• Published 20th Oct 2015
  • 1,951 Views, 163 Comments

Norrath, Earth, Equestria. A Construct's Journey - Nimnul

A strange construct, or fancy golem, is displaced to Equestria. But Landshark is no servant, no mere automaton. She claims to be a renegade Bellikos. What and Who is she, and why does she just want to settle down quietly now?

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Trading Stories

Early Saturday evening at Berry Punch's house. The fillies were keeping busy, each in their own way. Dinky was reading a basic chemistry school book. She had wanted to help Landshark find out about smokeless powder, but had discovered that reading about explosive materials was a little confusing without at least some basic underpinnings on the topic. And clearly, fillies her age weren't the target audience. The book she was reading now was dry, but at least it seemed to be meant for fillies only a little older than herself and might help her at a later date.

Ruby Pinch was practicing her magic. She'd been taking apart and reassembling her new pocket watch. It was fiddly, but sometimes it even worked properly. She also had procured a stop watch. Perhaps borrowed from the Crusaders. "Okay ... if it works now, that's a new record!" She wound the watch, which dutifully started keeping time once more. "I got it!"

Dinky looked up from her book and frowned. "I think you're supposed to be treating watches like that nicer, not make a race of ripping them apart and putting them together again."

"Aww, but this is fun. And once I get it right every time, maybe Shark will let me detail strip one of her guns by myself." She looked down at the watch. "They don't have clockworks in them, but they're fiddly in their own way."

"Hmm. That's actually a good plan," Dinky admitted. "Maybe practice on a wind-up toy too or something." She snorted a little. It didn't sound as impressive as when Bon or Berry did it. "Doesn't seem that fun to me, but I'm the one reading a textbook on a weekend, so just keep up the good work, Agent."

"Will do, Agent." They shared a quick giggle before each focusing on their own way to spend time again. Ruby Pinch suspected she would get bored before Dinky did, but fortunately, this was her place, and she was familiar with all the options she had for entertaining herself.

Meanwhile, in the living room, the adults were somewhat less comfortable.

"Shark," Berry Punch started slowly. "I-I don't want to do it anymore." She looked at the other mares. "I'm real happy you gave me that job to help me get away from my work but ... being your accountant wasn't part of the deal."

Landshark nodded slowly and motioned for her to continue. She was surprised, but there didn't seem to be any point in rushing her friend. "Go on, please."

Berry took a deep breath. "Look, there was no problem when you just asked me to check your work. And when you asked for help, I figured I owed ya anyway. But ... you barely look at your paperwork anymore."

Ditzy extended a wing to make contact with Berry's shoulder. The mailmare didn't know where Berry would be going with her explanation but she knew that contact could be a steadying thing, it reminded her friend that she wasn't alone.

"It's just ... I used to only be responsible for myself and Pinchy, and I got us from bill to bill pretty well even drunk. But then I picked that fight with booze, and I'm still sober, don't worry! But it was hard. Still is, I guess, maybe more so now. And suddenly I'm responsible for me, Pinchy, you, and then both No-Toes and Grey support families on the wages I've got to make sure you can actually pay." She trembled and shook her head. "And you can pay the wages. You always did listen to me so far. But ... I don't want that responsibility in my life. I don't want it all riding on me, Shark. The load isn't helping me stay sober."

The construct rubbed her face with one hand. Being confronted with how thoughtless she had been hurt, but she only had herself to blame, hadn't she? "I'm very sorry, Berry. I should have paid more attention. But you should have said something sooner. I would have understood, you know."

Bon Bon snorted. "She wanted to tough it out. You're the one who told her that struggling is good. There's a limit to everything, though. That's why we're a team, Berry. If you're struggling, you let everypony know and they'll make sure to support you."

She made a dismissive gesture with her hoof, changing tracks. "'m literally the worst person to say this, but you gotta learn to handle your own affairs better, Shark. You're out of the game." Bon Bon put on a frown which almost immediately turned into a scowl. "We both got way, way luckier than some other folks, getting out of the old job and not landing in the gutter. Least not staying there." She shot Lyra a quick smile. "Don't take it for granted, Shark. I know you're better'n that."

Lyra was nodding along to the conversation, tongue stuck out a tiny bit in concentration. It didn't seem like she was listening. She was shuffling a deck of cards. Doing it with magic wasn't technically difficult, but she had discovered that it was not easy to make it look natural once she involved her spectral hand projections. She had explained that just making a fist to send along with a kinetic blast, or wrapping it around a mug she was levitating was easier. Shuffling used a lot of finger motions she had to mentally coordinate to line up with the actual process of manipulating an entire deck of carts at once. There was a lot more micromanagement involved.

