Modern Medicine

by GaPJaxie

Chapter 1

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“Twilight, Twilight!” Spike shouted. “There’s a strange mare in the library! Come quick!” He seemed alarmed, perhaps even a touch frightened, but when she pressed him for details, he provided none. He stammered instead, and hesitated, and repeated his shout: that there was somepony in the library, and Twilight needed to see. And so Twilight went, and she saw.

She was still in the library when Twilight found her, draped over one of the shelves and idly flipping through a book. At first, Twilight was shocked into silence. The strange mare was a princess, an alicorn, with a purple coat and a regalia of tarnished silver. Her mane was dark blue, streaked with purple and pink, and her cutie mark was a purple star, surrounded by five others.

She was tall, as tall as Celestia, but where the sun-princess was imposing and powerful of frame, the strange mare was thin and light. Her legs and wings hung down one side of the shelf as she read, appearing too long for her body. Her tail was cut short, like a stallion, with the effect that she seemed almost deer-like. It was a look that extended to her face, where her long frame and thin body emphasized her cheekbones and the length of her muzzle. It was an angular sort of face—like Princess Cadence, perhaps, if a bit longer and more bony.

Twilight was still trying to recover when the strange mare spoke. “You know, I haven’t seen a book like this in a long time?” She levitated up the text she was flipping through and held it towards Twilight. It was a copy of Daring Do and the Altar of Storms, dog-eared and well read. “A book that’s for reading that is. Books still exist—I have a collection—but they’re collectors items. They’re elegant things. All white and gold binding. Signaljunk. There to be pretty and make an exquisite library. Not for regular use.”

“Who are you?” Twilight asked, circling the strange mare slowly. Observing closely, she noticed other things about the room that were amiss. A few books were out of place, her secret stash of snacks was open, and on top of one of the tables was placed a set of green saddlebags, bulging to their fullest with some unknown contents.

“Come on, kid. I was a smart filly,” the strange mare replied. It was only then that she seemed to really notice Twilight, putting the book down and focusing on her. A smile appeared on her face, but only briefly, flickering into life and dying just as fast. “You already know the answer to that.”

“No...” Twilight said slowly. “Having my coat color and cutie mark doesn’t prove you’re me. You don’t look anything like me. And besides, Starswirl’s time spell only works once ever.”

“Once for each caster,” the strange mare corrected, raising a hoof in a single smooth motion. “Once per pony. But that was a thousand years ago for me. And you aren’t the pony you used to be. Are you?” She gave a wan smile, and then gestured down at the bags. “Here, I can prove it.”

As Twilight watched, the strange mare pulled up her legs and wings—what seemed an unmanageable amount of bone and feather somehow nearly folding beside her. She did not leap from the shelf so much as drift from it—seeming half to float to the ground and half to walk down the shelf’s vertical front. Her hooves hit the ground without a sound, and in a single step, she crossed the room to stand aside Twilight.

“Woah! Hey!” Twilight eyes went wide and she quickly scrambled backwards. Her gaze shot between where the mare had been and where she now stood—thirty feet at least, covered so quickly Twilight had no time to react. So close, her eyes barely came up to the strange mare’s chest, and she had to back off several steps before she could comfortably see her face.

“Sorry,” the strange mare said, still smiling that odd smile and looking down at Twilight. “Didn’t mean to scare you.” She glanced at the table, and her horn came alight, floating the green bags over to Twilight. “Ever since we were ten, we wanted a set of dragon-scale saddlebags, because Starswirl the Bearded had them and they’re awesome. But we felt... you feel... incredibly sleazy for wanting swag made from a sapient being’s skin. So we never breathed a word about it to anypony.”

Twilight paused, and then leaned forward to inspect the bags. Upon closer examination, what she had taken for a steady green was a regular scale pattern, bright and shiny under the library lamps. “How was...”

