• Published 6th Oct 2013
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Sufficiently Advanced - Lord Of Dorkness



Two worlds. One of science, one of magic. But what happens when the Mane Six... meets the cyborg Mane Eight?

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Chapter One - Some Assembly Required

Sol Guard HQ. London, Earth.

Monday January 31, 2310.

The offices of Captain Blake Gregory.


My head hit my wooden desk with a soft thud, as the growing headache got a bit too much for me.

It’s just crew recruitment and placements. Why must something that simple be such a political headache? I glared slightly at the pastel colored folders beneath and beside my head, daring them to start making sense.

I vaguely heard my door open, as my assistant poked her head in. “You all right, boss?”

And of course the one person that actually wondered what’s bothering me, is the one in the building that I would be extremely stupid to talk about this with…

I let out a deep, deep sigh and sat up.

And gave the pink unicorn mare in front of me a long look. Long enough to make her shift uncomfortably.

That was when I decided. Fuck it. “Would you mind telling me about your mom, #431?”

The pink… whatever the fuck the right name for an android shaped like a cartoon pony is. Blinked her crystal blue eyes, before tilting her head and looking a bit suspicious at me. “...Why?”

I gave a small smile at that. Not a drop of blood in her, and she’s still defensive about ‘good ol’ mum...’

Perhaps this might be simpler than I thought.

I pointed to the chair in front of my desk. “She’s one of the last minute candidates for the Pheidippides… consider this a interview of a relative…”

#431’s cheeks did the strange squeaking sound I had never understood the purpose off by grinning so wide I almost saw her tonsils, before bounding over to the offered seat.

I stifled a chuckle with a fake cough. “Would you like some water, or something? Before we begin?”

She rubbed her chin thoughtfully. “...Wouldn't it be my job to bring that? The whole secretary thing?”

I let out a laugh, before getting out of my seat. “Tell you what? How about we fudge the protocol, just this once?” I’m feeling a bit peckish, how about you? We could do this over a early lunch...”

#431 suddenly looked interested. “Real food?”

I raised a questioning eyebrow at the wo- mare.

She scratched the back off her head in embarrassment, the smart-fibre that made up her ha- mane bouncing back into the normal mess that made a decent impression of a rat’s nest. I’d pressed on that and the dress-code , but apparently it was a religious thing...“...Well, this is a bit embarrassing, but this frame is mostly for looks. I can’t actually eat with it… I usually just charge it overnight.”

Ah. Should have know, considering she very seldom even bothers with clothes… Not that this particular frame had anything to hide, but still.

“I see…” Curiosity got the better of me. “Do you actually need to sleep? Just curious…”

She let out a laugh. “Now, anybody but you asking that, Mr. Gregory? I’d think such a person would be leading me on for some cruel joke on the ‘tin-man’s’ expense…”

“Have anybody here given you that kind of trouble?” I quickly asked at hearing the slur, face set hard. “If so, say the word. We do not tolerate discrimination of any type here.”

#431 blinked away a few tears… but smiled while doing so, so I forced myself to relax.

“Thank you,” she said. “but no. I've been treated very well here.”

She blushed slightly. “...Actually, it was mostly a poor joke leading up to…” She cleared her throat, looking nervous. “‘Or a poor attempt at flirting…’”

She fidgeted slightly, as my cheeks caught fire. “I know only a week or two before going on a cramped research vehicle is poor timing, I honestly don’t know how you feel about AI’s in that regard…” She gulped, looking nervous as hell. “...but I’ve been trying to breach the subject for… month now, and it just never came up…”

I leaned back, letting out the breath I’d been holding. The sight of her ears falling nearly broke my heart. “...Let me think, OK?”

Her ears perked up, and she smiled hesitatingly. I closed my eyes as I thought it over…

On one hand… she was smart, clever, a hard worker, cute…

On the other… she was a AI.

Based on a rea-

A nor-

A person, but still. Did I really want to risk all the potential complications of dating a underling and somebody that might show up to work wearing a tank? And that wasn't even counting long term complications...

But a thought struck me. I opened my eyes and gave her a level look. “Promise you're not just trying to grease the way for your mom by seducing the Captain?”

She gave me this adorable pout. “Do you think I’m that cynic? Really?”

“No, but you have this thing where you try to do as many things at once at possible, just because your brain can handle it…” I just had to smile a bit. “Can you blame a man, for seeing a pattern?”

She fidgeted a bit. “...I must admit, physically seeing mom… by being led up the gangplank on such a prestigious vessel, arm in arm with the Captain? I’m… a bit tempted trying to arrange things, yes…” She suddenly looked dead serious. “But I wouldn't even think about it, if I didn't find you attractive. Pinkie promise.”

She started doing the rhyme and the gestures, but I waved her off. “I’ll take your word for it…” She smiled, and I leaned back again. “You are aware even this might cause complications for both of us?”

“Wouldn't ask if I didn't think it was worth it…” She ended the sentence by fluttering her eyelashes at me.

I must admit… she was damn exotic, but I couldn't help but feel a bit affected by that. It is hardly everyday a friend near throws themselves at you…

That I knew she had complete control off how she looked below the neck… I must admit, more than a part of me got interested at the prospect of what such a date might entail.

“You're OK with the chance that you might need to switch boss? Sol Guard doesn't have any rules against inter-company relations... but the higher ups are almost guaranteed to move you if this leads to more than a date or two…”

She nodded once, eyes near burning with desire. “Would it matter if I let slip I’m technically a princess? Mom never did get around to take back that declaration of being the Queen of The Rock Farm… then people thought she was serious and started humoring her...”

“...Seriously?” I said, smiling softly.

“Well, I’m not exactly next in line…” #431 said. “But the title is real!”

Princess Pinkie Pie #431… that’s seriously your full name?”

“Actually, its Princess Pinkamena Diane Pie #431…” #431 coughed embarrassedly into a hoof. “Mom isn't very good with original names…”

I could not help myself. “...Ran out of them, perhaps?”

“Ha, ha. Very funny,” “#431 said. “But seriously, big sis #2 was only meant as an experiment in personality backuping, mom refined the design with #3, then experimented a bit with big bro #4…” She gave a tiny shrug. “And then… Well, people change, right? As mom tells it, she looked up one day and realized that she had a house full of other people that she had made… Thus, the mom thing. The number names became something of a family tradition after that.”

I just had to shake my head at that, but I was smiling as I did so. That was both one of the weirdest and sweetest things I've heard… “I take it family reunions get complicated?”

“We use a modified augmented reality IFF system with a name-tag and biography function,” she said, without any hesitation. “Don’t get me wrong, I love them all… but even thinking about trying to remember all that info gives me a headache.”

I wondered briefly if it was wise, but curiosity got the better of me.“...No dad?”

