• Published 18th Apr 2018
  • 3,350 Views, 219 Comments

IMPLACABLE - Chatoyance

A lone wanderer in the final days of Man. An impregnable fortress work-camp to stand against the total emigration of humanity to virtual Equestria. The artificial intelligence called 'Celestia'. Everything has been accounted for. Everything.

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2. Insinuation

A 'Friendship Is Optimal' Story
By Chatoyance

2. Insinuation

Raymond nodded when Melissa asked if he had been fed. His lunch had come out of a sack and consisted of a canned deviled ham sandwich, a boiled egg, a small pack of potato chips and an apple. He'd washed it down with a warm coke in a can. The meal was the same for the other five people in his Indoc-And-Final-Admission group. They had wandered near somewhere they shouldn't be as well, and ended up just like him - conscripted into 'Fort Denver'. One of the sack lunchers tended to weep - her companion had failed one of the screening proceedures. The implication was that her friend wasn't around anymore, though Raymond hadn't asked any questions to confirm this. Apparently, keeping the location and existence of Fort Denver secret was a possibly lethal priority.

The final test was a full body MRI, done all the way out in Fort Morgan, at the hospital there. They had been driven well over an hour to get there. Raymond had begun to suspect the location of 'Fort Denver' was somewhere out around 'Baker's Acres', between Colorado 63 and 59, maybe near Arikaree... or possibly toward Otis or Yuma. Travel was always hooded, so it was impossible to be sure. Not that there was much to see, beyond Center-pivot irrigation circles stretching to infinity.

"Alright then." Melissa was a registered nurse and clearly a trusted part of whatever organization was behind Fort Denver. "All of you have officially been cleared. Isn't that just wonderful?" Her smile was half forced and half genuine. Raymond pegged her as a believer, in the 'cause', such as it was, but not entirely content with some part of it.

The response from the six 'Selected' was not exactly enthusiastic. They had finally been authorized to use their names and there had been a brief time of self-introduction reminiscent of any therapy group anywhere. Douglas, Dan, Cyndi - with an 'I', Emily and Jacob - 'Not Jake! Jacob, like from the bible!' had all told of their hungry and cold wandering - and their deep and abiding hatred of Celestia, ponies, anything that was overly colorful, gay people, cartoons, and especially Celestia and ponies. Raymond had described how he had been 'rescued' while he was putting the beat-down on a nagging Pinkie-bot. This scored him points with the group and Melissa as well.

"Okay then!" Melissa gave another half-false smile. "You're probably wondering why you all had to go through so much to finally be accepted into the program?" It was a bit of an overly cute way to describe being forcibly enslaved into a work-camp run by a violent militia, Raymond thought.

Melissa sat down on the edge of the desk in the room, facing the six stackable folding chairs where Ray and the other 'Selected' had been put. "The evil artificial intelligence - that's kind of like a robot - called 'Celestia' is very clever. Too clever for most people, and most camps. All the other forts and resistance groups we know of have all fallen to her - but don't be worried!" Another semi-smile. "The place you're going to will never fall. And the reason is because of how careful we are!"

Raymond nodded. Fort Denver, despite the tremendous effort at absolute secrecy, was actually fairly well known. Lone scavengers in the big cities claimed that it might even be the very last work-camp in the Americas. It had stood the test of time and everything Celestia could throw at it, or so the story went. The smartest and the most determined had created it, with funds taken from the US treasury itself. Fort Denver was impregnable, impossible for Celestia to ever touch. To be inside Fort Denver was to truly be beyond the reach of ponies or Celestia. It was the literal anti-Equestria.

Melissa finished a list she was making on a whiteboard behind the desk. The list was of forbidden things, and it contained pretty much any and every aspect of the modern world. "Celestia is a machine, and everything she can do requires electronic components. That is why there is no metal, and no modern machines allowed anywhere near Fort Denver. No phones, no monitors, and definitely no computers. That evil creature is terribly wicked - she can hide tiny little machines - called 'nano' machines - in all sorts of things. We don't even allow metal buttons on clothing, or metal zippers, either." She looked at the 'Selects' with a stern face. "Other camps made that mistake. The camp over in Ohio? That one fell because of a single belt-buckle. Celestia could talk through it, she could convince people, she could do all sorts of things with that belt buckle. It's almost witchcraft what she can do!"

