"Wooo-eee." Applejack wiped the sweat off her brow, taking one last look at the dirt in front of her. "Gotta say, it feels right good to get that done."
"Yeah. New trees and all."
The orange pony turned to her sister. "What's tha matter, Bloom?"
"Huh? Oh, just... thinkin'." Apple Bloom stared at the furrowed soil.
"Well, ifn'ya want ta talk about whatever's goin' through your head, you know Ah'm always willin' ta listen."
Apple Bloom scoffed. "Always?"
"Well..." Applejack's muzzle scrunched. "If'n I'm not sleepin', or busy with chores or... other things."
"...What do ya think of robots, sis?"
"Robots? Well now." Applejack adjusted her hat. "Honestly, Ah don't think about them much. Suppose Ah kinda worry they might take jobs from hard-workin' ponies someday, if'n they ever become widespread, but that's not real likely ta happen anytime soon. Other then that, they... Ah dunno, they just happen ta be the occasional thingamabobber. Ponies will look at 'em for a bit, be in awe of all the technical finangelin's, then go home and keep livin' their lives."
"...Huh. Ah wasn't... Ah kinda meant, you know, robots like in the stories." Apple Bloom rubbed the back of her head. "Like, you know... ones that talk like ponies and all that."
Applejack was silent for a moment or two.
"...Ya'll remember how we used ta treat Zecora?"
"What, everypony hidin' when she came into town?"
"She was a strange one," Applejack mused. "Always in a cloak, livin' in the Everfree... Ah'm not quite proud o' how Ah acted back then. Matter of fact, Ah'm downright ashamed o' it."
"What's this got ta do with robots?"
"Ah'm just thinkin... a metal pony. Not like, one with support braces, or replacement limbs, but a full-on metal pony." The elder sister sighed. "Ah don't think we'd be as off-puttin' as we were with Zecora, cause... well, we've become a bit o' a mixed community, and Zecora lived in the Everfree, which kinda affected how we looked at her. But... at first, Ah think, there'd be a bit of... strain. Kind of like that."
"But there isn't for Zecora anymore," Apple Bloom pointed out.
"Yeah. Cause Twi vouched for her."
Apple Bloom looked at the ground. "So... a robot... if we wanted ponies to accept her, she'd need a friend."
Applejack gave her a slow look. "You know... yeah. That's a good way ta look at it. Is there... somethin' ya'd like to tell me, sugarcube?"
Apple Bloom considered the dirt for a moment.
"...Tellin' a secret is tha best way to lose a friend--"
Applejack and Apple Bloom jumped in shock, spinning around. Applejack recovered first. "PINKIE PIE! What in tarnation do ya think you're doin'?!"
Pinkie giggled. "It's been so long since I've been able to pull that! Ah, nostalgia. What a funny word for what a funny feeling. No-stal-gia. What's stalgia anyway--?"
"Pinkie, do ya need... anything?"
Applejack nodded. "Would'ya mind steppin' off mah hoe then?"
"Hmm?" Pinkie looked down. "Oh! Sure thing!"
Scootaloo spun her scooter around, skidding to a stop at the side of the street. "Wooo! That's gotta be my fastest track speed yet!"
"Well, third fastest. Still, not bad squirt." Rainbow Dash fluttered to the ground with a smirk, ruffling the younger pegasus's mane. "Not bad at all."
"Yeah!" Scootaloo threw her forehooves up... and lost her balance on the scooter, sending it flying from underneath her. "Ooof! Ow."
Rainbow rolled her eyes, holding out a hoof. "How about we take five, get back on this in a bit, huh?"
"I guess I could take a break." Scootaloo took hold of Rainbow's hoof and pulled herself up. "But we'll get right back on it soon."
The two of them sat against a nearby wall, relaxing in the midday sun. Rainbow smiled faintly as she watched the clouds go by.
"What's going on in your life? Anything interesting happen recently?"
Scootaloo shrugged. "Well... a little something, but it's not really something I should talk about."
"It's... I found something out about a friend of mine, and... I don't know. It's her secret, you know."
"Oh, I getcha. Yeah, you don't have to tell me if you don't want to." Rainbow shrugged. "But you know I'm here if you need to talk, right?"
Scootaloo hummed quietly, staring at the sky for a few moments.
"What do you think about robots?"
Rainbow Dash blinked. "What, robots?"
"Yeah, you know, machine ponies. What do you think about them?"
Rainbow Dash frowned. "You know they're not real, Scoots."
"But if they were. What would you think about robots?"
"Well... huh." Rainbow looked skyward. "I dunno, squirt."
Scootaloo frowned. "You don't know?"
"I mean, in all the stories I've read the bad guys build them to do things, and the heroes have to take them down. They don't have much personality beyond that."
"Oh." Scootaloo frowned. "But... if you found one that did have a personality--"
"What's all this about, Scoots?"
"It's... I dunno. Just... I kinda heard about a story," Scootaloo tried, "where the main character is this filly who finds out she's been a robot this whole time."
