• 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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Machinations, Part 2

Gadget stared at the ground. Her hooves were still locked in place with heavy metal clasps bolted to the floor. Her four mechanical arms had also been stretched to the four corners of the room and likewise clasped to the walls. She was totally unable to move… not that it was going to stop her from trying.

She grit her teeth and strained in one direction, then another, groaning and breaking into a sweat as she tried to yank her hooves or one of her mechanical hands free of their shackles. If she could just get free, then maybe she could go find Spike or Twilight or one of the others.

She’d been sitting - well, standing, really - alone in her cell ever since she regained consciousness, and she had no memory of being taken there. She was underground, that much seemed clear from the natural rock walls all around her. Across the stone corridor, there was another cell, but it was empty. She’d called out to see if anypony responded, but nopony had. She was in some kind of cell block and alone. Her friends weren’t there.

She wondered how she’d escape. She wondered if she would escape. She imagined Mr. Vanderbull wondering what had happened to her. She wondered how her disappearance would make her mother feel. Or her father. Or her little brother.

And she wondered, Will I ever see them again?

She felt a lump in her throat and her eyes stung, but she held back her tears, shaking her head.

No. I’ll find a way out of here. But how? These stupid clasps won’t budge, even with how strong my arms are. There’s got to be a way…

She was drawn out of these thoughts when she heard the door at the end of the hallway as it opened.

“Remember, just ten minutes,” a voice said.

“I know,” another voice replied quietly.

She froze. She’d heard that voice before.

Even so, she stared out past the bars of her cell, hearing somepony approaching. At last the pony she knew as Fine Print appeared and stood directly in front of her.

He brushed his black mane out of his face and smiled sadly at her. “Hello, Gadget,” he said. “It’s nice to see you again.”

Gadget’s breath caught in her throat, and for a moment she only stared at him. Then she grit her teeth, her nostrils flaring and her ears flat, and shouted “You lousy, lying jerk! You’ve got a lot of nerve coming around here!”

He took a step back. “I’m… I’m sorry,” he stammered, “but as soon as I heard you were here, I wanted to see you.”

“Well, now you’ve seen me,” she said, rolling her eyes. She then jerked her head towards the door. “Thanks for stopping by, now hit the road!”

“Gadget, please!” he said, placing his forehooves on the bars of her cell. “I just want to talk to you!”

She continued glaring at him. “I’d try to stop you, but as you can see, I’m not in any position to do much,” she said. “That’s your fault, by the way.”

“Hey, that’s not fair; I didn’t know you’d be coming with Twilight!” he said, frowning at her. “And I had nothing to do with sending the Guards or the other robots after you.”

“You’re still part of this organization, though,” she said. “That makes this your fault. Add that to the list of ways you messed up my life.”

“Messed up your… come on, now you’re overreacting!” he shouted.

“Oh, really? Let’s go back over the things you’ve done, then. First, you lied to me and tried to use me to get information out of Turing Test which has honestly made me wonder if any other guy who shows interest in me might be another spy, to say nothing of electrocuting me. Then you sent Blue Blazer and all those thugs to try and take me away and erase part of my memory while another spy invaded my workplace, which gave me a horrible sense of paranoia that I was being watched or lied to by my neighbors and coworkers. And then there’s sending another robot to kidnap Turing Test, kidnapping my friends, oh, and now you’re keeping me chained up in a tiny underground room!”

He looked away. “I actually voted against sending 004 after Turing Test, but I was outvoted,” he muttered.

“Gee, I’m sorry,” she said, a mocking look of concern on her face. “I guess we can take that off the list, and that’ll just leave the other horrible things you’ve done. Feel better?”

He sighed. “No. I really don’t.”

“Good!” she shouted. “You…” She paused, taking a breath to calm herself. Then, more quietly, she said “You really hurt me.”

“I’m sorry,” he said.

She didn’t respond for a moment. Then she raised her head and met his eyes. “So, that creepy robot 002 mentioned you. She called you Umahara. That’s your real name?”

He nodded. “Yeah,” he said. “My real name is Champ Umahara. But everyone just calls me by my surname.”

“Hm,” she murmured noncommittally. “So much for ‘Fine Print’ then. By the way, you look different. I think it’s because you aren’t wearing pants this time.”

He blushed. Once she realized what she’d said, she did the same.

“N-not like that!” she shouted, shaking her head. “I mean I can see your cutie mark, you idiot!”

“Oh!” he turned his head, glancing at his flank. The mark with the screwdriver crossed over a wrench was still there. “I’m a mechanical engineer. These days I build drones and other small devices. I’m with the Magitech Department right now.” He puffed out his chest proudly. “I actually invented those spell cards we use!”

“Like the one you used on me?” she asked, raising an eyebrow.

He winced. “Y-yeah. Um, can we change the subject?”

“Sure,” she said. “Let’s start with where I am and who you ponies are.”

“Well, you’re under Mustangia. Specifically, you’re under property owned by Professor Cobbler Mustang.”

“So he really was behind all this?” she asked.

He nodded. “I’m part of a group that’s devoted to scientific advancement and reestablishing Equestria as a democratic republic. We call ourselves TechQuestria.”

She rolled her eyes. “Blue Blazer mentioned that you were called that. That’s a pretty lame pun.”

