• 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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Broken, Part 1

Twilight made her way to the front door of her castle the next morning. She turned the knob with her magic, walking inside, eager to get to her own bed. She’d spent the night in Canterlot, and though she had been offered a place to sleep, she hadn’t slept particularly well. She rubbed her eyes as she entered the cavernous main hall.

“Welcome home, Twilight Sparkle.”

Twilight gave a start and immediately ceased rubbing her eyes at the sound of Turing Test’s voice.

“My apologies, Twilight Sparkle. Did I startle you?” Turing asked. She was sitting right in front of the main doors, like a loyal dog waiting for its master to return.

She heaved a sigh and smiled weakly. “Just a little,” she said, shutting the door behind her. She grunted, stretching her back. “Sorry, I wasn’t really focused; you just caught me off guard.”

“You look tired, Twilight Sparkle. Spike the Dragon and I placed fresh sheets on your bed, should you wish to sleep.”

“Aw, that was nice of you both,” she said, giving Turing a smile. “That actually sounds really tempting. But, um, I actually flew here from Canterlot to try and refresh my thoughts. You know, a little exercise helps you think, sometimes?”

Turing shrugged. “Exercise has no effect on me. However, I have found that going for a walk to observe my surroundings sometimes provides me with insight. Is that what you mean?”

Twilight nodded. “Yeah, but my point is that now I’m a little sweaty, so I think I’ll take a bath first.”

Turing nodded. “I will draw a bath for you immediately, Twilight Sparkle. I am familiar with the optimum temperature that you prefer. I will also prepare some scented candles and the bubble bath solution you enjoy, provided Spike the Dragon has not used it all. Do you wish to select a book or perhaps some music? If it is the latter, I might suggest some new music that Octavia shared--”

“Okay, Turing, that’s enough!” Twilight said, bursting out laughing. “That’s very sweet, but you don’t have to dote on me like that.”

“My apologies, Twilight Sparkle,” she said, bowing her head slightly. “I simply wished to comfort you in case your visit to Canterlot was stressful. You and the other Princesses appeared to be very disturbed by the events of last night.” She paused. “I refer to the sun being raised in the evening, not to my play.”

Twilight rolled her eyes. “Obviously.”

They both made a turn and arrived at the bathroom, which contained a long, deep crystalline tub. Turing started the water for Twilight, scanning the water to monitor its temperature. Twilight decided to take Turing up on the offer of some music and also made herself some herbal tea while the tub filled.

At last, she entered the tub, letting out a long moan of contentment as she sank into the warm, foamy water right up to her chin.

“This is just what I needed, Turing. Thank you.” She closed her eyes, a smile on her face.

Then she noticed the telltale quiet hum of Turing’s electrical inner workings and opened one eye. The robot was still standing there.

“Turing? Um, you can go now.”

“Ah.” She glanced at the door as if she was going to leave, but then she stayed put, looking back to Twilight.

Twilight frowned. “Turing? What is it?”

She hesitated a moment. “Forgive me, Twilight Sparkle. I was very anxious when you did not return the previous evening. I waited for you.”

Twilight raised her head. “For how long?”

“Until seven minutes and thirty-six seconds ago.”

Twilight’s eyes widened. “Wait, you mean,” she exclaimed, sitting up in the tub, “that you waited up for me all night?!”

Turing nodded.

“Why?”

“I wished to be there for you the instant you came home. Spike the Dragon attempted to do the same, but he succumbed to fatigue and finally went to bed at 1:56 AM. I elected to wait at the door rather than enter sleep mode.”

Twilight gave her a sad smile. “Turing, you didn’t have to do that.”

“Correct,” she said. “However, I wanted to.”

“You’re very sweet, Turing,” Twilight said. “I’d hug you, but I’m wet now, and I don’t want you to rust.”

“I do not--”

“I know, I know, I’m joking,” she said, rolling her eyes again.

“I am glad that you appreciate my gesture. However,” she added, taking a step closer to Twilight before sitting down on the bathroom rug, “I am also curious to know what you and the other Princesses discovered.”

Twilight made a face at that. “I don’t really feel like talking about it right now, Turing.”

