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One Small Step

by phantomerik007

It was a beautiful sunny morning in Ponyville. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky, and the unicorn Twilight Sparkle smiled as she gazed out from the window of her bedroom above the library. Today was one of the rare days where she did not have much to do, as she had sent her letter off to Princess Celestia that evening before. She was planning on spending today relaxing with her two new books and a cup of hot tea. It was going to be a relaxing day.

Just as she was turning away from the window, she caught sight of several ponies from town hurrying past the library and heading towards the outskirts of Ponyville. From the excited chatter that she could hear coming from them as they passed, it seemed as if there was big going on. For a moment, she was tempted to simply put it out of her mind, but then she also saw several pegasi flying the same direction, and her curiosity started to get the better of her.

“Spike!” Twilight called out as she trotted down the stairs, head turning to find the small dragon.

“Here I am Twilight!” Spike responded as he appeared through a side door of the room, claws gripping a mug of steaming liquid. “I made some tea for you!”

“Do you know what’s happening outside of town this morning?” Twilight asked as she took the mug with a thought and set it on the small table. “I saw Lyra and BonBon heading out that way, and several pegasi as well.”

Spike made a noncommittal sound as he shrugged, and Twilight resisted the urge to roll her eyes. Well, she would just have to go see for herself. She glanced regretfully at the books laying next to her cushions, but decided that they could way.

As she moved along the path heading towards the south end of Ponyville, Spike walking along at her side, Twilight started to notice that there were other ponies moving the same direction. Whatever was happening, it seemed to have captured the interest of most of the ponies in town. As she moved up the last rise, she came to a surprised stop as she saw the hubbub happening in the field. She was sure she had not heard of any major events happening around Ponyville that day, and this seemed like it was quite the event.

The sunlight was shining with a blinding glare down upon the small field where several different ponies had gathered to watch the goings on that had taken up the grassy space. Across the closely clipped grass, a thin sheet of dull gray had been laid carefully spread out along the ground, with several ponies walking along the edge of it and examining the seams between each sheet.

At a small table off to the side, two stallions sat, examining the blueprints that laid in front of them, as well as two bulky sets of full body suits that stood next to them. They spoke quietly between themselves, occasionally throwing a glance towards the field where the gray sheets were laid out. One, an older pale stallion with a close cropped main of light brown topped with a black beret had a rather sour expression on his face, saying little as his companion gestured excitedly. This other pony, with a dusty red mane and tail, seemed to be very animated about whatever it was that was happening.

As Twilight approached, she noticed Rainbow Dash and Applejack standing with a small group, and she moved over towards them. “What’s going on?” she asked as she got near to them.

“Oh hey Twilight,” Rainbow said as she drifted down from the hover she had been in. “Apparently those two earth ponies from San Farriercisco are going to try and cross the line between where the sky meets the stars!” It was clear from the quick way that Rainbow was speaking that she was really excited about this prospect. Twilight suppressed a chuckle. Of course Rainbow Dash would be excited by something like that. It involved flying, danger, and doing something nopony had ever done. And in spite of herself, Twilight found that she was interested too.

“Ah reckon that would be something far too dangerous to want to try,” Applejack added in as she turned towards Twilight. “What do you think Twilight? Is that even something ponies can do?”

“Well,” Twilight said as she glanced towards the two ponies still talking at the table. “I’ve heard some talk about trying it, but as far as I know, nopony ever actually has. There’s no air if you go up high enough.”

“That’s right,” Rainbow piped in. “Every pegasus knows that. If you fly up too high, it gets too cold, and you can’t breathe right. I’ve never even been able to get high enough to get close to that threshold.”

And of course if Rainbow can’t do it, no one can, Twilight thought to herself with a secret grin. For a moment, she thought about the possible implications of being able to pull off such a feat. If a pony actually could go past that threshold, to leave the surface of their little world and into the space beyond, there would be so much that they could learn. But of course, there were also many more conservative ponies that did not like the idea of ponies exploring beyond the borders of Equestria. And she knew that they would be quite vocal in their opposition of such things.

