Starlight in a Broken Vessel

by the-pieman

Chapter 158

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Chapter 158

After a while of idle chat, Pinkie looks up at the sun and gasps. “Oh no I forgot I agreed to babysit today I need to be there in two minutes bye Anthony!” She jumps up and dashes off, leaving me feeling like I just caught the tail end of a conversation I was supposed to be a part of.

What? Babysitting? Pinkie’s a babysitter? What just happened? ...Is that Applebloom, dressed up?

I figure I might as well see what’s going on, not much to do after I was just kind of... left here. Standing up and making my way to the filly, accompanied by her sister, I figure I might as well ask rather than find out myself. “So what are you guys doing? What’s with the get-up?”

“We’re going to meet mah cousin, Babs!” Applebloom says, practically imitating Pinkie from sheer excitement.

“She’s from th’ big city, Anthony. She’s takin’ some time with us to relax, away from all the hubbub.” Applejack explains for me, still motoring on with Applebloom in tow.

“Which city?”

“Manehattan. She’s a relative of the Oranges, specifically, but we’re all family.”

“I’ve been to Manehattan once. Place looked pretty nice. Though I get the whole deal of wanting somewhere like Ponyville to stay for a while.”

“Ha, well, ain’t nothin’ like the country. Anyways, I’ll be pickin’ up the other crusaders on th’ way there. You up t’ helpin’?”


The kids are getting a little rowdy and AJ has that ‘tired parent’ look that I never thought I’d sympathize with, but with these three, I understand completely. The train finally comes by and Applebloom, being a little too excited, needs a bit of calming down.

Soon though, a sort of tannish-brown filly with a mane that looks dyed and natural at the same time steps off one of the cars and we all get to meet Babs Seed. Holy cow, that is an accent straight out of a bad city movie... she sounds like a very small, feminine gang member from West Side Story. That is adorably awesome.

I don’t have anything to do so I figure I’d stay for the whole meeting and then some. Although I must say, the kid certainly is trying to put on the ‘tough new kid’ attitude. She looked at me and looked like she was about to scream, but now whenever she looks at me, she’s got a ‘meh’ face on like I may as well be a rock on the side of the road.

Then the reveal comes out that Babs doesn’t have her Cutie Mark and the Crusaders start with their recruiting schtick. It’s pointed that I’m a member too, and Babs looks at me like I just said I was going to marry a opossum. “Can ya even git a Cutie Mark?”

“If it does happen, I will be very very surprised. But I figure why not? The other members sure are fun!”

I see her flinch a little, her tail covering a flank. It’s adorable, and probably similar to a little kid wringing their hands. But, she looks thoughtful.

Along the way back to the Apple farm, the discussion turns to a parade that’s gonna happen in a few days. I figure there’s more interesting things to be doing, so once I get a look at the party float, which is a giant pumpkin, I head out to see what else is going on.

On my way back to Ponyville, I see Diamond Tiara and her gray lackey walking towards the barn as well. I’m not entirely sure what to think of this. I mean, I’m pretty sure I scared Tiara out of bullying, and the Crusaders know that if she becomes a problem they can just tell me.

Considering the little pink filly to be a potential annoyance, I hang back a bit and wait for the two to get inside the barn, giving them a minute. Then, I walk up and, leaning by the side, I hear the conversation. Typical bully fare. Insulting their latest creation/attempt/whatever and calling them stupid, all that junk.

Then they start on Babs. The hell? I decide to intervene. “So let me get this straight. You are now picking on some new kid who just showed up today and has done nothing at all for what reason?”

Tiara, turning around after realizing that just because you pass someone doesn’t mean they are gone, starts stammering a bit. “Here’s a choice: leave my friends alone, or you’ll have to be identified by dental records.”

Clearly they don’t get the actual meaning of this, but the threatening tone I use, on top of being much taller than them makes me seem very dangerous, so Tiara and her lackey run off as fast as they can, Babs offering a ‘An’ don’t come back!’

I give my usual spiel about how being a Blank Flank can be a good thing and fate and freedom and all that stuff I’ve explained three times now. Babs seems to take to my words pretty well, and I think it’s gonna stick with her. I think she could be a good influence on the other kids. I figure my work here is done, so I return to my trek back to Ponyville.

