• Published 22nd Apr 2020
  • 484 Views, 48 Comments

Terminal Fault - MagnetBolt

It is a century after the war of the two cities, a time when the line between pony and machine is becoming blurred. And yet, even now when ponies are connected in so many ways, something wants to disrupt the fragile network of society.

  • ...


I am many things. A perfectionist. A small business owner. Beautiful, if I might be daring enough to compliment myself. However, I cannot count ‘morning pony’ among my many assets.

The light in my apartment changed from the pink and blue of the neon sign hanging across the street from my lone window to the grey and cold of a winter sunrise. It was such a gradual change that I didn’t really notice until it was already morning. I sighed and telekinetically flipped a switch across the room without looking at it, my coffee maker spitting a used plastic pod into the overflowing trash bin and feeding a new one into the pressure chamber.

A warning flashed across my vision, the appliance cautioning me that it was running out of fuel for my creativity. It was a vintage model, refurbished but still putting along, and the pods hadn’t been made in almost ten years, so even if their shelf life would run sometime into the next century (the amount of preservatives in them was so shocking that I suspected I was slowly pickling myself by drinking the brew) they were becoming increasingly rare.

However, it made good coffee. I made a note to order more pods despite the cost. It was worth the trouble, and still less expensive than buying a new coffee maker, especially since this one had practically been free. I dismissed the warning from my augmented reality display before putting down my tools.

Unfortunately, that meant I had to look at the rest of my apartment. A few joined rooms, the walls covered in posters showcasing the latest styles. An archeologist could learn much about the history of fashion in augmented limbs by peeling back the layers I’d taped and pinned up. They’d also learn that I largely ate instant noodles and take-out simply by looking at the floor -- perhaps with an educated guess they’d learn I ate the former when I was between clients and the latter in the times when my finances were in rather better order.

When I stepped away to retrieve the coffee mug, my legs whirred for a moment, the motors silencing themselves as they warmed up after long hours spent in a single position. I didn’t mind the sound myself, but some of my clients wanted their limbs to be absolutely silent. It’s rather like an expensive watch -- you spend all day with it, and some like to hear the ticking and solid weight, others want to be able to forget it’s there.

Aside from letting me stretch a bit, stepping away also let me get a look at my creation from a distance. Darkly blued steel sketched out a near-skeletal outline, so thin it looked impossible for it to be more than a framework. Dust guards around the joints were the only solid plates, brass gilding picking out designs based on old Hipponese tattoos, phoenixes in flight among cherry blossoms.

The gilding had been the tricky part. It would have been almost impossible to buff a mistake out of the blued steel without needing to redo the finish entirely, and since I was a perfectionist, I would have stayed up all night to--

Well, I’d stayed up all night regardless, hadn’t I? That was the problem with inspiration hitting me in the middle of the night. I should have been getting rest in preparation for tonight’s trade show, but instead I spent it throwing together something at the last minute.

“Oh Rarity,” I sighed, taking a long sip of the coffee to try and banish my desire to pass out. “You really are your own most demanding client.”

Once half the cup was in me and I felt a fraction less like crawling into my bed and giving up whatever sales I’d make at the trade show, I got to work on attaching the new leg. Putting on your own limbs is exactly as awkward as you can imagine. Removing one is certainly no problem -- that’s simply detaching a few wires and bolts.

Attaching one, though, involved trying to find the appropriate leads in your own shoulder (or hip, or wing, depending on exactly what you were attempting) and connecting the wires in the right order, trying to line up self-sealing stem bolts while standing on three legs, and then, in this case, finding out I’d pinched a wire and needed to fix it with a plasma needle and the aid of a mirror to see what I was doing.

Naturally, that was when my phone rang. I let it ring twice, then threw something at it with my magic to silence it. Curse my luck, I accidentally hit the button to accept the call.

“Rarity?” My mother’s voice called out from the videophone. I hissed, unable to swear properly thanks to the tool in my mouth. I spat it out and cleared my throat, trying to sound pleasant.

“Just a moment!” I called out, before frantically shoving things into place and stumbling over to where it was mounted on my wall, the new leg shaking from feedback.

“Are you alright?” My mother looked worried, and ten years older than she was. She didn’t have any augmentations at all - not from a lack of money, but a lack of trust in them. It was one reason I didn’t live at home.

“I was just getting myself together.” I couldn’t resist the joke.

“What is that?” Her face scrunched up when she looked at my new leg.

“Asymmetry is in vogue,” I explained. “The functionalist movement popularized less realistic and more efficient designs, especially ones with extra features and hidden compartments.” I could see from the look on her face that I might as well have been speaking Horse Latin. If only she would at least show some interest in my work.

“I called to ask if you wanted to come to dinner,” she said. “Your sister will be back in town tomorrow and I thought we could all sit down together as a family again.”

“I’ll think about it.” I didn’t want to go, but I hadn’t seen my sister in over a year.

“Thank you,” my mother said, as if I’d already said yes. “We’ll be eating at six.”

“Is there anything else?” I asked. “I have things I need to do.” Like calibrating this new leg. I wasn’t going to give her the pleasure of seeing my discomfort, but it felt like pins were being jammed into my shoulder joint. Usually, my custom firmware smoothed out little issues like that, but the list of error messages in my peripheral vision was growing longer and my patience was just as quickly getting shorter.

“No,” she said. There was a long pause. “I love you, honey.”

