• Published 4th Apr 2015
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The Iron Horse: Everything's Better With Robots! - The Hat Man



A cute robot pony. A mysterious origin. A princess who believes anyone can learn friendship, even a cold, logical machine. A journey begins...

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Music Sounds Better With You

Turing Test and the Crusaders made their way through Ponyville before coming to a stop in front of a large building.

Like most buildings in Ponyville, it was timber-framed with white paint, though, unlike the little thatch-roofed cottages that made up most of the town, this had a more modern, tiled roof. A large sign with a musical note hung by the door.

“Here it is, Turing!” Sweetie Belle exclaimed, sweeping a foreleg at it. “The Musicians’ Guild!”

Turing’s keen ears detected more strange sounds coming from the building, though, as always, her organic companions apparently could not hear them. There were horns, the rattling of drums, and several distinct sounds she wasn’t able to identify. Though she had data on different musical instruments, she wasn’t at all sure what any of them really sounded like.

“Ya know,” Apple Bloom said, coming up alongside Sweetie, “I’ve seen this building here before, but I’ve never actually gone inside! What’s inside it?”

Scootaloo rolled her eyes. “Musicians, of course!” she said.

Sweetie shook her head. “No no no,” she said. Then she paused, frowning. “Well, yes,” she admitted, “but there’s much more than that! You can get music lessons, buy music sheets, rent an instrument, or just borrow a practice room! I come here sometimes to practice my singing. Trust me, if there’s anywhere in Ponyville to learn about music, Turing, it’s here!”

Turing Test raised her head at that. “Then please lead the way. I am eager to learn more and perhaps earn my cutie mark.”

“That’s the spirit, Turing!” Apple Bloom exclaimed, raising a hoof. The other Crusaders bumped it in triumph.

“Lead the way, Sweetie Belle!” Scootaloo said. “We’ll back you up if you need us!”

“Right!” Sweetie led the way as they walked up to the front doors and pushed them open.

A gray earth pony stallion with a white mane was at the front desk.

“Hello, and welcome to the Musicians’ Guild!” he said cheerfully. “How--” He froze when he saw the strange metal pony walking towards him.

“Good afternoon, Royal Riff!” Sweetie Belle said, trotting up to the desk and giving him a sweet smile. “How are you today?”

“I… um…” He shook his head and managed a nervous smile, though his eyes kept darting over to Turing Test. “I’m fine, Sweetie Belle. I see you, ah, brought guests.”

Sweetie nodded emphatically. “Apple Bloom and Scootaloo and I are all helping Turing Test here find her cutie mark, and we thought maybe she’d be good with music!”

He pushed his lips in and out. “Yyyes, well… maybe!”

Turing Test strolled over to the desk. “I can tell by your body language that I make you nervous.”

“W-well, it’s nothing personal,” he said, “it’s just that, um… I’ve never seen you up close. I mean, I’ve seen you in Ponyville, I just…” He trailed off, leaving an awkward silence.

“Understood.” She bowed politely. “My name is Turing Test. I am here to learn music and make friends. It is nice to meet you.”

Royal Riff blinked a few times, but a smile slowly came to his face. “Ah. It’s nice to meet you too.” He cleared his throat. “Sorry, I guess I… I just didn’t know what to expect. Is there something in particular you need?”

“Well, I think she could really use a teacher,” Sweetie Belle said. “I’d teach her myself, but… maybe somepony more experienced than me would be best!”

“I see,” Royal Riff said, opening a book on the desk. “It looks like there aren’t many instructors here that are available. Most aren’t in today, and the rest are all booked up.”

The three Crusaders all frowned, their ears lowering in unison as they looked up at him with the cutest puppy dog eyes they could muster. Royal Riff rubbed his neck, breaking into a sweat.

“Well… she’s not an instructor, but, uh… she has been known to help some of the other ponies around here. I guess it wouldn’t hurt to ask her. Provided she doesn’t blow a fuse at you for ‘breaking her concentration,’ I mean.”

Apple Bloom and Scootaloo both flashed wide grins. Sweetie Belle, however, looked away uncertainly.

“Oh. You mean her. She might not want to help, though.”

Royal Riff shrugged. “Well, she’s the only one around. Take it or leave it, Sweetie Belle.”

She sighed. “Fine. Which room is she in?”

“Room P8.”

Sweetie nodded and again led the group as they went up the nearby stairs and down a hall. They passed several closed doors, but the sound of instruments very gently bled in from the soundproofed doors.

“Is something wrong?” Scootaloo asked.

“Yeah, you didn’t seem too keen on whoever this musician is,” Apple Bloom added.

“It’s not that she’s a bad choice,” Sweetie Belle said, heaving a sigh, “it’s just that she’s… a little particular.”

They came to the door marked P8. The rich sound of a cello being played was heard faintly through the door.

Sweetie sighed and gently rapped on the door, the sound barely audible.

“Well, guess she’s busy!” Sweetie Belle said, turning to go.

She was stopped by Apple Bloom while Scootaloo walked over to the door and knocked a little harder on it.

The cello music stopped, and the sound of hooves stomping was heard, along with grumbling. The door opened, and a gray mare with a dark mane and a pink bow tie stuck her head out.

“Can’t you see this room is occupied?!” she shouted, her posh Trottingham accent instantly recognizable. “Go away and let me practice in peace!”

She slammed the door in Scootaloo’s face.

“I… think I see what you mean,” she said, chuckling nervously.

A second later, however, the door opened again. “Wait a moment,” the mare said, glancing over. “Sweetie Belle? I say, is that you? And you’ve brought-- oh!” she cried, spotting Turing Test at last.

“Um… hello Octavia,” Sweetie Belle said, swallowing, her cheeks reddening. “I’m sorry if we bothered you.”

“No, no, I… I apologize,” she said, looking away herself. “I’m just a bit frustrated. This blasted prelude is rather complicated, and so I… well, never mind. Who is your friend?”