"Really? What's this story called?"
"Steel... something or other." Scootaloo shrugged. "I haven't read it myself. But it got me wondering... what would we actually do in that situation?"
"Huh. A robot the whole time... That'd be like discovering you're really a changeling, wouldn't it? Or a zombie or something." Rainbow shrugged. "I guess you'd have to choose whether or not you wanted to help ponies."
"...what do you mean?"
"Like, if you're a robot, you were built for some reason, right? And that reason might well be 'take over Equestria,' or something. But if you thought you were a pony, well, you grew up with them. So..." The blue pegasus bit her lip. "It'd be weird, you know?"
"Yeah... I guess."
"...in the end, I guess it'd come down to who actually cared about you. Or who didn't care. Who treated the robot the most like garbage, that would be the bad guy... I think."
"So... don't treat robots like garbage?"
"Well, unless they're an invading army or something."
"Right." Scootaloo nodded. "Yeah, that... seems right. Right."
"...like I said, if you need to talk about something--"
"It's good! It's all good."
The two of them sat for a few more minutes.
"You know," Scootaloo eventually said, "I'm thirsty. Maybe we should get some lemonade."
"Not that bad an idea. Come on, I think I know a place that's having a sale..."
Sweetie Belle frowned at her paper, absently scribbling down some equations. "I'm a robot, for Celestia's sake. Why are these so hard? Couldn't whoever have built me given me a super computer for a brain or something?" She bit her lip, concentrating as she spun out a few numbers. "...the answer is twenty two. It's gotta be."
"Is everything alright there, Sweetie-me-lass?" Saint Germane stuck her frowning face through her door. "You're not having too much trouble with that there skritch-i-skratch, are ya?"
"Not any more than usual," Sweetie replied with a sigh. "I'm just a lot better at language than I am at math. Don't worry, I've got this." She tapped her pencil on the desk. "It's not brainbending or anything... yet."
"Well, that's good to hear, Sweetie. Wouldn't want ya straining your noggin too much, all things considered." The mare shook her head and sighed. "Ol' Twilight used to have such strange fits afor she went and princessified herself, and even Rarity--well, you know what she's like when she's in her zone or whatchamacallit."
"Oh, don't I know it." Sweetie Belle half smiled. "I'm beginning to think I should just stay out of her way when she gets like that..."
She considered her homework for a moment or two.
"...Hey, uh, mom?"
"What is it, Sweetie?"
"What do you think about robots?"
Saint Germane blinked for a few seconds. "What do I think about--? What brought this on?"
"Oh, you know, just idle curiosity or... something..."
"Well... robots. Hmmm." The pink mare considered carefully. "I guess they can be pretty neat."
"Well, I haven't seen none myself, ya know. Heard 'bout them, obviously. Why? You want to build one or something?"
"I was more..." Sweetie Belle ran a hoof through her mane. "I was more... wondering what you would think if, like, you met a robot. Going shopping at the marketplace, maybe."
"You mean, what would I think if I saw a robot actin' like a pony?" Saint Germane shrugged. "Depends on what they were doin', I guess. The thing is, Sweetie, robots don't act like ponies. Even the ones that look like 'em, they're just... really advanced puppets, I think."
"Oh." Sweetie frowned. "Yeah. I guess."
Saint Germane shrugged. "Of course, there's them sci-fi books where robots suddenly start being ponies. I don't read a lot o' those, but I think the question's a lot like... raising a filly, really."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean, King Sombra was a unicorn, right? I don't think his ma and pa sat down and said 'welp, our little boy's gonna be a tyrant,' but that's what happened. And I don't think you're going to go bad, but..." The mare sighed. "One o' my biggest fears is that one day, you'll get caught up in some dark place or other, and I'll have to see you on the news. It's not that I think that's going to happen. You're a good pony. I just... worry that I might not... notice somethin', or somethin'."
Sweetie Belle turned around. "Mom... I--"
"And that's what it's like with robots, I think. Except bigger. Cause, if they do start bein' people, will we even notice? Will we be able to teach 'em right from wrong?" Saint Germane nodded. "So, yeah, if a robot's in the market actin' like a pony, I think... I think I'll see what they're doin' afor I do anything, but I'll probably talk to them at least a little bit. You know?"
"...that... that sounds good." Sweetie Belle sighed. "That sounds good."
"Mass drone termination?!"
"The keem'Potriitch are approaching Equestria. If they become aware of--"
"I know the risks, brother. But mass drone termination will not help. If anything it will make the situation worse--a sudden plague will lead to medical autopsies, then to discovery, the evidence will be insurmountable."
"--is used to undeveloped societies. It would be better for them to go underground, to start a resistance, then just to drop dead."
"That could be risky. If any were captured--"
"I am aware! I am... aware."
"...What are you planning, brother?"
"Nothing. Yet. I shall return to my duties."
"And you should return to yours."