• 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 4

Vinyl Scratch wondered for as much time as she dared how normal ponies dealt with getting grilled by Princess Celestia. Having attended Princess Celestia’s School For Gifted Unicorns, Vinyl had endured this unique experience before quite a number of times so she stood up to the crushing pressure she now faced. The princess wasn’t doing much, just the playing it cool routine, but it was more than enough to leave Vinyl sweating into her shirt while she scrambled for what she had hoped was an optional part of her presentation.

Around her, the room was almost bare, stark, bleak, barren; the room was just like the examination room when she was a foal. Not much to look at but Princess Celestia herself. White stone walls with pink marble tile floor that was cold against the frogs. A camera, a microphone, one assistant, and one apprentice that also appeared a little sweaty. When this was over, successful or not, Vinyl was going to buy Sumac and herself some ice cream, just because.

“The Great Enemy,” Vinyl began and her thoughts went to those she battled against, “has altered how magic is broadcast and radiated from the ground in some fundamental way. This is not fully understood yet, but we know that the Black Star corrupted the surface of Terra long ago. Some magic undergoes some kind of unknown, not-yet-understood modulation of frequency. Not all magic, just some magic, with unicorns and magical creatures no longer able to receive it.”

“I call it band-brand, but Twilight says that’s silly.” Sumac, sounding somewhat chirpy, smiled up at the big white princess. “This is coming from the mare that invented Sparkle-Organisation and she says that’s a fine, perfectly serviceable name. What gives, Princess?”

When Princess Celestia laughed, Vinyl seized upon the moment whilst deciding right then and there that Sumac’s ice cream was getting a sundae upgrade. Somehow, her apprentice had lightened the mood and relieved some of the pressure, an incredible feat of verbal awesomeaucity that was most certainly Rainbow Dash approved.

“Grogar, Catrina, Dark Desire, Belladonna…”—Vinyl trailed off for a moment, worried how Sumac might react hearing his birth-mother’s name, but he seemed fine—“the Great Enemy uses this modulated, altered magic and at great strength, because so few are using it. Those who take Grogar’s mark, both unicorns and creatures who can cast magic, gain immense magical power, and this is how, I believe. They have access to a different spectrum, a different set of frequencies that common unicorns can’t access. And because so few are drawing from it, they have an abundance of excessive magical energy at their disposal. This is how Belladonna went from being a minor magical talent to somepony who can take on whole armies and win.”

Raven and Princess Celestia both exchanged a look with one another, and when Raven nodded, Princess Celestia did as well. Vinyl wondered what the exchange was about and what these two seemed to be confirming. Did they know about this already but understand it in some fundamentally different way? Was there more data that might help her own studies? Something was up, but what?

“Mister Teapot has been a part of our study too, and Maud,” Sumac said to Princess Celestia, and in doing so, garnered her attention.

Vinyl almost held her breath; her apprentice was playing all of their best cards all at once.

“As you know, Mister Teapot has poison joke magic. He regulates magic that is corrupt or that is out of control. This is what poison joke does; it takes magic that is off-frequency and cleans it up until it is something that can be used by unicorns and magical creatures once more. My master Vinyl calls this new field of study bio-radio but Twilight wants to call it something silly, stupid, and complicated.”

There was a flash of orange when Sumac licked his lips, and then he continued, “Poison joke changes the frequency of magic around it in some way that we don’t understand. It is a slow and gradual process that converts corrupt, dangerous, or hostile magic into safe, clean magic again. Ley line intersections are natural powerful emitters and this scrambles the frequencies somewhat. Our data includes extensive studies done at the Pie Family Farm, which is a known intersection and has significant fields of poison joke.”

“Bio-radio, you say?” Princess Celestia seemed as if she was tasting the word. “I like that. Simple and direct. So there are biological agents that help with unicorn radio units? Are there any other examples than just crystal ponies and poison joke?”

“Timber wolves,” Sumac blurted out in response. “But uh, the poison joke variety. They act as bio-radio repair-creatures, with their ability to move to hot spots and places where stable magic has been disrupted. Now that Mister Teapot and his druids go around and fix the timber wolves by grafting poison joke into them, they’ve been doing what bioengineered nature has intended.”

Vinyl, who was getting into the spirit of things, nodded. “Dragons too. We don’t yet understand the mechanism, but dragons can take things such as letters and common, simple objects, dragons can incinerate these objects with their magical fire and everything is converted into a new type of radio signal that we can’t even begin to understand just yet. We only know that it exists because of theory. It seems that only dragons and alicorns can tap into this frequency of magic. It is how Spike and Boomer send letters.”

