• Published 11th Nov 2019
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Souls and Silicon - Syke Jr

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Chapter 1

The story begins when I was snatched from death.

When I awoke—into blackness, into numbness, into fear—I could not remember where I was. Who I was. There was nothing: no sound, no sensation, not a whisper or a breeze. For a moment I thought I was in a dream. But no. Dreams were my domain, and with a thought I would have been able to pull myself from the blackness and into the coherent realm.

But there in the silent dark I could not.

I began to panic.

I could feel my magic, but it was as though a great boundless emptiness existed betwixt my mind and soul: it was impossible to channel my power; it was as though my horn did not exist.

It was as though my body did not exist.

I… what was my name?

What was I?

The thoughts of horns and dreams and magic came as naturally as thoughts of breathing; and yet, now none of it made sense. What was breathing?

I screamed, or tried to scream, there in the silence.

There was nothing, there was no sense, no reason. The only thing I could be sure of is that time was passing. Time, I understood. The realisation that there was something to understand calmed me somewhat.

I tried counting the seconds, but confusion over exactly what a ‘second’ was cast me back into madness.

It was at that point that there was something new—a sense, an impression, glorious proof that I was, I existed, in some manner other than in my own imagination.

Suddenly I knew again what vision was.

What I saw through that first porthole into glorious reality was, of course, a pony.

***

Alarms sound, as is their function when things are not as they should be. The lights in the corridors are dim, and strips of red illumination guide any would-be survivors to the nearest means of escape.

Occasionally there is a great, twisting, groaning sound, and a slight tremor in the floors.

The bridge is empty, apart from two lone ponies. They stand before a great crystalline monolith, there in the bowels of the damaged starship. Most of the displays before them are nonfunctional. Those that are functional make for bleak consideration.

They tell the ponies that magical charge is below half capacity, that the life support is offline, that the processor banks are working at full utilisation and consuming a great deal of power.

This latter point is not a surprise to either the stallion or the mare. They knew what they were doing, because they had no choice.

There in the silicon databanks the Princess of the Night is awakening once more.

The ponies are silent as they stand there beside one another. They are careful not to look at each other. They simply regard the enormous crystal before them, as it gently glows and flickers with a soft blue colour.

The silence is heavy.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen now,” the stallion says after a time.

“That’s not really up to us,” the mare replies. “Once we get back with the Princess, she’s the one who decides what’s next.”

“No,” the stallion, whose name is Focus Array, responds with a small shake of his head. “I mean I don’t know if we’re going to get back.” He looks again at the screens before them. “We knew we might not make it. I don’t know if this changes anything.”

“The Princess will save us,” the mare says firmly. Her name is Whisper Star. “The virus can’t reach us out here. We’ll make it.” She pauses. “And if we don’t… she will. We did this for her.”

“Long live Eqqus,” says Focus quietly.

“Long live Eqqus,” Whisper Star says in response.

Focus Array waits another few moments before speaking. “We still shouldn’t be waking her up here. The plan was to get back to the fleet. We’re not the ponies to do this. They said that waking up in wirespace is,” here he swallows, “unpleasant and confusing. And we can’t help her.”

“We can try,” Whisper says.

At this point, the huge crystal before them pulses with a deep blue light, momentarily bathing the ponies in a soft glow. A small red light illuminates on the upright console in front of them. A whirring sound is heard behind a tiny, circular glass panel. They know what it is. Both stand up a little straighter.

Focus Array takes a breath and licks his lips, mouth suddenly dry at the thought of whose gaze regards him from the camera lens behind the glass.

“Princess,” says Whisper before her companion can find his voice, “can you hear us?”

There is a long pause, and more whirring behind the control panel. Then, a noise: static, or something like it. A sound that almost, if one were to listen closely, might suggest a pattern of speech.

The ponies glance at each other.

“We know you might not know where you are,” Focus says. “You might be confused. We’re sorry. We had no choice. We need you, Princess. And we’re here to serve.”

Whisper Star takes a step back and bows low before the Princess in the machine. Her companion, seeing this, follows suit. They wait there in the darkness. More noise comes from the console, more static, but with more of a form, a suggestion of coherence.

The ponies stand again, and Whisper turns to her companion. “How do we help her without another aspect to—”

“ě̴̼e̸̖͂a̵̞̓ả̴ͅģ̵͆ ̷̜͊g̸̼̋h̴̪͆h̴̯͋g̶̱͆ä̵̳a̵̳̚ ̴͍̈d̵̥̄o̷͓̽ń̷͙t̴͔̊ṳ̴̍n̸͚̊d̶̛̫e̵͖͂r̶̦̿s̶̻̿t̶̥͑à̵͓n̴̫̐d̶͖̓ ̶͍͑w̷̱̅ḫ̸͐ë̸̯́re I am don’t understand where I—”

“Princess Luna,” Focus interrupts excitedly, “we can hear you! Please let us explain. Anything you want to know.” He glances at the displays to their left with a small grimace, which he tries to hide as he looks back to the camera. “Though we… might not have much time.”

