• Published 25th Dec 2018
  • 884 Views, 73 Comments

The Iron Ho-Ho-Horse: Hearth's Warming By The Numbers - The Hat Man



Hearth's Warming with the family is traditional! A family made up of robots... that's less traditional. Turing Test decides to unite her robotic siblings and their creator for a holiday gathering in Mustangia in this collection of vignettes.

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Four

Cobbler Mustang grunted as he tried to close his overstuffed suitcase.

“Do you require assistance, Father?” 004 asked in his deep, rumbling voice.

Cobbler shook his head. “Nothing personal, 004,” he said, “but given your strength, I’m afraid you might simply crush my suitcase.”

“Flattening your luggage would reduce the amount of space it would occupy on the train,” 004 replied. “Would that not be advantageous?”

Cobbler looked over his shoulder at 004, raising an eyebrow suspiciously.

“That was an attempt at humor. Ha ha, Father.”

Cobbler cracked a smile as he went back to packing the suitcase. He and Unit 004, the most recent of his robotic creations, were both in the wide, circular room at the top of the tower that served as his prison cell. He’d been there ever since leading the rebellion against Celestia and heading up the attack on Canterlot. Though he’d been defeated, he’d found solace in his newfound family, realizing his creations had minds of their own, and now worked to create new machines and provide expertise in the new technological movement that was sweeping the nation.

“Jokes, eh? Well, my boy, I must say that’s quite a novel development,” he said. “You’ve got a ways to go, but I suppose everypony’s sense of humor is different. Your sister Turing Test’s jokes are rather, um… unique, after all.”

004 tapped his chin. “Commencing second attempt at humor,” he said. “Father: how does one refer to a maize specimen that is unlike all others?”

Cobbler furrowed his brow. “I can’t say, son,” he said, turning to face him. “What do you call it?”

“A ‘unique corn.’” He then switched to his ‘U-mode,’ causing a metallic horn to extend from his forehead.

Cobbler winced, shaking his head. “Oh, 004,” he groaned.

“It is my understanding that ponies find the similarity of words and phrases to be a source of humor,” 004 explained, retracting the horn. “In this case, it is the similarity of the phrase ‘unique corn’ to the pony race known as ‘unicorn.’ I was told this joke by a colt who spoke to me on the street recently. He appeared to find it quite amusing.”

Cobbler rolled his eyes, but gave 004 a good-natured smile. “Yes, it was a very nice joke, son,” he said. “Maybe not the best I’ve ever heard, but I’ve certainly heard worse.”

004 raised his head. “Compliment accepted,” he said.

Cobbler made a face as he looked again at his luggage. “Maybe I should take a few things out,” he muttered. “But so many of these things are for the family.”

“We still have ample time to arrive at the train station, Father,” 004 said. “However, it may be wise to expedite this process in case of complications.”

“Yes, yes, I know,” Cobbler said. “Well, while I mull this over, how have things been going at your job, son?”

“If you are referring to my position guarding Cubic Zirconia’s jewelry shop,” 004 said, “then things have not been proceeding well.”

“Oh?”

“To be more specific, things have not been proceeding at all: I was terminated last week.”

Cobbler’s jaw dropped open. “What? Why?! And why didn’t you tell me?!”

“Ms. Zirconia stated that my presence, while a strong deterrent to potential thieves, was also a deterrent to customers. Therefore, she ended my employment. She expressed regret and thanked me for my service, but was firm in her decision. As for why I did not tell you…”

Cobbler’s gaze softened as 004 trailed off and looked away.

“Youngest sister expressed disappointment when I informed her of my termination. Though I have earned sufficient means to continue staying at my domicile, I still experienced an emotional response that I believe to be… shame.” He paused, narrowing his blue LED eyes. “003 has had great success integrating into society with organics. Though she sometimes encounters those who are hostile to robots and her high position in Equestrian society, she is still widely regarded. I, however, seem unable to form many friendships, and few ponies express willingness to employ me despite my abilities.

“I do not wish to be seen as a disappointment. Thus, I reasoned that if 003 was disappointed, then your disappointment would be greater. It was my hope that I would find employment again before you learned of my predicament.”

Cobbler frowned. “I see,” he said quietly. “And the Royal Guard? Have you had any luck with your application?”

“I am still on ‘the waiting list’ for consideration.”

“Dang it, boy, you’ve been on there for months!” Cobbler growled. “It sounds like the military brass is giving you the runaround! I’ll have Turing Test talk to Celestia and—”

“I must ask that you do not,” 004 said firmly. “Father, I wish to find success on my own. If ponies are going to reject me, then I do not wish for 003 to influence others to ‘force’ them to accept me. I wish to be more successful on my own.”

