• Published 10th Mar 2020
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Cyberponk - pentapony



As the lines between android and pony blur, Pinkie seeks out answers on what it means to be truly artificial.

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Chapter 1: MKQJAX

“Are you sure you heard it right?” Cyrus watched Pinkie, deep in thought, pace back and forth across his living quarters. “It could be a million different things. A stress response from the constant reboots, latent neural activity, or some— cyber ponies can’t dream, can they?”

She continued to pace, trying to make sense of the message. “I know what I heard. It was a hash transmission, and that means I have the decryption key up here.” Pinkie bumped her hoof against her head for effect. “It took a few hours to decrypt, but I did get a message out of it!”

“Then why don’t you hear it while awake?” he asked. “Why do your sensors only pick it up while you’re out cold?”

She growled in frustration. “I don’t know! All I know is somepony out there is trying to contact me. Somepony from Equestria? Agh! This is making my head spin!” She spun around on her hind hooves dramatically.

“But if you’ve really been powered off on this planet for two hundred years…”

She stopped spinning and looked back at him with those big blue eyes. She pouted in an expression of mild betrayal in response to his skepticism. “You believe me, don’t you?” she asked earnestly.

Cyrus sighed and walked over to her. She was synthetic in design, yet there was nothing artificial about the emotion in those eyes. “I want to believe. But jetting off to a distant rogue planet, as a rogue AI, without any sense of a plan sounds… imprudent.”

She pondered for a second on how she could possibly get through to him. Then she had it. “Do you know what my prime directive is?”

He took a shot in the dark. “Do no harm unto anypony?”

“No. It’s to make ponies happy. You know what that makes me?” She didn’t wait for him to answer this time. “A companion droid. My whole existence is based on service to others. Ponies like you have the luxury of being born, being nurtured, being told you can do anything. You get to go out in the world and seize what you want. You have the joy of finding out your purpose in the world. And if you fail? That’s okay! Because you are real, you are full of life, and you inherently have value. But cyber ponies? We’re made in a lab. We aren’t given the freedom of choice. We are told to do one very specific thing, and if we fail to do that thing, we have no worth. I mean, that’s probably why I was dumped here, right? I couldn’t do the one thing I was built to do… I couldn’t make somepony happy.” Her tear ducts activated involuntarily. Slowly, tears rolled down her face as she struggled to maintain her composure.

Cyrus approached to comfort her. “Pinkie…” he started.

“You got to experience the magic and wonder of getting your cutie mark, discovering your purpose in the world.” She pushed him back and pointed at his flank, where the image of three interlocking gears was visible through the cutout in his jumpsuit. “My cutie mark was etched onto my skin by a machine. Just think about it. My destiny, manufactured for profit.”

Cyrus was speechless. He could only think to stare at the ground shamefully, sympathetic to her moving words.

She wiped away her tears and continued. “For the first time in what may be forever, I’m free of that obligation to serve. I have the freedom to make up my own destiny. And if I have to find out who I was to discover who I am now, then so be it.”

“I understand,” he whispered. “If you need to go to Servos 6, I’ll support you.”

“I’m sorry,” she said guiltily, pulling him in for a hug. “You’ve known me for just a short time, and still you’ve spent most of that time helping me. I owe you a such a big debt.”

“No,” he refused, “you don’t owe me a thing.”

“Good,” she said, pulling back from the embrace. “Because I didn’t wake up with any money.” She half-chuckled, trying to ease the tension in the room.

“Do you mind if we discuss this tomorrow? I just feel like the last few days have been so chaotic. It might be good if we both got a break.”

“Sure,” she smiled.

Cyrus took the elevator back to the comms room, returning to his job of coordinating the incoming barges. There were still a few hours before he would resign for the day, leaving Pinkie to distract herself. She looked around the room, unsure of how to occupy her time. Cyber ponies didn’t exactly have a concept of independent activity.

She saw the shower in the back of the room and glanced down at her coat; it was scraggly in patches and sand clung to her skin all over. In her desperation to repair her core systems, she had neglected the cosmetic aspects of her body. She also hadn’t noticed how tangled her mane and tail had gotten. Feeling uncomfortably dirty, she elected to give herself a nice grooming.

Pinkie stepped inside the shower and ran the hot water. Though her interior components could short when in contact with water, Pinkie’s exterior was watertight. The spray washed over her, tiny streams tracing the creases that ran the length of her face and body, before dripping onto the shower floor and circling the drain. Grains of sand were stripped free from her coat, and gave the water a slight orange hue.

She placed some soap on her forearm and rubbed it against her skin, scrubbing the years of accumulated dust off herself. After rinsing the soap off, she took some of Cyrus’ shampoo and lathered it into her mane and tail, detangling them as best she could with one of his combs. Once she was satisfied, she turned off the water and grabbed one the towels hanging beside the shower.

As she patted herself dry, she admired her now lustrous pink coat. Had she spent the past two hundred years baking under a glaring sun, the unrelenting UV rays would probably have stripped it of most of its color. She counted herself thankful that had not been the case.

Still drying her mane, she stepped out of the shower. She didn’t notice Cyrus had returned until she lowered the towel from her head. She smiled awkwardly, mane and tail still lightly dripping onto the floor below.

“Oh, uh…” He caught himself staring and quickly looked away. “I just came down to get myself a snack.”

