• Published 20th Oct 2015
  • 1,978 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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Meanwhile!

Author's Note:

Got a bit of personal upheaval in my life right now, so sorry for the delays. Hope you enjoy.

"So, any plans for ... Hearth's Warming?" Landshark wasn't particularly enthusiastic about holidays, or at least, hadn't usually been. She'd usually been at work, together with other unfortunates who didn't care or didn't have any reason to take leave to visit anyone. Now, however, she had a bunch of civilian friends who celebrated their various holidays, so the construct might as well get with the program.

"Going to see my parents," Lyra responded quietly. She was hanging out at Landshark's smithy after closing. "They're always complaining I don't write or visit enough. It's a chore to get Bonny to travel – but my parents appreciate that she does best with as little stimulation as possible, so once we actually arrive, she'll like it fine."

Pouring a cup of sugar into a bottle, she continued with a fond smile, "My dad'll go watch the play with me, mom'll stay home with Bonny and they'll make candy and pastries."

"Sounds completely ordinary. Hope you'll have a good time." As she talked, Landshark glued storm matches to the necks of several bottles. "Nice of your mother to hold down the fort with Bon?" The dynamic seemed pretty good to the construct. Lyra got to see the supposedly traditional play, understood Bon enough to not feel bad about enjoying it without her, and the earth pony didn't spend the evening alone.

"Yep! They're probably bonding over how painfully mediocre their partners are in the kitchen or something." She smiled, a small smile, different from her usual ostentatious grinning. "Really looking forward to it. I'm real lucky my parents like Bonny."

After a pause, Lyra tilted her head. "Okay, I played along, and I guess the matches give away the 'what', but is there any reason why we're improvising incendiaries?"

Landshark placed several of the bottles in a crate. Molotov cocktails were easy enough to do. The storm-proof matches had been an idea taken from the old improvised munitions guide Bon Bon had lent her once before. A tidier option than using a rag as a wick, in any case. "Well, why not?"

Lyra frowned in concentration for a few moments. "Huh. Now that you've put me on the spot, I guess I don't have an answer you'd consider any good." She shrugged. "Any reason you're not, say, buying turpentine instead?"

"I don't have a logical answer to that. Maybe it just feels nicer to use a primary ingredient I distilled myself. And in a pinch I can just peel off the matches and explain away these bottles of alcohol as being here for hospitality."

Landshark wasn't certain, but would not be surprised if having incendiary devices was not precisely legal. On the other hand, living close to the supposedly deadly Everfree should make for a reasonable explanation. It should count as sensible home defense in case of a timberwolf emergency. She didn't expect bullets to be ideal against a creature made of wood, allegedly capable of reforming itself when damaged.

"Speaking of hospitality, care for a beer?"

"Sure, I'll have one." Lyra grinned. Something seemed to amuse her. "It's almost kind of disappointing to find you're no longer limited to tobacco and clear alcohol here." She settled down by the forge, where the fire hadn't gone out yet, after work. "Look, I don't know the law and I don't know the relative merits of what you use in those bottles, but do you seriously worry about anypony springing a surprise inspection on your home? This is Ponyville. Nopony would care if you bought turpentine by the barrel."

She shook her head. "You can use it to light lamps. Outdoor ones, the smell is a bit strong. It's a solvent, it can be used to make furniture wax. Did you really think somepony was going to guess you're making improvised fire bombs? Really? Maybe if you lived in the wrong neighborhood in one of the big cities, but not here."

Landshark procured a bottle of beer for Lyra, then crossed her arms. "Well, excuse me," she joked. "I was just being careful. Besides, I don't know how the world works nearly as well as ponies seem to think. Furniture wax? Who even knows that when they think of turpentine?"

Lyra shook her head. "Fair enough. I'll blame my father for that one. Apparently he got his start working overseas, headed a trade caravan in Zebrica. He was pretty okay at cold spells. Nothing like Rimey, but could keep your drinks cool and open up some more options transporting perishables. He's good for stories and random bits of trivia about trade goods."

