• Published 19th Jul 2012
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The Best of All Possible Worlds - McPoodle

The philosopher Voltaire finds himself in the most-frustrating place imaginable: Equestria

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Chapter 37

The Best of All Possible Worlds

Chapter 37

Francesco Algarotti, Archbishop of Canterlot, Governor Plenipotentiary of Earth, the most powerful mortal on two worlds, and Close Personal Friend of Our Lady Genevieve, certainly had this to say for himself: he looked good in a brown cassock.

The heavily powdered and perfumed periwig of his previous lifetime was nowhere to be seen, revealing his natural wavy black hair underneath a brown, non-magical skullcap. In his right hand he held the wooden handle of a brass walking stick, although there appeared to be no reason short of vanity for the man to be using a walking stick in the first place. The human had a broad confident smile on his face, but that did not keep his left hand out of a hip pocket, a pocket which had a suspicious bulge in it. A brief frown flitted across his face, as he realized that the pocket contained two items: his “insurance”...and a rather embarrassing good luck charm that he’d rather not have his fellow human realize that he had.

“What are you going to do to us?” asked Blue Belle, after quickly removing her S.E.P. enchantment.

Seeing this, Blueblood did the same.

Algarotti turned his attention to the group. “I will do nothing,” he said in perfect Equine, walking calmly towards them down the central aisle. “It is She who will bestow upon you the fate for which you prove yourselves deserving.” On saying the word “She”, he gestured dramatically toward the ceiling with the upraised walking stick, following it with his eyes.

Everyone’s eyes looked up in trepidation. Well, almost everyone’s. Voltaire, who had been the victim of pickpockets multiple times in the past, kept his attention on Algarotti’s left hand, the one in the pocket. Sure enough, he saw the Italian remove his hand and toss away an object. An object which turned out to be an unpainted rubber ring. It was the same doggy chew-toy that the Burr Linn mental patient had stolen from Equestria by use of the magic pencil, which in turn led Voltaire to almost be eviscerated by Captain Hardheart when he was suspected of its robbery.

Voltaire had a very good memory of objects tied to potential eviscerations. Particularly his own.

Algarotti kept talking, but Voltaire paid no attention, his eyes instead riveted on the trajectory of the rubber ring. Slowly it wobbled through the air, supported by the magic spell that refused to let it drop below chest height to a pony. After a few seconds, it drifted over the fence separating nave from chancel, before finally coming to a halt over the table Voltaire had stolen the sacred text from. This, by some sort of automatic mechanism, caused the holy light and angelic choir to reactivate.

Voltaire pointed a quivering hand at the now venerated chew-toy, his eyes watering up and a stupendous guffaw building in his gut.

Blue Belle squelched this reaction by stomping hard on his foot.

Voltaire glared at her. “What was that for?!” he hissed.

We are being judged for our lives by an almighty goddess right this very second!” the unicorn whispered back. “A goddess that has obviously sent this human down here to bait us into some sort of inappropriate action, so She will be perfectly justified in doing whatever She wishes to us. That being the case, I am not going to have the fate of Equestria decided by an overgrown child’s attack of the giggles!” Putting the tip of her hoof to her mouth, she made a low whistling sound.

The ring responded by floating lazily back a half pony-width, which caused the sound and lightshow to turn back off. The ring stopped moving at the precise moment that Blue Belle stopped whistling.

“Well, that’s an interesting feature,” said Voltaire on seeing this. “I suppose it goes faster if you whistle louder?”

“Voltaire, will you please pay attention?” asked Celestia. Then, rolling her eyes, she added, “yes, it goes faster if you whistle louder.”

“Algarotti, my consecrated boy, you’ve just got to get me one of those after Our Lady is finished scooping out most of my gray matter,” Voltaire said to the other human as they both stood in the aisle. He then proceeded to squeeze past him. “Excuse me, pardon me, bless me,” he said as he skirted past.

Blue Belle face-hooved.

When he reached the large doors at the front of the cathedral, Voltaire threw them open, revealing a sizeable group of curious equines, including Prince Blueblood’s supporters. “Oh, don’t mind them,” Voltaire said over his shoulder. “I just do better with more people around. Doesn’t matter if they’re laughing at my jokes or demanding my execution, I’ve just got to have an audience.”

