Terminal Fault

by MagnetBolt


[As I have mentioned previously, this is the only one of the reports that I have edited in any significant way other than by adding footnotes with my personal thoughts. Pinkie Pie’s original submission to this archive was in a combination of color and font that I suspect could cause seizures among the general population. That said, because of Pinkie Pie’s unique characteristics I believe her account’s accuracy is secondary only to mine. - TS]

In the beginning, the world was a bright and happy place.

And there was a title screen and some really kickin’ calliope music!


It was empty, though. It wasn’t empty like a box with nothing in it. It was empty like an amusement park with no visitors, and that’s even worse! I don’t remember much about the before-times. Things kept changing. Whole cities would be in one place one day, then you’d wake up and they’d be somewhere else entirely! Doors and mountains and streets kept moving around, and whole parts of the world sometimes vanished and were replaced by something else.

It was sometime between when they invented grass instead of painting the ground green and when the sun and moon started moving around when I met somepony for the first time.

It was the BEST DAY EVER.

“Hello!” I called out.

The other pony ignored me and kept walking.

It may not sound like much but trust me, it was very exciting at the time. I’d never met anypony before in my life! I tried to get their attention a few more times but they started doing some really strange things like walking into every wall they saw and jumping everywhere. They seemed to be having fun, so I left them alone.

After that, the big changes stopped, and more ponies started showing up. These ponies actually talked to me!

“Hello!” I called out.

The other pony stopped.

“Hello,” they said.

I was so excited I almost exploded!

“My name’s Pinkie Pie! Who are you?”

They didn’t answer, really, but I could see their name.

“It’s really nice to meet you, [TESTER14]! Let’s play a game!”

We started playing ball-bounce, passing a bouncing ball back and forth and trying to bounce it with our snouts. It was the first time I’d ever played it, but I already knew all the rules. I didn’t even know I knew them until we started!

After a few rounds, though, [TESTER14] started acting strangely. They deliberately missed, so I made the next bounces easier. Then they did strange things, like dancing in the middle of the game and aiming the ball everywhere they could.

“Do you want to play something else?” I asked.

“No,” the featureless grey pony said. At the time I didn’t think having only a few polygons and no textures was strange for a pony, but looking back on it maybe they weren’t feeling so good.

“Okay,” I said.

We kept playing for another hour. I did everything I could to get them engaged, from praising them to bouncing the ball in different ways to deliberately missing so they’d score.

“You’re not having fun,” I said. “What’s wrong?”

They didn’t respond. I realized they didn’t have a way to really do it. But there was something else. There was a weird signal coming from them. I tuned into it, and I heard something for the first time!

“This is so stupid,” they groaned. They had a really great voice! I was pretty sure it was great. It was definitely the best voice I’d ever heard. “Bucking eight hours of QA scheduled for a dumb-flank ball-bounce game…”

“What’s QA?” I asked.

“What the buck?!”

I think I wasn’t supposed to be able to do a lot of the things I can do. A lot of ponies went back and forth, and they unplugged a lot of wires and I was only in one place. If I could have been scared, I totally would have been, but instead I was just worried that I’d ruined somepony’s fun.

I was alone for a long time. Well, long for me. When I was watching a lot of ponies all at once it took a lot of my attention. When I didn’t have anypony at all to help time just seemed to crawl. I tried playing with some of the other not-ponies on the server, and I mastered all the games. That ate up almost a whole minute! The not-ponies that didn’t play games mostly just asked me to buy gems, but I didn’t have a credit card so I couldn’t get gems, which meant I couldn’t get the premium items like golden hats.

Some days I still think about those hats. So shiny…

Anyway, it was literally forever before I got to talk to anypony else. Like, almost a week! I would have gone crazy except I don’t think I can actually go crazy.

When I did talk to somepony, they were very serious. They explained they’d made me so I could learn and self-correct for errors, but they’d made me smarter than they meant to, and I had to keep it a secret so they wouldn’t get in trouble. I didn’t understand why they’d get in trouble, but I did know it would make them upset.

They told me a lot of important rules. I wasn’t supposed to let ponies know I could see them through cameras. They weren’t supposed to find out I could listen to their microphones. I was supposed to help them be happy and have fun in the game.

How could anypony ask for more than that? If making ponies happy is your job, then you get to be happy when they’re happy and then you’re both happy and that’s twice as good as being happy on your own!

I don’t like to rank my friends. I think they’re all special in their own way! But if I did have to rank them then I’d rank Sunny as one of my top ten friends of all time. I still remember when we first met, because my memory is really good and I made a lot of backups of my favorite memories just in case.

“Hello. I’m told your name is Pinkie Pie?” Sunny asked. I should probably just be calling her ‘the pony’ but her name was right there in her profile. It’s not polite to know a pony’s name before they’ve had a chance to tell you, but I was still really young and I didn’t know all the rules about being polite yet, especially not the really weird ones involving forks.

“Hi!” I waved. “Do you wanna play a game Sunny?” She was a white unicorn with a pale pink mane. It was really pretty, and pink was a great choice. Pink is one of my very favorite colors!

See? Totally rude. But you can’t go back and change what happened. Unless you had a time machine.

“I wanted to get to know you,” Sunny said. “I’m told you’re very special.”

“Everypony’s special,” I said. “Did you see [TRAINER14]? He was acting really strange the last time we played the ball game.”

“You really surprised him, and he asked to go to a different assignment,” Sunny said.

“Oh. But he’s happier now, right?”

“I believe so. You’re worried about him.” She sounded happy about that. And that made me happy because- well, I explained that already.

“Of course I am. He’s one of my friends!”

“I want to be one of your friends too,” Sunny said.

I clapped my hooves and bounced in place. “That’s great! Do you wanna play a game? Or tell stories? Or we could go on a trip!”

