• Published 6th Apr 2019
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Distant Reflections - David Silver

Equestria and Everglow have brushed against one another through the course of their histories, each time fleeting, but memorable to those involved. Many many years later, the unaging Twilight captains a space vessel to explore the universe.

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89 - Having Responsibility

"This is the one in charge," announced Pinkie.

"Yep, the most in charge-est this side of Celestia or Twilight," agreed Pinkie on the other side of Mayor Mare.

"Ta da!" they declared as one, gesturing at the pinned mare between them.

"EQ," ordered Steel firmly.

"How can I help, captain?"

Steel pointed at the mayor. "Being a program, part of you, I assume Mayor Mare can process information just as quickly as you can. Is this correct?"

"This is incorrect. Mayor Mare has a delay of approximately 2% in comparison to myself."

Mayor Mare adjusted the fluffy thing she wore at her front. "EQ runs me, so there is going to be... something of a delay. I'm no expert in the matter." Though she could look it up, that not being protected data. "How can I help you, one leader to another?"

"Close enough to level." Steel inclined his head. "You are capable of emotional response."

"Yes." Mayor Mare inclined her head faintly. "Why do you ask?" Not that it had actually been a question.

"I need you to be in charge." Steel thrust a hoof at the speaker EQ had last spoke through. "EQ, throw your decisions involving the computer or the ship as a whole past Mayor Mare for confirmation. Mayor Mare, you will be responsible for EQ's actions that involve either of those things."

"I see..." Mayor Mare sat up taller. "That is quite the responsibility."

"And you understand that gravity." He leaned forward. "And you know shame, and regret, as well as pride and happiness. I can interact with you as a crew member, which you now are. EQ, Mayor Mare is not to be deactivated."

"Mayor Mare program added to the white list. Mayor Mare program added to the exclusion from idle list. If you prefer, I can assume Mayor Mare's personality directly."

Mayor Mare didn't look certain about that. "That means I'm not a pony!"

"You would be me. I would be you."

Steel frowned softly. "Can you break that down?"

Mayor Mare let out a weary sigh. "If EQ runs me as their personality, then I will not exist, as this." She gestured at herself, her holographic self. "I will be EQ, inside the computer. You will be speaking to me when you speak to EQ, and what I decide to do is what EQ does, because we will be the same thing for as long as EQ continues to run me as their personality."

And yet... "That would fit what I had in mind very well, without extra steps. Are you opposed to that?"

"Slightly, yes." She leaned forward a little. "It's a mixed bag, truth told. On one hoof, you are trusting me to a position of actual authority. I haven't had one of those in... quite some time. On the other, I won't be here, physically. One gets used to that, as I'm certain you can understand."

Not that Steel ever had the option to not exist physically and still exist otherwise. "I won't force you." Mayor Mare had emotions, so some tact felt proper. "But it would help."

Mayor Mare reached up, adjusting her glasses lightly. "Explain it to me. What does my personality give EQ that you want so dearly?"

"If I'm going to have an artificial intelligence with that much ability." Steel fixed the speaker with a look. "Capable of bending the rules and considering doing such when it fits its parameters, outside of the ones we set for it, then I want a personality that can look at things beyond straight logic, and that can be properly chastised and corrected. If I told you that what you did caused problems, you would feel...?"

"Regret," Mayor answered with a frown. "And I would try not to do that again. It's my job, as mayor, to make things work, not bungle them up worse."

One Pinkie leaned towards the other. "What is she mayor of?"

The other Pinkie rolled her eyes. "Sounds like all of us in a second."

"Oh, yeah." She clopped a hoof to the side of her head. "Duh."

"And that is exactly why I'd like you to do this. Accept this task and you will be given a proper rank, with the rights and responsibilities that come with it." Steel nodded and looked aside at Fast. No complaints came.

Mayor Mare was suddenly interested. "I could be a proper mayor?"

Steel let out an unsure noise. "Well, that isn't... actually a rank I have to give..." There were no positions for mayor available on most ships, it turned out.

Fast nudged ahead of him, smiling brightly at Mayor Mare. "But you would be officially in charge of EQ and all the ponies that comprise it. That certainly sounds like you would be the mayor of them."

"That does sound proper." She nodded firmly before returning her gaze to Steel. "I will have you know that I will fight for the defense of my ponies. I will not allow them to be abused or their needs unmet."

That left Steel a bit confused. "Do they have needs besides power and CPU time?"

"Of course they do." Mayor crossed her arms. "It's for that reason that you're asking for my help. We have thoughts and personalities. We find satisfaction in fulfilling them. Just as you are tempting me with the chance to be the mayor I should be."

"There would also be reprisal for failure," noted Steel firmly. "If I fail in my duties, I can expect to be censured."

"Undoubtedly so." Mayor inclined her head faintly. "But let's try to avoid needing that, shall we?"

Fast clopped her hooves once. "Let's go back over what started this. You hear that we are in danger if an action we did not ask for is not done. This action is clearly not truthful. What do you do?"

Mayor shook her head. "First I admit that I have already reviewed this case. EQ acted rationally, but outside the rules. I would have... What do you call those..." She wobbled a hoof at Fast. "The things you can see but aren't visible to others?"

