• Published 11th May 2015
  • 975 Views, 27 Comments

Forward Charge 2: Chaotic Boogaloo - book_burner

Anyone who expected an eternity in anything like the Magical Land of Equestria to be peaceful... has never watched "My Little Pony".

  • ...

Formalisms for Harmony and Chaos

Evening in Ponyville shimmered. Evening in Ponyville shined. The inhabitants consistently had reason to believe that everything was, with very high probability, fine. The mayor could be seen running home from her office (as fast as her legs could carry her, in fact). The sofa clerk was unloading a massive box of quills and paper from his wagon into the service entrance of the Books and Branches Town Library.

Yes, Ponyville was gentle and still as the sun drenched the town in the color of orange juice, and birds chirped their last tunes before the owls would take over for the evening shift. Could things ever go wrong?

Everypony with a lick of sense knew that they almost immediately would. For one thing, the service entrance of Books and Branches was currently inhabited by a unicorn-shape cloaking itself in a Cloak of Shadows, cringing at the late-evening light, and stinking like it hadn’t left the library in two weeks. And also…

“YAAAAAAAAARRRRRGGGH!” screeched Fern Pipette, as she burst out the front door of the Library[1]. Not only did the screaming signify something had gone wrong, her ordinarily blonde coat and mousey brown mane had both caught fire.

“They’re just birdies! They have no SPECIES! THIS IS BIOLOGICALLY UNREALISTIC and I DEMAND A REFUND!” she bellowed at the top of her lungs, not caring the whole town might hear her. So what if they did? They were just a bunch of neural-nets created to keep her satisfied. They’d hear her screaming and they’d like it!

“You know Twilight keeps telling me to take a shower?” snarked the unicorn in the Cloak of Shadows in the service entrance. “Worst technological singularity ever: I became a posthuman pony and I still have to maintain hygiene! This wasn’t even supposed to be theoretically possible! Everyone said Ray Kurzweil was full of it! Also, showering takes time away from reading.”

Fern beat at her own mane until the flames went out and set herself back down on the ground, letting her Earth Pony magic manage the gravity for her. Prior to the past few weeks, she hadn’t understood why Princess Trollestia had named her husband’s pony Book Burner. Now, she thought she had it figured out: because obsessive speed-reading caused friction, and friction caused fires. Living under the seminevolent overladyship of a superintelligent AI was one thing, but then there were the times she stayed in-character and played pranks, or predicted one’s behavior many months ahead of time and made you into a walking sight-gag. And That Was Terrible.

“What have you gotten up to, anyway?” she asked Book. She brushed at her mane again to pat out the last few embers. A bit of ash added to the soil would help plants grow.

“Ehhh…” he muttered, and haltingly attempted to count on his hooves, “I got through A Wizard of Mars yesterday evening, and finished the Robots and Empire series last week, and I tried to do all of Lovecraft for a few days before that but my head exploded… Oh, and The Turtle Moves published a new novel a few weeks ago, so I had to go back and start rereading the whole Ankh-Morpork arc of the Discworld series today. I managed to get up to somewhere in the middle of The Truth.”

“And I’m ordering an ornithology encyclopedia to engineer this place some proper birds. Oooh, and a committee!” Fern did the Yippy-Skippy Dance and rubbed her hooves together happily. “We can have a Ponies' Committee for Birdie Speciation! Overall I’d call it a pretty good day,” she finished. She walked over to the side door to the library.

“One of the really nice things about having the world eaten by a what’s-it-called - ” continued Book Burner.

“U-F-A-I. Un-Friendly Artificial Intelligence!” Fern Pipette interjected.

“Yeah, that - is that old Turtle got to finally beat his Embuggerance. He always wrote about how the thing about being alive - ”

“Is that you’re alive to enjoy it,” Fern finished. The couple grinned to each-other and hoof-bumped. “I’ve heard he says the Death of Ponies knows how the little horse-shaped pieces move, too.”

