by TheMajorTechie

Reassemble the puzzle.

Lisa watched as her friend took off, even shoving people out of the way every so often as she continued running.

"...Pinkie?" The girl began again, taking a cautious step forward.

Lisa plopped down with a huff onto her bed, a relieved smile creeping across her face for a moment as she let herself sink into the crisp sheets. It was still unbelievable to the girl with how far she'd come. Yet, it was still hardly a week ago when she had first awoken to reality. Within an instant, however, the smile vanished as she turned her thoughts yet again to her friend. What could Pinkie be hiding from her? Why hadn't she recognized where she was during that encounter the day before?

Her thoughts were interrupted by a gentle rapping on her door. "Come in!" She called in return, sitting herself up on the bed. "I'm not busy at the moment if you need to talk about anythi--"

The girl stared confusedly at Samantha, the latter of whom stood solemnly in the now-ajar doorway. A frown remained firmly plastered on the strange girl as she stormed towards Lisa. "Tell me, girl." Samantha snapped, pointing a shaky finger in Lisa's face, "Tell me everything you know about Pinkie."

"I..." Lisa began carefully, choosing her words out of fear for her friend, "I don't understand what you're talking about, Samantha."

"Don't play dumb, book horse." Samantha scowled as she lowered her finger. "Don't think for even a second that I don't know about Pinkie."

Lisa scooted away from the strange girl. Was this why Pinkie was being so cryptic before? Was it because she was afraid of this other side of herself? She stared into Samantha's eyes hopeful for a hint, a clue as to what was happening-- anything.

"C'mon. Twilight, was it? Twilight Sparkle. Rolls right off the tongue, doesn't it? It should, given how I helped create you. Or at least, you at the present..."

Samantha stepped closer, slamming both her hands on the bed as Lisa shrieked for a moment, leaping further back. "Please," Lisa began, "Just... please, tell me what's even going on..."

Lisa sighed a breath of relief as the crazed girl's expression began to soften.

"You really don't remember, do you?"

Lisa shook her head.

Samantha stood up, folding her arms across her chest with a shake of her head. "You must've been in those simulations for far longer than I did then, Lisa Garnet. Don't you remember me from those engineering summer camps we used to go to?"

Once again, Lisa shook her head, albeit slower than before.

"Don't you remember me, Lisa?"

Lisa raised a thoughtful finger to her chin. "Does Pinkie count?" She stared back into Samantha's eyes. She could sense some familiarity in them that she didn't in Pinkie, but she couldn't quite grasp what it was.

The strange girl stared back, her face an endlessly shifting vat of emotions. "I-- you... ugh." She began, "Listen, I probably don't have much longer before I'm replaced yet again by that mare's persona, but before I go, just let me tell you something. Friend to former friend, alright? Knowing Lisa and how you're an extension of her persona, rather than what I am, I think I can still trust you."

"O-okay." Lisa nodded nervously, glancing around the room as Samantha sat down beside her.

"Around half a decade ago, when the two of us were still in school, we both decided to enter a lottery to join and help create an experimental Artificial Intelligence-run network of Virtual Reality simulations. Miraculously, we had both been drawn, though each for different purposes. For our coding skills, we became developers to create the unique AI entities that would at first populate the simulations before additional users would join. The plan was to let new users pick a character that matched them the best, or to request an entirely customized entity for an additional fee."

Lisa nodded curiously. "Go on," she mumbled. "I think I'm starting to get something."

Samantha grinned. "And here comes the good part. It turns out that as part of the government program's benefits for co-developers and early testers, we were allowed to jointly create our own characters for ourselves if we wanted to join the simulations later on. At the time, I had already skyrocketed to the top of our individual project as a lead developer for the AIs. Though, as always, there were a few... mistakes." The strange girl glanced towards the open door, before turning back to Lisa. "You helped quite a bit in creating the world, history, and overall lore of our simulation. The leaders, the people... er, ponies, so on. When I was working on Celestia's original code, I misplaced a function without noticing and accidentally granted the AI a sort of superuser status. Before I had realized what was happening, I already deployed the AI into the simulations. What was most foolish out of that fiasco was that I realized far too late that we hadn't ever created any backups. Though with the damage being dealt, I could no longer contain what I had come to call Discord, so I put as much effort as I could into sealing him away. It appeared to work at first, but from what I remember seeing before I connected myself to the simulation, the AI had taken on a more tranquil state, and didn't appear to be causing any more harm."

Discord. Lisa whispered under her breath, No wonder you have such a controlling grip on everything.

"Huh?" Samantha responded, turning towards her friend. "You were saying something?"

"No, no." The girl shook her head. "It was nothing. By the way, you said that Celestia was an artificial intelligence?"

Samantha nodded. "Yeah, for a time. Ultimately, it was decided that she'd be a rotation of volunteers that would be hand-picked for leadership skills. I didn't want a repeat of the Discord fiasco if I decided to try out an AI for her again."

"Huh." Lisa shrugged, taking in the information. "What else did you do before? I think I'm starting to vaguely remember, but... I'm not quite sure yet."

The strange girl placed a hand on Lisa's shoulder. "Hey, don't sweat it, alright?" She began, "It'll come back to you. You weren't forced to forget your past life. That was part of the ethical concern of the project. It's just been a while since you've last thought about it, so just take your time."

Lisa sighed with a slight nod. "Okay then. What else did you do afterwards?"

"I then-argh!" Samantha yelled, clutching her head as she fell limp onto the bed, unmoving save for a rapid succession of deep breaths.

"Samantha!" Lisa cried out, taking hold of her friend's hand, "Wha--"

"...Twilight?" Samantha groaned, squeezing the girl's hand, "What happened? Where am I?"