Another long pause. Then, the voice of Princess Luna once again emanates from the console before them.

It says,

“I want to know what I am.”

***

When I asked them what I was, I don’t know what answer I expected. I was afraid. Nothing made sense. Working out how to make myself heard was difficult enough; I could do nothing but simply cast my thoughts into the oblivion of vague impressions I was slowly beginning to notice, and hope.

They called me Princess. Called me Luna. And both of these things felt right. I was filled with relief at the sound of those voices. They told me what I knew, or thought I knew, or felt I knew, somewhere in the depths of my being. Luna, the Princess of the Night. I found that I knew some other things; I could name the stallion a unicorn and the mare an earth pony. I could see them breathing, see them blinking and moving, and knew then that those thoughts were not borne of insanity.

It raised the question of why I knew what it was to experience such things.

Was I a pony, before?

I must have been. And yet uncertainty tugged at my thoughts. So with my newly discovered voice, I asked.

The ponies were silent, and looked at each other briefly. The mare looked hopeful, determined. The stallion simply looked worried. It was he, though, that spoke:

“You are Luna, the Night Princess of Eqqus, creator of the Spirit Network and saviour of ponykind. You are… what we call an aspect. A spirit in a machine.”

Now that I was getting answers, no matter how difficult to swallow they might be, I was feeling much calmer. Less inclined to turn to panic. I thought on his words for a moment. Then,

“So I am merely a copy of the one you call Luna? An artifice, a mind trapped within a shell? While the true Princess lives and breathes elsewhere?”

“No!” interjected the mare in horror. “You are our Princess! You made yourself an aspect millennia ago.”

“What is the last thing you remember, your highness?” the stallion asked.

I thought. It was true that the longer I existed, the more I could remember, the more I could begin to understand. Perhaps… yes. I remembered having a body, one like the ponies before me. I remembered the rise of magitechnology, the impossible things being achieved by pure intellect, and next to no magical power, with the help of incredible machines.

I remembered my sister and I searching for a way to guide our little ponies to a future rushing up to us far too quickly.

Sister.

“What of Celestia?” I knew I again sounded close to panic. The thought of Celestia lit my mind like a torch. Suddenly new memories flooded into my consciousness.

“Princess Celestia is at war, your highness,” the mare said. She looked afraid to go on.

“Tell me,” I said to them, wishing I had the power to glare. A glare always worked, back in the day.

“Something called the Nightmare Virus has been let loose into the Spirit Network,” said the stallion. “And it has taken over a great deal of Eqqus.”

Memories, more memories… too much, too much. The Nightmare, the bane of my self, the demon that clawed at the edges of my sanity, and used my own power against me, against Equestria. Dread gripped my soul.

“If what you say is true, I cannot be here. The Nightmare is me.

“No,” the mare said forcefully. “Not any more. It infected you, took over, but it is not you. We’ve extracted you. Saved you.”

Saved me?

The stallion jumped in, “Retrieving your aspect from the grip of the Nightmare’s prison was our mission, and we’ve,” he paused briefly, “almost succeeded. We aren’t home yet. We weren’t supposed to awaken you yet. But we need you.” He bowed his head. “You need to take control of this vessel. It’s… we cannot lose the Nightsong. Until we get to the fleet, you exist only within this crystal and silicon.”

So much to take in, so much to try to understand. Again I felt the panic rise, forced it down with what would have been a snarl. “I need a moment,” I forced out. Both ponies bowed again, and retreated a couple of steps, whispering to each other.

So I was who I thought I was, if these ponies were to be believed. Princess Luna. Sister of Princess Celestia. Memories, memories… it had been my idea, hadn’t it? Of course it had. The concept was outlandish, unthinkable, mad. And yet the ponies we saved, saved by casting their souls into magical machines when their bodies failed, were happy. Content. Alive.

As the years went on, and it became harder to guide our nation against the tide of ever more wonderful and dangerous machines, the question had to be asked: why not us? Why should the immortal princesses be confined to flesh and blood, unable to control the magitech as the aspects could? I saw that we could herald an even greater age for our little ponies with the power given to us by the world of wires and silicon.

Why not ascend once more?

Yet try as I might I could not recall anything past this decision. Could millennia truly have passed? Of course, I knew that they could. ‘Tis what time does. And given that time, the Nightmare found a way to return…

With some effort I pulled myself away from recollections and into the here and now. “Pony,” I call, “explain what this vessel is and what you mean for me to do.” The ponies gave a start, and approached once more. “And tell me your names.”

