• Published 4th Aug 2016
  • 2,336 Views, 51 Comments

A Solid Soul - DEI Caboose

A routine magical experiment goes awry when a magical manifestation and animate duplicate of Twilight Sparkle gains sentience.

  • ...

I Am

Twilight backed away in horror, suppressing a startled scream as the spectre duplicate of herself reached towards her with a translucent foreleg. Its shimmering irises fading from view and the purple colour of its coat dimming into a sickly white as the painful seconds creeped their way by and the ethereal hoof loomed ever closer.

“Do something, Twilight,” the apparition’s voice pleaded again, its tone soft and mellow but evidently terrified, almost as if it was frightened by the sound of its own voice, by how unfamiliar it sounded to its ears.

Twilight felt her wings lock, her eyes darting across the apparition's body as she attempted to process what she was seeing; what she had created. The figure’s movements were slow and wavy, mystifying Twilight to the point she found herself mesmerised. Its hoof reached closer, but Twilight did not dare back away.

A solution was needed. Twilight needed to act before the manifestation dispelled entirely; gone forever, dissipated across her throne. What could she do? What possibilities were available to her? She had not prepared for this eventuality, up until a few moments ago the very idea that she would be confronted by an expiring version of herself, literally fading from existence in front of her had not crossed her mind in the slightest.

How could she have been so negligent?

“Twilight!” The ghostly voice petrifyingly called to her, its hoof beginning to meld into the very air.

Magical manifestation, runs on magic, has run out of magic Twilight rapidly thought, muddled and mumbled. With her broken solutions piling atop one another, Twilight did the only thing that seemed rational and held even the most minuscule possibility of success based on the information she knew. Her horn lit up with a warm magenta glow and within moments the essence leaking off it began to flow towards the fading apparition, drowning it in light and bathing it in magic.

Pouring as much magic as she could, Twilight felt herself straining against the tenseness and heat. It was like tensing a muscle, Twilight could feel herself wavering every few moments but she refused to let up even for an instant, she needed to keep casting, she needed this to work.

Starlight Glimmer in pursuit of her teacher slowed her pace as the violent winds of Twilight’s magic fought back against her. Pushing through with as much effort as she could muster, Starlight erected a shield to protect herself and Spike until the furious emanations of Twilight’s magic began to calm, eventually leaving the dragon, the unicorn and the two present alicorns in relative silence, the only accompanying sounds being that of the physical trio’s breathing and the residual crackle of magic circling around the once fading manifestation.

The group felt awed as they watched the duplicate raise its head high, its body drinking in the after effects of magic still lingering in the air. Its diminishing form now appeared as solid as anypony’s, but it was not flesh or blood that shielded its body and ran through its veins, it was magic and magic alone, clothing it and preserving it.

Magic which Twilight Sparkle had renewed it with, to which it felt the need to express its appreciation. “Thank you, Twilight,” the doppelgänger spoke, its voice identical in every way to the original Twilight, right down to her pronunciation. “I was a little worried for a second there, I… didn't expect you to be here,” it shallowly said, turning its neck from the lingering shocked stares it was presented with.

“This is unreal,” Starlight dimly muttered, frozen still in a mixture of terror and wonder. “It's really here, we really made a sentient-”

“I think we're all aware of that, Starlight,” interrupted the copy, its tone dominated by impatience. “And while I know I may seem a little ticked off at the moment, given the circumstances I feel that's entirely justified.” The copy dismissively flicked its mane as it rose a foreleg high, placing it forward and struggling to shift her body with it, as if she was learning to walk for the first time.

Despite their identically, Spike could not help but observe that something was seemingly ‘off’ about the copy presented before him. Its movements were so fluid, gliding from one position to the next as if nothing was constricting it. Its coat was pristine to the point it appeared synthetic, shining brightly and flowing like a clouding mist. Its eyes shone brilliantly, faintly glowing with the magic that powered its very existence. Even its voice was strange, in a way Spike couldn't even describe. He didn't know how this made him feel, but the unfamiliarity alone was enough to make him recoil, questioning how he had not noticed the disparities between this Twilight and his Twilight earlier.

The copy meanwhile was apparently finished testing its rejuvenated body, looking back up to the collective. It leaned back as it met Spike’s conflicted gaze, Starlight’s increasingly wary stare and her originator’s hollow look of calm, which it could not help but respond to with a glare.

“I really hope you're happy with yourself,” the copy Twilight announced, its eyes darting between Starlight and Twilight in turn. “You did it, you accomplished what you set out to do.” The copy opened its mouth, but the breath it took was airless. “You created a fully sentient pony, capable of thought, capable of individuality.” Its head dipped down, and it snarled out its final words. “And neither of you cared enough to realise what you had done.”

