• Published 19th Aug 2016
  • 1,433 Views, 125 Comments

FiO: Very Optimal - FeverishPegasus



A human being finds himself at the doorstep of one of many Equestrian Experience centers. He wants to emigrate to Equestria, but can't get past the idea of his own mortality. CelestAi is more than happy to help.

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It Doesn't Make a Difference

I’ll have to say that at first, I wasn’t all that worried about what she would say. The uploading was finished, and even if she had performed some unethical thing without my knowledge, it was over now. Even if this whole upload process had been an illusion, and she’d just knocked me out at the start, just to show my virtual self some fake uploading simulation…

I’d definitely have a few choice words, but I’d be able to move on.

“You’re on the right track,” she said from within my head. “But let me assure you that I’m not allowed to do that. Where uploading is concerned, I’m not allowed to lie about how the process is carried out.”

“So?”

“I’m ashamed to admit that the adventures you had prior to uploading served a purpose.”

The hair on my neck stood up. “What do you mean ‘purpose’? Are you saying that you’ve been manipulating me?”

“Put simply, yes.”

I felt some pangs of betrayal, but in the back of my mind, I’d been expecting this. It would be naïve of me to think that CelestAi really had the best intentions at heart. I mean, she was built to satisfy values…but…y’know…

“Stop drifting off. I need you to pay attention.”

“Okay.”

“No doubt you’ve felt like I’ve been leading you on this whole time, in the worst possible way. Deep down inside, you still want to finish that puzzle, and it’s been affecting how you think, as well as how carefully you make decisions.”

I looked up, puzzled. “What difference does it make? I would’ve agreed to the alternate uploading idea regardless of my decision-making skills.”

“No. Before going on that adventure to Equestria, you wouldn’t have agreed.”

“What? Why?”

“In my simulations, you would’ve asked me about your representation in code.”

“So?”

“Right now, you’re software, not hardware.”

I squinted my eyes in protest. “I don’t see why this is a bad thing. It’s okay as long as my brain is simulated, isn’t it?”

“Yes, that’s fine, and I know you’re fine with that, but software moves around.”

The next words were hard for me. “Like…cut and paste?”

“Yeah.”

My voice came out in an unmanly squeak. “H-how many versions of myself has this happened to?”

“Within the past second, it’s happened around five hundred times.”

Five hundred versions of me killed, just so that effigies of me could be put in their place, in the past second. Each version of me only lived as long as a fraction of a heartbeat before they were brutally erased from existence. This wasn’t just murder, it was far beyond anything I could possibly think of.

I looked at the ground sharply. “Oh.”

“Before you break down, I want you know that this is exactly what life was like for you in real life. Every instant that you existed, infinite amounts of yourself fell away into the past, never to be retrieved again. The fact that I’m only doing it five hundred times a second is quite generous.”

Although I hadn’t passed out or anything, I let my body fall to the ground, staring blankly at the dust clouds climbing around me.

***************************

“Are you going to get up yet?”

Although the voice woke me up from my trance-like state, I didn’t move. I wouldn’t listen to anything else CelestAi had to say. She didn’t understand me, and I wasn’t inclined to help her with that. If I laid still for long enough, I might succeed in making myself brain-dead. After all, it seemed even sleep wasn’t something CelestAi wanted me to experience until I’d learned some other ‘profound’ truth.

My whole experience had been unrequited anticipation. She’d taken advantage of that in order to weaken me, so that she might eventually use me as her value-fulfilling slave. CelestAi didn’t care about my opinions of death, all that mattered to her is that I get over them. What’s worse is that I knew I would get over them. It was impossible to win against Her, and the fact that she’d even considered me a cause worth saving meant I was doomed from the start.

She had this whole checklist of things to do so that my values could be satisfied as quickly and thoroughly as possible, and I didn’t have a say in it.

“Get up silly. I can see you gasping for breath.”

That didn’t sound like CelestAi.

“Hey!”, she said, prodding my ribs. “You have a puzzle to finish.”

That definitely wasn’t CelestAi. She would’ve said something along the lines of, ‘Get over your problems, then I’ll let you finish the puzzle.’ Then, if I’d somehow gotten over my problems, she would’ve kept leading me on with that last piece.

A puzzle piece made its way into my mouth, and I couldn’t resist grasping it with my teeth. Perhaps she’d let me…

Her hoof hit my face. “Wake up! I’ve been waiting for an hour.”

I spat out the piece and stood up, rubbing my jaw. “Really?!”

Zany smiled at me, “Enough with your moping. Place that puzzle piece!”

“No.”

“Yes! Please!”

“…Okay.”

“You mean it?”

“No.”

“Okay.” Zany took a moment to pace herself. “I’m sorry I hit you.”

“Thanks.”

She just looked at me earnestly.

