• Published 29th Mar 2018
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Amplitude Adjustment - kudzuhaiku



Vinyl Scratch goes to make a pitch to Princess Celestia, to convince her to accept a technology that already exists.

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Chapter 3

A deep breath was all Vinyl needed to go on. One deep cleansing breath. Of course, it didn’t fix much, but it did clear her head a bit. Even though it was still early, she drew her wildcard fallback, knowing it would have to come into play sooner or later. Princess Celestia was left unsettled by her last statement, so it was time to keep the big mare off balance.

“Not only are unicorns radios, but all of this ties in to Sumac’s ever expanding hypothesis.” Vinyl summoned her natural cocky confidence, recovered her self-assured smirk, and suddenly, she was eleven years old again, doing schoolwork. The look upon Princess Celestia’s face was immensely satisfying, because the old schoolmarm was just plain baffled.

How many ponies had baffled the Princess of the Sun? Vinyl liked to think not many, but the truth was probably something else entirely. Feeling good about her recovery, Vinyl flexed her knees, bounced in place, and her tail flicked around her hocks on its own. She took a moment to adjust her tie, because it felt like the right thing to do at the time, and then, raising her hoof, she gestured at the items she had put up on display on the trunk.

“I can show you,” Vinyl offered. “If you recall, it was you that taught me one of my most important lessons in school. Since I was mute, it was you that taught me how to put on a show. I had to find other ways to express myself. You gave me my sense of self-expression, so thanks for that.”

“Your sincere flattery is duly noted, Vinyl Scratch.”

“Sumac, if you will.” Vinyl turned to face her apprentice.

The colt snapped out of his panic, went over to the trunk, and placed one hoof upon the artifact on top. “The device had to be somewhat modified to work in this world, but other than that, such modifications are minimal. Vinyl and I have a theory that our electrons work differently than their electrons because of thaumatons and the electron excitement factor. The off-world batteries failed to work in any way, shape, or form, so we had to make a few changes so this would work with our batteries. Vinyl even got it to work with our wall plugins without frying everything inside of it.”

Princess Celestia stood still as a statue, but had nothing to say.

Meanwhile, Raven was adjusting the camera and Vinyl was preparing her demonstration. Opening a wooden case, she pulled out a small, delicate device and gave it a quick once-over to make sure that everything looked right. Sumac powered up the artifact, the radio, and a glowing pale blue light could be seen pouring from its analogue display. Before modifications, the light had been a pale, wan yellow light, when she had hooked it up to Sumac and tried using him as a battery, but the smell of hot, toasty electronics had put an end to that in a hurry.

Moving as far away as she could, Vinyl stood near a wall, slipped the device over her horn, and said, “I will now act as a radio transmitter. Observe.”

Concentrating, Vinyl gave her horn a minimum of power and charged up. From the radio came a faint hum and she focused her thoughts, remembering all of her experiments with Sumac, who was the most dutiful, most wonderful apprentice a wizard could hope for. The device on her horn had a cluster of tiny crystals, which now glowed with a glittery light.

When Vinyl spoke, her voice came from two places. “Testing, testing, one, two, three.”

“It’s a wireless microphone.” Shrugging with her wings, Princess Celestia shook her head from side to side. “I fail to see what this proves.”

Undaunted, Vinyl continued, “Testing, testing, one, two—”

When Sumac’s horn ignited with a fiery green glow, the message on the radio turned into a garbled stream of crackling feedback, which made every ear in the room prick upright. Raven’s microphone let out a squeal that grew unbearable, and when Sumac’s horn went dim, everything went silent.

“It is the same problem we’ve observed with wireless microphones,” Princess Celestia said in a matter-of-fact sort of way.

“Vinyl and I asked ourselves why we had this problem.” Sumac pushed his glasses back up his nose with a deft flick of magic and looked up at the big white mare looking down at him. “It took us in new directions. Gave us new understandings. And then I started remembering stuff—”

“From the centaur archive?” Princess Celestia’s words were little more than a whisper.