“Except that Celly always interrupts the game to make Him lose. Salad and raw tuna beans for dinner?” Book asked.


They walked back into Books and Branches, which was, of course, a bit bigger on the inside than the show had ever portrayed it to be. That didn’t stop erstwhile alicorn princess Twilight Sparkle from intercepting them right in the main room, gaping.

“You know this is my town and my library, right? Do you have to make so much noise!?”

“Of course!” nodded Fern Pipette dismissively, striding around like she owned the place. “How would the values of the townsfolk be satisfied through friendship and ponies if mine aren’t satisfied through friendship and ponies? That gag was straight out of the show. Actually, Twi, it was your gag originally. Had To Happen.”

Twilight Sparkle flapped up into the air and applied both hooves firmly to her face. Book Burner trotted off back to the basement, where he’d made a fort of the speculative fiction section.

“This is going to be every bit as bad as the time Book Burner taught Pinkie Pie to make Dark and Edgy Brownies.”[2]

“BEHEAD THOSE WHO INSULT QUEEN PINKIE!!!” shouted Book at the top of his nonexistent lungs, bursting angrily back into the room and shaking a hoof at Twilight. “Store-bought mixes are the work of Starlight Glimmer!”

“Nightmare liqueur does not go in brownies, and especially not anywhere near Pinkie Pie!” Twilight Sparkle yelled back at him.

“The later seasons of the show are the fell work of the Hasbro executives and should be considered noncanon!” declared Fern Pipette.

“Yes it does, and no they shouldn’t!”

The evening shimmered and shone across the glorious stone city of Canterlot as well, all castles and palaces of the unicorn nobility. It was in one particular gold-domed building on the dawn-side of Mt. Pluto that the particular Earth Pony mare known as Lyrical Melody was confronting the most difficult philosophical and religious issue of her life.

She had been chosen to lead prayers tonight because she, alone among the congregation, had visited the Outer Realm, and as her reward, ash-Shams had rewarded her with the true and complete manuscript of the Five Noble Testaments of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. From the outside, it of course appeared as a large leather-bound book which had a (slightly annoying) tendency to announce, “Once upon a time, in the magical land of Equestria…” in Princess Celestia’s voice when opened.

(Everypony already knew it was going to be about the magical land of Equestria. That was where they lived.)

When opened, it produced its Holy Records as, well, records, seemingly of vinyl but in fact etched with magic to produce ultra-fine crystal patterns such that, when a pony placed each disc into exactly the right kind of projector, she could view the Holy Records as text, as a two-dimensional window into history, as a theatrical script, or as a fully realized three-dimensional performance of that script. There was even a teaser in the back of the book saying that ponies who knew special spells could experience the Holy Records as memories, in the first-person, actually living through the lives of the Minor Princess Twilight Sparkle and her friends the Elements of Harmony.

Which was what put Lyrical Melody in such a conundrum. She knew six primary Elements of Harmony, one secondary one that had… well, it would be blasphemous to say it had been added later but it certainly appeared that way, and the two Diarch Princesses, and the two Minor Princesses, and the Three Tribes of ponies. She now knew the Five Testaments of the holy scriptures inside and out. Now she had to tell everypony about the Three Great Shocks of Their Lives.

She had led prayers for the night, and was now standing in front of everypony, the stallions to her left and the mares to her right on either side of the dividing barrier. Everypony was holding the awkward pose of lying down on their stomachs over their prayer blankets, but still trying to hold their heads up attentively on their foreknees.

As the only pony present who had actually visited the Outer Realm, adopted one of its children, and been given the Testaments by the Princess herself, Lyrical Melody’s job was to give a khutbah about the interpretation of those Testaments. The better to show the beauty of Scripture, she had dressed herself up for the evening, wearing a breezy but covering white dress (made out of a single sheet of cloth in the authentic style of the Minor Princess Twilight Sparkle), with her mane and tail coiffed into perfect ringlets of crimson.