“Donated,” the strange mare said, bending her long neck to lead her head down beside Twilight’s. “Non-fatally. It’s a few hundred years before medicine reaches the point that it can effectively regenerate flayed skin. But when it does, there’s a small market for authentic dragon-skin items.” Twilight suddenly found her hoof surrounded in a purple glow as the other mare pulled her hoof up and pressed it to the bag. She lifted her own hoof as well, holding it against the leather alongside Twilight’s. “It’s a bit... macabre. But I know you treasure it. And don’t worry; Spike doesn’t mind.”

The purple glow faded, and the bags settled gently to the ground as Twilight found her hoof released. She looked sharply between the mare and the bag, her ears folded halfway back. She took a breath, licked her lips once, and then found it in her to speak. “Is the bag a gift, then?”

“After I’m done with it, yes,” the strange mare replied. She lifted her head, took a half step away from Twilight, and lifted her wings. As before, they seemed outsized for her body—neat and trim against her side, but unfolding into a blanket of feathers half-again too large for her frame. Wings thus raised, the strange mare lifted the saddlebags, and secured them tightly about her barrel. “I have some deliveries to make first.”

“That still doesn’t...” Twilight swallowed, a frown appearing on her face. “Prove you’re me. You could be a mind reader. Or a version of me from an alternate universe where we share that desire.”

“So skeptical,” the strange mare replied, a half-chuckle escaping her. “We don’t look that different, do we?”

Twilight ignored the question, squaring her shoulders and lifting her voice slightly, adding a kick of force as she spoke. “If you are me, then, how are you here? Starswirl’s spell only lets you go back for a few seconds. Why are you hanging around the library?”

“Well, that’s a few questions,” the strange mare said. She didn’t answer right away, but instead moved across the library. Three long, graceful steps brought her to Twilight’s desk, and the secret snack stash beside it. She hesitated there a moment, then restored the book that usually hid the stash from sight. “Starswirl’s spell only lasts a few seconds when it’s a unicorn casting it. I’m rather more powerful than you. I’d estimate I have about seven hours ish. Maybe a bit less. As for why I’m in the library, I was waiting for you.”

She flicked her short, brush-like tail, and gestured up towards the ceiling. “See, I remember this conversation. From when I was you.” Her pace picked up. “It’s been long enough the details are all blurry. I don’t know exactly what either of us is going to say. But I remember...” She trailed off, and her tone slowed again. “Finding me in the library. And spending...” She smiled again, shut her eyes, and shook her head, “a lot of time wondering what it would be like to be on the other side of this conversation. And now that I’m here...”

She opened her eyes again, turning back to Twilight. “I’m here because today is a special day.” She threw an energetic kick behind the words, and the soft smile on her face grew to an eager grin. “You and me, kid. Today’s the day we save the world.”

“Save it from... what?” Twilight’s eyes flicked to the strange mare’s back. “What’s in the bag?”

“Medicine,” said the strange mare. “You see, there’s a plague sweeping Equestria. Not the proper sort, with boils and fevers and bodies burnt in the streets. No. It’s a more insidious thing than that. A virus has no morality, it’s just a self-replicating chemical. But this! This darkness that comes among us now.” She returned Twilight’s way, gesturing out the window. “It’s an evil thing.”

“I think I’d know if there was a plague,” Twilight insisted, but the other mare did not look her way, continuing to stare out the window.

“That’s the trick, you see,” the mare paused, her voice falling as she went on. “It doesn’t kill at random. It targets the elderly. It draws away their strength, until they suffer some other accident. Broken bones, heart attacks, whatever.” She shrugged. “And then it appears to be natural demise. But there’s nothing natural about it. It’s a monster. It’s a monster, and if we don’t kill it, it will kill mom, and kill dad, and Shining and Spike and everypony else we care about.”

The mare looked down for a few moments, and when she lifted her head, her grin was back. “Nasty, ain’t it? But that’s why today is a special day. We’re about to do a good thing.”

“I... don’t know,” Twilight set her jaw, taking a step back. “If this plague is already here, why did you come back today? Why not go back earlier and stop it sooner?”