Turing’s ears drooped. “I see. I will be patient. I apologize for bothering you.” She got up and made for the door. She gave one last look over her shoulder.

“Ugh,” Twilight sighed. “Did you learn that look from the Crusaders?”

“Affirmative. Sweetie Belle in particular uses it to great effect with Rarity.”

Twilight sucked at her lips. “Fine,” she grunted, leaning back in the tub. “There’s not much to tell anyway…”

***

They were in a room Twilight had never been to, a room in the palace down twisting halls and behind a bookshelf. The Royal Guardsponies were already busy at work, but they bowed when Celestia, Luna, and Twilight passed by, going deeper into these secret chambers below the castle.

One of the guards gave Celestia a scroll, which she unfurled. A long list of names was displayed on it.

“Who are all these ponies?” Twilight asked, peering at them. She knew a lot of famous ponies in Canterlot, and she recognized a few of their names, but most were totally unknown to her.

“These,” Celestia said, “are the ponies who have knowledge of the spells used to raise the sun.”

There was a small commotion, and a Night Guard thestral came through, presenting a second scroll to Luna.

“And these,” Luna said, “are those who know how to raise the moon.”

Twilight gawked at them. “But… but that’s what you two are for!” she exclaimed. Then she paused, looking away. “I mean, that’s not all you do for Equestria, of course. B-but, I mean…”

Despite her serious expression, Celestia allowed herself a smile and she laid her hoof on Twilight’s shoulder. “It is our sacred responsibility,” she said, nodding, “but long ago, after Luna’s… after she left, I realized that it was a responsibility that was solely my own. Though I accepted it, I also realized the possibility that I might one day be unable to perform my duty. I could have become sick. Or injured. Or slain. In such a situation, there would be nopony else to raise the sun and moon in my absence. In the thousand years since that time, the spell has been taught to a group of unicorns who were charged with casting it should something happen to me. Generations of ponies have carried the knowledge of the spell, just in case the need arose.”

Luna nodded. “Before Celestia and I were crowned as Princesses, the spell was known widely among unicorns. But by the time we took the throne, society had changed. Unicorns had become more varied in their duties and occupations beyond the nobility, and the group charged with raising the sun and moon was far smaller than it had been in olden days. It was a taxing job, which was why it was fortunate - or perhaps fateful - that Starswirl the Bearded recognized the natural affinity Celestia and I had with Equestria’s satellites.”

Twilight nodded. She knew that raising the sun and moon had some powerful side effects. Some unicorns had aged prematurely (which was why Starswirl wore a gray beard even as a young pony) or had became ill or even lost their magic entirely. But with Celestia and Luna…

“So, you think one of these unicorns is responsible?” Twilight asked.

Celestia shook her head. “No, Twilight. No one unicorn could have done this. Only Luna and I have the power to raise the sun and moon by ourselves. It would take a massive amount of magical energy to perform the task.”

Twilight tapped her chin. “In that case, the possibilities are…” She paused, closing her eyes. “First, that a large number of unicorns on these lists did this. Second, that one of the unicorns shared the spell with others who weren’t authorized to know, and they did this. Third, that there’s somepony else able to do it. And finally, that somepony else figured out another way to raise the sun and moon without calling on a huge group of unicorns.”

Celestia smiled. “My thoughts exactly, Twilight,” she said. “Just as I expected from my best former student.”

Twilight beamed with pride but then swiftly grew more serious. “Still,” she said, rubbing her chin. “If that’s the case, then--”

“I object!” a familiar voice cried. “Slander! Lies! Undue prejudice!”

Celestia shut her eyes, rubbing her temple with one hoof. “Oh no…”

There was a flash of light, and the speaker appeared.

“I’m innocent!” Discord cried, draping his lion paw over his forehead dramatically. “Framed!” he added, transforming himself into a portrait of himself that was also draping his paw over his forehead. “To think that my dear friends would accuse me--”

“Discord,” Twilight said, narrowing her eyes.

“--of usurping control of the sun and moon!”

“Discord,” Celestia said, likewise narrowing her eyes.

“To think that my friends would mistrust me so easily after my sincere assurance that I would never again play with their heavenly bodies!”

“BE SILENT, THOU JABBERING BUFFOON!!” Luna bellowed.