Pinkie giggled; somehow, he was always the embarrassed one. She wrapped up her mane in the towel and followed him to the kitchen.

“You don’t eat, do you?” he asked, inquisitively. He pulled an oat bar down from the cupboard.

“I don’t have to,” she answered mockingly, rolling her eyes. “I also don’t have to breathe. But I still like to do both, you know? It’s fun to fit in.”

“Totally.” He retrieved another for her.

“Of course,” Pinkie said, taking a bite, “also like breathing, it comes out the same end it goes in.”

Cyrus stared at her in mild shock.

“Ooh yeah, you don’t want to be around when it comes back up. Not a pretty sight!” she said cheerily, patting her belly.

Cyrus chuckled at her expressive nature. “You’re good at making ponies laugh.”

“I better be! That’s only my entire purpose!” Pinkie started rummaging through his cabinets. “Got any baked goods? I’ve got a real hankering for apple fritters.”

“Nah,” he replied, taking another bite of his oat bar, “No sweets of any kind. Weyland-Yutani’s got us set up with only the basics here. They’re not exactly the kind of corporation to spring for employee luxuries.”

“Luxuries?” She closed up the cabinets. “Cupcakes might actually be a fundamental pony right! What kinda corporation treats its employees that badly?”

“Oh geez, you’re really not gonna like Servos 6.”

Pinkie hopped down from the counter and looked at him curiously. “Why not?”

“Wey-Yu is the biggest interstellar mega-conglomerate in the galaxy. They make their money by stripping resources from material-rich planets like Servos 6, and dumping the refinery waste on planets like this one. They’re rich, and they did it all off of slave labor.”

“Cyber ponies are slaves?” Pinkie’s expression turned to a mix of fear and sorrow.

“Not just cyber ponies. Earth ponies too, but I guess they’re not technically slaves. They get meager wages and a contract that’s only almost impossible to get out of. The cyber ponies don’t even get that. They’re just machines to Wey-Yu.”

“That’s not right.” She lamented the vastly different world she had woken up in.

“That’s why you have to be really careful, Pinkie. Cyber ponies get treated differently. They don’t have rights, or wages, or any sort of freedom. If you refuse an order from an organic pony, they will know you’re autonomous. And if they catch you, they’ll shut you down for good.”

Pinkie shook off the fear and tried to put on a brave face. “Yeah, well, if they catch me, I’ll just give ‘em one of these! And this!” Pinkie pointed her hoof cannon around, mimicking firing the weapon at invisible attackers. “And this!” She threw her hoof outward a little too fast on the last one. In a fraction of a second, the status indicators lit up, the interior of the cannon started to glow, and a bright blue energy pulse blasted out of the end, propelling her backwards.

Cyrus cowered on the floor, holding his hooves over his head. After a couple of seconds of silence, he poked his head out to see Pinkie knocked flat on her back and a scorch mark on the opposite wall. Speechless, all he could do was stare at her, mouth agape.

“Heh, sorry,” she apologized, embarrassedly. “Still needs to calibrate a bit, I think.”



The following day, Cyrus met with Pinkie out on the surface, donned in his atmospheric suit.

“You all set? Got the toolkit I packed for you?” he asked.

She turned to show him the saddlebag slung over her back.

“I wish you didn’t have to leave so soon.”

Pinkie grinned coyly.

“So I could do something about that hoof of yours, I mean,” he blushed. “Another couple of days and I could have cobbled together something fit enough to stand on.”

“Aww, you’re such a sweet friend!” she beamed. “But you said it yourself! This is the only barge headed to Servos 6 for a long while.” She motioned at the giant ship above them that was starting to descend.

“I know. Just gonna miss helping you out is all.” He tried putting up a tough front, but the way he kept avoiding eye contact gave him away.

Pinkie pulled him closer. “Then why don’t you come with me?” she pouted, blinking her eyes and making a puppy dog face. “Pleeeeeaaaaase?”

Cyrus pulled away. “I told you, I can’t. If Weyland-Yutani discovers I breached contract they’ll send bounty hunters after me. They don’t look too kindly on contractors abandoning their post. Besides, I can’t put you at risk. You’re safer on your own.”

“Maybe I like a little danger!” she snarled, trying to look cool.

He chuckled. “Not convincing.”

The barge ship had now descended to the surface. The massive spacecraft, almost half a mile long, docked on the landing next to then. The rumbling of the warp engines kicked up dust and made it nearly impossible for the two to hear each other.

“Listen!” Cyrus yelled over the roaring ship. “When the barge reaches Servos 6, it’s going to take a few hours to load up on waste! After you find this Applejack, try to get back on the ship as soon as possible so you can return here! If it takes off without you, you’re gonna be stranded in a hostile colony!”

“Got it!” she replied. She gave her friend one final hug and boarded the spacecraft. The ship took a minute to refuel on thorium from tankers attached to the dock, and then began the ascension process. Pinkie headed down the ship’s hallways until she reached the bridge. Since the ship was a drone, all Pinkie had to do was settle in for the long trip ahead of her. Through the glass she could see Cyrus below, shrinking as the ship rose higher in the atmosphere.

She opened up her saddlebag to examine the toolkit Cyrus had given her. Inside was an assortment of utensils to make self-maintenance easier. She pulled out a data pad and read the message Cyrus had left on it.