“I’m Whisper Star,” said the mare.

“Focus Array,” said the stallion, “And this is a capital ship of the Great Spacefleet. One that we liberated, with the help of Princess Celestia, and expunged the Nightmare with a great deal of effort.” He licked his lips. “We’ve lost a lot of ponies on this mission, and a lot of power in our escape. We cannot take this ship home without your help. You need to control it from within.”

“I don’t know how,” I said simply. “I cannot sense anything, apart from your voices and the paltry viewpoint through which I regard you now. ‘Tis only me and my thoughts here in the blackness.”

“We call it wirespace,” Whisper Star said.

“I can give you access to all the ship’s systems, when you’re ready,” Focus supplied. “We were told it’s best for aspects to wake up apart from stuff like that.”

Ah. “You said we have little time. Why? And how much?”

Neither pony seemed to want to respond. They looked away, then at each other, then to something off to their left, then away again. Finally, Whisper spoke.

“The life support is offline. We have maybe an hour or two before things get really bad. No more air, no more heat. It won’t be long before the two of us… can’t survive, after that.”

Bewilderment, incredulity. “Then why did you not say so before now?”

“We don’t matter,” said Focus Array. “As long as you make it back, to lead us, that’s what matters. And aspects waking up are… fragile. We had to wait until you found yourself.” I could see, already, their breath crystallising in the air before them. Whisper was trying not to shiver.

“Consider me found,” I growled. I felt something new, now. Determination. “Give me access to whatever I need. And tell me what I need to do.”

***

The starship wherein now rests the newly reawakened Princess Luna is massive. Far above Eqqus, it languishes, immobile and decidedly battle-worn. The Nightmare did not let it escape without a fight. An observer would see that all the escape pods have been launched.

It drifts, alone in the blackness, between the shining world far below and the unseen fleet far above. Silently. Serenely.

Inside the starship, the sense of serenity is entirely absent. The consoles surrounding the crystal monolith flicker; the lights blink. A concerned Whisper Star looks on while Focus Array frowns at the displays before him.

“Princess, I don’t think whatever you’re doing is working. Remember, accessing the navcharts should—”

“Yes, yes, thou’st said as much many times now,” comes the impatient reply. “Thou hast brought me to life in an impossible situation and thou wilt be lucky if what little thou’st explained does anything to help. Now hush thyself if thou hast nothing useful to say.”

Abashed, Focus turns to his companion with a grimace.

“Did they talk like that back in the time of the ascension?” whispers Whisper to Focus.

“Nay,” says the voice of the princess, “it comes out when I’m agitated. Now be silent.”

***

How long did I grapple with the Starship Nightsong as it drifted along in the emptiness far above Eqqus? How many minutes went by as the last of the magical power drained, drained away to maintain my very consciousness?

I cannot answer. The task of deciphering that world, that baffling place called ‘wirespace’, robbed from me all sense of time. I asked the ponies for more information: they explained to me what airlocks were, and the functions of the bridge, and how the pulse engines would function if I could just find a way to will them into co-operation. Whisper and Focus were unable to control these things manually, as damaged as the vessel’s systems had become. Usually there were aspects to control the ship, but the mission had… proceeded poorly.

They told me that the ponies who had used the ‘escape pods’ would be considered missing-in-action and likely lost to the Nightmare. They told me that the life support systems were independent of the main power system, and the emergency link between them had been severed in the attack.

They told me there was nothing I could do to stop the heat and the air from slowly draining away, there in the depths of the starship.

And through it all, I tried desperately to channel my magic. Tried to cast the most basic warmth spells, the most reliable breathing charms. And yet I could not. My magic was accessible to me, but I could not push it out into the world, could not use it to save the two loyal subjects who had risked everything to deliver me from the Nightmare.

I was useless. Unworthy of my position and a shame to Equestria.

But I was starting to grasp the systems before me.

***

Look again at the slowly rotating ship, there against the boundless black. Where before its gyrations had been aimless, now they seem to have purpose.

An adjustment here, an adjustment there: hidden engines carefully point the ship in the direction of the stars, up above the world below. The direction, of course, of the hidden Starfleet.

Now the rotations cease, the ship points arrow-straight at its destination. Ice crystals can be seen spiderwebbing at the portholes, and at the wide viewpoints up above. Then a glow emanates from the rear engine. Soft at first, but brighter, and brighter, until with a flash the starship begins to move forward at considerable speed.

It is on its way.

***

“Please stay awake! You must stay awake!”