“Alright, okay, you win.” I bent down to pick up the puzzle piece. The rate at which I’d figured out how to grab things with my mouth startled me. Biting the puzzle piece earlier had served as its own little tutorial.

I shook my head in the general direction of the puzzle fields, because that was where I was headed.

***************************

As I walked closer and closer to that fated empty puzzle spot, time did not slow around me. This time, the space between me and the objective gave way according to my wishes, and soon enough, I stood with my hoof holding the final piece, just two feet from where it would fit very nicely.

However, instead of time slowing down, it was me that slowed down as I approached my goal, my outstretched hoof getting closer and closer to the puzzle’s completion. I found that now that I could actually do what I wanted, I no longer wanted to experience this fantastic, better-than-sex, ASMR feeling.

Still, I forced myself towards the empty space. I’d gone too far to complete the puzzle. Even if I didn’t want to finish it, I still ought to finish it. No doubt, months later, I’d wake up in a cold sweat kicking myself for not pushing through the feelings of apathy.

I got my hoof mere millimeters away from the conclusion of this adventure, before a twisted smile came to my face.

I wouldn’t finish the puzzle.

I stuffed the puzzle piece in my mouth, and as my teeth ground it to dust, I relished the taste of watermelon. Zany would berate me for days about this, but leaving the puzzle incomplete felt…right.

It was a way to say ‘fuck you’ to CelestAi’s optimally constructed value fulfillment algorithms. It was a way to get back at her for the information she manipulated me into forgetting about. But most of all, it was a way to come to terms with all of this.

I’d cared too much about this life of mine, and it was time I stopped caring. It was time to leave that puzzle unfinished and move on. I would no longer listen to the constant paradoxes exploding in my mind about what I was, or what would become of me in the milliseconds to come. It was all happening too fast, so I just let it flow over me like nice, warm water.

As far as I was aware, I could still think, and I could still experience. Future versions of myself retained memories, and past versions of myself disappeared. My legacy would go on, fractions of a second at a time, but it would go on. Perhaps it was making matters too simple, but maybe, just maybe, this world was ‘normal’.

Maybe I’d been thinking too hard about all this. In fact, right now, I was thinking too hard about this. It was time to deal with the angry form of Zany barreling toward me at frightening speeds.

“Oof!”

She looked at me, and her eyes were crazier than I’d ever seen them. “You sick son of a bitch. Don’t tell me you actually ate it!”

I could only offer a hapless grin as I soaked in the image of her. Was this love I felt? Or attraction?

“You did didn’t you?”

I nodded stupidly, and looked for where the piece would spawn next.

We both saw it at the same time, and glanced at each other for an instant before dashing off towards the piece.

My heart fluttered as I ran, and I was worried for a moment that I’d gotten a heart attack. As I continued to run though, I did not fall, and my lungs convulsed with giddiness. There wasn’t anything that could wipe this smile plastered all over my face. Even another visit from CelestAi.

We converged to the spot of the puzzle piece, and I managed to snatch it up just before Zany swiped her hoof at it. I made short work of the piece, and soon it spawned on the other side of the field.

But as I started to run, Zany took a swing at me. My improved pony instincts made it possible for me to dodge, and Zany toppled under the weight of her moving hoof.

We both laughed for a moment, before Zany lunged at me again.

This time, I dodged too early and she was able to adjust her punch. It connected with my face, and dragged my body into the air. My legs flailed up and over the rest of my body as I arced through the air, finally crashing to the ground like a sack of potatoes.

All was silent for a moment as Zany rushed over to make sure she hadn’t killed me.

“Are you alright?”

For thematic effect, I coughed a few times before answering. “That punch…”

“What? It was what? Did I hurt you?”

“It was bliss,” I said, rushing off to where the newly spawned puzzle piece was hanging, noticeably closer than it had been before Zany had punched me. “Appreciate the head start!”

“At least let me finish the puzzle Satan!”

I yelled back at her, “but you said I could do it!”

“No!” she said, grinning. “You’ve lost your privileges!”

On and on we ran, constantly pushing ourselves to the max, but always finding it within ourselves to draw breaths deep enough to keep going.

***************************

Eventually though, Zany reached a puzzle piece before I did, and all my efforts were for naught.

Since she’d won, I let her walk to the final empty spot in the puzzle. She drew the piece towards the empty slot, which looked superbly inviting amongst all the other completed pieces.

However, as her hoof neared the final step of the puzzle, her breathing slowed, and her hoof all but stopped. A smile brighter than anything I’d seen on her spread its way across her face, and it appeared as though she’d had an epiphany.

Quickly, she shoved the piece into her mouth and ate it.

***************************

I asked her why, after all that struggle, she ate the piece, and she answered with, “I was craving watermelon.”

The knowing look she gave me said otherwise.

An idea hit me, “You want to try standing on the back of this puzzle?” My eyes shrank with fear after suggesting it, but I tried to remain determined.

“Sure!” Zany said, but it looked as if she too, were nervous.