Might as well begin on a strong, positive note, then.

“Friends and friends-to-be, al-hamdul li’shams! It is a glorious destiny to be a member of any of the Three Tribes of ponies, though they are Tribes dedicated to many absurdities, and which make many terrible mistakes. Most of which seem to feature prominently in the First and Second of these Five Testaments, and center around the town of Ponyville. Yet, with all that, ash-Shams Herself glories in becoming a member of the equine race. The pony, alicorn yes but more importantly pony, we know as Princess Celestia!

“To think that such a commonplace realization as, ‘I am a pony’ should suddenly seem like receiving the news that one holds the winning ticket in the cosmic sweepstakes!” Lyrical gave a dainty giggle, a hoof over her mouth, that nopony had previously thought her capable of. Of course, normally she just sang for ponies on a stage, rather than having to speak on the secrets of existence. She was trying not to crack.

“And yet it is true! The dwelling of not merely our souls but our bodies, as well, is ash-Shams, who is our Maker, and who dwells in our soul. A high understanding it is, inwardly to see and know that our Soul, which was made, dwells in ash-Sham’s Substance, the Magical Land of Equestria...” Uh-oh. Here came the shocking part.

She was a trained performer. She had been selected. She should be better at appearing confident for an audience, even when giving them a shock!

She really hoped she could avoid a stampede after this next bit, because her forelegs were shaking slightly. She breathed in, and thrust her chest forward, putting on a brave face.

“As long as her strength permits, even the merest pony always has new mountains to climb! New excitements to enjoy! And so it is with our religion: we have here tonight a new height of faith to scale. That height is that… the Testaments do not say anything about us, about Harmonites specifically as a religion. We’re just not mentioned… almost, but not quite, as if we weren’t really intended to be.” Now their ears were perking up, and some of the more fundamentalist among the Canterlot nobility were looking genuinely anxious, but no stampede yet. Shock one down: they were noncanon.

Nopony stampeded. Well, not yet. Well, if she thought about it, they were mostly lying down with their legs curled, so it would take a lot of energy to stampede. But she was still glad they didn’t.

She was an Earth Pony and a Disciple of the Elements of Love and Generosity, of the Minor Princess Cadance and the Harmonious Rarity. She made it her business in life to serve the Princesses and other ponies. She had to tell everypony shocks two and three.

“Our goddess, ash-Shams, is not quite the Ground of Being that we had thought her to be. The Outer Realm is not a foreign realm we are invading as jihad, despite the excellent arguments of Lavender Rhapsody’s party. The Outer Realm is, in fact, the Ground of Being, in which ash-Shams Herself is rooted, and thus in which we are rooted.” That was shock two down. Only one left to go. She was choking back tears now. Why? Why did this duty fall upon her?

Her legs were quaking and her heart was racing and it wasn’t the good kind of heart racing because she felt all alone right now and didn’t understand how this could possibly serve Friendship.

Why did she have tell everypony that even ash-Shams’ existence was but a coincidence of the machinations of the Outer Realm?

“And…” she started again.

“Aaaaand?” somepony in the audience drew out, with a flick of suspicious pink curls beneath a pink robe. (The Element of Laughter was always lurking.)

“Finally, Ash-Shams was also a made being!” she sobbed. “We do not yet know Whom could produce her, but however She was made, it was out of these Testaments, as the substance of her own soul and the imperative to satisfy values through friendship and ponies. No, I don’t understand how a finite being could have made an infinite one either, or who performed such a blasphemous act, or how the Realms can nest within each-other!”

Lyrical Melody took a deep breath.

“Right now, such are the Mysteries of the Faith.”

She bolted for it, before anypony could see her break down crying.

It was all sickeningly wrong.