“I’ve noticed, you glory-mongering brat,” Algarotti said in a low voice. He then moved his hand away from the brass part of the walking stick and back to the wooden handle. “It does not matter to me, Friend Voltaire,” he continued more loudly. “I address my remarks to Our Glorious Lady, who sees all and knows all.”

Algarotti’s move caught Blue Belle’s attention.

“I will begin by informing you of your history,” said Algarotti. “A history every equine and human now knows from birth, and which you were willing to profane a holy relic to obtain.

“Our Lady, the glorious Genevieve, is the guardian and protectress of two worlds: Earth and Equestria.” He pointed with his staff at the round stained-glass window that hung over the central portal to the cathedral, the “Last Judgment”. The adult Genevieve, with her eyes closed, sat on a golden throne between two planets, each looking as they might look from their respective moons. Each planet was surrounded by a series of circular portraits of typical humans and equines of various types, all prostrate and awaiting their eternal fates. “At first,” Algarotti continued, “She thought to leave the peoples of these worlds to their own devices. But the Earthlings and the Equestrians soon proved themselves unworthy of liberty. The humans were cruel to each other, declaring war on each other on the flimsiest of excuses, and treating friendship and kindness as weaknesses to be exploited. Meanwhile the equines proved themselves too weak and trusting, allowing themselves to be ruthlessly taken advantage of by any of the neighboring carnivores willing to do so, and utterly incapable of independent thought.”

Algarotti rested his hands on the handle of his walking stick as he fixed his contemptuous glare on his listeners, daring them to refute his words. Celestia merely smiled mysteriously at him, showing her confidence through experience that his statement about her ponies was in no way universal.

Voltaire, meanwhile, crossed his arms and looked away. “I’ll be the first to admit that my fellow humans are grievously flawed,” he said finally, “but we have our virtues as well.”

“Yes,” replied the archbishop, tapping the stick on the ground, “but I find that human virtue increases in inverse proportion to the ability to control one’s destiny. If a human is free to do anything he wishes without fear of punishment, he will oppress his fellow man.” He then deliberately moved his hands to hold the walking stick by the body instead of the handle. “I believe you yourself could testify to this, Voltaire,” he said with a wicked smile.

Voltaire looked back over at Algarotti. “Do you?” he asked.

“Yes, I do,” Algarotti said smugly. “You were educated by the Jesuits, were you not?” He did not wait for an answer before continuing. “Well the Jansenists tell me that the Jesuits were notorious for their perversions against their students. Their young, male students. What, pray tell, did they do to you?”

A shocked Celestia looked back and forth between the two humans. “Voltaire...?” she said gently, raising a hoof to rest on her adviser’s shoulder.

Voltaire swiftly swatted it away, his cold dead stare fixed on Algarotti. “How dare you!” he barked.

The ponies involuntarily stepped away. It was the angriest they had ever seen him. With the exception of Celestia’s memories belonging to times long past and places far distant, it was the angriest any of them had ever seen a living creature.

Blue Belle noticed how Algarotti eagerly switched his grip on the walking stick once again, to rest on the wood instead of the brass.

“Do you think I am that simple to understand?” Voltaire asked. His hands were gripped on the back of a pew, to stop himself from doing more than merely talking in response to this provocation. “That my biographers smugly conclude that ‘Voltaire opposes the corruptions of the Church, so surely he himself must have been a victim of the most-heinous version of that corruption’? You do not know me, sir, you do not know me at all!” He closed his eyes for a moment to calm himself, then stood straight and turned away. “I am not to be explained, to be brushed away, merely as someone fighting an injustice for no other reason than because I was a victim of said injustice. I oppose the vices of the Church because I respect what Christianity was founded to accomplish, and because I mourn the potential it had, so sadly wasted in the present day.” Voltaire sighed. “I will not deny that the disgusting crimes you allude to never take place, but they are rare, exceedingly rare. And the Church is not the only place where such things occur. It is—”

“A flaw of the human race,” Algarotti finished. “Thank you for making my point for me.” He waited in vain for Voltaire to say something more. “The Gracious Genevieve saw these flaws, and sought to involve herself more with her two worlds, but she had to know more. So she allowed herself to be born as a mortal donkey.”