“I love you too,” I said by habit. “Tell father I miss him as well.”

The line went black, and I made sure my phone was set to Do Not Disturb before I got to the work of getting my leg working, already questioning the wisdom of wearing a new limb when I was going to be on my hooves all day, using the pain as a distraction to avoid thinking about my mother.

Hours later I’d had a shower (and made sure my leg was waterproof without meaning to even test that -- if it hadn’t been I would have had a rather foalish fall) and made sure I was presentable before I dragged myself out into the world in a vinyl raincoat that changed color with the heat of my body warring against the chill air.

Pony Place was like any of the other aging apartment blocks in the city, hundreds or thousands of ponies packed into a few dozen floors of aging rooms, most of us trying to pretend the others didn’t exist. I knew the names of my neighbors, but I couldn’t tell you anything else about them. Canterlot wasn’t a place where you got to know ponies. It was a place where you were either so famous everypony knew you, or you were anonymous and nopony looked twice. For many ponies, the latter was why they came here in the first place.

I levitated the crate of supplies behind me, thankfully finding the service elevator empty. I hated having to share such a small space with other ponies.

An email popped up, despite my AR being set to suppress notifications.

I opened it and sighed. It was from Pinkie Pie, a coupon for Sugarcube Corner. Don’t get me wrong -- I adore the mare. She could make anypony smile. I just didn’t like being reminded that I was running on an empty stomach. It was easy to forget, when you had other worries.

The bakery was on the bottom floor of Pony Place, and was almost empty now in the dead time between the early morning breakfast crowd and the ponies seeking something sweet in the afternoon.

“Good morning!” Pinkie called out, when I opened the door. Somehow the bakery was always perfectly clean, pastel colors and bright lights making it an oasis among the dingy, cluttered shops around it. It was a shame I couldn’t afford to eat there every day.

“Just the usual,” I said, sitting at an open table.

Pinkie delivered a croissant and another coffee to my table. We made the usual small talk. Pinkie probably worried about me more than my own mother did, and when I went to pay the bill I found that she’d already done it for me.

“Pinkie, I already told you you don’t have to do that,” I said, sighing.

“I owe you a lot, Rarity,” Pinkie said. “Do you want any help carrying that?” She tilted her head at my crate.

“I can manage,” I assured her. “But thank you for the offer, Pinkie.”

The local subway station was only two blocks away, and I was glad for that. Canterlot was safe and rich with culture, history, and, well, money, but the streets in the outer parts of the city were filthy. Hardly unsafe, but the Royal Guard could hardly be expected to sweep the streets. The Weather Union was striking again, according to the scrolling text on the billboards, which explained the cold and the ugly mix of rain and snow drizzling down around us.

Beyond the apartment blocks, rising out of the smog of the city like a distant dream, I could make out the palace. It seemed like it was in another world from the rest of the city, like no matter how far one walked through the streets you could never reach it.

(It wasn’t true, of course. I’d gone on a tour shortly after arriving in the city, but it was a wonderfully poetic image.)

Ponies crowded the streets on their way to or from work, or simply trying to stay out of the weather. All of us were wrapped up in plastic raincoats or layered against the omnipresent cold. An orange pony stumbled into me, and when I caught her I felt the distinctive rhythmic tic of the Black Shake.

“Sorry bout that, ma’am,” she muttered, between clenched teeth. I gave her the hat that she’d dropped in our collision, the mare dropping it back on her head without even bothering to uncrumple it.

“Do you need help?” I asked quietly. “You’re--”

“Just cold,” she said, interrupting me. “Sorry about th’ trouble.”

I watched her stumble off, her blonde mane unable to hide the scars around her neck and going down her back, disappearing under the collar of her poncho. What little I glimpsed was a mess, a hackjob done with no elegance. I called out to her, but she didn’t react, vanishing into the crowd.

Ponies pushed past me, and I realized how rude I was being, standing still in the flow of hoof traffic. I hurried on, carefully trotting down the wide stairs. I was pleasantly surprised by how well my new leg handled the awkward pace -- you’ve surely experienced it before, stairs too wide to simply walk down naturally, forcing you to break stride and take two steps every so often.

When the subway car door opened, Princess Celestia was looking right at me.

It was an illusion, of course, of both the optical and more typical type. Her visage was used in all sorts of advertisements, this one reminding ponies about opportunities in public service. She wasn’t meeting my eyes, not really. It was the same thing effect as the Pona Lisa, where the eyes seemed to follow you.

Very effective. I could have sworn she even turned her head slightly to follow me as I found a seat.

By the time the subway arrived at the Canterlot Hall station, the weather had improved. Marginally. The sleet had let up, and I could nearly see Celestia’s sun through the thinning clouds. Naturally, this would happen right before I was preparing myself to sit at a booth all day indoors -- I was certain that fate only wanted me to see good weather from a window and never actually experience it for myself.

The Hall was a huge blunt cube of a building, all tinted glass and steel, terribly inelegant. I hadn’t been here for almost a year, since the first time I’d tried setting up my own booth. I’d learned a lot since then -- most importantly the need to have something to catch the eye of potential clients.

Just like last year, ponies had turned up to crowd the streets outside the Hall and accost those going inside with their wares.

“--No, thank you,” I said, trying to get away from the pony waving a clipboard. “I already donate every month.”