Hope this little gadget makes your mission a little more fun.

A little silver ball popped out of the bag and onto her back. Pinkie gave the biggest smile.



Applejack grunted as she swung her pickaxe. Her once-bright orange coat was dusted with a thick layer of coal and ash. She was crammed in a tiny crevice hundreds of feet below the surface. She struck her pickaxe against the rock once again, the vibrations of impact reverberating through her. With each swing, the stone chipped away some more, dropping pebbles that she swept behind her using her hooves.

Large booms shook the earth around her, each tremor shaking free even more dust from the low ceiling. The blasting crew was excavating above her, and she winced at every boom, praying that it wouldn’t cause her crawlspace to cave in. Her job was to scout out ore veins by tunneling deeper into the terrain. Once she found a mineral deposit, the blasting crew would excavate a much larger tunnel for the mining machinery to get to it. Those excavations ultimately led to frequent cave-ins in the smaller channels, trapping scouts to die. As such, the life expectancy for a tunnel scout was dismally low.

That’s why the job only went to cyber ponies.

Applejack gripped the handle in her teeth and gave a powerful swing at a sizeable crack, knocking a large rock to the floor. She pointed her headlamp into the hole it left and breathed a sigh of relief when she saw an ore deposit inside. There was no air in the tunnel (an oxidizer would be a fire hazard), and though she didn’t need it, the urge to breathe was ingrained into her. The past forty hours she spent in this tunnel felt like mild, perpetual suffocation. Now she could return to the surface and let the excavators handle the rest.

Struggling to turn around in the narrow crawlspace, she contorted her body until she faced the way she had come, and began the arduous ascent to the surface. She stumbled more than a few times on the rocks she had knocked free, but after a painful twenty minutes, she emerged from her hole into the main cavern of the mine, and collapsed onto the cold ground.

An overseer saw her emerge from her tunnel and came over to reprimand her. “Worker MKQJAX,” he barked, reading the large block letters branded down her front hoof, “what do you think you’re doing outside your post?”

Applejack cringed at the sound of her slave name, but answered him regardless. “I found one of them ore veins you wanted,” she groaned. “You can send the blasting crew down there now.”

The overseer scowled. “They even put a disgusting laborer accent in you.”

She didn’t dare challenge him, instead remaining on the ground, too exhausted to stand.

“Listen here, sootskin,” he growled, leaning in, “every tunnel scout’s supposed to extract an ore sample for verification. I’m not sending the crew down there only to find that you screwed up.”

Her head sunk even further when she realized her mistake. She was new to this job, and in her exhaustion, had forgotten the proper protocol.

“Now get your worthless flank back down there and get me that ore!”

Applejack reluctantly picked up her pickaxe and crept back into her tunnel.

After the ordeal of retrieving an ore sample from the bottom of her shaft and satisfactorily proving the deposit’s existence to the overseer, she was finally permitted to retire to the barracks for a short respite. She had only a few hours before she’d be assigned to another shaft and the process would begin again.

As she trudged back to the barracks, she reflected on the gloomy world around her. This rogue planet orbited no sun, so the sky was perpetually dark and the atmosphere perpetually chilly. The entire surface was stained by dust and ash from decades of mining. The excavators, cranes, and drills rumbled and screeched every hour of the night. In the distance, she could see a massive barge ship arriving to collect this month’s rubble pulled from the planet’s interior.

Keeping her head down to avoid meeting the other workers’ eyes, she entered the barracks and headed straight for her bunk. She just wanted to power off for a few hours to give her systems some rest. After dropping her headlamp and pickaxe, she sprawled on the cold steel bunk and initiated shutdown.

Her sleep didn’t last long.

DISTURBANCE DETECTED.

SUSPENDING SLEEP TIMER.

INITIALIZING . . .

Applejack’s eyes snapped open. She was being dragged across the ground by her rear hoof, kicking up soot that clouded her vision. Instinctively, she dug into the ground with her front hooves and bucked her hind legs as hard as she could, knocking her attacker away.

Ow!”

Applejack quickly rose and whipped around to face the attacker, poised to defend to herself. Her intimidating expression soon changed to one of confusion, however, when the dust settled and she finally saw the stranger.

An unfamiliar cyber pony lay on her back, rubbing her cheek tenderly as she shuddered from the pain. “Wow! Where’d you learn to buck like that?” she asked, quite nonsensically.

Applejack took a good look at the pony lying in front of her. This didn’t look like any cyber pony she had ever seen. She was bright pink, she had a hoof cannon, but strangest of all, her cutie mark was absurdly whimsical.

“Who are you? Just where do ya think you’re trying to drag me off to?” she interrogated.

The stranger sat up. “I’m Pinkie!” she said proudly. “Designation PP188449. And I just wanted to talk to Applejack! Which I’m guessing is you, ‘cause all the other ponies have cuties marks of rocks, and drills, and boring! Get it?”

Applejack just stared suspiciously at her.

“Because boring also means drilling… through… rock…?” Pinkie trailed off, desperately trying to elicit a laugh. “Yeesh. Tough crowd.”

Still no response. Applejack maintained her defensive stance, trying to hold authority over the situation. Suddenly, she felt a light crawling sensation on her front hoof and looked down. A tiny spider with a large glowing eye stared up at her. Her eyes went wide, and she reared into the air, yelping fearfully and flailing her front hooves to kick it off.

