I Am Waiting For A Bus

by darf

Chapter 1: Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt

At the center of the galaxy that houses Equestria, there is a black hole. Black holes tend to appear in the center of galaxies to settle bets between astrophysicists, and this one was no exception. It was a small black hole, though the word 'small' in application to astronomical phenomena is absurdly ineffective at communicating scale. What's 'small' to an event horizon is infinite to something without its own localized center of gravity.

Black holes don't go sucking everything up, though cinema depictions might suggest otherwise. This one had hung around for a few billion years, expanding ever so slightly with the absorption of erstwhile matter and floating debris. Its event horizon was a comfortable umbrella over the immeasurable singularity, a cosmic pearl sculpted from the sand of universes.

A few other things had sprung up around the black hole as well. A bench, for sitting, and a bus-stop sign, ostensibly making use of the aforementioned bench. A small kiosk selling post-cards. 'I saw the black hole and all I got was my local fourth dimensional reference frame rearranged'. And a hole-in-the-wall diner, black hole blue plate specials and a blinking neon sign that seemed perpetually to be missing a letter. BLACK OLE CAFE was close enough for now.

If you were in space, and you happened to have a decent vantage point, or a powerful telescope, you could hang out and watch the ponies and other creatures move from point to point around the anomaly. You could watch them go in and drink their unsweetened coffee and then get a slice of pie after, which could be confusing when it came to sugar preferences. The wait-staff of the cafe were always smiling, never asking too many questions. You could stand in front of the black hole and get a friend to take your picture while you held up a peace sign—if that was possible, with a hoof.

Today, Ocellus was sitting on the bench. She was holding a small bag, like a backpack without the straps. Maybe there's a more elegant word than 'bag', but to physically describe the object without any coherent sense of dimensionality or scale in proportion to the black hole would be an almost infinitely complex endeavour. When someone describes something to you, a person, a room, a fruity mixed drink, the peculiarities of that thing can only be translated as much as a word can allow someone to instantly move from one qualia to another. If I say "Ahh, nothing beats a warm shower on a cold morning!", but you've never experienced either a cold morning nor a warm shower, it won't matter if I say "standing under a heated water spray when your body temperature is low often provokes a pleasant response", we still have to define 'pleasant', 'response', and what range of temperatures is accounted for by each wiggle-word in regards to that temperature. 'Heated'. 'Low'. 'Often'. Let's just say Ocellus was holding a bag and leave it at that.

Every so often, Ocellus would look up from her bag and study her surroundings. Almost always near-endless black, scraps of stars hanging in the air like painted lights, and maybe the suggestion of an orbiting rock so far away it barely looked like an outline. Other ponies would come and go, but they usually got up and went on before Ocellus had a chance to say anything. It seemed like everypony she knew, in fact, was passing by... there was Twilight, yes, and that was Princess Luna and Celestia together... Tirek, what was he doing here? And that was Spike, right behind, he looked much bigger, and then much smaller, or both at the same time?

Ocellus traded between watching the stars and the ponies coming by, not speaking much to either. After the initial procession, movement seemed to completely halt for a while, a moment suspended like an ice-cream scoop before it hits the ground after tumbling from the cone.

When she was sure, after a long time, that the bus was most definitely late, Ocellus checked the schedule, but it wasn't very helpful. The next departure time simply said 'soon'. And 'soon' could be any moment.

Instead of a pony, somehow a mirror came next to the bus stop. Instead of sitting on the bench, if in fact mirrors could sit, it stood, in front of Ocellus, doing its best to remain still and forward-facing, casting the changeling's reflection back despite the lack of a localized light source. How mirror physics worked in space was anypony's guess, but this one at least seemed to be tuned properly for interstellar travel. It was a miracle the bus stop contained its own localized gravity.

Ocellus stared at the mirror for a while, wondering when she blinked if her reflection was doing anything that she couldn't see. She'd try to catch herself just before the blink, just as her eyes were beginning to water and scream with soreness, and then to open them instant-fast, like shutting the fridge door to see if you could catch it with the light off before the door closed.

The changeling in the mirror looked exactly like her. It waved when she waved, and it held a bag sitting on its own bench, though for some reason the bench looked much bigger when reflected back. Ocellus tried a brief smile. Her reflection seemed to consider for a moment before smiling back.

"Hello," she said.

"Hello," the changeling in the mirror said.

"I am waiting for a bus," Ocellus said simply, patting both hooves on her bag and dangling her legs over the edge of the bench-seat. "It's supposed to be here soon."