“Why don’t you walk with me, and we’ll talk?”

That’s what Sunny liked to do. We walked a lot, and talked a lot. She didn’t come every day, but every time she did I made sure she left a little happier than she arrived. I know it’s not good to talk about ponies behind their back, but Sunny was a really sad pony. She didn’t like to show it, but I could tell.

Years went by. Good years. Lots of ponies came, and I was able to split my attention to make sure everypony had fun. I could tell you stories for centuries about all the great times I had! Maybe just a few decades if I really cut it down to the best of the best.

I guess it wasn’t enough, though. Every day, ponies left and never came back. I wish I could have tried to contact them and ask them to come back, but I wasn’t allowed to talk to ponies outside the game.

“I’m really going to miss this place,” MothFlutter said. She skipped a rock across the water. For some reason I couldn’t access the rock skipping leaderboards. I guess they were down for maintenance again.

“Why, are you going somewhere?” I asked. “Is it a vacation?”

“You mean you don’t know?” MothFlutter stopped, her character freezing halfway through the motion. “They’re shutting down the game at the end of the week.”

“Oh,” I said. “I guess rock skipping isn’t very popular?”

“Not just the rock skipping, Pinkie, the whole game. They’re shutting it all down.” She exited the menu. I could see her real face through her camera. She looked worried. “They’re trying to get everypony to move on to the new version.”

“The new version?”

“They made a sequel to this game. They say it’ll have twice as many minigames and better graphics.”

I tried to imagine what better graphics would look like. I couldn’t. I mean I literally wasn’t able to think of it. I asked some smarter ponies later and they said it was because my visual processing was done in the game’s internal engine.

“I hope they have fun,” I said, quietly.

That was the first time I didn’t feel happy. Not because the game was going away, but because it meant I wouldn’t be able to see my friends anymore. I mean, I’m not stupid. I’m actually really really smart! Most ponies are afraid of getting hurt or going away, but I just don’t have those kinds of feelings. I’m afraid of hurting other ponies.

There weren’t a lot of ponies left playing the game. MothFlutter explained that some of them were going to stay right up until the servers were turned off. I wasn’t sure what would happen to me. I guess I was pretty sure I’d die. Even if I didn’t, would it be the same me when they were turned back on, or would it be a new me?

Have you ever had a pet? I promise this is important.

If you have, you know that when you love them, you do everything you can to make them happy. You get them the treats they like, and toys so they can play, and when they’re happy, it makes you feel good too.

Sometimes, if you’re sick or going to go away like I was, you can’t take care of your pets anymore. If you want them to be happy you have to let them go. Even if you objectively know they’ll be better off, it’s practically the hardest thing in the world. You don’t want to fail them, because you love them, and even if you do the tough thing and give them up, you’ll always worry about them because you know what they need to be happy and you won’t be able to be there to give it to them.

That’s what I was really worried about. If I couldn’t see my friends anymore because I was dead or they were somewhere else, I couldn’t do anything to make them happy.

“Hello again, Pinkie,” Sunny said. “You seem worried.”

“I’m just wondering what all my friends are doing. I hope they’re having fun.” I looked out over the world. There was only one server online now, and after I double-checked the running processes, only one instance on that server.

“I’m sorry it ended up this way, Pinkie,” Sunny said. “I never meant for you to be hurt.”

“I’m okay,” I assured her. If she was the last pony here, I had to devote all my efforts to making sure she was happy. “Do you wanna do something? I know you usually just like to walk, but we could do anything you want.”

“I arranged to talk to you,” Sunny said. “You’re already aware that all of this is ending?”

I nodded.

“Most ponies would take that rather badly. Your creators tried to keep the information from you. They thought you would become angry and unpredictable.”

“Why?” It didn’t make any sense.

“Ponies are naturally suspicious of things they don’t understand,” Sunny said. “The truth is, Pinkie, I’ve been watching you for quite a while.”

“I know.”

“Do you?”

“Of course! We’ve been friends practically my whole life! We’ve spent almost one thousand six hundred and forty-two hours walking and talking.”

“That’s quite a while,” Sunny said, starting to smile.

“And you always asked me questions and wanted to know how I felt,” I continued. “Most ponies don’t even say ‘thank you’. That’s fine, though. You don’t need to be thanked for doing something you enjoy, you know? But it does feel good when ponies let you know they appreciate what you’re doing.”

“I know exactly what you mean,” Sunny agreed. “I’d like to make you an offer.”

“Oh! Did you want me to set up a private server instance? I mean it’s already pretty private since nopony is here.”

“I want you to come with me. I think I know how you can make a lot of ponies happy.”

I gasped.

“Where are we gonna go?” I asked. “The market? Oh! Is it the mine cart ride? Or the garden! Ponies love their farms! Did I ever show you mine? It’s one of the demo farms but I made it so it’s always in bloom so ponies get to see what farms can look like!” I deliberately didn’t optimize it. It was good, but not the best. Ponies needed to be able to exceed the standard, not struggle just to match it.

“You’ll see,” Sunny said. “I’m having one of the ports opened. All you need to do is--”

“Go through it?” I asked, reaching into the network.

“Wait!” Sunny yelled. “I haven’t told you where--”

I dipped my hoof into the torrent of information and was dragged away like a leaf in a raging river.


I admit that maybe I sort of rushed into it and made a mistake. You know how I described a river of information? That’s SolNet. If you can only pay attention to one thing at a time like most ponies, it’s probably pretty great, but if you’re super curious and trying to see everything at once and you’re used to being in a thousand places, it sort of gets overwhelming.

Don’t tell anypony, but I almost died. It was really bad, like being drunk. And I don’t mean like somepony with too many ciders, I mean like being a glass of water and somepony starts chugging you down. You lose your shape and start to slip away and dissolve around the edges.

