Celestia's regal pose was unfaltering as she listened to a red-haired human male and a slate gray earth pony stallion argue back and forth before her throne, but her eyes betrayed a growing exasperation. This was the textbook example of a petty land dispute. She was fairly sure that somewhere back in her old home, back in the library, there was a dictionary. And in that dictionary there was an entry for the word "inane". And under that entry was this very argument. She had never, not once in her life, dreamed that she would actually encounter it.
They were fighting over a tree. A single tree, which had sprouted directly on the imaginary line that the two had drawn between their properties, had begun to bear fruit. Pears, to be exact. Very fine pears, admittedly. They had brought her samples of them, presumably to impress upon her the seriousness of the dispute. But it was still just one tree. And yet schematics were being drawn in the air, and voices were being raised, and arcane laws from the old world were being referenced as the argument grew increasingly heated.
"The seedling came up on my property," argued the stallion. "Just because it grew onto his side doesn't mean he can claim ownership of it."
The human took the bait, slipping back into the same argument they had begun the session with. "But he hadn't claimed the land yet when it sprouted. It grew onto my property before he owned that side of the line."
"But I tended it during the summer, I pulled all the weeds that would have choked it out, and made sure it had water during the dry spells."
"And I was the one who put the cage on the trunk. It would have snapped in the winds of that storm if I hadn't." The human turned away from the pony and looked directly up at Celestia on her throne. "Your Majesty, this is ridiculous, this shouldn't even be an issue. He's just a-"
Celestia didn't have to use her magic to stop the man's sentence. The look in her eyes was enough. His mouth snapped shut.
"A living, thinking being with the same rights as you, Mr. Jacobson," Celestia finished for him. "As for the object of your argument, the tree and its produce are now the property of the state. You will both be compensated its fair value, and it will be transported to the royal gardens within the week."
The human and the earth pony were silent for a moment as their queen's judgment sank in. Then they bowed stiffly as one and turned, both with equally dour looks, starting toward the doors of the throne room. Celestia's regal pose remained, but her expression shifted to one of thoughtful satisfaction. A good compromise, she mused, is often one which leaves no party happy.
Except for her. She really liked those pears.
Project LUNA Terminal #73
User unrecognized. Defaulting to guest account.
No network access. Switching to workstation mode.
Luna gazed at the screen. It seemed, once again, like she had found more questions than answers. Why did this machine have the same word on it as her shiny? What "user" might the machine recognize? If there had been other creatures who could use these machines before, where were they now? And... what was it ready for?
"Er... hello?" she tried.
The screen, and its enigmatic message, remained unchanged.
"Hello, computer?" Luna tried again.
The computer, seemingly recognizing its name, emitted a small beep. Luna perked up. Now she was getting somewhere! She settled back onto her haunches and prepared to engage it in conversation.
"What do you do?" she asked first. The message on the screen changed, and the computer spoke in a voice not unlike that of the device back in her room. Luna suddenly wondered if they were related.
Voice command mode activated.
"Redirecting to Computer (electronic), Functionality," the computer replied. "Information not found in cache, and no network access detected."
Luna frowned. That was the second time she'd heard that term. "What is network access?" she asked it.
"Information not found in cache, and no network access detected."
Luna's ears flicked back in annoyance. This computer was definitely related to the first device. They were both obnoxiously repetitive when they didn't want to answer a question. "What can you find in your cache, then?" she asked, more harshly than she had intended. She immediately felt bad, but the computer didn't seem to notice.
"Displaying article cache by most recent access."
Thomas Montgomery (arcanologist)
Leonard Morrison (quantum physicist)
Daniel Rogers (biologist)
Anthony Harris (arcanologist)
Joshua Williams (entrepreneur)
Second System (Project LUNA)
Luna's eyes traveled greedily down the list. Now this was progress. And it seemed that her most pressing question would finally be answered.
"What is Project LUNA?"
"I can't do this anymore, Michael." Celestia waved a hoof in the air, vaguely indicating the palace as a whole, or perhaps the entire surrounding city. The open sky surrounded them on three sides, the balcony providing a beautiful view of the city below the castle and the lush green landscape beyond. Canterlot, they had named it. Capital of Equestria. She had learned over time to suppress the visible winces, but she still wasn't entirely acclimated to the sense of humor her "family" seemed to share. A person could only hear so many awful horse puns in a day before it started to wear on them.
"Your Majesty?" her assistant asked, frowning. He sat across from her at a small private table as they took a recess from Celestia's court. He picked at the lettuce and peanut butter sandwich in front of him, while Celestia absentmindedly dug into her second plate of daffodil and cream truffles as she spoke again.
"All of this. Being the Queen. Working constantly, with hardly a break for myself. Managing humans and ponies in the court all day, and regulating the natural cycles of the world all night. We have no stars, Michael. Do you know why we have no stars? Because I haven't had time to design them yet!" The statement was punctuated by a hoof wave and the last truffle, which she chewed vehemently.
"I know it's hard, Your Majesty. I mean, I guess I don't know. I can't even imagine what it must be like." A third plate of truffles was deposited on the table by a yellow unicorn filly, who politely ignored a disapproving look from Michael. "But you're the only one who can do it. This is what you were born for."
Celestia lowered her gaze to the table. "I know, Michael, I know," she sighed. Another creamy confectionery joined the ones already eaten. Being in charge did have its perks. "And I understand why it had to be that way. No ordinary human could hope to manage so much alone. No offense to any of you of course," the alicorn quickly added.
"None taken," Michael smiled. "I agree completely, and clearly so did everyone else."
"But why me? I mean, a lot of old world religions had a whole pantheon of gods!" Another truffle disappeared. "Why only me?"
"Ah," Michael responded. Celestia looked questioningly at the human, and he in turn looked intently at his sandwich.
"Michael?" Her assistant dug into his meal with new enthusiasm. "Michael," she repeated. "Mike. What aren't you telling me?"
"Mmph," he responded. By a suspiciously convenient coincidence, a mouth full of peanut butter very effectively prevents one from answering awkward questions. Celestia's eyes narrowed, just slightly.
"Mike, you've been my assistant for three years now. I'd like to think that we've been friends for much of that time. And I can tell that you're hiding something that I should know about."
Michael looked down at his empty plate as he finished his mouthful. "I'm sorry, Celestia. I wasn't even supposed to know about it, I didn't have the clearance, I just stumbled across the information. It's not my place to tell you..."
"Mike... please?" He looked up, and met soulful magenta eyes, wide and pleading. He knew that she could just force the information out of him with magic, and the fact that she didn't do so spoke of a depth of trust that made the decision that much easier.
"You weren't supposed to be the only one," Michael said quietly. "You were the first, the proof that it could be done, but before the... before we had to leave ahead of schedule, the team started the process again. Another Harris-Montgomery ritual, another female embryo..." Celestia stared at her assistant as he trailed off. Her eyes widened, realization setting in.
"I have a sister?"