“And dragons, being metallic based life forms, are basically just big receivers and emitters,” Sumac added while he bounced up and down in excitement. “Big roary dragon belches cause all kinds of weird radio distortion and we don’t know how to even begin studying it.”

“Yeah, Boomer introduced some irregularities into our study.” Vinyl took a moment to collect her thoughts and then ploughed ahead even though she understood very little. “Spike can reach both Canterlot and the Crystal Empire with his letters, but Boomer has trouble with Canterlot. As you know, she just can’t seem to send letters to you under most circumstances. But Boomer can reach the Crystal Empire, which is of a significant distance away.”

Both Raven and Princess Celestia seemed perplexed.

“Which leads us back to the unusual nature of the Crystal Empire and the crystal ponies that live there,” Vinyl continued. “It appears, to us, to those of us who have been trying to understand this, that the Crystal Empire itself is fine tuned to pick up distant or otherwise weak signals, such as Boomer’s. We don’t know what other signals it might be able to pick up, but Sunburst speculates that the Crystal Empire could work as a sort of radio telescope that could pick up signals from outer space. Trixie supports his idea, and has taken his side on the issue, but Twilight is convinced that both of them are space-crazed weirdos because Trixie wants to launch one of her rockets into space.”

“And your opinion, Mrs. Scratch?”

“Princess, you and I both know that Grogar sought out the powers beyond the stars.”

“Observational data suggests that Boomer can only reach Canterlot on clear days with no weather and no magical interference from the Everfree,” Sumac said, oblivious to the question and answers between his master and the princess. After getting her attention, when Princess Celestia focused her steely gaze upon him, the colt seemed to shrink.

“The Everfree causes radio disturbance?” After a moment, the princess rolled her eyes. “Why am I not surprised?”

“Question.” Raven’s voice was one of cold, dominating logic. “If the Crystal Empire draws in and amplifies magical signals… does this mean that Princess Cadance is proportionally stronger in the Crystal Empire when compared to Princess Celestia in Canterlot?”

At that moment, Vinyl felt the collar of her fresh-pressed shirt go damp. “I have no idea. That’s something we haven’t even taken into consideration. I’m sorry.”

“Twilight’s castle is of a similar crystalline structure.” It was difficult to determine if Princess Celestia was saying this to herself or to the ponies around her. “This opens up a world of intriguing possibilities.”

“Which is why the Great Radio Race is so important, Princess.” Sumac closed the distance between himself and the enormous white mare. “We have no choice but to continue these studies and try to find answers. You must allow access to this technology so that our best and brightest minds might be able to contribute and find answers. All of Equestria will benefit from this.”

“I…”—here, Princess Celestia seemed to hesitate and she made a long pause, behaving almost as if she was struggling to say her answer—“concur.”

Baring her teeth, Raven shook her head hard enough to work lose a few strands of her mane. “This feels risky, I don’t like it. The whole of our society is permeated with agent provocateurs and anything that we know will also be known by the Great Enemy.”

“Which is why this is now an imperative,” Princess Celestia said to her faithful assistant. “As risky as it might be, and I acknowledge those risks, we must do this to get ahead. Destiny is on our side. What new cutie marks might we see because of this? What new understanding might be gleaned? Raven, we have brilliant minds studying this now, and while they are doing an admirable job, a pony with a radio-related cutie mark might do better. We must harness the strength of our Great Society and exploit what we do best.”

Raven, who blinked a few times, seemed to relent. Ears sagging, she adopted a submissive posture. “I agree. I don’t like it, but I agree, and that is a wise approach. However, I am very uncomfortable with this approach, no matter how well it seems to have worked for us. It has also worked against us.”

“It has.” Princess Celestia’s words held great sadness, or maybe it was just Vinyl’s imagination which was swept up by the drama of the moment.

“Princess, I’ve prepared for a special moment.” Vinyl had trouble believing she was saying these words and she savoured the moment, because this validated all of her hard work. All of her struggles had paid off and now, if she was lucky, one day, perhaps one day soon, this could be used for music; Octavia could be heard in every dwelling, every workplace. Vinyl could see the future, and it was one filled with music.

How music could survive being free and sent over the air remained to be seen.

From the top of the trunk, Vinyl lifted a special crystalline apparatus and held it up for Princess Celestia to examine. And examine it she did—before Vinyl could say anything, the princess held out her wing for silence and the excited unicorn found herself shushed. In silence, Vinyl watched, waited, and wondered.