A thought occurs to me that I haven’t checked in on Ren since she was targeted for assassination and I’d been depowered. It’s been quite a long time since then. I should probably head over to make sure Hell hasn’t broken loose. And to make sure she knows I’m not dead or something.

Making my way towards the Everfree forest, which is on the cardinal complete opposite end of Ponyville from where I am, I get a lot of time to think about what could have happened. Maybe with me gone, Ren was killed by one of her remaining siblings? Or she’s doing just fine and is ruling unchallenged. Either outcome is just as likely and I’ve been MIA for a few months now.

Once I’m in the forest after a very long walk, I make my way to the hive, noticing the sparse beginnings of a sort of trail to Ponyville, like the way to and from the hive has been seeing more traffic lately. Guess Ren is trying to get Changelings acclimated to Ponyville. Though Ponyville getting acclimated to them might be difficult. Oh well, I guess I can offer some suggestions for that.

Getting up to the hive, I duck into the little entrance cave and I notice that the hive is much better lit all over now, with some sort of glowing plant strung around the walls. Probably some weird vine from the forest. Once I’m through the short entrance cave, I come to the main chamber that has also been renovated, now it looks more like the foyer of a large mansion. As well, there’s dozens of changelings in the main room, making it seem much less abandoned than before. There’s no trace of the chamber I blasted previously, just a smooth transition to a large ‘vault’-style door..

“Well, the place certainly looks less threatening. Planning on inviting some ponies over? See if you guys can actually drop the disguises for once?” My question is just kind of aimed at the various Changelings who’ve noticed me.

“Er, not really... but I think the Queen is more comfortable with the trappings of pony life than of being a changeling.” one of the many black-carapaced workers informs me, before going back to... whatever it was it was doing previously.

“Good enough for me.” I take a look around and, sure enough, the place does look a lot more like a home than a dungeon or just a sort of... well, cave. Though everything is still made of that odd not-stone hive material.

The changelings are definitely keeping busy, just kind of looking at me in acknowledgement and going back to work, whatever their job is.

After a bit, I get to Ren’s room. Walking in the oddly doorless area, it does look more like a teenager’s room if she could have whatever she wanted, rather than the ‘queen’s chamber’ style Chrysalis had going. She’s on the bed looking over a kid’s book.

“Well, I see you aren’t dead, and you didn’t even need me around. Maybe you don’t need as much protection as we thought. The place looks great!” Ren looks at me, her face lighting up. after a moment, she launches herself at me, and tackle-hugs me, knocking me over.“Great to see you too!”

You know, it’s odd. All the changelings are like this weird insectoid creature-pony and are kinda weird. And yet Ren somehow manages to be, for lack of a better word, cute. How does she do that without trying?

“Anthony!” Ren exclaims, nuzzling my chest with more enthusiasm than, I think, my return warrants. Still, it’s nice. Once she’s done, she looks back at my face again, smiling widely. “I’ve been so lonely without you. The others d-don’t understand, and now that there’s no other noble bred like myself, I just don’t know who to t-talk to.”

“Well, I could suggest you appoint some changelings a higher position, put more tiers between ‘queen’ and ‘drone’ but I’m not sure how well that would go in the long run.”

“Oh, silly. ‘noble-bred’ refers to queens and such. It’s biologic-cal.” she gingerly gets off my chest, letting me sit back up. “And there’s more than just ‘drones’ for everybuggy else.” I take a few moments to do my best to not burst out laughing at just how silly ‘everybuggy’ sounds and urge her to continue. “There’s workers, soldiers, infiltrators, and gatherers. ‘Drone’ is a gender.”

“Well, see what I know? Anyway, are the infiltrators the ones that are wandering around Ponyville? I don’t see many, but that could just be good disguises.”

“Actually, those are gatherers. They are bred for having more capacity for raw love, and they transfer it back in shifts. They give it to me, and I convert it to royal jelly. Which then gets, er, ‘processed’ into more refined versions. Infiltrators are like the spies in James Bridle.”

I correct her in the only way one should. “Bond. James, Bond. Anyway, I guess they don’t really have much to do since I can tell you don’t really need an espionage force.”

