Intellectual Property

by AugieDog

Chapter 1: Intellectual Property

Intellectual Property

"And they're totally ripping me off!" The hipster on the other side of Elaine's desk—she'd already forgotten his name—waved a red, coffee-stained, three-ring binder with tattered corners of notebook paper jutting out here and there. "It's my idea, and they're totally getting rich off it!"

Elaine swallowed a sigh. Thirty years ago, she'd marched out of law school and into her father's second-floor office off Fairfax at Beverly just south of West Hollywood with one goal: to help untangle the legal systems that seemed designed to keep creative people confused. And now? Her father was retired to Rancho Santa Margarita, and she was once again saying a phrase she'd often thought she should have carved on the wall behind her desk. "You can't copyright an idea, sir. You can only copyright your particular realization of that idea."

When he just blinked at her, she gestured to the binder. "That means the work you've actually done on it."

"Well, yeah!" His bushy brown beard bristled. "And I've got it all right here!" He slapped the folder onto her desk, and Elaine froze, expecting the thing to burst open and scatter pages everywhere.

When that didn't happen, she unclenched just a bit. "Okay," she said. "So what part of your project exactly did you show to the studio?"

"That's the thing!" He poked the binder's cover with an index finger. "I never showed them anything! I never met the guys! I never even talked to them!"

Silence didn't quite fill the room: the traffic on Beverly never let up enough for that. Still, Elaine had to let a moment go by before she could manage to ask, "Then how could they steal anything from you?"

"I don't know!" He glared over the tops of his little round glasses. "That's what you're supposed to figure out! You're the lawyer!"

The meeting went downhill from there, the guy finally storming out while calling Elaine things she knew she'd have to Google if she wanted to find out what they meant. Taking a moment to breathe, she rested her gaze on the framed photo of the Lake Tahoe shoreline she kept at the edge of her desk. She hadn't been there since high school, of course—who had the time?—but the sight of the water and the trees and the mountains always helped her shake off the various things she found herself needing to shake off.

And she'd had a lot of shaking off to do lately. Sure, she sometimes managed to steer kids away from terrible contracts they'd been offered, sometimes could point folks with good ideas toward the tools they needed to do something with them. But mostly, she just got the cranks and the nuts and the terminally clueless, the ones who thought they already had the answers and just wanted her to tell them they were right.

It all made her feel like she was fading slowly into the office wallpaper...

A glance at the clock next to the photo showed the little hand just past the four and the big hand not quite to the three. Picking up the phone, she punched the button for Maeve's desk, and when the receiver clicked in her ear, she asked, "We done yet?"

"Your four-thirty's here, Ms. Torklesen," Maeve answered in the professional voice she only used when clients were sitting within earshot. Otherwise, she would've called Elaine 'Lainie' and would probably have spoken in an entirely phony New Jersey accent.

Letting herself sigh, Elaine folded open her appointment book and saw the name David Purcell written there. "If he looks like another nut job, Maeve, say, 'Right away, Ms. Torklesen.'"

"Oh, not at all, Ms. Torklesen."

Good enough: Maeve always seemed able to tell. "Send him in, then, and head home. I'll see you tomorrow."

"Okay, Ms. Torklesen." The line clicked off.

She ran her slightly ragged nails through her slightly ragged salt-and-pepper hair and pushed out another sigh. Stretching a smile into place, she watched the door from the outer office inch open to admit a man not quite creeping on tiptoes. Creases crisscrossed his black shoes, but the leather shone like it had been recently polished. His narrow face with its crowning ball of snow-white curls made her think of a Q-Tip, and his powder-blue suit had to be from the late 1970s: she would've bet money that he'd worn it to his high school graduation and had kept it through the decades just in case he ever needed a suit again.

Not her usual sort of client, in other words. In fact, he looked about her age: old enough to be her usual sort of client's great uncle, in other words. Still, he'd come prepared. A giant briefcase dangled from his left hand, and the laptop tucked under his left arm was so big and bulky, Elaine found herself wondering if it somehow ran on vacuum tubes.

Swallowing all that with her latest sigh, she stood and held out a hand. "Come in, Mr. Purcell, and have a seat."

"Doctor Purcell," he said, then blinked and blushed. "I...I'm sorry. I just—" He bent, let go of the briefcase, took the laptop in his right hand, and reached toward her with his left. Wincing, he flinched, put the laptop down on the corner of her desk, reached out with his right hand, and his grip when they shook was every bit as watery and unassuming as Elaine had thought it would be.