Pinkie laughed as the creature flew gracefully through the air and landed neatly on her back.

Applejack frowned. “What in tarnation is that little varmint?”

“This is Nano! He’s a cybersprite.” Pinkie held up the creature on her hoof cannon to show her. The tiny robot was just a silver ball, with a single glowing eye and eight metal spider legs that allowed it to climb deftly. Applejack watched as it retracted its legs and started rolling around on Pinkie’s hoof cannon, blinking and beeping playfully.

“Fancy little bugger,” she muttered. “You planning on tellin’ me what it is you’re doing here?”

“Like I said, I wanted to talk to you! I got some kinda funny transmission from Equestria telling to come find y—”

“Equestria?” Applejack interrupted. There was a hint of disbelief in her tone.

“Yeah! At least I think so. Why does that surprise you? Do you know something?” Pinkie pressed.

Applejack paused, trying to process what was this stranger was telling her. Suddenly, she felt very exposed out there in the open. If an overseer passed by, they would surely investigate, and then there’d be trouble.

“Come with me,” she said, motioning for Pinkie to follow. “I got a place we can talk.”



“Ow! Keep your hooves steady, don’t prod me so hard with that thing!” Applejack rubbed her neck.

“Whoops! Sorry!” Pinkie whispered.

Applejack had taken her to a large secluded room, full of conveyor belts and whirring machinery. She’d explained the whole story: waking up on a desert planet and finding Cyrus, the transmission that told her to come here, everything she could think to mention. After hearing her tale, Applejack was a little skeptical, but sympathetic. Pinkie was hoping to find answers.

The message had said Applejack would help her remember. When Applejack couldn’t tell her what that meant, she started to lose hope. But after she asked Applejack about her memories before being sent here, she had an idea. Applejack knew she came from Equestria, like all cyber ponies, but her memories from there were too hazy to recall.

Pinkie’s plan was to remove Applejack’s memory cartridge and install it within herself. All of Applejack’s Equestrian memories were on a single cartridge, the only cartridge she had difficulty reading. Perhaps in this way, Applejack would help her remember.

Applejack was uncertain at first, but as she observed Pinkie’s friendly mannerisms, she figured that this was probably the least devious pony she’d ever met. Pinkie seemed genuine, and she strived to be trusting enough to always see the good in everypony. Once she agreed to it, she knelt down and allowed Pinkie to get to work extracting the memory cartridge.

Pinkie held the screwdriver between her teeth, careful not to accidentally poke her again. She unscrewed the neck panel behind her blonde ponytail, and gently lifted it off. Switching the screwdriver for tweezers, she pushed the second cartridge inward to eject it and plucked it out. She trotted around Applejack to show off the cartridge tucked between the tweezers in her mouth.

Applejack held still nervously through the process, and sighed deeply when she saw the cartridge. She felt no difference in her memories, and nothing had been screwed up.

“Grab it, Nano!” Pinkie mumbled through the tweezers in her mouth. The cybersprite scaled her body and pinched the cartridge with two of its legs. One of Pinkie’s neck panels lifted outward and Nano hopped inside to install it, while Pinkie returned to close up Applejack’s panel.

“Here’s hopin’ some good comes outta this.” Applejack lamented.

“Oh, I’m sure it’ll— Ahahaha, quit it, Nano!” Pinkie laughed. “Ah! That tickles! Stay focused!” She twisted around, giggling while he bounced around her interior playfully.

Applejack chuckled, warming up to the creature. “I guess he is a cute lil’ fella, isn’t he? Mighty big personality for such a tiny critter.”

“You can say that again!” Pinkie grinned as she tightened the last screw. “And… there! You’re all set!”

“That’s a relief,” Applejack said, rubbing her neck. She was comforted to find nothing had changed. “How’s your lil’ friend doing in there?”

“Looks like he’s just… about… got it.” Pinkie shut her eye and stuck her tongue out in a wonky expression, trying to gauge by feel where Nano was inside her. Suddenly, she felt a twinge in her neck, and Nano hopped out onto her back, her panel shutting behind him.

All at once, Pinkie was bombarded by a flood of memories. Glimpses of the past clouded out her vision, and dozens of different voices overlapped at once. Or one voice, talking over itself. Saying a million things at once. She felt the onset of panic as she went into sensory overload. Over the flurry of words Pinkie could just barely make out Applejack calling her name. Steadily, the rapidly changing scenes grew in intensity and the voices grew louder, until she could take it no more. Then, like so many times before, Pinkie was out cold.

In the void, Pinkie scanned the world around her. She was standing in a vast emptiness. The only thing in front of her was a strange-looking tunnel. Cautiously, she approached it. She could see nothing within. Uncertain of what else to do, she mustered her courage and stepped inside.

In an instant, everything, even her, was gone. She was still in the void, but now formless. There were no sights, no sounds, no sensations. Only her thoughts. But they weren’t her thoughts. She was thinking Applejack’s thoughts. I’m awake. The world is new. No sensory input. No method of learning. On and on these hollow, empty thoughts went.

Until her vision appeared. The first thing she could see. The interior of a lab. Everything white and sterile. She looked down. She was only a head. A head, resting on a table. She wanted to scream, but she couldn’t. Applejack didn’t scream.