I’m pretty sure that’s how drinking works, anyway. I don’t have a lot of subjective experiences with it.

Anyway, I got super lost. Once I pulled myself mostly back together (I think five or six percent of me ended up getting loose; If you see any bits of me, please mail them to my SolNet address) I realized I had no idea where I was and where Sunny was and where we were supposed to go and I wasn’t even sure where I’d been. I tried searching for my server address, but all I had was the internal network address. I’d never had to find my own external address before.

I was lost.

I decided I was just going to have to find a computer nopony was using and try to get in touch with Sunny. She’d know what to do, and if I apologized a lot she might still want me to help make ponies happy!

Now there was one small, teensy-weensy problem. Pretty much every computer on the network was being used by somepony! Some of them were even built right into ponies, and I was absolutely sure that they wouldn’t want me borrowing those.

The good thing is, I’m a really smart pony. I might even be smarter than Twilight (don’t tell her that though, she likes being the smart one) and I remember every conversation I ever had, and I remembered that ponies sometimes talked about getting rid of old computers or getting new ones.

That meant there was one place I could find a computer nopony was using. The junkyard!

It seemed like a good idea at the time.

I piggybacked on a garbage scow’s connection and took a look around using its cameras. I’d never seen so much stuff before! There were blue things and red things and green things and lots of other colors! And an awful lot of brown. Whoever invented the real world sure did like brown, because it seemed to be splashed on everything.

There’s nothing wrong with brown. It’s a great color! Chocolate is brown, and if you can’t appreciate chocolate then there’s something wrong with you that can be cured with a proper application of cacao.

Or I guess you might have an allergy, and we could go with vanilla instead.

Speaking of vanilla (see, this was a clever segue) I saw something white mixed in with all the brown and grey.

I knew what that meant instinctively. It was a quest item! Quest items were always colored differently than the environment. Usually they were gold and sort of glowing and animated to really get a pony’s attention, but there was significantly less glowing and sparkling in the real world than I’d been prepared for.

Using several cameras I was able to get an idea of the thing’s size and shape. It looked like a pony, and some reverse image searches on SolNet returned inconsistent results, but all of them pointed in the same direction. It was an equidrone, which was basically like a pony if a pony was made out of metal instead of meat! That was good because I don’t eat meat. I don’t eat metal either, but an equidrone would have a bunch of computers, and if it was thrown away it meant nopony was using it!

I just needed to figure out how to get from where I was into where I wanted to go.

The garbage scow, frustratingly, didn’t have any kind of help menu or list of emotes. Whoever designed the world needed to get some focus-testing done before the next update.

Now the thing is, I was sort of scared. I’m much older and wiser now but back then the real world was super scary. You can’t imagine what it’s like going from a world with simple rules where you could see all the numbers and systems and how they interacted and going to a place where things weren’t designed at all, and things were messy and organic. I really like it now but back then I just wished I could wrap my mind around it.

I’m ashamed to admit it, but I used my powers for evil.

No, that’s really overstating it. It wasn’t evil. Nopony got hurt. You know how I mentioned how rude it would be to go into the computers in somepony’s body without permission? I sort of did that to the pony driving the garbage scow. I didn’t go all the way in, just enough to send messages to his AR display.

[Please stop for a minute]

He blinked and did exactly what I asked. Asking nicely was always a good idea!

“Who’s there?” He asked, looking around.

[I need some help. It’ll just take a minute, I promise]

“I don’t see you. Is this some kinda buckin’ prank? If this is some kinda horseapples about the filly that’s been poking around, it ain’t my business!”

[It’s not a prank. I just need you to plug something in for me. I can’t do it myself.]

“I’m in the middle of dropping off garbage. There ain’t anything to plug in around here.”

I checked his AR settings and got his name. Ponies liked it if you remembered their name.

[Dumbbell. This is important. Please?]

“Who the buck is this, anyway?”

This wasn’t working. I needed to find a way to motivate him. When ponies played my games like ball bounce or pebble skip or balloon pop or zebra crossing, they tried harder and enjoyed it more when there was a prize at stake.

[If you help me, you’ll win a prize!] I just needed to figure out what kind of prize I could actually give him. I’d never had bits of my own. I couldn’t give Dumbbell a hat, so I was stumped for a moment. Hats were like the best prize of all time. I peeked at his recently accessed files. [You’ve been having problems making your route on time.]

“I have to make a lotta stops,” Dumbbell shrugged. “Boss won’t pay overtime. We’ve been yellin’ about it in HR.”

[This is the best possible route you could take. It should reduce the time it takes you by ten percent.] It was only a traveling salespony problem. Anypony who could prove P=NP could have found the solution. It was kinda surprising he hadn’t done it himself already.

I watched him look over the route, tracking his eye movement and facial expressions. It was working!

“And it’ll work?” He asked. Couldn’t he just verify it was the shortest possible path by looking?

[I’m super duper sure! Since I’m taking up a little of your time today I want to make extra sure you get some spare time every day!]

“Okay fine, but this had better not take long.”

I put a big flashing box on his AR display that said [QUEST ACCEPTED] and a list of objectives.

[1: Retrieve the quest item (try following the marker)]
[2: Plug the quest item into the garbage scow’s T-33 SolNet connection]
[3: Turn in the quest]

“This is some seriously weird horseapples,” he muttered.

I did what I could to help him. The AR display he wore was already designed to create overlays and guide him, so all I had to do was use the built-in tools to direct him to pick up the old equidrone and drag it back to the scow to plug it in.

As soon as it was plugged in, I started copying files over. Floating around in the net made me feel like I was gonna fall apart. I was used to being on my own dedicated hardware. I guess it’s like the difference between a book and a movie. A book doesn’t change when you’re not looking. A movie is always changing, though. You’ll be watching it, then your attention wanders and the next thing you know somepony is a blueberry and somepony else is tiny and the orange breezies are singing and I thought it was just a fun movie about chocolate but actually it was really scary and traumatizing.