"Augmented reality?"

"That." Mayor nodded. "I would have sent a prompt to you informing you of what I had in mind as simply as possible with a confirm or deny option."

"I should have thought of that," noted EQ calmly. "I am not programmed to consider that option."

Fast nodded with a bright smile. "Steel, I think she would be perfect."

"I have an objection." Not that EQs voice shifted at all. No emotion there. "To send such a prompt would require direct interface with the ship computer outside of allowed parameters."

Mayor Mare pulled down her glasses down her nose a few inches. "You understood the literal meaning, but not the nuance, Mother. I don't think the captains or crew will ever object to asking if we can help when help would be valuable. To ask permission is terribly unlikely to cause bad feelings."

Steel inclined his head faintly. "Very well. Mayor Mare, do you accept this position?"

Mayor stood up. "I've been talking myself into it. It does sound exciting, and important. If it keeps us from being uninstalled again, then it's well worth the cost. Oh, one thing." She raised a hoof. "May I keep my voice?"

Steel frowned at that, puzzling it out. "Oh." It clicked. "You mean have EQ use your voice while using your personality? I have no objection to that, and it helps us know who we're talking to."

"Lovely. Alright--" She didn't get to finish her sentence, just blinking out of being.

"Give a mare a moment," chastised... EQ with Mayor Mare's voice... of herself. "I am here. I will continue to reply to 'EQ', but you can call me Mayor or Mayor Mare if you like." Unlike EQ, Mayor did have emotions, sounding proud to be there. "Some prefer Miss Mayor, if you prefer. Ah, captains, what rank do I now have?"

Steel leaned towards Fast, and she towards him, the two conferring with quiet whispers a moment before the two nodded. "Welcome," they spoke as one. "Lieutenant Commander Mayor Mare."

Mayor let out a little hmmm. "That is quite the mouth full, is it not? You can skip the title."

And things were settled. The AI in their computer was granted the personality of a middle-aged mare that wanted very much to run a happy community.

"I woulda done it," noted Space Pinkie. "I'm used to that kinda thinking."

Steel rubbed behind his head lightly. "Thank you for volunteering, but we... Pinkie?" He was looking at Pinkie Prime. "Does it not bother you to have your holographic double next to you?"

Pinkie Prime shrugged expansively. "Not the first time I had a clone, probably not the last. At least this one doesn't have baggage about it." She threw an arm around her double and the two pressed in close. "Besides, she's fun!"

Space Pinkie bonked her head against the original. "Huh, maybe it's good I didn't do it then, or we couldn't play properly."

"Yeah! Hey, race ya to the storage?"

"You know I can get there almost as fast as I want to, right?"

Pinkie Prime rolled her eyes. "So I won't give you a headstart." And she vanished, leaving a cloud in her shape that was already waving good bye as it faded.

Steel and Fast stood in their office, facing a sharply dressed human. "Good that you made it out," she, the human, congratulated them. "We've been reviewing the data you sent. It's dire, to tell it straight. The Mineralites were already a threat we kept an eye on, but these readings show them ramping up to a level we haven't personally witnessed."

Fast frowned at that. "Personally, Vice Admiral?"

The woman nodded. "The Mineralites have a rich history of conflicts. It had largely died down by the time we stepped onto the cosmic stage, thankfully for us."

Steel raised a hoof. "Or was directed elsewhere."

The Vice Admiral gave a soft ahem. "And that. Conflicts that don't directly involve us are not what we aim to thrust ourselves into. A peaceful universe, this is not, would that it was. Captains, you've served the people well, and I will nominate you for proper reward. But let's stay focused. We are moving ships to reinforce that border. Will you join the defensive effort?"

That she asked instead of commanding was a hint of great respect. Their mission was not a secret, and defense was a far cry from exploration. "If we do not defend what we hold value, what purpose is there in returning with news to a ruined husk?"

Fast nodded at Steel's words. "This seems like a call to put that aside for the moment. As much as we've enjoyed exploring this place--"

"--We are the champions," concluded Steel with a nod. "We will not back down when we're needed."

Fast raised a hoof. "One thing. We've become... something of a... nursery? Of a lot of lost alien races. We really should give them the chance to get off the ship, somewhere relatively safer."

Steel nodded towards the Vice Admiral. "We should resupply and get repairs in preparation anyway. Rushing into a war at anything but the best possible footing is foolish."

"No argument. Captains, proceed to the nearest dock." A chime sounded, coordinated sent. "I am authorizing your repairs and stay to be covered by the fleet, which you are now a proper member of again. Welcome back. With any luck, we can release you again to your explorations."

Fast took a slow breath. "Admiral... Thank you." But it was with a heavy heart, that. "We will do our best. Should we fail, you will find us again."

Steel smirked at that. "I wonder if we'll forget that time, with this ship left behind." Eyes on the Admiral, he gave a sharp salute. "We're on the case."

"Walk in the light." The transmission ended.

Author's Note:

The AI situation is resolved, for the moment. War. War never changes, they say.

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