“This is the perfect chance to increase your donation,” he said. “Did you know every ten bits a month you donate we can make sure that another pony gets the medication they need to keep the Black Shakes away? As an augmented pony, you know how expensive those drugs can be--”

“They are only needed when a pony has poorly made augmentations,” I snapped. “My work is clean, thank you very much!”

“Well you don’t have to be rude,” he huffed, prancing away to find some other potential patron.

“E-excuse me--”

I groaned, my head throbbing from carrying the heavy crate with my magic, and steeled myself to try and politely refuse yet another sales pitch.

The pressure on my temples lessened when I saw who was asking.

“Fluttershy?” I asked. “I didn’t know you set up shop here.”

The pale yellow mare smiled up at me from where she was sitting. Like always, she had a few drones with her -- the obsolete robot pet that followed her everywhere as well as two quadrocopters I hadn’t seen before, circling her protectively and only pausing to scan ponies as they passed.

“I thought that maybe ponies here, um, would want to pick up a few things,” she explained. She didn’t have a proper stall, just boxes of things sitting on dirty blankets, all of it obsolete, discarded, and then repaired and put back up for sale.

I didn’t know how to tell her that most ponies here were the type that would never buy second-hoof goods even if their lives depended on it.

“Anything particularly interesting?” I asked.

“I do have some spare parts you might be interested in,” Fluttershy said. “H-have you thought about getting a drone? I know you do a lot of work online, a-and they can help with taking pictures!”

It wasn’t the worst sales pitch, but it was close to it. Fluttershy’s voice was barely audible over the noise of the street, and she couldn’t look me in the eye -- and I was one of the very few ponies that she considered a friend anywhere other than on SolNet.

“If you say the parts are interesting, I’ll be happy to take them,” I said. Even if they were old, it was entirely possible there was something I could use. “I don’t suppose the drone you’re offering can clean?”

“Um…” she bit her lip.

“Ah, well. Let me know if you do find whatever industrial worker would be needed to get my apartment clean. It might require some sort of refurbished military automaton, but--”

“I want her removed!”

I winced at the voice. I knew it far too well. As a word of advice for any mares desperate enough to try dating on SolNet, do not go on a blind date with anypony who has excellent selfies and nothing else to recommend them.

“Blueblood,” I muttered. He ignored me in favor of the two golden-armored guards he’d brought with him.

“This mare is selling used, possibly stolen, goods without a license! I want her removed by force and all of this trash destroyed immediately!” He gestured wildly and I wondered just what Fluttershy had done to make him so upset. Perhaps she hadn’t bowed quite quickly enough for his taste.

“I-I didn’t--” Fluttershy blacked up, holding up her forehooves defensively.

“Fluttershy is hardly a thief,” I said, trying to step between them.

“Ma’am, I’m going to have to ask you to stay over there,” one of the guards said.

“Do you have a vendor’s license?” The other asked. “If not we’ll have to ask you to leave.”

“I want her arrested!” Blueblood screamed.

“Sir, please. We’ll handle it from here,” the guard assured him.

Fluttershy shot me a look. I knew she didn’t have a license. For all I knew she wasn’t in any government databases -- she lived off the grid.

“Hold up,” the guard nearest me stopped, listening to something. “She’s got special dispensation.”

“I just got the alert,” the other guard said. “Ma’am, I apologize for the trouble. Have a pleasant day and let us know if there’s anything we can do to help.”

Special dispensation? I mouthed the words silently, trying to figure out just how she’d managed to swing that favor. As perplexed as I was, Blueblood was getting incoherent with rage.

“What are you doing?!” he demanded. “She’s a bloody street pony! Get her away from here before she scares off my investors!”

One of the drones made the mistake of flying too close to Blueblood, and he swatted it out of the air, the machine hitting the pavement, rotors breaking. Fluttershy gasped, and the guards shook their heads, stepping forward again.

“Finally,” Blueblood said. “I don’t care where you take her-- what are you doing?!”

“Sir, you’re under arrest for destruction of property and assault,” the guard said, the other one helping Fluttershy pick up the drone. “Depending on what she says we might need to add harassment and a few other charges.”

“Do you know who I am?!” Blueblood spat at the guard. A terrible mistake. A moment later he was face-down on the ground and hoof-cuffs were being applied with what one might call police brutality if it happened to a better pony.

“You just had to make this hard on yourself,” the guard muttered.

“I’m sorry you had to deal with all that,” I whispered to Fluttershy.

“I t-think I’ll head back home,” Fluttershy said. “Robin needs to be looked at.” She patted the drone’s chassis. The other quadcopter hovered nearby, like it was worried. Her drones always had the strangest behavior quirks.

“Can you have those parts sent to my apartment?” I asked, my mood greatly improved. She nodded and produced a small crystal slate. I tapped a few times, confirming my payment to her account.

She hugged me, taking me by surprise. Before I could properly react she was busy putting things away, and I left, wishing her well with repairing the machine.

Inside, I finally had a chance to put my crate down. Within fifteen minutes of getting in the door I had my vendor’s pass on a lanyard around my neck, my things safely at my rented table, and I was in line to get another cup of coffee before I started setting anything up -- the cup I’d had that morning was already wearing off and I was going to need caffeine if I wanted to be able to smile for the rest of the day.

I saw her when I was returning, carefully clutching the steaming paper cup with my magic and guiding it through the maze of ponies working to set up their displays and advertisements.