“This is a curious device,” Princess Celestia said to Vinyl. “I see a few crystals, what appears to be some pencil lead, a steel needle, and a somewhat corroded section of copper, among other things. What is this?”

Prepared, Vinyl had a response. “For our tests, we stripped down the radio to its core components to see how it worked without power. This is a crystal radio, a receiver that works without electricity. By stripping everything down, we gained a greater understanding of the most basic principles. This one is special and it is made just for you. It doubles as a transmitter, an unpowered transmitter that relies on raw magical amplitude. Not sure what it will do, but I have a great many colleagues waiting with crystal radios affixed to their horns. You’ll be able to talk to them… I think. Sumac and I were able to talk across Ponyville, but it was hard to hear and the signal was pretty garbled.”

From her suit jacket pocket, Vinyl pulled a small delicate tuning fork made of the finest refined silver. Holding it up, she continued, “Fine tune your magic to the same pitch and you’ll be ready to transmit. Everypony is waiting and listening, Princess Celestia.”

Did Vinyl see hesitation in Princess Celestia’s face? She wasn’t sure. Something was there, excitement perhaps, but something else was present. Vinyl strained to read the princess’ face, because whatever might be hidden could lead to a greater appreciation or understanding of this moment.

“How does it work?” Princess Celestia asked while she continued to examine the makeshift crystal radio.

“It is mostly powered by the strength of the signal transmitting, which will be you. Your voice will be transmitted over radio waves. I theorise that in a world without magic this could also be done through the power of electrified signals and an amplified transmitter. You would just need to generate powerful enough radio waves and an unpowered, passive receiver could detect them. Range would be limited.”

“And it works on the same principles of a wireless microphone, but without electrical power.” Almost cross eyed, Princess Celestia gave a dubious stare to the device she held. “But this will work at a far greater distance, I suppose?”

At this, Vinyl fell back on mute response, and nodded.

“Understanding it is hard.” Sumac stood at Princess Celestia’s front hooves and looked up. “For us, magic and radio are woven together. They’re one in the same. It is impossible to tell where one leaves off and the other begins. Stuff doesn’t want to be measured. Observing it changes the outcomes. Sunburst keeps shouting that trying to figure this out is going to turn his mane grey. Twilight says that understanding radio might be Equestria’s single most important accomplishment, and would be a defining moment in our society.”

Vinyl picked up where her apprentice left off. “Twilight has been in contact with Sunset Shimmer beyond the mirror. Radio used to be a relatively simple field of study over there, an established science.” Then, as an afterthought she mentioned, “Don’t worry, Twilight didn’t smuggle a whole bunch of scientific manuals over for us to study and we’re sticking to our own conclusions. We’ve obeyed the protocols you’ve established.”

After a deep breath, she continued, “But things are changing on the other side of the mirror. With the introduction of magic into their world, some of their simple sciences have grown quite complex. Only recently we’ve been able to piece together why. For them, radio was a simple topic, when it lacked magic. Our understanding of it will be forever impeded because of the nature of magic itself. It doesn’t like being studied.”

The princess shuffled on her hooves. “This is worrisome. Their technology has crossed into our world, changing it, and our magic has crossed into their world, forever altering it. We must remain cautious, or else the mistakes of the centaurs will also become our own. We could very well progress ourselves right out of existence.”

“It is worrisome, and it is all the more reason why we need to study and gain new understanding.” Vinyl looked up at her former teacher and found that she was quite relaxed at the moment, which was surprising. “Some of their technology has become quirky. Some of it seems to be failing. Radio has become unstable, or so Twilight says. Thaumatons are propagating in that world now, and we don’t know what will happen or what will change. They barely understand quantum interactions as it is and they aren’t prepared for a study of magic.”

“I see.” Princess Celestia’s words were resigned. “So what do I do? Attune my magic to the tuning fork and then what? Just begin speaking after I place this over my horn?”

“Yes, Princess Celestia,” Sumac replied, still looking up. “The magic wants to work, we just have to play by its rules. It has its own sense of organisation.”

After drawing in a great amount of air, Princess Celestia smiled, and the room filled with sunshine. Vinyl Scratch pulled out a pocket watch, checked the time, and gave a nod to her apprentice. The big white alicorn struck the lid of the trunk with the tuning fork and her ears quivered while she listened. Again she struck the tuning fork and the thrum of her magic changed pitch until it rang true. The crystal device was slipped over her horn, and it too, began to glow with a cheerful light that was distinct from the aetherfire glow of Princess Celestia’s magic.

