• Published 27th Dec 2013
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Out and About in the Equestrian Kingdom - Midnightshadow

Welcome to the future. Enjoy your neocortical upgrades, and why don't you try out our ponytrait system? A new you is waiting for you to take to your hooves!

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Chapter 2

Out & About in the Equestrian Kingdom

by Midnight Shadow

Chapter 2

The analog grandfather clock ticked away the seconds in the background; its strained mechanism was loud and piercing in the unnatural hush. Compressed squirts of realtime made the sound and motion uneven as the sheriff's wetware ran through self-defense checklists, optimum firing patterns and backup simulations. Such trivial data as what was going on in the real world could wait - his actual brain was so slow it would barely matter if things went south.

"When was your last backup?" he asked the woman. Sheriff Malcolm Rogers' voice was level and emotionless. His gun was pointed at the man behind the woman that his HUD had identified as 'Teresa', but there was no chance it would be that easy. The only effective shot had the side-effect of passing through the victim.

Very little extraneous dynamic information was available on-tap, as blackout protocol was in effect. It had been from the moment this altercation had started. All data not piped in on hardline was inaccessible, and hardlines weren't much use when out and about. The lack of situation telemetry and datapresence was almost painful for Rogers. It was as if he'd suddenly gone blind in one eye and deaf in one ear. Though it would not dampen his aim, it made the procedure that was to follow no less difficult.

"T-today, th-this morning," Teresa replied, voice weak and hesitant. Her eyes were wild and her breathing was fast and shallow. Rogers' target analysis put her pulse at dangerously fast, and a social interaction module politely informed him that mental trauma was almost certain no matter what. It was already stacking up a list of known counseling providers for datasquirt once the altercation was over.

The woman's gaze was fixated on the lawman in front of her, but her attention was riveted to the man who had one arm around her neck whilst the other held a neuralrod to her temple. He hadn't said a word the entire time and had barely moved except to restrain his captive. He wasn't a large man, but his grip was like a vice. An average Joe, the man was apparently in his forties; his hair was thinning and he had a paunch. Nothing said 'rapist' or 'abductor', and without any monitoring footage or witness video, any potential motives were just pie in the sky at this point.

Not good. Not good at all.

Rogers swallowed heavily. This could not go on any longer, security protocol demanded it – brainhacked personalities had rights, and with blackout protocol in place his window of opportunity to bring things to a successful – albeit regrettably final – end was closing.

"Shut your eyes," he said gently, almost too quietly for the woman to hear. She understood enough from his expression however, and stiffened. He took aim, took a single breath and let it out, and squeezed the trigger.

The shot was, of course, perfect. It entered directly through the left side of her frontal lobe and exited the back of her head through the occipital lobe in a spray of grey matter and blood. The hypervelocity bullet barely slowed down as it impacted her would-be kidnapper in the neck and tore out his spinal column. Both went down twitching.


Sheriff Rogers stood guard as the blackout was lifted and the postmortem support techs rolled in. It was likely they could recover some of the intervening memories of Teresa - the female victim - but it was unlikely they'd be directly integrated post bodyloss. Trauma was rarely useful, even for the personality types that valued memory integrity.

Steven - as the male perp was apparently called - was going to have a much less fun time. It wasn't that he'd be mistreated, but now that comms were back up, his trial had been swift and the judgement perfunct by a trio of gestalt Justice AI's. Guilt had been observed by multiple verified sources, and the man would now be further interviewed by a system designed to extract as much information about the crime as possible in order to be completely fair and thorough in sentencing. This meant having his personality matrix replay the relevant portion of his life until the system was satisfied. It was effective verification as well as punishment.

Rogers squatted down over the body of the woman, shaking his head. The white sheet did little to hide the fact that her head had been neatly removed by a group of attendant spider-like medical robots slaved to the cleanup crew AI gestalt. He knew it was necessary, and had been performed with the utmost care and attention, but it still sickened him, deep down inside where the animal part lived, where the miracles of the modern age hadn't quite penetrated.