Her smile got a little more real. Maybe he was looking to draw up a will or something equally straightforward. "So," she said, taking her seat again. "How can I help, Doctor?"

"I'm not sure you can." When he sat, he seemed to deflate, looking suddenly like a child who'd misplaced his parents. "I thought perhaps we might need a civil rights attorney for this or possibly an immigration lawyer, but several online sources with whom I consulted led me to believe that you have a creative outlook when it comes to the law. So I'm hoping you can issue me some guidance once I've laid out the facts for you."

It took a bit of effort to keep her smile in place. So much for simple... She took up her pen and opened her notebook. "Any time you're ready."

He jerked a nod. "I have a position at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, but in my spare time, I've been experimenting with some of the interesting effects of quantum tunneling." His pale face began to take on some color. "That's the property intrinsic to certain of the smaller sub-atomic particles whereby they can move from one side of a barrier to the other without actually passing through the barrier. It's long been thought too microscopic a phenomenon to have any application in the larger world outside of certain extremely specialized contexts, but I...I've developed a device."

Elaine held up a hand. "Forgive me, Doctor, but I'm certain this'll be covered under your employment contract with JPL. Anything you've put together while working there, you need to be talking to them about."

His forehead wrinkled. "Well, of course! I'll be taking the device to them as soon as I've worked out the bugs! But the device itself isn't the issue! It's rather what I found when I began experimenting with—" His mouth went sideways. "Oh, I had my narrative all prepared, and now I've lost my place!" He took a breath, blew it out, took another, blew it out.

This seemed likely to go on for a while, so Elaine tried to help. "You were talking about this device for digging tunnels?"

"Not for digging them." He waved his fingers as if trying to chase away a fly. "The limits of quantum tunneling are much too narrow to allow for physical motion in our external world. My device, for instance, wouldn't allow us to move through this wall into the next room. But travel into certain electronic realms turns out to be— That is, it— Oh, dear!" His hyperventilation speeding up, he pulled a handkerchief from inside his suit coat and dabbed at his glistening forehead. "I'm afraid I've gotten everything all muddled now!"

"Take your time." Elaine made her voice as gentle as she knew how, her nut-o-meter beginning to tick ever so slightly. "Maybe you could tell me what you mean by travel into electronic realms."

He gave a little puff through his lips. "Simply that my device will allow a person entrance into an electronic realm, but only if the barrier dividing us from that realm is of a certain density and thickness." His face reddened again. "Not that the barriers are either dense or thick. Those are simply the terms I'm using for the most salient characteristics of these barriers during this experimental stage, and the barriers between our reality and any electronic realm must be very dense and very thick for the process to work. My every attempt, for instance, to enter a live-action television program has met with—"

"To what?" It took all her strength not to jump out of her chair.

Dr. Purcell blinked, then his eyes widened. "Oh, dear. I skipped that part of my speech, didn't I? The part where I discuss my current theory that television programs create a closed waveform about themselves to form a single and discrete packet of information. A, uhh, packet universe, if you will." The tiniest smile tugged his lips. "My device, then, utilizes a form of quantum tunneling so a person can step from our world into the world of the television program, whereupon one can interact with the characters and experience that universe in a way that—"

"Okay, this...isn't my area of expertise." Wanting to grab the phone and dial 9-1-1, she instead concentrated on keeping everything friendly and happy. "Let me recommend an attorney who specializes in"—she said the first thing that came to mind—"patent law."

That got some more blinking from Dr. Purcell, but a young woman's voice speaking from the closed laptop almost made Elaine jump to her feet again. "I'm sorry, David," the voice said. "Perhaps it would be best to introduce me at this time?"

With a sigh, the doctor reached for the computer. "Since our entire presentation's gone off the rails, I don't suppose it would hurt." He flipped the lid open, and even after several seconds, Elaine still had no idea what she was seeing on the screen.

Big purple eyes, a pleasant smile, and a lavender face holding those eyes and that smile: those registered first. Then she noticed how the nose wasn't so much a nose as a sort of rounded snout. A single horn spiraled up from the face's forehead, hair lying on either side in two more shades of purple, and when the face cocked itself to the side a bit, Elaine finally realized that it was a cartoon unicorn regarding her. "Forgive me, Ms. Torklesen," the young woman's voice said, the unicorn's lips moving in perfect synchronization. "But some of the facts in this case might be more believable if delivered in a different venue."