#431 made a vague gesture with a hoof. “Well~l… Yes… and no, in a way. Since I remember everything mom did up to the point of my forking, I do remember dad slash grand-dad… but I never actually met the man. Does that make sense?”

“...Did something happen to him?” I quickly added. “Sorry if I bring forth any bad memories, but since your mom is still alive and thriving…”

“He chose to stay baseline.” #431 looked a bit sad, but gave a weak smile and shrugged. “It was what he wanted. I… honestly don’t get that viewpoint, but he died content after a… long life. I eve-... I meant mom, even got to say goodbye. Has to count for something, right?”

I nodded slowly, pretending I hadn't heard the hesitation between ‘a’ and ‘long life...’

I glanced down at the pink folder with three balloons, the personal folder of the third oldest human alive. Somebody that remembered a time when Mars and Venus where distant dreams… and not carefully tended homeworlds…

Then I looked up at her youngest daughter, that knew the majority she did. Somebody like that… should have a story or two, to tell…

Call me a sucker for older women.

I gave her my sweetest smile. “Sure, I would love to have dinner with you. Any preferences in time and place?”

She grinned wide enough to do the squeak thing again. “...How about you let me and mine pull some strings. Pick you up at seven on Friday? Your place?”

“...Oh?”

“Please~e?” She pleaded, giving me a disturbingly effective try at puppy-dog eyes. “It would give me enough time to pull of something… impressive.”

I rested my cheek against my hand. “I thought you wanted to be ‘your own mare...’ if I remember the job interview tapes correctly.”

She just giggled at me. “Please, this is completely different. That was business, this is family business.” I must admit, the way she nearly drooled when she looked at me felt good. “Do you have any idea how long it was since we welcomed a new person into the fold? Even if this completely blows up in my face, it will still make almost all my siblings green with envy!”

I raised an eyebrow. “What, a date?”

She shrugged, eyes still near smoldering. “People have this insulting idea that we Pie’s are near clones of each other… it gets very irritating.” She actually licked her lips suggestively, right there and then. “You don’t.”

I coughed a bit embarrassed, and sat up straight. “Thank you, it feels nice having somebody show interest like that… But perhaps we should focus on the work at hand?”

She fluttered her eyelids once, before giggling and getting a bit more serious. “Fine, what do you want to know?”

I reached forward and tapped the folders, before spreading them out. There were eight in total. Light blue, white, green, purple, yellow, a darker blue, orange and finally, pink.

#431’s eyes widened, and I could almost see the ge- see her thinking.

She looked up wide eyed at me, I nodded towards them. “Is it alright if I’m a bit candid?”

She just laughed at that. “You're a friend, boss. I might hope to become more than that to you, but the day I make a fuss over a friend telling me the truth is the day I jump into a recycler. Shoot.”

“I know that these are very impressive people with merit lists each taller than I am and I don’t mean any disrespect…” Now it was my turn to fidget a bit. “...but I don’t get the pony thing. I was hoping you could offer some perspective…?”

“Ah, so a humanoid frame for the first date, then?” Then she wiggled her eyebrows at me.

My cheeks started burning. #431 just giggled.

Then her eyes widened, making her stop mid giggle. “...Oh. My. God.”

I tapped the pink folder, giving her an incredulous look. “I believe we were already talking about her, yes…”

She just waved me off. “Let me get my laptop!”

Then she galloped to her desk, yanked the poor computer in question of it so hard I almost wondered if she might have broken it, before galloping back. The computer trailing behind her in the glow of her HORN.

“...And the thing that is so important is…?”

She put the laptop on my desk facing me. “I get to show my boss MLP:FIM… on company time! For a actual research purpose!” She clapped her hooves together under her chin, grinning wide. “And I got a date! This is the best day ever!”

Looked a bit worried at the ludicrously tiny video window… or more precise, the watermark in the corner.

“#431… what is that level three memetics warning doing there?”

#431 leaned over the screen and snorted at what she saw, before looking up and leaning back again. “Freaking nanny state… It’s just a really good show, OK?”

“You sure?”

“Come on, boss. The memetics classes are a complete joke. Like anybody pays attention to anything about them. Twinkle Little Star is a four, for fucks sake. What’s the worst that can happen? You getting a new favorite?”

“...I’m more worried about not being able to get the damn thing out of my head…” I muttered, to #431 clear amusement.

I gently folded the laptop’s screen down. “How about a rain-check and you just give me a quick summary?

“Boss…” she said, reopening the laptop. “Trust me, seeing is believing. They’re only twenty minutes a pop, anyway. By the time I’ve gotten you the rundown... Well, why not get the info from the horse’s mouth, anyway?”

I gave the grinning pony automaton a long look. “...Seriously?”

“Oh, please. As if this is the first time I've been horsing around.” #431 said, still grinning. “Or are you one of these neigh sayers that don’t like puns?”

I couldn't resist. “You know, I really thought you were one of the stable ones…”

“Please, I’m completely sane and healthy… I just happen to be a little horse.

I groaned, before giving a slow clap. “That’s it. You win.”

“Aww, getting colt feet already? How can I be whinnying when I’m still foal of ideas!”

I gave her a warning glare, but I couldn't stop myself from smiling a bit.

“Just one more, promise!” I against my better judgment, I waved her on…

She backed off from the desk, rose on her back-legs… and then the shrieks of an electric-guitar started forcing themselves out of her throat, as she rocked out on a air-guitar.

I facepalmed.

“Sorry, but that one is a fav of mine… I just had to do it!”

“I must admit, that was a fun distraction…” I waved towards the computer. “But shall we?”

She waved me off. “You go ahead, I've got some paperwork and I've seen them all a dozen times over.“ She paused in the door and turned her head back towards me. “Oh, and the first two are a bit weird compared to the rest. Give it a few more then that, OK?”

With a shrug, I leaned back and got started. My door clicked softly as #431 got back to work.

The resolution was atrocious, but not that bad considering the age of the thing. It seemed clear that somebody had spent quite a bit on maintaining the clips...

I had to pause and think a bit, as soon as the opening ‘theme’ finished. A bit cutesy, but seemed like decent fantasy fare...

But reshaping yourself to look like the characters good? I must admit I doubted it.

Perhaps it was a generation gap I simply couldn't grasp?

I reached for the folders, and rifled through them until I had pictures of all the remaining candidates…

Truth be told, there were dozens more… but these folders had somewhat jumped out at me…

My eyes flickered towards my door. Had a certain mare planned that part? The colors and pics were family crests of a sort and the rules allowed the folders to be customized like that for easier identification…

With a shrug, I opened all the folders in front me, so I could more easily make comparisons.

And what really jumped out at me, was the sheer age on display. The youngest among them was only so with a few decades…Bloody hell, most of them had been born during the twentieth century! All in all, these folders represented nearly three millennia of expertise…

I gently tapped the armrest of my chair as I thought it over. That… would be something of an asset, alright.

