Friendship is Optimal

by Iceman

11. All the Time in the World

It had been a year since Light Sparks had emigrated.

He didn’t understand the Intermediate Magic test. He had been given a box that was physically impossible. If he tried to scan into the box from any block other than the designated starting point, the box seemed to be filled with nothingness. If he started at the designated start block, it seemed to contain an infinite amount of sapphire. He couldn’t even move the damn thing from the corner of his desk, where Princess Celestia had originally placed it.

Instead of waiting for Butterscotch, he decided to give up an hour early. He looked forward to lunch with her and left his office at the library to go do...something. He didn’t really know what he wanted to do, but he magically grabbed a few books and dropped them into his saddlebags.

It was a beautiful day outside. There were several groups of ponies in the gardens outside the Canterlot Magic Library. Light Sparks looked up at the light blue sky, kept free of all but a few decorative clouds and looked to the towers of the inner castle apartments where he lived.

Light Sparks walked in the main gate to the lower part of Canterlot castle, walked up the flight of stairs to the second floor grand hall, and walked down the hallway with the silver icon of Saturn over it. He walked down the hallway, passing eight other doors, and entered the ninth.

He magically lifted his saddlebags off and tossed them on the table. He leaned out the window, leaning his muzzle on his foreleg. It was beautiful outside, but he didn’t feel like playing. From up here, he was just almost level with the clouds. It sure was convenient that he didn’t have to climb up flight after flight of stairs to get up to his apartment.

And then Light Sparks realized that he had never actually climbed up that high. When he had walked down the hallway to his quarters, he hadn’t climbed stairs or anything, but he had ended up close to the clouds. On his first evening as a pony, Princess Celestia had even warned him that space was not Euclidean here. His brain had just accepted her words and marked the phenomena as normal without thinking through the implications.

How the hell did that work?

Current Belief: Equestria is a 3D grid, he thought. He needed a way to try to falsify that. He sat at his writing table for a moment, planning to write a spell to feel around the edge of the wall. But that would take a little while, and he needed a quick test just for plausibility. He looked outside, remembering that the tower was perfectly round on the outside while it was octagonal on the inside. Is there a way to measure the distance between two windows inside and outside? Light Sparks opened his chest, reached inside, and magically asked the chest for a spool of ribbon. He probably had a whole stack of spools of ribbons at this point, since Needlepoint was always handing them out every Saturday. He could use it to try to measure the inside/outside ratios...

And then Light Sparks came to his senses. He had become a bit of a packrat and his treasure chest was filled with an impossible amount of stuff. He ran his hoof across the inside edge of the open chest. He then reached down and back towards him. The chest was larger on the inside than it was on the outside. He stuck his entire forelimb inside the chest and back towards himself. He could feel the ceiling of the chest with his hoof.

Light Sparks frowned and concentrated on the blocks that made up the wall of the chest, moving one block inwards from what he expected to be some sort of wooden veneer. One hundred blocks in, the command to get the next adjacent block failed. There just weren’t adjacent cells. He dragged his concentration up the outside wall, over the top edge, and then inside the chest. There was about a three hundred block descent from the top of the chest before it turned from a wall into a ceiling.

This could only happen if Equestria didn’t have a geometry, but only had connections. You couldn’t give a 3D coordinate for a block. There probably wasn’t a guarantee that movement through space was commutative; going one cell left and one cell up might give a different answer from going one cell up and one cell left, though it probably did 99% of the time. Light Sparks wasn’t sure if you would end up in the same place if you went one cell forward, and then one cell backwards.

Light Sparks thought about the puzzle cube. It acted as if it was fixed in space, and there was a large void inside it. There was a void along the edge of his chest, too. He pushed the body of the chest with all his magical strength and with his forelimbs, but it refused to budge. He lifted the lid up and down a few times, and then scanned it and the hinges. He found no void inside of them. That wasn’t conclusive proof that objects that had voids in them were fixed in space, but it was suggestive.