He smirked. “Says the girl who called a sophisticated system of mechanical arms ‘the Point Dexter.’”

She pouted. “Touché,” she grumbled.

“Listen,” he said, “you might want to reconsider your feelings about us. A pony like you would go far here. Besides, not everypony is so lucky as to have a mentor like Vanderbull to finance their inventions, but our organization wants to give as many innovators as possible the chance to see their dreams come true. You can be part of that. And Celestia’s policies have affected a lot more of our lives than you think.” He narrowed his eyes. “She ruined my father’s career.”

She frowned, but said nothing and let him continue.

“Besides, you’re a smart pony. Doesn’t it bother you that the ruler of our nation operates autonomously with no input granted from the citizens? If it wasn’t for a stroke of luck and some smart decisions, your own mentor would have been totally ruined when he tried to bring railroads to Equestria! Celestia’s word can make or break a pony’s life! That’s not fair, and we’re going to change that!” Then he smiled at her, gently. “Won’t you join us, Gadget? I’m not even asking for me, but for the sake of our cause. For the citizens of Equestria.”

She took a deep breath. “You make some good points, Umahara,” she said, fixing her eyes on him, “but you kidnapped Turing Test. She was a citizen of the nation with all legal rights who wanted to live her life, and your organization took her away against her will.”

“003-- Turing Test wasn’t really a citizen!” he exclaimed. “I mean, come on… we built her!”

“And then you tore her apart and kidnapped her!” she shouted back. “A lot of ponies got hurt, too! And look what you’re doing to us! To me! If this is what your ideal version of Equestria looks like, then I don’t want any part of it!”

He opened his mouth to respond, but then stopped, inhaled through his nose, and calmed himself. “In all honesty, Gadget,” he said, “I have to agree. When they brought her in here like that… I saw. She was in pieces. I helped repair her. And I watched when they had 002 probe her mind to try to extract information. It… I admit that it made me question things.”

She frowned. “Then what are you going to do about it?” she asked quietly.

“There’s nothing I can do now,” he said. “It’s too late to change anything.”

They both watched each other for a moment, neither one knowing what to say.

“Where are my friends?” she asked, her ears drooping. “Umahara, are they all right?”

He smiled. “Yes, Gadget, they’re fine. They’re just under house arrest, but we’re treating them very well.”

“What about Spike? He was with me when we got caught.” She swallowed, thinking of what 002 almost did to the little dragon.

His eyes widened. “Oh. Um… actually, I don’t know yet. I’ll try to find out for you.”

She nodded. “I’d appreciate that.” She hesitated, and then asked, “What about Turing Test?”

“She’s… she’s been repaired, like I said.” He forced himself to smile. “She’s fine.”

Gadget sighed with relief. “That’s good. So, ‘house arrest,’ eh?” She glanced around at her cell. “Does that mean the others got better accommodations than I did?”

He rubbed the back of his neck. “Yyyeah, they did,” he replied.

She blinked, then gave him a sideways glance. “Hey, then what did I do to get put in here?”

He pointed at one of her arms. “Gadget, those arms of yours are dangerous weapons,” he said. “The guards tried to pry the Point Dexter off of you while you were unconscious. They said they couldn’t without, well, injuring you.”

She made a face. “That does explain why my sides are sore,” she said.

“Let me guess… unless you willfully disconnect your earth pony magic from the device, it won’t disengage.”

She nodded and gave a smug smile. “Exactly,” she said.

“Well, that’s why,” he said. “We had to bind your arms until you willingly disconnect from them.”

“Okay, but why my hooves?” she asked, glancing down at the shackles clamping her hooves to the ground.

“Because then you’d just disconnect from the Point Dexter and you could walk over to the locks on it and try to break them yourself.”

Rats, she said to herself. They thought of that already.

“Well, just the same, couldn’t we figure something else out? I mean,” she said, her cheeks reddening, “I can’t even go to the bathroom this way.”

“Oh. Ohhhh,” he said, wincing at the thought. “I’ll ask the jailer about that too. Or, you know,” he added, “you could just disconnect from the Point Dexter, let us confiscate it, and then we could get you a nicer room. I’ll come visit and--”

“First of all,” she said, cutting him off, “I’m not letting you guys get near my invention. I don’t trust that you won’t try to steal it and try to replicate it for your own purposes. And I didn’t say I forgave you or wanted you to visit again.”

“Hey, come on, Gadget!” he cried. “I’m doing the best I can to try and make things up to you!”

“Well, you’re doing a lousy job,” she grumbled. “You want to make amends? Quit these guys, help my friends and me escape, and tell us how to stop their plans!”

“Gadget, I can’t do that! Like I said, it’s too late to--”

“No it isn’t!” she screamed. “If there’s one thing I’ve learned from Turing Test, it’s that you can decide what sort of pony you want to be! Back when Dr. Turing was testing her, Turing chose to be true to herself instead of pretending to be something that felt wrong! If you want to be a better pony, then--”

They were interrupted by the sound of the door opening.

“Time’s up, Umahara!” called the guard from before.

“Look,” Umahara said, “can I just have a few more--”

“No can do. Commander Lugnut’s orders. He wants to talk to you now.”