“Hello,” Turing Test began, stepping forward. “My name is Turing Test. I am a robot, a mechanical pony, who has been staying with Twilight Sparkle for the purpose of learning about friendship.”

“Ah,” Octavia said, putting out her hoof, allowing herself a smile. “I am Octavia Melody. I’m a cellist. Enchanted to meet you.”

“You have a Trottingham accent, correct?”

“Yes. What of it?” she asked, raising an eyebrow.

“I have visited Trottingham. It was a very nice visit. I spent a significant amount of time at Cambridle University.”

“Really, now!” Octavia said, brightening up significantly. “Well, now that you mention it, my friend Lyra, whom I also occasionally play with, was mentioning you. It is nice to meet you in person Miss, er, Turing Test, was it?”

Turing nodded.

“I see. Well,” she said, “is there something more you want? I get the feeling this was more than a social call.”

Sweetie nodded. “Yes. Um, Miss Octavia, do you think… that is… could you teach Turing Test music?”

Octavia raised an eyebrow. “Teach her… music?”

Sweetie nodded.

Octavia turned to face Turing Test. “And what do you know about music?”

“Music: noun - vocal or instrumental sounds (or both) combined in such a way as to produce beauty of form, harmony, and expression of emotion; the written or printed signs representing vocal or instrumental sound.”

Octavia blinked. “So… you know what the word means… and that’s it?”

Turing nodded. “I have never played music, or sung, or even heard the entirety of a song before.”

Octavia rubbed her forehead. “I… am not certain I can help you. There’s quite a bit of ground to cover…”

“I do not wish to cover ground with anything; I wish to learn about music.”

The Crusaders all groaned in unison, but Octavia actually chuckled. “Well, what I meant was… ah, never mind. I suppose I have the time, and nopony should be without music in their life…” She smiled and gave a decisive nod. “Very well, Miss Turing Test. I shall teach you about music!”

The three fillies cheered. Sweetie Belle abruptly hugged Octavia, causing her to give a start and a momentary flinch, but she relaxed and smiled at Sweetie’s exuberance.

“Thank you thank you thank you, Miss Octavia!” Sweetie exclaimed.

“Now now, no need to lose one’s head over it,” she said gently. She then turned to face Turing Test. “Well, shall we begin?”

Turing nodded. “Affirmative. Thank you for your assistance.”

“Don’t thank me yet… I suppose we might wish to first see if we can teach you the basics before we get too deeply into this.”

***

The room Octavia had led them to was a larger practice room, and this one had a baby grand piano in the corner. Octavia stood next to a blue earth pony stallion with a pair of eighth notes as a cutie mark.

“Noteworthy here has agreed to assist us today,” Octavia said, turning to smile at the stallion.

“No problem!” he said, pulling up the bench to sit before the piano. “Come on over here, Miss Robot, and we’ll try to show you a bit about how to read music.”

Turing obliged and came next to him, Octavia in tow as the Crusaders stood by. Turing stopped short of the bench and glanced down at it.

“Well come on,” Noteworthy said, patting the spot on it next to him, “have a seat!”

“That may not be wise. I have a bad history with sitting on things.”

“She does,” Sweetie Belle muttered dryly.

“But on the upside, that was the best game of musical chairs ever!” Scootaloo added.

“Uhhh… yeah,” Noteworthy said, giving Turing a weak smile. “S-standing’s okay too. Uh, anyway…”

He held up several sheets of music and placed them on the stand on the head of the piano. “These are the notes you use to read music.”

Octavia reached over and pointed at one of the notes. “That is a ‘G’ note, Turing Test,” she said. “Musical notes are called by letters, going from A to G and then repeating. Each set of eight notes is called an octave. If you go up an octave, you go up a pitch! Noteworthy, would you show her?”

Noteworthy tapped the ‘G’ key and then went up an octave, pressing a higher ‘G.’ Turing’s ears twitched.

“I see. That is very interesting. However, there are more than eight buttons--”

“Keys,” Noteworthy corrected, chuckling lightly.

“--keys between those notes.”

“Well, the black keys and white keys can make the regular note or make a ‘sharp’ or ‘flat’ note, which is a half step up in pitch. Ah, that is… it’s halfway between one note and the next. Sharps are a half step higher than the note indicated, and flats are a half step lower.” Octavia frowned. “I’m sorry, but I’m not certain if this is effective. Is this making any sense at all?”

But Turing nodded, to Octavia’s surprise. “It is very sensible. And those symbols at the beginning of this music sheet… do they signify that all notes on those lines should be played sharp or flat?”

“Yes! Oh, I say, you learn very quickly!” Octavia laughed. “This is the key of D Major. The Fs and Cs are to be played sharp. Actually, this is a lovely tune entitled ‘Canon and Gigue in D,’ by Pommelbel. Noteworthy, would you mind playing her a bit?”

Noteworthy nodded and got his hooves into position. He gently began to play the light, tinkling notes of the song as it grew in complexity. Octavia stifled a laugh when she saw that Sweetie Belle had her eyes closed and was swaying slightly as she hummed along with the melody.

After a few moments, Noteworthy finished the tune and turned to face Turing Test, whose eyes had slightly constricted.

“Did you enjoy it?” he asked.

“I… yes, I did!” she said, her voice surprisingly energetic. “I understand now. Music is organized into mathematical divisions and a consistent speed and rhythm. Furthermore, I was able to decipher and match the notes on the page to the keys you were playing. I am now able to read music.”

“You what?!” Octavia asked, her mouth dropping open. “Good heavens, already?!”

Apple Bloom chuckled. “Yeah, Turing here is a pretty fast learner. I bet she could play just about anything now!”

Noteworthy raised an eyebrow. “Is that right? Well, then, give it a try!” He moved from the bench, giving Turing Test room to stand before the piano.