Several snapping sounds clicked in Elaine's ears, and wrenching her gaze away from the unicorn's, she saw Dr. Purcell hefting from his briefcase a thing that looked like a ray gun straight out of some 1950s science fiction movie. And before Elaine could do more than stare, he was pointing it at her, little spots of light flaring along the sides, a pink glowing sphere expanding like puffed-up bubble gum from the muzzle.

Sucking in air to cry out, she leaped to her feet just as the pink glow collapsed around her. Vertigo spun her sideways, no up or down anywhere, her familiar office suddenly smeared and indistinct like she was looking at it through a rain-soaked window. Multi-colored firefly spots spun and flashed everywhere, and she was just about to push out the air she'd sucked in with a shout or a scream when something solid but soft thumped against her hands and knees.

Several blinks cleared her vision, showed her the green carpet underneath her, and when she raised her head—

A wall done up in shades of silver and lilac stood several feet away, a window in it spilling warm afternoon sunshine across the floor, the sky outside the clearest blue she'd seen in decades. Glancing to the side, Elaine found her focus shifting randomly to various points around the room she'd apparently landed in: a potted palm in a corner; a wheeled tray with a laptop computer open on it; a small round table with a white porcelain teapot and several gold-filigreed cups; a purple unicorn smiling at her from between the tray and the table, those big eyes about level with Elaine still down on her hands and knees.

"My apologies," the unicorn said, her voice richer and fuller now that it wasn't coming through Dr. Purcell's laptop, and a small, non-frozen part of Elaine's brain noted that the unicorn had little purple wings tucked to her sides. "David and I have tried, but so far we haven't been able to cushion the transition through the interface."

A pop beside her, and Elaine snapped her head over to see Dr. Purcell oozing out of the empty air beside her onto the carpet—

Or rather, a children's cartoon character that looked like Dr. Purcell, his blue suit practically glowing, the eyes behind his glasses big and brown and more lively than they had been. "Gracious!" he said, sitting back and patting the handkerchief against his forehead again. "I believe you must be right, Princess Twilight, in your conjecture that this turbulence is intrinsic to the—"

The winged unicorn cleared her throat. "Perhaps, David, you could introduce us first?" Light wavered from her horn, surrounded a piece of paper, and lifted it into the air. "I know we've kind of fallen off the checklist, but maybe if we get back on track, it'll help keep things organized."

Dr. Purcell blinked. "Oh! Of course! How rude of me!" He hopped onto his feet and cleared his throat. "Your Highness, if I might present Ms. Elaine Torkleson, Esquire. Ms. Torkleson? This is Princess Twilight Sparkle of Equestria." His eyes widened. "Or...wait. Should I have introduced you first, Princess? Etiquette always eludes me."

"It's fine." The winged unicorn's smile got a little strained. "I'd prefer that you both simply call me Twilight for one thing, and for another, judging from Ms. Torkleson's expression, I'd say we're about to have larger issues than—"

"What the Hell?" Elaine leaped to her feet, everything that had been frozen inside her now bubbling like a pot of rapidly boiling pasta. "Where? And how? And who?" She pressed her back to the wall and couldn't stop words from crashing out of her mouth. "And yes, you've told me the answers to some of those questions already, but I don't find myself believing them or even liking them very much!"

The princess nodded. "That's completely understandable." Her horn glowed again, a similar glow raising the teapot and pouring a brown, steaming liquid into the cups. "I had a similar reaction the first time I met David, and I have the advantage of living in a universe where weird, magical events happen on a pretty regular basis."

"Magic?" Elaine's hands clutched at the wall behind her. "No, that...that's for kids with British accents, horn-rimmed glasses, and impossibly tousled hair, not for middle-aged lady lawyers from the Fairfax District!"

Clearing his throat again, Dr. Purcell ducked his head in the unicorn's direction. "Ms. Torkleson is making a reference to the Harry Potter series, Princess—oh, I...I mean Twilight, of course. You recall the books I lent you?"

"Oh, yes." A smile spread over Twilight's muzzle. "Nicely written but completely unrealistic. More to the point, though—" The glow of her horn floated one of the teacups and its saucer across the room toward Elaine. "Let me apologize once again for bringing you here so abruptly, Ms. Torkleson, but my entire world is perhaps four months away from a fate that might very well be considered worse than death." The cup rattled to a stop in front of Elaine. "And the way David's described your world to me, you're likely the only one who can help us."