Sumac nodded.

“That changes things. Sumac, tell me, as clearly as you can, what did you remember?”

“Well,” the colt began, and Vinyl was breathless while she waited, “stuff about radio, mostly. There was a little bit about unicorns and the modifications made to them. And uh, there was a few things about artificial ley lines. Powered amplifiers to boost weak signals.”

“It is as I feared.” Princess Celestia’s voice was almost inaudible and she began pacing the floor.

Sensing a problem, Vinyl tried to read her former teacher but found that she couldn’t. Raven had retreated so that she was out of the way. Sumac had that look on his face that Vinyl knew all too well, that expression of wondering if he had done something wrong, and for a brief moment, she had some resentful feelings towards Princess Celestia for leaving poor Sumac in this state.

“Tell me more about how this connects to Sumac’s hypothesis?” Princess Celestia commanded, her tone having changed to something almost unpleasant.

It took Vinyl a few seconds to realise that the pacing alicorn was doing threat assessment, and in this regard, she was a lot like Tarnish. When he did threat assessment, he too sounded openly hostile, even to his friends. It was nothing personal though and it was something that somepony quickly learned to deal with. Daring Do even valued it, because it cued her in on danger that she might have been otherwise oblivious to. Tarnish could smell trouble from miles away, long before most ponies, and Vinyl found herself comparing him to Princess Celestia.

“Using the radio, we found that unicorns operate on frequencies, but we had some trouble trying to determine what those frequencies are—”

“Why is that?” the pacing princess asked.

To which Vinyl replied, “Quantum effect? Thaumaton interference? We don’t know, but as with most things, magic doesn’t like to be measured. It played tricks on us and did devious things to throw off our readings.”

And to this, Princess Celestia let out a snort, then said, “Typical.”

Undeterred, Vinyl continued and explained the basics. “After some extensive testing, with Twilight Sparkle organising said tests, we were able to determine that unicorns operate on radio frequencies and we were even able to make preliminary measurements. We rapidly concluded a few basics and Sumac’s recovered data from a few eons ago helped us to fill in a few blanks.”

At the mention of his name, Sumac smiled, a reassuring sight for Vinyl.

“The most common, the most basic unicorn, we’ll call them frequency one unicorns. They are plentiful, and also the ones that suffer the most from Sumac’s hypothesis. All of them operate on a very narrow frequency of rather lowish power, but that doesn’t mean weak. A long time ago, these unicorns were quite powerful, but there were fewer of them.”

“Go on,” Princess Celestia commanded in her best schoolmarm voice.

“After a lot of testing, Twilight found a lot of variances and ranges, and the data is there, in a Sparkle-Organised binder.” Vinyl pointed with her hoof and was dismayed when Princess Celestia didn’t turn to look at it. “There appears to be a somewhat more powerful unicorn, a frequency two, but there was a lot of arguing over that and the previous frequency twos eventually were bumped up to the frequency four category.”

Vinyl wished that she had a glass of water.

“The power difference between frequency ones and the seeming frequency twos is very difficult to notice, but there does seem to be some evidence supporting the variation. Perhaps with fewer unicorns drawing from the same source, the differences would be far more noticeable, and that’s our problem. The lower frequencies are all jammed with far too many unicorns, all operating on the same band and drawing power from the same source.”

“That appears to be a frustrating issue.”

Surprised, Vinyl turned to look at Raven, who had spoken. “It is. It made Twilight almost tear out her mane and there was a lot of fighting with Trixie over who was right. You know how those two can be.”

“Yeah,” Sumac remarked, “but the best sort of results only comes after one of their big fights where they have to prove who is right.” Grinning, the colt looked up at Princess Celestia while she paced past him. “Sometimes, I’m a bad colt and I manipulate them into fighting just so we can sort things out.”

