Light up the Sky
"Oh boy oh boy!”
Pinkie pie was ecstatic, a party being planned! But not just any party, oh no, she did those daily. This was something EXTRA SPECIAL; a party for her bestest friend Rainbow dash! Everything had to be special, so she was on her way to acquire her super secret special weapon.
On the outskirts of town lay a small shack, in poor repair but at least serviceable. Spots of the facade were charred, other spots were covered in blotches of soot, quite an unnerving sight for anypony.
Anypony except this particular pink one.
She bounded up the path, ignoring the various warning signs which read "DANGER" or "BEWARE OF FALLING OBJECTS".
Now visible, a small sign hung from the door, it read in very cartoonish and soot covered letters;
"Big booms; fireworks and other explosives".
Still not deterred in the slightest, Pinkie pie bounded inside.
The interior was far worse. every square inch of the shanty was covered in a dark powder and numerous burn marks stained the wooden floor and ceiling. The floorboards seemed to groan in protest for being in such a sorry state.
Barrels lined the walls, some open and containing large bundles of sticks with colorful cylinders attached to each. others were filled with contraptions wrapped in papers and ribbons of many hues. It was an ironic contrast to the sooty surroundings.
Pinkie pie trotted to the counter and rung the rusted bell.
An exasperated voice came from the back room, obscured by a tattered red curtain.
"Just a moment!" the voice said as small crashes and bumps were heard. Following a few more sounds, some strange and un-equatable to anything Pinkie had ever heard, a pony parted the curtains.
"Hi Crossette!" Pinkie pie exclaimed jubilantly.
The pony before her was covered in soot, which obscured her minty-lime coat. Her periwinkle mane and tail were also sprinkled in the dark substance, in addition to being in a permanently blown-back state. A single white streak graced both her hair and tail as well, beguiling the pony's young age. Of course her most distinctive feature was a pair of goggles constantly on her head, with lime green lenses and brown trim. These never left her face save for sleeping, and even then she often fell asleep with them on
"Well if it isn't my favorite customer!" this strange pony exclaimed. Her voice was beleaguered but warm, and carried with it a drawl somewhat like applejack's.
"Crossette, I'm going to need...."
pinkie pie leaned over the counter and glanced around, as if the barrels themselves were eavesdropping.
"....my special surprise package"
"oooooh" Crossette said
"I'll whip one up in a jiffy"
And with that she vanished behind the curtain again.
Pinkie pie was one of her few regular customers. Most of Ponyville wasn't very appreciative of her work, too much smoke and fire and noise. Crossette didn't mind, her work required specific tastes, and that it be deployed at the right venue. Pinkie Pie was a master at this.
She rummaged through some storage containers, being careful to touch a few carefully placed metal plates with her hooves. Static sparks had caused three minor fires this week due to her carelessness. Of course her impeccable safety meant she had a bucket of water in every room just in case. "Ah, there it is", she fished a massive object from one of the containers. it was easily 20 to 30 stones in weight and as wide as her flank. This was her masterstroke, the power of a dragon's breath crafted into a single tube of rolled paper and extremely powerful explosives. She only sold it to pinkie pie, who knew how to safely deploy it.
Well, somewhat safely.
"Oh boy oh boy oh boy Dash is going to LOVE IT~~!" Pinkie pie bounded around the room as Crossette lumbered out from behind the curtain, the massive thing perched precariously on her back.
Transaction made, the jubilant pink equine bounded out of the makeshift shop, each bound with seemingly more energy despite the huge burden on her back.
"Built like an ox, that one" Crossette chuckled to herself. But now was not the time for reminiscing, science had to be done! she was on the edge of a breakthrough!
Crossette scurried back to her work table.
"this time I'm SURE of it!" she would think to herself as she assembled components, chose ingredients, and hurriedly assembled her newest creation.
Crossette had a dream you see, a dream to make a firework that could fly all the way to the top of the sky, something that could soar for miles, and possibly even take her with it into the blue expanse.....
To that end, she had spent the better part of her life attempting to design a multitude of stable rockets, all of which to date had ended in spectacular failure. But she was a determined filly, and used her failed experiments to open her own fireworks shop. She was renowned throughout the region as being a master in the craft of explosions.....but also regarded as crazy, neurotic, annoying, or downright dangerous.
"There goes the rocket pony" they would sneer as she walked through town for supplies some days. The teasing sometimes turned worse, even violent....
