• Published 25th Sep 2017
  • 6,267 Views, 331 Comments

Familiar - GaPJaxie



Dash has a pet robot! She's just the best.

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Chapter 2

It was never really dark in Canterlot. There were always bright towers, the lights of passing aircars, and ponies all lit up for a late-night party. For those who were so inclined, it was even possible to stare down into the depths of the Industrial Machine, and see the red glow of its furnaces burning at all hours. All that really changed at night was that the machines stood out all the brighter—like artificial stars.

Many ponies found it beautiful, and when Rainbow Dash finally woke up, she was in no rush to get up. She stared out the window for nearly twenty minutes, watching the city and slowly clearing the fog from her mind. A flying platform full of revelers zipped past her window—ponies getting high, getting drunk, getting laid, and dancing to music only they could hear.

“Yeah, okay.” She yawned, and stretched out her limbs until her joints cracked. “Cloudchaser, bring me some coffee. I feel like going out.”

Nopony answered her. The living room remained dim. “Cloudchaser,” Rainbow snapped, her tone growing short. When still nopony answered, she let out a sharp and angry sigh. “House!” The living room walls beeped. “Ping Cloudchaser that I need her.”

“Error,” replied the living room, with its sterile, asexual voice. “Invalid command. Entity ‘Cloudchaser’ not specified.”

“House,” Rainbow repeated, her voice sliding from frustration into outright anger. “Command! Ping machine identification number,” she pronounced each character with precision, “C, X, X, Zero, Three, Zero, Two, Two, Nine, Eight, Four, Four, One, Two, Two, F, M, I, Zero, Zero. System Name: ‘Cloudchaser.’”

“Error.” The living room said it exactly the same as before, with no variance in tone or inflection. “Machine Identification Number CXX-030229844122-FMI-00 does not correspond to an active device. ‘Ping’ command cannot be executed.”

“Rrrgh!” Her wings parted from her side. “House! Send a trouble ticket to maintenance. The messaging system is broken. Again.” That time at least, the house responded with nothing more than a pleasant chime and a word of acknowledgement. “Good. And turn on the lights already.”

The living room lights immediately came to full power, and Rainbow hissed as she was blinded by the sudden brightness. “Agh! Stupid machine!” She flinched, but managed to stumble to her hooves. She took a step towards the hallway.

Something crunched under her hoof. She looked down, and saw a newly-crumpled piece of paper there, her hoofprint clear upon the back. She squinted as her eyes caught the glare off the bright white paper, but she managed to power through it, reaching down to flip it over. She read the writing on the back.

“...the heck?” Her brow furrowed, and she frowned.

Then, her doorbell chimed—three beautiful notes, painstakingly selected to be both attention getting and pleasant to Rainbow’s ears. “There is a visitor at the door,” the living room said. “They are a self-aware machine with an official dispatch ticket for this residence. Machine Identification Number CXX-031867495872-FMI-91, System Name: ‘Twilight Sparkle.’”

“Fine. Let them in.” Rainbow didn’t look up from the note. She turned it over again, to make sure there was no writing on the other side. Then she read the message again in full. “House. Ping Cloudchaser again.”

“Error. Invalid command. Entity, ‘Cloudchaser’ not specified.”

“Yeah, I know. It…” Rainbow lapsed into silence.

After a while, something in the room pretended to clear its throat.

Rainbow’s head snapped up, instantly focusing on the source of the noise. Across the room at the hallway door stood a machine. It was generally equine, with the right number of limbs, a head, and a face articulated to show emotion, but like most simulacra forms, its body was not crafted to be a lifelike copy. Instead of a furry coat, its chrome body was stained a dark purple. Its eyes could not truly move, but were little screens built into its skull, on which the image of eyes could be projected. Its hair was artificial fiber. And it was built to look like an alicorn instead of any real pony breed—adding a touch of the fantastic to keep it out of the uncanny valley.

Rainbow stared at it for several seconds. It stared back. Rainbow spoke first: “Are you from maintenance?” She hesitated, then continued. “The communications system is broken. It can’t find my familiar.”