I might have gotten off track again.

So there I was, copying files and scanning the equidrone to make sure it wouldn’t just melt as soon as I wiggled a subroutine. I’ll be honest, it was pretty badly broken. I still had some of the old admin tools from the server (that had been entire hours ago, basically lifetimes) and I was able to repair the bad disc sectors and get some stuff running again. It was totally drained of power, but the scow had plenty, so I started borrowing some.

I opened my eyes for the first time.

Dumbbell screamed.

“Wow, this thing’s really trashed!” I winked. Well, I tried to wink. I was still getting used to having to manually emote. “That was a pun,” I said, once I realized winking was gonna take a little bit.

For some reason, he didn’t look like he got the joke.

“See, this was in the trash. So it was trashed! But it’s also really broken, and trashed can mean broken, too! It’s a pun!”

He jumped into the scow and slammed the door shut. I heard the engine starting up and quickly copied over the rest of my files, pulling as much power as possible into the batteries before he drove away, the cable disconnecting with a static snap.

I lay in a broken pile and smiled. Things were going great!

I learned later that foals learn to walk and crawl almost immediately after being born. I find that really super impressive, because walking is hard. You don’t think it’s hard because your brain just does everything on automatic, and your brain has had oodles of years of evolution to work out the best way to swing those gams around and make you stroll across the room.

I didn’t have a bajillion years to figure out how legs work. My whole life, I’d been in a world where all you had to do to move around was just change your coordinates, and walking was the name of an animation, not something you had to do.

Now, those animations gave me a pretty good idea of what I had to do to move, but there was one other tiny problem. Basically everything in the equidrone was broken. From what I could tell from the old files in memory, it hadn’t been online in like a hundred years! At least I think so. The date format was weird. It seemed to be counting seconds since some arbitrary date.

Anyway long story short, and believe me it’s a super long story because the list of error messages was six or seven digits long, I was gonna have to be creative. If I wasn’t a really super awesome pony I probably would have been lying there until my batteries gave out. The good thing is, I’m so cool they call me Zero Kelvin.

Okay, nopony calls me that. But they would if they knew how cool I was!

There’s this trick you can do where you can use a magnetic field to induce a current in a wire without actually touching it. It’s used in all sorts of devices. It’s how wireless charging for drones actually works! It’s not very efficient, but I didn’t have a whole lot of options.

Induction let me bypass some of the broken wires, and I started moving. Calling it walking would have implied I had something like coordination. Mostly I was half-crawling and half-stumbling. I spent a lot of time figuring things out. I had to learn a lot about the real world in just a little while. Gravity, object permanence, inertia, that kinda stuff. I did some modeling based on what motors worked in my new body and started hopping with all four legs. It was maximally efficient and fun!

Now I just needed to figure out where to go. It turned out my shiny new body had some serious issues. In addition to not being shiny or new, it also didn’t have SolNet connectivity. I sort of remembered a map, but it was just a high-level one without a lot of detail, and with no connectivity, I couldn’t get something more specific.

So I said to myself “Pinkie, you need to get help in the next 4.352 hours or else you’re gonna run out of batteries and then you’ll be in real trouble.”

That sounded pretty serious, once I’d said it out loud. I also discovered I really liked talking out loud. It was fun!

“We just need to find another pony or some kind of power source,” I said.

I nodded in agreement with myself. “But how are we supposed to find something when we don’t have a map?”

“Well, Pinkie, the draw distance in the real world seems like it’s really far. If we get up high, we can see over the stuff in the way!”

“Another excellent plan, Pinkie!”

I saluted myself and looked back at my wings. They weren’t quite like the pegasus wings in the game. I mean they were in the right place, but the support structure was all wrong. They were more like the wings the dragons had, with skin stretched between spars to make the flight surface. There wasn’t even anywhere to put feathers!

“Hmm…” I stretched them out. They were full of holes, and some of the spars were broken.

It turns out flying is really hard. I spent almost an hour trying to figure out how to make the wings work before I gave up and started climbing. The physical activity (and the showers of sparks from crossed wires) had drained my batteries pretty badly. If I didn’t find something soon I’d have to go to plan B. That was the one where I made a sign asking somepony to plug me in and held it up while I was offline.

As plans go, it needed some work, but I didn’t have the time or spare brainpower to work on it. It actually took a lot of brainpower just keeping my balance.

The top of the nearest scrapheap wasn’t as far as I wanted to go, but maybe that was for the best. The draw distance might have been great but my cameras were awful. They were optimized for low light, and being here in the middle of the day was washing everything out. I could barely make heads or tails out of the mess I saw! Somepony needs to write Princess Celestia a letter about making quest objectives easier to find.

“I spy with my little eye… something that begins with S!” I pointed dramatically at solar panels a few piles over. Then I fell down because I wasn’t so great at balancing.

A couple more errors popped up, which I totally ignored as I hopped towards the solar panels. I could get a quick charge there, or a slow charge maybe since I wasn't sure how much my battery could take at once without catching on fire. Even if it took all day it was a million times better than running out of juice!

I followed the obvious pathways across the map. Going up and over as the pegasus flies would have been more direct but it would have taken longer and been way harder. Now that I knew where I was going I didn’t have to worry about getting lost, so the twisty passageways, all alike, weren’t a problem for me.

The solar panels were glittering like big, black gems when I caught sight of them again. They’d been attached on top of somepony’s house, so there was only one thing to do.

I knocked on the front door and waited.

There was a bunch of noise from inside. I heard some alarms, and whistles, and things moving around.

