• Published 12th Aug 2019
  • 1,173 Views, 72 Comments

The Horizon Behind Us - Syke Jr



Gingersnap has never had to fear death. But to ponies from the outer realm, death is a big deal.

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Chapter 9 - Shakespeare

"—I mean, wow. It's almost Shakespearean."

"It's almost what now?"

"...Shakespearean."

But I don't know what he's talking about. I give no indication of recognition.

He stops walking. “Hang on, Gingersnap. You know a fair bit about human history, you’ve been reading books from Earth… and yet the name ‘Shakespeare’ doesn’t ring a bell?”

We’re heading away from the library toward Dreamwalker Park, nearly five months since Silver first emigrated. It’s a wonderful autumn day and neither of us felt like doing anything else. Apparently going for a walk is something Silver never did in the other world, but we've taken to wandering. Neither of us really leads the other. We just walk.

I think a little before answering. “No. Was he an author?”

Silver looks up at the sky, taking a breath. He has the look on his face I’ve come to recognise, the one that means he’s about to tell me all about something and love every second. Our previous discussion about a new graphic novel we've read is forgotten. We resume our walk.

“He’s the author. The bard. The single pony who—” he stops, annoyed, scowls upward for a brief second—“the single person who really is as good as everyone says. He found our language lacking, and used his plays to make it better. Half the common phrases we use, on Earth and here in Equestria, can be traced back to Shakespeare.”

“Plays? He was a playwright?”

“Yes. Sorry. You really don’t know about him here? Romeo and Juliet? The most popular love story of all human time, ending in their deaths? Hamlet? The sta—the man holding the skull?”

Something rustles in my memory. “Hang on. Star-crossed lovers? To be or not to be?”

“Yeah! See? Shakespeare!”

“But I only know about those because we were playing otherworlders in a tabletop game once. Cloudy did some research for the setting. I didn’t even know those were two separate plays.” I think some more. “Which one had the witches in it? Bubble cauldron bubble?”

He looks vaguely taken aback. “No, that’s… that’s Macbeth. Cloudy merged together a bunch of them, it sounds like.” Now he looks disappointed, but brightens again after a moment; probably because he realises my lack of knowledge means he can talk about it more. “Did she at least get a whole soliloquy in?”

“I don’t know what that means.”

“A speech. A monologue.”

“I don’t think so. It was just background, honestly, our characters were focussed on finding the changeling in the theatre.”

“Changeling? Weren’t you playing humans in the outer realm?”

“No. I mean, the outer realm, yeah, but still, you know, ponies.” I give him a defensive look. “It wasn’t a mega in-depth setting.”

We’re in the park now, walking off the path, enjoying the grass under our hooves. The statue of Selene passes on our right, ponies lining the concrete steps, talking and sharing food, but we continue on.

“I get it.” He chuckles and shakes his head. “Still can’t believe it though. If you have them, why don’t ponies know? How can he not be as famous here as he was out there?”

I laugh a little, giving him a sly grin. “If he were as good as you say, I think he would be. You’re looking at it through rose glasses, Silver. Maybe your whole society was, too.”

“That’s… no. Even if that were true, even if his work didn’t hold up, and it does, it still remains that he was the most influential writer of all time. He sha—”

“Most influential in your language, on your version of Earth,” I interrupt, not dropping my grin.

“He shaped,” Silver says more loudly with a small glare, “the language. The language we’re speaking now. English, Ponish, whatever. I know this world, this shard, has a history, one that’s as real and meaningful as anything that happened in the outer realm. But the outer realm is still prior. Without everything that happened to create Celestia, this world doesn’t exist. We don’t exist. And whatever you say, Shakespeare influenced the world enough that without him it’s more than likely that the cartoon, and so the game, and so Celestia just would never have happened.”

I say nothing. A moment of silence passes. He takes the bait.

“What do you mean, ‘my version of Earth’?”

“Well. How do you know that your version of Earth is the only one that exists? You know how the shards here work. Maybe your Earth was just one shard with lots and lots of ponies sharing it. If we went looking, we might find an immigrant from a different Earth. One where Shakespeare never existed.”

He takes a moment. “No. That’s not possible. For a lot of reasons. First of all, in a sense we’re still in the same world. The same universe. Celestia’s hardware in the outer realm is just simulating this reality. Not that it’s any less real,” he quickly interjects, seeing my mouth open, “but it’s a subset of the outer realm. And there can only be one. It’s called determinism. The universe we live in is the one where Celestia came to power, and the one where Shakespeare wrote his sonnets. It’s impossible to separate the two.”

“So you don’t believe in the multiverse theory?”

He looks surprised, wary. I smile inwardly. “Explain.”

“Well, the other world, the universe, as you say, runs on physical laws that seem to have an underlying randomness. Right?”

He nods, looking a little shocked that I know a bit about otherworldly physics.

“That suggests that there are an infinitude of universes, spiralling out from the beginning of time and space, each deterministic only as far as the interactions in between quantum events with multiple possible outcomes. Right?”

“I’m… not sure that’s how it works.”

“Oh? How does it work?”

