel barely a centimeter or two long. She had found it under a couch cushion and treasured it after Gummy passed. If anything could be counted on anymore, it was Pinkie polishing that tooth every morning and night.

        Pinkie wouldn’t stop fiddling with it while Twilight was talking to her. The head nurse at Sunnyvale Home had called Twilight earlier this week – another incident. At least Pinkie didn’t have to be restrained in her infirmary bed by the time Twilight could fit in a visit.

        “…Pinkie, do you remember the time we got everypony in town to come to Dash’s Wonderbolt acceptance party?

        “Oh GOLLY, do I! It really was the best party - ever! The biggest, brightest balloons, best party tunes, most funnest dancing…”

        A laugh suddenly burst out of Twilight.

“I can still see Rarity’s face when you stuck Gummy in her freshly-permed mane and everypony watched her buck and jump like a rodeo pony on the dance floor!”

        “Heee-HAW, ride that ther’ pony like a champ, Gummy!” Pinkie exclaimed in her best Applejack impression. They both laughed until even the usually sensible Twilight had tears in her eyes. Twilight had forgotten how infectious Pinkie’s effervescence was.

        The pink-coated pony lay back in her bed with a sigh. “Speaking of Rainbow, how is my Dashie Dash doing lately?”

        “Why don’t you tell me why Nurse Redheart called and said that you attacked the guard ponies again, instead?”

Twilight changed the subject partially because she didn’t really know.

        Pinkie sat back up with a jump. “They can’t keep me in here, Twilight - I’m no loko coco! This pony was made to be free!

        “You know that they aren’t trying to hurt you, Pinkie. You have been feeling better.”

She tried to say it without noticing that by now Pinkie’s mane was nearly completely pulled or chewed out. Her breakdowns had become worse and worse over the last few years, and a bigger and bigger problem to deal with. The first happened after Sugarcube Corner went bankrupt and Pinkie lost her home with it, but Twilight knew that alone wasn’t enough to crack the resolutely optimistic pony. She may have been too childlike and naïve to transition into adulthood responsibility, let alone business ownership, but it wasn’t her fault that the rest of her friends so greatly succeeded and didn’t have enough time for her. Life generally just stopped going Pinkie’s way – her store, her parties, her relationships, her friends. Her age.

        “I’m not a spring filly, anymore, Twi! I want my bakery back! I want Gummy back! Where are they, Twilight?” Pinkie sincerely implored.

        “They’re gone now, don’t you remember?” Twilight returned with insistence, impatience, and pity all at once. “Why don’t you try to remember the good times you had with your friends?”

        Pinkie’s eyes glistened at those words.

“My friends that are too busy to see ol’ Pinkie Pie anymore? I always knew that they wanted a reason to abandon me! You thought after revealing that surprise birthday party that I would never doubt any of you again. Well, weren’t you wrong!”

“That’s not true, Pinkie, everypony misses you terribly, and we all want you back with us, safe and healthy!”

“You really think that, Twilight Sparkle? Everypony thought I was the dumb, ditzy one, but I saw a lot more than you- TWITCHA TWITCH!

        Oh no, not another one.

Pinkie twitched and quivered all over, and her body began to twist unnaturally. Twilight tried to hold her still with her horn magic, but Pinkie was just too wild to control even for her. Twilight repeatedly called out to the nurses before anypony responded. Pinkie suddenly stiffened and proclaimed in a very grave voice:

“The past you knew will die… and you will find the new now, the true now, and nothing will be the same… sides are chosen, and always have been… those you thought you knew will reveal to be the most different… and those who were the most true will be the most changed… gather your rosebuds while you may!”

The nurse unicorns were finally able to calm Pinkie down with multiple sedation spells; now Twilight had to fill out yet another form for Nurse Redheart. After Twilight spent a rushed fifteen minutes going through the reporting form in the administrator’s office, the red-haired earth pony handed her that month’s bill. By now she instantly knew where to initial, date, and sign. Twilight was about to speed out the door when she remembered her question for the head nurse.

“How long has Pinkie been saying those things when she starts ‘twitching’?”

“Something like a month or two. The nurses know not to acknowledge her when she gets that way, so I figured you wouldn’t want to know, either. You’re a very busy pony, of course.”

“For future reference, I would like to know the assumptions made about my priorities before you make them, Nurse Redheart. I informed you that I wanted to have updates of Ms. Pie’s prognosis whenever it changed, and somehow I find epileptic premonitions to be a fairly important change. I expect I won’t have to remind you about this again – good day.” Twilight turned and stormed out through the door.