Turing raised her hoof, glancing down at it and then to the piano. “One thing I am uncertain of is… how are you able to play this instrument with hooves?”

They all went wide-eyed at that.

“Umm…” Noteworthy looked down at his hoof as well, his gaze turning into an empty stare. “How… how…? I…”

Sweetie Belle coughed, breaking everyone out of their own momentary stupor. “Turing, you could always use your magic, you know.”

Turing nodded. “I believe that would be best.”

“Yeah, great idea!” Noteworthy said (a little more forcefully than he probably should have) as he assumed a tight grin. “Hey, that’s way better than that thing we were just talking about, heh heh… whatever it was, I mean.” He smacked his lips. “Why do I taste copper?”

“Engaging U-Mode,” Turing said, and her horn appeared. A goldenrod glow engulfed the piano keys and, just like before, the little sounds of notes began to fill the room. It was perfectly played, sounding just like it had before.

“That was awesome!” Scootaloo exclaimed, leaping into the air and giving a flutter of her wings.

“Yeah, yer gonna be famous if ya keep playin’ like that!” Apple Bloom added.

But then they turned to see that Octavia was frowning, and her eyes were narrowed. She exchanged a look with Noteworthy, who was also frowning.

Turing tilted her head. “You do not seem pleased. I do not believe I made a mistake. Is something the matter?”

“It’s… well, would you mind playing it again?”

Turing shifted her ears at the request but obliged and played the tune a second time.

“It still sounds good to me,” Scootaloo said.

“Same here!” Apple Bloom said.

But then they saw that Sweetie Belle was also frowning. “I get it,” she whispered. “She’s playing it the same way as Noteworthy! The exact same way!”

Turing nodded. “Correct. Noteworthy provided an excellent lesson.”

“Yes, well,” Octavia began, putting her hoof on Turing’s shoulder, “perhaps we should try a different piece. If you can read music, would you mind giving this a try?”

She gave Turing another piece, entitled simply “Run Down.” This was infinitely more complex and much faster. But without a moment of hesitation, Turing set it on the stand and played it without a single mistake.

Now the other Crusaders were making faces too.

“I do not understand,” Turing said, her ears squeaking as they went flat. “I played perfectly. Why are you reacting in this way?”

“I dunno,” Apple Bloom said, not meeting her eyes. “There’s just somethin’ kinda… weird about it. An’ it aint’ just the song.”

“It’s like you’re playing it too... loud?” Scootaloo said uncertainly as she rubbed her chin. “Or is it too quiet?”

“It just sounds wrong,” Sweetie Belle said, closing her eyes, scrunching them as she tried to put her hoof on it. “It’s… it just sounds unnatural.”

“Exactly,” Octavia sighed. “It’s, well, too perfect!”

Turing looked from one to another and saw that each of them was nodding in agreement. Too perfect? How can that be? Perfect, by definition, describes something as ‘having all the required or desirable elements, qualities, or characteristics; as good as it is possible to be.’”

“Yes, and your playing is very good, but it has a certain artificial quality,” Octavia said. “The timing between each note is the same, and there’s no lingering quality to the music. It’s simply being played without anything unique or surprising to it. It’s… it’s not organic.”

Turing put her hoof to her chest. “Of course. I am not organic either.”

“Ah ha, yes,” Octavia said, nodding. Then she offered Turing a smile. “Well, perhaps with some practice, you could develop a bit more of your own style. After all, it is your first time playing. I apologize; I didn’t mean to discourage you.”

Turing was quiet for a moment. “Understood. Perhaps I will practice my playing.”

“Um, actually,” Noteworthy said, “I really need to get back to practicing myself. If you want to practice, you’ll have to reserve the room for later or find another piano.”

“Understood.” She twitched her ears. “Or perhaps I could simply imitate the sounds myself.”

Octavia and Noteworthy exchanged glances before looking back at Turing.

“What do you mean?” Octavia asked.

“I have the ability to mimic sounds. I will demonstrate.” She raised her head slightly and, sure enough, the sound of piano music came from her mouth.

“Cool trick, Turing!” Scootaloo said.

“Oh, yes, but… it isn’t a perfect facsimile,” Octavia said, making a face. “Forgive me, but there’s a rather tinny quality to it, and it actually sounds slightly distorted. I think perhaps the real thing is better.”

“Maybe she could play a different instrument,” Apple Bloom suggested. “Like a trumpet or a trombone or somethin’!”

“Those instruments,” Turing said, looking down at her, “are played by blowing into them and vibrating one’s lips, correct?”

Apple Bloom nodded, then froze. “Oh, right. I forgot you ain’t got no lips.”

“Or lungs,” Turing added.

Then Sweetie Belle gasped. “Oh, oh, I know!” she exclaimed, smiling up at Turing. “You could try singing the tune instead! Like this!” She raised her head and sonorously sang the main melody of “Pommelbel’s Canon.”

“Understood. I will also attempt to sing the tune.” Turing raised her head, but instead of making the piano sounds, she sang the notes in her own synthetic voice.

At first, Octavia flinched at it, but then, presently, Turing’s singing took on a strangely hypnotic sound. The notes were rigid and staggered, and the tinny quality was still audible, but something about Turing’s unearthly voice changed something about the song.

“Was that more to your liking?” Turing asked when she was finished. She looked to each of them. “Your expressions indicate that you found that to be more pleasing.”

“I dunno,” Apple Bloom said, tapping her chin. “It was nice an’ all, but I can’t imagine ya singin’ along with a ballad or a folk song or somethin’ like that.”

“It’s too bad,” Sweetie said. “You’re actually a pretty good singer! Maybe if there was some music that your voice went with--”

Octavia gasped suddenly, drawing startled looks from the others.

“I have it!” she exclaimed, breaking into a smile. “Perhaps the fact that you don’t sound organic is a disadvantage because we’ve been approaching the problem from a classical standpoint. But if the music was as synthetic as your voice…”

She galloped to the door and threw it open, gesturing for them all to follow her into the hallway. “I have an idea! Follow me! I may know just the pony who can help!”