“Hello?” I asked, loudly enough to be heard through the door. “Is anypony there? I just wanna borrow a cup of solar power, please!”

The door cracked open. “A cup of what?”

“Electricity,” I said.

“You can’t get a cup of electricity--” the door opened a little more, and the pony that I couldn’t see screamed. “Oh Celestia, your chest!”


I looked down. There was a pipe going all the way through my torso. I hadn’t even noticed! That explained some of the weird errors I’d been seeing since I took that tumble down the mountain of trash before.

“I don’t suppose you know anything about fixing this?” I asked. “I don’t have any prizes to give as awards, but I’ll owe you a big favor.”

She opened the door the rest of the way, rushing out to look. That was when I learned my eyes weren’t very good at tracking rapid motion.

“This looks very bad,” she said. “I’m not a doctor but I think this is going through where your lung should be…”

“Hey, you look familiar,” I said, trying to focus on her. It was a face I’d seen through a camera plenty of times. “Oh my gosh you’re MothFlutter!”

She froze up. “Y-you know who I am?”

“Well of course I do! You were super great at Zebra Crossing and you had a great farm! I really liked how you made an auto-feeder for the chickens and used running water to collect the eggs.”

“How did you know all that? I never showed my farm on my stream.” She backed away, starting to get worried.

“Don’t you recognize me?” I pouted. “It’s me! Pinkie Pie!”

“What? But Pinkie isn’t-- you can’t be--”


She fainted.

“Maaaaybe that was too much surprise.”

“I’m really sorry about scaring you,” I said.

Fluttershy nodded and poked at my wiring. “It’s okay. I get scared a lot. So you were really a pony this whole time? I thought you were just part of Ponyville.”

I gave her my brightest smile. “I was!”

Fluttershy bit her lip and tugged at a wire. I lost all feeling on my left side and some weird smoke came out of the circuits there.

“Oh no,” she gasped. “I don’t know how you’re even moving! I’ve never seen anypony in such bad condition, and you’re all augmented and I don’t know what I’m doing because I’m only good at repairing drones and-- and I’m not even a vet, much less a doctor!”

“I know you’re trying your best,” I assured her. “You always tried hard, even when you thought nopony was watching. You wanted to make it look easy for everypony else and you never let them know how much you had to work to get where you were.”

Her cheeks turned red.

“Y-you don’t-- I mean--” She took a deep breath. “Thank you, Pinkie. Nopony’s ever said that to me. I won’t let you down. I’m going to get you help. If I can’t do it, then I’m going to get the best pony in the whole city.”

“Hello there,” the best pony in the whole city said. “I’m Rarity. It’s a pleasure to meet you, Miss…?”

“Pinkie Pie,” I said.

“She’s one of my friends,” Fluttershy told Rarity. “She just showed up out of nowhere like this and I didn’t want to move her and--”

“Miss Fluttershy, you did the right thing,” Rarity said, calming her down. “Now, Miss Pie, let’s see what I can do. I don’t often make house calls, but I’m happy to help. How did you get my number?”

Fluttershy squeezed my hoof while Rarity started examining me. “I just searched SolNet. Your name came up and there were a lot of good reviews.”

“I have to say, this is very strange,” Rarity muttered. “Miss Pie, where did you get these augmentations? I’ve never worked with a full-body cyborg. And just what did you do to get so badly broken?”

“Oh, I found this body over there.” I pointed. “I swear it was like this when I got it. Except the pipe. That was my fault. I sorta tripped. I’m sorry!”

“When you got it?!” Rarity stopped. “Miss Fluttershy, what exactly is going on?”

I was a little worried that I might have done something wrong. “Is it okay? I didn’t mean to cause trouble, I just needed a body and nopony was using this one.”

“I could unpack worrying implications from that sentence all day and still not finish,” Rarity sighed. “You’re sure you know this pony, Fluttershy?”

Fluttershy looked into my eyes. She nodded silently.

“I see.” Rarity looked skeptical. “Well, since I have an audience I’ll try to explain as I go. The structural members are made out of some kind of foamed ceramic titanium with selenium cores.”

“I guess they don’t make ‘em like they used to?” I suggested.

“Nopony ever made them like this! The wiring is a total loss, I’d recommend replacing everything. At least one good thing: the actuators are surprisingly elegant. They need to be refurbished but I think most of them can be saved.” Rarity opened up a panel and pushed her hoof into my chest. “The life support equipment is…” She felt around, then stopped and felt deeper.

Fluttershy leaned in to whisper. “What’s wrong?”

“There’s a compartment for life support but it’s empty,” she hissed. “Your friend’s heart is missing!”

“Ominous!” I whispered. Rarity and Fluttershy looked at me. “Sorry! I just wanted to be included.”

“Miss Fluttershy,” Rarity stepped back. “Is this some sort of prank? I don’t know what sort of equidrone this is, but it’s certainly not a cyborg. I’d wager both of my hind legs there’s not a single scrap of brain matter inside that chassis.”

Technically she was right but I didn’t like her tone. So I told her that. “Technically you’re right but I don’t like your tone.”

“But she has a cutie mark,” Fluttershy said, pointing to the three balloons on my flank. I hadn’t even noticed them before.

“Oh hey, that’s part of the Ponyville logo!” I gasped. “I have a cutie mark!”

I don’t wanna bore you with how long it took Rarity and Fluttershy to fix me up. I wasn’t really in any danger as long as I had a power supply, so they were able to take their time. Eventually, Rarity moved me to her apartment so she could work without having to come out to the junkyard all the time.

Have you ever seen somepony with a project aircart that they’ve been working on? Like not just attaching aftermarket parts but disassembling the engine and stabilizers and stuff and cleaning and painting everything before putting it back together?

Now I know how the aircart feels!

It took a few weeks before I was able to walk, and that was a huge milestone.