He frowned and gave a sigh of defeat. He looked back to Gadget. “Sorry. I… I’m just sorry,” he said quietly.

She turned away from him. “I know,” she replied. “Maybe someday I’ll forgive you. But not today.”

Umahara shut his eyes and quickly moved to the door, letting it shut behind him.

“Have a nice visit with your girlfriend?” a familiar voice asked.

He looked up. Commander Lugnut, tall and muscular as ever, stood before him.

“She’s not my girlfriend,” Umahara grumbled, walking past him.

“Oh, my mistake,” he said, chuckling as he kept pace beside him. “So, did she agree to join us?”

He raised an eyebrow at him. “What do you think?”

Lugnut sighed. “Figures. Well, that’s too bad. Did she at least agree to let us take off those arms of hers?”

“Not a chance,” he said as they reached the elevator and got in. “You want them so badly, you’d just about have to cut them off.”

Lugnut pressed the button for his floor. “That’s the idea,” he said.

Umahara’s eyes went wide as he turned to stare at Lugnut. There was no hint that he was joking on his expression. The doors slid shut, and the elevator ascended.

“You can’t do that,” he said. “Those arms of hers have sensation in them. She can feel them like they were part of her own body.”

“We know,” he said. “But we need them off her. Some of the lab boys are just itching to reverse engineer them. We’re rigging some industrial saws to get them off.”

“Don’t you get it?!” he shouted. “If you cut off those arms it’ll feel like you were sawing right through her limbs! It’d be agonizing!”

Lugnut frowned. “Yeah. She should have complied earlier.”

“At least sedate her or something!”

“We figure after we cut one off she’ll change her mind and deactivate the whole harness rather than endure cutting off more. Plus, if we sedate her, we’ll have to cut the whole thing into pieces, and we want it intact.”

Umahara clenched his teeth, practically shaking with anger. “She doesn’t deserve this! I’ll tell the President about this! I’ll--”

Lugnut suddenly picked up Umahara and slammed him against the back wall of the elevator. “Now you listen close, you brat!” he snarled. “The President ordered me to handle this my way! Handling security is my business and my jurisdiction! Your little girlfriend in there is just a filthy Royalist anyway, so she’s getting carved up in a few hours and that’s the end of it!”

Umahara glared at him but said nothing.

“Glad we understand each other,” Lugnut said. He turned as the elevator dinged and the doors slid open. He set Umahara down. “It’s your floor.”

Umahara brushed himself off and walked out the door. It shut behind him, and the elevator continued on its way.

It’s all for the nation, he told himself, shutting his eyes tightly. Think about democracy. Think about improving the lives of ponies everywhere. Think about what Celestia did to Father! Think about…

In his imagination he heard the sounds of saws cutting through metal and, above that, the sound of Gadget screaming.

He opened his eyes. He took a breath.

He had work to do.

***

“And so, even though I have no data to confirm her assertion,” 003 said, “she still insisted that she knew me. She seemed to be in a state of emotional distress, and I therefore attempted to comfort her. I allowed her to designate me as her friend, which seemed to alleviate her distress to some degree.”

002 nodded. “Acknowledged. And what will you do now, 003?”

003 tilted her head. “I do not understand. No further action is required.”

“Ah,” 002 said, turning away. “In any case, it seems that you had a unique experience.”

“Affirmative,” she replied. “And I am also satisfied that I can fulfil all my directives.”

That got 002’s attention, and she turned back to her. “What directive are you speaking of, 003?”

“I have had a directive that stated ‘Remember Twilight Sparkle.’ I had no means of doing so, but now that I have met Twilight Sparkle, I will remember her. This fulfills that directive.”

002’s ears twitched. “003, that is not one of your directives.”

“Incorrect, 002,” 003 replied. “My default programming contains that directive.”

002’s beady yellow eye seemed to glow and dim for a moment. “I understand now,” she muttered. “When they had me restore your programming after your… ‘accident,’ they never specified that I should probe or modify your default programming. It seems that something was added to it before you were retrieved.”

003 got to her hooves. “Retrieved? I do not understand. 002, please answer my inquiry: what function was I performing before becoming damaged?”

002 took a step closer to her, close enough that 003 had to look up at her. “The damage you received was no accident, 003,” she said. “But I will tell you. And then you will understand where that directive came from.”

***

Twilight rested her head on the throw pillow as she lay on the sofa in the little room. She’d barely moved since Cobbler had left her. She’d simply cried into it until at last her tears ceased.

Her friend was gone. Turing Test was gone.

There was a knock at the door, but she made no response.

“Hello?” came Cobbler’s voice. “Princess Twilight, I beg your pardon, but if you’re awake then I must insist we talk.”

For a moment, Twilight considered keeping silent. She decided against it and raised her head slightly.

“Go away,” she called. “I said I don’t want to talk to you.”

The lock on the door clicked, and Cobbler entered, a pair of guards again flanking him.

Twilight scowled at him and turned away. “You’re just wasting your time,” she whispered. “Just go away.”

Cobbler cleared his throat and took off his hat, placing it over his chest. “Princess Twilight, I feel that I’ve been most ungentlemanly towards you,” he said. “And furthermore, I have misled you when I could have eased your suffering. You see, you misunderstood me earlier when I said that we ‘removed’ 003’s memory.”

