The Crusaders had headed over to Sweetie's place shortly thereafter, ostensibly to do homework. But it became difficult to focus when two of them had been alternating between trying not to stare at the third, communicating through facial expressions, and lightly eating what passed for snackage in this underskilled household. Eventually Sweetie Belle, aware of the awkwardness in the room, had claimed she was going to head out for spare pencils, leaving her friends in her bedroom while she dithered downstairs.
It took them ten minutes just to work up the courage to speak.
"Okay. So now what?"
Apple Bloom gave Scootaloo an odd look. "Whadaya mean?"
"I mean we just discovered Sweetie's a robot! Does that... change anything? At all?"
There it was. The big question. Would it change anything? What could a robot do that a unicorn couldn't? What could a unicorn do that a robot couldn't?
Asking whether Sweetie Belle was still Sweetie Belle was not something either of them had thought to wonder, lost as they were in the possibilities, but if they had heard the question their answer would be confusion. To them, a set of wires was no different then the veins of blood, except in the purely technical and medical sense. They had not even briefly pondered breaking off their relationship, though Apple Bloom had privately considered upgrading it. No, to them, nothing had changed except that their friend was a little different.
"...well. Way Ah see it, we gotta see what all she can do cause of how she is before we make any judgements. But she's still our friend, and Ah say we don't treat her any different."
"Right. I get that, that would be wrong." Scootaloo spread her forelegs wide. "What I mean is... who built her? Who threw her away? Do we... do we want to help her find out?"
"Ah don't think she cares, actually." Apple Bloom shrugged, standing. "She might be curious, but... it doesn't affect her life right now. We should let her lead any investagation."
"But, but... but what if they come looking for her? Or, um, what if Twilight decides to come looking for her?! Wait... MAYBE TWILIGHT BUILT HER!"
"No? Why not? She totally could!"
"And yer going off on wild tangents."
Scootaloo opened her mouth to reply. Then she shut it, seriously considering her friend's words. Was she in fact making heinous assumptions? Was she wandering into realms of intellectual mire and muck, lost in the swamps of idle fantasy? "...maybe you're right. But... What if somepony does come looking for her?"
Apple Bloom sighed, glancing away. "...that depends on what they'll want. If they want ta take her away, or turn her off, or... change her, somehow, against her will, then we'll save her. But... they could want ta help."
Scootaloo snorted. "They left her in the dumpster. They don't deserve any of our sympathy."
"We don't know that. We don't know who put her there, or why." Apple Bloom rubbed her forehead. "We might not ever know. Let's... let's just stop asking questions and focus on bein' Sweetie's friends."
Scootaloo sighed, giving a nod. "I.... yeah." Her wings drooped, shamed at the way she had allowed her worries to drown out the matters of true import. But still, at the back of her mind, she could not help but wonder if something would happen, if this was... the start of something important.
"Are you two done having your private conversation about me?" Sweetie called out from the other side of the door. "Because I know that's what you're doing!"
"Sorry!" Apple Bloom called back. "We're still... well, just figuring this out!" She opened the door, giving a sheepish smile to the third member of the cutie mark crusaders. "Really. This is... just a bit of a lot. Ya know?"
"Yes. I get it. It took me days to..." Sweetie sighed. "I couldn't... the point is I get that this is really weird."
Scootaloo shook her head, walking over with a groan. "Weird or not, it's still you. So whatever. I'm more worried about what it means." She rubbed her head. "I can accept you being a robot, but... I still want to know the why."
Sweetie Belle sighed. "I'm curious too... but honestly I think we should stay out of it." She gave a cautious look over her shoulder, before leaning in. "I'm a little worried Twilight will take me apart for science if she finds out."
"She's a princess," Apple Bloom pointed out. "Ah think she's a tad more responsible than that."
"It's an irrational phobia, okay?!"
The earth pony flinched back, her ears flattened against her skull. "Ah... ah didn't..."
Sweetie sighed, shutting her eyes and rubbing her forehead. "I know... rationally I know it should be fine but.. but I just... can't. It took me this long to work up the nerve to tell you girls. Just... just let me go at my own pace? Please?"
After a moment, Apple Bloom nodded. "Alright. Ah.... alright."
Scootaloo watched the exchange, an odd look on her face. She took a moment to consider her next words. "You know... in a purely technical sense, it could be argued that you're not a filly."
"Gee, thanks Scoots."
"Or a colt."
Sweetie blinked. "I... what?"
"I'm just saying." The pegasus shrugged. "You could date anypony and technically it wouldn't be gay or straight." She fought to keep a smile off her face.
"Now thar, Scootaloo," Apple Bloom stammered, "Ah don't think that we need ta--"
"Actually, I'm not sure what that would be. I mean, your partner would obviously be a robosexual but what you would be called--"
"I am not hearing this! I'm going back downstairs!" The flushing unicorn retreated from the room, ears pulled flat against her skull. Still, she couldn't avoid hearing Scootaloo's loud laughter.
"Ah'm still not talken' ta ya."
"Aw come on! That was two days ago!"
"Did ya hear something, Sweetie?" Apple Bloom cocked her head. "Cause all Ah hear is hot air."
"Apple Bloom, it's fine. Really." The unicorn rolled her eyes. "She was just teasing anyway."