They all froze, Discord included.

He put his mismatched hands on his hips. “Well, there’s no need to shout, Lulu.”

“Please do not call me that,” Luna said, wrinkling her nose.

“Well, in that case, I revoke your right to call me ‘Dissy!’” Discord said, folding his arms and sticking out his tongue.

“Um,” Twilight said, “I’m pretty sure none of us have ever called you that.”

“And now you never will!” he shouted, pointing an accusatory claw at them all. “To think that I, reformed as I am, would ever move the sun and moon--”

“Discord,” Celestia said gently, raising an eyebrow, “we didn’t think it was you.”

He blinked. “I’m sorry… what?”

“I said that we didn’t think you were responsible.”

He blinked several more times, standing there in silence. “Ah… well… I mean, don’t think I couldn’t have, if I’d actually wanted to!”

Celestia smirked. “Yes, we know.”

“Not that I did!”

“Of course not.”

“I… hm…” He rubbed his neck. “Well, then… I guess if I’m not needed…” He raised his fingers, preparing to snap them and teleport away in a flash.

“Discord, wait!” Twilight exclaimed, reaching out with one hoof. “Maybe you could help us out!”

He paused, staring down at her. “Help? Me?

“Sure!” Twilight said, smiling at him warmly. “You’re good at detecting magical disturbances, right? Maybe you could figure out who it was!”

He continued staring at her. “W-well,” he said, then broke into a smile. “That could be doable. Granted, raising the sun and moon isn’t exactly uncommon, but, if it’s a request from three out of four princesses,” he said, puffing out his chest, “then I suppose I could give it ‘the old college try.’” There was a flash, and he was suddenly wearing a letterman’s jacket.

“Great!” Twilight said. “Thanks for your help, Discord.”

“No, no, think nothing of it!” he said, raising his chin. “Just leave it to me! Should anypony besides the Royal Sisters do any mucking with Equestria’s circadian rhythm, I’ll know about it a second later!”

He snapped his fingers and was gone again in a final flash.

“Do you truly believe that he will be of help?” Luna asked, turning to Twilight.

Twilight nodded, giving her a confident smile. “He might actually be able to help us track down the source of the problem.” She paused, frowning. “Then again, that’s only if whoever did this does it again.”

“In the meantime,” Celestia said, “we should make a list of each of the unicorns with knowledge of the spell and document where they are and what they are doing. We’ll need to get the records from both the Royal and Night Guard to get an accurate picture of who might be responsible.”

Twilight nodded, looking again at the scrolls before her.

“Twilight.”

She looked up again at the sound of Celestia’s voice speaking her name. “Yes, Celestia?”

She glanced away for a moment before looking back to Twilight. “The last possibility you mentioned… of somepony else figuring out how to raise the sun and moon without involving a large group of unicorns?”

Twilight raised her head. “Yes?”

Celestia opened her mouth, then shut it, looking away before looking back to Twilight and opening her mouth again to speak.

“Do you believe that this could have been done utilizing technological means?”

Twilight considered that possibility. “I don’t know, but… well, it’s possible.” She nodded decisively. “Yes. After seeing those ponies using spell cards to cast complex spells, it’s possible that somepony could have figured out how to use a machine to cast the spell to raise the sun and moon.”

Celestia nodded. “If that’s the case, then this might be the work of the group that created Turing Test,” she said, her expression darkening. “If so, I will take this action not only as a personal insult but as an act of terrorism and war.”

Twilight swallowed. “W-war?”

“The ponies who did this did so for a reason. And after the play we attended… I cannot believe this is a mere coincidence.”

“Nor can I,” Luna said, gritting her teeth. “Celestia once suggested the possibility of machines replacing us. At the time, I considered it a mere fantasy… but it seems that such a thing may truly exist. If that is the case, then we must not waste any time in finding these traitors before they become emboldened by their victory.”

Twilight looked from one sister to the other. She drew herself up. “What can I do to help?”