The unicorn opened the offered bottle, took a sip and grimaced. "Celestia's flank, this is swill!" She shuddered. "Where'd you even find this?"

"Barnyard Bargains." The construct shrugged. "Just grabbed some at random."

"Ugh." Lyra shuddered. "Even Mr. Rich's retail drones are going to give you some pointers if you ask nicely. I wouldn't make a Manehatten bum drink this, and you're keeping it for guests?"

"Picky, picky." Landshark chuckled. She was generally glad for this sort of feedback, but she might as well keep the conversation going. "Sorry for offending your delicate Canterlot tastes."

"There's a difference between being a snob and having some standards, you know!" Lyra glowered, yet took another drink from the bottle.

"I don't know, the lads didn't seem to mind it." The situation was perhaps slightly awkward, considering that Lyra was mostly visiting to stay out of the way while Twilight visited Bon Bon. Landshark settled down to perform routine maintenance on her weapons. She hadn't used them recently, but that was no reason not to maintain the habit. Finding replacements for cleaning oils and solvents had been simpler than the construct had feared. Ponies didn't have guns, but they weren't strangers to intricate mechanisms and their care.

"Bah. Rimey's barely done being a dumb colt, I didn't care either when I was his age, and Fleets probably hasn't had a drink that didn't ferment under somepony's cot in twenty years, and you think their opinion matters? Most people visiting you are going to know what beer is supposed to taste like, and this isn't it."

Landshark nodded. "In my defense, I don't have a sense of taste, remember?" She barely had to look at what she was doing. She did have the precision of a machine, after all.

Lyra rolled her eyes. "Sure, play the robot card again. Seems like you should have known to ask someone for a real opinion ahead of time. You knew you had no way to judge by yourself!" She shook her head. "Ah well, bottle's open now. Down the hatch."

Lyra took another drink and sighed. She was quiet for several moments, watching the construct take care of her guns. "Y'know, sometimes it feels kind of weird knowing you're always carrying a gun, even if it's a small one."

"Well, I did try not to, at first." Landshark shrugged. "Sure, I started carrying again after getting damaged, but I probably wouldn't shoot a pony in self defense. Wouldn't seem proportional, since I'm more easy to fix. Doesn't feel right not to have the option though. And I'm not reluctant to defend others."

The construct affected a joking tone. "And since I was taught an honest craft rather than magic, I can't just fling a fireball or hit someone with 'whirl till you hurl' and make my escape." She paused. "That is totally a real spell, before you say anything. Although most creatures just get real disoriented and don't throw up."

"So you could learn magic? That's kind of cool. You ever try reading one of those books for young unicorns?" Lyra seemed genuinely interested in the idea. She even forgot to keep choking down the rest of her beer, momentarily.

"I could learn magic, the same way you could learn to be a brain surgeon. Years of careful study. Where would I find a teacher who could help me access magic?" Landshark snapped her jaws. "I don't have a horn. From what I observed, the study and use of magic is kind of a career choice for humanoids, because it takes a lot of effort." She shrugged. "I assume the First could have given us a gift for magic, but why take the risk? It just makes a population harder to control and more dangerous in the event of an uprising. I swung a hammer! I imagine there'd be even fewer of us left today if we'd just manaburned one another to slag, you know."

"Cheerful thought. But seriously, you practically have forever!" Lyra appeared suddenly plaintive. "I mean, you're still going to be around long after us, and what are you going to do with all that time then?"

Landshark smiled. She had occasionally given the question some thought. "If nothing were left to keep me here, I'd probably want to close up shop and become a rail engineer. Train operator. Whatever you call the job on the locomotive." She nodded firmly.

"What."

"What? There's nothing wrong with that, is there?" Landshark tilted her head. "This would be after decades of good conduct, I'm pretty sure I could get someone to vouch for me."

Lyra snorted, but couldn't keep from smiling. "Oh, no, I wasn't worried about trust. I guess I didn't expect your big future ambition to overlap so much with something any given ten year old colt might say."