***

In another wing of the building, the group made its way up a hall. On either side, the practice rooms were surprisingly empty, a fact that did not go unnoticed by Sweetie Belle, who asked about it.

“Well, though the rooms are somewhat soundproofed, they do little once--”

A sudden, deep rumbling shook the walls and ran up through the floor to their hooves. The rumbling repeated in a rhythmic thumping sound for a few moments before ceasing.

“What the hay was that?!” Apple Bloom asked.

Octavia sighed. “Seems she’s testing her equipment. Well, now at least you know why the others have chosen to practice elsewhere.”

Turing wasn’t certain what instrument could produce such a deep, reverberating sound, but her curiosity was piqued. She began walking ahead of the group as they approached the large double doors at the end of the hall.

As they did so, a new sound was heard. The thumping bass was still there, but there was also a steady drum beat, an electric guitar, and the rich, sonorous voice of a mare singing.

Apple Bloom and Scootaloo broke into beaming smiles.

“I know this song!” Scootaloo exclaimed, dashing towards the door.

“It’s Sapphire Shores’s song: ‘Serves Her Right!’”

As they ran past the others, the familiar lyrics came through loud and clear:
“She wanted glamor!
She wanted fame!
Now she’s got nothin’
Except her name!
No friends and family
were on her mind.
Now she’s the one
who’s left behi~i~iind, yeah!”

The fillies burst through the door but froze in their tracks as Octavia, Sweetie Belle, and Turing Test caught up to them.

In the larger practice room was not Sapphire Shores but another pony, a white unicorn mare with a dark and light blue striped mane. She was wearing purple-tinted shades and standing on her hind legs at a turntable, spinning a record and flipping switches and pushing sliders back and forth on the panel. From the large speakers next to her, the song continued.

“It serves her right!
It serves her right!
Ain’t got nopony
to be a guiding light!”

Then the mare stopped the record, pulling it back with a sharp scratching sound and stepping on a pedal, which added an extra drum beat to the song. A synthetic note grew in pitch under the sound. The song continued playing, but now the chorus was only repeating a certain part as more synthetic sound flooded the room, the thumping sound strong enough that they could all feel it in their chests.

“It serves her right! -right! -right! -right! -right! -right! -right!
-a guiding light -light! -light! -light! -light! -light! -light!
It serves her ri- ri- ri- ri- ri- ri- riririririririririririririririRIRIRIRIRIGHT!!”

There was a pause for a split second followed by an explosion of sound and deep, powerful bass tones. Octavia and Sweetie Belle both covered their ears, and even Apple Bloom flinched slightly at the bone-crushing sound, but Scootaloo was grinning ear-to-ear.

And all the while, Turing Test stood, transfixed by the spectacle before her.

The mare at the turntable was grinning fiercely and nodding her head vigorously to the music when she finally glanced over and spotted Octavia glaring at her. She flashed a sheepish grin and flipped a switch, causing the sound to stop and the record on the turntable to slowly stop spinning.

“Ugh,” Octavia groaned, walking over to her. “I understand your need to practice your craft, but really, must you do it so loudly?!”

The unicorn mare pursed her lips and stroked her chin thoughtfully. Then she grinned and nodded enthusiastically.

Octavia rolled her eyes. “Well, never mind all that,” she said. She looked to the others and straightened her bow tie. “Ahem. My friends, this is--”

“I know who she is!” Scootaloo exclaimed, rushing over to her. “You’re DJ Pon-3! I’ve heard your music! Pinkie plays it at her parties sometimes! You’re awesome!”

The mare, DJ Pon-3, raised her chin, grinning smugly as she polished a hoof on her chest.

“Yes,” Octavia said, “but as we’re not in one of those sweltering clubs she frequents, you can simply call her by her proper name: Miss Vinyl Scratch.”

Vinyl frowned and raised her shades to glare at Octavia, who simply shot her a grin right back.

“Oh, tish-tosh, Vinyl, I’m not calling you by your stage name when we’re in private company,” Octavia replied.

Vinyl rolled her eyes and was about to replace her shades when she spotted Turing Test nearby, watching her. She froze, and her shades slipped down her muzzle as she gawked at her.

“Hello, DJ Pon-3 or Vinyl Scratch. I am Turing Test. It is nice to meet you.”

Vinyl pushed her shades back up her muzzle and walked over to Turing. She cocked her head to the side and rubbed her chin as she looked the mechanical mare over, circling around her. She even gently rapped her hoof on Turing’s head, noting the metallic ringing it made. This caused Turing Test to shift her ears, which gave their customary squeak. Vinyl took a step back at the sudden sound and movement.

At last, she simply looked back to Octavia and then gestured with one hoof at Turing, jerking her head at her with an inquisitive look on her face.

“She’s a… um, what was that word you used, Miss Turing?”

“Robot,” Turing replied.

“Yes, yes, that’s it. She’s a robot, Vinyl,” Octavia explained. “A mechanical pony.”

“Yeah!” Apple Bloom said, coming over to Vinyl eagerly. “She’s a machine! But don’t be scared, ‘cause she’s real nice!”

“And she wants to learn music!” Sweetie Belle added, likewise coming to stand before her.

“Can you help?” Scootaloo asked, fluttering her wings as she joined her friends.

Vinyl looked all around her frantically, backing up from the eager fillies only to run flankfirst into Turing Test. She whirled around to face Turing and then looked around to see she was practically surrounded. She looked again to Octavia.

“Yes, well, that is the gist of things,” Octavia said, giving a nod and a smile. “I’m afraid we’ve run into a problem with teaching Turing Test music. She can read and apparently understand music with ease, but she has difficulty producing music. At least, in the traditional sense. You, however…”

She trailed off, and Vinyl seemed to get the hint as she pointed a hoof at herself.