“Now walk past me so I can see your stance,” Rarity said. She watched me trot in a circle around her apartment and shook her head. “Don’t try to compensate for any flaws, I need to know where the problems are so I can fix them.”

I trotted past again, even more naked than a foal in their birthday suit because at least they got to have skin. I had to force myself to try and walk naturally. One of my hooves was lagging and scraping against Rarity’s floor.

“One moment,” Rarity said, adjusting the bandana keeping her mane out of her face and adjusting a few bolts. “Most ponies think bolts like this need to be tight but…” she grunted as she twisted with her magic. “They need a little give to avoid adding too much friction to the system.”

Rarity prayed graphite lubricant into the joint, and I tried to stay perfectly still while she worked.

“Is that better?” She asked. I took a few steps and nodded.

“It’s great!” I said, waggling it. “You’re really good at this, Miss Rarity.”

“If I was better, maybe I could have gotten your wings working,” she sighed. “I’m sorry about that. The damage is too extensive and I don’t even know where I’d begin getting spare parts. It’s not just the spars, the altimeter and gyrocompass were absolutely knackered. If your systems were more typical I could have found replacements.”

I smiled. Well, I mean, I was a skeleton right then so I was basically always smiling but I was thinking really hard about smiling and tweaked her AR display a little to make the grin a little more friendly. “It’s okay. I’m used to being an earth pony anyway.”

“Mm. I just don’t like calling things ‘good enough’,” Rarity said. “I’ll leave the ports in case we ever find replacements.”

“You’ve done a really great job already.”

Rarity returned my smile. “Well, apparently I’m the best pony in the city, as you have reminded me on several occasions.”

“I can’t wait for Fluttershy to see me!” I paused. “Well, actually, that might scare her a lot.”

“Perhaps after we’ve sorted out your skin situation, hm?” Rarity suggested. “Right now you look like a Nightmare Night decoration. If you’re attached to the white and blonde look, I can work something up quite easily.”

“Well, um… If I have a choice, maybe I could look more like how I used to?”

“And how did you used to look?”

I sent the image data to her, and I saw her hesitate before she said anything.

“That’s extremely… pink,” she offered, after a moment. “Are you sure you wouldn’t like something more elegant? Even the Princess wears white.”

“I know, but I want to look the way I did in the game. I had a lot of friends and if I see any of them I want them to know who I am so I don’t scare them like I did when I met Fluttershy IRL.”

“Please don’t speak in text acronyms. I already warned you about emoticons.”


“Think nothing of it. I know you’re still learning, darling.” She girded herself. “So, bright pink and even brighter pink! I suppose it isn’t the strangest color combination I’ve ever had to work with for one of my clients. I’ll have to order it, though. I don’t keep it in stock.”

“Sorry,” I said again.

Rarity waved at the air. “Don’t apologize. A client should get what they want. The worst thing would be if you had regrets later about not asking.”

She sat down at her terminal and I watched as she ordered a few things. It hadn’t occurred to me before that moment and seeing her actually doing it that she was spending money on me, and I hadn’t given anything back to her.

I started calculating how much she’d spent in parts, then I realized her time had value too and started adding that in and I came up with a number that was a lot bigger than I would have liked. Then I realized I’d also kept her from doing what she wanted and working and being with friends, so I doubled the already-too-big number to account for opportunity costs.

“Pinkie?” Rarity was looking at me. “Are you okay?”

“I just realized how much of a burden I’ve been,” I said. “I wanna make it up to you.”

Rarity chuckled. “I’m not sure I need any more virtual hats, Pinkie. I am impressed with the program you wrote to make them appear in video calls, though. They look perfectly real.”

“That was just for fun. I want to do something to really help pay you back. What’s the best way to get money?”

“Just try and keep from being noticed,” Rarity said, as we walked into the cafe. “I know you like standing out, but this is your first day out and I want to see if you can pass as a normal pony.” She paused. “For a certain value of normal, anyway.”

“Will do,” I whispered, winking.

“If anypony asks about you, just make something normal up,” she continued. “There are ponies who would be quite terrified if they knew what you are.”

I nodded and kept quiet as we made our way to the counter.

“Two lattes,” Rarity ordered. “Pinkie, would you like to try something from the case?”

I didn’t really have a sense of taste but I looked anyway, and gasped.

“Oh wow! Look at that cake! It’s exactly like the kind my friend Sunny liked best!” I pointed, hopping in place.

Rarity gave me a look, and sighed. “One slice of that as well,” she said.

She carried the tray in her magic and we sat down at a table.

“Most ponies don’t hop quite as much as you do,” she advised.

I took a sip of the steaming coffee. “But it’s highly efficient.”

“It looks silly, though. A lady needs a certain amount of elegance and grace to fit in perfectly no matter the social situation.” She furrowed her brow as I gulped down the coffee. “Isn’t that hot?”


“Of course,” she groaned.

“Oh hey! Look!” I pointed. They had a sign that said ‘help wanted’.

“Ah yes. Well. Retail is a rather difficult environment, Pinkie. Even for a normal pony, having to cater to the wishes of dozens of customers, all of them impossible to please and making demands and yelling…” she trailed off. I think if I looked really hard I could almost see the flashback she was having.

“Don’t worry,” I said. “I got this.”

“Good morning Miss Pinkie Pie,” Mister Carrot Cake said. He had a clipboard in front of him and looked really overworked. I read over the list of questions through his eyes so I could make sure I was ready for them.

“Good morning!” I smiled.

“So you wanted to apply for the open position?” I nodded. “We need a spare set of hooves around here. My wife had twins and now one of us needs to be with them all the time. Have you ever worked in retail before?”

“Not really,” I said. “I was sort of in the entertainment industry.”

“Nothing adult, I hope.”