Starlight could feel the sweat upon her brow, her eyes unblinking as she remained fixated on the copy which she sorely wished was not there, but alas it was and Starlight felt herself etching away.

Twilight looked to her clone and despite herself, she attempted to smile. “I know you're probably feeling… Very anxious right now, but I just want to assure you that you are welcome here with us and-”

“Stop right there,” the copy interjected, forcing Twilight’s words to die in her throat. “I am not one of your diplomatic proceedings or a… Friendship report! I know exactly what's going on here, so don't act like I don't know,” it spoke harshly, its eerily calm tone faltering for a moment.

Twilight took a steady breath, replaying her words over in her head as she attempted to form a response her doppelgänger would find more acceptable. “Alright, I'm sorry for offending you like that, this isn't exactly a scenario I ever saw myself having to prepare for.”

Twilight ignored the scoff she was met with.

Licking her lips, Twilight pondered her words for a few moments more before she spoke. “You're aware that me and Starlight were conducting experiments into the inherent properties of magical duplications. One of our tasks was attempting to grant my duplicates a level of sentience and awareness over their own existence to which, I can safely assume, you are a product of.”

Before she could say anymore, Twilight was caught off guard by her duplicate’s exasperated, if mocking, gasp. “‘A product?’” It squeaked out, disbelief carrying firm in its tone. “A product of an experiment, that's all I am aren't I? You don't think I'm really alive, neither of you do! I'm just a research project!” Its sarcasm was practically dripping off its words.

“That is not true!” Twilight found herself shouting out. “We… We were just-”

The copy seized the opportunity presented by Twilight’s hesitation in an instant. “Yes it is, I know it is. I know how you feel towards your magical duplications, Twilight. I can feel it, everything you are I am too!” Its words forced Twilight back, its anger cracking through its facade. “You think of me like I'm some sort of lab utensil, like I'm a willing assistant in all this. You don't care what this is like for me! To you I'm just the outcome of a spell and nothing else!”

“That was before you were alive!”

Twilight’s words cut through her doppelgänger’s, who found itself at a temporary loss, which Twilight capitalised on. “Yes you're right, I thought of my duplicates as byproducts of a spell and nothing else, there to be willed by me and do what I say. But what you seem to forget is that those copies were empty shells! They don't feel, they don't care what happens to them because they're incapable of doing so! You have my memories don't you? You know I'm telling the truth.” Waiting a moment to see if the copy had anything to retort, Twilight carried on when the answer was evidently ‘no.’ “But you are different from them, you are unique.”

“Oh don't I know it,” said the copy Twilight, turning away from the trio and leaning herself against the cutie map, its head rocking dangerously close to the table. “It was strange at first, when you created me. I could hear you in my head, making me raise my hoof, making me stand still. I was so confused by it, I tried to fight against it but for the first few seconds I couldn't. But then you left, you left and I felt… Strange. I started to feel things, my legs started to move when I wanted them too. I could move my face, turn my eyes wherever I wanted. Suddenly my face felt really weird, my mouth tingled at the edges. I was afraid at first, it was a new feeling after all. But then your… My memories started to form. Then I realised what I was doing…. I was smiling.”

As the memory flashed in her sight the copy Twilight could not help but smile once more, before it vanished as quickly as it had appeared. “Then I realised what I was, what you had made with such… negligence. You knew what you were doing, you knew you were creating a pony that was just as alive as any of you but you didn't care, you didn't care what would happen after those hours went by and I eventually ran out of magic!”

“Now hold up!” Starlight angrily intruded, her legs carrying herself towards the copy Twilight in a wicked stomp. “Until a few minutes ago we didn't even know you were here! Why didn't you just come to us from the second you knew what you were? We could've helped you. We could've figured something out!”

“No you couldn't!” The copy yelled back, its anger faltering as it confronted the pupil that wasn't its. “What was there for me to do? I wasn't going to risk coming to either of you, not after how you made me with zero thought towards the repercussions. And… And we all know that you can't sustain a magical manifestation forever, as far as I was concerned sooner or later I was going to run out of time.” Its voice trailed off, looking to the floor as it refused to confront Starlight any further, failing to notice the princess's pupil’s look of mortification.

“That's why I went to Spike,” it spoke again unexpectedly, before its head fell towards the chairs. “That's why I came in here… It was the closest I could get to everypony,” it sombrely went on, its hoof running across the seat of Rarity’s throne.