“Because today’s the day I came back last time.” She nodded her head Twilight’s way. “Gotta stay on the rails, kid.”

“That’s not a real reason,” Twilight insisted, raising her voice.

The other mare gave only a half-shrug. “It’s reason enough.” The strange mare unlatched the window, pushing it open and letting the strong, cool breeze inside. It was a beautiful morning in Ponyville, and in the nearby square, ponies could be seen going about their daily lives, their conversations barely audible. “I know you don’t believe me now, but you will. And this is your work. Your monster to slay. I’ve brought enough medicine for the ponies in imminent danger, and instructions on how to make more. But there’s a difference between having a cure for the plague, and curing the plague.”

A purple glow surrounded Twilight, levitating her up off her hooves. “Hey!” she shouted, but the strange mare ignored her, gently placing Twilight to her immediate right by the window.

“That’s why I stayed to chat,” she said, “instead of just going on to distribute the cure myself. There is a war you will have to wage soon. I remember that.”

As soon as her hooves touched the ground, Twilight took a quick step away from the strange mare, craning her neck up to look at her face. “Look, I don’t know... I’m still not convinced you are who you say you are. You don’t look like me. And you don’t talk like me. And... and there’s a lot of holes in your story. I’m not calling you a liar, but I’m not sure I can help you with—”

“Oh, that’s alright, kid,” the strange mare laughed. “You’ll call me a lot worse than a liar before this day is over. We have a bit of a fight at the end. That part... well. It’s something we need to go through, but you won’t enjoy it and neither will I. But we aren’t there yet, so, come on.” She nodded out towards Ponyville. “How about I prove my claim?”

Twilight frowned when she heard they would soon fight, and her frown only got deeper as the conversation went on. “Prove it... how?” Twilight asked, speaking slowly as she glanced between the window and the strange mare.

“Granny Smith is dying of the plague as we speak,” the strange mare said. “It has disguised itself as a stroke. She is bleeding in her brain and, untreated, will soon die. But I can save her.” The other mare smirked again, glancing at Twilight. “Let’s go see.”

“Wait, what?” Twilight demanded. “Granny is dying? When were you going to mention—”

In a flash of purple light, the library vanished around Twilight. In its place appeared blue skies, white tufted clouds, and the green fields of Sweet Apple Acres stretching off into the distance. Twilight froze for a half second, and then shrieked as she realized she was falling. The ground and sky spun around her, and in a desperate attempt to slow her descent, she snapped both of her wings out and flapped as hard as she could. The motion made her twist, sending her into a spin, and as green filled her vision, she braced her legs for impact.

Twilight hit the ground hooves first. Her legs buckled under her, sending her flying forward until her chin plowed into the grass. She lay there for a few moments in a daze. She was in pain, but it was nothing more than the temporary sting of a few scratches and scraped knees and she soon picked herself up.

She lifted her head in time to see the strange mare land. So wide her wings and so light her frame, that she did not seem to fly so much as drift like a falling feather, touching down to the ground beside Twilight without a sound. She was smiling as she did, and Twilight scowled.

“That wasn’t funny,” she snapped, shaking the dirt off her coat.

“Well, comedy equals my suffering plus time it seems,” the strange mare’s smile only broadened, and Twilight’s scowl deepened in turn. “Oh come on, kid, get over it. It’s at least a little funny. I just can’t get over how short I was back then.”

Short?” Twilight snorted. “I’m the tallest pony in my group of friends! You’re the one who's built like a—”

“Twilight!” Applejack’s voice cut into the conversation, and both mares turned to the sound. Twilight could see Applejack rushing out of the farmhouse towards them, her eyes wide and her voice panicked. “Twilight, did you bring the doctor? Granny—” She paused as her eyes focused on the strange mare. “Who are you?”

“She claims to be me from the future,” Twilight said, quickly. “Applejack, what’s wrong with Granny?”