Why this was an important skill to pick up was clear only to Lyra. Maybe having a friend with hands was a bad influence on the unicorn.

Ditzy tore her eye away from Lyra's activities, squinted it close and focused the other on Landshark. She seemed to be calm and collected, which at least made the construct happy that the mailmare wasn't worried about upsetting her. "Do you have a-a reason for it?" She smiled comfortingly. "I mean, if you're just bad with numbers, that's okay, but you have so many more hours in the day to-to hammer it in until it sticks than I ever did."

"Thank you for bringing this to my attention." Landshark steepled her fingers. Clearly, her friends were waiting for an explanation. She wasn't so sure herself about the hows and whys. "It seemed so sensible at the time, you know? We were a team, and the one with the most competence did the job, and I didn't spare it much more thought. But you're right. You weren't told to expect this. And I can see how this is more stressful than what you used to do."

She separated her hands and placed them flat on the table's edge. She nodded at Ditzy. "I don't think I'm inherently worse at math but my sisters and I weren't made..." She was interrupted by Lyra.

Lyra placed the deck of cards carefully onto the table as she spoke. "C'mon. I love the robot jokes but how close are you really to factory settings? They didn't build you with guns and explosives in mind either, now did they? If you're not worse at math by nature you can't say you weren't built for it. You've got to get stuck in and get used to it."

Landshark was quiet for several long moments before she nodded slowly. "I think I'm not as good at introspection as I thought I might be." She twitched her jaw. "I've re-learned to be a follower, even after we became renegades, and I did a fair job as an enforcer, too, but to just be my own boss, among civilians? I'm not worried about the future, but at the same time, I think I have not tried hard enough to pick up the right habits. I'm very sorry, Berry. How would you like to go forward?"

Instead of Berry, it was Bon Bon who spoke up. "First, I'm going to start teaching you how to do all that by yourself. I know the law inside and out." She scowled again. "Maybe I don't have an accountant's mark, but I got plenty of bloody-minded stubbornness. The crown isn't getting one bit from me that I don't absolutely have to give up. They got enough from me already."

"It's true," Lyra explained. "She manages our accounts very angrily. And afterwards it's like getting to make up without having fought first." She waggled her eyebrows and grinned. Bon Bon barely even blushed. Likely had gotten numb to Lyra long ago.

"It's like tax-se-" Lyra was interupted by Bon's hoof being shoved in her face.

"Yes, thanks, everyone gets it. There's kids in the building, you know." Bon Bon shook her head. "Point is, Berry doesn't have the pressure anymore, and I don't mind spending the extra time. I don't like sleep anyway."

Landshark nodded once more, but looked over to Berry, who hadn't answered the last question posed to her. The mare seemed to try and collect herself and shook her head. "Yeah. That's a good start. Just ... I've been thinking, and I know you meant well with the job you gave me, but maybe I was feelin' too guilty about you being busted up to think it over." She took a deep breath. "Maybe ... maybe it wasn't such a good idea to stop doing much with my cutie mark during a stressful time. And really, it'd be best for your business if I quit. You'd have fewer expenses and you don't have enough to do for everyone right now anyway."

The construct supposed she might have underestimated the influence of the cutie mark on the Self. Ditzy's cutie mark still remained something of a mystery, and Bon Bon's past had very little to do with candy, so if there was any kind of universal rule, it apparently had plenty of exceptions. She imagined that using a special talent frequently might lead to increased contentment. But was that automatic, or an indirect side benefit of having a bit of guaranteed stability and identity?

Still, it seemed to be important to Berry. She clearly seemed to miss making a living her own way. "Well, red fruits don't have to be turned into alcohol, seems like there's room for interpretation there? I'm still not entirely clear how it all works. Is there room for interpretation?"

Berry shrugged. "Maybe? See, I got some extended family with a vineyard. Nothin' so fancy as the Prench stuff, and I grew up a city filly and never had much of a green hoof. I'm good at actually doing things with the grapes and strawberries. Some other fruits too, but I've been doing it for long enough that it's hard to say if my talent covers all the reddish fruits or if it's all the experience."