***

“...In the end,” Twilight said, lying back in the tub, “they had me look over the suspects they had for who might have built you, and also who might have moved the sun last night. They thought that maybe I’d catch something they’d missed. Unfortunately,” she said, heaving a sigh, “I didn’t. I worked on that with the Royal Guard for hours while Celestia and Luna worked on getting more information about the unicorns who knew the spells to raise the sun and moon. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any more luck than they did. All I did was tire myself out.” She yawned, sinking deeper into the water.

“I see,” Turing said. “Then it is possible that my creators are responsible.”

“There’s no proof yet,” Twilight said, “but if I were a betting mare… I’d put all the bits I had on them being responsible.”

Turing was quiet for a moment. As Twilight lapsed into silence, Turing spoke up one more time: “Twilight Sparkle… do the other princesses believe I had something to do with this incident?”

Twilight sat up, glancing over at Turing. “No,” she said, offering her a smile. “Turing, none of us think you’re responsible. The fact that this happened on the night of your play is either a coincidence or the result of somepony knowing Celestia and Luna would be there. But that could be just about anypony in Canterlot with how word gets around.”

Turing nodded. “I see. I am glad to know I have your trust, but I am sorry that you were unable to confirm the cause of the incident.” She placed a towel on the floor by the bathtub. “I will take my leave and allow you to continue your bath in peace, Twilight Sparkle. If there is nothing else, then I will return to my room and enter sleep mode to conserve my remaining power. Please inform me if you require my services later today.”

Twilight sank up to her muzzle in the water. “Mm hmm,” she hummed, burbling under the layer of bubbles.

With that, Turing returned to her room, at last leaving Twilight to enjoy her bath in peace.

***

“Turing?”

The sound of her name caused her to exit sleep mode. Her eyes reactivated, and she saw Spike standing before her. She stood to greet him.

“Hello, Spike the Dragon. I see you are awake.”

He nodded. “Uh huh. And Twilight’s back too!”

“I am aware. I greeted her when she returned this morning. Is she awake?”

“No, she’s sleeping in for once.” He chuckled. “Not every day I get to say that!”

“Did you wish to speak with her?” Her ears shifted as a thought occurred to her. “Ah. Did you wish for me to wake you earlier so that you could greet her?”

He shrugged. “As long as one of us was around, I guess it’s fine. But, uh, listen,” he said, leaning in as he glanced over his shoulder. “I was wondering if you could help me out with something.”

“I would be glad to,” she replied.

“Great!” He smiled a toothy grin. “Twilight’s probably pretty stressed out after last night if she decided to sleep all morning. So, I thought we could do something nice for her! Maybe make one of her favorite meals and take care of some things she needs done. That kind of thing.”

“That sounds like an excellent idea, Spike the Dragon. How may I assist you?”

He held up a small piece of paper with several items on it. “If I give you some bits, could you go buy some of these things? You should be able to find them all in town.”

“Affirmative. I will procure these items.”

“Thanks a lot, Turing!” he said, giving her a small hug, which she returned. “I’m gonna pick up some other things. Working together, we should get them all in no time!”

He offered her the list, but she shook her head.

“I have already scanned the list and memorized its contents. I will not need the list.” They both stepped out of her room and to the front door, picking up her saddlebags and a small satchel for him.

“Meet me back here when you’re done, okay?”

“Acknowledged,” she said, and set out on her quest.

***

It was sunny and warm that day, and as Turing looked up, there was hardly a cloud in the sky. In fact, there was just one.

Then a rainbow-colored streak crossed the sky and blasted through the cloud, obliterating it.

“Hello, Rainbow Dash,” Turing said, waving a hoof.

Though she would have sworn that Rainbow was out of earshot, the pegasus suddenly reversed direction and landed right next to her.

“Hey, Tee!” she said, holding out her foreleg for a hoofbump, which Turing gave. “Nice job with that play yesterday! A little preachy if you ask me, but you were awesome!”

“Was I?” Turing asked, tilting her head. “I had no dialogue.”

“Yeah, but when I go to see a play or a movie about aliens, I expect some explosions or some scary monsters or something. That play didn’t have much of that, but you were the closest thing to a scary monster in the whole thing! If I didn’t know you - and if I wasn’t the bravest pony in town - I’d have been totally scared!”

“I see.” She tapped her chin. “My apologies, Rainbow Dash, but I am running errands to procure items for a meal for Twilight Sparkle.”