"I am waiting," her reflection said. A torrent of interstellar solar wind picked up and carried away the rest of the words, sweeping them up like houses in a tornado.

The mirror hung around for a little while before it left. It didn't say anything else, just served its generally reflective purpose for a minute or two before getting up and quietly shuffling out of view. When Ocellus turned to look at it, the mirror was gone.

Outer space wasn't as cold as all that. It was a little humid, to be totally honest.

The first pony to arrive that Ocellus didn't recognize, or maybe that she recognized but had never met before, was a burnt-orange, umber-looking kind of earth pony, with a mostly slicked-down but slightly frizzy deep orange mane. His cutie mark was a picture of an anonymous changeling's face with a big red circle and line through it.

"Hello," Ocellus said.

"Hello," the earth pony said back. His voice was gentle and pleasant, warm with a hidden strength. "I'm not a changeling," he said.

"I can see that," Ocellus said, gesturing to the pony's cutie mark.

The earth pony nodded. "Right," he said.

"You're not a changeling."

"Right," he repeated.

"Okay," Ocellus said.

The two were silent for a moment, Ocellus dangling her legs back and forth over the bench, the new orange pony standing in front of the bench and looking to either side as though it too was expecting transport to arrive soon.

Ocellus considered the pony, then stifled a yawn.

"I am waiting for a bus," she said, adding it in a tone that suggested as casually as the weather. There was a bus, and she was waiting for it. There was only so long you could pray for rain.

"Do you need anything?" the orange pony asked. Its eyes were green, deep, but maybe a slightly shallower pool than they first appeared.

Ocellus thought for a few seconds. She put her hoof to her mouth while she pondered.

"Hmm," she said. "I'm not sure."

"You might need money," the orange pony said. "Everypony needs money eventually."

"I don't need any money right now," Ocellus said. She patted her bag. "I've got water and a sandwich."

"You might need another sandwich later," the orange pony said. He finally sat on the bench, just at the end, but quickly sidled up in Ocellus' direction, leaving just a few inches between them on the finely-carved wood. "Or some more water."

"That's okay," Ocellus said. "I can get some more water inside. They'll let me fill up my bottle."

"I'll refill your water bottle for you," the orange pony said. He jumped up from the bench and reached out a hoof. "It's no problem."

"It's really okay," Ocellus said. "I just have the one bottle, and I wouldn't know what to do if I lost it."

"I can give you a water bottle, but I'll have to leave after that," the orange pony said. He looked over his shoulder with a worried expression, even though all that appeared to be there was a faraway cluster of asteroids and the same starry wallpaper that was everywhere in space.

"You don't have to give me your water bottle."

"I know," the orange pony said. He turned away for a moment, and when he turned back, he was holding a clear, glass bottle, with a cork stopper. It was full of clear, cool water.

"Here," he said.

Ocellus took the bottle in both hooves. The glass was heavy and cool, and the water sloshing around inside reminded her she was thirsty. She undid the stopper and took a long drink, almost half the bottle in one go. A little bit of water dribbled onto her chin because she drank so fast she didn't catch it all in her mouth. When she finished drinking, she said 'ahhhh', which is a sound many ponies make after they have a drink of water, to show they enjoyed the water.

"Goodbye," the orange pony said. He gave Ocellus a big hug and turned and walked away from the bus-stop. He lasted five seconds before he began to evaporate, and Ocellus could see the bright and dark oranges that mixed together in his coat and mane swirling up like strands of smoke, vanishing in stretched out tongues of smoke that dissipated as soon as they'd manifest.

The second pony to arrive after the initial procession had a blue mane. It was streaked, and spiky, and made her look like she'd either been to a rave recently or was planning to go to one in the future. She had black-and-grey stockings on that went almost halfway up her legs, and she had a nose piercing, in the center of the bridge, a small turquoise stud on either side. Her lipstick was black-red, gothy, and insistent. And her wings were like a dragon's, though most of her otherwise looked pony-ish. She was standing there, suddenly, just to the right of the bench, and staring forward like she had blinders attached. Ocellus looked at her, but she didn't look back.

"Hey," Ocellus said.

The blue-haired pony jumped a little, then turned around, glaring.

"What are you trying to do?" she asked, a grumpy huff in her voice. "Did you think about whether or not I was going to know you were there when you said something? That it might have scared the crap out of me?"

"I'm sorry," Ocellus said. She felt a hot, heavy burning in the back of her eyes, but blinked it away and swallowed it with only minor difficulty. "I just wanted to say hi."