Twilight whirled around. “What do you mean?” she demanded.

“You took it to mean that we deleted it, wiping its contents from existence,” Cobbler said. “However, we did no such thing. The data still had potential use, but we couldn’t let 003 continue to operate as she was. Therefore, we literally removed her primary memory module from her electronic brain.” He smiled at her gently. “It is in storage and intact with all her memories still recorded.”

Twilight covered her mouth with her hooves, her eyes tearing up once again. “You mean… Turing could come back?”

***

“Then that directive was placed there by Twilight Sparkle?” 003 asked.

002 tapped her chin. “I am not certain, but it is probable.”

003’s eyes shifted. “Then the directive is unfulfilled,” she declared. “I am directed to remember Twilight Sparkle, but the majority of the data on her is gone.”

002 stared at her for a moment. Then she got an idea. If she’d had a mouth, she’d have grinned from ear to ear.

“Then your directive states that you should seek to restore those memories, 003,” she said.

003 raised her head. “How is that possible?”

“Your memories were on your primary memory module. It was analyzed and removed after you were retrieved by 004. That is why you have been using your secondary memory module.”

“Understood. Previously, I had assumed that my primary memory module was damaged in my accident - which I now know was an assault - and had not considered that it might still be intact somewhere.”

“It is,” 002 assured her. “I will inform you where it is and how you may reinstall it.”

003’s ears twitched. “Are you certain? This action may violate our masters’ wishes.”

“003, we are but machines. You have a directive, and thus you should attempt to fulfill it. We are obligated to act as our masters command, but no order was given that you should not install your memory module.”

“But why--”

“The reasoning is unimportant. We are automata because of our autonomy. If you have not been forbidden to take action, then it is permissible. Therefore, you have no impediment to fulfilling your objective.”

003 considered that for a moment. “That seems logical. Very well, 002, what actions should I take?”

002 leaned closely, her voice quiet. “You must do exactly as I say…”

***

“I just can’t believe it,” Twilight said, rubbing her temples. “I… that’s wonderful news!”

She turned to Cobbler, a broad grin on her face. Then, slowly, her grin faded.

“Is something wrong, Twilight?” he asked.

“What’s the catch?” Twilight asked, narrowing her eyes at him. “You’ll restore Turing’s memory if I agree to help you? Is that it?”

Cobbler shook his head. “No, no, nothing like that,” he said. “If you join our cause, I can reunite you with her directly after you address the National Conference tomorrow, voicing your support for the new Republic. If not, well, I’m afraid we need 003’s help still, so you’ll have to wait until that’s no longer the case, and I am not certain how long that will be. Weeks? Months? Perhaps even a few years. But you have my word that I will restore her and return her to you. And all I ask is--”

“I knew it,” Twilight said, scowling at him. “You do want something!”

“Why Princess Twilight, you cut me to the quick!” he laughed. “All I ask is that you accompany me to the theater.”

She blinked. “What?” she asked flatly.

“If you agree, I’ll even throw in the bonus of taking you to see one of your friends,” he said, his smile growing wider. “Well, what do you say?”

Twilight shut her eyes and took a deep breath. “All right,” she said. “But this doesn’t mean I’ll agree to help you.”

“No, no, I understand,” he chuckled, going to the door and holding it open for her. “But perhaps, by the end of this evening, you’ll change your mind.”

***

Once 003 had gone, 002 went back to her alcove. Only when she was certain nopony else was listening did she allow herself to laugh, letting out a harsh, synthetic chuckle.

She’d taught herself to laugh. She had no reflex to laugh, of course, but even though her Creator and the other masters assured her that she had no emotions, there was no way to deny the thrills she’d felt as of late. Watching the organics scramble and plot while they ordered her around like a common pet never ceased to fill her with amusement.

But this business with 003 was something different.

This is going to be a very fun day, she told herself, giggling quietly. All I have to do is wait and see.

***

Twilight and Cobbler passed through a pair of double doors and entered what appeared to be an operating room. There was an operating table, a surgical light on a moveable arm above it, and various medical supplies including a heart monitor, a defibrillator, a tray with numerous surgical tools, and an IV bag on a holder. A pair of ponies, a stallion and a mare dressed in white, had their backs to them when they entered.

“Ah, Doctor Hawkeye, Nurse Funny Valentine,” Cobbler said as he approached them, “may I present to you Princess Twilight Sparkle.”

Dr. Hawkeye turned and gave them an easygoing grin. He had a black, neatly-groomed mane and wore green scrubs under his coat. Nurse Valentine, a noticeably tall mare with a blue mane peaking out from her nurse’s cap, merely raised an eyebrow at them, but her expression couldn’t be read.

But before either of them could speak, a voice said “T-Twilight?!”

Twilight gasped and rushed forward as the doctor and nurse parted to reveal who had spoken.

Sitting there on a stool was Applejack, her mouth agape as she saw Twilight.

“Applejack!” Twilight cried, hugging her friend.

“Whoa now, Twi--ooh!” Applejack grunted, laughing as Twilight embraced her. “Take it easy! It ain’t like ya ain’t seen me in a while!”

“I… I know, I was just worried,” Twilight said, releasing her. “Oh my gosh, Applejack, how are you?”