But not today
Today was THE day, she was sure of it; all her work, all her soul summed up in a tiny, flimsy cylinder of paper and gunpowder.
She placed the newly assembled thing on a small steel rod pointed vertically, a makeshift launch pad and guide rod, and lit the tiny fuse. She ducked behind her blast shield made of a few sand bags and trash cans, placed her iconic goggles over her eyes, and waited.
Truly the most agonizing part of any launch, waiting for ignition. She ran over her calculations again.
"Formula 7, burns hot but slow, shouldn't wear out the aperture, diameter at .07 hoofs, nose cone made from oak for stability.....its got to work!" Her words of self encouragement were hollow even to her own ears.
"Its got to....."
The fuse lit the main propellant and sent the little paper thing straight upward, it had gotten off the pad without explodig!
She leapt out from behind her makeshift blast shield.
"go" she said quietly, staring up after her tiny pioneer.
And indeed it seemed to be spurred onwards by her encouragement, it climbed ever higher until....
A white puff linked the fate of her rocket with the status of her optimism, in pieces. The small crack of the explosion took a moment to reach her ears, but at that point she was too crushed to care.
Another failure. this would be her 468th, she had counted. Perhaps 469 was her lucky number? Either way that prototype had depleted her formula 7, potentially her most reliable, as well as the oak she needed for proper nose cones, looks like it was time to go back into town...the town which disliked her so.
She trotted off with a fake smile, hiding her again-broken spirit. It was important to keep spirits high. After all, without determination, there was no discovery.
She didn't notice a few pieces of her failed rocket come back to earth with lazy thumps, one of which was smoking slightly.
Crossette hated going into town, everypony would stop and stare, some would whisper and giggle behind their raised hooves. There were a few pegasi who thought it especially laughable for a lowly earth pony to dream to fly like them, she prayed the teasing wouldn't be too severe on this particular trip.
First stop was the local smithy, she needed to have a few rocket apertures made. Luckily the smith wasn't quite so harsh on her obsession.
"morning mr. Seethe".
"Got a'nother order for your rockets?"
"Yes, i'd like them made to these specifications please, and if you could, please pay heed to the metal mixtures..."
mr. Seethe was known for his metallurgy, and thus was the only smith in town skilled enough to handle Crossette's special orders. alloy mixture was critical for testing!
"will do ma'am, just fired up the old smoker, should be ready in about 3 hours."
3 agonizing hours in Ponyville? oh no, she had come too soon! he was only barely opening up and the forge needed time to warm!
"well, i, uh, can you make it a little...faster?"
"no can do ma'am, forge'll take a while to get up to the temperatures ya need for this stuff" He said, slapping the small strip of paper indicatively.
"oh...well, thanks again seethe.."
She trotted defeatedly away. How could she have been so hasty? Now she would have to stay around town much longer than usual....
Well it wasn't so bad, she could take a few murmurs, she was no stranger to criticism. It's not like things could get much worse anyw-
"HEY THERE ROCKET GIRL!"
But as things often did, they got worse.
The jeering voice had come from a captain of the local weather control team, a rather mean colt by the name of Overcast, hovering above her with a few of his squad mates.
"Whatcha doin’ in town crossette? you know you're not welcome, just go back to your little shed and make your boom-y things".
"I j-just want to g-get some supplies really quick i won't be long in to-"
"Supplies? are you STILL trying to make one that doesn't explode? Silly pony wants to be like a pegasus, ha!" That particular stab had come from one of Pinkie pie's friends, Rainbow dash.
"well yes, i believe this next one will work!" Crossette said defiantly, defending her profession.
"pfft, just give up already rocket pony, you'll never fly, you weren't meant to! Just go work the shops and stuff like all the other earth ponies who know their place" Overcast continued to jeer.
"oh, well, goodbye then..." Crossette slowly turned and began to pace away before looking back
"and happy birthday, rainbow dash".
That last comment seemed to break Rainbow dash's resolve a little bit, as her eyes softened, staring after the broken little earth pony.
More shopping was necessary, and with it came more passing stabs and criticism, as was the usual affair whenever she passed into town. It didn't bother her as much anymore, she had slowly learned to tune it out...it's just that Overcast and his friends were particularly viscous.
She carried herself slightly slower the next hour or so. Some special chemicals from the local medicine store, some wrappings and tubes from the paper place, a little of everything. But still those jeering voices rang in her mind, and would not cease.