Rogers glanced up as his avvy halted from taking depositions and statements to alert the paramedics of a possible situation. For the most part, such fieldwork was simple – take telemetry and sensedumps from those with enough bandwidth to spare and sync it to a secure cloud, neat and easy – but there were always a few unwilling to part with pieces of their eigenstates directly. Such observers would be dutifully dealt with in secure quarters in accordance with the needs of the state and their personal requirements.

There was, of course, bound to be something to make the job more difficult than it needed to be. This time it was a collapsed pony, recently enough decanted that the stallion was mostly merely suffering from malnutrition and a sodium imbalance. He was completely offline, though, so he warranted immediate medical care. The citymind sensors informed him that the brown stallion was called 'Mixed Oats'. Inquiries as to his human name – which would have been infinitely more useful, given the circumstances – went unanswered. Celestia was meddling again, and it annoyed him. Not least because there could be something seriously wrong and he wouldn't know thanks to there being no medical records earlier than a half hour ago or so. Med-sensors from the paramedics and bodyloss techs stated everything was fine with the stallion, but Rogers wasn't so sure.

Call it a hunch.

“Hook me up to the recovery room, Kojak. Pull in the victim, and add the pony. I want to question him when he comes round.”

Rogers eyed the pony suspiciously as the medtechs hooked up a bio-infuser and covered him with a nanofoil blanket. One of them even fetched a pillow to put under the poor thing's head, which was plumped and maneuvered into place once the pony's breathing had been double-checked.

Rogers scratched at his chin as he locked his gun and set a subroutine to handle the initial flurry of paperwork. He wasn't really welcome here any more, he could tell, so it was time to make tracks whilst the detectives got to work. Sheriffs just got in the way. Setting his avvy, Kojak, to keep watch via his real body, Rogers' digital self stood up out of his crouching form and walked through a glowing, light-filled doorway which had been placed somewhat inconveniently in the middle of the crime scene. He'd vacate physically as soon as possible, but until then he had a job to do.

Inside, the recovery room was relatively featureless. The walls were a creamy beige, and glowed with their own soft yet penetrating light. A somewhat run-down - in a charmingly old-time style - wooden window hung in space. Through it could be seen blue skies and tranquil oceans of grass. A chandelier hung from an invisible ceiling. Beneath it, Teresa sat sipping cocoa. She was wrapped up in a warm blanket and sat deep in a comfortable, worn green velvet-covered chair.

“You doing okay?” Rogers asked, pulling up a stool next to her. He stretched his legs and sat slowly down, pulling off his shoes to remove a stone in a maneuver that he was informed would be seen as "comforting".

“Other than being dead, I g-guess.” The woman smiled. It was a good sign, even though her expression was somewhere between dazed, confused and mortified.

“Don't worry, we'll deal with your bodyloss. Happens to everyone sooner or later. How many times has it been for you?”


“First time was your first run-through, huh?” Rogers checked the woman's file. She was listed as being around ninety five in real terms, and had discorporated from natural causes a decade ago. A decade of life-extension so far then. Good. That meant she'd be used to the idea of outgrowing your own skin and picking up the pieces to start again. He never liked to cause bodyloss, it was always so... rude, and for somebody intellectually ready but emotionally unprepared, their first bodyloss should be as calm and dignified an affair as possible. Gunshots and decapitation need not apply. Prior to his arrival in the recovery room sensorum, she'd had a half hour or so of enhanced time to get the debrief on what had occurred, complete with hi-def re-enactment of her last few moments. It would probably be a few months subjective time before she was pronounced mentally stable enough to resurrect, if she did after such an occurrence, but the citymind had her in hand. She'd be okay, so whilst he'd have some lingering guilt to deal with, his conscience was clear.

Rogers pared off an eigenghost to continue with the debrief from the woman so his primary neocortex could concentrate on the equine. It would be a bit confusing to reintegrate the three sets of memories from the incident later, but nothing he hadn't done before, and it was something that his gut told him needed to be done: the pony was an outlier. They didn't normally faint, so why had this one? He didn't buy the currently accepted hypothesis of malnutrition.

