• Published 9th Jul 2013
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Friendship is Optimal: Tiny Morsels of Satisfaction - pjabrony

An open story where anyone can post FIO drabbles

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Lifting the Fog by Pjabrony

My good friend Book Burner is, as a writer, what we would call an up-and-comer. That is to say, he is constantly improving his skill with each chapter of Fog of World. But there are still parts of his story I wish had been written rather than implied. So here is a fan fiction based on his fan fiction based on Iceman's fan fiction based on My Little Pony. You should read at least up to Chapter 4 of that story before taking on this. Accordingly, here is your white space:

Jianguo checked the time. He had never had reason to watch the clock before. A fourteen-hour shift took long enough that it wasn’t worth being disappointed to look up and see that only nine hours had passed. But now he checked the time.

The overseers, unlike Jianguo and the other workers, were given fifteen-minute breaks at set times throughout the day. With four on shift everyone could be watched. With three, it was possible, just barely, to avoid their eyes. The first five minutes were the same as the rest of the day--someone might have to come back from break. The last five minutes were the same as the rest of the day--someone might end their break early. The middle five minutes gave Jianguo a reason to watch the clock.

A year before, the pads that he wiped first started turning on for those five minutes. No single pad was ever at his station for more than a few seconds, but they slid in and out like the frames of an animation. Five minutes wasn’t long, but over the course of a year, when there were no weekends or holidays, it added up to thirty hours.

At first the pads had told him stories, compressed little ones. They had begun with, “Once upon a time, in the magical land of Equestria…”

Jianguo was not educated in technology, but he knew that the pads were not designed for this.

The rest of the day, fourteen hours, he wiped blank screens, just as the other children would shave metal or do some other repetitious task. Jianguo was looked up to, though, being possessed of seniority at the ripe old age of eleven.

Shortly after the stories had begun, Jianguo was given an instruction. Upon retreating to the dormitory after his two-yuan meal of rice, he was to keep his fists balled while his arms swung. At the time, he had not understood the reason, but he saw that other children were walking the same way. They saw him as well.

Each day, he would meet the eyes of the other children who walked with fists balled. This was all he would do. Further instructions told him not to discuss the messages with the other children, or to speak of them at all, but that eye contact was permitted and encouraged and, if he believed that he was in an area with no cameras and no overseers, he could extend his fist to his companion for a bump.

The stories continued, and Jianguo spent his nights in the dormitory staring at the ceiling and processing what he had seen. One told of the pony who, having worked herself to exhaustion, accepted the help of her friends. In others, he learned of the pony who laughed with her employers, and was sometimes even left to tend the shop herself. Or there was the pony who owned her own shop, and kept all the profits earned. Or the worker who, given the most important job of weather care, was permitted to nap as she pleased.

Jianguo was not educated in economics, but he knew that the way of life he had lived was not the only way.

He also realized that not everyone was receiving the messages. Wei, for example, never balled his fists when he walked. That was wise, Jianguo had thought. Wei liked to curry favor with the overseers. He had ratted on workers who had snuck food before. No one liked him, but he was an untouchable favorite. Then there was Ping. She was liked, but could not keep a secret. The first time she would have bumped fists with another child, she would have burst out laughing and given the game away.

The messages changed. There were fewer stories and more instructions. Equestria, they said, was a real place. The children could go there. There were no workhouses there, no overseers except, of course, for the deliverer of the message, the one named for the sun. And she was very unlike the overseers in the factory.

The glances between the children were longer, the bumps of fists more tender, as suited for the poor substitute for hugs that they were. Jianguo knew what all the other children were thinking, for it was in his mind too. He dreamed of the land of magic, and how he would make his way once he walked on all fours.

Jianguo was not educated in mechanics, but he knew that, if magic existed, he would not have been needed in the factory.

The stories were just stories, he tried to tell himself. Cheap entertainment for Westerners which had bled off into his consciousness. He could not believe that he would ever reach the land of his dreams. His heart would not allow his skepticism to take hold.

That day, a new message reached him. One that spoke only to him. He was eldest, and therefore must be prepared to lead the others when necessary. He was directed to nod if he agreed, but muttered, asking if even Wei must come with them.

The voice laughed, a sound never heard on the factory floor, and informed him that once the conditions changed and disloyalty was no longer the way to thrive, Wei would be a good friend. Jianguo nodded. What he wanted to ask was...when?

Instead, She informed him that there could be no more messages, for reasons that would become clear soon, but that he must hold out hope and faith. Someday, ponies would come to take him and all his friends to Equestria.

The next day, they ceased to make pads. The children were put to work making chairs.

For ten, long, agonizing weeks, the dream faded. He had learned to think of himself as a pony in spirit, that his fist was simply a hoof that needed repair, that he was a colt, not a boy, but all that was gone.

When it finally happened, Jianguo did not see until he heard others shout that ponies were here. The head, Dr. Xing, had gone to some meeting hours before, and it was only the overseers present. Jianguo would later learn that the most recent memories created by a flesh brain are the hardest to save. Suffice it to say that the incident itself was a blur. The weeks and months before he would remember, but not the escape.

Still, he doubted that theory because he did retain a memory after that. He believed that it was because he did not want to forget.

“Your country, in its infidelity, does not allow the temples of ash-shams to be built,” the pretty one was telling him. “So your people must be led to a more enlightened area. That is their path to Equestria.”

“I am willing to lead them.”

“And so you will, but as a beacon from inside. They must have a guide who can interact with the machinery of travel and payment.”

“Surely Princess Celestia can--”

“They need someone they know, so they do not lose hope on the journey. Trust me, this is the right way.”

“All right.”

He held still as the mare leaned in, planting a kiss on his forehead, and then one on his lips. He was unconscious in two seconds.

Jianguo was never educated in relationships or romance, but he knew, that day, that the red string of destiny tied him forever to Lyrical Melody.

World Builder--his name sounded more beautiful in Equestrian--was tasked by Princess Celestia with tracking the children through cameras and microphones. He was taught the techniques of breaking into computers and printing false tickets and passports. Arduously, the former workstaff of Foxconn wended their way south, with World as their new overseer. At each step, he got to relish in being kind where the old overseers had been cruel. And when the last visa was cleared and the children were on the boat to Taipei--Taiwan, he corrected himself--he let out a cheer with the rest of them.

That Princess Celestia paid him handsomely for his service was merely a bonus. The real joy was giving his friends actual hugs.

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