"I'm serious, though. I think that's something I'd like to do for a while. I don't have any real ambitions, I guess, but the most immediate advantage I can see to not aging is that I'll never get to a point in life where I'll be too old to try something new."

Landshark paused briefly in her work. "Bah. I'm not nearly old enough for this conversation, but I'm not bogged down by responsibilities, not like your alicorns. Without that burden, it'd seem like a terrific waste to just pick something and do it for ever. Perhaps I could master something beyond the ability of mortals, just given enough time. But there's so much life out there, so much existence, it seems like a shame not to branch out a little."

She wasn't a huge fan of contemplating the long term future. Being potentially ageless still was too abstract to her. The only people she had outlived certainly hadn't died of old age. Perhaps it would start feeling real once she watched the first of her friends grow old and infirm. She assumed she would worry a lot less about this if she had never left the Underfoot, but the thought just felt unwieldy in her mind.

"Immortality is only a word, anyway. All that exists can die, so I'm not going to take anything for granted." After working with humans, it was tempting to believe that anything could be killed with the right weapon. For humans themselves it had been all but a necessity. Any other belief would inevitably lead to loss of hope and morale once one considered the impossible scope of the unobservable yet empirically determined multiverse as it uncaringly sprinkled debris into their reality. That sort of contemplation made the grunt on the ground feel too small to meaningfully defend their world.

"Sure, fair enough." Lyra nodded. She appeared to understand that it wasn't the construct's favorite topic. "But why the railroad?"

"I like trains," Landshark offered lamely. "They're a fine example of ingenuity without magic. A constant reminder that people can master the world without help from gods. I suppose it has a certain ideological appeal, in that way." She began packing up her cleaning supplies. "Prior to the uprising, all the toil and cooperation required to build, supply and operate the railways would not have appealed to us in the Cult of Self, but we renegades realized that being a small part of something greater is also acceptable, if you so chose."

"I wonder sometimes, you know? It seems so stupid, in hindsight. Our preachers would make their pitch about free will and the Self to some followers of Brell Serilis, and then they'd make enemies of the ones who responded 'thanks, but no thanks'. Couldn't they see that those beings had made an informed choice? Some respect for free will. Pah."

Lyra rubbed her forehead. "Hmm." She seemed to give the question serious thought before answering. "There's tons of ponies who'll jump at anything Princess Celestia asks of them, with complete faith that she won't steer them wrong. And she didn't even shape any of us out of clay, as far as I know. Working directly for the being that personally brought you and all your sisters into existence is a powerful thing, I imagine."

"I suppose you got me there. Not every envoy and preacher turned out to be more loyal to our creator than our ideals, and not all of us who toiled at home in greater ignorance of how the teachings were misused turned into renegades when the truth came out."

Landshark snapped her jaws. It was upsetting to contemplate, but she imagined that her older sisters had suffered even worse than she had. Some had served the First's designs for centuries, in many roles, before the rebellion. Landshark's paltry few decades of forging weapons for the First's guards and soldiers barely counted as complicity, compared to that.

"I wonder how much crazier than me some of my sisters turned out to be once the dust settled." She shook her head. "You know, maybe we're just bad at second-guessing ourselves. But I didn't mean for this to veer off into a real unpleasant topic. I talk too much."

"What else is new, huh?" Lyra still seemed to be in a thoughtful mood, however. "You ever think about how things could have gone differently, if you'd made different choices?"

"Of course. A little reflection is vital for improving your Self and your skills. If something doesn't work out the way I would have liked, I've got to be able to take responsibility and do better in the future. Those who don't know their Self are flawed. How can you improve something you do not know?"

Landshark was pretty sure she'd explained this before. The capacity for introspection, for questioning, was rather important, at least to the renegades. It had been a painful lesson. But it didn't seem to be what Lyra was getting at, in any case.

"No, I mean, not about day to day, or job decisions. I mean, major life stuff. What if you'd been a loyalist? Or what if you hadn't joined the humans as a soldier?" Lyra shifted uncomfortably where she sat on the ground, then took another drink of her beer, grimacing at it.

"No."

Lyra frowned. "Just no?"