He doesn’t say anything, just glowers a little. I feel justified in another grin.

“Right. So let’s imagine for the moment that it’s roughly right. Even if it’s not, I know some of the very smartest ponies on your Earth had a similar idea. The upshot is that there are an infinitude of possibilities, and infinitude of universes.”

“Okay, but that’s not to say that they all exist. It’s just as logical to say that ours is the one that exists, not the others. The wavefunction has collapsed.”

“Oh really? What observation collapsed it?”

He’s thrown. “Ours?”

I jump on it. “Okay! But what if the ponies in the other possible universes also collapsed the wavefunction? Is there any way to argue that they couldn’t? Is there even anything special about a mind? The very fact that it’s a possible universe implies its existence. Everything that can happen does happen. In the other universes in the multiverse, the wavefunction was also collapsed and so they exist.”

“That’s…” he pauses. “You’re throwing a lot out there. Just because there’s a potential multiverse doesn’t mean there’s an actual one. You’re trying to pull the ontological argument. Even if you prove necessary existence, you’ve said nothing about what exists in reality.”

I think for a moment. “Alright. But nothing is changed or threatened by their existence. Nothing changes about the outer realm you know just because other outer realms exist. There’s no reason to prefer one conclusion over the other.”

“Okay.”

“Okay. So let’s imagine for the moment that there is a multiverse, and there are an infinitude of outer realms, and in an infinitely large fraction of those, Celestia as we know her came to exist, regardless of the other facts about the outer realm in question.”

He stops walking, chewing his tongue as I stop too and face him, head cocked. “I still think there’s a dangerously big assumption in there somewhere,” he says firmly. The wind rustles through our manes.

“But you see the point. There’s nothing immediately illogical about an infinitude of Equestrias in an infinitude of very different outer realms, created from the same basic source code, the Celestia program before it got smart. How do you know, by looking at a shard, which outer realm it belongs to? You can’t. It’s as if it’s all one big Equestria, spanning the multiverse.”

“But each Equestria is being run by a different Celestia. It doesn’t matter how similar the universes are, like you said, they can’t affect one another. There’s an infinitude of Celestias, all unable to communicate with one another. You can’t travel between Equestrias; they’re all locked off.”

“But Celestia could create a pony, just like she created me, that has memories of an Earth. This pony believes they’re an immigrant, believes they have real memories of the outer realm. And the great part is, they do. Because somewhere out in the multiverse, there’s an outer realm that’s exactly like the one that Celestia made up. There has to be.

“So this pony has real memories, as real as mine, that tell him he’s from an outer realm where Shakespeare is remembered as the greatest bard in history. Because that outer realm is real, somewhere.

“But he exists in an Equestria that’s a subset of an outer realm where other things are true, like how Shakespeare was simply lost to time. And there are ponies in his Equestria, maybe even his shard, who remember that outer realm. Because they truly emigrated from there.

“How do you know, beyond doubt, that your outer realm isn’t half a multiverse away?”

He looks at me, thinking it over. Seconds pass.

Something appears in my peripheral vision.

SECRET BADGE GRANTED:
Existential Bullseye
Make a former human doubt their
original reality. 
+5000 Bits

“I’m not conv—” Silver stops and looks at something in his own peripheral. Then he sullenly looks up at the sky again. “Yeah, thanks, Celestia. Real proud to have that one under my belt.”

I know what that must mean. I give him a gleeful laugh and a slap on the back. “Read it out!”

“Existential Flesh Wound. ‘Let a native pony make you question the outer realm’s ontology’. Congrats, Snaps, you got me,” he says, trying to sound grumpy. I’m glad that I know him well enough to sense something else, there: amusement? Or maybe… pride?

I’m not done. “How much? How many bits?”

“...five.” Now his sullen tone is genuine.

I can’t help it. I laugh my head off.

When I’m done, and we’re able to move on again from the amused stares of the park’s patrons, he clears his throat. “You know, you’ve started down a rabbit hole now. You may have won the battle, but I will win the—” he pretends to struggle for words, but I can tell it’s an act—“next… battle.”

“Funny.”

“I can’t take credit. Inside joke.”

“Uh huh.”

“But seriously. I’ll take that argument to the ends of Equestria. To the ends of Eqqus. You don’t know what you’ve got yourself into, Snaps.”

“I’ll take my chances.”

We walk in silence for a few moments. I realise we’ve left Dreamwalker Park but we’re not heading anywhere in particular. We’re just wandering, down the street, down the hill towards the gentle shade of New Forest.

I break the silence. “You never told me what’s so great about Shakespeare, anyway.”

He does a double-take. I like how these days I seem to surprise him more than he surprises me. “Luna buck, you’re right.” He looks out over the forest while we’re still above the treeline. “That conversation really got away from me,” he muses.

I chuckle. “Well I’m giving it back. If he’s such an important pony, such a wordsmith, convince me. I want to hear it.”

He smiles. Really smiles. He’s never happier than when he gets to share these things, these human wonders, with a pony like me. “I can show you, instead of just telling you.” He looks at me quizzically. “You never heard a full speech? Nothing after ‘to be or not to be’?”