Fleur Dee Lis, the most beautiful pony in Equestria.

I almost dropped the cup. I knew every inch of her body -- I had a dozen posters of her hanging in my apartment, showcasing the newest and best augmentations from the most exclusive designers. My dream was to have her model for me. She was my inspiration, the reason I’d augmented my legs in the first place.

“She sure is something, isn’t she?”

“She’s beautiful,” I sighed.

“You could be just like her with some cutting-edge Flim-Flam Brand Designer Legs! We have over two dozen designs ready and waiting to be installed!”

“Thank you, but I do my own--” I turned to give him my full attention, the least I could do when turning down a fellow designer.

The first thing I saw was the smile of the two ponies in front of me, white and too square and perfect.

The second thing I saw were cheap copies of my own designs, the panels ill-fitted and made of what looked like little more than tin foil.

The third thing I saw was red.

“What is this?!” I demanded, pointing at a copy of one of my most recent designs that had apparently been copied with the kind of build quality and skill expected of a blind foal working entirely by sense of smell.

“Why that’s the patented Flim-Flam Beauty Armature Ten-Thousand! It-”

“It’s a terrible copy of the leg I made for a private client two months ago,” I interrupted. “At the very least you’re not trying to claim it’s my work, since I doubt anypony using this would regret it within a week!”

“Ma’am, please,” the pony without a moustache said, in a quiet hiss. “Perhaps we can discuss this in private? There’s no need to make a scene.”

“Indeed, brother mine,” the other pony agreed. “Serious accusations like this--”

“Accusations?!” It was all I could do not to flip their table over and show them just what a lady could do with a Rarity original.

“You’ll find that our patents are all in order and filed with the bureau,” Flim, or Flam, whichever it was -- I didn’t care enough to bother reading their nametags -- had the bull-headed assurance of somepony who knew he was doing something wrong but not technically illegal. Apologies to any minotaurs if that comment came across as tribalism.

“All of our designs are inspired by big name designers at a lower cost. All the components are original to us,” the other one explained. “Certainly they’re similar, but the internal mechanisms and assembly are based on well-tested and durable designs.”

“You mean you take bottom-tier discount store junk and slap on a new coat of paint and try to pass it off as a knockoff of my designs?!”

“We prefer to think of it as upgrading something the average consumer can afford.”

“Of course if you’d really like to press this in court, we’ll be happy to show you the paperwork. You’ll find you don’t have a leg to stand on, if you’ll pardon the pun.”

Both brothers laughed, and I growled. The worst part was that they were probably right. It didn’t take much to be legally distinct from my own product, especially since they were using their own branding. It would be almost impossible to prove any kind of harm to my own brand. I had a feeling they’d drag out any court proceeding for as long as possible even if they were sure to win, just to annoy me.

“Here,” they said, levitating over a business card. I took it, even if I had no intent of ever doing business with them. “Regardless of what you think of us, your designs are quite attractive.”

The other brother nodded. “If you’d ever like to make some fast and easy bits, we’d love to license some official designs! We’d allow you to use your own branding and sell them from our storefront. Think of the exposure!”

“I’ll--” My bank account, constantly jumping between full and empty, was a sudden heavy presence in my thoughts. I took a deep breath and collected myself, biting back my pride. “I’ll consider it, if you agree to remove the unofficial versions.”

“That would be quite an agreeable compromise.”

“Yes, I… suppose so,” I admitted.

“Since you have a vendor badge, I assume you have your own booth?”

“Which I should be setting up. I’ll contact you after this is over and we can discuss your…” I waved a hoof at the knockoffs before leaving, not listening to their too-pleasant and too-happy goodbyes. I felt like I’d agreed to sit down with Tirek for contract negotiations regarding my soul, but it would be nice not to spend weeks on end eating instant noodles.

“Excuse me, I don’t mean to pry, but can I examine your legs?”

The question caught me while I was distracted watching two mares setting up some very complicated audio equipment, giving me some ideas about integrating instruments into augmentations. I put down my sketchpad to give the mare the benefit of my full attention.

“Of course. Is there anything from my catalog I can get for you, or…?”

I trailed off when I realized she was looking at my flank. I mean, it was flattering in its own way, and it wasn’t like I hadn’t replaced my legs precisely so ponies would want to look at my curves, but there was nothing coy or cute about the way she was studying me. I wasn’t sure if she was undressing me with her eyes or merely disassembling me.

She was cute, at least, though there was something odd about her appearance that I couldn’t quite place. The mare was clearly augmented, but I couldn’t tell where they began and ended.

“Your cutie mark is still perfectly sharp,” she said. “But you have all four legs augmented. That’s surprising. Usually, beyond two limbs, ponies begin to show signs of thaumatic field distortion.”

I glanced back. Cutie marks were a touchy subject with heavily augmented ponies. They’d appear on artificial limbs, but it was a commonly known fact that cutie marks tended to fade and blur the more a pony replaced their own flesh with magitech augmentations. So far, despite replacing all four of my legs, mine was still as bright as the day I’d gotten it. I took it as a sign that it was what I was meant to do, that my choice to improve myself had always been correct.

Many augmented ponies tried to hide their distorted cutie marks. I’d painted them on custom orders myself for clients who will remain nameless.

“Thank you,” I said. “You’ve had some work done yourself, haven’t you? I don’t recognize the designer, I’m afraid…”

“Have you had any tests done on nerve hardening?”