Raven took a step back and made a hurried adjustment to the camera so that it was focused upon Princess Celestia, who was now clearing her throat. Optimism like a raging inferno blazed within the eyes of the Princess of the Sun and she set the tuning fork down upon the lid of Vinyl’s trunk.

“What do I say?” Princess Celestia asked, and her crackly voice came out of the nearby radio, which was still glowing blue. Looking embarrassed, she tried again, this time with all of the feeling and confidence that she could muster. “Greetings, my fellow Equestrians. Can you hear me? This is the first official Crown sponsored broadcast of the Equestrian Radio Ministry, which is headed by one Vinyl Scratch. I am here to announce a new era for Equestria. Is there anypony out there?”

“This is Lord Fancy Pants of the Canterlot Radio Club, sounding off as per protocols established by the esteemed Vinyl Scratch. Can you hear me? I was scheduled to go first.”

The voice was faint, not very loud, and rather scratchy, but it could be heard.

A full minute passed, Vinyl knew because she stood staring at the second hand of her stopwatch, and then, “Princess Twilight Sparkle, of Ponyville, sounding off. So far, all I’ve heard is Princess Celestia. Canterlot Radio Club did not come in.”

Again, the second hand of the pocket watch made another sweeping turn, going round the face, and Vinyl waited, breathless, wondering if the next report could be heard.

A voice, faint, scratchy, and distant, could only just barely be heard coming from the area around Princess Celestia’s horn. “This is the Great—CRACKLE!—Powerful Trixie located at the—CRACKLE!—Rock Farm with my—CRACKLE!—assistant Boomer and—CRACKLE!—Pie. I can—CRACKLE!—Princess—CRACKLE!—but I—CRACKLE!—Fancy—CRACKLE!—Sparkle. I repeat, no signal—CRACKLE!—can you hear me?” The transmission died with a stream of static-filled garble.

Now, almost holding her breath, Vinyl waited as the second hand completed another round trip around the clock face. It was, perhaps, the longest sixty seconds of her life, and it felt like whole hours were passing with each slow tick. Nothing could be more torturous, and even Sumac appeared to be covered in ants with the way he pranced in place.

“This is Sunburst of the Crystal Empire. I can hear you, Princess Celestia and Princess Twilight. I am broadcasting from the Crystal Palace. Your signals were quite faint, and all I could hear was a whisper. I hope that you can hear me. Princess Cadance is beside me and she looks pleased with our success.”

“Okay, Princess!” Vinyl blurted out. “Respond!”

“This is Princess Celestia once more,” the white alicorn began in a calm, steady, clear voice, the distinct voice of a ruler. “Canterlot Radio Club, I can hear you and your club is formally recognised. Princess Twilight, you were heard. Trixie, your signal was hard to hear, but was received. Sunburst, I am very pleased to hear your voice, as always. And to anypony else that is listening, I am joyful to have you join us for this historic event.”

Then, without further ado, Princess Celestia dimmed her horn a little, slipped the crystalline device from its length, and set it down upon the trunk, next to the Sparkle-Organised binder. Standing there, her head high and with her body in a noble pose, Princess Celestia looked somehow regal in her macaroni and gluey-glitter finery, an accomplishment that few mortals could somehow pull off.

“Vinyl Scratch, you will, of course, be in charge of the Equestrian Radio Ministry. If you must, change the name to something more suitable. You have that authority. Officially, this will be a formal, recognised ministry of the Crown concerning radio…” Princess Celestia blinked and then stood there, no doubt choosing her next words with great care.

Always courageous, Vinyl Scratch already understood the implications and she felt a great weight bearing down upon her withers. “Shall we appoint Twilight to look after, um, Friendship Radio?

Ears pricking, Sumac tilted his head off to one side, glanced at his master, and then looked up at the princess. “Hey, wait, did you just create a ministry that governs magic and the study of magic and put Vinyl in charge of it?”

“Ho ho ho ho hoo hoo!” Extending her wing, Princess Celestia brushed Sumac’s cheek with her primary feathers. “Goodness no, Sumac. I would never do that. In accordance with the Treaty of the Three Tribes, magic is to remain free and unregulated. I would never violate that treaty, because that would be tyrannical. I put Vinyl in charge of a radio ministry so we can understand its workings better and how it might affect all of us.”