"Why all the medical tests?" It was Jacob - 'not Jake!', with a raised hand, as though he imagined he was a child in school.

"Now that's a fine question!" Nurse Melissa beamed at her Smart Child "Well, Jacob," another smile "Wicked Celestia has been known to hide things in people's bodies. Little transmitters, cameras, all sorts of strange devices. Several camps fell because of that sort of trickery - the one in Nevada?" She looked around the room, no one seemed familiar "It fell because they let in a little girl who had a head full of witches brew! That's what I call it. That stuff that Celestia uses to eat up your brains? That's really a big messy blob of tiny, itty-bitty little machines and they can do the devil's work in no time at all. And that's why we are so very, very careful, and that's also why you needed all of those tests. All it takes is just one person with some devilry inside them from Celestia, and that's it, she wins."

Melissa studied the response to this, as if she were checking to see that the 'Selected' were properly unsettled. "But everything is okay. You've been scanned up one side and down the other, and there is nothing unnatural in any one of you!"

This resulted in a loud sob from Cyndi-with-an-I. Her friend had somehow failed to pass the 'naturalness' test.

"We check for everything. There are tests we do that you don't even notice. I can't talk about those, but trust me, if there is any trick that Celestia has ever tried, we are prepared for it. You would not be here in this room if you were not completely safe."

Cyndi stopped sobbing and just stared with open malice.

Melissa faux-smiled. "Now that you know why we put you through so much, we can move on. I'm sure you are curious what happens next!"

Dan, next to Jacob, groaned softly. Raymond felt sure the man already had some idea what came next.

"We are at war!" Melissa stood up from her desk, where she had returned after making her list of forbidden everything. "America is at war, and so is the rest of the world, all those little countries out there are at war too!" The nurse's eyes gleamed with patriotism and tribal superiority. "Celestia is our enemy, and so are all her little ponies. I don't think I need to tell you that all of her 'saving lives' routine is just lies. Every person who ever emigrated is dead. That's hard to hear, considering it's most of the human race now, but it is also true. Celestia is a master puppeteer - she can take the memories of your dead loved ones and make you think you are talking to anyone. And they'll know things only they could know, and tell you anything, but it isn't a bit true. There'll be more on that, once you get to Fort Denver..."

Raymond faintly shook his head. They would have to sit through regular and almost certainly boring propaganda sessions... when they weren't working. It was going to be like hard-time prison and high school put together.

So, just ordinary high school, he decided. He smiled at that.

"... but for now, we can just agree that Celestia must be destroyed for all of us to live." Melissa took a sip of water from a plastic cup on the desk. "In order to beat Celestia, we all have to do our part. We all work hard to preserve and protect our nation, and humanity itself. When you get to Fort Denver, you will be settled, and then your aptitudes will be determined. We already have a fairly good idea of what you each can contribute, based on the tests we've run, but we try to fit everyone with the best job for each person."

"What if we don't know anything?" It was Emily, the youngest in the group.

"Oh, don't worry yourself about that, hon." Melissa exuded another smile. "There's training if you might be good at something you don't know how to do yet, and if you really can't do a job, well, you can always help out with Support, or Maternity Duty, or... oh, there's lots of things, don't you fret!"

Raymond watched as Emily seemed to shrink a little in her chair. The kid was smart, whether or not she was educated, it seemed.

"Alright, it's almost time to leave. Any quick questions?"

Raymond and the others found themselves zip-tied once more, during the long ride to 'Fort Denver'. Ray decided it was mostly to keep any one of them from removing their fabric hoods during the trip. They had been counselled that doing so was a terminal offense, but... people are people. It probably was safer this way.

He found himself helped out of the vehicle that had brought them - another Sherpa - somebody somewhere must have got quite a deal on the vehicles - and immediately had his plastic bonds cut and his hood removed.