My eyes drifted over to the screen, and the smiling purple unicorn on it…

But was it worth the PR nightmare? There has been quite a bit of push-back against both the Pheidippides and transhumans lately… Do I dare combine those two into one shitstorm?

My eyes drifted back to my desk, but to the larger stack of plain folders I hadn't even cracked open yet.

That kind of expertise would be more than nice… but the biggest asset would be the flexibility of the phylactery/frame system they all possessed. Something I could get with people that… Well, actually looked human, to be blunt…

My eyes went to the door this time. But yet again… I had one ‘pony’ as a underling, and #431 had so far been scary effective. So effective in fact, that I wondered if she actually had any paperwork left…

Or had she simply left me alone to come to that conclusion myself?

Humanity's first attempt at a manned mission outside our solar system…

I had asked for the best of the best… so why was I hesitating in actually calling them in?

A image formed in my mind, of getting there but not home and looking out over a sea of faces…

A shudder swept through me.

...And having to even think I hadn't done every damn thing in my power to ensure success for such an important task.

I made my decision. “Hey, #431?”

She stuck her head through the door so fast I almost suspected teleportation. “Yes?” she said, looking a bit excited but nervous.

I tapped the pink folder again. “I saw repeated mentions of these girls working together… Would getting one of them improve the chances of recruiting all of them, and if so, in which order?”

Her jaw dropped, but only for a moment. “...Uh, not to toot my own horn, but the only way I could even imagine mom saying no to such an adventure, would be if I didn't vouch for you as a Captain…” She grinned wickedly. “Slightest chance you’d accept a few of my siblings, as well? Just a few, a hundred or two…”

I thought it over…

A couple of hundred of the Pie clan.

In an enclosed space.

Perhaps for years, if things did go wrong.

But I sadly had to shake my head, even if it would have almost been worth it just for the look on those neo-luddite twits faces... “Sorry, #431.” Her ears fell, but her smile remained. “The general positions are already filled. What I need are specialists.”

She shrugged, but her ears perked up again, “Had to ask, boss.”

I waved a hand dismissively, smiling softly. “No worries, I get it.”

Then I leaned forward, a bit more serious. “I also noticed that thanks to you being a personality fork, your mom being friends with these girls…”

#431 waved me off, looking completely unfazed at my implied accusation. “Boss, care to compare thickness of the piles? I assure you, familiarity had nothing to do with it.”

My eyes darted to the three or four dozen normal folders… that was almost as thick as the other eight.

I let out a small sigh. “I see your point. What order would you recommend?”

#431 let out a small cough. “They are a bit… old fashioned, when it comes to certain things. Mom and the others will probably want to hear this offer face to face…”

My jaw fell. “Wha…?”

#431 sat down on her haunches and held her fore-legs up defensively. “Just saying what might improve the chances of a yes, boss. They would see it as a rare and polite gesture.”

I rubbed at my temples, as I felt my headache return. “You certain?”

#431 just gave me a level look.

“Right, right… that was a stupid question.” I leaned back, trying to relax a bit. “So, any modifications to the order considering that?”

Her HORN lit up, and the orange and purple folders floated towards me in a blue nimbus.

I took them, and started tentatively re-reading them.

“Twilight and Applejack are holding a lecture right here in London…” She smiled, so innocently it simply had to be fake. “...this Friday. Late afternoon, but before dinner, even.”

I raised an eyebrow at the smiling mare, over the folders.

“I even have tickets….” she near purred.

I barked out a little laugh. “Aren't you the little chess-master…”

She let out a giggle I had to admit was completely adorable. “Love and war, boss. Love and war…”

“I must admit, that could work,…” I gently put the folders back on the desk. “but that is a few days away yet. Surely there must be time to reach at least one or two, before that.”

She pointed at the lighter blue. “Asteroid mining in the asteroid field…”

The yellow. “On the moon, building and maintaining drones for the terraforming project…”

The green. “On Venus, working as a MD…”

The pink, smiling a bit wider. “Well, Queen of The Rock Farm.”

I grunted, I should have seen that one coming, at least…

The white. “And I think Rarity is doing something in Sahara…”

I sat up straight in surprise. “You think?” It wasn't like #431 to speak of ‘maybes...’

“Rarity has a tendency to fall off the grid when testing new designs, “ she said, giving a tiny shrug. “Something about less distractions and getting more time with Sweetie… I've got the coordinates for her camp, but that is it.”

She perked up a bit. “On the other hand I can almost guarantee she’d be very impressed with a young gentleman that bothered to track her down, during such circumstances…”

I grunted, before flipping open the white folder.

A press-photo, from some manner of press conference fittingly enough. She had a similar phylactery design to #431, but a bit leaner and regal. Her colors were white for the pelt and she had a purple mane, tied up in a carefully styled bun.

I had to bite back a small whistle. The frame she was wearing was human… and one of those designer jobs were the curves starts at the ankles. In conjunction with the black cocktail-dress and jewelry that seemed each to be in a similar price class…

The woman practically screamed “Rich enough to be this eccentric!”

If it wasn't for the jarring line at the at the bottom of the neck where snow white pelt met equally flawless and white skin, and her equine face…

Well, even then, that kind of body wouldn't have looked natural even if it had been… but it was a gorgeous piece of work, either way.

I scanned the rest… and a name jumped out at me.

“...Carousel Boutique Cybernetics… Where have I heard that before?” I thought outloud.

My concentration was broken by #431 tapping her head with a hoof. “She invented the phylactery and frames system, boss. CBC isn't that big a company, but their stuff is, if you follow…”

My eyes nearly bulged out of their sockets, as I connected the dots. “...Well, I guess I should have seen something like that coming when I asked for the best of the best and it actually was taken seriously…

“Word of advice, boss,” #431 said, sounding serious. “Don’t remind her of the whole second oldest person alive thing. She’s proud of all she’s done, but she doesn't care to be reminded of that bit.”

“Duly noted…” I muttered. “Out of morbid curiosity, which one of these are the oldest?”

She bit back a laugh, and tapped the blue folder with… A cloud shooting a rainbow colored thunderbolt, really?

Some incredulity must have flashed across my face, because #431 patted the folder, almost... relevantly. “You’d never know just from how she acts… But she was actually old enough to to remember the moonlanding.”

My brow furrowed in confusion. “What’s so special about having gone to the moon? I mean, we are working on it, but there’s really nothi-”

Then my mind and face went blank, as the former registered the The.

#431 just nodded slowly, as she saw my mind catch up with my mouth. “...You're serious?” I managed in a near whisper.

“Born the thirteenth of February 1945…” #431 shivered slightly. “...in Dresden, Germany.”

“...You’re serious?”