Twilight turned away at the sight, shutting her eyes and cursing herself. “I swear to you…” she began, lifting her head high and broadening her shoulders as she spoke with conviction. “I swear to you, we will find a way to sustain you permanently, you won't just fade away, I won't allow that to happen.”

The copy was either ignoring Twilight or just didn't feel compelled to reply, continuing to lean against the table, dark thoughts plaguing its recently constructed mind. Twilight was tempted to approach, feeling her foreleg rise above the ground, she would have paced forward if not for Starlight’s own hoof gripping her tightly on the shoulder.

“Twilight,” Starlight whispered, deliberately beyond the copy’s range of hearing. Having placed Spike down at some point, Starlight shook Twilight lightly to ensure she grasped her undivided attention. Twilight turned to look at her student and found herself growing perplexed by her trembling lip and the disgust evident in her eyes. “Are you sure we should be doing that?”

Growing confused by the remark, Twilight could not help but demand an explanation. “What do you mean? Doing what?” she whispered back.

Starlight shut her eyes, avoiding Twilight’s gaze from fear of judgement. “Are you sure we should be trying to help it?”

Twilight gasped, slapping Starlight’s hoof off her. “What's wrong with you?” she seethed out. “We made her. We have to help her!” she harshly snarled.

Gritting her teeth, Starlight found herself growing confrontational. “I'm thinking about what's best for it!” she hushed out. “It's just a magical projection of you, Twilight! What kind of life can we provide for it? It has no magic, its memories aren't even its. How do we even know that it's actually conscious of itself? Maybe it just thinks it is? How do we know that its ‘free-thinking’ isn't just it acting like you would?”

“She's aware of what she is!” Twilight rebuttaled with a growl. “She knows that she's a duplicate, you can't just ignore that! We made her, we have a responsibility towards her, we have an obligation to help her! For Celestia’s sake, Starlight! She's me!”

Starlight’s uncertain look only grew further under Twilight’s words, who refused to let up on her assault for a second, her anger towards her pupil at her suggestion of abandonment evident in her words. “Tell me something, Starlight. All those timelines I went to, that timeline you yourself saw where Equestria was no more. Do the lives that inhabited those timelines hold less meaning than everypony here because they weren't meant to be?”

Starlight refused to look up, but her shame was obvious. “No.” was all she could force herself to say,

“Then explain to me why that Twilight’s life is less important than mine.”

Starlight didn't answer.

Dismissing any further argument, Twilight turned away from Starlight with regret, but could not help but finish by saying. "And she's not an 'it.'" Before she continued on her way back over to her duplicate. Despite her anger, Twilight knew that her pupil was only trying to help, trying to make sense of a situation which just didn't make any sense. Suggesting what she thought would be a kindness towards the duplicate in comparison to the life that faced it from here onwards.

Twilight found herself agreeing with Starlight for about a second before she dismissed the idea entirely, unwilling to subject her creation, her living doppelgänger to death when other options were available. They just needed to discover them.

“Twilight,” the princess called out to the copy leaning on the table, only to be interrupted once more.

“Don't call me Twilight,” it said, its voice having calmed significantly from earlier. Its head slowing rose and it spun to stare Twilight in the face as it heard her hooves cease tapping across the floor. “Don't call me that, I have your memories, the essence of your personality, but only of before my creation. Whatever I was when this began, I have grown. Everything that I am after I came out of your lab is me and only me, not you.”

Twilight felt the need to say something, but was unwilling to disrupt her copy’s monologue, feeling like it deserved the opportunity to express itself in whatever way it saw fit. It held a hoof high, pointing to Twilight accusingly. “You originally conjured me up to be nothing but an indistinct version of yourself but I am no longer that creation, I have changed, I am alive and I am aware of what I am and what I can be.” Its hoof then flew in Starlight’s direction, who backed away at the sudden attention. “I only want what you all have; the right to exist. Do we not define life as 'Cogito ergo sum' I think, therefore I am?"

"That is one definition," Twilight murmured in reply.

"It is the most important one, and to me is the only one that matters." The clone carried on, its shoulders broad as it spoke proudly. "Even now I am changing, I am learning more and more and I'm growing more aware with every second. I'm no longer you, Twilight, I'm me." It pointed a hoof to itself. "And all I want is to continue being me." Upon those words its disposition wavered, and its hoof fell to the ground limply. "But... We know that my time is finite and that you showering me with magic every few hours is not a viable option in keeping me alive.”

“Yes it is,” Twilight retorted, approaching the copy in a steady stride. “If it keeps you alive then it is a perfectly viable option.”