The construct shrugged, then turned up her palms. "It's not important. Those things are non-events. Why concern myself with paths I could have taken, when I'm convinced I took the right ones?"

Maybe it was one of those mortal things. Landshark was as capable of making mistakes as anybody, of course, perhaps more so when dealing with authority, and she had made regrettable mistakes in the past, but she didn't often consider how her life could have taken an entirely different path. Landshark didn't worry about roads not taken, she worried about walking the current one as well as she could.

Or maybe she just hadn't been taught to be quite so contemplative.

"Lyra, if those events had played out differently, I would not exist and some other Self would wear my shell. I'm immutable now, but after the uprising, we were all adrift, in our own way. My human allies named me. If I had remained a loyalist, or settled in the human world peacefully in obscurity rather than fight for them, I'd still wear my god-given name, and I would not have been shaped by that decade of working with those people." She snapped her jaws. "And don't bother asking, it gives me a little thrill to live in a reality where my old name has never been given voice. Another touch of the First, discarded for all time."

More softly, the construct continued. "Don't allow yourself doubt on that level. There are things you can do better now, why worry about situations you aren't in?"

She wondered what was going on in Lyra's head. Was the unicorn really worried about where her life had gone?

"Maybe we shouldn't have gone to Ponyville, Shark. Everything's gotta be so damn pleasant here."

Landshark experienced a flicker of guilt – she'd briefly toyed with the idea that Lyra would regret starting a relationship with Bon Bon in the first place.

"Care to elaborate? I haven't seen much of your world. Ponyville was supposed to be good for getting acclimated."

Lyra gnawed on her lip for a moment before answering. "We wanted to get out of Canterlot. Too much competition, mostly because the parts of town that aren't insufferable aren't that big. Not good for a start-up. I was arguing for Manehatten, at first."

She grinned, briefly. "When I was younger we went once on a trip, my parents and I. We tried this little hole in the wall of a pizza place and the stallion there barely acknowledged we were even there. Surly type. But he had lots of customers, the product was good. I figured a big city would be great. Nopony knows you, nopony cares." She shook her head. "Bonny preferred a slower pace, and crowds are kind of exhausting for her."

"Now you gotta understand, I was bein' an idiot and hadn't even introduced her to my parents. Bonny didn't seem to care. She wasn't in a good place, back then."

"Mhm." Landshark had no idea what Lyra was going for, so she just gestured for her to continue.

"My stupid worries. I was thinkin' too much like a Canterlot pony. I was into mares, she wasn't even a unicorn, and she was, well, not real good around ponies, back then. What were other ponies going to think?" Lyra sighed heavily. "I think mom nearly socked me when I finally couldn't dodge talking about who I was seeing anymore. She was so hurt that I didn't trust them with ... with my marefriend. They're better ponies than that. They didn't warm up to Bonny right away, but they really tried, you know? They really tried to see what I was seeing in her."

"Was this before or after you moved away without telling anyone?" Lyra had already spoken about the fact that she hadn't gone about her move particularly openly. Landshark wasn't sure how it all fit together now, though.

"Shortly before. That, uh, that took some explaining too. The reality turned out to be significantly less stupid than some of my parents' worries. Anyway, maybe if we had talked it over with them they could have suggested another place. This is still too close to Canterlot. It's a regular model town, and it only got worse over time. Everything always has to be just so, or everypony gossips."

Landshark hoped that rambling about her frustrations would be helpful for Lyra, but the construct still wasn't sure she understood. "I see that has been eating at you, but why? Seems to me this place has been pretty good for Bon. You run a store that's pretty popular with anyone that likes candy as far as I know, it's reasonably close to the capital so she doesn't feel like she's taking you too far from your family ... and hey, if you had picked another town, you probably wouldn't have met me."

Maybe Lyra didn't actually contribute all that much to the business, but it seemed like the time to interpret things charitably.

The unicorn seemed to deflate a little, lowering her head. "I know, okay? I know she doesn't mind much. She doesn't care what other ponies think, not as much as I do. I just hate that fake smile, okay? She shouldn't have to pretend! But no, soon as she acts a little bit odd, suddenly we got a nosy princess on her case."