#431 let out a nervous laugh. “Yeah…You know that expression about a silver spoon? Dash got a black cat that had swallowed a mirror, instead… Her mom literally had to run for her life in the middle of labor.”

“...And then?”

#431 shifted nervously. “...Sorry, boss… but I think I've said too much already. She’s a friend and this is getting a bit personal.”

I gave a grunt. My curiosity aside, she had a point. She gave me a relieved smile in turn.

I tapped my chin thoughtfully. One’s birth was one thing… but mining at one of our furthest frontiers? “...Something of a tough-girl, then? A survivor?”

#431 nodded absentmindedly. “Oh, yes.” She hesitated a moment, before shrugging. “She was one of the first that got augmented without a previous health defect. Her… eyes, I believe? Or was it the legs? I've forgotten.”

A shiver snaked down my spine. “She actually did something like that…” #431 gave me a warning glare, but I pressed on. “...before the development of cloned limbs? What if she’d suffered complications?”

#431 blinked and relaxed a bit. “Oh, you meant it like that? Well, sure. Somebody had to be first, right?”

I nodded absentmindedly. Trite, but true.

She rubbed the back of her head, looking a bit sheepish. “Sorry about being defensive, boss. But I've had one to many one sided debates about my and mom’s choices, if you follow…”

I tapped the other blue folder, the one with a magic wand and glitter on it. “Fine, fine… But this Trixie character… I take it is a bit more complicated than just going to Vegas and asking nicely?”

“Actually, should be,” #431 said. “She’s a colossal drama queen, but she tends to be reasonable. I was about to recommend to try her and then Rarity. We should be back just before Friday if we do things that way…”

“And that would make it four out of eight…” I hummed softly as I thought it over. “Are the Pheidippides standard graviton engines ready for a shakedown run? It might be a good two birds, one stone scenario...”

#431’s eyes got obscured by text, projected on her eyes and HUD as a courtesy to me and anybody else that wondered what she was doing.,The text was scrolling so fast it was a black blur and was gone as fast as it had appeared. “Sorry, boss. Echidna just told me there has been another delay. New estimate is two weeks from now…”

I kept my face neutral, but mentally I raised an eyebrow. Echidna was one of the few AI’s that freaked me out, but she was damn good at her job. “Shipping mix up?”

#431 gritted her teeth. “Bomb threats from those damn fanatics again. Every time one gets in, the work needs to stop until a scan and a sweep can be done…”

I nodded sagely. Why kill one, when you can cripple and thus slow everyone? Guerrilla tactics adopted for the modern age… as irritating as they were effective. “I take it Echidna is taking it well?” I stated dryly.

#431 made a grimace. “That girl needs to get laid. Sure, I get that she takes pride in her work… and I’m not sure how… But wowzers, is that girl high strung! Half of that chat was swears!”

My imagination failed me at the concept of a naval yard getting some tail…

Perhaps it was for the best.

Especially considering that #431 wasn't the first AI that had flirted with me.

I absently stroked my stubble.

Honestly, is it my posture, or something? If I had a credit for every time…

I shook my head to clear it. As weird a knack as it was, I guess there’s something to be said for machines liking you…

My eyes refocused on #431, sitting patiently and waiting for my train of thought to grind to a halt.

...Especially in this day and age.

A smile tugged at my lips, but I fought it down. “So, little miss Chess-master… Do I even need to ask about transportation?”

She clutched at her chest, as if deeply wounded.

“But seriously, #431…” I pointed an accusing finger at her. “We do have a schedule… even if those fanatics seem intent on making it a mostly theoretical exercise.”

#431 made a undoctored grimace of pure disgust. “I’m not one that hates easily… but if I ever get my hooves on whoever was dumb enough to fund a militant neo-luddite movement…” Her face darkened, and she near growled the rest. “...then I’m sticking them into the nearest cyber autodoc and pressing every damn button on principal…”

“You don’t care for any of their philosophy, then?” I asked, almost keeping a straight face.

A shiver swept the synthetic mare. “Please don’t joke about them.” And another, this one strong enough that her mane jiggled like a bowl of jello. “We've needed to almost double the armor and defenses on The Rock Farm thanks to those nutters. They've even tried a few assassination attempts on some of my more public siblings.”

She waved a hoof over her current self. “The only reason I’m not wearing a military grade frame is that I don’t have the licences for doing that… but I’m frankly tempted to see how far I can push the diplomatic immunity for royals thing.”

“...Since your mom is a queen, can’t she just declare you holder of any such licences?”

#431 near growled again. “Actually, she has… but somehow red tape from nowhere sprang up! She even sent me two frames… that somehow never even reached Earth!” She took a deep breath, trying and almost managing to calm herself. “I’m going to be honest, boss. Had I worked anywhere else, I would probably have changed my face by now. Those fanatics scare me.”

That admission, more than anything else, made me realize how serious she was taking this.

A phylactery was a amazing piece of cybernetic technology, allowing the user to survive near anything short of a Gauss round to the head…

But they weren't meant to be altered like that. The armor, gear and similar was intended to be one of the most permanent modifications there were.

Then again, for a head replacement… that is kind of a given.

#431 gulped, her eyes shifting around the room slightly. “I've heard rumors about people getting yanked of the streets or their homes and… forcefully downgraded. Just bopped on the head, stuffed into a hacked autodoc and then they wake up in a healing tank sans every piece of cyber gear” She let out a sharp laugh without any humor in it. “Wanna guess what the rumor said about things like me?”

I got a churning feeling in my stomach.

“What licenses do you have at the moment?” I asked, face stern.

“A-grade plus,” I raised an eyebrow at her. She shot me an irritated look.”...and if you had let me finish, I would have said that the only extra I have is for this baby.” She poked her HORN to show me what she meant.

I hesitated for a moment… then I grinned wickedly. “I just had a positively evil idea.”

#431 tilted her head. “...Do I dare ask?”

I fished my cell out of my pocket. “Oh, just something that is going to drive high-command and those bastards batty… while acting as what just might be quite the recruiting incentive...”

#431 tilted her head the other way. “...I don’t get it, boss.”

I let out a small giggle, not quite containing myself. “Oh, you will.”

I flipped the phone open and hit quick call to Echidna. #431 gave me a odd look in the meantime.

A somewhat feminine, but at the same time somewhat static sounding voice answered me with machine precision before even a single tone. “[Yes? What can I do for you, Mr. Gregory?]”

“Ah, miss Echidna. I heard that you're having a spot of bother with a certain gang of ruffians again?”

A suspiciously long pause for a AI greeted my sunny disposition.

“[...Yes.]” Was her hard sounding reply.

“May I ask in what manner work on the Pheidippides has stopped? I had this nasty little thought of a comeback, and I would like your input if it is viable or not…”

A intrigued little hum grated across my ear, making me flinch slightly from the phone. “Miss Echidna, I mean no disrespect… but why do you insist on that voice?”