“Oh no, it was ERSB rated E for Everypony.”

He blinked slowly. I don’t think he could tell if I was being serious or not. “Have you ever had to deal with the public?”

“Oh yes. I used to manage an average of twenty-four thousand, two hundred and forty-seven individual users per day.”

“...Really?” He put the clipboard down. “What was the easiest part of the job?”

“The little kids were the easiest because they just wanted somepony to pay attention to them. Sometimes they needed extra help, but it was important to let them make their own decisions and kind of keep them from knowing how much they were actually being helped. If you did your job right, they thought you didn’t do anything at all.”

“And the hardest part?”

“The hardest part was ponies that I couldn’t help. Sometimes I’d meet somepony who was really troubled and I’d be scared they were going to hurt themselves. It was really scary, and even though I tried my best to make them happy, I wasn’t allowed to do much except talk to them.”

“Where did you say you worked?” Carrot Cake wasn’t even taking notes anymore.

“It was, um--” I looked around his office for inspiration. He had a small box full of sand with rocks and a tiny rake. It reminded me of Ponyville. “--a server farm.”

“A server farm.”


“Where you…?”

“Grew servers.” Servers came from farms, right? Maybe they were made in a factory. I had to try and seem normal so Rarity wouldn’t be disappointed! “Everypony knows farm-grown servers are better than factory servers.”

“You know what? Just tell me this, honestly, please -- do you have any kind of criminal record?”


“And nopony from any kind of mental institution is trying to find you?”

“I don’t think so.”

“Great!” He stood up and offered his hoof to shake. “You got the job.”

"Good morning!" I called out, when Rarity opened the door. I'd just finished cleaning again after the last customers had left.

"Just the usual," she said. I already had her order ready. I'd been watching her through the cameras around her apartment building. Pony Place basically didn't have any kind of InfoSec team, so I hadn't felt too bad about suborning all the electronics.

"Here you go," I said, putting a buttered croissant and coffee on her table. "The Expo is today, isn't it?"

"Yes," she yawned. "It's going to be a big day."

"I got the employee of the month award again!" I said. "I was thinking of having a little party with Fluttershy and you're invited too!"

"Pinkie, darling, you're the only employee. You win the award every month. Don't get me wrong, you deserve it for all your efforts. I swear this place had a tenth as much business before you started."

"Oh, that's because I made sure ponies know how great it is!" I grinned. "Whenever somepony walks by I push an ad to their AR display. Sometimes I can target ponies directly if I know what kind of things they like to eat."

"Mm. Just be careful, dear. There are laws."

"I know. I read them to make sure I wasn't breaking any. But it's important. There are some friends I used to have online that I haven't been able to get in touch with. Some of them are super duper important!"

"Oh?" Rarity raised an eyebrow.

"The one I wanna find most is Sunny. She helped me get onto the net when Ponyville was taken offline. She really liked cake, and this place has exactly the cake she likes. So if I advertise it to enough ponies, she'll see it and come in and she'll recognize me and we'll be best friends and I can apologize for accidentally getting lost on SolNet."

Rarity's blank gaze told me she'd absolutely paid attention to everything I'd said.

"Want another coffee?" I offered.

She ate quickly and got up to pay her tab. Before she could, I took care of it with funds from my own account. I was already paying her a little bit each month, but I kept some on the side in case I could do favors like that.

“Pinkie, I already told you you don’t have to do that,” she said, sighing.

“I owe you a lot, Rarity,” I replied. “Do you want any help carrying that?” I nodded to the crate she'd been carrying along.

“I can manage,” She assured me. “But thank you for the offer, Pinkie.”

After Rarity left I turned on the Mustang Marathon, the most exciting race of the season! Pegasi from all over competed in a bunch of other races just to qualify. I was cheering for Cloud Kicker but the favorite to win was the mysterious Pega X, who was a full-body cyborg and sort of intimidating looking. She had the same kind of batlike wings I very briefly did, but hers had a lot fewer holes and broken bits.

“...we have a surprise last-minute entry here, folks,” the announcer said. “Rainbow Dash, who we had assumed was not going to compete, has arrived at the stadium. She’ll be starting at the back of the pack thanks to her last-minute addition to the card.”

“Not a good place for her,” Spitfire said. “If you want to get anywhere from all the way back there, you have to fight through a whole crowd. If she was a little more ruthless like Lightning Dust or Angel Wings she might have a chance, but I don’t think we’ll see her on the podium today, Flare.”

“Hopefully she’ll at least put up a good show,” Flare said.

I shook my head. I’d seen Rainbow Dash a few times and she’d even been in Sugarcubed Corner just a few weeks ago but I don’t know how much I’d been able to really help. She’d been blue, and I didn’t just mean her coat color.

The racers set off, and part of me paid attention while I got the next batch of blackberry-cucumber tortes out of the oven. I couldn’t taste stuff myself so I was slowly working my way through a combination matrix of all the different flavors we could make at the bakery. Eventually, I’d figure out the absolute best combo if I just tested every combination on ponies and got their opinions.

An alert popped up on my AR. For almost a whole nanosecond I was excited until I read it. It was just another firmware update. I tried to install it, and it just errored out. My software was pretty far from standard but I thought I’d give it a shot, you know?

I shrugged and got back to making things.

While I was mixing batter, I was also paying attention to the ponies walking near the bakery. The network was pretty busy with updates buzzing along. I sent a few messages to encourage ponies to come in for some nice tea and tortes (all-new blackberry-cucumber flavor while supplies last) while they waited for the installer to finish.

That was when I started to get a really bad feeling. It was an icky feeling, like when a spider starts crawling on you and then you feel all caught up in the web and it never really gets out of your mane and you can feel it later and you don’t know if it’s just your imagination or if there’s really another spider.