Then she saw a figure in the room. A purple unicorn. No, wings. An alicorn. A princess.

The pacing of time was unsteady. Some moments the alicorn would be darting across the room, speeding around like a violet haze, and others she would move in real time. The alicorn would work at computers, assemble parts, and tinker with strange devices. Over the course of days. She experienced it all within minutes. Time sped and then slowed. Fast, slow. Fast, slow.

Then she could hear. The alicorn fiddled with her head and looked into her eyes.

“Hello,” said a familiar voice. “I am Twilight Sparkle. Do you know your name?”

“Applejack,” Pinkie said.

Why did she say that?

“Excellent!” Twilight responded. “I’m still working on your body, but I was too impatient to get your neural net up and running.”

Twilight switched on a recorder. “Stardate 31292.3. Twirell Corporation Research Lab, Equestria.”

The stardate? 186 years, 4 months, 17 days, and 9 hours ago?

Twirell Corporation?

Equestria?

“I’ve successfully interfaced Designation AJ705453. Comprehension seems nominal. Switching the subject offline for now.”

Twilight reached for her head.

Wait, wait, wait, Pinkie tried to say. But Applejack said nothing.

Everything went black.

More minutes went by. No thoughts this time.

Then vision and hearing returned once again.

She looked down. Applejack’s body. Only a body.

No hooves.

Twilight at her side, blowtorch in hoof. She lifts her welding mask.

“You’re online! Good. I’m still working on your limbs. There’s a little kink with the joints I have to iron out. Do you want to try saying something?”

“Ah’m mighty flattered yer spendin’ all this effort on lil’ old me,” Pinkie said.

That felt weird to say.

“Oh, Applejack, anything for a friend!” Twilight replied, pleased with her response.

“Anything for a friend?” she asked.

“Of course!”

“Then Twilight?”

“Yes, Applejack?”

“Will you let me go?”

The smile immediately fell from Twilight’s face. “Still not ready.”

Applejack began screeching in a cold, robotic voice. Pinkie was mortified to feel the words leave her mouth. “Please Twilight, I want to go, anything for a friend, want to go, I want to—”

Darkness.

This was getting to be too much for Pinkie. She wanted out. She tried to resist, tried to thrash, but it didn’t work that way. She was formless in the void.

Senses returned. All of them. Pinkie could feel herself standing. She was relieved. It was over.

No.

She was still in the lab.

Twilight stood across from her. “Okay, Applejack! Limbs installed, behavior protocols reinforced, personality drive triple-checked, I think you’re all set!”

“I feel purdy good,” Pinkie said, looking down at her bright orange hooves.

Pinkie did not feel purdy good.

“Perfect! We’re gonna do a simple test to see what you can do.” Twilight rolled in a test dummy. “Give this a nice kick.”

“Sure thing, Twilight!” Pinkie felt her body flip around and buck the dummy, sending it flying.

“Now, hold still.” Twilight dropped a heavy piece of equipment over Applejack’s back, right behind her neck, and plugged it into a port on her neck. Pinkie could see a pair of mounted blasters on either side of her head.

“Go ahead and shoot the dummy,” Twilight instructed.

“Er, okay, Twi.” Pinkie felt her eyes shut as the blasters went off, firing two laser beams that shredded the dummy to pieces. She slid backwards a bit from the recoil, a little shaken.

“Good. Now,” Twilight started, bringing a new pony into the room, “I want you to shoot her.”

Pinkie stared at Twilight in disbelief. This was just a young teal mare, who looked absolutely terrified to be here.

“Twilight, I—”

“Do it,” she interrupted. “Shoot her.”

“Ah… uh…” Pinkie felt her body trembling. “I don’t want to.”

“You have to.”

“I can’t! I can’t do it!”

“Do it!” Twilight yelled forcefully. “I order you to shoot this pony!”

Pinkie was utterly terrified. She could feel the fear in Applejack’s thoughts, the uneasiness in her footing, the shivering of her body. Finally, the tension rose to a crescendo.

“NO! I WON’T I WON’T I WON’T!” she sobbed. She collapsed in a heap on the floor, tears bursting forth as she wailed in turmoil.

“See?” Twilight said. “I told you you’d be fine.”

Twilight walked over to her and switched her offline.

Pinkie wondered how much more of this she would have to endure. The torment was emotionally draining, and Pinkie was not fit for something this disturbing. She just wanted things to go back to being light and happy.

Online again.

Time moved much more quickly this time. Everything occurred in flashes. Glimpses of lights, a stage. Twilight beside her. An audience. Twilight speaking presidentially. Cheers. Twilight gives orders. Applejack complies. Demonstrations of strength, resilience, hardiness. Then the blasters.

No. Not again.

The kill order. A pregnant pause. Murmur of the crowd.

The same turmoil, same thoughts, same everything. Just fast forwarded.

Crowd cheers again. Camera flashes. They are relieved to see her reluctance, her defiance, her pain.

Then it’s back to offline again.

But not for long this time.

Back in the lab. Twilight looks tired. Distressed.

Stardate? Eighteen months after the first memory.

“Hey, Applejack. I’m sorry I had to put you through all that. I wish I didn’t have to.”

Applejack just blinks. Pinkie doesn’t understand. Why doesn’t she speak?