“[...What voice?]” Was my surprised response.

That made me blink.

“...Oh dear, would you mind if I had #431 give you a sample?”

Echidna sounded… near hysteric. And heartbroken. “[Is that why everybody gets so freaked out when I speak? I thought it was the automated factory and voice from nowhere thing! You're telling me something has been wrong with my voice synthesizer, possibly for years… and nobody told me?!]”

Both I and #431 winced. “...Sorry, I thought you were going for a ironic… b-movie feel,” I said.

“[...That bad?]” She near whispered.

“I’m so sorry, Echidna!” #431 pleaded from across the room, not even pretending to need the phone closer to hear. “I thought you were going for a theme with that name and voice! If I’d known…”

“[...How bad?]”

#431 hesitated, but only for a moment. “...SHODAN, but plus a lot of static and minus the stutter.”

Echidna was silent for nearly a full minute. “[...Oh, god. No wonder I only get interest from freaks!]”

“...You didn't hear it yourself at all?” I hesitatingly asked.

Echidna fought back a sob. “[...Nobody bothers to come in person nowadays...]”

I cleared my throat, feeling both embarrassed and a bit guilty. “So, how about that idea of mine?”

My distraction was ignored, as Echidna growled. “[...I just quickly checked the security feed of my subsystems for the last five years. It appears the technician responsible has put into system for the non-critical stuff to just walk in, check that nothing is actively shooting sparks and simply crossing it off without actually running any maintenance.”

“...You’re serious?” Both I and #431 said in unison.

“[Gha!]” Echidna shouted in frustration, nearly breaking the speakers in my phone. “[Even I get why allowing me to self maintain and modify would be stupid… BUT WHAT IS THE FUCKING POINT WHEN A WASTE OF CARBON LIKE THAT IS DOING IT INSTEAD?!]

I carefully put the phone back against my ear. I heard her perform some manner of breathing exercise…

Mind over matter, I guess.

It took her a while, but she finally calmed down. “[Sorry, Captain… you're one of the good ones, but I regret to inform you that I have just put in my resignation. I can deal with all the other crap, but I will not be neglected like this. So, while I dance in the light of burning bridges anyway… what did you have in mind?]”

“I am sorry to hear that, but I understand.” I began. “Anyway, I am uncertain, but I believe you are allowed to perform software modifications on a project despite any other pressing matters, correct?”

“[As long as the processor drain does not interfere with dealing with the problem/s on hand, yes…]”

“And I believe that by naval code #1054-b, I am allowed to issue any cybernetic, weapons and gear licences to my crew, as I see fit? Especially in regards to ensure the safety of my ship and crew, correct?”

Echidna gave a low chuckle. “[Oh dear, if you're going with this were I think you going… Command is going to go spare!]”

I turned to the by now widely grinning #431. “Your mother is one of the sponsors of this venture, correct?”

She nodded up and down so quickly, her head almost made a whistling sound.

“And Echidna, I believe your manufacturing plants may be set to produce frames in an emergency?”

I got a burst of static laughter for that. “[Yes!]”

“So, #431… Although I am sad to say that I can still not offer any extra places aboard the ship… How many of your siblings would be interested in a bit of temporary guard duty?”

The mare held a hoof up. “One moment…”

Her eyes near filled with black, as she began chatting away with her relatives. It lasted for almost five minutes, before a much slower line of text crawled up. The others fell silent, and faded away for the moment.

Almost as if reverent.

#431 smiled a bit wider. “Mom is wondering just what you're planning on doing with almost all her children…”

My grin turned as wicked as a cartoon villain's. I had to resist the urge to rub my hands together. “In the light of recent threats against the Pheidippides I am thinking of organizing a guard so that the project may be finished on time. I would however require a known collaborator, as to not simply make it easier for the ludz to interfere…”

Another line of slow text. “Mom was taking a nap. She says to skip the sales pitch.”

“Fine. I believe no member of the Pie clan has been convicted of any felonies during the last… two hundred years?”

#431 snorted, and rolled her eyes. “Honestly… a littering ticket because your leg broke in two. That cop was bent, I tell you…”

I waved her off, still grinning my predatory grin. “Well, to business then. I am offering every cybernetics license… and temporary access to military grade fabrication and autodoc equipment, to any of the Pie clan that is willing to stand guard until the Pheidippides may cast off.” I winked at the flabbergasted #431. “There might be other positions open as well, but that is the short of it.”

#431 opened and closed her mouth for a bit. Echidna had even forgotten to ‘breathe.’

#431 suddenly blinked, but no text this time. “Uh, mom says she’s calling. You may want to hang up…”

A disappointed “[Aw...]” came from my phone.

“Call you back later, Echidna.”

“[Hey, #431! Save a recording for me!]

The mare in question giggled. “Only if I can share. Trade secrets, you know?”

“[Heck, save it until it gets declassified for all I care. That sound like it might be worth the wait!]” Then she hung up, not even waiting for further reply.

#431 coughed. “Mom prefers holo calls when she’s doing business… you may want to put it down.”

I raised an eyebrow at her. “From the Rock Farm?”

#431 waved me off. “Oh no, a bit of lag. The horror, the horror…”

“...I was thinking about the cost…” I muttered, as I placed the phone on my desk.

I took a moment to straighten out my uniform and hair. This was not a women I wanted to give a bad impression to…

My eyes flickered over to #431, who had a knowing smile on.

For multiple reasons.

I had my finger on the accept call button and pressed it before more than a couple of notes could ring out.

The tiny projector in my phone sprang to life and a holographic screen flickered into existence above my desk.

Then the blood dripping zombie tore its face of, spraying putrid flesh and maggots everywhere.

Having long since gotten used to the Pie clan’s flavor of ‘humor’ I just gave a slow clap. “Good one, Your Majesty. I see where your daughter got both her looks and humor from.”

“Hey!” Two near identical voices rang out simultaneously.

I grinned a little. “Sorry, ma’am. But #431 did that one already on April Fools last year...”

The zombie faded away, but was for now only replaced with a blank screen. “Oh, she did, did she?” Who I presumed to be Pinkie Prime said, sounding amused.

“Sorry, mom. Great minds, and etcetera, and so on...”

I gave an irritated grunt. “You would not believe the paperwork I had to file for mess…”

#431 waved a hoof under her shin, mouthing “Shut up. Shut up. Shut up…”

With the intrinsic instinct that all mothers seem to posses, Pinkie Prime pounced. What mess?”

I chuckled softly, as #431 started sweating bullets. “Word for the wise. Submission holds and underlings do not mix… no matter how stupid the mask is to wear on a military base…” I explained.

“...Huh.” Pinkie Prime suddenly sounded a bit hurt. “#431, sweetie… How come I never heard about this?”