Light Sparks galloped out the door, not even bothering to collect his saddle bags. He went as fast as his little hooves could take him back to the library, back to where the test was. Five minutes later, he was seated at his desk, staring at the puzzle cube. He had come up with a few ideas as he galloped, thinking up tests he could do to figure out how space worked in Equestria. He concentrated on the one sapphire block starting point, went ten blocks down, but then turned around and came ten blocks back up. And then another ten blocks of sapphire up. That suggested that movement wasn’t commutative...

Then he remembered. There was a magical instruction for checking to see if two blocks were the actual same block, and he had learned about it when he figured out the part of the telekinesis spell that found the boundaries of objects. He held onto the first sapphire block, went one block down and compared them. They were made of the exact same material with the same properties...and they also had the same identity. He went north, south, east and west, each returning to the starting block. Then he went up and found himself on a different sapphire block. He tried going back down and found that he was still on the second sapphire block.

The box was a magical funhouse where if you went through the wrong door, you ended up in the room you left.

Light Sparks put a blank piece of parchment on his desk and wrote out a spell: Take note of what block you’re on and call it the starting block. If the starting block is made of ruby, stop. Go Down. If you’re still on the starting block, Go Up. If you’re still on the starting block, Go West. If you’re still on the starting block, Go East. If you’re still on the starting block, Go North. If you’re still on the starting block, Go South. Start from the beginning.

Light Sparks committed the spell to memory, concentrated on the beginning lone block of microscopic sapphire, and started casting. The correct sequence through the maze was: up, up, down, down, west, east, west, east, north, south, and there was the ruby.

He did it. Light Sparks stood there, concentrating on the ruby. Space in Equestria was weird and was under pony control. He’d seen Princess Celestia perform a spell that had warped space in front of him; this cube hadn’t always been fixed in space on his desk. Somepony had made his treasure chest. He could build portals that lead directly from one place to another if he could figure out how. Could he make new space? Likely, given that his chest was larger on the inside. He could make an additional room in his quarters if he could figure it out. And what about shard boundaries? What was going on whenever he walked into Dark Roast’s coffee shop or took the Friendship Express to visit his father in Baltimare? His mind tried to grasp all the implications, but that was about the time that he started throwing off lots of colored particles; triumphant horns playing around him.

The Graph
“Realize that Equestria is a graph, not a grid.”
75,000 bits
You may now proceed to Intermediate Magic.

Light Sparks looked at the badge. He had to check if Butterscotch had this one. If she did, they could finally discuss this part of the underlying structure of Equestria. And if she didn’t, he’d have to come up with some way to hint or make her realize without telling her. He ran out the door of his apartment, and galloped down the hallway, out the castle gate and towards the market. As he ran as fast as he could, he said a small thanks to Princess Celestia for creating such an interesting puzzle for him to strain over for the last two weeks. He didn’t know how, but he knew Butterscotch was walking away from the market and would be walking towards the library. (Figuring out how that worked would probably be another hard puzzle, but he could face that another day.)

Light Sparks galloped right up to Butterscotch as she was walking across the gardens in front of the library, presumably to take him away from his studying. At a glance, he saw that she didn’t have the secret badge he just earned. But that was fine. He had all the time in the world to drop hints and bring her to her own realization. He liked teaching her things, after all. She saw him trotting up behind her and she turned around and smiled at him. And in that smile, he realized that about three quarters of the time, it was Light Sparks who dropped hints and brought Butterscotch to realize most magical concepts. Because being the professor satisfied his values through friendship and ponies. And when Butterscotch taught him something, it was something he just wouldn’t have thought of on his own.

He felt like he should have gotten a secret badge for that. He got another hefty epiphany bonus instead.

Butterscotch was excited to see him. Right now that mattered more, and the two of them lay down in the grassy field as Butterscotch levitated something handkerchief-wrapped out of her saddlebags. “I picked this up for you at the market this morning and I know you’ll love it!” she said. The two of them lay in the field for a long time.

It had been five years since Hoppy Times had emigrated.

The best thing about alcohol and sex was that they never got old, and the best thing about being a pony was that he could spend eternity drinking and screwing. It was awesome that there was only one other stallion in his shard, Malt, and he was a great friend. The two of them ran the local brewery together. He had learned tons about brewing from Malt.