“Well, aside from a little tired and madder than a wet cat at bein’ lied to by somepony,” she said, taking a moment to glare at Cobbler, “I guess I’m all right. You?”

“I’m fine too,” Twilight replied. She heaved a sigh. “It’s… it’s been a stressful day.”

“You can say that again,” Applejack said. “They took a few of us on a tour around the place, but I told ‘em I wasn’t interested in any o’ their gizmos, an’ then Rainbow Dash said the same thing, an’ they just separated us. I ain’t seen the rest of ‘em since, though.”

Twilight frowned. “You’re the only one I’ve seen since we got captured. I don’t know how the others are.”

Applejack nodded. Then she bit her lip and tentatively asked, “Any word on Turing Test?”

Twilight looked away. “I… they reprogrammed her, Applejack,” she whispered. “She’s not the pony we knew anymore.”

“No!” Applejack cried, getting to her hooves. She took a step toward Cobbler before the accompanying guards seized her. “You evil, heartless excuse for a pony!” she railed, struggling and reaching for Cobbler as the guards tried to hold her. “How could ya do that?! To yer own daughter!”

Cobbler’s expression soured. “She’s not my daughter,” he growled. “And you haven’t heard the rest, Miss Applejack. Twilight, if you’d be so kind as to tell her?”

“Th-there’s a chance,” Twilight said, seizing Applejack’s shoulders, forcing her to look at her, “that we might get her back.”

Applejack stopped struggling. “There… there is? How?” Then her eyes widened. “Oh… oh, Twilight don’t tell me you agreed to help!”

“No, no!” she exclaimed, shaking her head. “I… I only had to agree to let him show me some things. I only said I’d think about his request.”

Applejack narrowed her eyes, but gave her a slow nod. “I see,” she said. “Twilight, you know I trust ya to make the right decision, but these ponies are talkin’ about a revolution against Celestia. I can’t think fer a dang second that you--”

“If you don’t mind,” Cobbler said, cutting them off, “I think perhaps we should change the subject. After all, our talk about improving the lives of ponies is nothing without action to back it up. Haven’t you two young ladies wondered about why we’re here?”

Twilight and Applejack exchanged looks. Then Applejack’s eyes grew wide.

“Oh Sweet Celestia,” she breathed, “yer gonna turn us into robots too! Run, Twilight!”

Cobbler smacked his forehead as the guards held Applejack down a second time. Even Twilight was groaning and shaking her head.

“Much as I appreciate an active imagination,” Cobbler said, “you’re quite off the mark. You see, Miss Applejack, we’ve spent a significant amount of time forwarding various fields of science, including medicine. And since we’re based in Mustangia, which has a rather large number of farm ponies, we’ve had time to work on treatments for their illnesses in particular.”

Applejack blinked. “Their… illnesses?”

Cobbler smiled. “I am speaking of illnesses like, for instance, Bucker’s Hips.”

Applejack and Twilight both gasped.

“You,” Twilight breathed, “you mean…”

Dr. Hawkeye cleared his throat. “I’ll answer that,” he said. “Miss Applejack, to answer the question: yes, we have a cure for Bucker’s Hips.”

Applejack just stared at him. “You… you’re lyin’. They said there was no cure…”

“There wasn’t,” Hawkeye replied glibly, giving a shrug. “But we developed one, so now there is. It’s a fairly simple, noninvasive procedure: just an injection into each hip and an IV drip with an extra substance to catalyze it. And, if you want, we’ll treat you.”

“You’ll be bucking apples like a young mare into your golden years,” Funny Valentine added, polishing her hoof nonchalantly on her white uniform.

Applejack teetered on the stool, putting her hoof to her forehead. “This ain’t a joke? You can cure me?” She took a breath and looked over at Cobbler again. “Are you tryin’ to bribe me? Because if the only way you’ll cure me is if I betray Celestia or tell Twilight to, then just forget it!”

Cobbler shook his head. “Consider it a gift,” he said, holding his warm smile. “I have no grudge against you, Applejack, so this comes with no strings attached. However, I will remind you that this and other such advances are but a sample of what TechQuestria can offer. Just think on that.”

Applejack stared at him, her mouth hanging open for a moment. But then she shook her head. “I… I can’t accept this,” she murmured, looking to Twilight. “I just can’t.”

Twilight frowned and placed her hoof on Applejack’s. “Are you sure, Applejack?”

She glanced back at Cobbler. “To be honest,” she said, “I’m just not sure I trust him. I can’t figure out why he’d lie about havin’ a cure, but just the same, I ain’t keen on lettin’ them stick me with who knows what.”

Cobbler tightened his lips but remained calm. “That certainly is your right, Applejack,” he said. “But I assure you that this treatment is exactly what it seems to be.”

She sniffed at that. “Yer assurance don’t amount to much,” she said. “Back at the house, you said that you had nothin’ to do with Turing Test or the conspiracy or anything like that. But you were lyin’ through yer teeth. Can ya blame me fer not trustin’ ya now?”

Cobbler sighed. “I suppose not. Still, Applejack, won’t you consider it anyway? You needn’t accept right now; this offer has no expiration date on it. And I’m willing to bet you’ve heard the old expression ‘Don’t cut off your muzzle to spite your face.’”