Elaine stared past the impossible floating tea service and focused on a sight she knew all too well. She'd spent her summers from the age of eight to the age of eighteen attending horse camp at the San Pascual stables in the hills above Lake Tahoe, and the white around this mare's eyes, her flicking ears, the little flaring of her nostrils, her tail clamped down, the sour, salty scent that not even the aroma of the tea could mask—

Princess Twilight was absolutely terrified.

Reaching out—and absolutely refusing to think about the smooth, pink, cartoon hand that flexed its fingers from the sleeve of her ivory blazer—Elaine took the cup, swigged down the contents, and said, "Tell me everything."

After helping Twilight explain to Dr. Purcell that "everything" meant "the salient points of the situation" rather than "every last abstruse detail of his theory," Elaine followed the princess and the scientist out across a hallway. Elaine's knees jittered at the sight of Twilight levitating the table and the tea set ahead of them, but the room they entered looked even more comfortable than the last, the walls here lined with books and the floor stacked with cushions of various sizes and shapes.

Settling onto one of the cushions, Elaine found the crashing of her heart slowing to a mere hammering. Sure, nothing anywhere around her looked real—or maybe it was that it looked too real, the colors sharp but pleasant, the edges of everything precise but smoother, more rounded. In the same way, the smells that she was inhaling seemed clearer than any she could recall, unmistakably horsey but mixed with floral accents and the aroma of the tea.

And Twilight's fear, of course. At least that wasn't nearly as pungent as it had been in the other room, and the expression on Twilight's face was cautiously hopeful, something Elaine had seen before when clients had looked her over and decided that they trusted her.

Elaine helped herself to another cup of the tea, strong but sweet and again like nothing she'd ever experienced. "So what exactly is this 'fate worse than death'?"

Twilight's ears flicked again. "It's...not an easy thing to talk about, but apparently—" She pulled in a breath and blew it out. "Everything in my world only exists because of an animated cartoon series in your world."

Dr. Purcell nodded. "My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic," he said. "The last two decades have seen something of a renaissance in animated entertainment, both in the medium of broadcast television and on the—"

"David?" A twitch pulled at Twilight's eye. "Remember when I used the word 'salient'?"

His face fell and turned red.

Wanting to keep the conversation on track, Elaine tapped a fingernail against her cup. "Yeah, okay, I've seen articles about this pony show in the trades. A reboot of a thing from the '80s, but it did a lot better than Hasbro was expecting, right?"

"Yes!" Dr. Purcell's mood lightened as completely as if someone had thrown a switch. "In fact, I began to notice the problem that we need to address after visiting Twilight here in Equestria and then entering the original iteration of the series to gather corollary data."

"Original?" Elaine shifted on her cushion. "Seems odd they'd be broadcasting the first series at the same time as the remake."

"Oh, they aren't. I, uhh..." His eyes darted away behind his glasses like fish in a tank. "I own the entire series on DVD."

"Wait." Twilight sat forward. "You told me you could play DVDs on that computer you brought through for me!" She clapped her front hooves together. "That would be incredible! So much information about that period of history has been lost! To be able to watch it as it actually happened—"

"No, no, no." Blotting his handkerchief over his forehead some more, Dr. Purcell waved his other hand. "Those programs don't represent what happened in your history, Twilight. The relationship between Tirek and Scorpan in this universe, for instance, is entirely incompatible with the characters as presented in—"

"Umm, folks?" Elaine almost wished she could summon a referee's hat and whistle like Bugs Bunny, but she was getting the idea that this wasn't that sort of cartoon. "You were talking, Doctor, about the problem we need to address?"

"Oh! Yes! You see, when I arrived at the testing stage for my device, I of course chose to enter the current My Little Pony universe since it is undoubtedly the finest cartoon currently in production, and the lack of any humans here meant the barriers would be of the ideal density and thickness. My first foray proved successful beyond my wildest dreams—"

Twilight cleared her throat. "He fell into the middle of a picnic my friends and I were having. Smashed an apple pie and half a strawberry cake."

Dr. Purcell raised a finger. "For which I apologized profusely."

Elaine could hear the giggle in Twilight's voice though the princess nodded quite solemnly. "That you did, David. Fortunately, we've had some dealings around here with alternate universes full of befingered bipeds, so the whole thing just became an opportunity to make a new friend."