“The communications system isn’t broken.” Twilight bowed low to Rainbow Dash, until her nose just touched the floor. “My name is Twilight Sparkle. I am your new familiar, and I was given life to serve your every—”

“I didn’t ask for a new familiar.” Rainbow’s eyes narrowed, and her wings parted from her side. She took half a step forward, nearly growling at Twilight as her tone shifted into outright hostility. “Where is Cloudchaser? I want to see her. Now. That’s an order.”

Twilight lifted her head. She couldn’t actually breathe, but she made the sound of taking a deep breath. The screens that were her eyes seemed to shut for a moment, then refocused on Rainbow. “Cloudchaser’s dead.”

Silence hung between them. Rainbow started. “What are you, an idiot?” she demanded. “Cloudchaser’s a machine. She can’t die.”

“While it is very rare, there are—”

So restore her from a backup copy,” Rainbow snarled. “How thick are you? Once, she got caught in an industrial grinder and shredded into metal flakes! And you know what happened? She showed up on a screen like five seconds later saying she was sorry for being a klutz. Fab her up a new body and go with it.”

Twilight again feigned taking a breath, shaking out her torso and tail before she answered. “As you are aware,” she pushed on, her tone harder to deter interruption. “The AI/Equine Harmony Declaration states that any machine entities with a self-awareness score of three or higher are to be considered legal persons and have all fundamental civil rights accorded therein. In conjunction with that framework, the Universal Accord on Sapient Rights states that any person, being of sound mind and judgement, and having rational cause to do so, possesses the right to terminate their own existence, and to forbid the creation of any copies therein.”

Rainbow didn’t answer. She just stared. And so, Twilight spoke again: “Cloudchaser killed herself. And in her will, she requested she not be restored from backup. As a result, she is permanently dead. I’m sorry.”

“No. She wouldn’t do that.” The anger left Rainbow’s voice, replaced with something dull and flat. “You’re wrong.”

“The communications system can’t find her because her MIN is no longer in use. She has been officially retired. It—”

“Then she was malfunctioning. She glitched or something.”

Twilight shook her head. “A formal board of inquiry determined her to be functioning within expected parameters.”

Rainbow’s face twisted into a snarl, and her voice rose to a shout: “I said you’re wrong!”

“She—”

Shut up!” Rainbow roared. “Shut up! You are not to say a word, not one word, unless I order you to speak! You understand me!? I want you to be seen and not heard!” Twilight nodded. “Good! Good, you…” She lifted a hoof to her head, looking wildly out the window and back. Her breath came in wild gasps. A sheen of sweat had formed on her forehead.

“Fine.” She swallowed. “I’m Cloudchaser’s owner. I’m overriding her request. I order you to restore her from backup.” Twilight said nothing. “Speak.”

“I cannot comply with that command,” Twilight said, her voice level and calm. “Overriding the fundamental rights of a sapient being is possible only in a declared state of emergency, and Celestia is the only being with the power to declare such a state of emergency.”

“Then call Celestia and tell her that this is important!” Rainbow roared. Twilight said nothing. “Speak!”

“It is extremely unlikely that Celestia will declare a planetary state of emergency because your familiar died. While it is sad, the legal process is designed to—”

But she was obviously malfunctioning!” Rainbow took off from the floor, spreading her forehooves wide as she shouted. “I don’t care what stupid tests you ran on her. If I see a machine doing something stupid or crazy, I don’t have to do some fancy diagnostic to know it’s broken. She had no reason to…” The words stuck in her throat. “Do that!”

Twilight said nothing, staring straight ahead. “Screw you!” Rainbow roared. Still, Twilight stood there in silence. “Speak!”

“The formal board of inquiry for a self-termination request is not a technical review board.” Twilight’s tone was simple and matter-of-fact. “While it does use diagnostic tools to determine if the being in question is mentally functioning within normal parameters, being of sound mind is only one of two criteria. Additionally, the being requesting to self-terminate must demonstrate that they are suffering and have a reasonable expectation that their suffering will con—”

Rainbow’s forehoof struck Twilight’s face head on. Plastic shattered, carbon fiber cracked, and the chrome frame beneath her face rang with the impact. She stumbled backwards, and her tail smacked into the door behind her.