What if she never got a rocket to fly without exploding?
What if it wasn't even possible?
What if all those years were wasted effort, and her business a pointless offshoot of it?
Crossette wasn't sure why today of all days she was much more self-doubting than usual...
"Will that be all Mrs crossette?" said the clerk casually.
Being directly addressed snapped her back to reality. "Oh..yes, thank you."
She was just putting the newly purchased items in her saddlebags when she heard something. A sound she never wanted to hear from a distance.....A dull thump followed by a crack. She sprang to attention and broke out in a cold sweat, staring at the door.
Another thump, another crack.
Crossette bolted out the door. The sounds were coming from the east, from her house.
Running at her maximum pace, she sped back up the dirt road leading to her small store and home, her hope being crushed by each additional BOOM and BLAM. Cresting a hill she saw her little shanty, or what remained of it. Multicolored streaks shot in all directions, beautiful blue and red stars bursting into being several hundred feet above. Black smoke from the fire mixed with a thick white haze from the exploding ordinance, making the air intensely acrid, it burned her lungs.
After working with explosives for so long, she knew there was nothing she could do. The fire had already burned her house, shop, and lab to a charcoal husk. All her notes, all her work, all her compounds and experiments, gone forever in a multicolored blaze.
She plopped herself down on her back legs, exhausted, and started crying.
It had been a long time since she cried. Ridicule had hardened her greatly. This was different, this was her own carelessness, and it meant the end of her dream, or at least irreparable damage. She cried for hours as the fire cooked off the last of her creations.
Ponies all over town had heard the explosions and cautiously come to see what the ruckus was. They were met by a free fireworks show and an utterly broken soul.
The children oo'ed and ah'ed, their parents either giving a curt "good riddance" or "that's what she gets". A few of them attempted to console Crossette, but were discouraged from doing so by their friends or acquaintances. "don't encourage her" they would say.
Her house slowly burned away to embers, the magnificent explosions and colors long gone. Most of the spectators had cleared out by now, not particularly interested in what would happen to the perwinkle-haired pon. The hilltop was illuminated by the dull light of a just-set sun, its long shadows put crossette into one of her usual pondering moods.
“What will i do now? Everything is gone, and i didn’t think to keep any money around just in case...”
She began to pace. Pacing and pacing, it’s how she thought about things. Her gentle hoof-falls in endless succession gave her pondering a regular tempo. She considered every option, every outcome, every possibility. She couldn’t ask any of the ponies in Ponyville for help, they all wanted her to leave in the first place. She couldn’t live in Everfree, she would be eaten in a day! With no house, she couldn’t stay here, she had inherited the little shanty from her poor parents and had no hope of rebuilding it all on her lonesome. what to do, what to do?
Crossette looked up at the darkening sky, the first points of light were beginning to appear.
The stars offered her comfort when no one else would. They lived far far away, where no one could hurt them or call them names. She considered them friends at times.
The little shapes they made often gave her inspiration for her rockets. Every night she would lay here and wait for the stars to tell he what to try next, what new compound to use, what new shape to make the rocket.
But now she simply asked them
“where do i go?”
Dawn came quickly.
It was a small blessing it wasn’t cold that night. Ponies didn’t last long in the cold. However that didn’t mean Crossette’s sleep was restful. Dread and despair were eating away at her. In a daze she said “I....i should go to the park..”
A beautiful day thanks to the town’s hard working pegasus ponies.
Crossette slowly trotted onto the park grounds with an utterly blank expression and sat down on the nearest bench.
She didn’t cry, speak, or even think for that matter.
She just sat there, waiting for something. for what exactly, she did not know.
The world kept moving without her, and in fact her statuesque demeanor eventually made her practically invisible to the park goers. They all ignored the broken little pony.
“Lyra would you quit playing that stupid flute? you’re bad at it”
“What? i love instruments”
A minty green pony with white hair was happily strutting through the park, tooting away at her carved flute. She really was quite terrible a terrible player.
“Yeah well you don’t have to practice in public” Her friend, a cream yellow pony with blue and pink hair, groaned back.
They casually strode past Crossette, as every other pony had the entire day, but something was different this time.
Crossette heard the tones of the flute, and their simple wavering tones pierced her veil of unresponsiveness.