“Yes, precisely,” Octavia replied. “We were wondering if you might help her find her musical niche, as it were.”

Vinyl crinkled her nose at that, but then she saw that Turing Test had walked past her and right up to her turntable. She tensed up and followed her, about to shoo her away from her equipment, but then she watched as Turing did something curious.

Turing very gently laid her metallic hoof on the machine, patting it as if it were an adorable puppy. “This is a machine. It makes music. The sounds are very different from the other music I have experienced today, but it still follows similar form and principles. It is still music. How interesting.”

Vinyl paused. Her hoof was still in the air as she’d been about to wave Turing Test off, but now she set it down and smiled. She went behind the turntable and turned it back on. She pressed the pedals at the bottom of the device and flipped a switch. The solid thump of a drum beat began to play. The Crusaders all began to nod their heads in time with the rhythm, and Turing, noticing this, began to mimic them.

Octavia chuckled at the scene. Oh, it really is like watching a foal discovering music for the first time! How delightful!

Vinyl stopped the drum beat and looked at Turing, raising an eyebrow at her.

“Do you have an inquiry?” Turing Test asked.

Vinyl tapped the turntable with one hoof, then pointed at Turing, then held her hoof flat-side up.

“I am not certain that I understand. Are you inquiring about my motivations? You wish to know why I wish to learn from you?”

Vinyl smiled and nodded.

“Understood.” She looked down at the turntable. “This is a machine that makes music, despite the fact that it has no apparent sentience.” She then tapped her own chest, staring directly at Vinyl Scratch. “I am also a machine, though I am sentient. Perhaps I am also capable of making music.”

She paused for a moment, tapping her chin as she considered the unspoken question further.

“Music is something that organic ponies seem to enjoy. I have little experience with it personally, but I am able to appreciate the mathematical simplicity and the intricacies of it. Therefore, in a way, I am able to appreciate something that organics also enjoy. By learning to produce music, perhaps I will be able to bond more with organic ponies and understand them better, and they in turn will understand more about me.”

Vinyl let a grin slowly cross her face.

“Is my explanation sufficient?”

Vinyl nodded, her grin becoming a bright, toothy smile.

“Hey, look at all these records!” Scootaloo exclaimed, looking through a stack of records nearby. “She’s got Sapphire Shores’s album! And… what are some of these other ones?”

Sweetie Belle used her fledgling magic to lift the records and examine the names of the artists on them. “Let’s see… Orbitrot, Paul Oatenfold, Neighphex Twin - ugh, the pony on this one looks kind of creepy - the Talon Parsnips Project, deadh0r5e, Clydesdale Harris, Porter Trotinson, Draft Punk…”

Vinyl beamed with pride, pleased with her collection.

Sweetie Belle narrowed her eyes. “I have no idea who any of these ponies are,” she said flatly.

Vinyl’s horn glowed, and she yanked the records away with a scowl.

Octavia chuckled, covering her mouth with one hoof.

“I do not know much,” Turing said, getting Vinyl’s attention, “but I wish to see if there is a style of music that matches my style of speech or playing. I am told that I sound ‘artificial.’ Since the music you make is likewise synthetic, perhaps you are the best pony to help me.”

Vinyl heaved a sigh but finally smiled and gave a nod.

“Yeah, all right.”

The Crusaders all gave a start and stared at Vinyl in wide-eyed disbelief. Turing Test likewise let her ears go straight.

“Y-you…” Scootaloo said, “you can talk?!”

“Pfft,” Vinyl scoffed, “of course I can! No idea what made you think I couldn’t!”

All three fillies rolled their eyes in unison.

“Okay, Turing,” Vinyl said, putting her foreleg around Turing’s shoulder, “you wanna give this a shot, then I think I know just what to do!”

“I am glad to hear that. How shall we proceed?”

“You said you tried singing, right?”

Turing nodded.

“Lemme hear it!”

“Acknowledged.” She raised her head slightly, then paused. “However, the last song I sang had a negative reception. Perhaps if I sang something different.”

“Whatever you like,” Vinyl said, shrugging her shoulders.

“Oh, I know!” Sweetie said. “Here, Turing, this is a tune I learned a little while ago! Just do it like I do!”

They all listened as Sweetie sang the first few bars of a simple melody, her high, lilting voice hitting each note with perfect accuracy.

“Now you!” Sweetie Belle said, smiling at Turing.

“Understood. Initiating…”

She raised her head and mimicked the melody that Sweetie Belle sang in her own voice. As before, the tinny quality, the lack of transition between notes, and the same artificiality of her singing were evident.

“Yes, well,” Octavia said, shaking her head. “You can see the problem, Vinyl.”

But Vinyl was only standing there, frozen in place, until her jaw dropped.

“Whoa,” she breathed. “Whoaaaa!” she repeated, more loudly this time. She practically bounded forward on her hooves. “Octavia, you were right! Sweet Celestia on a unicycle, that was awesome!”

“It was?” Turing echoed, just as perplexed by Vinyl’s enthusiastic reception.

“I thought you might appreciate her singing style, Vinyl,” Octavia said, smiling warmly. “You seem to have an affinity for synthetic sound, after all.”

“You thought right!” Vinyl said, and she took Turing Test by the shoulders. “That sound! That metallic echo! The way you hit each note clear as a bell with no change between notes! That’s incredible! It’s… it’s perfect! It’s beautiful!”

Turing took a step back. “Beautiful?” She looked away. “I… you truly think my voice is beautiful?”

“Heck yeah!” Vinyl said, practically bouncing on her hooves. “Oh man, I gotta record this! I’ve been working on this track called ‘Amethyst Caverns,’ and--”

“Coincidentally, my eyes and the stones in my legs are amethyst.”

“Heyyy, even better! See, like, I’ve got the tune laid down, but I keep thinking I need a vocal track for it. But every time I record a voice for it, even with the effects, it doesn’t sound right. But that sound you’ve got is just right!” Then her grin grew even wider. “Hey, do you think you could make it sound even more… uh… what’s a good way to put it… ‘robotic?’”