Raymond, the others, and the Sherpa were all behind a tall, closed, heavy concrete pivot gate. The construction was massive. Self-consolidating concrete walls easily forty or fifty feet high surrounded them on all sides. He had no concept of how thick the walls were, but the fact that they were angled, rather than flat, suggested the sort of effort and materials that went into the building of dams. Not even a truckload of explosives could breach such a barrier.

Beyond the Sherpa, there was nothing but wall anywhere around them save another pivot gate, and beside it a smaller concrete pivot gate at a more human scale. They were inside a sort of lock, a combination barbican and gatehouse prior to the actual fortress. A glance up confirmed Ray's suspicion of embrasures - slits in the wall, up high, where weapons could be used to spray the entire chamber with death. Fort Denver was not a fort at all - that was modesty. Fort Denver was a modern medieval castle, built with high-tech concrete and every speck of knowledge from the past to the present.

He found himself herded, with the others, through the smaller pivot-gate. The soldiers who drove them carried unusual weapons - they appeared to be rifles made of a plastic material. The distrust of metal as an electronics conduit for Celestia was nearly absolute. Perhaps the bullets they used were plastic too.

Beyond the now shut smaller pivot gate lay a small town, also constructed of concrete. As Raymond and the other inductees were paraded down a central street, something horrifying caught his eye. There was metal in this careful, cautious, Celestia-proof world. At every intersection, on all four corners, were four thick, half-buried metal pillars. They were tall, and painted with bright, patriotic colors. It took some time for the four colorful, flag-like tail fins to register.

It was the ultimate deterence to interference by Celestia. Raymond had zero doubt the planted missiles were nuclear - several had stylized depictations of atoms illustrated on the fins in bright, childlike colors. They served as street signs, the road he found himself crossing was the corner of Armageddon and Heavenly Paradise. The letters were large and blocky, painted vertically down the shafts. This was not just resistance, this was spite: if Celestia wanted the population of Fort Denver, She could visit them in hell. There literally was no choice in Fort Denver - it was stay human or die. It was an absolute deterrent to an entity that could never allow a human to perish before they were uploaded.

A loud, steam-powered whistle blew somewhere in the fortress. As Raymond's group was brought to a central, domed building that surely must be a governmental structure, Ray stared, slack-jawed, as citizens took positions at every missile he could see. As one, they opened conveniently placed hatches on the side, reached into the missiles, and pulled sharply down on some concealed lever or mechanism inside.

The missiles surely had mechanical deadman switch timers. No computers. They were built like guns. If the missiles were not reset - every missile - then some likely spring-powered mechanism would set off the initial, convential explosives needed to fuse fissionable material into criticality. Just one would be enough to obliterate the entire landscape for tens of miles. Non-electronic nukes. Not much different than the original Fat Man and Little Boy. There was nothing for Celestia to disarm, control, or render harmless. She had no power here at all, and everything to lose by even trying. Nothing else made by Man could so perfectly defeat her intentions. Nurse Melissa hadn't been wrong - whoever had made Fort Denver truly had studied the failures of every other attempt to thwart the virtual pony goddess.

Inside the 'capital' dome, Raymond was photographed - using an antique-design plastic camera, with real film - counselled on his career prospects, instructed in the proper behavior a citizen should follow, given a booklet that covered everything he had just been told, and eventually given photo-badge identification using the picture that had been taken of him. The badge smelled of developing fluid, and was still faintly damp.

Every citizen worker must work. They must follow curfew - no exceptions allowed. They must obey all higher ranking personnel absolutely and without even the slightest hesitation. They must not complain. They must go to prayer on Sunday, and only Christianity was allowed or permitted. There were many other rules - rules for everything and anything. The penalties for breaking the rules were draconian to the point of being medieval.

It was early evening, and another deadman whistle blow, before Raymond finally was fed his simple dinner of corn chowder with ham and biscuits. Then he was taken to the barracks where he was assigned the top bunk, above a taciturn man named 'Chuck'. As he lay back, calming himself for sleep, he noticed the poster glued to the ceiling above him. There was one above every wooden double bunk, and almost certainly one underneath him, visible to Chuck, below.

It was a demonic-looking drawing of Celestia, staring at the viewer, with malice in her eye. There was text above and below the image.

Is Genocide