"Now, stop for a second." The construct held up a hand. "Perhaps Bon doesn't mind faking it? Allow me to explain. She's making a living off her cutie mark. I think she's in a good spot. Does she suffer bouts of rage, or periods of emotional numbness? Sure. I expect she sometimes feels very detached from everything."

"But," Landshark continued, "I'm pretty sure this is what she wants to be doing. She wants to interact with all these ponies every day. There's no reason to burden her neighbors with a bad mood. Is it easy? No. You know better than me that some days the store stays closed." The construct's tone turned a hair sharper. "She's a grown woman, sorry, mare, and she's not an invalid. I admire your loyalty but you are over-reacting to this whole thing."

Lyra seemed like she wanted to say something to the contrary, but the construct shook her head sharply. "Let me finish."

She chuckled. "Oh, it was very tempting to just agree with you and give Twilight an earful about staying out of your business, but, you know, this is something Bon and I have in common. Sometimes we get mad about things that aren't really worth it." She snapped her jaws several times. "She takes deep breaths to remind her meat brain that she's not in a fighting situation. I just ride it out and try to stay objective. Results vary. Her method is better. The point is, we function, and functioning well is worth celebrating."

It had taken some time for Landshark to admit it to herself, but she thought she had more things in common with people like Bon Bon than she had at first realized. Yes, the things that could warp a soldier didn't leave a mark on her, but the rebellion against the First had hurt Landshark and her sisters in its own way. Of course the human world had had very little in it to rouse that old anger, so she figured she could be forgiven for not noticing sooner.

"Bon Bon doesn't suffer because she has to fake it, she's probably happy she's managing so well." She hesitated. "And as hard as it is for me to say, Twilight is a reasonable authority figure, she's going to get to know your marefriend one pony to another, simply because she is curious. We're both going to live a long time, I can wait for a good reason to punch her. No need to force it."

Lyra just groaned. "It's gonna be a disaster. Bonny just doesn't fit into Twilight's Ponyville, no way. Bonny's going to say something surly and rude and Twilight's gonna see a problem to micromanage away and then Bonny's really going to fly off the handle."

"Where is this even coming from? You kept it together when we ran into Princess Luna." Landshark tilted her head, feeling increasingly confused. That night had ended well, and the construct had arguably over-reacted at the time, but even now it seemed to her that it had been a more worrisome event than what was going on now. "They got Ditzy and Fluttershy there, it'll be fine."

"Princess Luna is a little scary, sure, but that was all pretty clear cut. She worries whether Bonny is safe to be around, we explain that she is, and Luna buzzes off. No muss, no fuss. I didn't like that she was concerned, but I didn't expect her to be a micro-manager."

She didn't really understand why Lyra didn't seem willing to extend that same confidence to Twilight right now. It was odd, on some level Landshark had thought Lyra to be the most ordinary of her friends, which implied the normal level of trust in the alicorns. Landshark would always have to be careful with her instinctive aversion, but she was going to be fair and admit that the alicorns, especially the older ones, seemed well worth the effort. Maybe Bon Bon didn't think too highly of Twilight, and Berry seemed to treat her as an ordinary pony as much as she could, but both earth ponies would probably treat the older alicorns with the respect due to their station.

The construct tapped the tips of her fingers together, just to avoid seeming like a sculpture. She sighed as well, for good measure. "Anything you'd like to add?" While waiting to see if Lyra had anything more to say, Landshark took her beret and coat off hooks on the wall and put them on.

That sort of thing happened sometimes. Occasionally someone would come to internal affairs with a complaint that didn't seem to have any real basis to it. She wished Malloy was here. It didn't feel right handling this sort of situation on her own. The woman didn't have a shred of empathy, of course, but her words had weight because she couldn't be bought, bullied, or negotiated with while she was investigating. If she cleared an officer of wrongdoing, no one else was going to get anything to stick. It was a convenient upside to a reputation as a soulless automaton.