She started looking rather embarrassed. "I got my cutie mark while spending a couple of months in juvy up in Las Pegasus. S'not like Cloudsdale, they got groundside neighborhoods too. Not a great place to grow up without wings, an' I got into drinkin', which led to fightin' and uh, we might have knocked over the local liquor store a time or two before getting caught." She shook her head. "Anyway, my bunkmate let me in on fermentin' fruit from the cafeteria under our bunks. Rest is history."

She sighed and bit her lip before continuing. "My family were just happy I got a mark that might lead to something other than a life of petty crime. Which it did! Well, after I had Pinchy, anyway. They were happy I got away from all that, they weren't so happy that I crawled right back into the bottle." She paused and looked out the window. "I haven't told 'em that I'm dry again. Won't tell 'em until it's been longer than the time I didn't drink while I was pregnant."

Ditzy moved closer to Berry for a quick hug. "W-Well, you made a lot of bad choices. But you did right by your daughter, mostly. I think." She smiled at the others. "And obviously we won't hold that sort of thing against you, right?"

Everybody shook their head. Landshark spoke up first. "There's a reason I don't ask much about anybody's past. It just wasn't done at the old job. We didn't know real names and we didn't ask what someone did or didn't do in real life, right? Judge folks by what they put in front of you, not the past." She snapped her jaws. "I'm just glad you talked to me about this before Twilight starts breaking down our door about a friendship problem. I hear she's got a magic map or something for that."

"Aren't any of us actually from Ponyville, then? I guess I always assumed Berry was, somehow." Lyra grinned at Landshark in particular. "Maybe where you're from asking about the past isn't done, but since Berry already told a story, we might as well keep going. You talked more than enough about yourself too, anyway. Although I guess you raise a lot of questions as an alien robot."

She turned momentarily serious as she ordered her thoughts. "Won't bore you with the details, but my folks are businessponies in Canterlot, not nobility. Dad runs a shipping business, mom manages an apartment building they own in a fancy part of town. Pretty affluent, y'know? I'm not sure they were real happy I got a musical cutie mark, but they got used to it. They're good parents." Lyra smiled sheepishly and looked away. "I didn't go about moving here particularly intelligently. I took out as big a loan as I could, playing up my parent's success while talking to the bank drone, then moved here to help set up Bonny's shop."

Lyra grinned. "I think my parents were just happy I didn't blow it all to finance an expedition to find humans in the Amarezon or something when they found out. Dad didn't really come around on the topic of Bonny until it turned out that she runs a tight ship and we were staying well ahead on loan payments. I guess in a way I did go into business." She suddenly shot everyone at the table a death glare. "They can never know I got a busking permit in case the store fell through, though. Never!"

Bon Bon playfully shoved Lyra. "Well, they were more worried about your terrible business sense than the fact that you're into mares, in terms of Canterlot snobbery that's pretty rare." She nodded, smugly self-satisfied. "As far as her parents are concerned, I'm the good influence in this relationship." After a pause, she added, "And Lyra's mother is ... the nicest lady you'll meet in Canterlot. Don't listen to Lyra. Her parents got used to me way faster than I deserved."

"Don't forget not doing anything with the fact that I was a Gifted Unicorn as a filly, or the cryptozoology. I know it's pseudoscience! It just speaks to my imagination, is all." Lyra huffed. "And what do you know, humans are totally real in a parallel reality. Anyway, having a marefriend is the least of my problems, the way my parents tell it."

"Bah," Bon Bon scoffed. "You're just trying to distract from the fact that you're so dysfunctional it didn't occur to you to tell your parents you were moving away and starting a business with me until they went to the police because you went missing." Softly, she added, "You know they don't mind you being a weirdo."

"Eheh, maybe. Maybe." She pouted. "I was in love, okay? With somepony really ungrateful, apparently!" Lyra immediately winced after saying it. "Don't listen to me, Bonny, you know I was just joking."

Bon Bon swallowed and nodded. It took several long moments for her to offer an explanation to the others. "Sorry. That's my weak spot." She met Lyra's eyes as she continued. "I owe this clown here my life, you know. It's a story I've been meaning to tell for a while now, but hadn't worked up the nerve. Call in the fillies, they should hear it too, and understand that they can't tell it to anypony."

Bon Bon proceeded to retell the story of her connection to the Bugbear that had appeared in town during a wedding, although she left out the fact that she used to go by 'Sweetie Drops'. Being Bon Bon may have originally been an alias, but she preferred it now. Especially the fillies were initially excited to know another 'real' monster hunter, but much like Landshark had, Bon Bon didn't hold back on what the job had cost her. She did try to tone down the bitterness, however. She didn't want to risk turning the girls towards cynicism.