I shake my head. “Not to my memory.”

“Well. My memory, happily, can provide.” He clears his throat. Despite myself, I’m excited. For all I know, Silver might not be full of shit. I could be about to hear something special. He begins to recite.

To be, or not to be… that is the question. Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles… and by opposing, end them. To die, to sleep; no more.” He pauses, thinking. “And by this sleep we end the heartache and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to. To die, to sleep… to sleep, perchance to dream… aye, there’s the rub. For in that sleep of death what dreams may come, when we have shuffled off this mortal coil, must give us pause.”

I’m silent for a moment. Whether my coat is standing on end because the great bard’s words hath touched my soul, or whether it’s simply Silver’s reverent tone, dripping with wist and melancholy, that elicited that reaction, I can’t know. “It… it certainly has weight.”

“You know, I hadn’t thought about that soliloquy for a long time, until today.” He pauses, thinking on something. “Which is mental, considering how relevant it is to the whole emigration thing.” Once more I stay silent. “In that sleep of death, what dreams may come,” he murmurs, as if only to himself, “when we have shuffled off this mortal coil…

“I need to see it written down,” I say, shaking my head with a smile. “I can tell how much you care about showing me how good he is, but I don’t see it yet.” I shoot a grin. “Even with your masterful recital.”

“I don’t even know if I got it totally right,” he says sheepishly. “But don’t you worry. I can show you more. Even if you don’t love him as much as we humans do… I think you’ll get it.” He rolls his eyes, still incredulous. “A world without Shakespeare…”

My mind wanders as we walk further down the trail, trees beginning to flank our path more closely. I remember something I forgot to ask about, or avoided asking until now. “You said…” I hesitate, knowing the subject is touchy, but he’s already looking at me. “You said the park was named after your Dad.”

He gives a slow nod, looks at the ground pensively.

“How so?”

“Dad was…” he pauses. “Dad was a gamer like us. Video games, tabletop, hell, LARP when he was young…” He realises how much he has to say, stops, thinks. “He played Dungeons and Dragons with Gary Gygax once. The man who created it. And, by extension, all the similar games we play in Equestria.”

He sees me start to roll my eyes and grin, shoots me a glare before I start. “Prior.

“Anyway, when we played video games, RPGs, his characters were always something he invented called Dreamwalkers.”

“Ah. I see.”

“Yeah. They had powers not too dissimilar to Selene’s. Darker, I guess. And more needlessly complicated.” He shakes his head at a memory. “He would change the quote on his profile every few weeks, and it would always be something about dreams…”

Silence again as we fall into the grasp of the forest. Shadows play on Silver’s coat, and mine; it’s cooler here, and quieter.

Silver’s voice is quieter, too, but clearer when he says, “The day he died, the quote was a Shakespeare one.”

I simply wait. Our breathing sounds almost loud, here. Sure enough, he breaks the stillness.

We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep.”

A second passes. I look over, and see him crying. It’s silent, impossibly so; he’s not breathing. But tears are falling fast. I put a hoof out to stop him. We halt, there in the forest, and I simply give him what he needs. A hug. I try to put a lot of unspoken words into it. I think I know him well enough that it’s the right thing to do.

He takes a deep, halting breath in, and lets it out again with something almost like a moan. I don’t move; I don’t need to. We’re both where we need to be.

After a few moments, a few breaths, a few sniffles, he nods. I unwrap my forelegs, step back, and we resume walking as if we’d never stopped.

I speak this time. “Is that part of a monologue?”

He chuckles wetly. “Yeah, it is.”

“Do you know it?”

“Yeah, I mean… I had to learn it, after he…. it’s from The Tempest. And Luna buck… thinking about it, it’s just as poignant to humankind’s end as the first one I recited.”

Again, I stay quiet. And again, I was right to.

Our revels now are ended. These our actors, as I foretold you, were all spirits, and are melted into air, into thin air....

I sigh contentedly as I listen. He continues, his voice growing stronger as he goes.

I realise how much happier I am with a genuine friend, somepony more than just a gaming buddy, more than just a conversational sparring partner behind a screen. More than somepony you see once a week and pretend to be someone else, something else, the whole time. This is better. We’ve left the trail behind, now; we’re walking down a gentle slope among the trees, a soft bed of leaves under our hooves.

I would never have thought that Celestia would send an immigrant, an otherworlder, a former human, to me.

Perhaps she didn’t. Perhaps we found each other. He isn’t what I expected, but what expectations could I possibly have had? I understood little of his world; he understood little of mine. It seems to have worked out. We somehow found our common ground, and built something on it.

I realise that I wasn’t listening as he finishes his speech. He doesn’t notice. We’re still walking placidly along, deeper into the forest, into the unknown.

I’ll read the ...soliloquy later; I’ll appreciate it more on a page anyway. For now, with Silver Star, among the trees and autumn leaves, I’m satisfied.

SECRET BADGE GRANTED:
Beyond the Horizon
Realise what it means to have a 
wonderful friendship ahead of you.
+1000 Bits
Author's Note:

Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits, and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp'd tow'rs, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on; and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.

	- The Tempest, Act 4, Scene 1