“Oh yeah? Well, don’t let me keep you.” She grinned and gave a quick mock salute as she prepared to fly away again.

“You misunderstand. I was wondering if you could help me find some of the items.”

“Oh, sure!” she said, grinning. “What’s on the menu?”

Turing listed the items she was after as Rainbow listened.

“Okay, well, the Apples are selling apples - yeah, obviously - in the market. Uh… oh, I think Fluttershy just got a fresh batch of eggs this morning! I’ll let her know you want some, so stop by there later. Those mushrooms, I’m not sure I’ve ever heard of them. Maybe somepony in the market is selling ‘em. Anything else?”

Turing shook her head. “Thank you for your assistance, Rainbow Dash. You have been very helpful.”

“No problem, Tee!” she said. She crouched down and sprang into the air, taking off in an instant…

...and crashing into Derpy, who was passing by, causing them both to tumble to the ground. The letters in the gray pegasus’s bag all spilled out and fluttered to the ground in a veritable mailstrom.

“Geez!” Rainbow said, rubbing her head.

“Ah!” Derpy cried, focusing her skewed eyes on Rainbow. “Oh, sorry, Rainbow Dash. I just… oh no, my letters!”

She scrambled to pick them up. “Oh no, oh no, it took forever to sort them! If I have to do it again, I’ll be late! And if I’m late, everypony’s gonna be sooo mad!”

“Hello Derpy,” Turing said, coming over. “There is no need to worry.”

“What?” Derpy said, looking up from her letters and noticing Turing standing there. “Oh, hello Turing Test! And what do you mean?”

“One moment. Engaging U-Mode.” Turing’s horn slid into place, and the glow of her magic engulfed the mass of letters. “I saw how the letters fell and will now trace them back to their original positions. This will enable me to restore them to their original order.”

Derpy and Rainbow Dash watched as the letters rapidly sorted themselves into orderly stacks which Turing then deposited back into Derpy’s mailbag.

“Mail sorting complete. They are back in their original order.”

“Oh my gosh!” Derpy cried, breaking into a beaming smile. She leaped forward, embracing Turing. “Thanks a lot, Turing! You really saved me a lot of trouble!”

“Yeah, nice going, Tee!” Rainbow said, giving an approving nod. Then she looked to Derpy, blushing slightly. “Uh, sorry about the crash, Derpy.”

“No worries, Rainbow Dash!” she said, smiling sweetly. “Well, I better get going. These letters aren’t going to deliver themselves!” She took off again, with Rainbow Dash leaving right after her.

Turing bid them both goodbye as she headed into town.

***

She made her way through town, stopping at stalls to pick up various fruits and vegetables and spices. Yet, as she went, something strange occurred.

Ponies waved at her.

Ever since the day Rarity had helped her get a new paint job - ill-fated though it may have been - there had been at least a few who greeted her warmly, but so many others either ignored her, avoided her, or even expressed surprise or fear upon seeing her. Even after so many months, going through town had not always been a particularly pleasant experience.

But now, ponies were waving. Smiling. Complimenting her on her play.

“Look out, everypony!” a voice rang out. “It’s the killer robot from outer space!”

She glanced to see a small group of fillies and colts whom she recognized from the play. They were all pointing at her and smiling mischievously. She tilted her head at them.

They all looked to each other, then took a breath and, in unison, shouted “Cloptu berada nikto!”

Turing paused a moment but then realized what was happening. She obliged and turned off her eyes, slumping, “defeated” by their little incantation.

They all laughed, and Turing raised her head again, reactivating her eyes.

“You were great in the play, Gert!” one of the fillies shouted.

“My name is not Gert. It is Turing Test.”

The filly put her ears back. “Um… but Gert is easier to remember.”

Turing tapped her chin. “If you remember that I am not really like the robot in the play, then I will allow you to call me Gert.”

They all cheered and waved goodbye as she went on with her errands.

Through the rest of the day, she likewise received numerous warm greetings. True, some of the vendors didn’t know her very well, but the citizens of Ponyville all greeted her as though she were any other pony.

She received some sweet dinner rolls from Sugarcube Corner, where Pinkie and the Cakes even gave her an extra one for Spike that was glazed with gemstone dust (Turing kept that one separate from the ones for Twilight).