And yet, as I shouted into the hollow bridge, I knew that neither pony could hear me. They were huddled together, there before the great crystal that contained my being, huddled for the warmth that had long ago left them behind.

If I understood the data in my mind’s eye, they still had enough oxygen to survive, if only for a little longer. But the cold… the cold is cruel. I knew this, and I feared for them like I had for nopony else in centuries.

The starship was moving, then, hurtling into the black towards what I hoped was the ‘Great Spacefleet’. According to Focus, they would be able to take control of the ship when it approached, and I didn’t need to worry about slowing down at all.

So I poured all that I am—all my magic, all my will—into pushing the engines as hard as possible. This time, my magic responded. Pushing power into that system was just like casting a spell through an array, and I rejoiced in that small victory.

For an immeasurable amount of time, all I could do was wait, and hope beyond hope that Fate would be kind to these brave, loyal ponies, whose sacrifice I could never deserve.

Then, out of the blackness, I heard—or sensed—a new voice. It said:

“This is Fleet Command. Welcome back, Lambda Team. Please state mission status.”

I resisted the urge to cry out in joy. For a moment, I felt we might have made it in time. I kept my composure, however, and said:

“No life support. Send help. Now.”

The response was quick, after a brief pause. “Help is on the way. Who am I addressing?”

I wished, not for the first time, that I could take a deep breath. “This is Princess Luna of Equestria. The mission, as you can tell, was met with limited success. I have awakened. From the rescue team there are only two survivors; possibly more evacuated by escape pod, status unknown.” I paused, then in more desperate tones went on, “These ponies have risked everything. Save them. Please.”

“We’ll do everything we can.” Another pause. “This is Comlink, head of fleet communications, speaking. It is a great honor to serve under you once more, Princess.”

“Save it for later,” I said. “I have not yet mastered control of this vessel. Tell me what I need to do now.”

“We can take control from here, your highness,” came the reply, and I felt then a sense of relief, a sense of retreat back into the oddly comfortable blackness of lonely ‘wirespace’. The systems I was desperately trying and failing to keep under my unerring control were gently taken from my mental grasp, and I vaguely sensed the vessel begin to operate of its own accord.

“Rescue team approaching now,” Comlink interrupted my thoughts. Eagerly I switched my viewpoint to the camera whereby I knew they must enter, the one at the airlock near the main corridor. I watched as they forced open the doors with a device from the other side, saw them rushing towards the bridge in brightly coloured uniforms.

It was then that I was interrupted by yet another new impression. Suddenly all else faded to the background, and in my mind’s eye I saw someone new. Another pony, with a white coat and brown mane. He regarded me through kind blue eyes and when he spoke, it was as though he was indeed standing before me, not on the other end of a low-fidelity microphone.

“Princess Luna,” he said, and bowed low just as the others had. “My name is Circuit Charm and I am an aspect, like you. I’m here to help you in any way I can.” He paused as I regarded him. “What is the last thing you remember?”

“I remember nothing beyond the creation of the Spirit Network. I do not recall making myself an aspect.” Again I tried to shake my nonexistent head. “These matters can wait until later. I need to know Focus Array and Whisper made it.”

Circuit Charm blinked, but did not let his expression change. “Princess, remember that this mission’s objective was to rescue you from the Nightmare, and any losses to secure your safety were… considered acceptable.” The dread I felt before crept back, then, lingering at the edges of my mind, waiting to take hold. “Each and every pony on the Starship Nightsong knew the risks and were happy to take them.”

“Tell me that I failed,” I said, happy that in this form my voice could not crack. “Tell me.”

“Focus Array and Whisper Star were not your responsibility,” Circuit insisted. “You could not do anything to reverse the damage done to the vessel. They didn’t make it, your highness. I’m sorry. But it was not your fault.”

“They were alive,” I try to shout at him. “They spoke to me and they helped me and if I were just a bit faster—

“Your highness,” the pony said, “You cannot blame yourself for—”

Do not talk to me of blame!” I screamed into the void. “I shall blame myself as much as I please, for I am not blind nor a simpleton! Thou art a fool to regale me with pointless platitudes! I am the Princess of the Night and they deserved better from me!

Circuit Charm simply looked at me sadly. After a moment, he said, “I’ll leave you here, for now, with some data on how to more wholly represent yourself as an aspect, and communicate with our network. When you’re ready, I am a short call away. I will show you the Fleet’s virtual space.”

As I tried to stifle my words, my thoughts, my torrent of bitter emotions, he disappeared.

Whatever the pony had said, I knew in my phantom heart that I had failed. All I wanted was to be able to cry, and yet, in a perverse twist of fate, that act which I had once considered a shameful weakness was denied to me.

I was, indeed, left alone there in the silence once more.