“Knowing how some ponies are,” Applejack started, drawing Twilight out of her private reflections in an eerie parallel of her thoughts, “that kinda newfangled thought would go over like a lead balloon.”

“Exactly!” Pinkie Pie exclaimed as she popped out of nowhere, giving the three ponies a fright that almost made them jump as high as those earth ponies thought they would get. Throwing a hoof around Applejack’s neck, she pointed down towards the gray sheet covering the field. “That’s a lead balloon! It’ll take them up, up and away!”

“A lead balloon?” Twilight asked, her skepticism evident in her voice. “Pinkie, lead is a metal. A very heavy metal. You can’t make a balloon out of it.”

“But they have,” the pink pony insisted excitedly. “I heard them talking about it. It’s a giant…” she spread her hooves apart as far as they could reach, “...balloon made out of big sheets of lead!”

“You must have heard wrong,” Twilight said in an exasperated tone. “I’m going to go talk to them.” She turned away, heading towards the table where the two stallions were sitting. She was immensely curious as to what they were really attempting to do, and how they planned to do it. As she approached them, she heard the exasperated voice of one of the two.

“...don’t understand why it’s not matching up,” the red-maned pony was saying as he glanced back and forth between the blueprints on the table, and the gray sheets spread across the field. His companion merely grunted as he studied the papers.

“Excuse me,” Twilight said as she moved closer to the table. “What are you doing?”

“Oh, hello!” The red-maned pony turned towards her, giving a smile and a nod, while his companion merely continued to study the blueprints. “Forgive me, no time to chat, gotta figure out why our lead sheets aren’t lining up properly. This whole experiment is busted if we can’t get this figured out.”

Not one to want to see any type of experiment go to waste, Twilight stepped closer. “Maybe I could help. I’ve run a lot of scientific experiments myself,” she said, pride coloring her voice. The red-maned pony glanced at his companion, who just shrugged with an annoyed look on his face. “My name is Twilight Sparkle,” she added, trying to be as friendly as possible.

“Savage Build,” the more vocal of the two said, introducing himself. He gestured to his partner, “And that is High Speed.” Savage leaned close and whispered in a conspiratorial fashion, “Don’t mind his grump, he’s always like that.” Moving back, he smiled at Twilight. “If you have any input, we’d be happy for the help.”

Twilight smiled and moved up to the table, finally glancing down at the drawings and equations written out across the blue paper. It did look like they were trying to assemble some sort of giant jigsaw puzzle. The paper showed the final design, and the large sheets on the field were the pieces. But this puzzle had all the pieces the same color. That did make it a little more difficult. That and the fact that the pieces were each the size of a small garden.

“These are thin sheets of pressed lead,” Savage told her, gesturing towards the material. “I know, ‘lead balloon’, right?” He laughed as he wiggled his eyebrows at her. “But we’ve found it actually works pretty well. We’ve been able to get it to float in our workshop in the small scale. But now we can’t get the big pieces to fit together. And if we can’t get going soon, we’ll have to push it off until tomorrow, and the sheets could get damaged.”

“Why didn’t we number the edges of the sheets?” High Speed spoke up for the first time, his voice just as gruff as his personality seemed to be.

Twilight studied the blueprints in front of her, seeing how each sheet was cut in a specific geometrical shape in order for them all to come together into the proper shape. It looked vaguely like a zeppelin shape, but like someone has squished either end in a bit.

“An interesting design,” she said, turning her head to study it from a slightly different angle. If they could get it put together, it probably would make a good balloon. “Maybe if we just…” Using her magic, she carefully levitated several pieces of the gray material, rotating and flipping them over and around. For several minutes she concentrated, studying the varying angles and lines and comparing them to the drawing in front of her. Beside her, the two earth ponies watched, and she faintly heard Savage asking why they had never employed a unicorn before.

Eventually she had the pieces set and lined up perfectly, and she wiped a bead of sweat from her brow as the glow faded from her horn.