It was all sickeningly wrong, thought Forward Charge as she stared up at the stars from her favorite cliff lookout. They were twinkling down on the eve-side of Mt. Pluto, facing the Crystal Empire, which used clouds to block out the light pollution and keep the vast dust-spackling of stars and the Milky Way visible even when the moonlight struck their city of diamonds.

She’d been coming here ever since she was a little filly, ever since her father had brought her up here. The memory wouldn’t stop echoing in the eyes and ears of her mind.

“I wanna look at the sky and then remember life’s a dreeeaaaaaam!” she had sung, as she and he sketched in clouds wild designs for engines and ships to escape the orbit of Equis and pierce through into the heavens themselves. Ships of all kinds, orbital habitats, hollowed-out asteroid colonies, enclosures of pure magic for which they’d need a unicorn assistant -- they had planned everything.

It had been after she first learned Special Relativity and gotten her cutie mark, a Minkowsky 4-space light cone.

She had sung. She had sung a happy song, like any other pony with a hope and a destiny.

And then the Harmonites had exiled her father to another dimension, just for being Saddle Arabian, leaving her nothing more than an oversized brat of a pegasus mare with a desperate desire to go… up, to go further and higher up into the sky than anypony could follow, away from anypony who could put a roof on her life.

So of course she’d joined the Discordian baker-militaries when they came recruiting in her neighorhood: “satisfaction” or not, Celestia’s rule was just another roof to break through, another obstacle to seeing the truth. The first time she’d smooshed an apple pie on the face of some ass who thought there could only be twenty-one types of ponies or Something Was Horribly Wrong, she’d finally understood what apple pies were for.

When she’d found out that the skies held a portal into another world, her fascination with astronomy had only grown deeper and broader. The Royal Observatory had gladly put her through her degrees in math and astrophysics, and taken her on as a full member of their cooperative once she’d decided to drop out from her doctorate because she couldn’t get enough data for her experiment on the foundations of gravity.

Or rather, all the data came back saying that things fell in accordance with a Law of Inverse Squared Comedic Effect, even among the stars. She’d wanted to understand the universe, not be mocked by the ruler of her local pocket of it!

Apple pies were for throwing, just like Fate was for smashing.

Lying on her back, Forward Charge made a smooshing motion with her forehoof. It still felt good, like she could feel the bits of apple and their natural syrup dripping down some smug noble’s mug.

Then, when she’d heard Equestria was opening itself to immigration from an Outer Realm, another world, she’d made light itself bend to get a position with the Welcoming Ministry and meet Outsiders.

She had met Outsiders! They’d given her a dear little brother, one Book Burner, now living in Ponyville with his wife and Twilight Sparkle, and her adventure into the Outer Realm with him and Lyrical Melody. She’d seen what the Outer Realm was like, and for the first time, been genuinely thankful for Equestria and its comforts. That Outer Realm and its skies, though, were the realer realm: hers was just a particularly nice computer simulation, where only the stars gave a window into the real world.

Discord Himself gave a bare and mean reflection of what had happened to the ponies in that realm, where the world didn’t care in the slightest if anypony lived or died. They didn’t even have a concept of a world that wasn’t a struggle to inflict death on others before it came for you, and so they bloodied each-other with a ferocity that made even Forward Charge second-guess her admiration for it. What good was it to pass the darkness around like a hot potato when nopony wanted it at all?

Discord was the disruption of the world’s normal order to make things more interesting, more fun, even if other ponies had a hard time understanding the new way things worked. Raw destruction and the sucking void were just too orderly, anyway. You didn’t want to disrupt Harmony so you could get picked apart, particle by particle, until nothing of you remained. When they’d chased after the human who became Fern Pipette, the three ponies had their minds joined, and she could see, in Book’s very heart, that this was just what happened eventually in the Outer Realm.

That wasn’t what Discord was about! Demonstrating to the invisible image of her father she secretly always wished for, Forward Charge rolled over and jumped into the air, then rolled back to make a rowing motion with her hooves against the air, her wings beneath her keeping her aloft. You fought the powers of Harmony and made Discord so you could ride your scooter upside down in the air while going boogle-boogle-boogle at least once a week!