"Indeed." Something very close to a smile pulled at Dr. Purcell's lips. "But as I said, after my visit here, I wished to compare and contrast the experience to that of entering the original Pony series. It presented a larger risk of failure since humans did indeed play a part in that program, but as I was engaged in the experimental stage of the project, I felt that—"

This time, Elaine and Twilight both cleared their throats.

"Ah. Yes. Salient." Every hint of his smile drained away. "To speak frankly, 'lackluster' is the only word I can use for that journey. Even granting that nothing in the original series was anywhere near as developed as anything here, the characters lacked any sort of verve. One could interact with them, yes, but it was as if every creature I met was an automaton programmed with primitive artificial intelligence. They could respond, but they would quickly return to what they'd been doing as if unable to deviate for long from their established routines."

Out of the corner of her eye, Elaine noticed Twilight's deep purple had paled to gray.

"So I entered more cartoon shows," Dr. Purcell was going on. "The Simpsons, Gumball, Star vs. the Forces of Evil, Rocko's Modern Life, She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, Tiny Toon Adventures, Beast Wars, the original and current versions of Superhero Girls, even Rocky and Bullwinkle. And I quickly discovered that, if a show still had new episodes scheduled in our world, its universe was as much a living place as our universe is. But if the series had stopped bringing new episodes to light..." Swallowing, he simply shook his head.

Twilight's scent was getting sour and salty again. "And David tells me that our series shut down production out in your world a month ago."

Elaine blinked. "Then how—?"

"Thirteen more episodes." Dr. Purcell pushed his glasses up further on his nose. "They've yet to begin airing, but once they start, my experiments suggest that Equestria and...and the people who live here will have approximately three months before they cease to exist as independent, rational beings and become mere shadows of their former selves." His jaw clenched. "We cannot allow that to happen, Ms. Torkleson. We simply cannot."

Silence settled in, and Elaine found herself looking back and forth between the doctor and the princess, their eyes quivering. "So," she said just to be saying something. "You need to convince Hasbro to put the show back into production in some way or another."

Dr. Purcell raised a finger. "And it must be officially produced, video content as near as I can tell. Adventure Time devolved into a sort of amusement park ride and museum after its final episode aired even though the comic book series continued for some months, and the fanfiction still being written about the Gargoyles series has not kept that universe from becoming mechanical." He cocked his head. "Oddly enough, though, my visit several months ago to an old episode of Disney's Aladdin series proved quite lively. I presume this was thanks to the recently released feature film."

That made Elaine sit forward on her cushion. "A show can be brought back, then?"

A grimace squirmed over his face. "Apparently, but changing too many details seems to create an entirely new universe. The recent reboot of Duck Tales, for instance, didn't revive the previous version, and, well, I've already given you a precis of my experiences in the earliest iteration of My Little Pony." His grimace did some more squirming.

More silence, then Twilight gave a sigh, her gaze downcast. "I haven't told anypony else what David's told me. As far as they know, he's a creature from another dimension who visited us once, then went on his way. If there's nothing we can do, then...then I don't know if I want to tell them. We'll all just slide quietly into some sort of collective mental fugue state, and...and that'll be that. But—" Her head came up then, as fiery a look of determination on her face as Elaine had ever seen. "But if there's anything we can do, Ms. Torkleson, we'll do it."

"I'd thought," Dr. Purcell said, tapping the ends of his fingers together, "that we could appear, the three of us, at Hasbro's headquarters. Once they came to see that they were essentially holding an entire universe enslaved, they would realize their moral obligation to begin making new episodes of the program again."

It took some effort for Elaine not to bark a laugh. "I'm not sure we can count on corporate responsibility to save the day here, Doctor. And consider: you'd be telling every studio in the world that, whenever they developed any piece of intellectual property, they were making themselves responsible for an entire universe full of sapient beings! No company's going to commit to creating content in perpetuity! There'd never be another animated TV show or movie made ever again!"

"Well?" Twilight's nostrils flared. "Maybe there shouldn't be! If your people are just creating universes left, right, and sideways only to abandon them when they don't amuse you anymore, maybe you should see that your actions have consequences!"

Elaine almost reached for the bowl of sugar cubes on the tea tray to offer Twilight one in the hope that it might calm her down, but something like the strumming of a guitar drew her attention to where Dr. Purcell was seated. "Rainbows won't light up the sky," he sang in a quiet tenor to invisible accompaniment, "unless you let it rain, and candles just won't glow until they've burned."