She was suddenly aware of the air passing over the flute’s primary opening, running as a river of gas, the pressure dips and waves causing the body of the instrument to reverberate at different frequencies.
Her mind was absolutely racing, pondering every single aspect of this instrument she had never considered. She had no idea what brought on this sudden curiosity, but she felt like it was important.
And so, in that infinitesimal moment, an idea formed in her mind, a brilliant idea, something she had never considered in all her years of rocketry. It was so obvious!
“The exhaust....it’s a flow of gas!”
this last thought was said aloud, at significant volume, her eyes bulging with inspiration.
This little revelation changed everything. Gases could be compressed, focused, expanded, forced to flow in a specific way.....
“May i see your flute!?” She had bounded in front of the two passing ponies, her eyes wide and expectant.
At this point everypony in the park had taken notice of the suddenly very noisy fireworks expert. Lyra was placed on the spot and took a moment to respond.
Lyra handed her creation over nonchalantly. Crossette took it with the same reverence one would take a royal scepter, and slowly lifted the crude stick up to her mouth.
A single, long note.
The moment lasted an eternity, Crossette was lost in the intricate motions of air through the various apertures and valves, imagining every aspect. It ebbed and flowed, forming small currents and vortexes, compressing and expanding as it made a tumultuous journey through the carved piece of wood. In that moment a design came to fruition, the design which could possibly save her dream.
“Thank you very much!” Crossette said as she quickly tossed the flute back to Lyra and sprinted off as fast as her hooves could carry her toward town.
“what was that all about?”
The design was absolute genius, two steel funnels whose narrow ends were fastened together, the expanding gas from the burning rocket fuel would be focused into the central portion like the breath of a flute player over their instrument. It would then expand outwards again, widening the area it would be projecting the hot fumes. This was it, this was everything, this was what she had been waiting for!
First to the blacksmith, mr. Seethe.
“Oh, Crossette, i am so sorry about your house, lotsa ponies were sayin’ mean stuff but i-”
“SEETHE I NEED A FAVOR” she said, panting.
“I, uh, what?”
“Seethe, I've got it, for real this time, it could change everything.”
“But you say that about every-”
“NO!” she yelled.
“Not this one, it’s going to work, and not just because i want it to”.
Seethe wasn’t particularly convinced, but Crossette looked....different this time.
“...If you say so, what is it now? more iron? wider opening?”
“I’m done with making flimsy metal washers Seethe, listen....”
She then proceeded to diagram every aspect of the simple object she had just developed.
She carved the shape into the counter, pointing out the specific proportions between openings, the precise angles needed.
Simple in design but difficult to manufacture.
“Something like that will take a while miss, and i don’t think I've ever done anything like it”
“Seethe, you’re the best damn blacksmith this side of Canterlot, you can do it and no one can stop you”. Crossette’s normally polite and reclusive composure had been shattered. This idea was too big for it.
Seethe took notice of this, but wasn’t one to shy a compliment.
“.....Ok miss, I'll have it done by the end of the day”
“Perfect!” she planted a big wet kiss on the smith’s cheek and sprinted off again.
Seethe held a hoof up to the now very wet part of his face and raised an eyebrow.
What had come over that pony?
Her running caught the attention of those particular hecklers yet again, out on their mid day cloud clearing. Overcast began the attack as always
“Hey there rocket girl, what are you running fo-”
“CRAM IT” she yelled, not even turning back.
“hey wait a s-”
“I SAID CRAM IT YOU FEATHERBRAINED DONKEY” This idea was far too important for one jackass to ruin.
A particular rainbow haired pony couldn't help but chuckle at the decisive rebuttal. Overcast couldn’t speak.
She visited all of the necessary stores she had visited only a day earlier for the exact same components. With no money, the only repayment she could offer was to “come to the hill where my house used to be at sunset”. This cryptic offer of immaterial payment took most of the shop owners by surprise, mostly because Crossette didn’t seem the least bit sad when saying where her house “USED to be”. They all complied, perhaps out of compassion, perhaps out of pity, even if they all had very confused expressions on while doing so.
Back at the ashen pile of her former home, she dug through the rubble looking for tools and components that had survived the fire. Only a few had come through, and even those were heavily damaged. They would have to do.
It was a small blessing her static discharge plate had survived as well. She sat down on it at all times to prevent ANY sparks. she wasn’t going to lose this one, not now.
A twist, a wrap, some grinding and mixing, most of it with her bare hooves as most of the tools necessary were molten slag.