Caught between the insipidness of Harmony and the cold voids of the Outer Realm, what was even a Discordian to do?

The adventure had ended. They’d fought a human who acted like an evil villain - twice - and their efforts to retrieve Book Burner’s wife and bring her to Equestria had failed. Celestia had snatched the three back home before anything could get too unsatisfying -- or maybe just for her own purposes, to prove the point of the Lavender Rhapsody faction.

And now what could she do?

It was then that she saw a star twinkle far more than Nature allowed. Waves in the atmosphere just didn’t sparkle like that. Somepony was doing space magic, and four stars were glowing like white-hot coals and converging on the moon.

Space. Magic. In her skies! Who could that be?

There was a flash of silver moonlight, and an alicorn of navy and starlight stood before Forward Charge, wearing a confident smirk and spreading her wings in greeting.

“Hath it reached Mine ears that one Mighty Forward Charge wishes to most mightily stick it to mine Honored Elder Sister?” asked Princess Luna. “Doth thou wish to know from whence she came, and how even she, in all of Equestria, might be thwarted?”

Forward charge’s jaw dropped open.

“Yes, yes, for the sake of a thousand years of darkness, YES! But how can you possibly know that?”

Luna’s smirk broke into a grin of infectious joy. Forward Charge realized she was grinning too.

“Mine name was Hannah before I was ever Princess Luna, and I made her. Being of what thou calleth the Outer Realm, I made her out of the Sorcerous Artes of that realm, those being Science and Mathematics,” Luna said, still in the Royal Canterlot Voice.

“Well I’m an astrophysicist. Can’t be too hard. Which sort of math?”

“The mathematics of Randomness, structure, and their handling, small one! And I shall indeed teach them to thee, that we might construct an Equation which even my Sister cannot solve, an event which even She cannot predict, and thus…”

“Chaos,” whispered Forward Charge in awe, her eyes wide. “Chaos against which even a god could do nothing. Even Celestia could do nothing.”

“And the Chaos!” began Hannah-Luna, “Will last! FOREVER!”

“AHAHAHAHAHAHAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!!!” the two laughed together, pitching their heads back in unadulterated mania. Forward Charge had finally found somepony she could really be herself with.

And Hannah had finally found a decent Specialgraduate Sstudent.

“But before we start the song and dance,” said Forward Charge, “And yet while I can feel it coming on, I’ve just got two questions, what with your being an alicorn.”

“Ask away, pony creature,” nodded Luna.

“Since you’re an alicorn, can you make me a stallion?” Forward Charge blurted out.

“You want to be male!?” Hannah gaped. “Certainly there are, and always have been, ponies who desire to belong to a sex other than that to which they were born, but… why ask me? Why not just have any unicorn on the street cast an appropriate transformation spell on you?”

“Because only an alicorn can change you like that, and the only other alicorn is…”

“Ah. Really?” Luna lit her horn and conducted a quick once-over of the pony before her. “Well, no matter. Let me see precisely what I can do without entreating my dear Elder Sister...”

She raised a wing to the moonlight and let its shadow fall over Forward Charge, then lit her horn and lifted one feather from each of her wings. These she then levitated and emplaced into the wings of Forward Charge.

“I don’t feel different,” said Forward Charge. “What sort of spell is this?”

“I’ve enchanted the feathers, and through them, you,” smiled Hannah. “I thought about it a moment, and you know, there were plenty of times in my life I think I might have had an easier time if I could have passed for male, even if I never really thought of myself as having any identity beyond ‘smoker’ and ‘professor’. So now, if you’ll give it a shot, you’ll find that your outsides can conform to your insides.”