The music cut off abruptly, and he blinked. "Oh. Forgive me. You weren't along with Applejack and Fluttershy when they met the kirin, were you, Twilight?" He cleared his throat. "The point, however, remains valid. If not for the creative efforts of the humans who created your series, we would not have been blessed with the beauty and wonder of Equestria at all." The last two words wobbled a bit; he took off his glasses and touched his handkerchief to the corners of his eyes. "And I don't care to think what my life would have been like had it not been for your program..."

Twilight's head drew back, her eyes widening. "You can't have a nightmare," she whispered, "if you never dream." Sighing, she sat up straighter. "Well, we've faced nightmares before, and I'm not ready to give up this dream yet." That determination flooded her expression even more strongly. "So. Your suggestions, Ms. Torkelson?"

"Call me Elaine," she said with a smile she didn't quite feel. Crazy ideas rattled through her like popcorn. Make a claim under civil rights law? Have the princess appear before the United Nations and declare that her nation was being held in involuntary servitude by Hasbro? Or maybe just shoot some video footage here and release it on the web? Would that be enough to qualify as 'in production' for whatever forces were at work here?

Or would it just get them a 'cease and desist' order from Hasbro? Dr. Purcell had said that only official content seemed to sustain a universe, so... Maybe offer CNN the footage they shot here? Bring in a camera crew and let Wolf Blitzer interview Twilight? Could the princess apply as a foreign diplomat to have the U.S. government exercise eminent domain to buy the My Little Pony property from Hasbro?

But what sort of a precedent would that set up? Would fans of other cartoons demand the same be done for them?

Trying to clear her head, Elaine took another sip of tea...and found her attention caught by the glittering curlicues along the outside of the cup. "Twilight?" She ran her finger along the design, the old principle of Occam's Razor cutting through her every other thought. "Is this real gold?"

Before Elaine could set the contract down on Twilight's desk, a cloud of purple mist was grabbing the pages. "You mean—" Twilight's voice caught, her eyes and grin wide. "Hasbro agreed to everything?"

Elaine shrugged, unable to keep her own grin from getting loose. "An eccentric billionaire's new streaming service offers to pay all licensing fees and cover all production costs for more episodes of Friendship is Magic while sending the profits and proceeds directly to Hasbro? Their lawyers would've been disbarred if they'd dared to pass on such a sweetheart deal."

David chuckled beside her. "The pocketful of gems I carried through the interface will fund thirteen episodes of a web series quite handily without creating an undue strain on the global economy. We've hired a number of the creative people who brought the show to life previously and brought in some of the fan writers and artists whose work most impressed me over the past decade. And best of all?" He tapped the desk. "If you have anything you'd like to see happen in Equestria, Twilight, we can incorporate it into the scripts."

"Other shows," Twilight said, turning over the last page of the contract and looking up. "When can we start doing this for them, pulling them out of limbo and getting them back to living and thinking again?"

The dazed look than came over David's thin face made him look as uncertain as Elaine remembered from the first time he'd stepped into her office more than six months ago. Playing the part of the eccentric billionaire in Hollywood had changed him, sure—correctly using industry lingo, his glasses no longer quite as chunky and his suits now from the current century. But she was a little glad to see that he could still get so easily flummoxed.

She nudged her shoulder into his and nodded to Twilight. "First steps first," she said. "Properties that are in the public domain or that we can buy outright—"

"Properties?" Twilight raised one eyebrow.

"You're right, you're right." Elaine raised both hands. "That's how we have to refer to things when we're wheeling and dealing over there, but there's no way I'm ever going to forget that we're talking about people as real as you and everypony here."

Twilight's grin came back. "Everypony?"

With an exaggerated sigh, Elaine slumped back into the chair Twilight had presented to her as a gift during their third meeting all those months ago. "I've almost used that word a couple times in meetings, actually." Smiling, she shook a finger at Twilight. "You're rubbing off on me."

"And you on me." Twilight touched a hoof to the contract. "Your legal system is so much more intricate than ours, I find it endlessly fascinating!"

David settled into his own custom-built chair. "Well, here's hoping the legal system won't take a similar interest in us." He patted the bulge where his jacket covered the holster for the latest version of his tunnel gun. "I'm not certain our world's ready to face the true nature of reality."