        Redheart called, clearly indignant, “Of course, Ms. Mayor!”

The middle-aged violet mare knew that Redheart had referred to a mayor’s inability to spend anywhere near enough time on her friend’s case, but it was really the principle that made Twilight use that tone with the administrator. She wished she had the time to spend on her personal life, but ever since her repeated election to the office of Ponyville mayor, Twilight had less and less time to think about anything but her job. That’s why Twilight seemingly was the only one of her old friends who had not settled down by her age, except Pinkie. She could blame her mother’s genes for turning her mane and tail a metallic silver early, albeit still with quite a bit of purple and magenta, but her work didn’t help. Sure, under her tenure Ponyville had grown into a major city to rival Fillydelphia, but now she had barely a couple of hours every few months to spend with one of her best friends.

Already after leaving Sunnyvale Home, Twilight had to give her thought and attention to a supposed environmental emergency brought to her attention this morning by her new assistant, Colgate. More than likely it was about somepony who went into the Everfree Forest to collect poison joke or hexed truffles and thought she saw a bear-goat or something else patently absurd, but Colgate insisted that Twilight meet right away with Rainbow Dash, who was Head of Climatological and Environmental Security down at Town Hall.

But first, she needed to check out a phrase Pinkie had said in her hysteria, after Twilight checked the time on the Ponyville town clock and realized that she actually had just over twenty-five minutes to spare before her meeting. She made a quick detour to her old house in the grand ancient oak tree, which had been the Princess Celestia Ponyville Central Library since Twilight moved into the mayor’s Town Hall residence. Most of what Pinkie said seemed to be involuntary rambling, but that last phrase, “Gather your rosebuds while you may,” kept bouncing around in Twilight’s brain; those words were far too coherent and memorable for it to mean nothing, although even the brilliant unicorn only vaguely remembered its source.

The unforgettable mustiness of old oak wood and old books was always the first thing Twilight noticed when she walked through the familiar door. The second was the giant machine with buttons and knobs that stood in the middle of the main room. Recently they had installed a state of the art computer that combined advanced computational magic with brand new, high-tech computer hardware. It was enormous, but was the fastest and most advanced computer around, and held more data in its memory than any of hard copy libraries in Equestria. Twilight loved the idea of it, but she couldn’t help feeling that its incomparable efficiency and speed took out all of the fun of searching for information in the old books. Not that she had enough time to actually look through the real archives.

Sitting down at one of the stations attached to the central computer, Twilight searched through the database for the particular phrase, and she found numerous hits across different periods of time, revealing that at one point the original source was a popular cultural reference of some kind. Finally, the oldest hit she found was a work by an ancient poet, which started with that phrase. The section of the poem that repeatedly showed up in slightly more recent sources went:

“Gather ye rosebuds while you may,

Old time is still a-flying:

And this same flower that smiles to-day

        To-morrow will be dying.”

It didn’t answer why Pinkie quoted this particular work, or how she even knew a poem originally written in a dead language that Twilight barely remembered, but it was certainly a start. Contemporary research about that piece said that these lines were one of the most famous of the “Carpe Diem” movement, which promoted innocence and love to appreciate the present regardless of the past or future. Now Twilight could see why Pinkie fit that idea perfectly, but it didn’t mean anything for a pony like the mayor who had no time to think about anything like that.

Twilight then realized that she had about five minutes to get to Dash’s office, but she felt fairly satisfied as she left the library. She had scratched her itch; it had been awhile since she had gotten to read something that wasn’t an obscure legal document to cite, prospective bill to sign, or bureaucratic form to stamp. Getting to research any small topic in the library brought her the same distracting entertainment she knew many of her civil servants got from secretly watching TV or browsing the Equesternet while at their desks. It wasn’t that Twilight thought Pinkie’s ancient poetry reference was anything more than unusual, but it did clear her mind so she could go throughout the rest of her workday without distractions. Just in time, too; Twilight got to Dash’s door just at the stroke of 2.

Twilight silently laughed while standing at Rainbow Dash’s office door, just because of the absurdity of such a formerly brash and impatient mare working a desk job, let alone such an important one. Dash may have had an extremely successful career with the Wonderbolts, but she got just a bit too stiff in the joints like every other pony their age. Twilight had decided to give Dash this job because of her previous skill and experience with controlling weather and mystical creatures, although the mare sometimes wondered if she just told herself that to justify lending a hoof to a friend. However, so far the celebrity pegasus had proved to be far beyond capable at her job. So capable and self-sufficient that Twilight hadn’t needed to actually see her in several years.

