• Published 3rd Aug 2019
  • 748 Views, 51 Comments

The Filly Within - Detsella Morningdew



With all the evidence stacked up against her, can Sweetie Belle remain herself? A Sweetie Bot story.

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Chapter 5: Signals

Twilight froze in horror, blind from the flash so close to her, yet the image still burned into the back of her mind. A lightning bolt, defying all odds and laws of electricity to strike the filly she was trying to calm.

Pegasi had magic that let their controlled lightning hit targets contrary to the natural versions behavior, and for a brief moment, she was angered by the thought of foul play. But that didn't make much sense, either. The rest of the weather team always kept a close eye on the storm, to make sure it didn't get out of hoof and to make sure non-trained pegasi stayed well away. And now was certainly not the time to investigate.

Still half-blind, she ran up the grassy hill, glad that the thick grass stopped the ground from becoming a slippery, muddy mess.

Twilight ran up to Sweetie's prone form, preparing her magic to rush her away to the hospital, but as her vision finally cleared, it fizzled out.

What she saw on the ground there certainly looked a bit like Sweetie. But it didn't look much like a filly.


Sweetie Belle did not, in fact, lose consciousness, though one might have forgiven her for thinking she had. She could not see. She could not hear. She couldn't even feel any part of her body. She wouldn't have even considered taste as something she was doing before, but the sudden lack of it was unnerving. And her sense of smell was out of the question.

But that unnerving feeling was the first thing that made her realize that she was not, in fact unconscious. And her thought made her realize that unconscious ponies don't think when they are unconscious. That was, like, the whole point. Maybe they dreamed or something, but she definitely wasn't doing that. This felt way too real.

The blackness didn't feel black. It didn't feel empty. It wasn't even like she was trapped in a box. There just wasn't anything. That scared her more than anything.

It was her search for something, anything, that she could feel, that made her find it. It wasn't what she was looking for, of course. But it was something besides her own thoughts, and she hung onto it like a leech. It was a number. Just one. It was a one, in fact.

It was attached to something, though. Some letters, and some weird symbols, that spelled out 'safe_mode.'

Safe was good. Safe was very good. Maybe she could make the number more safe? She tried to change it to a million. That didn't work. She then tried a much more reasonable value of two. Still, nothing happened.

If Sweetie could have groaned, she would have. This was infuriating. Could she even change what she was seeing here?

Well, maybe it's just supposed to indicate how safe I feel. And I don't feel safe at all.

So she tried to change it to zero.

It was numbers. Lots of numbers. All the numbers.

Numbers all the way down.


Twilight didn't know what to do. The flesh-and-blood sister of her friend was nowhere to be found, a metal... something in her place. Whatever pony made this machine was clearly a master of their craft, but the fact remained that there should have been a filly right there.

Nopony was around, and it wasn't as if anypony was hiding. She checked. With her magic. There was no way that this machine had been swapped with Sweetie Belle, and despite her brain working on overtime, she couldn't think of a reason why somepony would replace her with such an obvious fake.

The metal plates had been painted with her exact coat color, her mane and tail could almost fool her that they had been real, and the attention to detail on her face... it was almost expressive, if completely inactive.

The only conclusion that Twilight's brain could come to was that Sweetie Belle was this machine, but that idea was clearly insane. After all, no machine could act like a pony. Not even the best come-to-life spell actually made something sapient. And besides, Sweetie Belle was nothing like this, despite the striking similarities in coat and mane color.

Thunder boomed again in the distance, shaking Twilight from her internal debate, and simultaneously providing a crucial data point that she had overlooked.

Her current appearance explains the odd behavior of the lightning.

Twilight readied her magic again, but the target was not Ponyville hospital. It was her library.

She disappeared in a flash, and the mechanical filly followed her.


Twilight's first impulse was to contact Princess Celestia about the problem. If there was anypony who wouldn't over-react to a situation, it would be her. And she would know what to do.