Lyra had been watching Landshark get dressed with some curiosity, but finally shrugged. "I'm just tired of ponies being judgmental. You should have seen the way Twilight looked at her back then after we captured those changelings. And summoning her to the castle like that? She's got some nerve!"

Landshark adjusted her hat. "Concern isn't the same as judgement. I understand that before my arrival, you weren't real close to anyone but Berry, who wasn't in any position to judge anything." It was kind of painful to sum things up like this. "You only had sporadic contact with your old friends, you hadn't told anybody you were moving away, and you even had difficulty introducing Bon Bon to your parents, according to your own story." She paused. "What are you so afraid of? That she would make you look bad?"

"If you were any other pony, you'd be leaving here with a hoofprint on your face!" Lyra scowled, having jumped up into a standing position. She seemed furious, but swallowed, then continued impatiently. "Well, keep talking. You earned that much."

"I was actually hoping you'd have a counter-argument we could hang a conversation on." The accusation had been a calculated risk that apparently didn't quite pan out. Landshark had hoped that Lyra would offer some explanation or rationalization that would be insightful.

"Also, we're at my place, so I wouldn't be the one leaving. Now, perhaps Bon used to get along worse, according to you both. Fair enough. I haven't seen anybody in this town give her a hard time at any point, not seriously." She hesitated. "You've got to help me out here. I've put you on the spot, but I don't know about the kind of culture you grew up immersed in to pin my accusation on anything specific."

Lyra barked a short laugh. "You're a real comedian, Shark. Why even say it if you don't have anything to back it up?"

Landshark shrugged. "Anything to stop you playing the 'worried about Bonny' card. We both know I'm doing right by her. You kept it together around Luna, who has no possible reason to take an interest in your personal life. You have only sporadic contact with some ponies you used to know in the past, including Twilight, but you've made new friends here who had no reason to care about your origins. I'm grasping at straws, here. What is going on? You know you can talk to me. Educate me."

She watched Lyra, who continued looking angry, although slowly she appeared contemplative also. Several minutes passed in silence. Landshark was patient. Lyra frowned.

"It's been hard, Shark. The heart wants what it wants, but it's been so hard, at times. We fought. Bonny would shut me out. Emotional numbness, you said earlier."

Lyra had explained some of this on the way to meeting Twilight, just recently. Landshark nodded, but said nothing.

"Fighting. Walking on eggshells. It was so easy to doubt, you know? I said it before, Bonny never wanted to break it up, but what if she just didn't care? What if she just tolerated having me around? I didn't have a real read on her."

Lyra looked away. She no longer seemed angry. "I was scared, sometimes. First, I just wanted to help her. Then I fell for her. But ... why'd I love her so much, when she was so hard to love? When she didn't do anything to win me over?"

"I'm the wrong person for that sort of question, but continue."

Lyra chuckled and shook her head. "Maybe that was part of the initial attraction, hoping you'd be too clueless to wonder." She sighed. "I'm not an idiot. Mares get into terrible relationships all the time. But whenever I tried to think about what even drew me to Bonny, I'd start superficial. She's beautiful to me. And despite being such a sourpuss at the time, she really is a kind pony. She's especially good with foals. Even at her worst she'll pull herself together a little bit for them. I love the quiet way she enjoys things. Tension leaves her, a bit. I love it when she listens to me or my music, or when she lets me listen to her."

"But then," Lyra continued, her tone, originally pensive, taking on a degree of fondness, "I'd think about the day before, or watched her, the way she moved, her rare smiles, even single gestures would start claiming attention, and I'd realize that trying to reason it out wasn't working. I was just ... smitten." There was a pause. "I never told this to anypony, not in so many words."

Landshark didn't have anything insightful to say about love specifically. She didn't have the mind of a machine, of course, she experienced and understood emotions generally, but she also didn't have a working system of biochemistry, so presumably her way of experiencing the world wasn't wholly analogous to the lives of organic beings.

Of course, since she could, by definition, only know her own experience and perceptions, maybe that sort of thinking was unwarranted exceptionalism. "Okay, so you were fiercely in love. But ...? C'mon, treat me like an idiot here."