“Wait a minute!” Octavia exclaimed. “You want her to sound even less like a normal pony?!”

“Pfft,” Vinyl said, rolling her eyes behind her shades, “normal’s boring! She’s got a sound that isn’t like anypony else! If I can get that recorded… ohhh wow, this is gonna be sick!”

Turing raised a hoof. “I do not wish to make anypony sick.”

“No, I mean this is gonna kill at the clubs!”

“I certainly do not wish to kill anypony.”

As the others groaned, Vinyl Scratch simply burst out laughing, holding her belly. “You’re hilarious! Nah, relax, ‘Bots! I just mean everypony’s gonna love it!”

“Ah, I see. That is much better.”

Vinyl turned to the others. “Hey, I’d kinda like to work on this in private with Turing Test here. Octavia, why don’t you and the fillies here go practice or hang or whatever and meet us back here in a little bit. Like, I dunno… an hour?”

Octavia nodded. “Very well. I look forward to the finished product.”

“Aww, but I wanted to see them practice!” Scootaloo whined as Octavia ushered her and the other Crusaders out the door.

Once they were gone, Vinyl grinned at Turing Test. “Okay, so, um… this thing I’ve been working on? It… it doesn’t really have lyrics.”

Turing tilted her head to the side. “Then what shall I sing?”

“Ehhhh, words are overrated,” Vinyl said, waving a hoof dismissively. “That’s why I usually don’t like to talk in public. But you’ve got me all excited!”

“Instead, let’s just jam a little bit, and you can figure out how you wanna sing it. Just sing random syllables, like you’re singing in a language nopony speaks except you.”

Turing was silent as she considered that and watched while Vinyl went back to her turntable. She flipped some switches, and a drum beat started.

***

About an hour later, Octavia and the Crusaders, along with a few of the other ponies from around the Guild entered the practice room after Turing had told them that they were ready.

“Ooh!” Sweetie Belle cried, walking over to where Vinyl and Turing Test were standing. “Did you finish your song?”

Vinyl nodded, flashing a grin. Turing nodded as well.

“Um… are you gonna play it for us?”

Vinyl nodded.

Sweetie’s face fell. “You’re back to the ‘no talking’ thing again, aren’t you?”

Vinyl’s grin became smug, and she nodded one final time.

“Never mind all that,” Octavia said, shushing the gathered ponies. “All right Vinyl, Turing… show us what you’ve got!”

The crowd of ponies stood all around, less than a dozen of them, as Vinyl turned on her devices and adjusted the volume on her speakers one final time. Stage lights overhead came on as she used her magic to pull the shades of the windows down and dim the room.

Nearby was a microphone on a stand; Turing Test went up to it, tapping it once lightly before looking to Vinyl and giving a nod.

Vinyl flipped the switch.

A drum beat began, this time accompanied by the hollow, ringing sound of synthetic bells. The tinkling sound echoed slightly, though it wasn’t clear if it was because of the room or because of an effect Vinyl had added.

After this short intro, Turing raised her head and began to sing.

They all stood awestruck. The sound that came from her wasn’t like her normal voice. It was indeed somehow more robotic, the notes still stiff with no transition, but she sang a simple melody where the notes hung in the air. As she sang, a bass line began, a synthetic electric guitar accompanying her. The words she sang were strange, unfamiliar monosyllables, yet the tone, the strange, alien tone, struck something in them. Something mystifying and yet… perhaps somber?

Many ponies began to nod their heads to the beat, while others merely stared on as the mechanical pony before them sounded out each echoing syllable. The Crusaders all glanced at each other, mutual expressions of glee and excitement on their faces as they quietly cheered.

The song slowly came to an end, the drum beat trailing off and Turing’s voice growing softer and more distant, until at last it was over.

Silence hung momentarily. Turing gently put her ears back.

Then the crowd erupted in loud cheers, hollering and stomping their hooves in applause. Octavia bounded over to Vinyl.

“Vinyl! That was wonderful! One of your finest yet!”

Vinyl flashed another grin and held out a hoof.

“Oh ho… I think you’ve earned it,” Octavia laughed, and tapped her hoof to Vinyl’s.

Turing Test, meanwhile, was glancing all around her at the ponies cheering, and her ears shot straight up. Her song had been a success! She had found her voice and sung along with music that fit her perfectly! Her Crusader friends’ efforts hadn’t gone to waste!

She glanced back at her flank. There was a telltale gleam as a bright light shone from it!

But then she moved slightly and saw that the light was only the stage light reflecting off her metallic hull. There was nothing there. There was no cutie mark.

Attempt failed.

She continued staring at it, as if what she was seeing was an error. But there was no error.

Attempt failed. Cutie mark is not present. Despite my efforts, I have not discovered my special talent.

The Crusaders all ran up to Turing.

“That was great, Turing Test!” Scootaloo cried.

“Yeah, maybe you should do more o’ this kind o’ music!” Apple Bloom added.

Sweetie Belle was actually still bouncing from excitement. “It was great, Turing! I never knew this type of music could be this fun!” she exclaimed, her voice squeaking.

But Turing only hung her head. “Thank you… however, it seems that our efforts were unsuccessful. I still have no cutie mark.”

The fillies all frowned, their ears drooping.

“Ah… but still, I appreciate your efforts.” She glanced over at Vinyl and Octavia. “And I am also grateful to you. You enabled me to discover a new ability. Even if it is not my special talent.”

Octavia and Vinyl exchanged glances, then offered mutual smiles.

“It… it was a wonderful effort regardless,” Octavia said. “A very memorable piece that I’m certain will become popular!”

Vinyl tapped her chest, nodding solemnly.

“I am glad. However, I… I believe I should go.”