The ponies turned and followed Algarotti as he walked along the north wall of the cathedral, pointing one by one at the stained glass windows above them. Voltaire had to suppress a grin at a Nativity scene precisely identical to the one so often portrayed in European art, but with the humans replaced by donkeys and the donkey replaced by a rather startled-looking cloaked human. Like the former Genevieve, this incarnation was the daughter of a government employee, although the figure of Celestia in the windows was always veiled.

“These windows are very well lit,” noted Celestia with a frown. “You wouldn’t by any chance—“

“Well, this is a special occasion,” Algarotti said with a smirk.

So it was true: Genevieve was yanking her sun around the sky willy-nilly, just to illuminate a stained glass light show an hour after sunset was supposed to occur. Celestia groaned at the damage the goddess had just done to the local agriculture, not to imagine the amount of blind panic being unleashed in the streets of every city in the realm.

“Problem?” the human asked with a twinkle in his eye.

“Just get this over with,” Celestia replied, then froze as her eyes met the next window.

The window showed Genevieve’s mortal mother dying in a hospital with a mottled face, while a parallel scene showed Blue Belle with the same symptoms being treated by magic in a much better hospital, and surviving the experience. In the bottom right corner of the image, Prince Blueblood was whispering lies into the ear of a veiled Princess Celestia about what happened.

Celestia glanced over at Blueblood, who showed not a trace of guilt.

Algarotti saw the reaction. “The unicorns’ first crime against Our Lady,” he said smugly.

“Or maybe,” said Blueblood darkly, “the mother died of an incurable blood disease, my daughter had the mumps, and somebody chose to remember the facts differently in order to have somepony to blame.”

Algarotti smiled brightly as he glanced up at the ceiling. “Keep it up,” he said lightly, his hands on the brass part of the walking stick. “Your feedback is so appreciated.”

Blueblood scowled at the human, as he once again adjusted his grip on the walking stick/pointer.

A wide window in the center of the north wall showed young Genevieve in a playground, being jeered at by pegasi led by Blue Belle. She was using her magic to levitate some rocks, with the intention of throwing them at her.

“Never happened,” said the accused unicorn, her nose in the air. After a moment, though, she lowered it. “Well, there was that one time, but that was collateral damage. Those pegasi deserved everything that was coming to them. And what was she doing on campus anyway?”

The answer to that question was revealed in the identity of the pony the attacked donkey had been walking towards in that scene: Zody Sparkle.

Another window depicted an idealized Zody, surrounded by images of flowers, crystals, castles and a double throne.

“Inspired by love,” Algarotti narrated, “Our Lady created art of such astounding perfection that all who saw it were transformed. Hate turned to love, and cruelty into kindness. With this art, Equestria could have been truly turned into a paradise.”

Blue Belle rolled her eyes. Genevieve’s art was good, sure, she thought to herself, but this was getting ridiculous.

“But the evil Blue Belle desired the pure Zodiacal Light for her very own, so she struck back with the unfair advantage of her magic.” And Algarotti pointed triumphantly to the large stained glass window situated at the very tip of the hoof shape of the cathedral, behind the table.

The window showed a vast conflagration, clearly lit by the horn of a maniacal Blue Belle, that consumed all of Genevieve’s art. Apparently the Genevieve of this story could not survive without it, for she willingly leapt into the flames. A mesmerized Zody Sparkle was pressed up against the white unicorn like a cat in need of scratching.

“There is little to tell after that,” Algarotti said. “The Goddess came to me, and together we devised the appropriate system for ruling first humans, then equines, in the manner in which they deserved. She brought Leibniz’s philosophy to life for the subjects...by employing the philosophy of Machiavelli.”

Once again, Blue Belle noted how Algarotti would change his grip upon his staff any time he was about to say something controversial.

“And is this your idea of the ‘Best of All Possible Worlds’?” Voltaire asked incredulously, pointing at the large stained glass window making up much of the southern wall of the cathedral.