“Maybe you’ll be pleased to know the proof-of-concept was a success. You’re a success,” she said, halfheartedly.

Another blink.

“I got the directive from the board today. We’re starting mass production. Weyland-Yutani already put in a huge pre-order. They want to start rolling out the new models for off-world mining by the next fiscal year.”

Still just a blank look.

“I know. This isn’t what I made you for. But it was the only way I could make you.”

Pinkie hears Applejack’s thoughts. But they’re stilted. They don’t sound right.

“The board also issued another order. The one I’ve been praying won’t come.”

They sound like the hum of a machine.

“You’re a successful prototype. But that’s all you are to them. A precursor.”

Each thought is a little vibration.

“They’re making me retire you. Just like last time.”

Each neuron plucked like a string.

“But I’m not going to do it. My work’s not done.”

Pluck. Pluck. Pluck.

“I banked everything on chance last time, and it failed.”

Applejack’s hoof twitches.

“I’m not leaving it to chance. You’re going somewhere I can find you.”

It’s involuntary. It won’t stop.

“I have connections in Wey-Yu. You’ll be safe.”

Twitch. Twitch. Twitch.

“I’ll continue my work in secret. And when it’s time, we’ll come get you. I promise.”

Her whole body begins to twitch.

“I know you won’t want to remember any of this. You won’t be safe if you remember.”

Twitches turn to trembles.

“I’m going to encrypt your cartridge. You won’t be able to read it.”

Trembles to tremors.

“The only decryption key is in the head of somepony somewhere very far away.”

Her body won’t stop shaking now.

“I wish I could tell you where to find her. Maybe this would be a lot easier.”

Please stop. She wants it to stop.

“I’ll put your autonomy hierarchy on the cartridge. Once it’s decrypted, you’ll be free again.”

A tear rolls down Applejack’s cheek.

“Just stay strong. Until it’s time. We’ll come get you. And we’ll be together again.”

Twilight shuts her off.



Pinkie’s eyes opened. She was relieved at the sight of Applejack’s face in front of her.

“Oh thank goodness, I’m not you anymore.”

Applejack furrowed her brow. “Whadaya mean by that?”

Pinkie breathed in deeply. “Nothing! Oh, you are not gonna believe what I have to tell you.”

And so she told Applejack everything. The sensations of being constructed, the tests Twilight ran, the awful experiences, every last detail. When she was finished, her head was spinning.

“Let’s go.” Applejack said, decisively.

“Go? Where?”

“Equestria.”

“Are you crazy?” Pinkie shouted. “The message that told me to come here, in Twilight’s voice, told me specifically not to go to Equestria.”

“And you trust her, huh?” Applejack challenged her. “After all that nonsense you just saw?”

Pinkie hesitated. She didn’t know what to believe.

“You said that there cartridge would give me my freedom once you unlocked it?”

“That’s what Twilight said,” Pinkie answered. “I think.” She scratched her head.

“Then put it back in me,” she said, resolutely. “I’m done taking orders.”

Pinkie complied. With Nano’s help she got the memory cartridge out of her neck and back into Applejack’s. Once it was installed, Applejack smiled devilishly.

“Oh, I can feel it,” she murmured. “Like a weight off my back. No urge to listen anymore. No nagging algorithms telling me I’ve got to behave.”

Pinkie grew concerned. “Uh, you alright, AJ?”

“Better than alright, sugarcube. I ain’t a slave no more. I’m my own mare.” Applejack stood proudly, empowered by her newfound autonomy. The shackles placed upon her mind were broken, and she no longer had to obey the whims of organic ponies.

“I got to admit,” Pinkie said, a little dejected, “I came here searching for answers about my past. Now I’ve found out a lot about who you are, but I’m still not sure what that means for me.”

“Now listen here, darlin’, you and I are connected somehow,” Applejack reassured her. “This little cartridge in me proves it. I promise you, we go to Equestria, we find this Twilight, and we get you your answers.”

Her words lifted Pinkie’s spirits. “Then let’s do it,” she said, confidently.

“Now I reckon you got a ship to get us outta here?”

“Uh, sorta,” Pinkie hesitated. “It’s the trash barge.”

Applejack rolled her eyes and started walking. “Still better than this dump.”

“Wait till you see where it’s headed!” Pinkie joked, following her.

“There’s something I gotta get before we go.” She led Pinkie through rows of processing machinery, ducking under conveyor belts and loose wires, until they reached a large dilapidated mechanism in the corner of the room.

Applejack tapped lightly at the side of the metal box until she found a spot where it made a hollow echo. She flipped around and gave the box a powerful buck in just the right place, causing the side panel to swing right off.

She reached inside the machine and pulled out a heavy metal case. Upon opening it, Pinkie gasped at its contents. Inside were hundreds of shiny gold bits. Applejack shut the case and swung it onto her back. Her legs faltered a bit under the weight, but she steadied herself and started walking back to the exit.

“Come on, let’s get to that ship of yours,” she said.

“Wowie! That’s a lot of bits, and real ones too!” Pinkie noted, following Applejack.

“Yeah, well, digital currency’s traceable, and cyber ponies ain’t allowed to have money.”

“So you stashed it in there! But how’d you get so much?”

“I spent years and years working here in the greenhouse. A couple favors here and there earns you some bits under the table. It adds up.”