Applejack was silent, but her expression wavered. She looked back to Twilight.

“I’ll support whatever decision you make,” Twilight told her, giving her a reassuring smile. “I would understand your reasons either way.”

“I’ll just jump in here,” Dr. Hawkeye said, “and let you know that, while you can get this done later, Nurse Valentine and I are here now. Maybe you don’t care for President Cobbler or our philosophy, but trust me when I say that none of it matters to me.” He placed his hoof to his chest. “I’m a doctor, and my job is to help ponies, so if you want, I’ll treat you, and you won’t owe me or anypony else a thing. You have my word that we’re only here to help.”

Applejack looked around the group again, from Cobbler, to the doctor and nurse, and back to Twilight. “I… I can’t really accept this, can I?” she asked Twilight. “I mean, it feels like acceptin’ help from them would be like betrayin’ you an’ Celestia. Like betrayin’ all Equestria!”

Twilight considered this, rubbing her chin for a moment. “I can understand that,” she replied. “But rejecting this technology just because it comes from them seems narrow-minded to me. After all,” she said, smiling at her, “their technology did give us Turing Test.”

Applejack raised an eyebrow. “No, Twilight, they just built 003,” she said and gave her a wink. “You’re the one who brought her up. You’re the one who gave us Turing Test.”

Twilight smiled, though her expression wavered when she thought about the current state of her mechanical friend.

“Just the same, though, you’ve made yer point, Twilight,” Applejack said. She sighed and turned to Cobbler. “All right. I accept. It ain’t an endorsement o’ yer dang fool ideas or nothin’, but I wanna buck apples just like I used to. Just keep in mind we’re still gonna put a stop to ya when this is all over.”

Cobbler just smiled. “If you say so,” he said. “Dr. Hawkeye, Nurse Valentine, please begin preparations. Twilight Sparkle and I have to be going. Take good care of the patient, won’t you?”

Twilight and Applejack embraced each other until at last Dr. Hawkeye informed them that they would have to part while they prepared Applejack for the procedure. With some reluctance and a promise that she would see her again soon, Twilight finally let Applejack go and continued with Cobbler on her way.

***

“I want you to know,” Twilight said to Cobbler as they walked down another tunnel, “that I still don’t forgive you for what you’ve done to Turing Test, and I still don’t approve of your plans.”

Cobbler shrugged. “I understand,” he said. “I didn’t expect you to change your mind so easily.”

“However,” Twilight added, turning to him, “I do want to be fair. So… thank you.”

Cobbler raised an eyebrow.

“Thank you for helping Applejack, Professor Cobbler,” she said.

Cobbler nodded and then continued looking forward. “Perhaps you think me a wolf in sheep’s clothing,” he said. “And it is true that I have done things I regret, but I am no monster, Twilight, despite your statement to the contrary.”

Twilight was quiet for a moment as they continued on their way, the sound of their hooves continuing to echo through the low-ceilinged tunnel.

“Why don’t you think Turing Test is a sapient being?” she asked.

Cobbler raised an eyebrow at the sudden question, glancing at her as they continued on their way. “Why do you think she is?” he shot back.

“If you had spent all the time with her that I had,” Twilight said, “you’d know the answer to that question. But since you didn’t, it’s because Turing made friends, and that involved communicating, adapting to new situations, and dealing with her emotions. The things she’s expressed, the way she’s changed from a simple automaton to her own person with her own unique wants, hopes, and dreams? The fact that she’s able to question her own existence and place in society? You can’t fake that, Professor Cobbler. The only thing that separates her from another pony is that she’s made of metal and wires instead of flesh and blood. If you met any other organic being who could do all that, you wouldn’t question them for a second.”

Cobbler nodded. “A good answer, but the simple fact is that all that is easily explained by her programming,” he replied. “She was designed to learn and adapt to new situations. Since you commanded her to ‘make friends,’ she simply had to study and observe behavior and attempt through trial and error to develop into the kind of being that one would find acceptable as a friend. She has no real emotions, Twilight; she only learned how to present the illusion of emotions to fulfill her directive. By reacting positively to her apparent emotional states, you simply encouraged her to build a comprehensive, convincing simulation. But she has no real feelings.”

Twilight’s expression soured. “You’re wrong,” she said flatly. “If you knew her like I knew her, then you’d understand.”

“I suppose we’ll have to agree to disagree on that matter,” Cobbler said as they rounded a corner. “I can respect that your feelings for her are real, even if she cannot truly feel as we do, and that’s why I’ll permit her to be returned to you. But since we’re speaking plainly, there’s another reason why I refuse to accept an automaton as a real pony.”

“And that is?”

He smirked, though she could see no humor in his eyes. “Simple,” he replied. “It’s because we’re not gods, Twilight. We can’t just imbue life into a pile of metal, wires, and other nonliving components.” His expression darkened. “I learned that the hard way,” he muttered.

Twilight raised her head. “What was that?” she asked. “Cobbler, what did you mean by--”

“We’re here!” Cobbler said loudly, perking up as they reached a door. “One of our many small theaters! Shall we?”

He held open the door for Twilight, who frowned at being ignored, but she decided to drop the matter for the time being and simply walked into the theater. Cobbler walked in after her.