“Well... most of the ones here are dead, and I don’t know how to make more. I wasn’t exactly given an explanation. And most breeds are made by specific efforts by the hive, and the processes are passed down the generations. Each major hive has a different variant, but hives are so rare... one of my remaining infiltrators actually mentioned meeting a member of a hive from Zebrica. They’re more openly known there, apparently.”

“I’m probably suggesting nonsense, but if you contact the Zebrican hive, could you ask their queen to explain the processes for certain breeds to you?”

“Well... I don’t know about specifics, but I wouldn’t want to seem like I’m prying, and it supposed to be a big secret and stuff...” Ren sort of waffles on a bit more, not really making a point. However, I can guess she means she’s not really willing to try.

“Well, I’m sure it’s worth a try, isn’t it? I mean, the worst that can happen is she says no and you move on to other business, right? Unless asking for help from another hive is some kind of taboo as well.”

“I don’t really know. And that’s the problem. What if they take it as an act of espionage, and attack? What if they just think I’m weak, and attack? What if they-”

“What if you explain your story and they take pity on you and help you? It’s not like there’s any reason to attack someone if you know they don’t know they are being insulting, right? I’ll go with you if you want.”

“Well... actually, the soldiers won’t let me leave. They say it’s because I’m kinda the last chance the hive gets, or it all falls apart and they die.” She finishes the sentence looking rather glum.

“Hmmmm, well I could go on my own, but I know less about the changeling culture than you do. I might say something wrong. Well, the problem is that if you are just cooped up here all the time without learning how to do... anything really, then you’re just kinda biding your time until you die and then everyone else does. Can you afford not to try asking for help?”

“Well... yeah. I mean, we’re trying to come clean, so I don’t need infiltrators, right?” She gives me a hopeful smile.

“Well, I suppose, but I think there’s another problem. I mean, it might have just been Chrysalis overproducing them as pawns, but... Now that she’s gone there seems to be a lot, well, fewer of you around. That’s... normal, right?”

“Actually... we’re severely overpopulated. We’ve put a rather large strain on the surrounding wildlife. I, uh... kinda need to try having some noble nymphs soon. I just- I just can’t though. I’m too... scared.” She looks like she needs a hug.

Hoping that it’ll at least cheer her up, I wrap my arms around her. The feeling of chitin on my skin still a very odd one, but not entirely bad, just... odd. Still, she seems to appreciate it. “Well, I know of an old human solution to overpopulation but... nevermind.”

“Really? What’s the solution?” Uh oh, she seems rather hopeful...

I wince and metaphorically bite the bullet. “Find the least helpful or useful of the bunch and kill them off...” Ren’s face immediately contorts into a fearful expression. Right... Chrysalis probably told her she was among the ‘least useful’ grouping. “But as history has shown, humans aren’t the best race to learn from. Okay, we’re pretty much the high-overlords of scientific discovery, but we still don’t exactly have everyone’s best interests in mind, much less those of our own race. We do have plenty of good apples, but they aren’t enough to make a cultural turnaround.”

“... I have no idea what to say to that.”

“Congratulations, you have just made the most human reaction possible to that information.”

“...” I think I broke her.

“Yeah, we’re kinda... the opposite of ‘normal’ or ‘natural’. Sometimes I wonder: If we had more people like King Solomon and the like... would we have become more like the ponies? If our higher-ups all thought that violence was the worst option and every problem had a non-violent solution... it just baffled me as to what we’d end up like, but seeing the ponies... I think I have an idea of what the result would be. And I’m not sure if that’s a good thing to be honest.”

“Well, they have very few wars, that’s for sure. They’re better at politically and economically outmaneuvering their opponents than facing them directly. I think it comes from being a prey species.”

“Yeah, humans, while they are prey to quite a few things, we are most definitely apex predators. But from what I can tell, that doesn’t matter anymore, as humanity has pretty much ceased at this point. Come on, let’s think of a solution to your problem.”

“Well... if I do end up with some noble nymphs, the hive will schism naturally when they grow old enough, and then the splinter clusters will fan out, try to spread out over as much area as possible. That’s something I learned from a travelling cluster about half a year ago.”

“I might have met them. And they had a nymph with them... but no queen that I could see. But if they have a nymph, they probably know how to make more, right? We could ask them, couldn’t we?”

“Er, well, I know how, I j-just, I can’t-” her breath hitches a little. “I just can’t.”