She saw the Doctor, who was selling some inventions of his in town and offered her an “egg timer” which he promised could slightly turn back time and make an older egg taste fresh again. Even though she was already going to buy some very fresh eggs from Fluttershy, she obliged and bought it, which made the Doctor even happier than she would have expected.

She also ran into Lyra and Bon Bon, who gave Turing some caramels on the house to give to Twilight and Spike as well (though Turing wasn’t sure why they said they were “on the house” when they were clearly in a small plastic bag).

Luckily, Turing spotted Fluttershy at the market as well. And to her pleasant surprise, Fluttershy had already set aside a small basket of eggs, neatly wrapped to protect them from cracking. A few of the birds and other critters that had tagged along with her chirped and tweeted goodbye when Turing left, with one of the birds perching on her head as she walked away until Fluttershy frantically called it back.

Several other vendors offered her discounts and told her they loved the play. Not wanting to say no, she soon had more groceries than she needed, including some carrots from Golden Harvest and grapes from Berry Punch.

Later she found Applejack and Big Mac selling the apples she needed from their cart. Rarity was there too, just making small talk with them. They discussed the harvest of winter rye and Applejack’s health, which she assured Turing was just fine. Rarity discussed her designs for more dresses for the Grand Galloping Gala next season as well as her plans for a new shop in Canterlot, if she could only find the right location. Inevitably, the conversation turned to the bulging saddlebags that Turing carried.

“So, yer makin’ somethin’ fancy fer Twilight?” Applejack asked. “Sounds good. Lemme know if y’all have any leftovers.”

“I wouldn’t mind a taste too,” Rarity said. “Um, provided that not all of Spikey Wikey’s cooking turns out like that dreadful pie he made last year,” she quickly added.

“I will,” Turing assured them both. “However, I have not been able to locate a particular ingredient: we are making a dish of fried morel mushrooms, yet no ponies seem to have them.”

Applejack’s expression changed. “Uh… maybe I’ll pass on the leftovers, then.” She gulped. “I think it’ll be a while before I trust any more mushrooms.”

Big Mac nodded solemnly. “Eeyup!” he said.

“Well, you’re missing out,” Rarity said, wagging her hoof. “Morel mushrooms are tender and flavorful and simply divine when prepared properly. Still, you say that you can’t find any in the market today?”

“Correct. I have found many other kinds of edible mushrooms, including portobello, shiitake, and white button, yet no vendors have any morels despite assuring me that it is the correct season to buy them.”

“Well, if no shops or vendors sell them,” Rarity said, rubbing her chin, “you could always ask Zecora. If anypony is likely to gather wild mushrooms in Ponyville, it’s her.”

“Good thinkin’, Rarity!” Applejack said. “Though, are ya sure ya really want ‘em badly enough to go to the Everfree Forest?”

Turing considered the question for a moment, then nodded. “Affirmative. I wish to make Twilight Sparkle happy. It may be inconvenient, but the risk to myself is minimal. Thank you both for your advice.”

“Well, good luck, then,” Applejack said, waving goodbye to her as she left. “Tell Spike, Twilight, an’ Zecora I said hi!”

“Likewise!” Rarity added.

“Eeyup!” Big Mac chimed in.

***

To Turing’s relief, Zecora in fact had just picked several morel mushrooms that morning and was perfectly willing to part with a hefty supply, which Turing packed into her now-empty saddlebags. (She’d stopped by the castle to drop off her other groceries, leaving a note to Spike that she would return later.)

Now she walked through the Everfree, following the path back toward Ponyville. In the quiet forest, the sound of the servos in her legs whirring echoed through the trees, accompanied by the wind rustling through the leaves and the occasional call of an unseen bird. In that quiet, and with her job nearly finished, her thoughts turned back to her experience in town that day.

Very few ponies reacted with fear or mistrust. Many ponies call me by my name now, rather than ‘Twilight’s robot’ or simply ‘the robot.’ Many of my acquaintances offered assistance or gifts when neither were requested.

She looked up at the sky through the trees as she continued walking, considering what all that could mean.