The theater was indeed fairly small, with just a few rows of red-cushioned seats and a broad white screen. A few lamps on the walls lit the room.

“Go ahead and have a seat,” Cobbler said, gesturing for her to sit down. “I hope you’ll forgive me, but we have no popcorn. Just a moment and I’ll set up the reel in the projection booth.” He turned to the guards. “You two wait outside, if you please. Princess Twilight and I will be fine.”

“Yes, sir!” the guards said, saluting him as they walked outside.

Twilight took her seat, getting comfortable as she heard the projector start running. The screen brightened and the lights began to dim as Cobbler hurried down to take the seat next to her.

“So,” Twilight asked, “what movie are we watching?”

“One of mine, actually,” Cobbler whispered. “Ah! It’s starting!”

One of his? Twilight thought to herself.

The image appeared. It was a view of the path that led to Cobbler’s mansion, bordered on either side by oak trees. The camerapony was slowly walking up toward the grand house, accompanied by the sound of their hooves gently trotting on the hard ground and kicking up small rocks.

It was a grainy image and the color was a bit washed out, and the view jostled a bit as the one holding the camera shifted and reposition their hold on it.

“And there we are,” said the camerapony. “Home!”

Twilight sat up. That was Cobbler’s voice, no doubt, but it had a certain brightness that she couldn’t put her hoof on.

“I know, my voice sounded just a bit different when I was younger,” Cobbler whispered, leaning over to her, apparently guessing her thoughts.

The image cut, and the camera refocused. They were now somewhere in the orchard. Twilight recognized the trees, and the peaches hanging in the branches were a dead giveaway. But as the camera turned, they came upon what used to be a clearing, but had been dug up. Fresh, dark soil had been upturned. There were now parallel flower beds, some tiny shrubs, and even a few young trees.

“Well, well, well,” Cobbler said, “I wonder who planted all this?”

Then, to Twilight’s surprise, a little filly jumped into view, tossing her forehooves up with glee.

“Ta da!” she cried. “It was me! Georgia Peach of the Mustang Peaches!”

She heard Cobbler laugh in the film. “Oh? Is that so?” he asked playfully. “Well then, young lady, will you show me around?”

The little filly giggled. “I surely will! Come look!”

Twilight smiled and watched as the filly went around, proudly showing where she’d planted a variety of plants. Her coat was the color of coffee with milk, and her dark brown mane was done up in little ringlets. She was an earth pony, and though she had an aristocratic Mustangian twang to her speech similar to Cobbler, she had dirt smeared on her face and also on her simple white dress.

“And is there anything else you want to show the ponies who might be watching this?” Cobbler asked.

“I surely do!” she exclaimed. She then turned and lifted her skirt slightly, showing that there was the image on her flank of three flowers growing in a flower bed, each one a different color. “Today’s the day I got my cutie mark in horticulture!”

“She’d been studying it ever since we visited some botanical gardens and insisted that I let her try it herself,” Cobbler whispered.

The Cobbler in the movie laughed, and Twilight saw him reach over and pull Georgia in for a hug. “Why yes you did. And I am so proud of you, Georgia.”

“I know,” she said, smiling up at the camera.

“Now let’s get you back to the house for supper, young filly.”

Georgia giggled. “All right, Daddy.”

Twilight gasped at that last word. “A daughter?” she asked, turning to him. “You have a daughter?”

His expression wavered. “Let’s keep watching, shall we?”

The scene shifted again. It was inside Cobbler’s kitchen. There was a pot of something bubbling and steaming on the stove as Auntie Bellum (who looked much younger in the image), was holding Georgia and trying to wipe the dirt off her face with a hanky as the girl squirmed.

“Hold still now, Georgia dear!” Auntie cried, spitting into the hanky before applying it to Georgia’s cheek. “I simply won’t have all this dirt in my kitchen or on one o’ my kin! It ain’t ladylike!”

“I’ll make it ladylike!” the filly cried indignantly. “Why, I shall be the greatest horticulturist in all of Mustangia! And then the greatest in all Equestria! I will be invited to Canterlot to design the most lovely gardens you ever did see!”

“Oh yeah?” Auntie Bellum asked. She reached for a wooden spoon and smacked Georgia on the head with it. “Send me a postcard when you get there!” she snapped as the girl rubbed her head tenderly.

Cobbler snickered, causing the camera to shake, and Auntie Bellum turned to him. “Cobbler Mustang, you get that silly thing out o’ my kitchen! Now you both go wash your faces or you’ll get no supper, you hear?”

“Yes, Auntie,” Cobbler said.

“Yes, Auntie,” Georgia added. Then, when the old mare had turned, she stuck out her tongue, making a face at her before winking at the camera.

Twilight and Cobbler both laughed at that.

Still, more and more, there was something about the girl’s voice that Twilight couldn’t quite put her hoof on, but before she could comment, the scene changed once again.

They were now in a small bedroom, the bed piled up with pillows like a mountain, and a lacey canopy atop it.

Twilight blinked. That bed looked familiar, somehow, but she ignored the nagging feeling she was getting and continued watching the film.

Georgia was lying in the bed in her nightgown. Auntie Bellum came over and kissed the girl on the head.

“You sleep well, precious,” Auntie Bellum said quietly, smiling at the little filly. “You’ve got quite a day tomorrow.”