Elaine snapped her fingers. "Speaking of which, Twilight, I found a cabin with a couple acres of private land out by Lake Tahoe that we can rent by the week. So if you ever want to come over for a visit—"

The way Twilight's smile faded made Elaine blink. "Ah," Twilight said. "I mean, thank you, of course, Elaine, but..." Her hornglow pulled open a desk drawer, and she pulled out a sheaf of papers. "David and I have been conducting experiments."

"Indeed." David slumped a bit. "The computer I brought here operates the way it should since our universes share most principles of electricity and magnetism and all. Likewise, geology works largely the same way, so gems from Equestria are still gems on our side of the interface. They're of particularly high quality, in fact, according to the appraisers I've dealt with so far. But magic?" He shook his head.

A shuffling of papers drew Elaine's attention back to Twilight, the pages covered with line after line of abstruse notation with a few intelligible diagrams among them. "The amulets I've given David don't work at all in your world," Twilight said quietly, "and the flowers and other plant matter he's carried through lose a great deal of their...their..." She looked at David.

"Their salient characteristics," he said with a ghost of a smile. "I take a bite of an apple here, and it's extraordinarily flavorful. I take that apple through to my apartment, and the bite there tastes exactly as one would expect an apple to. I then return with the apple, take another bite, and it's regained its previous verve and vigor."

Elaine blinked. "That seems odd."

Twilight shrugged. "Magic is intrinsic to everything here, but life magic is much more complex than inert magic." She passed some pages across the desk to David. "My latest calculations lead me to conclude that I would emerge on your side of the interface as one of your native ponies: no horn, no wings, and no more intelligence than such an animal normally possesses. The data indicate that I would recover once I came back, but, well..." She gave a sheepish grin. "While we had the threat of eternal limbo looming over Equestria, I was a little reluctant to try the experiment on myself."

David was leafing through the pages. "Yes," he said, drawing the word out into a breathy sort of a hiss. "I fear, Twilight, that your conclusions and mine concur in every respect." He looked up, his eyes wavering behind his glasses. "I was so looking forward to showing you around JPL..."

Not wanting to let the good mood evaporate, Elaine forced a laugh. "Well, we'll just have to bring the creative folks through to meet you here."

"No!" Twilight's wings shot out, and she reared back in her chair, her hooves scissoring the air. "We can't! That would be—!" Her mouth squeezed shut, her eyes widening, and she settled into place again. "Which is to say," she went on, the sudden panic gone from her voice, "that I don't think anyone working on the project should know the truth."

"Twilight?" David's forehead wrinkled.

"Can you imagine?" Twilight murmured, her gaze fixed and unfocused on the table in front of her. "Meeting the people over whom you had so much power?" She shook her head. "I couldn't do it. That's why I don't want to even make any suggestions." A smile twitched her lips, and she raised her head. "Except, you know, no deaths or dismemberments or threats we can't overcome or—" Clapping her front hooves over her mouth, she rolled her eyes. "See?" The words squeaked out from between her hooves. "I wouldn't want anything interesting to happen, and I have some friends who would absolutely hate that."

"So..." Elaine shifted in her chair, not sure she really wanted to ask this question. "You're okay with strangers making all your decisions for you?"

"But they don't." With a flap of her wings, Twilight sailed across the room. "This going on right now certainly won't be in the show." She landed by the window and waved a hoof. "If you look out there, you'll see a whole town full of ponies doing things that nopony, no creature, no person would ever consider remotely entertaining. But they're still doing them." Cocking her head, she glanced back over her shoulder. "Not long after we met, David, you enumerated for me the stories that had been featured on the show before your arrival. But there was so much more that happened in that time!"

She spun to face them. "I mean, my first Hearth's Warming in Ponyville, I kept dithering and dithering about whether I should spend the holiday at home in Canterlot or here with my new friends! Finally Spike went and arranged without telling me for Mom, Dad, and Shiny to come and stay at Sweet Apple Acres, and when they all showed up at the pageant in City Hall, it was just so...so—" Sniffling, she touched a fetlock to her nose. "It would've made the best holiday episode ever! But I guess the show never even mentioned it!"

The wrinkles on David's brow got deeper. "Actually, according to the program, your friends only learned of Shining Armor's existence just before the events surrounding his wedding."

"What?" Twilight's wings flared. "Did they think I could live here all that time and never mention my big brother?"

Elaine held up her hands. "All right, all right! I stand corrected! There's more to you than just the show! Except—" She leaned forward and tapped Twilight's notes where they lay on the desk. "I have to wonder how that sort of mismatch fits in with your theories..."