“My work is clean,” I said, more sharply than I intended. She winced, and I felt bad about it immediately. “I’m sorry, darling. It’s just a touchy subject for any designer.”

“R-right,” she said.

“Rarity,” I said, offering her my hoof to shake. She grabbed it and leaned in to stare, her eyes glowing. They must have been augmented, and I could just barely make out a seam for her legs. It couldn’t have been her whole body, surely. Her six-pointed star cutie mark was as bright as mine, and full-body augmentation was vanishingly rare.

“Very nice,” she muttered. “Wires are all high-grade silver, and the gem reserves are corundum.”

“I grow rubies,” I confirmed.

“Lab-grown, rather than natural?” She glanced up at me. I nodded in confirmation. “That makes sense. Much higher quality, no flaws…”

“I didn’t catch your name,” I said.

She paused. More accurately, she froze in place like she only just realized that she was speaking with another pony. I’m not sure if she realized that she’d actually been rude yet.

“Twilight Sparkle,” she said. I could tell she wasn’t used to introducing herself. Her ears folded back, and she slowly let go of my hoof. “Sorry.”

“A pleasure to meet you,” I assured her. “I’m glad to meet somepony who can recognize quality.”

I watched her try to decide how to respond, and it would have been a fascinating case study for anypony who wanted to observe social awkwardness in the wild. I couldn’t read her mind, yet I could still see her consider and discard lines one after another, growing more and more frantic as the silence stretched into awkwardness.

“Y-you have…” I smiled while she stalled for time. It was adorable. “...a very nice… table.” She smiled.

I struggled to hold back a laugh. The poor thing was trying, after all.

“Thank you.”

“H-here.” She gave me a small crystal sheet. “It’s got my contact information.”

It was my turn to be surprised and speechless. The crystal was a small, simple display rather than just a card. Just how rich was this mare?

“It shows my availability and can do a few other things,” she explained. “I, um, designed them myself! It’s based on the enchantment used in tablets but with some of the compactification found in military communication augments. Of course you know the issues that presents with interference.”

I had no idea what she was talking about, but I nodded along gamely. Unfortunately, she wasn’t finished.

“I’ve been trying to keep them small enough to fit inside the typical bionic design but that limits the kind of functionality you can get out of them, and they’re somewhat fragile, which is a big worry since most limbs are load-bearing and the constant movement means--”

“Lady Sparkle?”

Oh thank the stars. I was saved. A royal guard stepped up to her and leaned down to whisper in her ear. The mare’s expression froze in place.

“I have to go,” she said. “I’m sorry for cutting this short.”

“It’s quite alright,” I assured her. “I hope you can--”

A blast of sound cut me off, the musicians blasting a single note at a volume that could have awoken the newly dead.

Twilight Sparkle tried to say something to me, but I couldn’t hear her over the noise.

Like a foal, I tried to tell her as much and my own voice was drowned out.

She smiled awkwardly and bowed, excusing herself. I waved as she left.

I was starting to understand why the booths in this section were somewhat cheaper than the rest. I made a note in my AR display to get a booth somewhere quieter next year, and noticed an older note from myself last year to get a booth closer to the main stage.

“Maybe I just can’t win no matter what I do,” I groaned (not that I could hear even hear myself think), deleting both notes.

I got back to sketching some ideas - maybe speakers in the hips, over where the cutie marks would usually be? The good thing about the wall of noise was that in some ways, it was similar to total silence. I didn’t have to worry about anypony trying to make conversation, any kind of sales pitch was out of the question.

I idly sketched some replacement ears, on the chance that I’d need them after this expo.

Ears were actually somewhat tricky to design. Certainly, the mechanics of hearing weren’t difficult, but the most common type of replacements were purely functional, lacking the important movement and social cues that ears gave. To truly express emotions correctly, they needed to fold back, perk up, swivel to focus on what one was listening to, all unconsciously.

I was trying to decide if the design looked better with a tuft at the end or not when the push notification decided to make itself known.

Even the music faltered for a moment, and I looked up to see everypony around me dealing with the message. Apparently I wasn’t the only one to get a software update request, though it was somewhat unusual since I didn’t use the standard firmware.

I dismissed the message without downloading, something that most of the other ponies would be unable to do. Even the ones that wouldn’t normally click on the shiny button with nary a thought of reading didn’t have a choice when something was sent as a security patch. The network in the hall slowed to a crawl as hundreds queued up.

I made a note on the edge of my sketch to add something about ‘ease of use’ and ‘no need for constant updates’ to my marketing, though of course I liked to consider myself the best marketing my products could get.

When I was a foal, I was in a terrible accident. It made the news, though my name was never attached to it. A monorail jumped the tracks, with myself and a few dozen others aboard. I lost both of my back legs just above the knee and my left foreleg halfway down the fetlock. Believe it or not, that made me the luckier of the two survivors. The only other pony that survived lost her whole family and was burned terribly. I spent the better part of a year in the hospital. It was a cycle of getting healthy enough to have surgery, then recovering from that just in time for another round under the knife.

This would normally be when, were this a fairy tale, I told you about how I took to augmentations like a fish to water. The truth is, they’re actually quite hard on a foal. My body was changing more quickly than we could get replacements for the limbs I outgrew, so I was always either getting used to new legs or dealing with ones that fitted poorly. I was awkward, ungainly, and I hated my appearance.