"There you have it. If it weren't for Lyra I'd probably be homeless now." Or dead, but she restrained herself and didn't say it. "I might get in real trouble if the wrong people find out that I've been talking about this. Real trouble. But I guess I stopped caring to dance around it, now that I've got more friends than just Lyra."

"Agents." Landshark hadn't said anything in quite some time, which was perhaps unusual for her. Now she addressed the fillies. "This isn't part of the game. I know, you know that. This is probably one of the most important secrets you'll be keeping for a good, long while. Ponies would treat Bon differently if they knew, and they don't understand her problems, and not understanding makes them uncomfortable and angry."

She leaned forward, leaving any inflection out of her voice. "It doesn't sound fair, and it isn't, but this isn't your problem to fix. Your only job is to stand with her. It doesn't change anything between you and her. All she needs is trust, not pity. Same as any of us, in that way." She didn't mention specifically that they were all completely unqualified to really offer more help than that, just in case the fillies would take it as a challenge. The chance was very small, but she didn't see the point in risking it. "Do you understand?"

The fillies nodded slowly, stopped, then looked at each other for a moment before Dinky spoke up. "Not really, no." She dragged a forehoof across the floor where she sat. "How can we?"

Pinchy shook her head and moved closer to Bon Bon. "Isn't that why we have ponies like Aunt Bonny or Twilight's friends?" She chewed her lip. "So we don't figure out how scary some things really are?"

"Something like that, yeah." Bon Bon was mumbling her answer, looking down at her hooves. "I'm sorry to dump this on the lot of you."

Landshark wasn't really sure mentioning the Elements of Harmony was particularly helpful, but Ruby Pinch had meant well. Sometimes, the construct thought, heroes revolted her. Their reception seemed like an insult to the the people who engaged in the sort of unshowy soldiering that didn't win medals but wars.

On the other hand, that wasn't really fair. A large part of a hero seemed to be media or propaganda fabrication, and she was reasonably sure Twilight or her friends hadn't asked to be immortalized on a stained glass window either. Well, perhaps Rainbow Dash had. And of course, she and the other renegades would have been unlikely to succeed if it hadn't been for the mortal champions brash and mighty enough to invade the realms of the gods. Those people had been heroes to her, even if their motivations had been mostly mercenary in nature.

"Those ponies with the Elements of Harmony have done great things, Agents. But they've been lucky, too. Maybe the papers or your rulers say they're heroes for the things they did. That is fair enough. But their primary concern is unquestionable success, and thus they are only interested in showing you the heroes that get good, pretty results."

The construct went on quietly, sweeping her gaze over her friends. "Of course we must believe that monsters can be beaten. That the world can be saved. But you shouldn't forget that it can have a cost. They don't make fancy windows for people who fight fairly mundane monsters for years until their brain always expects more monsters around the corner, even in places they should know are clear. But they're brave too, all the same, just for accepting that cost."

"It doesn't matter," Dinky declared, almost fiercely. "Bon Bon is Bon Bon, and knowing why she is how she is, that-that doesn't change anything." She shook her head. "Maybe I can't imagine feeling like that all the time, but we'll just have to take your word for it."

Ditzy looked extremely proud of her daughter as she nodded along. "Yeah. She's right. Shark, I know you're, you're good at thinking about the way ponies think, but I think right now ... it's not the time to get all ..." She gestured vaguely with a hoof, splitting her attention between the construct and Bon Bon with little effort. "... talky. You're probably right, but it's not the time. Bon Bon, you're my friend, and I trust you with Dinky like I trust myself, and that's, that's all."

The mailmare truly cherished her new friends, and she knew that the others probably had a lot more use for Landshark's lectures, but for all that she did not think too highly of her own intelligence, she understood perfectly well when it was time to show some tenderness instead of talking up a storm. She and Dinky approached Bon Bon for a quick hug before backing off again to give her space.

Landshark just nodded mutely. She did have a tendency to be 'talky', and upon reflection what was best right now was for Bon Bon to see that nothing had changed between her, the fillies, and their mothers, ponies who hadn't already understood Bon Bon's troubles. Landshark was quite thankful for Ditzy's willingness to gently shut her up when it seemed necessary.