A blush darkened Twilight's face. "We, uhh, we haven't quite gotten all the permutations worked out."

"Indeed." David gave a crisp nod. "And I for one am more than happy to continue investigating. But right now—" He reached down for the giant briefcase he still took everywhere he went, popped the latches, opened the lid, and took out three red, conical party hats. "If you two will accompany me to the town square, we have a celebration to attend."

Twilight's blank expression, Elaine felt sure, was mirrored on her own. "What?" they both asked at the same time.

David was stretching the elastic band attached to one of the hats and snapping it into place on his head. "I made arrangements with Pinkie Pie for a small party to commemorate what I referred to as the new friendship between our two worlds." He slid the hat to a more rakish angle. "I believe she's invited a fair percentage of Equestria, so we ought not to keep them waiting."

"How did you—?" Elaine began.

But a party hat surrounded by purple light drifted over to bob up and down in front of her. "Trust me, Elaine," Twilight said. "'How' is always the wrong question when Pinkie's involved." Another flex of Twilight's magic took up the third party hat and settled it just behind her wavering horn. "The only permissible questions are 'What time should we be there?' and 'Should we bring anything?'"

"Right now!" a sudden high-pitched voice squealed in Elaine's ear; she startled sideways to see a pink pony with a mane like a raspberry bramble hopping on the carpet, a pointed party hat jutting up from between her ears. "And not a thing!" The pony sprang into the air, sailed over Twilight's desk, and flopped on her back into David's lap. "That was great, David! You sure this is your first surprise party?"

For all that Elaine had gotten to know David pretty well meeting with executives and talent in the human world and with Twilight over here during the past six months, she had never so much as suspected that he could radiate as much joy as he was at that moment. "If all goes well, Pinkie," he said, bending down to touch the tip of his hat to the tip of hers, "it shall most certainly not be my last."

Pinkie made a noise like a dog's chew toy squeaking.

Twilight heaved a sigh. "Elaine? This is Pinkie Pie. I was there when she and David first met, but apparently they've gotten to know each other better than I suspected..." She ruffled her wings. "Still, I guess we have a party to get to?"

"You bet!" Pinkie tumbled out of David's lap, rolled around Twilight's desk like a tumbleweed made of fuchsias, and sprawled to a halt in front of Elaine. "Are you and David married? 'Cause you totally should be, y'know!" She leaped to her hooves and scrambled for the door. "Now c'mon, you guys! You've got a lotta ponies to meet and a lotta pastries to eat! Just don't mistake one group for the other!"

Elaine watched the pony slide out of sight, then craned her head around to David.

Likewise leaping to his feet, his cartoon face solid red. "She tends to wear shipping goggles," he said as if he thought the words explained something. And with that, he very nearly sprinted out of the room after Pinkie.

Quickly deciding that she didn't want to know, Elaine instead reached out, took the still-floating hat, and slipped it on. "I take it you get parties every time you save the world?" she asked, nodding to Twilight.

Twilight padded across the carpet with a shrug. "If Pinkie had her way, we'd have parties morning, noon, and night." She looked up, and Elaine had to swallow at the tears she saw there. "Thank you," Twilight whispered, "for making sure we'll still be able to truly enjoy them."

Without thinking, Elaine stuck out a hand, but of course Twilight couldn't shake. She started to pull the hand back—

And suddenly found herself engulfed in velvet hide and downy feathers, Twilight rearing back on her hind legs to wrap a hug around her. "We've bought ourselves a year, maybe two," Twilight said, her snout tucked against Elaine's shoulder and muffling her voice a bit. "That'll give us time to get the rights to those other cartoons and start production here in Equestria. If that brings them back to life—and our theories so far say it should—then we can start thinking about approaching Hasbro with the truth, see if we can get our rights in perpetuity as long as we promise never to broadcast in your universe, set up a studio in another universe to keep us going, something like that..."

Her sigh seemed to come all the way up from her fetlocks. "You've given us a chance, though, Elaine, and I...we... Thank you."

As gently as she could, Elaine let her arms enfold the miracle in front of her. "Glad I could help out," she managed to say.

Author's Note

I've been thinking about this story:

Since the rumors started swirling that Season 9 would be the last. And now that I've finally got it written, I can get started on my next TwiShy shipping story. :yay: :twilightsmile:


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