Is this a sign that I have become more familiar in Ponyville? Is it possible that they now accept me? She paused as another thought occurred to her. Is it possible that they consider me their peer? Their… friend?

A wave of excitement washed over her as she considered the possibility.

Though I have known for some time that I could befriend other ponies, I had not expected that I would have so many friends. But is it true? Do they now care for me as one of their own?

She was brought out of these thoughts by a rustling in the underbrush near the path. With only the slightest sound, something slinked out of the shadows, baring its teeth. She was surprised that something so large could move so quietly as to deceive even her ears.

She’d never seen such a creature before. It was covered with light brown fur, and it resembled a lion, with its legs, body, face, and shockingly red mane. However, it had two short horns curving up just above its ears, a pair of wide, leathery, batlike wings, and a twitching tail like that of a scorpion. It was a manticore, though Turing didn’t know that.

“Hello,” she said, watching the manticore carefully. Though she realized that the creature could be aggressive, she didn’t see how it could harm her. Besides that, Fluttershy had taught her to be calm and patient with animals. Perhaps the creature was just curious.

A deep, reverberating growl emanated from the manticore’s throat, but it made no move to attack as it fixed its gaze on her and began to circle her, its nostrils flaring as it took in her scent.

“You may be confused by my appearance, as I resemble a pony, yet my scent is not that of an organic creature. I assure you that I am very inedible. You may ask some timberwolves, a hydra, and a frog if you do not believe me.”

The creature came closer and licked her cheek, immediately making a face afterwards.

“I warned you,” she said.

The manticore sniffed at her saddlebags.

“Ah. Perhaps you smell these mushrooms?” She hesitated. They were for Twilight Sparkle, after all. Still, there were enough to share, and it wasn’t as though she could eat them herself.

She scooped out a morel mushroom and held it up to the manticore, which flinched at her sudden movement. It hesitated, sniffing the mushroom once before taking it from her hoof in its jaws and devouring it in a few quick bites. She heard its stomach growling.

“Perhaps you would like more? I am able to spare a few--”

The manticore suddenly seized her saddlebags in one quick motion before leaping into the air, taking off with powerful beats from its leathery wings.

“Ah. You have robbed me.” She watched it sail out over the trees, quickly vanishing from sight. She considered going back to request more mushrooms from Zecora… but then she decided that those mushrooms were hers, and she’d already spent good bits on them. She would not let the manticore take them from her.

“Engaging P-Mode.” She spread her metallic wings and her jets came to life. A few moments later, she took off in the direction of the manticore.

She did not spot it immediately, but switching to her thermal vision allowed her to trace the heat signature of the beast as it had skimmed and even dipped below the treeline. She had to slow her flying to make certain she was following the trail accurately. The manticore hadn’t looked particularly nimble, but the trail twisted, turned, bobbed, and weaved for a few kilometers until she at last saw that it had gone into a deep ravine that cut through the Everfree Forest.

She slowed her jets and descended down the side. She heard the guttural growling of the creature, but also several other sounds she didn’t recognize. As she gradually descended, she spotted an alcove in the rocky cliffside.

The manticore was there, and Turing’s saddlebags had been upended, the mushrooms dumped onto the ground at the manticore’s paws. But there were other things moving behind the manticore, and one just behind the small pile. She came closer, landing on the rim of the alcove, to see what it was.

Then the thing behind the pile poked its little head out. Though it lacked a mane and was several times smaller than the manticore that had stolen her mushrooms, she could see in an instant that it was a baby. It clutched a mushroom in its tiny paws and fell backwards as it munched on it.

“I see,” Turing said quietly, looking from the cub to the parent. “You acquired my mushrooms to feed your children.”

The manticore made not a sound but continued watching her, its eyes only occasionally glancing down at its cub playing at its feet and the others hiding just behind it, all yowling a juvenile version of their parent’s roar. The manticore’s nostrils were flaring in and out, and she could hear its heart beating rapidly.

She wondered what this meant, and then realized that the manticore was tense, resting on its paws, and ready to spring forward in an instant to protect its youth, but it was not striking at her.

It was afraid of her.

She lowered her ears and took a step back. “My apologies. I will not harm you. I will allow you to keep these mushrooms to feed your family. That is more important than the use I had for them. I am certain Twilight Sparkle will still be satisfied with her meal.”