Twilight rapped her hoof upon the door with “Ms. Rainbow Dash - City Secretary of Climatological and Environmental Security” written in large, gold letters on the frosted window. The mayor couldn’t help noticing that a certain pony had painted a very thin rainbow-colored outline around each letter – not clearly enough to immediately notice, but enough to be technically a violation of the Equestrian civil employee decorum code. Twilight just smiled as the door opened.

“’Ey, if it isn’t Bookworm McSmartyPony! Or should I say, ‘Ms. Mayor?’ … Hmm, nah - I think ‘Egghead’ works just fine, don’t you, Egghead Sparkle?” She really was still the same.

“I guess so, Ms. Secretary. Oh sorry, I didn’t mean to make you feel old or anything.”

“Oh no, you’re killing me, Twi, I think my back might give out!”

They shared a hearty laugh and a big hug – they may have had completely opposite personalities, but Twilight really did always miss Rainbow Dash’s casual and fun nature. They both took their seats and made the obligatory small talk.

“So, Rainbow, how’s your foal? Spark’s behaving himself?”

“Barely, but he’s a work in progress – kids, right? I’ve been stretching out these old wings to teach the rascal how to fly, but it’s even harder now that we have another one.

“Really? I had no idea!”

Cherry Jubilee - she’ll be a year old in two and a half weeks. I wasn’t keen on the name, but it was the better half’s call, since I got to pick the last one.”

“That’s great, Dash, I’m so happy for you.” Twilight’s voice suddenly dropped as she remembered to tell Dash about earlier that day. By the way, I just got back from visiting Pinkie in Sunnyvale.

“Ah geez… how’s that pony doing?” Dash asked with noticeably less energy.

“Not great – she attacked the guards again and her ‘episodes’ are worse and more frequent. She did ask about you, though.”

“I’m really sorry to hear that, Twilight. Pinkie may have been a super spaz, but I guess she was the closest thing I had to a best friend.”

There was an awkward moment filled only with the ticking of an official Rainbow Dash Desk Clock.

“Well anyways, Twi, I also wish I had called you during brighter circumstances, but we have a pretty big problem on our hooves right now. There’s another dragon holed up in the cave on the mountain outside town - you remember where.”

Twilight let out a regretful sigh.

“I knew we should have filled in that cave at some point, but I guess it’s too late now. What you think we should do about it?” she asked Dash.

“Apparently we’re the last to know, because already somepony has passed around a petition to… permanently get rid of it. The list has some of the biggest names in Ponyville attached to it, and they’re the reason everypony with a torch and a pitchfork wants to go after this dragon.”

“Who are they?”

Rainbow gave her a certified copy of the petition and said, “Of course you’ll know them: Sweetie Belle, Fluttershy, Rarity, and Applejack.” Familiar list, peculiar motives. Twilight appeared to be visibly shaken by the revelation of her friends’ names.

Dash, these are some of our best friends, and they’re calling for the blood of this dragon? Why would all of them be so interested in that?

“Honestly, I have no clue, except I s’pose Fluttershy wants to save the little critters in that area, since that’s her thing. Even then, Fluttershy wanting another creature dead, even a dragon? If you had asked me years ago whether me being a bureaucrat or Fluttershy wanting to kill something was more likely, I would have gone with Pencil-Pusher Dash every time. Guess they both turned out true,” Dash said with a muted half-chuckle. “Point is that I would prefer a much less dangerous and more peaceful solution.”

“Well, I normally would too, but doesn’t Statute no. 1347, sub-section 2, paragraph 3 of the Equestrian Legal Code state that standard procedure is to get rid of this dragon by any means necessary, as approved by referendum or public petition? We already have the petition from the citizens of Ponyville to kill the dragon, so why haven’t we done it already?”

        Twilight noticed that Rainbow Dash furrowed her beaten brow and slightly chewed her lower lip before answering, as if she had wanted to avoid this point, and now struggled to find the right way to respond.

        “Because I really want you to convince those four to change their minds before we resort to that.”

        “Why? I want to be involved in killing a living creature as little as the next pony, but this dragon is obviously dangerous, so why is it worth the extra effort to protect it? And it’s your job, why do I need to be the one to change their minds!?” Twilight asked exasperatedly.

        “That dragon… is Spike.”