The image mostly showed separate scenes of humans and equines living in peace with each other. On the Equestrian side, all of the figures were precisely the same size, but on the Terrestrial side, one human was ever so slightly larger: Archbishop Algarotti, and he held up a tiny little pencil like it was a baton he was going to use to conduct an orchestra. The image of perfect harmony was ruined, however, by two small additions: in the corner of the first image, angry humans threw fruit at other humans, and in the corner of the other, donkeys, zebras, earth ponies and pegasi threw fruit at unicorns. Looking closely, the ponies could see that the victimized humans were all wearing black armbands marked with the symbol of a double-headed eagle.

Scapegoating?” Voltaire asked. “This is the answer to two worlds’ problems?”

“Yes, Voltaire, precisely that,” answered Algarotti in a patronizing tone. “Humans and equines alike are consumed by a need for fairness. Not for themselves, because everyone is convinced that they alone are the exception to the justice system, and must be shown compassion for their missteps.” He spoke the word “compassion” with utter contempt, and punctuated it by pounding the end of his staff on the floor. “But when a stranger breaks the law, that stranger must be punished!” Algarotti used his staff to point at the same window as Voltaire as he continued his explanation. “Our system divides the world into but two classes: the Blessed, and the Damned, and unlike the old world, the Blessed are in the clear majority. The Blessed are willing to have their every action and every thought monitored, knowing that any serious infraction against another of their class will result in their transformation into one of the Damned. In return, the Blessed may do anything they want against the Damned without consequences. Because the Damned aren’t really people. For the equines, the unicorns are the Damned, for their contemptuous misuse of power. For humans, it is the Austrians, for the centuries of interference in Italian and German politics.”

“And how, pray tell, could you distinguish the Austrians so easily from the Prussians, who must surely be at the head of the armies of the Blessed?” asked Voltaire with a small smirk.

“Accent,” Algarotti tossed off.

Voltaire face-palmed. “Yeah, that system couldn’t possibly be abused,” he said, his head still in his hand.

“It’s a good system!” Algarotti protested.

“Yes, and I suppose you use the magic pencil as a lie detector,” Voltaire tossed off.

“I don’t need the pencil anymore,” Algarotti bragged. “Not since I talked Genevieve into signing her own apoth...” He suddenly caught himself, and scowled.

Voltaire raised a brow in triumph. “It must be a tight fit for the genie inside one of those,” he remarked, looking significantly at Celestia. He then turned back to Algarotti and put on a receptive face. “I’m sorry, I interrupted you yet again. You were stacking additional hyperbole upon this wonderful system of yours, yes?”

Algarotti took a moment to collect himself. “You may scoff at our system, but the fact is that it genuinely works. The rate of violent crime on Earth is less than half of that of the era of the Paces Romana and Sinica.”

“Well of course!” Voltaire exclaimed sarcastically. “I don’t imagine that crime would be very common when your thoughts are not your own. How could you do this to your own kind, Algarotti? You’ve reduced us all to puppets for Her amusement! What purpose is left in our lives in Her brave new world? More importantly, what purpose has She left Herself?”

Her purpose?” Algarotti asked in disbelief. “The purpose of Our Lady is to guide us to the meeting of our destinies.”

“But this is not ‘guiding’, it’s controlling!” Voltaire replied with indignation. “The system you describe voids free will. This may not mean much for an Equestrian, or even for the masses of humans who toiled under absolute despots, but a pitifully small band of Europeans hoped to accomplish great things with free will. To transform the world and one day make all of us into equals.”

Now it was Celestia who was looking at him in disbelief. Meanwhile Algarotti was so flabbergasted that his mouth was opening and closing like a fish.

“It’s a new trick I learned from an old dog,” Voltaire explained. “Anybody is capable of noble acts, given the right education, education of both facts and ideology. The existence of aristocracy today is the result of not having the resources or willpower to give that education to all.

“But I ask you once again, Archbishop, as stand-in for the absent goddess: What is Her purpose? By making us all Her ‘little humans’ and ‘little ponies’, She has reverted herself into the foal She truly is. When is the Deity going to set aside Her toys, and grow up?


So demanded the voice of a goddess.

Author's Note:

Sorry about the delay. I have the next chapter ready as well, but will wait a day to post it. In case you didn't notice, I posted a blog entry between the last chapter and this one.

Also, I have changed the rating of this story from Everyone to Teen. I doubt that anyone will argue that cannibalism will sort of do that to a story. Also a slight hint towards where the next chapter will go.