The old stallion looked at his only son, the towering mechanical stallion he’d designed to be the pinnacle of strength, and saw in him a vulnerability that he’d never seen before. He went over to him and placed his forehooves on 004’s broad shoulders.

“Now you listen to me, son,” he said, causing 004 to meet his eyes. “It isn’t your fault that ponies have trouble talking to you; it’s mine.”

“No, Father, I do not blame you—”

“Whether you blame me or not hardly matters,” Cobbler said. “My engineers and I originally designed for you to be a soldier. We designed you to be big and strong and to strike fear into the heart of the enemy. It never occurred to us to make you, ah… approachable. But now I do believe that it’s coming back to bite you in the flank. I’ve been considering your position and come to the conclusion that your troubles might stem from the fact that the Guard worries that you’ll intimidate your comrades as much as the enemy. It’s high time I acted like a father and made up for my past mistakes.”

He adjusted his coat and went over to one of the suitcases he’d already packed. He opened it and took out a present that he’d wrapped. It has a tag on it that said “To: 004 / From: Daddy.”

“Since I need to make room in my suitcase anyway, I might as well give you this present early,” Cobbler said with a smile on his face.

004 held up the present. “This is a present.”

“Well, obviously, boy,” Cobbler said, rolling his eyes.

“Father… you gifted me my LED eyes, similar to 003 and 001, but this… this is my first Hearth’s Warming present.”

“Well, the first of many, I might hope,” Cobbler said.

“As do I. However,” 004 said, his eyes fixated on the present, “is it not customary to open such gifts on Hearth’s Warming day?”

“Ain’t no laws against opening a present or two early,” Cobbler chuckled. “And in this case, I truly want to give this to you now.” His expression softened. “Please, son. Let me do this for you.”

004 looked to his father and back to the present. “Understood,” he replied. “Now commencing unwrapping.”

004 swiftly tore open the wrapping and looked in the box. There was a mechanical component inside that was small enough to fit in a pony’s hoof.

“Scanning…” 004 said. “Identified: this device is a component used in the construction of myself and my siblings. It is a vital component in our synthetic audio systems colloquially known among the engineers as the ‘voice box.’”

Cobbler grinned expectantly.

004 only tilted his head to the side. “I do not understand, Father. This unit’s voice is functioning perfectly.”

Cobbler smacked his forehead. “No, son,” he sighed. “It’s a new voice for you. You’ll still have the option of your current one, but… well, frankly, your voice right now was designed to scare the pants off ponies.”

“Ah. I cannot measure its previous success as few ponies I encounter wear pants. Perhaps it is effective at a wide range?”

“My point is that this voice box right here will make you sound a bit more, ah, amicable,” Cobbler explained, “instead of like a demon gargling gravel. No offense.”

004’s eyes shrank to pinpricks. “Then perhaps fewer ponies will find me… frightening?”

“That’s the hope!” Cobbler said. He gestured to his toolbox that he’d placed on his workbench. “It shouldn’t take long to install if you’d like to try it out.”

004 was silent for a moment. Then he went to his father and, gently as he could, embraced him with his massive titanium forelegs. And in his rumbling voice, he managed to whisper, “Father… thank you.”

***

Turing Test stood patiently on the train platform in Canterlot, waiting until she heard the approach of several hoofsteps. She then turned to see the Royal Guards escorting Professor Cobbler Mustang, her creator, with her youngest sibling, 004, in tow.

“Good morning, Minister Turing,” said the lead guard. “I trust you are in good health?”

Turing Test used her LED eye to mimic raising an eyebrow.

“Er, right,” the guard said, blushing slightly. “Sorry, force of habit.”

Turing Test shook her head. “It is all right,” she said. “I see that you have escorted my father and brother here. Did you encounter any problems?”

“No, Minister,” he said. “It was a perfectly ordinary trip here. Now, before I leave him in you and your brother’s care, you understand that you are responsible for making sure that he does not escape and returning him to Canterlot in three days’ time?”

Turing nodded, placing a hoof on her chest solemnly. “You have my word,” she said. “Even if he his my father, I will not shirk in my duties or break my promise to Her Majesty. I am simply grateful to Princess Celestia for issuing my father a pass in recognition of his good behavior.”

“Very good,” the guard said. He passed her a scroll that contained the official notice of transfer, and she signed it.

“All right, Professor Mustang,” the guard said. “You are now in the care of your daughter and son. Please stay out of trouble and have a happy Hearth’s Warming.”

“Thank you kindly, Lieutenant Galea,” Cobbler replied, giving him a warm smile as he tipped his top hat to him. “Give my regards to your family as well.”