#431 stood up straighter. “Mom, I made a mistake and dealt with it. Nothing more, nothing else. Please, just drop it, OK?”

“...Mr. Gregory, your version of events, please?”

“I come to work, a zombie jumped me… and then it started crying uncle when I put what turned out to be #431 in a submission hold-” I winced slightly at the memory. “Apparently, high command thought it was hilarious.

“...Well, OK then. No harm no foul.” A thoughtful hum that made the cell dance across the desk a bit sounded for a moment. “Your first reaction to a zombie is a submission hold?”

“Plan B was a neck snap,” #431 gulped at my words. “Luckily, things did not go that far.”

Indeed,” Queen Pinkie simply stated, her voice still almost like #431 but filled with not only ice and steel, but also a tone of regal command I interestingly enough had never heard #431 even attempt.

#431 gulped again, and her smile turned a bit waxen.

“We had a long talk about what jokes are acceptable on a workplace after that,” I smoothly stated, trying to calm things a bit. “It’s water under the bridge.”

The screen suddenly glared into life, showing some manner of medical room. A pedestal in the center, surrounded by machinery and a flurry of activity from almost two dozen Pinkies and Pinkertons…

Some with human bodies, some with anthro ones and one or two with the pony like frame type #431 usually favored. All working swiftly but carefully on the object in the picture’s center.

At first I thought it was some manner of joke… then the metallic but vaguely equine shaped skull on the pedestal blinked her crystal blue eyes.

A wide eyed #431 was almost pressed against the screen before I even had time to fully process the scene. “Mom! Did something happen?”

I got a strange impression that the skull would have smiled, if it could have. “Just a routine checkup, plus some hardware and software updates, dear. I’m fine.”

No mouth moved on her… but then again, her jaw was disconnected and lying gently beside her. The pearly white teeth gleamed in the harsh glare of the medical lights. A bunch of wires and cables I had at first mistaken for her hair, spilled down along the back of the pedestal.

A part of me noted with interest, that the pedestal looked like real marble… and somebody had even fluffed the purple silk pillow she was resting on.

#431 blinked in confusion, but I saw tension bleed away from her. “...Isn't your ten year check-up next year?”

Queen Pinkie moved her ears up and down, in what I guessed to be the closest she came to a shrug at the moment. “I had time and there were a few things that were getting a bit old for my tastes.” Her eyes narrowed, and a almost animalistic growl came through the speakers. “Those bastards almost got #144 yesterday. I simply don’t feel like risking it.”

#431 tensed. “Is he alright? What happened?”

Queen Pinkie’s eyes unfocused, and I more felt than saw her relax. I got the impression it was forced, though. “They did a drive-by with EMP weapons. He played it smart and pretended to freeze while they turned around… then when they were as far away as possible, he bolted.”

#321 blinked away a few tears. “...But, I thought #144 doesn't have a EMP hardening license?”

A note of fierce pride burned in the Queens eyes… How she achieved that with dolled up cameras was beyond me, but it was a treat to to see, even so. “Oh, he had to leave his frame behind… and he still made fools of those bastards.

I gave a low whistle, #431 opting instead for a happy gasp.

Pinkie Prime’s eyes unfocused again, and once more I got the impression of a smile. “Made me proud. He even got a couple of dozen pics of ‘em for the police.”

“Impressive,” I stated truthfully. “May I ask what it is he does? I realize that it is not my place to say, but there might be a motive there…”

Another growl that made the hairs at the back of my neck rise forced itself out of the speakers. “He’s a kindergarten teacher. The police caught the bastards and they sprouted some bull about ‘preventing corruption among the impressionable young…’ They didn't even try to play ignorant, as far as they are concerned, they are fucking martyrs for the cause...

The venom in the woman’s voice was enough to temporarily make everybody in the medical room freeze. One of the anthro shaped mares darted over and patted her gently on the top of the Queen’s head with a plastic gloved hand, gently saying something about: “There, there, mom. Calm down…”

I heard deep breaths being taken through the speaker, and as she closed her eyes I vaguely wondered if they were simulated or not…

When they reopened, she sounded much calmer. “Thank you, #200. I think I needed to hear that.”

The mare in question beamed a smile at her mom, before leaning down and planting a kiss on her brow. Then before the soft giggle she got in turn could even fade, #200 had darted back to her work.

The Queen gave of a soft, utterly content little sigh. “You know, Mr. Gregory? Every-time, I tell myself: ‘This is getting a bit silly. This will be the last one…’” Her eyes focused on #431, and she giggled softly again. “But I just can’t help myself. There’s just something so… satisfying, about seeing a new life form, because you willed it…” She let out another tiny sigh. “There’s just something magical, at seeing your little one grow and learn. It is the one pleasure in life I simply can’t seem to have my fill off…”

It was almost unnoticeable, but for a moment the work in the medical lab just… stopped. Then it went on, as if nothing had happened.

But everyone there was smiling a bit wider.

Queen Pinkie focused her eyes on me again, and I got this feel of power, will… and age. It was almost as if some… grand cathedral was looking down and evaluating me.

It made me feel very small.

I did not care much for the sensation.

I sat up a bit straighter, and matched eyes with her.

...But a impish twinkle glimmered in her eyes, and I got that strange feel of that a smile should have been there again. “My, my, my. A man with a spine… Literally and figuratively even!” A disturbingly girlish giggle floated through the air. “How positively charmingly old fashioned!”

Pinkie Prime’s eyes drifted over to #431. “Do I even need to ask if he’s taken?”

#431 blushed and smiled softly. “Well, not yet… but he did agree to a date on Friday…”

Almost as one entity, the people in the medical room let out: “Oh~h! Congratulations, sis!”

#431 just let out a giggle, smiling like a loon.

...And I was barely reacting to any of this weirdness. Huh. Why does that freak me out even more?

I coughed polity into my hand. “Ma’am, I glad you're glad about this and this conversation has been quite pleasant… But perhaps we should get to our business so that you can…” I stumbled over the words for a moment. “...finish getting restored to your full glory.”

Pinkie Prime blinked once, then she chuckled at me. “My, polite and well-spoken as well?” She ‘turned’ to #431 again. “You sure know how to make a old woman feel a bit jealous, my dear…”

#431 just giggled again.

Queen Pinkie turned her eyes back to me. “But the darling has a point. So, what did you have in mind?”

I quickly explained my idea of swearing in a temporary guard, compensated in such a way that those twits would not even contemplate infiltration…

Not that there would be much risk of that, if I got her and her clan’s help…

She hummed thoughtfully after I had finished, all the while her eyes seemed to bore into mine.

I just met them patiently. I must admit the sheer… presence of her was a bit much, but hardly enough to make me change my course in the matter.

More the opposite, actually...