“Well, I sure don’t know the first thing about parenting, especially for changelings, so I’m out of advice. But the first step to any problem you can’t solve yourself is to get help.”

“There’s, uhm, plenty of offer to help with the m-making part. But...”

“I’m sure there is, making a kid is pretty easy. Raising it is a whole other can of worms that I don’t even know how to open. Too bad the ponies don’t know much about changelings, they’d probably have some kind of parenting guide.” Ren just shudders. It’s really too bad, I think there’s probably enough changelings here who’ve worked as babysitters and whatnot to have picked up at least a rudimentary knowledge of what to do. There’s an idea. “Well, why not ask your own changelings for help with the ‘raising’ bit? Sure they aren’t exactly trained in it, but they seemed to at least understand basics. They have a nursery set up and everything.”

“I- I wouldn’t have any problem raising the nymphs. I- I rather like little ones.” Well then, what does she have problem with?

“So the problem is finding the right guy?” I honestly can’t think of anything.

“Well... no. Not- not quite.” She looks really uncomfortable for some reason.

“Well... I’m actually out of ideas. I’ll think on it, but I guess I’ll see you another time. Cheer up, alright? I’m sure there’s some easy fix that we haven’t thought of yet.” I give her another hug and leave her room, Ren looking still rather depressed.

I need help, but who could I ask that would know what’s going on? Someone who’s familiar with changelings and is close enough to Ren, too. Oh... duh! I look around for a random drone and figure I’d ask it what could be Ren’s problem. “She seems to have some issue with some aspect of mating and I’d like to help, but I can’t figure out what the actual issue is. You got any ideas?”

The drone just shrugs and goes back to work. Damnit, I’m not going to just give up on Ren. I keep asking around and I come to one who’s pupiless eyes actually show some sign of understanding what I’m asking.

“Oh, uhm... from what I hear, she get’s pretty close, but stops right before anything, er, ‘happens’. I think it’s got something to do with having a drone on top of her.”

It’s a subordination issue? She doesn’t seem to be that greedy about her position as queen, why would she have a problem with... Oh. Right, she was pretty much treated like dirt by her own mother, and she doesn’t want to be a sub in any way. “Well, why can’t she be the one on top, y’know?”

The drone looks at me like I grew a second head. “Uh, I don’t think the ‘equipment’ is built that way.” And then it hits me. They’re all quadrupeds. ‘Doggy-style’ is pretty much all they can do. Well if there’s one more thing humans are known for inventing, it’s crazy sex positions... Sighing at how the disturbing nature of human sexuality is going to save this hive, I make my way back to Ren’s room and start thinking about ways that a pair of quadrupeds could pull off a ‘girl-on-top’ position.

(Un)fortunately, I’ve spent more than my fair share of time on the ‘bad’ end of Deviantart and actually have a few ideas, which I attempt to relay to her after explaining the reasoning. “So... the idea is that you, uh...”

Ren looks at me rather confused.

“You... the guy’s, like, on his back or something? And then you kinda... just... uh...” By the growing confused look I’m getting, I can tell I’m doing an awful job. “Ugh, just... get a guy in here and I’ll...” I shudder a bit. “Show you.”

Needless to say, it was much easier to show than tell and I’ve got Ren and her partner... situated. I decide now would be a great time to leave for a bit. I can’t believe I am saving this society with the power of humanity’s perverted nature...

After a while of sitting in the foyer area, I see the drone Ren had chosen walking out from her bedroom looking... pleased. Facepalming at the embarrassing notion of this whole ordeal, I wait about a half hour before going up to see Ren. I figured I’d give her time to... whatever girls need to do.

I get to her room, and find that she’s basically passed out and... oh jeez, that’s a mess I didn’t want to see. Or smell. Oh man, the smell...

I make a run from the hive before I gag or anything, I think I’ll come back sometime after not this century.

I’m walking back to Ponyville and talking to myself. “So what’d you do today Anthony?” I mimic some random person’s voice. “Oh nothing much.” I respond to my fake voice. “Just taught a changeling queen how to have girl-dominant sex, you know, nothing major!”

I stop when I realize that someone actually heard that. Twilight looks deeply disturbed and curious, and slowly levitates a quill and scroll out of her bag. Oh no! Next Chapter: Chapter 159 Estimated time remaining: 10 Hours, 15 Minutes

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