There’s nothing quite for making poor decisions as a teenage filly with body issues and a chip on her shoulder. I hated how my hips ached all day, how my uneven forelimbs made me limp, and how ponies would stare at me in pity. I tried everything I could to make myself look good to somepony, at least to myself. Painting them, adding gems. Going black and riveted when I had a regrettable goth phase. It took a long time for me to realize the issue.

It’s a problem that requires an artist to explain, because a layperson doesn’t have the words, though they can see that a problem exists just as well as anypony.

When I was a foal, I used to draw a lot. It was something I could do with my one good hoof, since anything requiring actual dexterity or grace was beyond me, and asking me to run and play was simply torture. I would try drawing ponies, and I couldn’t understand why the art didn’t turn out the way I wanted. I’d make sure I had all the right details, I’d spend hours on shading and coloring, and it would still be terrible.

The problem was, my linework was bad. All art has layers. There’s the outline, the general framework, which describe a painting in the broadest strokes. On the other end of the scale are the fine details, like detailed shading or drawing the fine highlights and lines around a pony’s eye. Between them is the linework, the actual shape of the thing you’re drawing, the combination of pose and perspective and sense of space. It’s the silhouette of the thing, and if it’s wrong then no matter how many details you add it will never look exactly right.

My own silhouette was wrong. It didn’t matter how I styled my mane or painted up my false legs, they were never going to be elegant. They were like a fanny pack or those detestable ‘crocs’. No matter how useful they were, or how comfortable they got, they were never going to be beautiful. At best they would be functional.

The moment I came of age and was able to make my own decisions, I had what was left of my legs removed, including my remaining undamaged hoof. It was all paid for by the same Crown fund that had paid for all my other limbs over the years.
My parents and I had a terrible row over it, but they couldn’t countermand my decision, and despite what they thought about me ‘maiming’ myself, for the first time since I was a foal, I felt at peace. I was free of pain, my legs felt strong and secure, and when I finally saw myself in a mirror, balanced on four shining, chrome hooves, I felt beautiful.

I have never regretted my decision, though my relationship with my family has never recovered. I’ve spent my entire life since then doing everything I could to help other ponies who were less fortunate than I learn how to feel beautiful too.

I was broken out of my reverie by a scream.

A pony had collapsed, their back legs jerking and twitching wildly. I dropped my sketchpad and only got a step towards him before somepony else screamed. Then a third voice joined the chorus. The music was drowned out by the sounds of panic and I was forced to retreat back to my booth as ponies stampeded toward the exit, the fallen pony vanishing as he was trampled by the herd.

The lights flickered and died. Through the windows high up on the walls of the convention floor, I could see the skyscrapers around us going dark, the power going off not all at once, like a power failure, but moving up and down the towers. It was like an army of ponies had found the fuse boxes for the whole city and were busily turning everything off one switch at a time.

Possibly the most worrying thing I saw, in that moment of blackness, was my SolNet signal degrade to nothing. I couldn’t call for help, and I had no idea what was going on outside.

These things alone would have been enough to disturb even my calm demeanor, but when the emergency lights came on they revealed that things had gotten significantly worse instead of better.

Gunfire erupted at the same time the red lights flickered on, like flashes of blue and green lightning in the dim glow.

“Everypony freeze!”

Oddly, shouting and firing weapons into the air over a stampede of terrified ponies didn’t have the effect the shooter wanted. There was a lot of screaming and more stampeding and very little freezing. I couldn’t even see whomever was trying to make demands until they got up on stage.

They looked rather exactly like one would expect a pony who had such awful manners as to start a riot would look. Black vinyl vest, a shock of poorly-dyed pink for their mane, and two chromed limbs, a back leg that looked like it was actually rusting and a foreleg whose fetlock was both obviously very new and also split open to reveal a hidden magibolt thrower.

He fired again, a neon crackle going over the heads of the ponies crowding around the exit and blowing apart the exit sign glowing above the door.


This time ponies listened, and the sounds of panic were replaced with yelled orders from around the room, an occasional cry of pain, and the screaming of terror being replaced by the sobbing of horror.

I spotted the unicorn who’d been trampled. He was still breathing, curled up and obviously hurt. Oh what I would have given for some sort of thermoptic camouflage at that moment. My desire to be seen had betrayed me again! I made a note to work up some sort of fashionable invisibility. Maybe limbs that could cloak parts of their workings to seem impossibly slender and still maintain strength…

Anyway, I did what I could to try not to draw attention to myself as I moved over to the fallen stallion and tended to him.

“Calm down, darling,” I whispered. “I think you have a few broken ribs.” I gently pressed his side, trying to ignore his whimpering.

The one bad thing about my limbs, especially my newest one, was that the sense of touch was somewhat poor. Even so, I was able to tell he wasn’t in any immediate danger.

“Good news, it seems like they’re only cracked.” I tried to get a hoof under his shoulder to help him up. “Can you stand? If we can get over to my booth you’ll be safer there.”

A patter of green bolts hit the carpet around our hooves, digging blackened craters into the polyester. I looked up at a pegasus who didn’t even have back legs. The steel sockets for limb attachments were there, but left empty. Even in the darkness I could see the discoloration around the edge that meant infection and a poor connection.

“Do you have a bucking hearing problem?” The pegasus aimed the snub-nose caster higher. “The next time it won’t be a feathering warning shot!”