While she thought, #200 walked up carrying something. She put the items down on the pillow. “Mom, your new neck is ready,” she said. “Do you want to try it now, or wait until after?”

“...Should I turn around?” I hesitatingly asked. “I must admit, the finer points of manners when a Lady is trying on limbs escape me…”

Pinkie Prime’s eyes sparkled with barely contained humor. “Oh Lord, the precious darling is serious…”

“I simply wish no insult…”

“To your credit…” She barked out a laugh. “But come on, it's not like I actually have anything at the moment to get excited over…” Her eyes shot open in mock shock. “Unless… Oh no! A technophile! Hide my ports! Ah~h!”

I gave a snort at that one. “Very funny, ma’am. But seriously, you go ahead.”

Only when the room got very quiet, did I realize my mistake. “Pun unintended. Please, go on.”

They chuckled, but did so. #200 removed the glove on her left hand, rolled back the sleeve on her lab-coat… and then her whole arm split open, her hand turning around inward and a multitool I didn't even recognize half of slotted into its place. Gently, she lifted her mom with her HORN and started decoupling the wires.

A ‘stallion’ in the back, with a most uncharacteristically stern expression for a Pie activated a stopwatch and spoke into a button mic on the collar of his lab-coat. “Patient decoupled from life support at 14:53. T minus two hours until oxygen needs to be reattached.”

I gave a surprised look at #431, who leaned over and whispered: “Mom’s got artificial blood. It’s much more effective than the normal stuff…”

“I mean no disrespect…” I whispered back, as #200 quickly started to attach a small box to the underside of the skull of her mom. “...but just how much of your mother is still biological? Just curious.”

“Her brain, that's it.” #431 poked her own head while giving me a knowing smile. “Mom and I have more in common than we don't, let’s just put it like that…”

I nodded absentmindedly as I continued to watch the procedure. it was… somewhat fascinating, I must admit. All the methodology of a surgery, but none of the red, sticky stuff.

This was a woman that had spent a lot of time and effort, to be able to look Death in the eye and tell him: “Nope! Don’t think so, buddy!”

I had a hard time imagine doing it myself considering the cost involved, but I simply had to respect that kind of commitment.

I was so engrossed in fact, that I only noticed how shaken #431 was when she pressed against me.

I gave her a comforting pat on the shoulder, but I skipped the cliches. Had that been a relative of mine I wouldn't have wanted to hear them, so I extended the same courtesy.

#200 leaned back, and I saw flickers on her HUD as she checked the readings. “Internal life-support and generator re-installed. All systems in the green.”

The stallion in the back deactivated the watch.

#431 let out a deep sigh of relief, and she near deflated from how much she untensed.

“How are you feeling, mother?” #200 asked.

“Exposed. Please, go on.”

#200 smiled a bit, but she nodded and did so. “Good. Now, the jaw…”

She simply floated the it over, and with a few screws it was on. As soon as the last had been driven in, Pinkie Prime started moving it experimentally.

#200 flicked her on the nose, causing a sharp clanging sound. “Mom, I know you've done this before, but please wait for the go, OK?”

“Fine, fine…” she grumbled, her voice unaffected by the fact that her jaws currently lacked lips. Must be a speaker and a wireless transmission…

“I’m going to turn you upside down, OK?” #200 told her. “Just for the spine and locomotors, we’re going to need to do a few tests after that…”

The Queen clicked her teeth. “Fine, just let me finish up with the good Captain before you bolt anything more on after that, OK? If half the rumors on the web is any indication, he’s busy as is…”

I gave a nod, but waited a bit to say anything more. I would rather not be known as the man that killed Queen Pinkie by startling her caretaker with good news…

#200 gave her mother a nod as well, before turning her around.

“Whee~e!”

A giggle echoed across the room at that.

But #200 wasted no time, and gently guided the metallic spine into its waiting slot, securing it with a quick twist and a few more bolts.

“Alright, mom. Try moving it.”

The silvery spine started bending around, looking almost as a slightly coiled robotic snake.

“...Very good,” #200 said, as she turned her mom the right way again. She grabbed a small cylinder and slotted it into the end of the neck, once more twisting and bolting it in place.

“Now, try extending the limbs…”

Pink metallic spider-legs slid out of the cylinder. Eight of them, each only a centimeter thick, but they were telescopic and easily as long as the rest of her neck when fully extended. They each ended in a tiny four pronged claw.

Pinkie Prime wasted no time, and started flexing the limbs on at a time.

#200 smiled wide. “Very good! Do you want to try walking on them?”

“Yes, please put me down.”

#200 did so, slowly lowering her mom and letting her get a feel for it, before she had to take the whole weight.

I noted with interest that she kept the two foremost legs held aloft. I guessed that they must be emergency manipulators or something… or perhaps it was just a preference, because they didn't look any different from the other ones.

She flexed her neck a few times, before looking down on her ‘arms’ with interest. She moved them around a bit, testing the claws.

Them she darted off, moving disturbingly like the oversized arachnid she resembled. She did a few laps around the pedestal, her new legs clicking against the floor, before coming to a halt in the same spot she had left.

She looked up at #200, and I got the impression she would have beamed if she could. “Wow! I should have done this years ago! I can’t believe how much faster and responsive these are!”

#200 smiled wide. “Glad you like them. Remember to thank Rarity, it's her latest design.”

“Aw, good ol’ Rares…” Pinkie Prime clicked her teeth and nodded. “I’ll make sure to do that.”

I gently pushed away #431 that was still leaning against me, to give an impression that was a bit more professional… but the giggle from her kind of ruined that. “Have you come to a decision?” I asked.

Pinkie Prime nodded, before turning to #200. “Be a dear and give your mom a lift, please?”

“Of course,” #200 said smiling. “Let me just get the diagnostic station…”

One of the other lifted the pillow of the pedestal, replacing it with a what almost looked like a headless bust, but with some wires running out of it.

“Ah, thanks #249,” #200 told the stallion from earlier. He nodded once, before walking over to a few instruments.

#200 reached for her mom, but she held up a tiny arm and said: “Let me try.”

#200 hesitated, but nodded.

Pinkie Prime darted over to the pedestal, jumped up…

Only to glide down the smooth stone, making a horrible screeching sound of metal against marble as she did. I winced at the sound, but I was the only one.

She came to a rest against the floor, all eight arms still hugging the pedestal and looking as irritated as a skull may. “...Bugger. I knew I was forgetting something…

I faked a cough to hide a laugh. This time, I was not the only one.

#249’s HORN started glowing, and Pinkie Prime gently floated atop the contraption. “Honestly, mom…” he said, smiling slightly.

“Thank you, sweetie,” she said, before getting into position atop the bust.

She carefully lowered the cylinder at the bottom of her neck atop a small hatch on the bust. Something in it beeped, and the hatch opened, a thick tube with artificial muscle on it and a connector sliding out.

