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Cold in Gardez

Stories about ponies are stories about people.

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Starlight Goes on Vacation · 12:57pm Jul 7th, 2018

“Good morning, Starlight!” Twilight chirped. She took another bite of her pancakes, paused, reviewed her mental schedule, checked the crystal clock hanging on the wall above the kitchen door, swallowed, and spoke again: “I thought your vacation to Pony Hawaii started today?”

“The flight was full and the airline asked if I could swap to next week,” Starlight said. She sat at the table beside Twilight and set her school supplies on the floor. “I got a voucher for a free trip anywhere in Equestria! Certain blackout dates apply.”

“They always do,” Twilight said. “So, what are your plans for this week, then?”

“Catching up on counseling paperwork, I think. The new school year is right around the corner, you know.”

Twilight sighed. “Don’t remind me. I always thought summer breaks were too long as a filly, but now that I’m an adult they just zoom by.” She assuaged herself with another mouthful of cream-and-blueberry-topped pancake.

They sat for a few moments in companionable silence while Twilight ate. Starlight stared out the kitchen window at the rousing town. Dark, pegasi-shaped spots drifted across the morning sky, shepherding clouds into place and chasing away the lingering mists.

Finally: “Say, can I ask a question?”

Twilight flinched a little. No, she wanted to say. No, no more. But of course she couldn’t. She had to answer questions. She was like a shark – if she stopped answering questions she would sink and drown. A question-answering shark… yeah, that was it. She closed her eyes and imagined swimming through the sea, a remorseless machine perfected by millions of years of nature’s cruel lathing to instantly respond to and devour any questions smaller than she was with razor-sharp tearing jaws.

Starlight was staring at her, she realized. She coughed. “Sorry, uh, of course! Ask away.”

“Okay, so.” Starlight clapsed her hooves on the table. “Imagine you’re at a train switch, and you see a runaway trolley barrelling down the tracks toward a group of five little fillies and colts. Now, you can throw the switch and redirect the train to another track, where—”

“No.” Twilight stood. “No. We’re not doing the stupid Trolley Problem. Find a question that hasn’t been done to death. If I’m going to be plagued with impossible-to-answer dilemmas, I at least want them to be original.”

Then she snatched up the remains of her pancakes and trotted out the door, leaving a trail of floating whipped cream in the air behind her.

Starlight looked down at the little paper-mache diorama she brought with her. The trolley, tracks and terrified foals were all rendered in precise details. She’d thought about painting them, but the stark monochrome perfection of the newsprint and glue appealed to some part of her.

“Sorry kids, you’re on your own,” she said, tipping the diorama a bit. Gravity took over, and the trolley rolled down the oiled tracks toward the foals.


She winced. “Ugh. Why did I enchant them to actually scream?”

* * *

“So, Applejack,” Starlight said. She paused to take a bite of a fresh apple plucked from one of the dozens of baskets scattered around the Acres. “Do you believe in free will?”

Applejack squinted at her, or maybe at the apple, as if calculating one or the other’s cost, then shrugged. “Course I do. Don’t you?”

Starlight shrugged. “Maybe. But I’m asking you. How do you know it’s real?”

“Duh, cuz I can hear myself thinkin’ up here.” She tapped her noggin. “Don’t you got that?”

“Of course. We all have an inner sense of self,” Starlight said. “But how do you know you’re actually directing any of it? How do you know if you have any choice in what decisions you make?”

“I make decisions all the time.” Applejack paused to wipe the sweat from her forehead. “I just decided ten minutes ago to buck this here row of apple trees, on account of Big Macintosh being in town this morning on errands. Ah could’ve decided to buck any row I wanted, but I decided on this one.”

“But what part of you actually decided?” Starlight asked. “How do you know your decision wasn’t a predetermined outcome of external inputs and chemical reactions in your brain? What part of you actually decided anything? What muscle or switch or anything changed in your head to make you decide on this row instead of any other?”

Applejack was silent for a while. She frowned and stared at the trees, then over at some other trees down the way.

Finally: “Get off mah property.”

* * *

“And she just kicked you out?” Rarity asked. “How uncouth.”

“I know, right?” Starlight nibbled on one of the vanilla-frosted tea cookies Rarity set out for guests. “It was just a question.”

“Well, not all ponies are suited for such profound discussions,” Rarity said. She hummed quietly, comparing two swatches of purple cloth to the dress draped on the mannequin atop the stage in her design parlour. “What do you think, darling? Mulberry or orchid?”

“Uh.” Starlight glanced between the swatches. “The… darker one?”

“Mmm.” Rarity stared at them for a while longer, then set the lighter colored piece down. “Mulberry it is!”

Starlight snatched up another cookie and nibbled the frosting off the edges. “Say, Rarity, have you ever wondered if the colors we see are the same colors that other ponies see?”

“What do you mean?” Rarity pinned the mulberry swatch to the dress and began making little marks with a fabric pencil on the winged collar. “You mean, for color-blind ponies?”

“No. I mean, what if the color I see as red is actually the color you see as green?”

A little wrinkle appeared between Rarity’s eyebrows. “That’s impossible, Starlight. Color is an expression of the wavelength of reflected light – it’s an objective, measurable quality of the real world.”

“Yes, light and wavelengths are measurable. But your brain doesn’t see wavelengths – it’s just accepting the impulses from your optic nerve and translating them with a potentially arbitrary palette in your visual cortex. There’s no universal law that we know of that says the way my brain interprets light in the wavelength known as red must be the same way your brain interprets it. For all we know, a dress you see as cerise and amber could appear like, I dunno, orange and puce to another pony.”

Rarity stared at the dress. Her mouth opened, then closed. She looked back and forth between the orchid and mulberry swatches.

Finally, she turned to Starlight and frowned.