"I didn't give you permission to say hi to me," the blue-haired pony said. She sat on the end of the bench and crossed her legs over each other, her forelegs too, in front of her chest, and started sighing and staring pointedly at the bus-schedule post, which was still largely filled with ambiguous information. "This is a public place, but if you don't have my permission to speak to me, then you need to keep your distance."

"How am I supposed to tell if I'm allowed to speak to you?"

"I'll be wearing a sign. Or I'll come over and talk to you first."

"But how do you know if I want to speak to you?"

The blue-haired pony considered the question for a moment, then flipped her head to the side, tossing her spiky mane. "Hmm. That's not my problem though, is it?"

Ocellus sighed and leaned back against the bench. The hard wood felt reassuring, like a steady balance that could never be broken. Or it could be yanked up from space and thrown into the black hole. Ocellus could always move to the cafe if that happened though.

"I think I love you," the raver pony said. She turned on the bench so she was facing Ocellus, and her eyes glowed like a flame was hidden behind them, illuminating the dark turquoise to mimic crystal. "I think we should run away together and burn the rest of the world down."

"I'm allergic to things that are too hot," Ocellus said. She studied the flank of the second pony, expecting a chili pepper, but instead finding a single flower, wilted, its petals drooping down as though the black hole's gravity was sucking them away.

"I'm allergic to mace," the blue-haired pony said. Her voice moved quickly between words, jumping to them parkour style. She swirled her tongue around in her mouth and opened and closed her mouth loudly, as though she were chewing gum. She was, in fact, chewing gum. Smack, smack. Pop.

When she blew a second bubble, it kept growing. It got big. Bigger than her. Bigger than the bench. As big as the black hole. Ocellus strained to one side of the bench and leaned out of the way as the giant pink mass pushed closer.


The blue-haired pony was gone. Ocellus was alone on the bench again.

"I am waiting for a bus," she said out loud to herself. Somepony else answered, but it was too quiet for her to hear, and no matter how hard she looked, she couldn't see anypony else around.

Then there was a griffon. Tall, muscular, with talons that gleamed like polished razors. A stern, disapproving countenance, not to tower, but stare down with the threat of height, the infinite sky that always gave the higher ground.

"Hmph," he said. He crossed his arms in front of his chest and tapped one claw against the other. "No music?"

"No music," Ocellus repeated, scanning the words once, then a second time to see if she'd understood the meanings overtop of each other. No music. No music.


"You can hear the stars hum, if you listen close enough," the griffon said. He tilted his head to the side and strained an ear to the sparkling void.

Ocellus did the same, clamping her mouth closed and waiting in a quiet as deep as the seconds before an earthquake.

There. The sparkling.

You could hear them, if you really tried.

"Mind if I sit down?" the griffon asked. He sat down without waiting for an answer, though Ocellus nodded as he took a place on the wood, stretching out his talons and groaning as the tiny cricks and cracks settled through his bones and muscles. "Been a long day... nice to take a load off."

"Sitting is nice for that," Ocellus said. She regarded her bag, which no matter how she turned it on her lap, always seemed lumpy and out-of-place. "I like lying down too, when I want to relax."

"Nothing like a good lie-down, is there?" The griffon chortled and leaned back against the bench like he was sprawling out on a living-room lounge-chair. "Ah, that's the stuff." He fiddled with his chest-feathers for a second, one claw digging and plucking until he finally found a tiny, white paper tube and held it above his head, rotation and celebratory music ringing in a far-off, invisible place. After holding the prize aloft for a moment, the griffon situated between two claws and held it to his mouth. A lighter was conjured from the same patch of feathers. A flick and a hiss, then the sizzle of burning material as he inhaled and the end of the cigarette scraped down with ashes burning at the edges.

The griffon held the smoke in his beak for a few seconds before puffing it out with a soft pheeeewww noise. The smoke danced in the air the same way the orange pony had done when he vanished, and dissipated into nothingness the same way as well.

On top of the smoke-smell, the hiss of burning and the background hum of the stars... Ocellus swore she heard a piano, a single key, one note sustained against itself over and over again. The black hole that spun far beneath the event horizon, dancing with the light it had captured for all eternity.

The griffon smoked his cigarette. The single point of red-hot light burned in the darkness of space like a captured laser. He sucked on the end of the stick until the other end sizzled and shrank, and eventually left him holding just the tiny stub between his claws. When he inhaled from that too, the sparks flared and leapt into the air, and a few danced onto the griffon's chest feathers, lighting them and producing a thicker, more sickly smog.