Lieutenant Galea returned the smile and saluted Turing Test. “He’s in your hooves, Minister. Please enjoy your holiday.”

With that, he and the other guards departed.

“My my my,” Cobbler said, “they certainly made quite the fuss about bringing so many guards to escort one old stallion to catch his train. I’d think it was quite clear that I’ve no intention to escape. But never mind that… it’s good to see you again, sweetheart.”

He embraced Turing Test, who hugged him in return.

“I am very happy to see you again as well, Father, and you as well, Brother,” she said. “But perhaps I should clarify, Father: the guards were not to prevent your escape, but for your protection.”

“Oh?” he asked, furrowing his brow. “Well, I suppose I am not particularly well-liked by many of the Canterlot population… not that I blame them.”

He looked around and noticed a fair number of ponies on the train platform whispering and giving him suspicious or even outright hostile glances.

“That may be true,” Turing said. “But, in truth, the greater threat may be from former members of TechQuestria.”

Cobbler frowned. “Ah. I see.” He heaved a sigh. “So, some of the more violent members of TechQuestria who fled after our surrender still hold some grudge against me?”

“That is undetermined, Father,” she said, “though it is a concern. You see, there have been some sightings in Canterlot recently of strange devices that resemble TechQuestrian drones. There is a chance that a remaining faction of TechQuestria that still intends to carry on the rebellion is carrying on reconnaissance. I have personally caught sight of such machines on two separate occasions, though my attempts to chase down and capture one were fruitless.”

Cobbler stroked his chin. “That is most disturbing news,” he said. “I will keep my guard up, but you two should most certainly do the same. Even if you are robots, you are not invincible, not least of all to ponies with potential knowledge of your workings.”

“I assure you that I will exercise caution, Father,” she said. “I am certain that you will do the same, will you not, 004?” she added, looking over to 004 expectantly.

004 looked to Cobbler, who nodded and gave a grin.

“I will indeed, Sister,” he said.

Turing froze. “Oh. 004, your voice! It is noticeably different from before!”

004 nodded, noticing the proud grin on Cobbler’s face. “You are correct, Sister,” he said. “Father determined that my previous voice was far too intimidating to most organic ponies, and he therefore gave me an early Hearth’s Warming gift of a new voice that was more acceptable. Do you approve?”

004’s voice was still low and masculine, but now rather than sounding like an electronic snarl, he had a distinguished baritone that sounded almost natural, were it not for his robotic cadence and the reverberation from his metal faceplate.

“I am often a poor judge of pleasing sights and sounds,” Turing replied. “However, in my experience, I find your voice far more similar to voices organics seem to find pleasing. I believe it will be a positive change.”

004 raised his head, his eyes forming upward curves that indicated he was smiling.

“Well, then,” Cobbler said, clapping his hooves together, “before the train comes, and if my ‘guards’ do not mind, I’d like to buy some snacks for the long ride. I see a concession stand nearby, after all.”

They both nodded and watched as he walked to the nearby stand.

“I am glad you approve of my new voice, Sister,” 004 said. “I also notice that you did not mention to Father the other possibility regarding the drone sightings. I am somewhat surprised he did not raise the possibility himself.”

Turing nodded. Lowering her voice as she leaned toward him, she said, “It is possible that mentioning my other hypothesis regarding the drones’ origin would either fill him with dread or with false hope. Given the elusiveness of the drones, however, I find it difficult to believe that they were piloted by any organic pony. Thus, they either utilized a fairly advanced form of automation or their pilot was not organic.”

004’s gaze did not move from watching Professor Mustang, but his voice also became more hushed.

“Then you more strongly suspect that it is our other sister,” he said. “Unit 002.”

Turing Test tapped her chin lightly, her ears twitching on their hinges. “I cannot rule out the possibility. But if that is so, then we must cease asking ‘Who’ and begin asking ‘Why?’ For what purpose would 002 be spying on Canterlot, and perhaps on us?”

“If she still carries a grudge against Father, then we truly must be on guard,” 004 said, meeting her eyes. “We have both been subjected to her manipulation before.”

“Agreed,” Turing said. “Still…”

When she didn’t continue, 004 asked “Still?”

“I merely wonder if her intentions are perhaps more benign than we suspect,” she replied. “It may be foolish to think so, but I maintain my hope that she will one day reconcile with our family.”

“That does not seem likely,” 004 said, turning his attention back to Cobbler. “However, many ponies do seem to believe in the possibility of ‘Hearth’s Warming miracles.’ Perhaps one will occur for us.”

Turing narrowed her eyes. “Perhaps,” she said, “but even were I capable of drawing breath, I would not hold it.”

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