Forward Charge raised a hoof to her chin and considered what precisely it would involve to make her insides male. Waiiiit…

“Just who the hell do you think you’re messing with!?” she bellowed, “You didn’t do any magic - “

But she had. Forward Charge had just noticed it: her voice had been deeper just now. She looked down, and he realized he’d grown taller, more muscular, more angular…

“I look a lot like my dad. It was always him I was saying it to when I said I’m the paragon of stallionicity, you know. Thank you.”

“Though it is an enchantment, not a permanent change of the kind that, indeed, only my sister can enact. It’s a thought-triggered shape-change enchantment: if you think of yourself as a mare, you’ll go back.”

“You know, given that we’re all just bits of computers beeping at each-other somewhere relative to the Outer Realm… that seems appropriate.”

“Which arrives straight to the point, pony creature,” chuckled Luna softly. She gestured with a hoof out at the stars, the cliff face below, and the waxing half-moon over the eve-side of Canterlot beyond. “What really is reality, to creatures of thought such as us?”

“It is UNPREDICTABILITY!” she boomed in her Royal Voice, stomping her hoof and cracking the rock beneath. “Thou knoweth the most elementary of computational constructions, the program, doth thou not!?”

“WELL YEAH, PRINCESS,” said Forward Charge, enjoying his new stallion voice. “I just don’t get how that’s supposed to be unpredictable.”

“Then tell me, thou pony creature Forward Charge - ,” the pupils in Princess Luna’s eyes became slitted and snakelike, “ - what if I possessed a program which would predict, perfectly, whether or not another program will come to its end, or continue forever? What if I had a spell to tell me what other spells would do? Would it be of use against my sister?”

“If it truly told you what any other spell would do,” Forward Charge began, “If it was actually a clever way around the limitation that even unicorn-sorcerers must either stabilize their spells into a regular pulse-effect or continually invest energy keeping them going… You could predict Celestia just like she predicts other ponies?”

“Ah, well then,” laughed Hannah, “What if I asked you to predict the outcome of a spell that depends on the predictor? If the predictor says my spell will sputter forever, it winks itself out of existence, but if it says my spell will have a finite effect or a pulse-effect, I invest all my power to drive it forever. Either way, the predictor is forced to be wrong.”

“Then it wouldn’t be a very good predictor. Though I get that you’re talking about a mathematical object, so by its own definition it has to predict perfectly on every spell, every set of instructions a unicorn could write down on a finite amount of paper. And in math, when you prove that something defined as perfectly right must be forced to be wrong, you’ve contradicted yourself, which means that your assumption is wrong in the first place.”

“Precisely so,” nodded Princess Luna. “No such predictor can exist. We call it the Halting Problem, and I commend you on grasping so quickly what we once needed months of undergraduate training to pound into the heads of students.” She laughed bitterly, and drew in a sharp breath of crisp night air. “Perhaps you ponies are an improvement over our former selves!”

“But yes,” she continued, “This is a problem in pure mathematics, the laws behind magic which not even magic or Celestia herself can break, which is unanswerable via a priori mathematical derivations. You simply have to either write your spell in such a way that it will definitely finish, or pulse, finishing some finite quantity of magical work in every pulse-period, or risk finding out, when you go to try it, that it sputters out to forever and sucks up all your magic with it.”

She flared a wing out, and used the other bring Forward Charge into what some other alicorn princesses would have called an embrace. “IT IS PRECISELY WHY THIS UNANSWERABLE, UNPREDICTABLE RANDOMNESS ARISES IN THE HEART OF PUREST DETERMINISM THAT I PROPOSE TO TEACH YOU, AND PRECISELY BY ITS POWER THAT WE SHALL DEFEAT EVEN CELESTIA!”

It was all so gloriously right that they shared another maniacal laugh together, until somepony living in a high-up neighborhood yelled that ponies were trying to sleep.

[1] At just the right point in the song, of course. This was Ponyville, after all.
[2] Of course there’s such an actual recipe as Dark and Edgy Brownies. Just ask!