“I don’t know!” Applejack shouted, her voice rising in both volume and pitch. “She just collapsed and started, and started spasming. Big Mac ran to get the doctor.” Applejack took two quick breaths, looking wildly between the mares in front of her. “Twilight, she’s foaming blood at the mouth. I don’t know what to do!”

“She’s having a seizure,” the strange mare explained calmly. “The blood is from biting her own tongue off. She will be dead in minutes if not treated.” She smiled when Applejack looked her way, and gave a short nod of her head. “I’ve brought medicine for her. I’m here to help. Don’t worry, Applejack. I promise, she doesn’t die today. Shall we go to her now?”

“Wait,” Twilight said, but the other mare was already in motion. In two impossibly long strides, she covered the distance to the farmhouse. She spread her wings as she walked, and with a single bead, she leapt from the ground up to the roof. The window leading to Granny’s room was there, and though it was smaller than a pony’s frame, she somehow slipped through without trouble, and inside.

Twilight and Applejack stood there in shock for a moment, until Twilight again shouted: “Go!” Then the two friends ran, sprinting to the farmhouse, entering the front door, rushing up the stairwell and down the hall to the last door on the left. They burst in, nearly knocking the door off its hinges with the force of their entry, and then froze in the doorway as they took in the sight before them.

Granny hovered over the bed, suspended in a purple field emanating from the strange mare’s horn. She was still spasming, blood running down her chin and throat in frothy rivers. Spread out on the end table beside her was a strange case of shiny steel medical tools, none of which Twilight recognized. The mare had one levitated beside her—a steel syringe, though it had some kind of spring mechanism at the end, and a trigger halfway along its length. Her eyes were on Granny, narrowed and focused.

“Okay, Granny,” the strange mare cooed. “Time for your shots. Be a good filly and hold still and I’ll give you a lollypop.” She opened her saddlebags, revealing hundreds or perhaps thousands of loosely packed glass vials. She picked one seemingly at random, containing a pink liquid, and slotted it into her syringe. She pulled the spring back until a loud click could be heard, and the trigger snapped out from its resting place.

As the strange mare leaned close, the glow of her magic brightened. Granny went still, but Twilight could see her muscles struggling. Her spasms had not calmed, but instead were restrained, her entire body held still in vice-like grip. “Now,” she said, lifting the strange device to Granny’s throat. “This shot is administered through the neck. Which can sometimes be dangerous. Bleeding out and such. And it would suck if I accidentally killed Applejack’s grandmother.”

She plunged the stainless steel syringe down into Granny Smith’s neck. Applejack shrieked and took a half-step forward, reaching out towards her grandmother, but the strange mare ignored her. She depressed the trigger, and the syringe hissed, the spring at the end slowly compressing. “So...” the mare said slowly, drawing the words out. “If you could clot that wound nice and quick like you’re supposed to, that would be super. Just...” She held a breath, and slowly removed the syringe. “Super.”

A stillness came to the room, and all was silent save for Applejack’s quick and shallow breaths. After a slow count of five, Granny’s spasming slowed, and then stopped. The strange mare lowered her back to the bed, and then pried open her jaw. “Now let’s make sure you didn’t bite off too much of your tongue. As I recall you’re going to need that later today and it would be a shame if... no. No. We’re looking good there. Just some superficial damage.”

The strange mare inspected Granny’s mouth a moment more, nodded as though in satisfaction, then grabbed a cloth and a bottle of some clear liquid from her kit of tools. Cleaning the blood from Granny’s throat and jaw, she revealed that there was no wound where her syringe had touched, and no more blood came forth.

Slowly, Applejack stepped forward. “Will she be...” she asked, her voice tight.

“She’ll be fine,” the strange mare said. She lifted the syringe, and a sharp tap to the spring mechanism ejected the empty glass canister, sending it rolling away on the floor. She set to cleaning it then, with a fresh cloth from her kit and the bottle of clear liquid. “She still needs some care though, so I need you to listen to me, Applejack. Can you do that?”

