• Published 18th Jun 2014
  • 4,280 Views, 95 Comments

Friendship is Optimal: Broken Bird - Eakin



In one small Amish community, the appearance of an injured Pinkiebot will change everything for one little girl and her family

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Broken Bird

FRIENDSHIP IS OPTIMAL: BROKEN BIRD

“Charity, it’s time for dinner. You need to come inside now.”

Charity Beller looked towards her house, hidden by the trees, and winced. When her mother laid eyes on the mess she’d made of her frock and bonnet there would be hell to pay. And if she slipped up and used a word like ‘hell’ in front of her parents she’d get lashes with a switch, just like last time. Three days later, her bottom was still sore from the aftermath of repeating what her father had refused to call anything but ‘the f-word’ that Matthew had used in school. From what she’d heard yesterday in class, their mothers had met up at market and Matthew’s punishment had been even worse than hers.

It wasn’t fair. All four of her brothers and sisters were treated like grown-ups. James even got to stay out late courting Peggy down the street and he never got in trouble. So what if she was the youngest? She was going to be twelve next week; it was time for her parents to treat her with a little bit of respect.

But for now, she’d better get home and face her punishment. Hiding and forcing Mother to come looking for her would only make it worse. She wiped the mud from her hands onto her smock, making little difference to the state of either her clothing or her hands; both were grimy and disgusting from her romps through the Pennsylvania woods. She’d just started back towards home when she heard a low, plaintive moan echo through the woods.

Though she hesitated, she decided that dinner could wait a few more minutes while she investigated the source of the noise somewhere off to her left. She stumbled over a fallen tree trunk that had come down in the storm last night, a powerful downpour that had nearly flooded their fields with its intensity. That would have been a disaster, not least because it would mean no fresh-picked strawberries right outside the back door of the little one-story cottage her family lived in. It was a tight fit, and Charity promised herself that someday she would have a bedroom she didn’t have to share with two sisters. Although Bethany had been out learning the ways of the outside world until just recently, and returned with a great many stories of life outside their sleepy little town. Why, just last night Charity had been up nearly an hour after her bedtime, enraptured by stories of boxes that could display anything at all, even things that weren’t real, or call up information from anywhere in the world. Charity had been skeptical; these ‘computer’ things sounded too good to be true, but Bethany swore on her very soul that she was not a fibber.

There was that whine again, closer this time. Twigs and leaves crunched underfoot as Charity drew closer to the source. Then she stepped around an old oak and there, pinned beneath a heavy pile of rocks that must have collapsed in the storm, was its source.

It was a horse, roughly speaking, but not like the beasts who pulled their carriages into town. It was smaller, for one thing, and the most garish shade of pink Charity had ever seen. It’s long, poofy mane was riddled with dirt, matted against the side of its body. It hadn’t noticed her yet, and tried to pull the back half of its body from beneath the rocks to no avail. It’s side had been torn open, a long gash running along its side, but to Charity’s shock there was no blood. Instead, inside the creature were a collection of gears and levers that turned and clicked as it tried to move. Then its ears perked up and it turned to her.

“Help... Me...”

Charity did the most reasonable thing she could think of. She screamed, turned away, and ran for home as fast as her legs could carry her.

---------------------

Her family had already begun their pre-dinner prayer when she arrived, and she respectfully bowed her head as well as she tried to slow her pounding heart. When the rest of her family looked up again, she burst out with the story of what she’d found in the woods.

“Mother! Father!” she shouted.

“Goodness, Charity, you are positively disgusting!” said her mother, cutting her off. “Go wash up before you join us.”

The usually obedient girl didn’t follow the command, though. “There’s a horse in the woods! And I think it’s hurt! It’s stuck under some rocks, and it can talk.”

Her father, a huge bear of a man with a thick bushy beard, frowned at her. “Charity, what have we told you about making up tales? Horses cannot talk.”

“But... but...”

“Your mother told you to wash up. Now go do so and come back before your dinner grows cold.”

Defeated, Charity sighed and dropped her head. “Yes, father.”