As the sparks began to dance and multiply with each other in the midst of his chest-feathers, the griffon looked down and clucked his tongue between his beak.

"Hmm," he said. "Always a bit of an inconvenience when that happens." The flames jumped suddenly from a few inches to feet, flaring out like a kitchen flambe. He stood up from the bench, the flames engulfing and circling his entire body, but somehow casting only the most barely-noticeable heat onto Ocellus' body, and not scalding or even singing the bench in any way.

"Don't suppose you happen to have a bottle of water?" the griffon said.

"Oh," Ocellus said. "Actually, I do. It's right here—"

By the time she'd lifted the bottle and uncorked it again, the griffon was a pillar of flame, a funeral pyre spawned from spontaneous combustion. She could just make out his eyes and beak through the roaring tower of heat and light.

"Oh, bother," the griffon said, and disappeared in a single final, almost-blinding flare.

Ocellus shielded her eyes. When she took her hoof away, there was just the bench again. Not even ashes.

And when exactly was the bus supposed to get here, anyway?

Ocellus decided that no matter what happened, no matter who came to sit down to her next, if the bus didn't arrive soon, she was going to do something about it. She was going to investigate the arrangement of public transportation and probably end up yelling at someone who was incapable of helping her in the first place. She could hang out inside the cafe and listen to music until it was night-time, and then she could go home, and try again tomorrow, if necessary. And the next day. And the next day. And the next day...

It felt like Ocellus had been waiting for a long time. She wished she had a watch, but then again didn't think it would stay on for long if she was to change body shape unannounced. There was the moon, and the sun, partner twins so far away she couldn't even dream of their shadows. Two hands of a clock, spinning in opposite directions.

The last creature to arrive at the bus stop before Ocellus enacted her plan was a small unicorn with a brown-coat. His cutie mark was a winged emblem, a star with a moon overtop, rising from the horizon to bathe the world in silver light. It reminded Ocellus of a flag she'd seen once, but couldn't place. Vexillology was a difficult but rewarding hobby.

The small unicorn didn't say anything as he took a seat at the end of the bench, and he seemed just as occupied with time and waiting as Ocellus felt. He even had a watch, on his right foreleg just below his hoof, and he seemed to check it every other minute, even tapping at the glass and clucking his tongue between his teeth as though the hands were spinning slowly and needed a correction. But, as long as the second-hand seemed to take to move, no matter how much he tapped or twiddled with the knobs, time seemed content to move at a constant speed, and was utterly uninterested and incapable of providing a more expedient sense of reality.

Ocellus imagined a few greetings in her head. 'Hello'. 'How are you'. The second one seemed loaded, like she was handing a magic artifact over to somepony complete with the knowledge they could point it at her head and make her brain explode. She wondered if 'how are you' was a question anypony was capable of answering truthfully, or even in a complete way, if there was any way to use words to explain what the heck had actually been going on... Life felt like a rock, and even though you could spin it around in your hooves and study the dusty bits and cracks and little fissures and protrusions, you still ultimately just had a rock, and if you threw it out your window to feel less angry, you might be less angry, but then you wouldn't have a rock anymore either. And rocks were useful, sometimes.

"Hey," the unicorn said. He turned to look at Ocellus with a soft smile on his face.

"Hey," Ocellus said back. She looked mostly at the ground, but managed to turn her head over towards the unicorn every few seconds.

"What are you doing here?" the unicorn asked. He looked like he would have enjoyed wearing a funny hat, like the one Button Mash had, with the tiny propeller on top. Or a bonnet, that covered his whole head, the kind cowponies used to wear in the frontier to protect from dust. Maybe just a cute little bow.

"Oh," Ocellus said. She'd started thinking instead of answering. "I am waiting for a bus." She nodded after she answered, a little bob of the head that came out automatically. "Yes," she said, for not any reason in particular.

"Cool," the unicorn said. He pulled out a lunch-box from wherever or nowhere and opened it on his lap. The old-fashioned metal kind, with a picture of somepony on the front—Daring Do, maybe, or Starswirl the Bearded, if you're more inclined—and there was a thermos and plastic-wrapped sandwich inside, and a cup of yellow puddingy-stuff.

The unicorn took a bite of his sandwich and opened his thermos. He took a long swig from it, and let out an ahhh even more satisfied sounding than Ocellus' had been earlier.