After a small pause, Applejack nodded,

The mare grinned. “Cool.” She finished putting her tools away before she spoke again, tucking the syringe and the bottle back into her toolkit, and then sliding the kit into her saddlebags. “It will take four to six hours for the medication to take full effect. She’ll be fine then, you understand? She’ll be fine. Nod if you understand.”

Again, Applejack nodded, reaching up to take her hat off her head and holding it to her chest.

“Okay, so for that time—for the next six hours or so—she’ll be very thirsty and hungry. If she’s awake, it’ll be to complain she needs food and water. You have to keep bringing it to her or she won’t heal properly.” The strange mare pointed at the floor, to roughly where the kitchen would be on the level below. “Something easy to digest. Finely ground porridge, say.”

“Right,” Applejack nodded quickly. Her voice was still tight, but she forced herself to speak. “Right, I understand.”

“Some of her hair may fall out, but don’t worry, that is a perfectly normal side effect. It doesn’t mean anything is wrong.” The other mare crossed the room, not stepping around the bed but over it, in a single motion that made Twilight’s eyes burn. Yet, there she was beside Applejack, resting a hoof on the other pony’s shoulder. “Your grandmother will be okay, Applejack. I promise. I promise she doesn’t die today. Do you believe me?”

“I...” Applejack took a breath. “Yes, I...” she craned her neck up, to look the other pony in the eye. “Is that really you, Twi?”

“From about a thousand years from now, yeah.” The strange mare grinned. “It’s a heck of a ride between here and there. But we’ll get to catch up on that later. I’ll be back in about six hours. Granny will be up and walking around by then, so we’ll have some stuff to catch up on. Have some of that cider you make ready, would you? It’s been a long time since I had any.”

“No,” Twilight stepped forward. Her voice was calm, but forceful, and she raised it to be heard clearly over any other conversation. “You’re not going anywhere. I’m becoming less and less convinced you are who you say you are, and there’s something a little too perfect about you showing up to cure a mysterious illness that suddenly appeared this morning. For all I know, you made Granny sick just so you could cure her. We’re going to go see Princess Celestia. Right now.”

“No, we aren’t,” the strange mare said. “There are other ponies in imminent danger. There’s a lot of hospitals in Equestria, and I have to visit every one today. Plus a few more places besides.”

“I wasn’t asking,” Twilight snapped. Her horn came alight, and a bright purple forcefield appeared around the strange mare—a bubble that encased her in all directions. “I don’t know who you are really, but—”

The mare unfolded one long leg, and reached out to Twilight. Her hoof passed through the forcefield without the slightest resistance, tapping Twilight square on the nose. “Boop.”

Twilight froze, until a sharp flick of the other mare’s hoof made her squeak in surprise and sent her stumbling backwards. Her forcefield vanished, and the other mare chuckled.

“Kid, I didn’t bring you along because I needed your permission,” the strange mare said, her voice low and quiet. “We’re on the rails now. All that’s left is for events to unfold just the way they did. But this,” she pointed at the bed, “was something you needed to see. And now there’s something else you need to—”

“Princess Celestia will—” Twilight started to shout, but the other mare waved a hoof, and her voice abruptly vanished. Twilight’s eyes went wide in shock, and she tried to scream, but not so much as a squeak emerged. Applejack stared as well, slowly backing away from the strange mare, and her smile that never faded.

“As I was saying,” the other mare continued. “There’s something you need to see here. Over the next few hours. You’ll be getting a letter from Celestia soon anyway, so feel free to write back. I’ll be along this afternoon to... well. Catch up. Still need to give you your bags, right?” she gestured up at her saddlebags. “Oh, and you can have your voice back and stuff.”

Twilight gasped, the sound of her breath suddenly audible. Immediately she lifted her head, her horn coming alight as she pointed it towards the other mare.

But she was already gone. Where she had stood beside the open window, there was only empty space.

Next Chapter: Chapter 2 Estimated time remaining: 30 Minutes
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