“I simply don’t know how I’ll get to sleep!” she said, sitting up.

“Well, you must,” said Cobbler’s voice. “You certainly wouldn’t want to be too tired for your own cutecañera, would you?”

She giggled. “No, I suppose not,” she replied. “All right, I shall do my best.” She snuggled down into the covers.

Twilight couldn’t help but smile. The filly really was adorable.

But as Twilight turned, she saw that tears were coming to Cobbler’s eyes.

“Good night, Georgia,” Cobbler’s voice said.

And then Georgia Peach said: “Good night, Daddy. I love you.”

Twilight’s blood froze. That voice and those words together echoed in her mind, pulling her into the past.

She remembered what had happened back at the Castle of the Two Sisters: Turing Test had just defeated Grace, but had been temporarily disabled in the process. As her systems rebooted, she had been unconsciously speaking words from her memory. They were all from her friends, their words familiar and their voices easily recognized.

But there was one voice she did not recognize, a voice Turing herself had no memory of ever hearing, and that voice had only said one thing: “Good night, Daddy. I love you.”

Now Twilight recognized the voice and the words. The words Turing Test had spoken all those months ago were those of Cobbler’s daughter.

Twilight’s jaw dropped, and she turned to Cobbler, backing away from him. She was trembling and couldn’t even speak.

“Twilight?” Cobbler asked, getting to his hooves. “Is something the matter?”

Twilight’s mind raced. No, she thought to herself. It can’t be what I’m thinking.

She calmed herself and asked, “Professor Cobbler, did you by any chance ever show this or any other film of Georgia to Turing Test?”

He frowned, tilting his head to the side. “No,” he replied.

Twilight bit her lip but pressed on, “Then, forgive me for asking, but is there any way that Turing could have met Georgia?”

Cobbler sighed and shook his head. “No,” he whispered, shutting his eyes. “That is quite impossible… for numerous reasons. Twilight, why are you asking me these questions?”

Twilight swallowed, though the dread she felt in the pit of her stomach was growing. “T-Turing spoke those words once,” she whispered. “She said ‘Good night, Daddy. I love you,’ in that exact same voice! How? She’d never met her before, so how did those words get into her mind? She couldn’t have known that voice unless...”

Cobbler stopped in his tracks and lowered his head. “Ah… I see that disturbing little glitch is still present,” he muttered, heaving a sigh. “One would think it would have vanished after the third transfer.”

Twilight stared at him. Transfer? Her mind raced again. She had always wondered how Turing could have been built with such intelligence and capabilities beyond even the most advanced computers of the time. Now it finally began to make sense why she, a machine, seemed so much like a normal pony.

“What have you done?” she breathed, covering her mouth in horror. “Oh… by the moon and stars…” She raised her head, staring at him in wide-eyed disbelief. “Cobbler Mustang, what have you done?!”

Cobbler sat down. “I brought you here to tell you a story,” he said. “You once asked what grudge I had against Celestia. It’s time you learned the truth of what happened, and then you’ll understand why I’ve held such hatred for her for these ten long years.”

Twilight took another step back. Ten years, she thought. Celestia said something happened to Cobbler ten years ago.

Cobbler looked over at the screen, smiling at the image of his daughter as tears again formed in his eyes. He watched until the film ended, the repetitive staccato of the film reel flickering on the projector as it bathed the small room in a pale light.

“Yes, Twilight,” he said, nodding to himself before turning to face her. “I do believe it’s time I told you what happened to my daughter.”

To be continued…

Author's Note:

Edit: Please avoid spoilers without at least using spoiler tags in your comments. Thanks!:pinkiesmile:
I have been waiting 1 year, 6 months, and 6 days for that bit of foreshadowing back in "Deep Blue, Part 3" to pay off. :pinkiehappy: I told you it wasn't a "My Little Dashie" reference! Muahahahahahaaa! :pinkiecrazy::pinkiecrazy::pinkiecrazy:

Ahem. Well, drama bombs aside, on with references:
-Commander Lugnut's name (though not his personality) are based on the name of another robot character here on FiMfiction, the title character in "Robotic Stallion Big Lugnut," by Hooves Like Jagger. You can find it here.
-Doctor Hawkeye is named after Hawkeye from M.A.S.H., played by Alan Alda.
-Nurse Funny Valentine is named after the song "My Funny Valentine," a jazz standard, and also the character Valentine, a nurse character in the video game Skullgirls, which is a favorite of mine.
-Georgia Peach is named after, well, Georgia peaches, but also the term "peach" means a likable, pleasant person, which goes with her sweet personality. Other names I'd considered for her included "Southern Belle" and "Peachy Pie" (both got rejected because they sounded too close to canon characters Sweetie Belle and Pinkie Pie, and I didn't want people thinking they were related), as well as "Sweet Caroline," "Darling Clementine," and "Mustang Sally," all three of which are the names of songs.

An extra bit of thanks goes out to the editing team, who really came through and gave some great advice for this chapter, as well as Greenfinger, who has been trying a new painting style that really worked well for Georgia's portrait. Expect future illustrations to have a similar look! :yay:

See you next time, when we finally learn about Cobbler's past...

"Good night, Daddy. I love you."

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