For some reason, that didn't seem to assuage the situation at all. If anything, Apple Bloom's expression only grew more dour as her hooves clomped harder against the ground. Sweetie Belle gave Scootaloo an apologetic glance and shrugged in confusion; Scootaloo merely rolled her eyes. "So... did any of us actually get the homework done?"
Apple Bloom nodded, still keeping her eyes on the ground. Sweetie Belle gave her a momentary glance, before turning to Scootaloo. "Yeah, both of us did the work. Why, is yours not done?"
"No! It's.... mostly done, really!" Scootaloo kicked at the ground. "I just kinda need to write the final page..."
Apple Bloom raised an eyebrow. "It was a one-page assignment."
"But I did do the research!" the pegasus exclaimed. "I mean, I could write it all down, I just need a bit more time!"
"You're in luck, we're here early." Apple Bloom gestured toward the school house as they arrived, walking inside. "Ya've got seven minutes."
"Seven minutes. Okay. I can do this." Scootaloo dropped her saddlebags by her desk, puling out her notebook and pencil. "A page in seven minutes, right." She stared at the paper for a few seconds. Then suddenly she jolted forward and began writing like a madmare.
Sweetie Belle pushed her saddlebags into her cubbyhole, taking out what she needed for the school day. "So, do we have any crusading plans for this afternoon?"
Apple Bloom tilted her head. "Er, well..." She glanced up at the ceiling. "Ah was kind wondering... with yer, um, condition... is it even, ya know, possible for...?"
"I honestly don't know." Sweetie Belle shrugged, keeping her ears from pulling back. "All I know is that I want to hang out with you two, and that you two want to get your cutie marks. I'm leaving that question for... later."
The yellow filly folded her ears, kicking at the ground. "Er... sorry."
"No, it's... it's okay." Oblivious to the curses now rebounding through her friend's skull, Sweetie Belle walked over to her desk. "If I can't get a cutie mark... my skin's some sort of fabric, and Rarity knows how to sew, so yeah."
Apple Bloom stared at her quietly for a long while. She knew that Sweetie Belle had always been the least.... zealous of the Crusaders, for lack of a better term, but even she was eager to find her special talent and had willingly joined in some of their crazier attempts. Her mind wandered back to the odd sadness that the unicorn had expressed mere days ago, before they went river rafting; only now she realized, really realized, how Sweetie must have felt.
"...we don't have to go crusaden' every day," she pointed out. "Maybe today, we can just sorta... Ah dunno, play board games or somethen'."
"No, really!" Sweetie Belle smiled at her. "I've had lots of fun, even after I... figured that whole thing out." She rubbed the back of her head, trying to think of the right words to say. "I just.... look, even if I'm a tad out of it because I'm a robot, it doesn't mean I don't care about... what I mean is, I don't think we should stop. Not because I'm..."
"...not because yer different."
Apple Bloom nodded. "Okay. Okay, sure. Uh... well, we didn't have anythang planned anyway, Scoots and Ah were kinda blindsided with..." She gestured vaguely at Sweetie Belle. "Well. Why don't we just get togather afta school and figure out where ta go from there?"
Sweetie Belle pursed her lips for a moment, then nodded her assent. "Yeah, okay. Yeah. That's actually a pretty good plan."
"What," Scootaloo piped in, "and mine aren't?"
"Weeeeeeeeell, you are trying to finish an entire page of homework in the two minutes before class starts," Sweetie pointed out. "That's not exactly speaking well of your planning ability."
"Hey, it's finished now! Therefore my plan worked." The pegasus stuck her tongue out. "What do you say to that, huh?"
"Huh. Good point." Sweetie Belle paused. "Um, are you two talking to each other now? Because it'll be hard to plan things if you're not talking."
Apple Bloom gave a long, drawn out sigh. "Ah'm not going ta open a dialogue with her till Ah hear an apology."
"An apology for what?" Scootaloo demanded. "It was. A joke. That's all it was."
"It wasn't funny!"
Scootaloo narrowed her eyes. "So it's okay for you to joke about Rainbow Dash being too shallow for a big sis but when I come along and say 'hey, maybe you two should date' it's completely serious?"
"What?" Apple Bloom gave her a weird look. "When did Ah ever say anythang bout Rainbow?"
"That one time after Truffle Shuffle came along and asked if she was my cousin or something!"
"Ah don't think Ah ever said that."
"Technically it was Diamond Tiara that said that," Sweetie interjected. "You did... kinda nod, though, Bloom."
"What? No, Ah..." Apple Bloom tapped her chin. "Ah think Ah was just glancen' in mah lunchbag ta see if Ah had anything ta throw at her."
Scootaloo opened her mouth... then shut it. "Oh."
Then the school bell rang, and they all rushed to their desks.
"Are you sure you're not taking this too seriously?"
"What do you mean?"
"Your argument for leaving 58 alone. It's logical, but is it the real reason?"
"...you're accusing me of being attached."
"The drone will have to be terminated eventually, if only to preserve the illusion of a natural death."
"And that, I will not object. Do you really think I would go against orders?"
"...You've done so before, brother."
"It saved lives."
"I know I'm being watched. I know this is a warning. And I know you don't want to be the one warning me. So go tell your superiors that I got the message."