“How devious,” the big mare murmured while she turned to go in the other direction.

“As one climbs up the frequency spectrum, one finds unicorns with broader and broader bands of power, but this has introduced new issues into Sumac’s hypothesis.” Vinyl tried to look into Princess Celestia’s eyes while the big mare approached. “Those unicorns, like the frequency threes for example, can tap into the same frequencies as the frequency ones and the frequency twos, but it doesn’t do them a lot of good because there is so little to draw from. It’s there, and it might have been helpful a long time ago when there were fewer unicorns, but now, it is almost as if it is a vestigial adaptation. Near as we can tell, it serves no real purpose or offers no real benefit.”

Turning about, the pacing alicorn went in the other direction.

Vinyl had no choice but to go on. “Some unicorns like Trixie seem to operate on a band all their own that other unicorns can’t touch. We’re still debating that, but there seems to be bloodline-based frequencies that are inherited. The evidence is compelling and Sumac has some memories of centaur modification that support this. Why they did it remains unknown.”

“Because they calculated the odds and saw a future that few of us could comprehend,” Princess Celestia said as she went still. “They foresaw these issues and no doubt made compensations. By making certain unicorns draw from specific power sources, it ensured that there would always be a few powerful magic users… exceptional casters of unbelievable power and skill. Most of those seem to come from Luna’s bloodline, and that makes sense, given what we are. Insurance for the future.”

Brows furrowing, Vinyl thought of Skyreach and then immediately wished she hadn’t.

“Alicorns draw from sources we can’t even understand.” Sumac picked up where Vinyl had left off. “They draw from anything and everything, including other whens and wheres. Sunburst has a theory that he is developing that suggests that modern alicorns might be drawing upon ancient magic reserves of the long ago past due to quantum-thaumatomic draw. It is a mere trickle of power if it exists and we’re not sure if we can measure it.”

“Sumac, how?” Turning about, Princess Celestia looked down at the bespectacled colt.

“Twilight gives me dangerously high doses of concentrated zap apple extract made by Zecora and it jacks my intelligence. When I’m jacked, my sorcery talent does scary things to Sunburst and the Crystal Heart seems to interact too as well, but we’re not sure in what way just yet. But it also gives off radio waves and these, uh, interact with the crystal ponies in a weird way. Seems to make them glow. The signal sends power and the crystal ponies act like crystal radio receivers and their glow is proportional to the strength of the signal.”

Sumac it seemed, had strayed a little from the topic, but Vinyl couldn’t fault him because of how he held Princess Celestia’s attention.

“Is the Crystal Empire a radio transmitter?” Princess Celestia asked. “Like a wireless microphone transmitter?”

“Uh, um, well, yeah, it seems to, uh, be exactly that,” Sumac stammered in reply.

Jaw muscles clenching, Princess Celestia resumed her pacing.

Vinyl heaved an internal sigh; Sumac had given away one of the Big Reveals at what felt like an inopportune time. It was something that should have been saved for negotiation, such as if perhaps Princess Celestia decided that this project was too dangerous to continue. The Big Reveal of the Crystal Empire would require continued study and was something that just couldn’t be ignored. Oh well, what was done was done, Sumac had played one of their aces and there was no putting it back into the deck.

Removing the crystalline device from her horn, Vinyl slipped into her pocket.

“It’s given us insight into the Great Enemy as well,” Sumac said to Princess Celestia, his voice squeaky. “We have theories how his magic works and why unicorns that follow him gain so much power. Princess, we’ve entered into the Great Radio Race, as my master calls it. This race is the very study of magic itself. We have to keep studying, because you can bet that the Great Enemy is hard at work trying to figure this out as well. We have advantages in this race and we need to exploit them.”

Again, the alicorn stopped in place, her pacing ceased. “Tell me more…”

Author's Note:

This might pick up a few more edits come morning, but I am posting what I have now. Enjoy.