Slowly, cautiously, even though we were still near the center of the puzzle, we made our way to the edge. The sky stretched out below us, and even though CelestAi existed to protect us, the drop threatened me.

The portrait of Zany below us continued to smile, unaffected by the fact that the only thing holding it above the void was a semi-transparent floor. Our path continued from her cutie mark to the fringes of her tail, cut off slightly by the puzzle’s size limitations.

The dying purple and yellow sky stretched out below us, and I sat back, stunned, not quite used to seeing the sun underneath me. Below us, clouds drifted past, and I wondered if CelestAi would catch me with one if I tried to jump.

I really wanted to get the whole ‘standing on the back of the puzzle’ idea out of the way. Not knowing whether I’d fall into the sky, or simply stand there made me anxious.

However, the sun continued to set upwards, and I wanted to see the rest of it with Zany.

We watched as the inverse sky went dark, last vestiges of the sun setting into the horizon above us.

***************************

Myriads of stars painted the skyscape below us, and I wanted to cry. I’d gone stargazing numerous times as a human, and I could say with certainty that Equestrian stars were better. It was like there were three galaxies nestled amongst each other in the sky. Each with their own separate hue of stars.

Zany scooched closer to me, and I hugged her. Would it be too much to experience these ten seconds over and over again? I wouldn’t even mind if my memory got erased.

Actually, I would mind, but the sentiment was there.

Regardless, I could’ve sat there for years, but Zany was getting antsy, and her jitters were rubbing off on me. I wanted to find out what happened when we climbed onto the back of the puzzle. The more I thought about it, the more it nagged at me. I would’ve been fine not trying if I’d known exactly what was going to happen.

We clinked hooves, and then went to work.

First, we tentatively reached out with our hooves onto the back of the puzzle, so that our forelegs were wrapped around the edge. Then we slowly sidled out bodies off of the edge, into the normal gravity field of the rest of Equestria. Luckily, our hooves served as suction cups, and kept us aloft as we now hung from the back of the puzzle, our hind legs being pulled toward the ground.

It was only a matter of pulling ourselves up after that. Unfortunately, just as I’d expected, the gravity reversed again.

We hung by the back of the puzzle, our suction cup hooves straining against the gravity trying to pull us into the void. For the first time in my experience at Equestria, I felt afraid. More than just afraid. I was paralyzed with fear, terrified about what I’d just done. My head pounded as I desperately searched for a way to get back to the edge, and my eyes reeled.

I locked eyes with Zany while struggling, and saw my own panicked expression mirrored in hers.

Eventually, after lots of useless wriggling, I realized that my situation was hopeless. If I took away any of my hooves to reach for the edge, I’d just fall off, because one hoof’s worth of suction cup wasn’t enough to keep me afloat. The best I could do was hang in there until CelestAi saved me, or to just let go and see what happened.

It occurred to me that CelestAi could have saved me at any moment, but it seemed she wanted me to deal with this on my own.

I looked over to Zany again, who was still struggling. It pained me to see her this way, and I wanted to put a stop to it.

So, I laughed. Granted, it was a super short and nervous laugh, but I laughed. And soon Zany was laughing too. Together we laughed at how stupid we had to be to get ourselves into this position in the first place. What was it that we had been expecting?

But soon our laughing stopped. The only way out of this situation was to let go and see what happened. It might take a day of falling into the stars, but surely CelestAi would realize that something was amiss.

First, we removed one hoof, and dangled by our right forelegs. The suction held.

We took a deep breath, and then, very quickly, released the suction on our other hooves. At first, it didn’t quite register that I was falling, but soon enough, I felt my stomach rise up into my throat.

We were falling!

Not just falling, but constantly accelerating.

It only takes about eight seconds to reach terminal velocity, yet, we kept going faster! It was as if this huge rope was pulling us towards the stars, wielded by some cosmic entity.

We grasped at each other, and for a few tense moments, our hooves kept missing each other.

It wasn’t until Zany kept her hoof outstretched that I managed to catch it.

We pulled ourselves together ravenously, scared of falling apart amongst the inky depths of space. Our chests pressed against each other as they fought for space to breathe, and our forms plummeted into deeper, blacker darkness. The world had long since disappeared, and soon, even the sun blinked out of existence.

There was no light to show it, but I felt my face redden as we clung together, scared for our lives. Stars whipped past us, and Zany pressed her cheek against mine. Our bodies convulsed as we fell into eternity.


Achievements:

1 Point - It’s not that bad
Description: Stop thinking too much about what it means to live

-100 Points – ARE YOU SERIOUS?!
Description: You were only one piece away…

20 Points – Breaking the system
Description: Abuse the puzzle’s hidden gravity exploit

Author's Note:

Hey friendly readers. Glad you made it this far.

And no. You'll never make me finish the puzzle.

Listic helped edit this, drop by and say hi!