"You didn't really expect Ditzy and me, of all ponies, to have some sort of issue with this, right? C'mon. I'm with her on this. Let's not make this a big thing. If we can help somehow, say it. If not, nothing changes." Berry snorted noisily. "Both of us been on the wrong side of the kinda busypony that screeches 'think of the foals!' plenty of times for our own reasons." She ground her teeth. "Sometimes it really makes me want to rip one of their ears off. Remind 'em to mind their own business."

That seemed to be an oddly specific threat of bodily harm to Landshark.

"Mommy!" Pinchy frowned as hard as she could. "We're supposed to use our words, remember?"

Berry grumbled and looked away. "Your mother has a temper, Pinchy. Being clearheaded jus' makes it harder to ignore ponies who look down on us."

Everyone was startled to some extent when Lyra leaped onto the table, grinning broadly and locking eyes with Berry. "I'm looking down on you right now! I'm looking down on you all!" She briefly caught her breath. "Well I'm glad this worked out so well. And we should totally figure out some way for Berry to go back to making a living closer to her cutie mark. Maybe by the time next spring comes around we could be adding a juice bar to the store?"

"Lyra, you're such a bad example for us right now." Dinky's amusement was evident and the fillies giggled.

Bon Bon groaned, but wasn't terribly surprised. Lyra tended to have the urge to distract ponies when she sensed that her marefriend was upset. The candy maker used the opportunity to center herself before scolding her partner. "Yeah, and a terrible guest. Get off the table, you lunatic." She rubbed her eyes. "Thanks, everypony. Really means the world to me. And Berry, you need any help at all to make ends meet, or in figuring out what to do, talk to us. I'm the same sort of crazy Shark is, I'll go out of my way for a buddy, no questions asked."

"I'm not too proud to accept help," Berry smiled slightly. "You got some sense for money at least. I'm really sorry, Shark, but I think it's for the best I figure something out for myself, if Bon is willing to make sure you can handle your own affairs. Maybe some of my old customers will forgive my sudden hiatus, too. At least the ones that didn't just buy alcohol." She paused. "Now stop starin' at me and get off my table, Lyra!"

Landshark twitched her jaw and leaned back. "No apologies necessary. Mistakes were errors of judgement, not of intent. You just do your best to live your way into a stronger Self and I'm happy, whether you work for me or not. I'll try to learn from my mistakes. Taking your extra effort for my finances for granted was wrong."

Lyra did eventually get off the table, and the conversation briefly turned to Ditzy's past, just to round things out. The mailmare hugged her daughter to herself. "I was too young to be a mother. Young and st-stupid and lonely right out of school. The father isn't important. We didn't have anything serious. My parents were unhappy, of course, but I guess I might be, too, in their place." She stared off into the middle distance. Or two different middle distances. "They didn't like me having to move away. Thought I couldn't make it on my own. But if there's one thing, one thing I learned in the months between school and having to move groundside with Dinky, it's that Cloudsdale makes me miserable." She nodded at Landshark. "I told you about it."

Dinky nuzzled her mother a smiled a little. "Grandma and grandpa are nice ponies. But I don't like visiting them in Cloudsdale. I can't go anywhere because I have to stay on mom's back, and there's always ponies giving her funny looks because I don't have wings. Cloudsdale is stupid."

Ditzy smiled brightly herself. "You're about to be too big for it anyway. Maybe I'm not a real smart mare. I try to keep life simple. But when everypony said I ruined my life, I got the best thing in the world out of it." She wrapped her wings more tightly around her daughter. "So I guess it's, it's hard to get down on myself or my situation. I've been lucky, so I'll make the most of it. And that's, that's all I've got to say about that."

Dinky scoffed. "Mom, I've seen what your boss makes you carry. I'm pretty sure you could get me to Cloudsdale when I'm all grown up." She adopted a thoughtful look, brows furrowed. "Didn't Princess Twilight mention a cloudwalking spell? That might be nice for when I'm grown and want to visit grandma and grandpa."

The evening went on in a much improved mood, despite the fact that no immediate easy solution had presented itself for Berry. Apparently there was only so much fruit she could count on getting at family discount rates from her extended family, and she had never bought enough additional fruit to get a discount from other suppliers. Sure enough she had made ends meet, but just as surely she had never been able to save up money for her own plot of land to grow fruit on, her claimed lack of aptitude aside. Despite it being one of Lyra's ideas ("Hey!"), trying to add a juice bar to the candy store would perhaps actually be worth considering as an alternative to peddling her wares from a market stall.

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