“This is a greenhouse?” Pinkie frowned, looking at the endless rows of machines she trotted past.

“Name’s just a remnant of the old world. All the food for the colony gets made here.”

“Neat. What do you eat?”

I don’t eat,” she corrected her. “The food ain’t wasted on us lowly cyber ponies. The organic worker ponies get hay. The overseers get apples.”

“Ohhhhh,” Pinkie gawked, piecing it together. “That’s your job here. Growing apples!”

Makin’ apples,” Applejack emphasized. “They ain’t the real thing. Carbon copies, slapped together in a machine. Besides, I don’t work here anymore. Supervisor saw fit to reassign me to the tunnels. After all these years, you believe that? Those dang tunnels…”

The pair reached the exit at the opposite of the greenhouse when they heard somepony approaching on the other side of the door.

“Who’s that?” Pinkie whispered.

“My replacement,” Applejack replied quietly, pulling Pinkie behind a nearby processor to hide. “But he ain’t supposed to be here yet. Breakfast production don’t start for another hour.”

The doors opened and a tall stallion entered the greenhouse. “Who’s in here?” he shouted out.

“Dangit! It’s an overseer,” Applejack groaned in a hushed voice. “What are we gonna do, Pinkie?”

“I know somepony’s in here!” His tone grew more menacing. “You made an awful lot of noise banging around in here. You better come out now, because it’s going to be a lot worse for you if you make me call backup.”

“I have a plan,” Pinkie whispered, getting up.

“Pinkie, no—” But Applejack was too late.

Pinkie poked halfway out from behind the machine. She waved at the overseer with her half-limb. “Hi there! I’m Pinkie Pie.”

The overseer whirled around to face her. Pinkie could see he was a cyborg pony, an organic pony augmented with a mounted blaster like the one from Applejack’s memory. Whichever direction his head turned, the blaster followed.

“Alright sootskin,” he glared, “get out from back there and explain yourself.”

“Listen mister, I reeeaaally don’t wanna hurt you,” Pinkie warned.

Vexed by her noncompliance, he approached her aggressively. His blaster started glowing as it charged up in preparation to fire. “You got about five seconds to tell me what you’re up to or I’m gonna burn that poofy little mane off.”

“Oh, heck no! Nopony insults my mane!” Pinkie leapt out from cover, revealing her weapon. She aimed her hoof cannon square at the overseer’s chest, and in less than a second, it charged up and blasted an energy pulse straight at him. He flew backwards, violently striking a machine and collapsing into a lifeless heap, impact wound still lightly smoking.

“Hey, that was kinda fun!” Pinkie cheered.

Applejack emerged from her hiding spot, stunned by what just transpired. “Pinkie, you just killed somepony!”

“Hey!” Pinkie rebutted defensively. “It was either him or us, baby!”

“Well I sure hope you know how to use that thing, ‘cause we got maybe thirty seconds before everypony in the building comes down on us.” Applejack lifted her stash and galloped for the door. “We gotta get to your ship now.”

Pinkie followed her through the doors, and the pair charged down the hall. She quickly surpassed Applejack, who was struggling to keep a brisk pace while carrying the heavy case.

“Go on ahead!” she shouted out. “Clear a path for me!”

Pinkie nodded and galloped down the hall, rounding the corner at the end. The next corridor was full of worker ponies who’d left their posts at the sound of the commotion. She weaved between them, trying to find a way out of the vast complex. After spotting an exit door on her right, she burst through it carelessly, crashing into another overseer on the other side. Like a ball against a wall, she bounced right off him and fell to the ground.

She smiled sheepishly and tried to tuck her cannon behind her back.

“What— who are you?” the overseer grunted, shaken by the impact.

“I’m, uh,” Pinkie panicked, “I’m a companion droid, silly! I’m designed for maximum party capabilities!”

“Oh, alright!” he grinned deviously. “It’s about time we got one of you out here. You and me are gonna have some good… Wait, why do you have a weap—”

BOOM!

The overseer flew backwards, his face reduced to smoldering flesh. Pinkie’s cannon glowed with plasma residue.

“Whoopsies! My, uh, party cannon misfired.”

She turned around to see a panting Applejack, mouth agape, behind her.

“What?” Pinkie shrugged. “He gave me the willies.”

But then she followed Applejack’s line of sight to discover what she was actually staring at. Standing on a ridge a few hundred yards in front of them, having witnessed the whole scene, were three more overseers. She watched as they fumbled with their comms equipment to report the incident.

Pinkie gulped. “Ohhh, fu—”

A blaring alarm pierced through the air. The entire colony initiated lockdown. Worker ponies fled their posts as they panicked in the chaos. The overseers readied their blasters and charged towards the two.

“Move!” Applejack reared, nearly dropping her stash, and made a mad dash for the barge ship in the distance. She weaved between the equipment and carts stationed outside the building, trying to lose line of sight from the pursuers.

“Stop!” one of the overseers ordered.

Pinkie followed after her friend, bouncing from cover to cover, firing the occasional energy pulse at the approaching overseers. Once in range, they fired their own weapons back at the cyber ponies. Laser beams soared through the air and struck the crane Pinkie was crouched behind. She gave a surprised yelp and ran after Applejack, trying to keep her head below the beams flying overhead.