“I’m just trying to help,” I said. “This gentlestallion got hurt.”

“A lot of bucking ponies are gonna get hurt!” The pegasus took aim.

“Wait!” The voice echoed from the speakers. Both I and the pegasus turned to look. The pony on stage waved. “Bring her up here. We could use a pretty hostage for when the press show up.”

“The boss said--” the pegasus started.

“The boss is just a kid, and she’s following her own orders. We’re here to send a message. They’re not gonna care about you or me with everything going on, but they won’t be able to resist a photo-op with a gun pointed at that mare.”

“I-if you let me give this stallion medical attention, I’ll do what you want,” I said.

The pegasus flew closer, hovering so closely he was able to press the barrel of his weapon against the head of the pony I was trying to help.

“If you don’t do what we want, he’s gonna need more help than you can bucking give him unless you’re a feathering priest giving him his last rites,” he spat. “You think I give a buck what happens to stuck-up hornheads like you?!”

“Brick, back off,” the pony on stage warned. “The last thing we should complain about is somepony actually trying to help.”

The pegasus grumbled and lowered his weapon, flying back up above head height.

I helped the unicorn up and we limped back to my booth.

“You shouldn’t put yourself in danger for me,” he whispered. “I appreciate the effort but I wouldn’t want a lovely thing like you risking things for an old stallion like me.”

“If I didn’t help I’d be just as bad as them. Now, there’s not much to be done about ribs, unfortunately. I’m not exactly a doctor, but I believe the best thing is to wrap them up and try to restrict your movement. A corset would do nicely but I don’t think I have anything in your color.”

He laughed a little and winced at the pain. I grabbed a first aid kit and wrapped him with what little gauze was available.

“I’ll take your expert advice,” he said. “If we somehow both get out of this alive, I’ll owe you.”

“It’s nothing any other decent pony wouldn’t have done. What made you collapse in the first place?”

“There was that firmware update,” he whispered. “When it installed, everything started to crash. It made these terrible images appear in my display…”

“No wonder ponies were panicking,” I said, glancing over my shoulder. There were a lot of ponies still down. I hadn’t noticed it before, but many of them looked like they were in the grip of some sort of nightmare, sweating and twitching at unseen horrors.

“Hey! Are you done?” Brick yelled.

I gave my new friend a pat on the shoulder. “Yes. So I expect you want me to walk up on stage and sit quietly while you yell at the press about, oh, let me guess, the price of tea and the unfair conditions of the working class?”

The look on his face said he’d have shot me right there if he hadn’t already been ordered not to.

While I like pressing my luck, I felt the odds here were significantly worse than at the casino. I allowed myself to be led up onto the stage.

“You know, whatever difficulties you’re having, this is hardly the best way to resolve them,” I said. “Violence is never the answer.”

“Violence is the only way to get ponies to listen when you’ve tried everything else,” the stallion countered. He was close enough that I could get a good look at him despite the poor light. He shook slightly with the distinct shiver of the Black Shakes, and every time he moved I heard motors straining and catching, gears slipping and stripping.

His cutie mark was just a smear of color. I couldn’t even tell what it was supposed to be.

“I’m surprised you aren’t affected,” he said. “Half the ponies here are comatose and the others aren’t in any condition to fight back.”

“I’m made of sterner stuff.” And custom firmware. “That looks rather painful,” I noted, glancing at his back leg.

“You have no idea,” he grumbled. “Brick, where are those cameras?!”

I’m not sure if you’ve… actually I’m quite sure you’ve never had to listen to a pony spout catchphrases from their manifesto at a scared newsmare and her camerapod. It’s not a pleasant experience. It has all the joy of listening to a rather dull lecture at school combined with the terror of knowing the professor might decide to shoot you at any moment. It has a way of focusing the mind in case there’s a pop quiz at the end.

“The big corporations are intentionally releasing inferior products to trick the poor into getting augmentation surgery, and then when everything breaks down, they refuse to take responsibility!” He shouted. “Thousands are crippled, and even more are working like slaves just to pay for the loans they needed to stop the constant pain!”

I sighed. Apparently that was the wrong thing to do. The gun swung in my direction.

“You have no idea what it’s like!”

I held up my obviously augmented leg, then looked at my other three. “I don’t?”

“You’re obviously rich! You never had to struggle with broken trash bolted to your legs just because FlimFlam Heavy Industries--” I glanced at their booth and found it empty. I had a feeling they were used to running away from dissatisfied customers. “--Decided it was a better business strategy to use factory-second parts and charge ponies a premium if they wanted something that worked! You just threw money at the problem and it went away, but not all of us can do that!”

“Excuse moi?” I huffed. “I am a self-made mare. Literally. I built these hooves by hoof.”

“Then you’re just part of the problem. I bet you charge ponies out the snout.”

“My designs are somewhat expensive, but they’re custom commissions. Each one takes a lot of work and is tailored specifically to the user. I do donate to the foal’s hospital--”

“So you just throw them your scraps and let it absolve you of all guilt!”

“I suspect you’re not really interested in a dialogue.”

“Talking hasn’t solved problems. I’ve spent years fighting on the phone,in court, in person, just trying to get somepony to fix the problems their products caused. All I got was a restraining order and a police record!”

“I can’t imagine why they’d want you to keep away.”

“If you gave a buck about ponies like me you’d do it with action instead of bits and platitudes.”