She turned, revving up her jets again, preparing to take off and leave the manticore family in peace.

And then, just as she was about to leave, there was a sound, a flash of color, and she turned her head as the beast that was suddenly there roared at her and tackled her with all its might, knocking her from her hooves.

Ah, she realized, the other parent.

She was falling. The bottom of the ravine was far below her. Her jets were still coming up to speed, but she was spiraling downward, out of control. As she tried to calculate her next course of action, she slammed into the side of the rock wall, jostling her vision and sending a loud clang echoing through the deep ravine. There was a loud hissing sound as well, and she was unable to receive feedback from her right wing. She caught a glimpse of something shiny falling with her.

Her wing.

Her wing had snapped off. Her right jets were spraying air uselessly as she plummeted like a stone.

She bounced off the rock wall again, shattering stone that tumbled down with her in a torrent. She crashed and tumbled again and again, deeper and deeper before she slammed into the ground like a meteor and everything went black.

***

Warning: system shut down due to an unknown error. Rebooting…

Data loaded, systems turned back on, and at last her eyes reactivated.

Reboot complete. Warning: multiple errors detected.

She looked around. She was at the bottom of the ravine. She looked up and saw the blue sky overhead. Judging from the direction of the light shining at the top, it had only been a few minutes since she’d fallen. The impact must have disrupted her systems enough to cause her to malfunction, which explained the reboot.

She turned her head and saw that she was lying facedown on a flat slab of stone. Fresh dust and a pile of rubble had buried her lower body. There were scrubby plants around her, and she spied small lizards darting between the moss-covered stones and a tiny stream that gently flowed through the ravine.

I must return home before Spike the Dragon and Twilight Sparkle worry about me, she told herself. She placed her front hooves on the rock, trying to push herself up.

She didn’t budge. Something was wrong. Not only that, when she had pushed her hooves to the stone, she hadn’t heard the slightest scraping of metal on rock.

Diagnosing problem… error detected in auditory system. No auditory input received.

She looked around and spotted a glint of metal among the stones. Focusing her eyes on it, she saw what it was.

Her ear.

She turned her head, moving the hinges where her ears should be. They moved too easily, which meant they were unweighted, which meant both her ears had been snapped off.

“I am... deaf.”

She detected a cognitive loop. A feeling.

She ignored it, focusing on her predicament instead. She again pushed with her front hooves, ordering her back hooves to move as well. But again, the stones on top of her held her down.

Diagnosing problem… right and left hind legs are unresponsive. Cause of problem is unknown.

The feeling intensified.

“Engaging E-Mode.”

Surely that would do it. Her forelegs were functional, after all, and with enough power, she could extricate herself from the stones and drag herself back to Ponyville, where they could repair her and--

Error in mode switch detected. E-Mode failed.

She paused. She tried again.

Error in mode switch detected. E-Mode failed.

The same message. She could not fly. She could not hear. She could not move.

She was trapped.

She was broken.

She was trapped at the bottom of a ravine, several kilometers from the main trail through the Everfree Forest. Nopony knew where she was.

And it was then that she realized that her battery power was at 18%.

That feeling again. That awful, terrible feeling. The possibility that could not be denied, no matter how much she wished to do so…

The possibility that she was lost, that she would never be found, and that she would never see her friends again.

The feeling consumed her, obliterating all but that one thought. That feeling.

Fear.

“Help?” she called feebly, looking up at the sky from the bottom of the deep chasm.

“Help!” she called again, unable to hear her own voice or tell how well it carried or how far.

“Anypony! If somepony can hear me, please, do not leave me here!” Her shouts became increasingly plaintive screams as the feeling gripped her. She shouted again and again for help, as the minutes wore on and turned to hours.

The sun began to set, and yet her cries for help went unheeded. As the darkness began to close in, she cried out once more, and it was a shrill sound, a distorted shriek as she nearly blew out her speaker, calling one last time in terror for someone to save her.

Silence, and nothing more.

She laid her head on the stone in despair. “Twilight Sparkle,” she whimpered softly, “please… please come find me…”

To be continued…

Author's Note:

See you next time.

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