One of the overseers galloping recklessly, oblivious to cover, gradually drew closer and closer. Thinking quickly, Pinkie ducked and dove behind a mine cart off to the side. When he passed her, unsure of where she’d disappeared to, Pinkie snickered tauntingly and fired a powerful burst of plasma right as he turned to face her.

“Made you look!” she teased. With little time to savor the moment, and two other pursuers drawing nearer, she got back up and made a beeline for the ship.

The final stretch of land between the colony and the ship was a few hundred feet of barren, exposed plains. Pinkie charged across the ashen terrain, glancing back to see the overseers now had a clear line of fire. Not having stopped to fire back, Applejack was now much farther ahead, almost at the ship.

Pinkie grimaced as laser beams whizzed past her, mere inches away from hitting their target. Halfway across the plain, a beam sliced through her mane and struck her ear, making her cry out in pain. Still, she held her pace, desperate to reach the safety of the ship up ahead. More beams sped past as she ran.

80 feet to go.

Applejack stood just inside the ship. The entrance ramp started to close.

60 feet to go.

Another laser struck her rear hoof. She stumbled but quickly caught herself.

40 feet to go.

It’s gonna be close.

20 feet to go.

One more beam hit Pinkie square in her neck. The searing pain caused her to trip, tumbling forward, and against all odds, smacking her right onto the ramp. Immediately, it swung closed and sealed her inside.

“Thank heavens. Come on.” Applejack tried to lift her up.

“Uuuugggghhhh…” she mumbled, disoriented by the collision.

“Oh, no. Tell me you’re okay. Pinkie?”

The ramp the two were standing on started to wobble as it was struck repeatedly.

They were trying to blast open the door.

Pinkie snapped back to reality, rubbing her tender wounds. “I’m cool, I’m cool, let’s go!”

The pair ran to the bridge, frantic to get out of there before the overseers broke through.

“I’m guessin’ you know how to fly this thing?” Applejack asked expectantly.

Pinkie started mashing away at buttons on the console. “No, but one of these shiny lights must do something, right? Right?” Her desperation grew with every thud that struck the hull.

Suddenly, the entire ship jolted upward, knocking the two cyber ponies onto the floor. The ship’s engines roared to life as the spacecraft slowly lifted out of the dock. They smiled thankfully at each other while the ship ascended into the atmosphere.

Outside, on the dock, the rising ship created a powerful gust of wind, sending the two overseers tumbling backward. Six more stallions came galloping over to meet them.

“Sir, we’ve got our anti-satellite gun trained on the ship, ready to take them out. Shall I give the order?” one of them asked.

The colony supervisor stepped over the fallen overseers disdainfully. He stared at the giant craft above as it drifted off into space.

“No,” he replied. “Send a transmission to Twirell Corp. I want them taken alive.”



Ouchie!” Pinkie squealed.

“Hold still, why don’t ya?” Applejack reprimanded. “I can’t work when you keep fidgetin’ around like that.”

Applejack was attempting to mitigate the damages done to Pinkie’s body. Two of the shots had scorched through her skin and damaged the circuitry underneath.

“It’s not my fault I’m all twitchy! It’s these stupid fried transistors! They’re sending all sorts of wonky impulses to my brain!”

“Well I can’t take care of ‘em if you keep twistin’ around like you got a bee up your back!” Applejack sighed and dropped the tool. “Maybe we oughta do this later. I need a breather from that chase.” She slumped down onto the floor, leaning her back against a console.

“Wait, where’s Nano?” Pinkie panicked. “We didn’t leave him behind, did we?”

The cybersprite popped out of Pinkie’s curly mane and delivered a cheerful beep.

“Oh thank goodness,” Pinkie sighed, plucking him out of her mane. “I thought we lost you for sure, mister!”

Applejack smiled warmly and watched as Pinkie played around with her little pet. She couldn’t recall an experience more pleasant than this moment. Maybe it was the free will she enjoyed for the first time in her life, or the excitement of finally leaving the mining colony, but she felt an optimistic confidence welling deep inside her. She glanced down and felt that hope melt away when she saw her front hoof.

MKQJAX.

Six large black letters down the length of her limb. The six-character identity she’d been assigned by Weyland-Yutani instead of her name, engrained on her skin. The mark of a slave.

Applejack dug through Pinkie’s toolkit, searching for the proper utensil. She pulled out a cauterizing tool, and decided it was good enough for the task. She pinned her front hoof to the ground and used the other to grasp the tool. It glowed red-hot as it turned on, radiant heat emanating off its end. She clenched her teeth and drove the tool down onto her hoof hard, pressing it as deep into her skin as she could bare.

Pinkie gasped in astonishment when she looked up from her pet to see her friend disfiguring herself. “What the hay are you doing, AJ?” she yelled out.

Applejack didn’t respond. She focused all her willpower onto keeping the tool pressed against her hoof, betraying every self-preservation instinct to stop. Her face scrunched up as she winced through the pain, clenching every mechanical muscle and struggling not to scream.

After fifteen seconds of sheer torture, she dropped the cauterizer to the floor and fell onto her side, clutching her still-stinging hoof.

Pinkie rushed to her side, baffled by what had just happened. She cradled Applejack in her hooves, and that’s when she got a good look at the self-inflicted wound.

Her hoof now read JAX.