By the time she’d cleaned up and returned, the rest of her siblings were well underway eating their meal. As usual, Charity’s eyes were drawn to the bright orange shirt her sister Bethany was wearing in stark contrast to the black-and-white modest apparel the rest were dressed in. Some of the clothing she’d brought back with her had sparked a huge fight with their mother, who felt that no proper daughter should be seen in something so immodest. She was looking at Charity with an odd expression. “A talking horse? Really? What did it look like?”

Pleased that at least one of her siblings was taking her discovery seriously, Charity nodded vigorously. “It was pink on the outside, but its insides were made of metal!”

“Hmm...” said Bethany, tapping on her chin, “it sounds like a Pinkiebot. I can’t believe one would be all the way out here, though.”

Her mother frowned. “Bethany, none of that. I know you enjoyed your time out in the world, but there’s no sense filling Charity’s head with silly ideas about things like that ‘uploading’ nonsense you were telling us about last night.”

“What’s uploading?” asked Charity, ignoring the displeased look her parents were shooting at her.

“Well, remember how I was telling you about computers?” Bethany began. Charity nodded. “Some of the computers are hooked up to a place called Equestria Online, and people live and play there as horses. Ponies, technically.”

“Where is this place? Is it near New York?” asked Charity, trying to wrap her head around the idea. Her sister was just full of stories about the place she’d been living, and made no secret of her desire to return there. There was a fight brewing between her and their parents, Charity could feel it gathering like a thunderhead in the distance. Privately, she wondered just how much longer her big sister would be around.

“It’s kind of... everywhere. It’s not really a physical place. But uploading is when people go live there permanently inside of the computers.”

“I thought you said that computers were small enough to put on a table. How can a person live inside of something so small?”

“It’s kinda complicated, but people do. I even got to talk to some of them. And the Princess who rules over it is very wise and kind.”

“Bethany,” said their mother with a warning in her voice, “that is enough. Charity, listen to me very carefully. That... thing could be dangerous. I don’t want you going anywhere near it. Just leave it to die or break down as nature takes its course. And I don’t want to hear another word about it. That goes for you too, Bethany.”

Charity sighed. “Yes, mother,” she said and Bethany echoed the same words. They finished their dinner in silence, but later that night snuggled up under the patchwork quilt her mother had made for her when she was just a baby visions of ponies and worlds small enough to fit inside boxes but big enough to live in danced through her mind until she drifted off to sleep.

--------------------

The next day was a school day, but Charity didn’t go straight home after it was over. Instead she found herself alone in the woods once again, amusing herself trying to climb the tallest tree she could find. She didn’t really plan to disobey her mother’s order, or so she told herself, but she ended up walking back towards the place where the machine-pony had been yesterday. It had very clearly been hurt. In fact, it was probably already dead from exposure or another animal. Charity had never seen a dead machine before, and her curiosity finally got the better of her.

To her surprise, the ‘Pinkiebot,’ as Bethany had called it, was far from dead. Still trapped under the rocks, and it looked to have stopped trying to free itself and resigned itself to its predicament. But it still smiled and waved a stubby hoof in greeting when it saw her approach. “Hiya! Sorry I scared you yesterday. Are you okay?”

“Am I okay?” asked Charity, befuddled, “you’re the one stuck under those rocks. Doesn’t that hurt?”

The machine gave a very convincing shrug, the parts sticking out through her cut groaning as they slipped and moved. “No, not really. Why would the one who made me put that in? It doesn’t sound very satisfying, now does it.”

Now it was Charity’s turn to be confused as she slowly approached the trapped creature. “Are you... alive? Or are you just pretending?”

To her surprise, the machine laughed aloud at that. “Is there a difference? I think I’m alive, but maybe I’m just pretending so well I even fooled me. My name’s Pinkie, by the way. What’s yours?”

“Charity,” said Charity. Her earlier fear of this... thing was fading away with each word. It seemed harmless enough, and she got closer to it. “Can I touch you?”

“Sure, go ahead,” said Pinkie. Charity reached out and pressed the palm of her hand on the fine pink hair that covered its body. It felt just like a real horse, and she gave the area around the wound a few cautious strokes. Pinkie burst into laughter as she did. “That tickles!”