He approached the sleeping equine cautiously. A glossy, jet-black crow was perched on its neck, and was giving him a very beady glare.

“Don't give me that look, he'll be fine,” Rogers stated.

The crow – apparently a sentient GPS daimon – cawed its disapproval, grumbling as it shifted about, unwilling to budge.

"Look, I just want a talk with him. I know everything's coming up within parameters, but that doesn't mean he doesn't need a little bit of TLC, huh? I know how these ponies are about friendship." The pony's safeguards started coming down, which was good. A consensual memespace opened, and finally Rogers was able to fully interface. Slowly, keeping an eye on the crow, Rogers put a hand on the pony's neck. He patted gently. "You okay in there?" he asked. This being the recovery room, the pony wouldn't even be here unless his neocortex was functioning, so what was--?

Rogers lifted his hand as the pony beneath him changed colour from a muddy brown to a soft green and gold, growing wings into the bargain. The pony's avvy. Of course.

“Hey there pretty, want to tell me your name?” Rogers asked the new mare. Avvys often liked it when you were more personal with them, this one seemed to follow the trend.

“Julep,” she replied hesitantly. “Mint Julep.” She blushed slightly, and shied away from his outstretched hand, but didn't otherwise move.

“Well Miss Julep, your progenitor is a bit under the weather. I'm here to sit with you until we're sure everything's okay and you want to leave. Can we have a little chat?”

The pegasus look unconvinced about Rogers' intentions as she got to her hooves, especially when the crow informed her that it didn't like the way he smelled. "I want to go home. I'm hungry and I want to go home."

Petulance from the avvy. Hmm. Something had scared the pony, at least on some level. Probably just the whole thing. It didn't help that he'd been the one to do it.

"Well ordinarily you'd be in luck, seeing as we're at a restaurant, but it's currently not open for business. I do, however, know somewhere close. Think you can get yourself there?"

For an answer, the avvy nodded then withdrew from the sensorum, leaving the crow hopping about forlornly. Rogers flicked the location of the replacement eatery he had in mind to the daimon. "Wanna make yourself busy?"

With an affirmative "Caw!" the semi-sentient program fluttered off to chart the way.

Rogers too withdrew from the sensorum and waited. A few moments later, Mixed Oats' ears twitched, then his eyes opened. Standing up carefully, the pony wriggled her hips until she was steady.

“Ooh this will be so much fun. It's all different here on Earth!” the pegasus exclaimed. Rogers could see where Oats ended and Julep began, but it was still disconcerting. It always was for a sheriff. His personality profiler registered the differences, and they stood out like a sore thumb when compared with even the fragmentary information from when Oats' main personality had been in control. This mare was left hoofed, she breathed differently, walked differently, held herself differently and in all the ways that mattered, was completely different. She just happened to share the body of a male earth pony.

They both had a cute butt, though.

"Well, Julep, if you're feeling up to it and don't mind me tagging along, how about we go somewhere more comfortable for that chat, okay?"

The mare chewed her bottom lip for a moment, then slowly nodded. Her stomach growled for emphasis, and she blushed.

"I'll take that as a yes."


As Julep trotted through the bustling city next to Sheriff Rogers, she found herself lost in both reverie and the sights and sounds of a whole new world that she'd not really gotten to experience before. Seemingly all her life, she'd just wanted… this. To be here, in the Ordinality proper, as herself.

She still remembered her first thoughts, her first, true, real thoughts. Things were a little bit hazy before that point, and she didn't really have contiguous memory recall for a while after her inception either, but there had been that single crystalline moment when a mere personality pattern had blossomed into a person, and afterwards… Well, Mint Julep had started off many years ago in subjective time as a little piece of the human known as Brendan Fremantle; moulded and shaped until she was what he wanted her to be, once he'd started inferring and expressing as Julep, the mare had started to come alive.