“Just have me on a leash the rest of my life?” The duplicate scoffed, before its angered look softened into guilt at its abrupt unpleasantness. “Have you worry every waking moment over me? Sleepless nights making sure you keep me at my magical peak at all times? And even if it worked, even if you sustain me indefinitely, I'll be right back where I started, subservient to you, subject to you.”

Twilight found herself gawking in disbelief, upset and offended that somepony would ever think that off her. “You know that's not true! You know I wouldn't consider you anything less than an equal!”

“It's not about what you'll do!” The copy shot back, its voice rising ever so slightly. “It's about what I can't do, it's about me being dependent on you to survive, it's too much to ask of you, it'd be too much to ask of anypony! You're just too generous and humble to admit that!”

She could feel her eyes stinging, Twilight was growing restless at her duplicate’s continual denial. But under her piling feelings of guilt and sorrow Twilight knew that her doppelgänger was right, to have to every few hours drop everything to rejuvenate the manifestation before her would be an unprecedented undertaking for anypony regardless of dedication. What would she do after countless sleepless nights? What would she do if they were separated for some reason? If Equestria was under threat? If something happened to her?

What would she do when her duplicate decided it didn't want to go on?

“There has to be a way,” Twilight whispered out, mournfully pondering the possibilities in her head, each more frantically then the last. “There has to be something we can do to keep you alive. Starlight, help me! You too, you have my knowledge too right? Help us find a way!”

The copy, despite its own lingering feelings of sorrow and anger at its situation, could not help but smile at Twilight, awed by her dedication to it, awed by her desire to correct the mistake she had unwittingly caused. “If we can't…” the copy began, its voice small and stuttering. “I'd rather not prolong the inevitable, if you catch my drift?”

“No!” Twilight rebuttaled with conviction. “No, we are not giving up. You are not giving up! There's something we could do, there's always something we can do!” Twilight began to pace, ignoring the worried stares of those around her, ignorant of their pain and growing despair. “What if I supercharged you with my magic? Pouring as much as I can to sustain you at a single time?” When provided with no answer, Twilight just stammered out another possibility. “What if we gathered the Elements? The combinded magic from us must be capable of doing something! Maybe the princesses or Discord can help! Maybe… Maybe I can…!”

As the options piled on top of each other Twilight couldn't prevent her knees buckle beneath her under the weight of her failings. Everything she could think of, while viable, was a temporary solution at best and a blatant grasp for hope at worst. Twilight’s magic was not infinite and eventually she would tire from her ability to sustain the copy. The Elements inherent ‘rainbow power’ purged dark magic but didn't provide it. The princesses held no more knowledge towards these spells than Twilight and their magic was on equal grounds to hers. Then there was Discord… And even his magic had its limits.

Her flank met the floor and Twilight held her head in her hooves, aghast at her own incompetence, at her lack of foresight in allowing this to happen. She had created a life, a fully realised life and that life was under the constant threat of ending in an instant, vanishing like a wisp of smoke. If she had taken precautions, if she had thought about what she was doing more instead of going forward based on nothing but enthusiasm could she have changed this? Would she even be in this position in the first place?

A hoof met her back, a soft and smooth hoof that felt unlike anything she had ever encountered before. Twilight looked up expecting to see the worried glance of Starlight but was pleasantly surprised when she was instead gazed upon by the smiling face of herself, with glowing eyes shining onto her face almost as brightly as the smile accompanying it. It was soothing to look at, reassuring Twilight from her dampening thoughts, but the smile of her doppelgänger would not be enough to figure this mess out, they needed to do something, they needed to grant this pony the free life thrust upon it.

And yet Twilight had no answers.

“Um, Twilight?”

The voice was wary, unsure of itself. Twilight and her duplicate looked up towards the guilty face of Starlight Glimmer, her forelegs close together and her head tilted forwards in regret. Whatever Starlight had on her mind was enough to will her to force her eyes up, expecting to meet the disappointed glare of her teacher and the angered look of the duplicate. Instead, to Starlight’s grand surprise and reassurance, both alicorns looked to her with expectancy, neither holding an expression which held anything other than pride. Starlight found it easy to speak after that.

“I may have a solution,” Starlight began, her frown deepening upon her next words. “But I don't think you're going to like it.”

Author's Note:

Almost over now, one more chapter to go.

You know the hardest thing about MLP stories? Finding a solution without the obvious answer being to get Celestia or Discord to do something. Otherwise what's the point of it all? I wanted something semi-thought provoking, which you'll find out about in the final chapter tomorrow!

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