Ocellus thought momentarily about the sandwich in her bag, but then forgot about it pretty quickly. She didn't feel hungry—just 'food-envious'.

"Do you know when the bus is supposed to come by?" the unicorn asked. His thermos was steaming, wisps lasting even less time than the cigarette smoke or pony-vapours had. It seemed to tickle the edges of his mane a little, dancing like tiny fae, beads of moisture that collected and trickled a little bit until they began to bead at the end of a strand of mane. The thermos smelled dark and bitter, a barrel of beans fire-roasted and dried and probably cured and a lot more such-like before they were finally ground up and turned into something you could drink. Little earthen pebbles that had lightning inside them. The unicorn took another big sip.

Ocellus shook her head. She looked at the schedule post, which still only said 'SOON' for each arrival time. 'SOON' for the departures too. 'SOON' in general.

"I don't," Ocellus said. "I've been waiting for a while too."

"Oh well. Guess there's nothing to do but wait."

Ocellus nodded. "Yep," she said.

The two of them waited for a while.

Ocellus cleared her throat. The stars were extra-hard to hear.

"Did you ever have a friend that didn't get it?" the unicorn asked. He took a long swig from his thermos, collecting little bits of brown moisture on his lips that matched his coat. He seemed to finish the thing this time, and let out another ahh before screwing the lid back on and tucking the thermos into his lunch-box. "I mean, like, a friend who was just kind of... not on the same page, if you know what I mean?"

Ocellus tilted her head to the side.

"I'm not quite sure we understand."

The earthen-coloured unicorn tilted his head back and sighed, eyes half-closed to the veil of stars and vanished planets.

"It's like... there's only so much time to get things done, you know what I mean?"

Ocellus nodded, though she wasn't entirely sure she knew what he meant.

"You wake up and get a day, that's twenty-four hours. You have literally the entire universe at your hooves, but you're gonna sleep in for ten hours and then spend half the day eating hay-chips and contributing nothing of value to society. What kind of use of existence is that?"

"You feel like because we're here, we're lucky," Ocellus continued, picking the thread of thought out of the air and laying it overtop her own mindful thimbles. "We get to do things other ponies don't."

"Forty years ago, we'd be walking instead of waiting for a bus. And I can't even deal with waiting for a bus most days." The unicorn sighed again and hung his head against his chest. "I wonder about this one friend," he said, waving a hoof in the air at nothing. "Where he is. What he might be doing. How much I miss him."

"You didn't part on good terms?"

The unicorn shook his head solemnly.

"No. Yes. It's hard to explain."

"We have the time."

"Maybe." Sigh. "I still think about him a lot. If he was here, I'd give him a hug."

"Would you like a hug?" Ocellus asked. She raised her forelegs uneasily, willing to ignore the mild discomfort in her chest if it meant helping somepony else who was waiting for the bus.

But the unicorn shook his head.

"No," he said, "that's okay." He tilted his head up and stared directly above into the expanse of space, where stars still spun and twirled in complete obliviousness to their shifted perspective. The unicorn took one last bite of his sandwich and put it back, half-finished, into the lunchbox. Then he closed the lunchbox and latched it shut. He got up from the bench.

"Are you going?" Ocellus asked, her voice light and curious.

The unicorn shrugged.

"Dunno. Don't really have anywhere else to go."

A beat.


Breathing together.

"Do you think he thinks about me too?"

Ocellus turned to the unicorn, who, beside the bench, had rested a foreleg on it for support. The outline of his body had begun to blur, the way hot air bleeds between dimensions at the lick of a flame or waves radiating from a paved road.

"I just wonder how he's doing," the unicorn said. His body was becoming insubstantial, transparent, when Ocellus looked she could practically see right through him to the stars behind. "We spent a lot of time together, you know, but if you don't ask, you really have no idea how somepony is doing..."

"Do you remember their name?"

"Pssh!" The unicorn laughed, one curt ha slicing the air like a knife-blade. "Of course! I'd never forget. Their name is..."

Fading. An outline of dimming brown and ochre. The unicorn faded, his voice hovering in the air like the final note on a plucked string. Even a silent name took time to dissipate.

Like the air that moved in circles, so spun the black hole.

The bench was sturdy, wooden.

Ocellus got up. She looked into the distance, peering for a flash of headlights or the tell-tale honk of a pedestrian transport.

After she'd waited a few more minutes, Ocellus grabbed her bag and headed towards the cafe.

A set of bells on the door jingled loudly when she walked inside.

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