Spike of All Trades

by Ariamaki

Chapter 9: Check Engine

[A Magenta Mystery]
Pinkie Pie
LV 3.141592653589793238462643383279502884197169399375...

...Well, it was the closest thing he'd ever get to an explanation where Pinkie was involved.

Her title, name, and level were all written in an almost painful neon pink instead of the now-familiar sky blue, and her level kept going, far into the distance outside Spike's field of view. Hoof it to this pony in particular to break through expectations and leave nothing but confusion in her wake... Well, maybe she'd be able to help clarify some things he was thinking about. After all she enjoyed a lot of games herself, plus she helped out with various birthday parties at the arcade...

Beyond all that it was Pinkie. If she didn't have a weird insight into the situation he would eat his hat. If he had one. Scratch that: He'd go get himself a hat, and then eat it. One made of diamonds! Or sapphire, obsidian, whatever. He wasn't gonna be picky.

Given that strange burst of whatever from his Observation, he felt cautious about approaching. In the end he trusted his friends: He put his best foot / claw forward and stepped over to the pony.
"Hey there, Pinkie!"

"Oh! You're up and about super-duper early today Spike: More chores from Twilight, huh?"

Spike wavered one claw in the air ambivalently, reaching for a sample at the same time.
"Mmmaybe. She had some kind of all-day thing up in Canterlot, personal business."

She nodded sagely at that while Spike popped the morsel into his mouth.
"I totally know how that goes! Does it have anything to do with those blue words?"

Aaand a bystander got showered with dumpling debris.
"Sorry, what?"

"The bluewords! Over your head. They're very blue. And kinda words."

"Iiiii think we need to go inside and talk. Um. Whenever you're done doing... this."

Looking around, they realized that everypony had seen Spike, the dragon notorious for eating everything up to and including Baked Bads, spit-taking one of the samples. Weirdly, that led to far fewer ponies (you could even say zero ponies) coming up to take a sample of their own.
"Eh, now's probably fine. I mean, I've gotta get started on today's biiig project anyways!"

She did an about-face and trotted into her home / work, and Spike followed, if a little reluctantly.
"How big are we talking? Because if it's MMMM-level, I'm out."

"Um, not that big. Still big though! Feeds more ponies, but isn't quite so..."

He dodged his way around furniture and ponies alike as Pinkie took as obtuse a path through the store as she possibly could. Thankfully, most of the place was empty, so he got to keep his apologizing to a minimum.
"Complex? Sugary? Enticing? Shrouded in marzipan and / or mystery?"

Pinkie dropped off the remaining dumplings on the counter with a wide smile. The smile, and the rest of her, quickly vanished below the counter a moment later.
"All of the above and below, so shall it be!"

"...Riiight. So it's relatively simple and not brain-meltingly sweet. Would it be alright for us to talk about the, ah, blue words, while you work?"

When Pinkie popped back up, she was wielding an apron, which quickly found its way onto him: He didn't question it, nor did he question the brief pop-up box telling him that he had equipped a 'tabard-slot' item which gave him very minor protection from heat and a Cooking buff. If anything, Pinkie seemed to care more about the notification than he did.
"Oooh, a yellow one this time! What's it say?"

Spike moved to shush her, but it was futile: Even if anypony had been listening, it was still Pinkie. He knew to pay attention to most of what she said because he was a friend, but a lot of ponies in town just wrote it off as Pinkie-being-Pinkie. Which... They weren't wrong, but that didn't mean she was wrong either. It did mean they could talk freely, safe from concerns about ponies wondering what was going on. If that failed? The tried and true standby: "We're just talking about a game."

"Wait, I thought you were really good at reading backwards."

"Uhhu! And upside down. And backwardsupsidedown... cake? No, that'd be too tricky to make in four dimensional space. But all I can tell is that it's got words on it, not what the words are."

...So even to somepony like Pinkie, Spike's UI was something only he could truly see. That was actually kind of a relief: It meant he'd basically never have to worry about being peeped on while he did Gamer things. Pinkie was his gold standard for being able to see the imperceptible after all.
"Let's go to the kitchen and get started on this big project of yours, OK? We can cook and talk."

