Spike of All Trades

by Ariamaki

Chapter 26: Ping, Pong

It was a bit of a blur as the two of them made their way through the arcade. They'd bounce from one set of games (racing, both character and vehicle) and towards another (shooting games, near the range) and then out to a third (adventure games this time), all the while talking about the small details and changes. They were both out of their depth, coming from different directions: Piercing Ammunition didn't really know much about modern gaming, but in return Spike's knowledge of the old ways was just as spotty. They filled each other in as well as they could, occasionally pausing to talk about personal questions. It was a literal back-and-forth, in tune with the way they walked.

"So how long have you been here in Ponyville?"

"About six, seven months. You?"

"...Since Luna came back?"

"Right! Right. Should be hard to forget, but... you and the Elements don't raise a lot of fuss."

"Hah! And you say you've been in Ponyville for six months."

"You know what I mean: None of you go around rubbing it in ponies' faces."

"Oh! Yeah, I guess not, even moreso after dealing with a really arrogant unicorn one time."

"...Just a wild guess, but does the name Trixie Lulamoon ring a bell?"

"Loudly. It's a bit weird hearing it without the 'GREAT AND POWERFUL' though."

"Hah. Haha. Yes, that's... Well, she's getting better."

"You know her personally? I had guessed you'd heard of her, or seen one of her shows."

"Story for another time, Spike. Now tell me about these contact screen games..."

Shifting back into business mode, Spike began explaining what he could. They were pretty new to him as well, but some games used a magical crystal for the whole screen, instead of having a projected image. Not only could it produce much more realistic three-dimensional images, but those games could be controlled with the screen, using direct contact. Most of them still used a mix of buttons and contact control, but it allowed for unique methods of play and easy interaction.

"Hmmm. Makes sense, and it's an improvement over a lot of older games. I remember joysticks so twiggy you had to be a unicorn to play well. Using your hoof is an interesting development."

"Yeah, it's neat! Some games have gotten kind of lazy with it, but the best ones do really cool stuff. And a lot of the designs for modern controllers are an improvement over what you're talking about: I'm not a great judge though, what-with the claws and all."

Pierce rolled his neck with a faint -crck- and started trotting away, letting Spike follow behind.

"Understood. Moving on?"

"Sure! Do you have the time right now, though? I thought you were working the counter..."

"I'm free: I put one of the employees on it, they need the counter practice anyways."

"That makes sense! But, um, how many employees do you even have? This place is..."

"Big? Yeah, we snapped up a lot of the local night owls to cover certain shifts. A dozen, or so?"

Spike whistled. "Pretty impressive! And I guess you're having them all train everywhere?"

"Mmh. Me and Arc can't afford to specialize, so why should they? Everypony does everything."

"That way you two don't have to be here all the time, even as the managers."

"Exactly: It would be a shame to move to Ponyville and not be able to spend any time exploring."

"I take it you both like it, then? A lot of ponies think it's, um, 'quaint', to be polite."

"Yer shootin' straight we like it: Quiet, compact, not too far from Canterlot... It feels comfortable."

"Hah! I was thinking the same earlier. And it's growing all the time, I mean, just look here!"

"Glad to be of service. Speaking of: How much do you know about cabinet and engine repair?"

They came to a stop near a door on one far wall, off in a corner, with a strange flat-looking crystal panel where you'd normally see a handle or a lock or even just a push-plate. Spike looked from Pierce to the door, thought about it, and put two and two together once again.
"...Employee's Only door, and you're about to show me the repair room. Also, not much."

Pierce chuckled and ruffled Spike's spines, putting his other hoof onto the panel. It let out a faint ding and a glow before unlocking the door. Spike watched with curiosity, throwing an Observe at it and shoving the window aside to read later. So cool.
"Got it in one. And we can fix that last bit, if not today then next time. Come on in!"

Their tour of the service area was all ups and downs for Spike. On the one hand, he got to see a ton of things he barely even understood and had never seen before in his life. On the other hand, he got to see a ton of things he barely even understood and had never seen before in his life. He hadn't been so frustrated with the (admittedly ever-shrinking) limitations of Observe before, much less the limitations of linear time. He wanted to understand everything he was seeing, to figure it all out and develop new skills (or even new Skills), but he had a schedule to keep and the same was probably true of Pierce.

Still, Spike didn't let anything go to waste: He fired off an Observe into every single individual object he saw in the tightly-packed room, minimizing all of their windows to make room for more. Asking questions of Pierce and taking the time to look at things with his eyes as well, Spike indulged himself. It was a fun time for him, and the bat-pony also seemed to enjoy it. Eventually, reluctantly, they made their way back out into the main arcade. Spike did manage to extract a promise from Pierce that the next time they were able, he could start studying all that stuff properly.

"Gladly. Should go well, too: I like to think I'm a pretty good teacher, given all this."

The stallion gestured at himself, but Spike didn't understand what he was getting at.
"...Your fur's nice and all but I'm not sure how it makes you a better teacher?"

"Pffft! No, I mean being a Night Guard."

"Also nice, but I don't get what an illusion would do to your teaching ability either."

Piercing Ammunition pulled up short, his posture strangely stiff. A moment later he turned his head back to look at Spike, expression dead neutral and tone undeniably cold.
"What did you just say?"

OK yeah this is a time for backpedalling.
"W-well that's what Celestia told me. I asked her about the Day Guard when I was younger and she said it was just a kind of glamour that she put on them, and they weren't all identical underneath or anything, so I just figured-"

Pierce shook his head, his expression softening.
"I would have expected her... Actually, nono, wait. How much younger is 'younger'?"

"Waaay younger. Like, three or four years before we came to Ponyville, I think? So eight years ago, might have even been nine... I hadn't even been out in public in Canterlot that much, so I mostly saw royal staff and Guard ponies back then. Hence the confusion. Sorry for the offense."

"Hrm. So Celestia keeps state secrets from her state secrets? That makes... a distressing amount of sense. Oh well: None of my business! Not that part anyways. So, let's grab a seat. And no offense taken: I'm not mad. I just, well... What the Princess told you isn't entirely true, and what you said to me might come off as an insult if you said it to another pony on either Guard. Since there's a lot more of us in town these days, best to cut any kind of misunderstanding off at the pass."

Spike didn't want to cause any more problems, so he followed and sat down at the table, listening carefully. Twilight had taught him that the best way to make amends for this sort of mistake was to apologize and pay attention. It's one thing to make a mistake, it's another to fail to learn from it.

"So... The true part is that I'm a normal pony, underneath. A pegasus, just like my wife is a unicorn. If you saw her 'normally', the resemblance to Rarity would probably be a lot more apparent. And that much is obvious: After all, not too many ponies rock natural black and purple color schemes, much less the leather wings or thorn-laced horns, right?"

"Heh, yeah... But-"

"The false part is that it's a glamour or illusion. It's something bigger, something real, something that makes an impact. The spell Celestia uses on her Day Guard, and the spell that Luna used on us Night Guard after her return? Those are a unique kind of power that only the Princesses can bring to bear."