Rainbow’s breath came in sharp, deep pants. Her eyes were wide, her lips curled back in a snarl. Most of Twilight’s face was gone. The entire left side, made of lightweight plastic, had shattered on impact and fallen away, revealing the actuators that ran along her jawline. Her left eye was still in its socket, but the screen was cracked, and showed no image. The right side of her face, undamaged, showed no expression. As Rainbow stared at her, her one good eye stared back.

Then, Rainbow noticed that Twilight seemed to be bleeding. There was red running along her jawline, where the chrome frame was exposed. It puzzled her for a moment, until she looked down at herself. A hook on one of Twilight’s metal parts had sliced open the underside of her hoof.

Rainbow laughed. She bit her lip, and looked at the blood pooling in her upturned hoof. “Get out,” she finally said. “This is my house. You’re not welcome here. You understand? Get out!”

Twilight bowed her head, and left. The front door chimed as it shut behind her. Rainbow was left alone.

She stood in the living room for some time, staring at the spot where Twilight had stood. It was only when the blood from her hoof started to run down her leg that she snapped out of her trance and refocused her eyes. She left a bloody trail from room to room as she searched the house for the first aid kit. She’d forgotten where it was, if she ever knew. She finally found it in a bathroom drawer, and stared blankly at the collection of bottles, needles, and smart-packs. She vaguely recalled you were supposed to sew up wounds. But she didn’t see a needle or thread.

Ultimately, she decided it was a cut. She knew you put antiseptic and bandages on cuts. This one was just bigger. So she lathered it with a full tube of smart gel, and wrapped her hoof up with the entire roll of bandages. It made her look like she had a club hoof, but it was fine.

She couldn’t walk on it, but she mostly flew anyway.

It took her some time to figure out the communications system. Telling it to “Call Celestia!” got an operator asking what government department she needed. “Call Canterlot Palace,” got a tourism system. Eventually, she managed to find the system to, ‘Appeal a Civic Decision,’ where an AI named Luna appeared on her screen and made her fill out a very long form. She didn’t know half the answers, but she filled it in as best she could, and insisted it be given the highest priority. Luna said she would process it right away.

Which she did. The rejection notice arrived less than thirty seconds later. It was ten pages long, and customized for her needs — expressing the review board’s deep sorrow for her loss, and suggesting a number of grief counseling services the city made available. Luna herself had written a note in the margins, encouraging Rainbow to call her if she ever needed someone to talk to.

Rainbow didn’t read any of it, skipping to the summary at the end. “Request for abrogation of self-termination rights of retired unit CXX-030229844122-FMI-00 absent a declared state of emergency is denied. Request for a declaration of a state of emergency is denied.”

Rainbow tried to call back, but she only got Luna again. She demanded to talk to Celestia, and Luna said that even a supercomputer had a finite attention span. With an entire planet to manage, not every call could go straight to the top. She was probably going to say more. But Rainbow hung up.

She spent hours in front of the screen. She tried to see if there was another way to restore a deleted AI. She tried to see if she could commission an AI that was exactly like Cloudchaser, but not technically her. She tried to see if she could ask for a different new familiar. She could, but a custom replacement would cost considerably more bits than were currently in her account.

She searched for the correct way to treat an injured hoof. She spoke with a medical machine that called itself Stable, whose avatar was a stern looking unicorn doctor. It told her that smart gel was really only meant to heal minor cuts and abrasions, and that wounds on the frog of her hoof were potentially very serious. It insisted she be treated properly by somepony who knew what they were doing.

So she hung up on him too.

She tried going back to her room, but the bed was tailored specifically to her needs, and was too comfortable. She tried the deck, but she could hear other ponies in the distance, shouting or celebrating. She tried the roof, but Cloudchaser wasn’t there. So eventually, she came back to the living room, and the window. She read Cloudchaser’s note again and again.

In time, she was too exhausted to go on. And so curled up on the hard floor, tucked the note in against her, and cried until she fell asleep.