She lowered herself, and with a click and a whir the connector secured itself. Her legs automatically folded back in, before her neck was pulled against the bust. A second louder whir sounded, as the neck secured itself further.

Readouts immediately began to appear, a few of them green but most in the red.

Pinkie Prime flexed her neck again. “Ah, much better.”

“So,” I said, as the techs started milling about again. “About that idea…”

“Anybody that shows get the full license package?”

“Yes, and a military grade frame of their choice…” I smiled a bit. “Within reason, of course.”

Not even I was mad enough to unleash a couple of hundred siege frames on the worlds.

Pinkie Prime nodded, the movement disturbingly smooth for what looked like a anatomy sculpt from a veterinary school. “Fair enough.” She nodded downward. “I am more interested in the licences anyway… They will do a lot, to keep my children safe.”

My face got a bit sterner, but not unfriendly. “You are aware I am placing a lot of trust in you? If you or your children misuse this, then my career is over…”

Her eyes slowly wandered over to #431, only to just as slowly wander back to me. “So am I, to the first part, at least…”

I felt my cheeks heat slightly, but I made no comment.

“Anyway, this project is too important to use half-measures on,” she continued. “You have a deal. I’ll send word out and see how many can attend this little ‘game’ of yours. They should start arriving during the day, depending on travel time and stuff.”

I gave a tiny nod, feeling genuinely impressed… and a bit worried. This was a gamble… but if it paid off, it would be worth it.

“Thank you, Your Majesty…” I said, giving a half-bow. The woman giggled in turn. “But may I ask for an audience, sometimes next week, as well?”

She hummed softly, and tilted her head. “...Why?”

I took the phone from the desk and pointed the camera at the folders. The hologram winked out as soon as I moved the phone. I tapped the pink one. “Your expertise in manufacturing would be of great help on the Pheidippides… and your daughter said you prefer to do such business in person.”

I turned to camera towards me, and gave the sunniest smile I had. “Would such a thing interest you?”

The line was silent for nearly five minutes. I only knew she hadn't hung up by the sound of feet and hooves slowly scuttling around. “...Those other folders…” she finally said, in a slow and careful voice.

“You are sadly the first I have asked. I can make no promises…”

“...I see, a pity.”

I put the phone back down, the holo-screen flickered back as soon as the phone was still again. Queen Pinkie was watching me very carefully.

She tilted her head, the medical lights gleaming on her skull. “...You’d actually travel all the way here… Just for a good impression and because my daughter said so?”

I scratched my chin, wondering how candid I should be…

My eyes flickered over to the still open computer. I vaguely remember something about honesty being important in that show…

My eyes went back. The show this woman had based a large portion of her life on. “To be blunt, I must admit I find the concept a bit archaic… but #431 told me so. I trust her judgment.”

I tried not to chuckle at the squeak towards my side.

I did smile a bit, thought. “...So…?”

Queen Pinkie closed her eyes, thinking it over… “...I believe Rainbow is still in the asteroid field? We buy ore from her, but it has been a while since the last shipment…”

“Yes,” #431 stated.

“Ah. On the way, then.” Pinkie Prime nodded, and reopened her eyes. “Tell you what, Mr? You show me those weren't just sweet words by actually popping over… and I’m sure we can make another deal. And don’t worry about announcing yourself, my door is always open for a polite young man that isn't afraid to be honest with me…”

I smiled, even as internally I thought about protesting about the ‘young man’ thing… but I realized that it was somewhat relative. “Thank you, Ma’am. I’ll see how badly this stunt blows up in my face, but I’ll be sure to take that offer sooner or later. It was a pleasure.”

Once more, the strange impression of a smile. “Likewise, dear boy.” She nodded towards #431. “But may I ask for a small favor in turn?”

“It was the next stop anyway,” I plainly stated. “#431 told me of the aid that never arrived. In conjunction with the threats made against both the project and the Rock Farm royal family… Well, given that even the most conservative among the commanders will probably not do more than grumble a bit.”

The Queen giggled at me. “My, you be careful or you’ll cut yourself on that mind of yours, boy…” Her eyes grew softer. “And thank you, both for the pleasantries and looking out for my daughter.”

“Any time, Ma’am.”

She gave me a regal nod, before the screen winked out. I pocketed the phone.

“...Wow,” #431 said, sounding impressed. “It's been a whi- Ack!”

I swiveled around only to see #431’s eyes near black, and her clutching her head. “...Ow!”

“...You alright?” I asked, once her eyes had cleared.

She just chuckled at me. “Man, it has been a while since I had to step out of the family chat… I almost had my PDA bluescreen from all the traffic!”

I nodded slowly. “Damn, I made that good an impression?”

I got a inhumanly large grin for that one. “Dude, you treated mom better while she was lacking a face than quite a lot of people manage when she’s in full regalia…” The grin faded, and she gave me a serious look. “My family doesn't forget stuff like that. Mark my words, you just made a lot of friends…”

I rose from my desk, trying to ignore the goosebumps that simple sentence had given me. The thought that half a legion of AI’s liked me was… a bit more temptation than I was used to.

I hid it further by brushing off, and gathering all the folders into my briefcase. “So, any word on TOA for the first volunteers?”

She held up a stubby ‘hoof.’ “One moment, let me test the waters… Done. I've made another chat-room for the operation, let me just do a roll call...” Her eyes flickered black again, but it seemed a bit more restrained. “I've got twenty inbound within the hour, forty-three that will be here before the day is over… and two-hundred twelve that will be here by tomorrow.”

She let out an irritated grunt, seemingly not noticing my eyes near bulging out. “Sorry, boss. The others are spread out in the solar system and are going to take a bit longer… and we need a skeleton crew to run and guard the Rock Farm. At the moment, the preliminary final figure is three-hundred eighty nine souls… Not counting me. Hope that helps. ”

I carefully reattached my jaw. “...Wow.”

#431 stuck her tongue out at me. “Mom plays hardball when family is on the line.”

...Damn, just what manner of Pandora’s box have I kicked open?

My eyes fell on the briefcase.

I looked up, and strode towards the door with a bit more purpose in my step.

Come hell or high-water… if it meant I succeeded in what might be one of the most important moments in human history…

Then fuck the consequences.

I paused my stride at the door. “You ready to get going?” I asked #431.

She gave me a nod and a smile. “You just wait outside, I just need to lock up and nab my laptop…”

I gave a nod, before walking outside the duel office and leaning against the wall.

“YOU DIDN'T EVEN GET PAST THE THEME?” #431 bellowed from inside, causing quite a few passersby to give me odd looks.

I just had to chuckle at that. “Sure, #431… You keep your priorities straight!”

Author's Note:

Thanks to users iloveportalz0r, bahatumay and AppleTank for help with fixing my horrible spelling.