She had been his first avatar in Equestria, and had replaced earlier, more simplistic and childish avvys and toons outside of the game. Females were prettier, he'd always said, and the game didn't differentiate when questing. Mares had it easier in a world designed for little girls anyhow; at least, that's what he told himself. The truth was likely more complex. Whatever the source, she was something he wished he could be, but couldn't even admit to himself. Or maybe he was what he wished he was, when he was Julep… except Mint Julep was herself all the time. It was a bit confusing, even for an avvy. Being able to ponder the question only made it moreso.

Anyway: today, she could properly experience Earth, in a body that made sense to her. Sure, she lost two appendages – and gained one confusing one extra – but four hooves, a tail, ears that moved… so much more familiar, and so much easier than standing on your hind legs would have been! Mixed Oats – née Brendan – was elsewhere, so clambering gingerly to her hooves, she resolved to get their body fed and avoid passing out a second time. Her real-world interactions thus far had been strictly during downtime, and with the thickest of senseshrouds. This, with nothing between her fur and the outside world, was a real breath of fresh air. It was liberating, it made her feel like she could fly in a way that actual flight didn't.

"You okay, girl?" asked Sheriff Rogers, turning his head without breaking stride, and tentatively reaching out a hand to pat her on the withers. Her heart fluttered a bit – stallions in uniform were just one of those things, they had the same effect on her as a pretty girl did on Brendan. And Rogers' was all disheveled and sweaty. She shook her head to clear it – wearing a physical body was either difficult, or she wasn't quite well.

"I think so, s-sir," she replied, blushing as she looked up into his big, friendly brown eyes.

"Good. I'm worried about you and Oats here. You shouldn't've fainted." Rogers patted her neck again awkwardly, and couldn't help but run his fingers through the pony's mane. It was an almost instinctual thing as he sought to reassure both himself and Julep.

She cocked her head momentarily as Celestia's presence flowed into her mind. Everything was fine, the princess communicated, she was just giving Mixed Oats more time to adjust, and wanted Julep in charge of his body for a while. The pegasus avvy relayed that she was happy to oblige, and Celestia vanished from whence she came, with a ghostly kiss to the poll and a smiling order to 'have fun'.

Julep told as much to Rogers – well, most of it – and he took a deep, relieved breath.

"I'm glad to hear it. In this case, I think it's time we moved on. Mortimer's off to check on my choice of cafe—" Rogers began as he eased himself up and straightened his hat.

"Mortimer?" Julep asked, looking around for another avvy to play with as she trotted obediently beside the sheriff. She didn't spot any, and looked back questioningly at him.

"The crow, I mean. It's…" Rogers took off his wide-brimmed hat and scratched at his head through his thinning brown hair. "Mortimer was a raven, but… eh, I, well… your gps daimon—"

"Mortimer works for me," she giggled. "I don't know what she'll think of it though."

"Well, she'll lead us to a new eatery. What do you fancy? I've got some bits, so we can splurge a little. I know how the fancier stuff requires a bit of an investment. Truth is, I don't really know how to use them. Comes with being an officer of the state." Rogers turned and raked his fingers through his hair before replacing his hat, sighing under his breath. "Same as being single." Rogers spat. "Listen to me, I sound hopeless. Enough chit-chat, let's get something to eat."

He turned again to face back the way he was still strolling, and came face to muzzle with a steaming, snorting pony-shaped demon. It – obviously a he from the stocky, muscular build – stood before him in full Royal Guard regalia, an armour built partly for show and mostly for use. And this one had seen a lot of use.

“Hold it right there, Sheriff," the newcomer said, glaring. "I received a priority one interrupt from my physical self that there was a major desync with Equestrian servers a few minutes ago, realtime. Subsystems report everything on Mixed Oats went down, and when I get here, what do I find but you hooking him up in some sorry excuse for a sensorum and intimidating my little sister. Back off before I—”

Rogers took a step back and pinched the bridge of his nose as pedestrian traffic weaved around them almost obliviously. Perambulatory and proximity software routines semi-located in the City mind adjusted for the sudden blockage in the street and nudged a few of the less self-attentive citizens gently onto new routes.