The gathered musicians and the Crusaders all watched her as she slowly trudged back through the doors and out into the hall before picking up speed and running off, her hooves pounding on the wooden floor as she dashed off.

The Crusaders paused a moment.

“Should we… keep trying?” Sweetie Belle asked.

“Well… o’ course we should!” Apple Bloom said decisively. “We said we were gonna try an’ help ‘er, an’ now she just feels worse!”

“You’re right, Apple Bloom!” Scootaloo added. “Let’s catch up to her!”

***

It wasn’t hard to find her; they simply had to ask if anypony had seen a robot running by. Turing was, after all, very hard not to notice.

They’d expected her to be in Twilight’s castle. Instead, she was in the park, sitting alone on a bench.

“Uh… h-hey Turing,” Apple Bloom said, smiling gently at her.

“Hello, Apple Bloom and Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle. I see you have followed me.”

There was a long pause between them as nopony knew what to say.

“Do you mind if we sit with you?” Sweetie Belle asked.

Turing shook her head.

The Crusaders all sat down on the park bench with her. A sharp crack was heard, and the bench finally gave way under the weight of a robot and three fillies.

“Ummmm,” Scootaloo said, unsure of what else to say as she picked herself up, dusting the splintered remains of the bench from her backside and tail.

“Scootaloo, will you check my flank?” Turing asked.

“W-why?” she asked hesitantly.

“It is possible that my special talent is destroying chairs by sitting on them.”

Scootaloo chuckled nervously and glanced at Turing’s flank.

“Hey, it’s there!”

“It is?!” Turing asked, glancing back.

Her flank was bare.

She turned to face Scootaloo, constricting her eyes as the little pegasus filly grinned sheepishly.

“Eh heh heh…”

“That is not amusing,” Turing said.

Apple Bloom lightly smacked Scootaloo upside the head. “What’s the matter with you, Scootaloo?!” she cried.

“Well, I just thought it would lighten the mood!”

“Hey, stop fighting, you two!” Sweetie Belle said. She gently put her little hoof on Turing’s. “Listen, Turing,” she said, “it’s… it’s okay. I mean, we all tried again and again to get our cutie marks before we finally did! It would have been nice to help you get one in a day, but, well… maybe that was a little unrealistic.”

“Perhaps,” Turing said, “but as you said, I am proficient in many skills. I thought that perhaps making music would be different, would be my special talent. However, even though I greatly enjoyed it and felt as though it was something I could devote myself to, I did not receive a cutie mark.”

She stood up, her ears completely lowered. “I believe that my first assumption was correct. Robots do not get cutie marks.”

And then a gruff new voice was heard: “Hmph! Ponies!”

They turned to look behind them. A donkey with a wrinkled muzzle and a shock of orange hair atop his head was standing by the ruined park bench.

“Cranky!” the Crusaders all exclaimed.

“We haven’t seen you since the wedding!” Sweetie Belle said.

Cranky allowed himself a bit of a smile. “Well, Matilda and I have been enjoying our honeymoon. It was a long one, but, well, we figured it was overdue.”

The fillies all smiled, and Sweetie even let out an affectionate “Awww!”

Cranky blushed slightly and coughed. “So what’s all this about a cutie mark?”

“Oh, well,” Scootaloo said, gesturing at Turing Test, “this is Turing Test! She’s a robot and--”

“Yeah, yeah, I know who she is! I read the paper, ya know!”

Turing stepped over the smashed bench and bowed slightly. “Hello. Unless I am mistaken, you are called Cranky? It is nice to meet you.”

“Likewise,” he mumbled, bowing back. “So, what’s all this I hear about a cutie mark?”

Turing Test told him all about her adventures that day with the Crusaders and about her attempt to get one related to music, all to no avail.

“So, upset about a cutie mark, are ya?” Cranky said, absentmindedly scratching one of his long, floppy ears. “Why?”

Turing Test was quiet for a moment before replying, “A cutie mark would allow me to know more of what I should specialize in. Furthermore, it is something that ponies desire as a means of identifying themselves. And… I believed that a cutie mark would enable me to be more like organic ponies.”

“Hm,” Cranky sniffed, raising an eyebrow. “Ya know what I am?”

Turing’s ears twitched as she considered the question. “Married?”

“No!” He paused, chuckling. “Well, yeah, but that’s not what I meant. I’m a donkey.”

“Ah.”

“See my flank?”

Turing Test peered around him. “Affirmative,” she replied.

“No cutie mark,” he said. “Donkeys don’t get ‘em.”

“But ponies do.”

“And you’re a pony?” he asked, raising an eyebrow. “You may look like one, an’ maybe in some weird way you are one, but maybe you aren’t the type that gets a cutie mark. Tough break, kid.”

Turing lowered her head.

The Crusaders rushed to Turing’s side. “H-hey, Mr. Cranky, don’t be mean to her!” Sweetie Belle said.

“Yeah!” Apple Bloom chimed in, scowling at him. “She’s a pretty darn special pony even without a cutie mark!”

Cranky smirked. “That right?”

“Yeah, that is right!” Scootaloo shot back. “She’s awesome! She’s smart, she’s crazy strong, and she can even play music and sing! And she can fly and use magic! That’s something only alicorns can do!”

“Well,” he said, chuckling. “She sounds pretty special. Matter of fact,” he continued, looking straight at Turing Test with a smirk, “I’ve been hearing all about this strange robot pony that’s been going around town helping this pony and that pony and so-and-so and whoever-their-name is all over town today. A few months ago, ponies were still talkin’ about you like some kinda Boogeymare. Guess you made an impression on the town. Sorta seems like you did on these little kids too.”

The Crusaders fell silent. Turing’s eyes constricted to tiny dots.

“Then you are saying that my efforts were not wasted. The lack of a cutie mark does not negate my abilities or the things I have learned or the progress I have made with the citizens of Ponyville.”

