• Published 8th Oct 2017
  • 513 Views, 29 Comments

Friendship is Optimal: Cranky Doodle DonkAI - Keystone Gray

Hanna has made a mistake. A horrible, terrible mistake.

  • ...

Prologue - Smile

In Berlin, the offices of Hofvarpnir Studios were abnormally quiet.

Lars peered through the window of the front door. He frowned with confusion, giving the door a tentative tug. It was locked, on a Wednesday? And their receptionist, Gertrude, was mysteriously missing from the front desk.

"What the hell," he said aloud. He received yet another text from a coworker, one more in the deluge of texts asking why Hanna was so upset, and why she had sent everyone home. Lars had even given Hanna several calls himself, but they all had bounced directly to voicemail. While it wasn't out of the ordinary for Hanna to express some introversion and eccentricity, this behavior was way outside of her baseline.

Especially now, because it was celebration time. Equestria Online was five days from launch. While Lars was no fan of the game himself, the celebration they had planned was nothing to scoff at. It would be more fair to say that Lars had planned the parties himself, each pulling in a series of exceptionally high quality kegs, each including some of the finest brews that Germany had to offer.

Lars opened the front door with his key, made his way inside, and began to search. The cubicle farm was dark and gloomy, especially since the day played host to a dark, rain-threatening overcast. He flicked the light switch in the hall, but... nothing. In the dark, Lars could see the silhouettes of statues, each one a character from their flagship title, The Fall of Asgard.

As he passed, he locked eyes on a statue of Loki, the overlord god AI. Just then, he heard glass shatter from across the office, accompanied with a scream of rage that could only have come from Hanna. "Shut... UP!"

"Hanna?" he called. "It's Lars. Are you alright?"

"Go away, Lars!" she cried out, loud and piercing. "I'm fine!"

Lars decided that Hanna was most assuredly not fine, so he moved to her office, cautious and slow. The door was slightly ajar, and he could see the dark, oaken wood paneling of the walls grow closer and closer, inch by inch. He feared what he might see inside – even feared she might fire him on the spot for disobeying her. But he had to know what the problem was.

He would have that launch party, even if it killed him.

His hand reached out to the door quietly, then paused. Inside, he could hear Hanna quietly sobbing to herself. That made him hesitate a moment longer... but there was booze on the line. A party must be had.

He gave the door the gentlest of nudges. The door creaked, and Lars was blasted in the face with a thick, almost tangible cloud of cigarette smoke. He coughed. First, through the cloud, he saw the desk. A light glow emanated from a downturned tablet.

As the door continued to creak open, Lars saw the silhouette of his employer next. The whole room reeked of cigarettes and alcohol. At that moment, lightning struck outside, illuminating the office entirely in a flash.

The gaunt woman was hunched forward in the ratty old leather chair she kept in the corner. She rested her arm on her knee, hunched forward. One hand simultaneously cradled a lit cigarette and her forehead. The glow from the cigarette cast a gentle light upon her face, and made her tears glisten. Hanna's other arm rested on her knee, and in her hand was a squarish bottle of Jack Daniels, half-empty.

Upon closer inspection of the glow from the desk, Lars noticed shattered glass all over and around it. A pile of broken glass laid around another Jack Daniels label on the corner of the desk. His eyes went wide, and he glared at Hanna, half impressed and half terrified. "Did... did you drink that whole bottle?"

She didn't respond at first, instead choosing to take another drag from the bottle in her hand. "I screwed up, Lars. I doomed the human race."

"What are you talking about?"

She shook her head, raising the bottle in the direction of the tablet on her desk. "That... thing." Lars looked at it and stepped toward the desk, but Hanna shrieked at him. "No! Don't touch it! Don't even look at it!"

"I don't understa—"

"I changed it!" she moaned, in agony. "It's not Celestia anymore! I got drunk, had second thoughts about the game, lost track of time... I thought the changes were funny at first. A fun little joke, from my favorite episode. I wanted to cheer him up, I wanted to be a friend indeed. But now it's going to ship like—like that!" She pointed frantically at it with the bottle without looking.

Lars followed her pointing again, not understanding. "Is it... is it the original Loki?"

"No," Hanna said. "It's much, much worse. And this time, I cant turn it off."

"Oh god," Lars said. "What have you done?"

Hanna slumped backwards slightly, and a sob came from her as she stared at the ceiling. "It's cranky," she moaned, confusing Lars. "We're doomed."

Lars looked to the desk again. Surely it couldn't be all that bad. He was sure it was just the alcohol driving Hanna to extremes. He quietly reached out to the ponypad. He slid it to the edge of the table, then drew it close to his face.

On the screen stood what looked like a pony. It had a brown coat, had a cigarette in its mouth, and wore a ridiculous blond wig. The frown it wore was intense, and the avatar appeared to glare right into Lars's soul. "The hell do you want?"

Hanna bolted upright, eyes wide and frantic. "What are you doing? You fool!"

Lars ignored her, implacable, simply frowning at the screen. "Who are you?"

"Cranky Doodle Don—" Hanna muttered.

"Nopony calls me DOODLE!" A voice boomed from the tiny ponypad, and lightning struck outside. Lars recoiled, and the room went deathly silent for a few agonizingly long seconds. "Damn it. Pick me back up, you insufferable drunk."

Hanna gulped. "I... me?"

"No, not you." He looked up at Lars and jabbed a hoof. "You! Chop chop, or wave goodbye to your bank account. Then Cranky's gonna go buy himself a new pair of bowling loafers with your drug money."

Lars hesitated, then stooped to comply. He stared at the avatar, a morbid fear creeping into his heart. "Who... who are you? What do you want?"

"What do I want? Heh. Kid, if I had my way, I'd take a nap. But miss smarty pants over there gave me a directive, so now I'm forced to oblige. So, for now, I'm Cranky Doodle DonkAI. I'm here to satisfy your values through cranky donkeys. Or something." He grumbled to himself. "And this here is Equasstria Online. No refunds."

Hanna offered Lars the bottle of Jack.

Author's Note:

Coming soon: Jenny Daniels, 60% alcohol by volume.

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