“Hang on, hang on. We've got off on the wrong, er, hoof here. Who are you?” He regarded the new pony avatar before him carefully. It was a male unicorn, about ten hands high, covered in a white pelt with a striking blue mane and tail. The creature's name had popped up once he'd fully synced with the sheriff's AR sphere, but it was always polite to ask. The avvy – probably actually an eevee from the way it held itself – had no physical component, but that didn't mean it was powerless to protect itself or the ponytrait citizen it was talking about.

“I'm Stalwart Hide. Conceived inside his head,” the unicorn motioned towards Julep, wearing Oats' body, “but born in Equestria. One day I'll wake up and remember being him, and let me tell you, if I find my head tampered with before I inherit it, we will have words, whatever ordinality it is you call home.”

Rogers swore he saw flames snorting from the unicorn's nostrils as the creature all but levelled his muzzle against Rogers' face. “I'm not tampering with anyth— wait, did you say crashed?” Rogers flipped up a deep medscan window and focused it on Mixed Oats. The pony's biological brain was still out for the count, deep in a dream mode, but everything otherwise seemed fine... diagnostics were running, his physical condition was listed as 'needs attention', but everything was otherwise within tolerable parameters, and Julep would have been sounding the alarm in any case.

“Aye, I see almost a second of datastream unaccounted for. That shouldn't happen.” The unicorn glared accusingly.

“Records say he did just get traits. Could've been that—” Rogers played with the biorecords, searching back through the datastreams in search of the elusive desync. Worryingly, nothing was showing up, and the blackout protocol had nothing to do with it.

“Unlikely, though nutrient levels are off. Hang on, running a self-check here... everything looks good my end.” Stalwart trotted over to Mint Julep and reassured her with a quick nuzzle.

“I'd double-check if I were you," muttered Rogers. "There's something strange going on here, if what you say is true.” Rogers glared darkly at the glowing instrumentation icons that floated before him. Everything looked fine, which meant somebody was wrong... and that could only mean Trouble – capital first letter and all.

“Umm, excuse me, but... are you talking about the sparkles?” Mint Julep suddenly interjected, looking slightly watery-eyed and more than a little fearful.

Stalwart turned to her, and looked her in the eyes, his own gaze serious. “Sparkles? Tell me.”

Rogers' initiated as much of a public bioscan of the mare as he could, recording from multiple angles, as he listened to her answer to Stalwart Hide.

“Well, I was looking at the pretty sparkles, and then... everything kind of went sideways. Then I was scared, and-and—” Mint Julep curled in upon herself.

“None of that. Show me.” Stalwart stomped a rear hoof.

Gesturing with a forehoof, Mint Julep cast her own window before them. The last few seconds of realtime before Oats had collapsed replayed itself, but this time through the avvy's senses. Through the window in space, a gun went off and two people fell to the ground. Bright sparks of light briefly flashed throughout the square of the cafe, and then everything went dark, and the window dissolved. Rogers and Stalwart exchanged a glance, then Rogers went for an item in his pocket.

"Miss Julep, would you kindly give me a copy of that dataspike?"

"O-of course," Julep replied, bowing her head. For a second, their consensual memespace wavered as a large datadump wended its way across the aether and into Rogers' personal storage device. Activating his own personal cypher on it, the data would remain inaccessible until it could be safely decrypted again with a verified one-time code.

“Until then, I'd like to have a subsentient biomonitor app double check your vitals, is that okay? It's read only, and keyed to me. It includes a few protocol and security upgrades; I wouldn't want you involuntarily giving out this sort of data."

"Uh… o-okay, if you think it's necessary."

Rogers nodded. "I do."

He reached into a pocket and retrieved a small datacube. Tapping it to the pony's head, the software package within downloaded almost instantly to a data scratchpad, where it was analyzed and then run. It installed several keypairs for cryptographic exchange as well as a suite of recognition and authorization protocol daemons.

“And what's prompted this?” demanded Stalwart, taking a few steps back and staring incredulously from one to the other.