Cranky winked at her. “You got it, kid. Heh.” He raised his head, adjusting his toupee slightly. “See, us donkeys don’t have any special mark telling us what makes us special. When I was just a kid like these youngsters, I asked my old mom why we didn’t get one. She told me that ponies might be lucky because they had a mark to tell ‘em what they were good at… but us? We could figure it out for ourselves, and that wasn’t too bad either.

“So now, if donkeys don’t get cutie marks, or griffons, or dragons, or sea monsters, or whatever… then does it matter that much if robots can get one or not?”

Turing’s ears twitched again, and she bowed deeply to Cranky. “I see now. You are very wise, Mr. Cranky. Thank you.”

“H-hey, come on, get up,” he said, his blush returning. He glanced around, hoping nopony was watching. “I’m not some hotshot Canterlot royal or anything. I’m just an old donkey who’s been around and seen a lot.”

He sighed and turned to go. “I better get moving. I left Matilda feeding the ducks. Take care, kids.”

The Crusaders and Turing Test all watched him go, waving to him.

“Wow…” Scootaloo said, breaking the silence. “Cranky’s actually kind of… well, cool!”

“Agreed,” Turing said. “He is. However, he is not the only one I should be thanking.”

She turned back to the three fillies. “You spent the entire day assisting me, providing me with opportunities to meet more ponies and prove my usefulness to them. I did not realize this at the time, but I believe you have allowed me to form more bonds and create opportunities for more friendships, which is, after all, my primary directive. Thank you, my young friends.”

The Crusaders smiled and all came over to embrace her. She returned the hug, enjoying the quiet moment as they stood there in park as the sun slowly set over the horizon.

When the hug ended, Apple Bloom asked, “So, uh, do ya wanna try an’ get a cutie mark tomorrow? I mean, I know we decided that it doesn’t really matter an’ all, but if ya just want to…”

Turing shook her head. “No. I will do as you did: I will focus my efforts toward opening more doors and exploring my abilities, rather than on earning my mark. Should I receive a cutie mark, then I will gladly bear it. If I do not, then that is also satisfactory.

“However,” she added, crouching slightly to look at them on their level, “if you wish to ‘hang out’ again, I will be happy to keep you company.”

The three of them all chuckled and said their goodbyes as Turing Test went back in the direction of the castle.

“You know, Turing’s really cool too,” Scootaloo said to her friends as they watched Turing go.

“Yeah!” Sweetie said. “I kinda wish I was a robot!”

Apple Bloom scoffed. “You as a robot, Sweetie Belle? That’s ridiculous!”

***

The next day, Turing was in her room practicing her magic when there was a knock at the door. She set down the books she’d been levitating and went to the door to answer it. Twilight Sparkle stood there with another pony next to her.

“Hello, Twilight Sparkle,” she said. She glanced at the maroon earth pony mare who was with her. “I believe I have seen you when I was retrieving Apple Bloom from school. Are you identified as Miss Cheerilee, her teacher?”

“Why, yes!” Cheerilee replied. “It’s so nice to meet you, Turing Test! I saw you pick up Apple Bloom from school, but I wasn’t able to introduce myself at the time. And please, you can just call me Cheerilee. I’m only ‘Miss’ Cheerilee to my students.”

Turing nodded. “Understood. Then, in turn, please refer to me as simply ‘Turing,’ or a nickname of your choosing.”

Cheerilee laughed as Twilight stepped forward. “Turing, Cheerilee has something to ask you. I want you to know that it’s okay to say yes or no, and I won’t pressure you to make one decision instead of another.”

Turing cocked her head to the side. “You have an inquiry? Or a request?”

“Wellll,” Cheerilee said, her eyes darting up as she considered the question, “it’s more of an offer than either of those. Um, Turing, I’m directing a local play, and all the parts have been cast, but, well, there’s one part that I’m thinking of recasting.”

Turing didn’t reply, continuing to stand there in silence.

“Er, I mean… well, Turing, would you like to be in the play?”

Turing’s eyes twitched, but a second later, she gave her reply: “Affirmative.”

To be continued…

Author's Note:

Looks like the show must go on!

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this music-themed chapter. I don't normally include a YouTube video in the middle of the text, but I figured, in this one case, taking advantage of the medium might be warranted. :scootangel:

Can you name that reference in 3 notes?
-The title of this chapter, "Music Sounds Better With You," isn't a Daft Punk song, per se, but it was done by Thomas Bangalter, who is one of the two members of Daft Punk, so close enough.

-Probably the most obvious one is the names of various pony musicians. First and foremost is Pommelbel, named after Pachelbel, and whose "Canon in D" is a pretty well known piece.
-The other pony artists are all also references to famous artists in the EDM genre. In order: Orbitrot (Orbital), Paul Oatenfold (Paul Oakenfold), Neighphex Twin (Aphex Twin), the Talon Parsnips Project (the Alan Parsons Project), deadh0r3e (deadmau5), Clydesdale Harris (Calvin Harris), Porter Trotinson (Porter Robinson), and Draft Punk (obvious, but the horse pun is that a certain kind of horse is called a "Draft Horse").
-Less a reference and more an inspiration is the scene where Turing is trying to play the piano and not quite sounding right. The scene, right down to the very difficult song she plays is a reference to a sequence in a particular episode of the anime series "The Big O."
-It took 41 and some odd chapters to do it, but, finally, you got a mention of Sweetie Belle talking about being a robot, which is a begrudging nod to "Sweetie Bot," from the MLP series Friendship is Witchcraft. You're welcome.

The song Turing sings, if you didn't catch it, is called "Amethyst Caverns" by Module. It comes from the Shatter video game soundtrack, which I listen to frequently when I write, and that song in particular was one of the songs that first got me thinking about writing a story about robots. It's also why Turing's eyes are amethyst stones and why she has them in her brooches. Give the whole soundtrack a listen, if you enjoyed it.

Background ponies you might not know in this chapter:


Royal Riff

Noteworthy

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