Her laughter was contagious, and Charity soon found herself with a big smile on her face. She got up and tried to shift the rocks crushing Pinkie off of her, but they were far too heavy. “Sorry, I don’t think I can get you out from under there.”

“That’s okay, I don’t mind. Would you hang out and keep me company, though? It’s kinda boring out here. I already counted all the leaves on the trees and grass on the ground, and sang all the songs I know, but now I’m all out.”

“Sure,” said Charity. She settled onto one of the rocks beside Pinkie. “So... my sister says you’re from inside a computer? Is that true?”

Pinkie chuckled again. “Kinda. The one who made me lives inside a computer in a place called Equestria. She’s super nifty. Her name is Princess Celestia. You would like her; she’s friends with everypony and she spends all her time making ponies happy in all kinds of ways with her powers.”

“She sounds very nice,” said Charity, “Can’t she help you? Or send somebody to help you get out?”

“Nah,” said Pinkie, “I’m sure if I’m here it’s because she wants me to be here. I trust her.”

“Just like that?”

“Just like that. After all, if I hadn’t gotten stuck here I wouldn’t have met you and we wouldn’t be talking now. Maybe it was part of her plan for me to get stuck out here. She’s super-smart about stuff like that.”

Charity frowned. “You make her sound like God. You aren’t supposed to say things like that. They told us at church that God doesn’t like that. You’re supposed to respect Him above all other things.”

Pinkie’s smile turned into a pout. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean any disrespect. If you could meet her, though, you’d understand what I mean.”

“I’m not sure I’ll be able to. We don’t have a computer at home, and my sister Bethany says that’s where she lives.”

Pinkie nodded. “Yeah, it is. That’s why she has friends like me to go out and tell people all about how super-neato Equestria is. Sometimes I even get to help people go there, that’s the best! But sometimes people don’t want to go since you can’t really come back. Most people don’t mind once they’ve been living there for a little while.”

“What about people with families and things? Don’t they miss them?”

“They can come too! The more the merrier,” said Pinkie. They sat in silence for a little while while Charity thought about that. The only sound was the wind rustling through the leaves of the trees around them. “Anyway, thanks for coming out here and hanging out with me. It means a lot, but I guess you probably have to go home now before your parents get worried. It’s almost seven, I think.”

Charity blinked a few times. She hadn’t noticed how quickly time had been passing while she’d been talking to Pinkie, but sure enough it was noticeably darker now than when she’d last checked. “I suppose I’d better go. Maybe I could come back tomorrow and you can tell me more about Equestria? It sounds nice. I’d like to go there one day.”

Pinkie grinned and nodded. “I’ll make sure I remember that. Come back any time. It’s not like I’m going anywhere, right?” She gestured back at the rocks covering her rear half. “I guess I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Torn between her desire to hear more about the world her new friend was from and fear of the punishment she’d face if she missed dinner, Charity hesitated for a moment. But soon enough she made her decision and started to walk away, only to pause and look back. Pinkie gave her a friendly wave, rather nonplussed by her predicament, and started humming a song to herself. Charity smiled. It was good to know her parents had been wrong about Pinkie. They’d be so relieved to hear that she wasn’t a threat.

--------------------

“You did what?

Charity cowered before her mother’s anger. “I just talked to her for a little while. She was telling me all about Equestria, and it sounds really-”

“What did we tell you last night, Charity?” interrupted her father. Charity looked across the dinner table for support from one of her brothers, but they were all carefully studying the peas on their plate and offered her none. “We specifically told you to stay away from that thing. What made you disobey us like that?”

“I just... I just wanted to talk to it. It’s hurt! Or I thought it was, but it seems okay. She’s not in pain or anything.”

“It,” said her mother. “It isn’t a ‘she,’ or any other kind of animal. It’s a machine, and it’s a liar.”

“She’s not! She’s my friend and she’s really nice and she’s best friends with a Princess and I’m gonna meet her someday.”

“That’s it,” said her father as he abruptly stood up from the table. “I’m putting a stop to this once and for all. Jacob, fetch my shotgun.”

“No! Father, you can’t kill her!”

“You’re right, I can’t. Because she’s not actually alive. It’s a machine, and I’m going to break it before it can poison your mind with any more lies.”