"Aaww that sounds great! We haven't cooked together in a while~! What was it last, the Morose Muffin Monsters of Maudagascar for my sister's birthday care package?"

"Yeah, that was a good time. Hey, she never did come visit after that."

"Mmmh, yeah. Busy with rock troubles."

"I'll... take your word for it."

The kitchen at Sugar Cube Corner was always immaculately clean when it wasn't being used that exact minute: Pinkie always cleaned up after herself, and the Cakes were very good at watching each other's backs while they worked. Spike had a fair feeling it would get a lot nastier in here by the time they were done, especially if the gigantic him-sized stack of banana leaves had anything to do with what they were making.
"Speaking of words, let's speak some words now!"

Spike was planning to tell his friends about this, but he didn't see any reason to let the information spread too much outside of his own control.
"You sure nopony can hear us back here?"

"Deffo! So spill the beans!"

"Wait, like, metaphorically or literally? Because for all I know we're cooking beans."

She blinked a few times while mulling that over.
"Oh. Right! Mmmmnope, no beans. Leaves, dough, onions, peppers, garlic, squash, more onions, different peppers... but no beans. I meant word-beans."

"Word-beans. Sure. Well, it started this morning with a bad dream about a game, and then I woke up. The bad dream was over, but the game part just kept going..."

He ran down the entire thing so far, each aspect he had discovered or experienced. With some other ponies, he would probably tell them a brief summary or even just the concept alone. But it felt like Pinkie (and likely Twilight, later) would be the kind of pony who would ignore information overload and just wanted to know it all. So Spike told her every last detail, sparing nothing. She was quiet throughout, which didn't surprise him: There was nopony like Pinkie Pie when it came to listening to your problems.

By the time he was finished talking, they were up to their respective wrists and fetlocks in thick corn dough, enough to cover the entire counter... Which was actually the plan, apparently. In the same way that Pinkie had let him speak, he just kind of let the concept of the cooking wash over him without worrying about the details. She knew what she was doing, and he trusted her as a friend. He did almost question it when she broke out the blood-orange dye, because at this point it looked as if the dough under their hands / hooves was kinda... flesh-like.
"So yeah, that about sums it up so far."

"Huh. I guess you're... Nope, I went to make a joke about what kind of game engine you run on, but I couldn't quite get there. Oh well!"

"Pfftha! Yeah, that..."

That... that brought up a good question. All of the game machines he'd ever seen ran on engines: Complicated rigs of pistons, magical capacitors, steam valves and other mechanical oddities. Even the most compact one Spike had seen was barely smaller than a bathroom stall, and they were probably pretty expensive to make and maintain. The only reason Ponyville, being a small village off-mountain, even had an arcade was because they were a "test market" with a direct rail line from Canterlot. So if he was living his life as if it were a game, was it just metaphor? Or did he have an engine somewhere, somehow?

"Gimme a second here Pinkie."

His body certainly didn't feel any different, but given the risks involved in helping Twilight with her experiments, he knew how to check and check thoroughly. All he had to do was zone out, take a deep breath, and relax. Another breath, and relax. Follow the air from his nose down past his palate, throat, lungs, body... And then exhale, tracing back the same path until the air exited his mouth. Feel yourself (not like that) and relax.

It was an easy pattern to fall into, easier now than ever before, and he quickly found his mind racing through the passages of his own circulatory system. Twilight had helped him figure out a lot of dragon biology over the years (his biology, at least, with no other dragons to compare to) so he could visualize it all. Compare the images to the form, follow the patterns, all biological life is based on patterns, remember the lessons. He'd just check this real quick and get back to... whatever it was he had been doing. Already it felt detached from his thoughts, so he shrugged (not physically, mind you) and carried on as he was.


Pinkie Pie gently prodded the dragon, who seemed for all the world to be sleeping at a standstill. His eyes were half-closed (in that two of his four eyelids were totally shut) and his claws were curled against the floor. Spike rocked gently when pushed, but did not fall over or respond. After a minute she shrugged and got back to work: He'd probably be awake in time to finish assembling the project. And hay if all else failed, the smell of roasting food would wake him up when she got that far. Pinkie took pride in her roasting.