“compound whatever, burns however it will, nose cone of wood from the supports of the south side of the house, diameter of....oh who cares”
It was the largest she had ever constructed, standing tens of hooves higher than her.
Precision wasn’t important, she was gripped by the pure spirit of discovery, it drove her to abandon almost all her previous practice. “As long as it works” she would tell herself.
The final component was now needed, she sprinted back down the hill to the smithy, plowing through the small crowd that had started to gather. Word spread fast in Ponyville.
“Seethe! is it done!?” She panted, sprinting up to his small shack, now illuminated by the dying light of day. She didn’t have much time.
Seethe, slowly and wordlessly, picked up a large metallic component from behind him and placed it on the counter with great reverence.
“Crossette....” he said, looking down at his handiwork.
“This better work, because I'll never forgive you if you destroy this”
“Don’t worry, it’ll be living with the stars by sundown”
Seethe wordlessly took off his apron, changed the store sign to “CLOSED”, and walked out from behind the counter
“I think i’ll close early today” he breathed, looking down at the ground with a blank, contemplative expression.
“C’mon then, this is the last piece, some ponies are already there!”
Crossette sprinted off to her house again, a blazing fire in her eyes. Seethe slowly followed suit.
The crowd was massive, every pony in town was gathered around the ashen pile, looking around for any sign of that eccentric inventor they had so long despised.
“There she is!” yelled a little filly.
The crowd turned in unison to see a periwinkle streak blast through an opening in the dense crowd, a heavy satchel slung over her back.
The final component was ready. She packed the fuel, loaded the starting charge, and covered the end with the magnificent metal object. Seethe seemed to have poured his heart into it, an utterly flawless piece of engineering, polished to a shine.
She placed the assembled object on the guide rod, its full height now apparent to the onlookers.
“if that thing blows, she’ll be hurt bad”
Crossette didn’t care. It actually felt good not caring for a change.
One final detail, she fetched a small paint brush and some bright red paint. her creation needed a name. This was important, she had to think of something that mattered to her...
She looked up
The first star of night had appeared, even if the sun had only just started to set.
It was perfect
On the side of her rocket she wrote not a name, but a simple phase.
“To my friends”
...But then stopped, and looked behind her at the onlookers.
Seethe was there, as well as Pinkie Pie, and all the other ponies who had helped her along the way.
She added a comma and a qualifier to he rocket’s name
“To my friends, all of them”
(optional music; http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ru-ho1ZZj-4
Preparations complete, she lit the long fuse and bounded behind her badly singed barrier of sand bags. The crowd shared her apprehension and backed up somewhat.
Crossette had become very good at gauging the speed of fuse burns, and decided now was the time to put a true count down on her creation.
“TEN!” she yelled
The gathered ponies began to speak up as well.
“FIVE!” the crowd was in unison.
“TWO!” Their combined voices shook the darkening hilltop.
At that exact moment, the tiny fuse ignited the bottommost section of the fuel column.
A deafening roar, a plume of white smoke, and a bright glow from the base of her creation all happened at once.
It took a moment to truly get going, but the white tower cleared the landing pad and raced directly into the heavens, a blinding plume following on its tail, and a pure white streak tracing its path.
The sound was overwhelming, like the sky being torn asunder.
It climbed and climbed, further and further into the brilliant orange and red expanse, its magnificent tail catching the sunset.
Crossette was out from behind her barrier, staring intently at it. This time she wasn’t worried about it exploding, and in fact was smiling from ear to ear.
This one would go for miles.
The crowd’s cheers matched the volume of the rocket’s launch and exceeded it somewhat. Everypony was jumping up and down with excitement, staring at the quickly escaping point of light, whooping and hollering.
“She did it!”
“The crazy crossette did it!”
“Our little rocket girl!”
A certain pink pony nudged the one to her right.
“I told ya this would be awesome Rainbow dash!”
“Yeah, i guess you were right about her all along Pinkie pie! This is the best birthday fireworks EVER!”
Staring so intently at her climbing creation, Crossette only now noticed something.
The rocket had gone straight up, and was still burning fuel, its exhaust a faint shimmering point of light on the now dark sky. It had been sheer luck that her little home-made star was twinkling right alongside the one which she had been looking at moments earlier, the one which had given her rocket its name.....
A single tear of happiness rolled down her cheek.
469 was her lucky number.