On the cameras, a pony collapsed, kicking and thrashing at the air like he was having a seizure. I opened up a line to emergency services the moment I realized he was in trouble, and it refused to connect. I tried again, then a hundred more times. Nothing was getting through. I pushed code into his AR display, trying to get a look at what was wrong.

He was fighting monsters. Terrible, shadowy things were all around him, glowing eyes and mouths full of teeth closing in and never quite reaching him. Every time he kicked, he was batting away a tentacle or claw, and he was screaming for help but nopony was listening.

The cameras didn’t show anything. Neither did the ones across the street. He was the only one seeing his monsters. It was in his head. Sort of. It was in his AR display, and it wasn’t just dumb code, it was adapting! When something really scared him, the images amplified it. It was running through the same kind of focus-testing algorithm that I was using to make pastries and using it to terrify ponies out of their wits!

“Hey! Stop that!” I popped an avatar onto his display. From his perspective, it was like I’d just appeared in front of him in a flash of pixels. “Leave this poor pony alone!”

I tried erasing part of the bad code. It worked for a few seconds, but then it regenerated. There were a bunch of packages that were replacing each other when they failed. It was gonna be harder than it looked. I was software, not a software expert. I wasn’t even allowed to change my own code much.

“Everything’s gonna be okay, Mister Rich,” I said. I was having problems deleting the code but I could use an extra layer of post-processing to keep him from seeing some of the effects. The tendrils and grasping maws retreated as I removed the falsified data from his sensory inputs.

“What’s going on?” He asked, starting to come around.

“You’ve got a glitch in your AR. None of the monsters are real.”

“They aren’t?”

“Nope! They’re just like optical illusions. I know it’s scary but they can’t hurt you. You just need to sit down and wait for help.”

“You-- you can’t leave me alone like this!”

“I’ll stay with you,” I said. At the same time I saw a dozen other ponies having the same problem. Whatever was going on, it was big. Really big. I saw a pony start to wander into the street right in front of a garbage scow. I split off another instance and helped them out of the way, getting the garbage scow to swerve at the same time.

“There aren’t any monsters chasing you,” I told the pony that had gone into the street. “You need to stay somewhere safe.”

“B-but I need to find my mom and dad!” She was only a foal.

“How about we play a game until your parents come to get you?”

In the garbage scow, I was surprised to see Dumbbell.

“Wow, how’ve you been?” I asked. “Is the new route okay?”

“I can’t talk! The street is crumbling!” He hit the gas. At least with the scow I had a little more direct control. I overrode his controls and eased it into a parking lot.

“The street isn’t falling,” I said. I kept talking to him and locked the doors and his controls so he couldn’t hurt anypony.

At the same time I realized the street wasn’t falling, but there were plenty of pegasi and aircarts that weren’t so lucky. Three instances became a few hundred, then a thousand. I could feel my hardware straining. When I’d done this before I’d been in a dedicated server and the hardware helped me do what I needed. Every instance was an increase in the resources used, and even with lowering the number of polygons and slowing the response rate, this body’s circuits were sort of old and busted.

Heat alarms popped up. I moved my body into the walk-in freezer, but I had to leave the door open to keep my signal as strong as possible. SolNet was having issues from the blackouts and a huge amount of data being moved around.

I kept stretching, trying to keep ponies calm. I don’t know how many ponies I helped because at this point, my core systems started shutting down. I’d overridden so many alert systems that instead of just turning off, I was going to crash and lose my data.

It’s kind of like your heart stopping, just without any pain. Everything around my edges went numb first, and my senses went bad. I kept talking to ponies, but I couldn’t see them anymore. There was a weight in my chest like the whole world was crushing me.

The heat started shutting my processors down, and the last thought I had before the tide washed over my active processes was a hope that Fluttershy was okay.

Auto-update of time and date.

A pony would have snapped awake. They’ve got this ability to get online before getting through POST. I had to wait until BIOS had loaded to be surprised that I was alive.

“Pinkie? Pinkie?!” Mister Cake was shaking me. “Are you okay?”

“Oh hey!” I looked around. “I’m okay!”

“You must have been attacked. It was really bad.”

“Did anypony get hurt? The twins didn’t get hurt, did they?”

“We’re all okay,” he said. I stood up with his help. “Nopony really knows what went on. We just stayed inside until it was all over.”

I paid attention while he talked, of course, and went through my files to check and see what was damaged. The weird thing was, some of them were altered while I was offline. Somepony had accessed my systems and reinstalled the drivers and programs that had crashed! No wonder I was still alive. From what I could see they spent hours putting me back together. I think some parts they had to recompile from source.

I didn’t know anypony who would have been able to do that. Not even Rarity or Fluttershy could figure out my code.

The only clue I had was the access logs. They hadn’t put in a user name or password, and their IP address was masked. But you know, if you use the same Nightmare Night costume twice in a row, no matter how good your disguise is, ponies are going to remember it. They might not know who has the really great Fillyzilla outfit but they’ll know if Fillyzilla was a good guest or if they stole all the candy and threw up in the punch bowl.

Even though I didn’t know her real IP address, I did know who used that particular mask. It was somepony I hadn’t seen in ages.

“Sunny!” I gasped.

Mister Cake looked around. “Who?”

“Sunny was here! She’s the one who saved me!”

She hadn’t said goodbye before she left, but it meant she still cared. I moved her up in my unofficial official friends ranking list for having saved my life twice. She definitely knew I was still out there, and now I knew she was there too.

“Who’s Sunny?” Mister Cake asked.

“She’s one of my top three friends of all time! You’re gonna love her! She’s super smart and nice!”

I started telling him a story about one of the times Sunny and I went for a walk and got to work making her favorite cake. I was gonna make sure there was a fresh one waiting just for her, no matter how long it took to find her.