“Brilliant!” Savage exclaimed next to her, almost causing her to jump. He managed to look at least slightly apologetic as he began instructing their assistants to begin gluing the pieces together.

As the other ponies began their work preparing the balloon, Twilight turned back to Savage Build. “So are you really going to try to take your balloon up into space?”

“Oh yes!” Savage responded. “We’ve been studying and planning for it for a long time.

“I’ve always been told that it would be impossible,” Twilight said. “There’s no air if you go up that high. How are you going to do it?”

Savage gestured towards the two bulky suits near the table. “Those will help us. We have cans of air that we can breathe for a little while. Enough to get us up and back down. We just want to prove that it can be done. Nothing is impossible.” He looked very determined as he spoke. “Crossing the threshold between our world, and the space that surrounds it….it can be done. I know it can. We just have to work the problem and figure it out. And then can you imagine the possibilities?”

Twilight smiled at his exuberance. She could definitely understand the drive for knowledge and the desire to want to achieve that which others thought was impossible. It was what had pushed her to become the best she could be. And it seemed as if Savage was very similar to her in that regard.

They spent the rest of the morning watching as the pieces of the balloon were assembled, and the glue set to dry. Eventually they were ready to really begin. Twilight looked around the field, seeing how the crowd had grown to include almost all of Ponyville, and possibly even some surrounding villages. Word had spread about what these two earth ponies were attempting, and it seemed that some people really were interested.

As the balloon was filled with the gases that would allow it to rise through the sky, Twilight helped Savage Build and High Speed get into the bulky suits, impressed at the design and how it closed completely around them in airtight seals. The tanks of air were strapped onto their flanks, hoses leading to the fishbowl helmets that would go over their heads and click into the necks of the suits.

Finally it was time for the two stallions to step into the small basket that was hanging just under the balloon. Twilight found that she was just a little be jealous that she was not able to join them on this historic flight, but also a little glad she wasn’t, because it was rather frightening as well. “Good luck,” she said to the two as they put on the glass helmets and stepped into the basket. With a countdown and a flourish, Savage instructed his assistants to cut the ropes holding the balloon down.

The lead balloon rose, slowly at first, and Twilight found herself laughing quietly at the thought that that particular saying about lead balloons would no longer work. As the ponies gathered on the ground watched, the balloon continued to rise, going higher and higher. Several pegasi that were watching followed it up, but one by one, they began to return. Finally Rainbow Dash herself could not keep up, and came back down to join the others.

“They’re really high up!” Rainbow said as she touched down next to Twilight and Applejack. “But they seemed ok. Gave me a wave as I headed back down. Man, they are tough!” The tone of her voice gave away the respect she had for the two stallions. Twilight could understand that. It was a rather brave, and cool, thing they were doing Rainbow would like that kind of daring.

Eventually the ponies on the ground could no longer even see the speck of the balloon against the sky, and several seemed to grow impatient, finding this part of the show to not be as thrilling. Over the next several hours, the crowd thinned as people gave up waiting for the return of the daring duo.

Twilight remained as long as she could, waiting into the night to see if the pair would return to the ground. Of course she realized there was no real way for them to steer, and it was quite possible they came down somewhere else. But she did hope that she would hear something. Eventually she returned to town, her eyes occasionally grazing the sky above looking for the gray outline of the balloon. She only hoped she would hear of their safe return.

Meanwhile, elsewhere…

The balloon rose higher and higher. And it was getting colder. But Savage Build and High Speed didn’t trigger their abort system. They knew they could do this. Words weren’t spoken as they continued the ascent. What could you say at a time like this anyway?

It seemed to take hours, but they slowly began to notice other changes. Their bodies felt lighter. Savage laughed with delight when his hooves first drifted off of the floor of the basket, and he had to wrap a hoof around the ropes to keep still. And they both gasped in awe as they looked outward and saw the great curve of the land below them, a thin blue line marking the threshold of the world below and the endless expanse of blackness above. Stars twinkled more brightly than they had ever seen, and they smiled at each other.

They had been told it was impossible. Myth busted.