The problem was that she wasn't sure what to tell her. There were so many unknowns, all she could give to the Princess was theories. Was this Sweetie a replacement? Unlikely, but still possible. If not, how did she appear and act so normal for so long? And even if she was replaced earlier than the flash on that hill, it still had the same problem, except with an additional complication of motivation. And while she could think of plenty of those, Princess Celestia kept reminding her of Occam's Razor. The simplest solutions are usually the correct ones.

But the real problem, the one she was trying not to think about too much, was that she didn't even know if Sweetie Belle was even still... active. Whether she was a replacement, or she was a robot all along, whether there was a plot to overthrow Equestria or a simple filly trying to figure out her place in the world... the fact remained that she still had not moved. There were no whirring sounds, no lights.

A loud knock at the door startled her.

"Sweetie Belle? Are you still in there with Twilight? Putting this off won't help, you know!"

Twilight dashed to the door. She didn't have time to hide her, so the only option left was to stall. Or maybe reassure Apple Bloom enough where she would just leave.

Or apparently, both of her fellow Crusaders had come to confront her.

"Hey, girls! Um... what's the problem?"

"Hi, Twilight! We're just here for Sweetie Belle. Is she done with that thing she wanted to talk to you about?"

"Uh... oh that! No... no she is not done talking about... that thing."

Oh, right! It was about her lack of magic! Twilight smiled uneasily.

Apple Bloom gave her a look that reminded Twilight rather disturbingly of Applejack.

Uh oh.

"Twilight, helping her stall isn't going to help out in the long run. We all know... well, we know something about her that she needs to talk with Rarity about."

Twilight's train of thought skipped a few tracks, her body freezing up to reevaluate the current situation.

"Wait, you know?"

Both of the Crusaders blinked in surprise. "Wait... you know?"

Scootaloo looked past her into the library. "I thought she would want to tell Rarity first, at least."

"Well... I kinda found out on accident." Twilight stepped away from the doorframe, finally allowing Sweetie's friends out of the rain. "She got, um, upset about what we were talking about, and ran out into the storm, and um... got hit."

Both of them were rather confused, until the last of what Twilight said struck them, and the circumstances mattered a whole lot less. They pushed past her quickly, and cantered into the library proper, where they caught their first glimpse of their friend.

There was a pregnant pause.

"You never said she was a robot!"

Twilight covered her mouth. Oops.

"What happened‽"

"Um, well, she looked pretty normal until she got hit. Or maybe I noticed something when the magic scan spell I used had really weird results-"

Scootaloo suddenly had a look of comprehension.

Apple Bloom persisted. "Is she okay?"

Twilight's nervousness only increased. "I don't know! I only just got her here!"

Scootaloo leaned closer to her face.

"You didn't check that before you carried her?"

"I teleported, okay? There wasn't enough time, and it was raining! It still is!"

Scootaloo looked up. "Hey, Bloom? Miss Twilight?"

"It don't take much to check for a pulse?"

"Machines don't have pulses!"

She slammed her rear hooves into the wood floor, causing a loud crack to reverberate through the air. "HEY! Pay attention!"

Twilight paused. While Scootaloo was definitely a more... active filly, she was still usually quite polite to adults.

"There's lights on. Underneath her eyelids."

Oh.


This was worse than the nothingness. The nothingness was way better. The safe mode was telling the truth. Sweetie might have turned it on again, but she could no longer find the switch.

She felt like sitting down in a corner somewhere, but there were no corners. She still couldn't actually go anywhere. All she got was more numbers, none of which she could escape. They all demanded her attention. At least the letters she could ignore. But the numbers just had a way of sticking there, almost as if engraved in her head. Or taped to her eyes. But she still couldn't see.

After what felt like forever, and nothing changing, she tried to start looking for the letters. Maybe she could find the safe switch again. Switches were easy. They could only be zero or one. A lot of the numbers were not like this, though, and had a lot of those annoying decimals. These weren't the nice ones Cheerilee used in math class, though. These were the kinds that had, like, ten numbers after the point. And these usually had the annoying habit of changing constantly. And way too fast. All going directly to her head.

But zeros were easy. If she looked for only the zeros, and then the letters attached, she could find the safe switch and turn it to one.

The problem was that there were an awful lot of zeros.

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