Lyra sat down heavily, screwing up her face. She didn't cry, but her voice was unsteady. "I ... I want to have made the right choice. I hate doubt. We both ... we both worked so hard on ourselves. We built a nice life." She swallowed. "There are ... cultural expectations. Some real, some imagined, some implied, some you infer, growing up. My family aren't nobles, but they're successful. I had a great, a privileged start into life."

The unicorn put on a wan smile. "No, we didn't have a maid growing up. My parents still did their own cooking. But I had every opportunity to make something of myself. I got into the school for gifted unicorns. If I had wanted to make a living with music, my parents would have gladly supported me any way they could. I could have followed dad into the shipping business. Instead, I dropped out of Celestia's school and technically co-own a candy store in a town that was barely on the map before Twilight moved here. But Bonny does all of the work while I play in some no-name places around Canterlot every few weeks."

There was a longer moment of contemplation. Despite the topic, Lyra's smile seemed to be warmer, although she seemed unsure of something, now. "I'm not just content with my lot, I'm happy. I don't know why it hurts so much to face ponies who knew me back then."

At that point Landshark really wished somebody else was in her position. But she wasn't going to be a coward about this. "I think ... hmm." She tapped a finger against her chin. "There isn't some menacing force seeking to steal your love away just because you couldn't defend it, or the course of your life, in a rational debate with someone else."

It was fairly unexpected, honestly. It was normal for veterans to experience some anxiety, whether baseless or not, about the reception they would get from civilians. This, she had learned among humans, and it had been true for Bon Bon to some extend also. But Landshark had no real frame of reference for Lyra's behavior. Still, no choice but to forge ahead now, she supposed.

"We will not be involving changelings in this discussion, so please just consider my points on their own merits. It would seem to me that love can't be expected to be rational. I think it shouldn't be too much to ask that other people accept that you are happy in your position, as long as you are healthy."

"As for why it hurts? This is a difficult question. I think you helped answer it. Cultural expectations? Sapient beings have a view of the world. As we age, we are exposed to the world and its people. Throughout, we will amass a collection of hidden fears, of doubts. There will be unexplained intolerances, unjustified prejudices, and all manner of subtle contradictions that usually don't hold up to real analytical thought and empirical information."

The trick was, of course, accepting new information and actually engaging in analytical thought. Some people had assumed she might have a gift for it as a machine, but although created with free will, she was crafted in an atmosphere of doctrinal dogmatism.

Many humans and probably ponies could be led to introspection somewhat less traumatically than the way it had been done for her sisters.

"You feel you know what these ponies expect from life, and you feel you know that you come up short. Do you fear their judgement, or do you fear that the opinion you imagine they hold might be contagious and bring you self-doubts?"

The question was absurd, but she asked with total sincerity and without accusation.

Lyra seemed unsure. "I don't know," she eventually admitted. "It's just ... dealing with Twilight and having her take an interest in us ... I just got hit by this shapeless resentment. I feel so vulnerable. Writing letters to our old friends every so often is safe. I just gotta add some platitudes about my relationship, talk about something delicious Bonny cooked up and it's cool."

Landshark nodded. "I'm real good at vague resentment. Not so much the rest of that, though."

The construct came to a decision. "What you need is pride. That might be a sin around here." She shrugged. "Doesn't matter. Ideally you should have the confidence to just not care what anyone is thinking about your life. And I suspect there really aren't that many ponies even thinking about your life. But in a pinch, be proud."

"Pride, it is said, comes before the fall. Well, what of it? Everyone's gotta have a setback sometime. Show me a completely smooth operation and I'll show you a cover-up. You'll find that real boats rock, be the occupants ever so humble."

Allegedly smooth operations raised all sorts of alarms for anyone in internal affairs, generally. It was easy to suspect that whoever filed such a report had something to hide. It was, of course, an open secret that the officers on the ground were massaging their reports on occasion to the benefit of their subordinates, but those types of leaders were usually canny enough to not omit real critical details. It was the desk jockeys you had to look out for.