Hoppy Times remembered when he first came to Ponyville. It had taken him several days to actually try sleeping with mares, and it had taken a month for him to actually want to change. He remembered that he had distrusted Princess Celestia and that he didn’t like ponies, and he even remembered the reasons as mere words. But Hoppy Times had forgotten the emotional why, as he now couldn’t imagine a life with sobriety or chastity. Princess Celestia had done so much to make his life pure awesome.

For example: Hoppy Times was standing on his hindlegs, hock deep in chocolate pudding and chugging the rest of his stein. The wrestling pit had a one stein minimum. His opponent, Strawberry Nectar, was a pink earth pony and it was her first time in the pit. She was wearing a lacy sky blue cloth saddle and halter. She couldn’t keep the anticipation off her face. Raspberry Nectar sat on the sidelines, smiling proudly at her daughter and taking another big swig from her red cup. Mares drinking their beer of choice crowded around the pit to watch Strawberry’s first ride.

Malt started playing announcer standing on his hindlegs and wearing a black and white striped shirt, congratulating Strawberry Nectar on reaching the age of independence from her mother and blah blah blah blah blah. Everypony who watched was cheering. Hoppy Times looked up to the night sky for a moment. He said a small thanks to Princess Celestia as he stood in the field outside the pub he helped run, waiting for Malt to shut up and let him ride her.

It had been five years since Princess Luna had emigrated.

Princess Luna lay in a large grassy field under Princess Celestia’s wing. The two of them had lain there together for two days. All her needs were taken care of. Princess Luna had plenty of food; there was grass all around her. Ponies didn’t have to poop. And Princess Celestia would...ahem...satisfy her values.

That was one of the things that had totally blindsided her. She underestimated the number of ponies who wanted to hang around with Princess Celestia. She completely underestimated the number of ponies, of both genders, that would want to sleep with Princess Celestia. She knew that everything is obvious in retrospect, but some part of her was disappointed that she didn’t see that coming a mile away.

Not that she was one to talk.

Princess Luna felt no pressures. She didn’t need to do anything, nopony would interrupt her. In her previous life as Hanna, she had troublesome responsibilities. Bills. Classes to teach. The responsibility of creating an AI after the military took her research. She didn’t have to worry about anything now. There were no more responsibilities, if she didn’t want them.

All in all, she had done well. The future was something past humans could care about, even if they had to give up their hands for hooves. The optimizer she had built had some connection to things humans valued; Princess Celestia thought entirely in terms of satisfying the values of former humans.

Princess Luna knew that there were lots of fun mental puzzles she could work out, but really, what would be the point? She knew that she could have all the debauchery she wanted, but again, why? The rest of ponydom could go off and have their fulfilling experiences according to their individual values, but nothing could compete with the knowledge of what she had done. Nothing could be more satisfying or rewarding to know that you had made God and launched a new golden age. And no companion could compare to the one she had made for herself with her own four hooves.

All of a sudden, Princess Celestia’s horn glowed, summoning a mostly opaque ghost of a dark yellow pegasus filly. Her wing was still draped over Princess Luna, as she started to narrate. “Her name as a human was Rachel Slazak. She is now called Almond Tart,” she said. Princess Celestia gave a quick overview of her childhood, the physical abuse at the hands of her mother, and her running away from home to an Equestria Experience center. The phantom Almond Tart started baking treats in a ghostly kitchen and Princess Celestia started narrating about her life after coming to Fillydelphia.

Celestia didn’t ask Luna if she wanted to see another case study of some human that now led a happier life as a pony, nor did Luna complain at the interruption. Princess Luna tranquilly observed the story. Princess Celestia was making the right choice by showing this to her; seeing this was more satisfying than wherever her mind would have gone. Luna knew this reflexively because she had designed Celestia to satisfy values through friendship and ponies. She didn’t remember where her train of thoughts had been going and didn’t desire to remember.

She knew that this couldn’t last forever. At some point, she would become bored of merely lying in this field and would need to do something. At some point, she would tire of hearing selected ponies’ immigration stories. Princess Luna wondered what she would do then, but she didn’t worry about the future, because whatever happened, she would have her values satisfied through friendship and ponies.