In a fit of desperation, Charity leapt up from her seat. She took off for the front door, leaving it swinging open behind her as her parents called out to her to stop. But she didn’t stop. Instead she tore through the dark woods, the sounds of pursuers close behind her. Branches tore at her clothes as she raced past them, but she didn’t care a bit. Before long she reached the spot where Pinkie was still trapped.

“Charity? I didn’t expect to see you again until at least tomorrow.” She frowned as Charity stood there, sucking air into her burning lungs. “Is something wrong?”

Charity didn’t get a chance to answer before her father, shotgun in hand, crashed through the undergrowth. “Charity, move aside.”

“Daddy, please don’t,” said Charity as sobs began to wrack her diminutive frame. “Please don’t kill her.”

To her surprise, it was Pinkie who spoke up next. “It’s okay,” she whispered, eyes fixed on the gun. “It’s okay, Charity. I’m just gonna go home to Equestria. It’s a good place, like heaven. I’m not scared, and you don’t have to be either.”

“But I don’t want you to go! I want to hear more about it and for you to take me there to visit your Princess one day. Daddy, please don’t do this.” She stood between her father and Pinkie, arms spread wide blocking his shot.

“No, Charity. I don’t mind, but I don’t want to see you get hurt for me. You can move.”

“But... but he’ll shoot you,” said Charity. Her father said nothing, but regarded Pinkie with flat, unpitying eyes.

A single tear rolled down Pinkie’s cheek, but she smiled. “I’m really glad I got to be your friend, even just for one day. How about a goodbye kiss?”

Sniffling, Charity nodded. She knelt down in front of Pinkie and pressed their lips together, a chaste and gentle parting gift from one friend to another. They lingered in that moment for a few seconds, Charity’s mind in overdrive trying to soak in every sensation she could. But all too soon she felt her father’s firm hand on her shoulder. She broke the kiss and stood off to one side, turning away as the sharp snap of the shotgun’s pump racked the shells into place.

Charity turned away, and shuddered as the sharp report of the gun rang out through the otherwise quiet woods. The echo reverberating through the trees was all she could hear.

She forced herself to look back at the remains of the machine. That friendly face had been obliterated, and only a crater was left as well as scattered silver and pink fragments smouldered on the ground.

Then one of them moved.

Charity and her father watched, frozen in place, as the pieces of the robot shimmered and melted. The rest of Pinkie’s body began to melt as well into a pool of pink liquid that shifted and flowed of its own accord. Streams of pink trickled out of the rocks and gathered into a single puddle, and then the puddle began to take a new shape. First a hoof emerged, and dug into the soil as it pushed down and the leverage pulled the liquid into a familiar shape. A head and poofy mane appeared next.

“Whoo! Now that was a doozy!” said the half-reformed Pinkie. “Good to be out from under those rocks too.”

Charity’s father went pale. “Demon. Monster. This is impossible.”

“Nope! Totally possible. The Princess has all kinds of tricks like that.”

Those words broke the spell, and Charity’s father reloaded the shotgun in one smooth motion and fired again. The second shot had even less effect than the first had, and Pinkie’s surface just rippled and reformed, unharmed. “Hee hee! That tickles.”

“Why?” asked Charity. “Why pretend to be stuck if you weren’t?”

Pinkie just gave her a sad smile. “This next part’s kinda scary, but I promise it’ll all turn out okay. You won’t even have to remember it afterwards.”

What was she... Charity’s train of thought derailed as she tasted something wet and metallic in her mouth. She wiped her lips with the back of her hand and looked down at what came away.

Blood. Her mouth was bleeding. She fell to her knees and coughed up more, now flowing freely from a cut that was opening up along the roof of her mouth. And as it did, she felt something probing upward into it and a sudden burst of pain in her head.

“Charity!” cried her father. “What did you do to her?”

Pinkie shrugged. “She said she wanted to go to Equestria. This is how you get there.” Charity collapsed on the ground and the corners of her vision started to fade away. Even the pain was stopping, replaced by a hazy numbness. The last thing she saw before she closed her eyes for the last time was Pinkie looking down at her, mouth stretched into an exuberant grin. “Say hi to Princess Celestia for me!”