* * *

“Great work, girls!” Twilight Sparkle said. “We uncovered and captured the changeling impersonating Starlight Glimmer!”

The changeling in question hissed and spat at them from its mystical cage in the Friendship Castle dungeon. Actually, it was the wine cellar, the castle having no real dungeon, but for some reason Rarity had insisted they “keep the filthy beast in the dungeon,” so there they were. Bottles broken in the struggle littered the floor and the heady, yeasty scent of spilled wine filled the air. It was actually making Twilight a little dizzy.

“How did you know it was a changeling?” the real Starlight Glimmer asked. She still wore her Pony Hawaiian shirt, a flower lei around her neck and sunglasses atop her horn.

“The real Starlight Glimmer would never ask such sophomoric, pointless philosophical questions,” Twilight said. “Once I compared notes with Applejack and Rarity, we knew it had to be an imposter.”

“And not just any imposter!” Rarity cried. “A new breed of changeling. A devious attempt by Chrysalis to harvest an emotion other than love!”

“That’s right,” Twilight said. “This changeling feeds on existential doubt!”

“Oh.” Starlight said. “That’s… really?”

“Yeah, it’s not very threatening,” Twilight said. “I guess it could be annoying, sort of? Maybe cause some problems in the freshman dorms at universities.”

“Fools!” the changeling hissed. “You underestimate the power of my queen! Soon we will sow the pony world with thought-provoking, unanswerable questions designed to instill in you a sense of pointless malaise, which over the generations will erode your collective ambition with a creeping ennui—”

“Oh, be quiet,” Twilight snapped. She floated a book over to the changeling. “Here, have a collection of Prench fin de siècle poetry.”


“Well, fortunately Chrysalis’s drones aren’t getting any smarter,” Starlight said. “I mean, the Trolley Problem? Really? Everypony knows that ponies just give whatever answer they think will make them look like a good person. It’s basic virtue signalling. If you want to know what ponies actually think about disturbing moral questions, you have to run the experiment in real life.”

Twilight nodded. “Exactly.” A pause. “Wait, what?”

“You have to be careful, though,” Starlight continued. “Apparently, like, it’s against the law or something to position foal-sized crash-test dummies on railroad tracks in front of oncoming trains. Who knew?”

“Uh. I mean, I think everypony knows… What’s that in your luggage?”

“Nothing.” Starlight’s horn glowed, and what appeared to be a cracked and charred plastic pony leg was shoved deeper into her bags with a hollow rattle. “Just, uh, souvenirs.”

“Why do you have a tracking bracelet on your ankle?” Fluttershy asked.

“It was a condition of my bail.” Starlight said. “Hey, did you know that if you get arrested, all your research notes are entered into court logs as evidence? It’s like being published!"

Comments ( 24 )

That's Starlight!

(Laugh track plays. Even the laugh track sounds hesitant and uncertain.)

Damnit, Starlight.

Man, keep these things coming. They are just wonderful little slices of Starlight's great thinking brain but complete lack of ethics. these are absolutely hilarious. Thank you.

Ah, Starlight. Demonstrating why the true answer to the Trolley Problem is to shoot whoever sets it up (it is not a setup that can occur naturally) twice in the head, as a warning to others.

I think you have enough of these at this point to publish them as an anthology fic.

“The real Starlight Glimmer would never ask such sophomoric, pointless philosophical questions,” Twilight said. “Once I compared notes with Applejack and Rarity, we knew it had to be an imposter.”

Right! A real discussion about free will would involve the [insert ponified names here] experiments that demonstrated your nerves fire before your conscious mind "decides" to move your hand, and that if you isolate visual signals from the conscious mind, your brain will respond to written instructions "you" can't see, and "you" will confabulate a completely different reason for following them!

I love your take on Starlight.
This was great.

I love how you memed the recent series of this into this.

You a fan of The Good Place, then?

Noc #11 · Jul 7th, 2018 · · ·

“Pony Hawaii”

Had to run out of outright puns sometime, I guess …

“Good morning, Starlight!” Twilight chirped.

Just to blow our minds one if these days Twi will leave one of these blog posts just as happy as she starts it.

I'd personally go with Haywaii

The most recent comic mentioned Horsalulu. :rainbowwild:

Dammit Starlight...

The color problem is especially trite for ponies since they have mind reading magic.

What WOULD the crime be for setting up a fake trolly problem? Disorderly conduct? Or has Celestial just dealt with enough philosophers that there are laws specifically against this kind of thing?

Things make a lot more sense when you realize you’re an emergent property of a bunch of interlinked subsystems rather than a single process. Which, in my view, doesn’t actually mean you aren’t making decisions in a real way. It’s just not happening the way you usually think of it.

Problem: We have an over-nerdy alicorn who gets mentally stuck when trying to relate socially to other ponies.
Solution: We add Starlight Glimmer to the mix. Um. Ok, that's not really a solution, per se, since we're not dissolving anything in anything else, but....

Remember, if you're not part of the solution, you're part of the precipitate.


I refuse to accept that reality.

And to think we started with stuff like “Cloudsdale” and “Canterlot”.

Just call it actual Hawaii, and have someone mention that it doesn’t seem like a pun at all.

“I know, Polineighsian naming conventions are weird.”

Love these.

I mean, Quip's Quick Qualia Quantifier is kind of an obscure spell, it's understandable Rarity wouldn't know it, but still.

I love these, but they should all be put in story form so's we can save and Favorite them.

4896526 4896548 4896559 4896714
I can't take credit for Honoluna, but that was dropped on me a year or two back and it's so perfect.

EDITED TO ADD: Credit goes to FrontSevens, in Pinkie Pie and the Search for the Missing Adventure. (Unless they stole it from someone else.)

It really, really is.

My laughter is bright and cheerful. I love Starlight.

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