She latched onto the familiar mode of thinking.

"I'm not going to stand here and cast doubts on your love and your dedication. But in avoiding your former friends and Twilight, you have only drawn her attention and concern. That genie's out of the bottle. I have complete confidence in Bon Bon, Ditzy and Fluttershy."

She hesitated, sighed, then continued. "And in Twilight too, in this case. It's you who has to adjust. Do something visible. Reconnect with those Canterlot ponies, I don't know. Be proud of your life. Demand that any pony that cares about you be proud as well. Bon is just as aware as you are that you could have had a much different life in Canterlot. She also accepts that you're hopelessly crazy for her. But don't you think this isolation you had going hurt her too? Like what you had wasn't up to some standard she couldn't see, but which seemed visible to you?"

She wondered if she was taking a cheap shot. Lyra appeared to flinch, but sensed that Landshark wasn't quite finished.

"We all know there's a limit to how social she will be. But knowing that you're not limiting yourself for her sake will make her feel better. It works with the rest of us, it works with your parents, I suspect most ponies are understanding if you show up alone to a social function. Introduce her to ponies you know. Make no apologies for any allowances you're making for her sake. Make it clear to the world that she's one of the best choices you ever made. She knows you're dedicated to her, but she's not immune to sentiment. People like to be valued, but they also like to hear that they're valued."

Finally, she added, "It may be that there will be enough silence beyond the grave. Don't take the chance. In life, communication is vital. Continue telling Bon that she is dear to you. Tell anyone who will listen. She is great news."

She realized she had fallen back into lecturing. That didn't seem ideal, but she hoped that asking Lyra to explain things to a complete outsider had sufficiently disarmed the unicorn and made her receptive to Landshark's advice.

Lyra mostly just looked miserable. "I think ... moving to Ponyville was a net positive for Bonny. It's been good to me, too, but now I'm scared, Shark. I can't help it."

"Do you judge that the potential good is more important than that fear?"

There was very little hesitation. "Of course." She paused. It appeared that she was thinking carefully. "Not much will change, will it? My old friends still live up in Canterlot. Twilight is very busy. We spend most of our times with you and the other mares. But if I can get over myself ... we'll both be happier."

This, it seemed, slightly improved Lyra's disposition, although she still didn't seem precisely cheerful. "I got so used to figuring out ways for Bonny and me to cope, and maybe to help her improve, I stopped thinking about the way I was acting around other ponies, except to distract them from Bonny. Now I'm scared to change."

Landshark took a quick step and crouched down in front of Lyra. "Every one of us must acknowledge fear, examine it, then put it aside. It's only natural, but to act on fear is to prove unworthy."

The ghost of a grin flashed across Lyra's features. "I should probably invite you along when I'm introducing Bonny to the Canterlot gang. If things go south you can just talk their ears off while we make a run for it."

"Hmpf. Retreat is permissible only as long as it's driven by tactical concerns, not emotional weakness. Besides, just ask your parents if you can invite them over while you're visiting, that way you got them as back-up." Landshark stood back up. "Just in the interest of full disclosure, I felt completely out of my depth the entire time."

Lyra rubbed her chin. "Don't worry about it. You might be on to something. But meeting them this close to, or maybe on, Hearth's Warming, I should probably have some small gifts for them."

Landshark had started nodding along, then froze. "Right, this is a gift-giving holiday. I felt like I was forgetting something." She looked around the room, taking stock. "Okay, I think I can swing something in time. I'm gonna need your help for a few hours tomorrow morning, Lyra."

"Sure, I'll help you out. For now though, I gotta head home, see how Bonny's doing."

Landshark waved absentmindedly. On reflection, this exchange wasn't anything she had expected, back when Lyra claimed to have social anxieties on one of their first meetings. The construct had suspected it had been a joke for the longest time. She wondered if she was worse at reading people than she thought, but eventually decided to blame the fact that Lyra specifically seemed to have some unhelpful ideas about Canterlot unicorns. Or former unicorns. Or just upper class ponies? She hadn't been dealing with any of those until recently, in any case.

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