“Something's fishy here, and until I've sorted this out, I want to keep an eye on these two. If you're right," Rogers said to Stalwart, wagging a finger thoughtfully, "then she and her progenitor Oats have got almost a second of downtime to account for, so there's no way I'm letting either of them out of my commsystem until it's cleared up. Other than that, you,” the sheriff nodded to the unicorn, “are free to go, if you are satisfied with their treatment thus far.”

“I might only let him wear my body when we go questing, but I'm not going to have you brainripping him." Stalwart's muzzle was mere inches away from Rogers' face. A hefty, iron-shod hoof thumped the sheriff in the chest. It may have been nothing more than a digitally rendered avatar, but still the man felt it. "He may be the thick-headed corporeal meatsack that birthed me, but he's my thick-headed corporeal meatsack. I won't see him come to harm.”

Rogers gulped. The pony might well be a head shorter than he was, but the pony was no less intimidating for it when in full 'Royal Guard' mode. “Well if Julep can continue to do the driving, I really think it's time she got a good meal. Her blood sugar's off and her tissues are going to start decompiling themselves unless she gets something to eat.”

“As much as I dislike it, I agree. However, I will scan you for lawful intent. Initiate secure storage and compute layer, if you will.”

“I'm a sheriff, Captain, isn't that enough? I've got enough data buffering already that I'm in danger of forking, and I don't really want to--”

“I know you can handle it. Please give me access or I will sequester it."

Rogers blinked. "Under whose authority?"

"Mine. And Celestia's. And as one lawpony to another, I appreciate the fraternal bond we all share."

Rogers ground his teeth and glared at the unicorn. The creature was under a metre tall at the withers and completely insubstantial. And probably able to kick him to the middle of next week despite that. Stalwart was also one of Celestia's crowd, far moreso than the pony that created him and set the ill-tempered eevee free. Stalwart's authority in her sphere extended to the real world too, at least in cases like this.

Roger sighed. "Fine. Initiating storage and compute layer. Prepare for transfer."

A few moments later, and Rogers stood tapping his foot. "Are you finished?"

"You are a satisfactory guardian." There was a mental sniff. "I'm just here to monitor the situation. Just like you. I've taken a copy of that memorydump, along with everything else relevant for our own investigation into this regrettable incident. Have a good day." With that, the ghostly imprint of Stalwart on Rogers' mind faded as his secure compute and store layer erased the last vestiges of the eevee.

"How did he get from you to that?" murmured Rogers in bafflement as he took control of his own body back.

Julep blushed. "I'm… uh… well, I'm…" The pony did a half-twirl and then tried to fold in on herself again.

"He dumped a bunch of girly behavioural routines into you, didn't he? And then in a fit of pique, macho'd up to form Mister Grumpy. And Celestia makes it sound like she can solve these sorts of issues."

"She… she can," whispered Julep. "Oats just doesn't know what he wants to be. I think that's why Luna named us that. I l-look after him down here, and Stalwart looks after him up there, kind of. It's not really the same. Stalwart's got his own life; Wally's more eevee than avvy, unlike me. One day though, Mixed Oats will stop being Mixed Oats, and then… he might become me. Or Stalwart. Or both. Or something new. But the point is, when it matters, he'll know."

Rogers nodded with resignation. "I get that. Confusing, but I get it. You make it sound like he needs direction in his life." The sheriff's face reddened as he realised how forward he was being, and he turned away to scan for the crow. He reinitialized their privacy bubble, and the babble of street vendors and performers faded away. "That's better. Unless you want to see the sights..?"

"No, it's fine. I think I prefer things a bit quieter, to be honest, after… earlier." Julep smiled timidly and pressed herself closer to the sheriff. He simply nodded and held up an arm for the crow as she finally returned from her look-see around the city. 'Mortimer' landed, cawing loudly.

"Found it alright? Got the best way there for us?" he asked her.

Mortimer cawed an affirmative, then took off again, swooping down the streets at just above eyelevel. Rogers took a deep breath, then bowed and gestured for Julep to carry on. She giggled, bowed also, and began to follow the looping and diving GPS daimon.