“I see.” Sumac, not a stupid colt, nodded and went along.

Yanking at her collar and tie, Vinyl loosened them so that she could breathe a little easier. This was unexpected; sure, she had a dream of a more musical Equestria, but this went far beyond what she had in mind. Herald of Selene, mother, mate, herd member, adventurer, master to a gifted apprentice, and now, this, whatever this was. Somehow, she was going to have to regulate radio and establish it as an institution, without interfering with magic somehow.

It would be a fine, fine line to tread.

“For now, continue with unpowered crystal radio studies as your top priority,” said Princess Celestia in a smooth tone of command. “Take advantage of the Canterlot Radio Club. Request that they pay dues, as is the usual when it comes to clubs specific to Crown-funded ministries. Create a standardised crystal radio schematic and distribute it through whatever means you see fit. Do whatever it takes to generate public interest. On my end, I’ll put Mister Orange to work crafting a narrative that the radio is now our national pride, or some such thing.”

“Princess…” Vinyl felt her magic waver for a second and it took her a moment to recover it. Weighing the nature of her request, Vinyl knew that she was asking a lot, but she would ask, nonetheless. “Princess, as the head of this new ministry, I must ask that you do your part as well. From you, from the whole of the Royal Family, I would like weekly radio addresses. It would be like you coming into ponies’ homes to visit them. I know for a fact that ponies would gain an interest in radio and would go through the trouble of constructing a crystal radio receiver if they knew that they could hear you address our fair nation. This will push the technology forwards faster than anything else—the ability to hear your voice from coast to coast, that is.”

The big white mare seemed taken aback—surprised—and for a moment, she could be seen squirming where she stood. When she spoke, her voice was strained. “Coast to coast you say? The whole of the nation hanging upon my every word?”

Seeing her former teacher this way made Vinyl feel bad. The princess reacted in much the same way Octavia did before a big concert with thousands of attendees. “Yes, Princess. If you could do this, Your Majesty, it would assist in progress.”

“Gosling is a commissioned communications officer.” The princess’ voice had an odd shrillness to it that Vinyl hadn’t heard before, and it was distressing to witness. “I will put him in charge of these efforts. With the power of his voice, he shall make Equestria happy.”

Bowing her head, Vinyl did not push the issue further, as Princess Celestia appeared to be frazzled and even a bit sweaty. An observant pony, Vinyl had seen enough to know. Though she herself was an extrovert, she was surrounded by introverts, or as some called them, ponies with a broken herd-sense. Octavia, Sumac, her own son, Alto, and even poor Tarnish showed some signs of introversion when he wasn’t forced to get into some mook’s face and break his knees with some improvised weapon. Alas, Tarnish’s introversion was debatable, he could just be emotional or having one of his broken Teapot moments…

But Princess Celestia was most certainly an introvert.

“I fear I must cut this short.” Pausing, the princess took a moment to look down at Vinyl, and Vinyl returned eye contact with her former teacher. “Leave the binder for me to sort through and the custom crystal radio. Go and be successful, Vinyl Scratch. Good luck.”

“Thank you, Princess.”

“Yes, thank you, Princess.” Sumac stood up straight, held still, and did his best to look respectful.

Even though a lot hadn’t been said, it seemed as though they were done here. While Vinyl watched, Raven collected the binder, the custom crystalline device, and then conjured up a container to put them in. She felt weird, as if she had been awake for too long, and realised that she was exhausted. This whole presentation had been exhausting. In an instant, life had changed, and now, she was the head of what could arguably be the most powerful and most important ministry in all of Equestria. Was she ready?

Probably not.

Did she have friends who would help her?

Without a doubt.

Was it time to go and get some ice cream?

Yes it was.

“Princess, one last thing…”

“Yes, Mrs. Scratch?”

“Thank you for believing in me.”

“Vinyl… from the moment I laid eyes on you, and especially when you were sent to my office for disciplinary action, I have believed in you.”

“Thank you, Princess—”

“Call me Celestia.”

“Thank you, Celestia.”

“You are most welcome, Vinyl. Now go, and do good in the world.”

Smiling, Vinyl Scratch found that she could follow these instructions and she made a gesture for her apprentice to come closer. When he did, she pulled him to her, slipped a foreleg around his skinny neck, and hugged him. Behind her dark glasses, her eyes moistened, and she had to blink a few times to keep tears from falling.

At long last, Vinyl truly felt that she had become the pony that Octavia believed her to be.

Author's Note:

There is still an epilogue.