I didn’t even have to think for a moment. “Fine. Let me see your back leg.”


“You want me to prove I care, so why don’t you shut up and let me help?”

“You've got amazing bedside manner.”

“You’re not a patient, you’re a terrorist leader.”

If nothing else, that got him to stop pointing the gun at me. I got to work, finding the screws holding the outer panels on the leg and pulling them free. They were stamped out of cheap tin, fitted poorly and already partly stripped.

The inside was a mess. The wires were run loose, letting them get pinched every time he moved, and several had been worn through entirely. Motors were spun poorly and cheaply, crystal circuits were cracked, struts were bent. It looked like it had been put together from a box of scraps.

It wasn’t the kind of thing you could fix. No matter how much work you put into polishing glass, it never becomes a diamond. I could clean his leg, repair the broken wiring and re-run it to be a bit better, but in the end it would still be an inferior product.

I hated doing it, but there wasn’t much choice. I opened up my new foreleg and started removing components. I needed two motors, a bundle of conduit to fix the wires…

A stray thought hit me. I could stop him right here. The leg had a thick line going right to the spine. A big enough shock to the unshielded wire (and the limb had been made so poorly there was no doubt it was unshielded) would knock him out. Possibly even kill him.

I dismissed the thought and, before I could be tempted again, I cut the line and spliced in a buffer to keep it from happening again. He started to slide, falling for a moment until I leaned into him, holding him up.

“What are you doing?” He demanded.

“Hold on a moment, darling,” I muttered. I checked the connections, welded a few spots with a plasma needle, and closed up shop, trying to buff the worst of the rust off. “That’s the best I can do at the moment. You could really use a new coat of paint, but it would take some time to strip off what’s already there.”

He frowned and took a step. Then another. His expression changed. I’ve seen the same thing a dozen times, ponies getting a quality product for the first time. You don’t realize how bad things were until they’re better. If you’d asked him, he probably would have said his biggest complaint was a lingering pain, stiff joints, that sort of thing. There are all kinds of aches that you simply get used to. A slowness and dullness that becomes normal.

“How did you do that?” He asked.

I laughed. “I happen to be good at my job.”

“You disassembled your own leg?”

There wasn’t much of my newest creation left attached to me. I’d had to remove the elbow actuator to replace his, and the minimalist design meant the upper and lower leg weren’t going to hold together without it.

“Your issue couldn’t be repaired,” I said. “I mean, perhaps, with a microscope and a lot of time, but I didn’t want to spend a week re-wrapping copper wires and tracing circuits to see where the crystals were flawed. This was what I could do with the materials, ah, at hoof.”

“But… you…”

“We’re not all like Flim and Flam. There will always be somepony trying to take advantage of the unfortunate. I’m sorry you’ve had such a terrible time. I know what it’s like to have issues with your own body.”

We both looked at his flank. The smear of colors was still blurry, but it looked like something now. I could just make out a quill and scroll.

He lowered his hoof, the panels folding around it and hiding the gun.

“Brick, get everypony together. We’re leaving.”

“What?! But we’ve got ‘em where we want ‘em!” The pegasus fluttered around us in a circle.

“No, we don’t. I’m getting a message on the dark line. The Think Tank’s down. The Guard is gonna be here soon.”

“What? But how’d they even stop it?!”

“I donno. Some problem with the escort. Shouldn’t have trusted that mare…” The leader spat. “Shoot anypony who follows us!”

“Should we take hostages?”

“They’ll slow us down,” he said. “Let’s move!”

I was rudely shoved to the side, and with only three working legs I fell in a less graceful manner than I’d intended. I didn’t see them leave from my awkward position, but a few minutes later, I was being helped up by a member of the Royal Guard and it was all over.

I sent the venue owner a request to have my fees refunded, though they have yet to reply.

As usual, when I got back to my apartment I tried to sleep and got distracted by ideas. The terrorists had been victims in the giant mess just as much as everypony else. No, that’s not quite right. Flim and Flam, as awful as they were on a personal level, were just doing business. Certainly, they cut corners, but they were also serving a part of the market that I hadn’t considered before.

There were many more poor ponies than rich ones, and while there were quite a few augmented because of accident or illness, insurance would only cover the least expensive options available, and nothing even came close to being as low-priced as FlimFlam Heavy Industries. They had a part of the market all to themselves and even with a terrible product, ponies were stuck using them.

Currently, I was trying to determine how to minimize the cost of good-quality cybernetics. They needed to be able to work with little maintenance in all sorts of conditions. I won’t bore you with the details, but I’d spent all night sketching ideas. SolNet didn’t come back up until after dawn, so I couldn’t look up materials prices, but I did have some promising ideas.

There was a knock on my door.

Startled, I stood up on all four limbs before my body remembered that I couldn’t do that as I only had three legs. I hadn’t gotten around to actually pulling my old foreleg out of the closet. I’d planned on doing it in the morning and then forgotten entirely.

Pinkie’s face popped up on my AR display.

[Are you okay? I heard a thump!]

“I’m fine,” I said, though my voice was muffled by the carpet.

[You didn’t come down for breakfast and I was worried about you so I brought you food!]

“You’re too kind,” I yawned. “I’m just a bit indisposed. The door code is--”

Before I’d even said it, she’d popped the door open and bounced inside. I would have asked how she got my door code but I suspected the answer would either be nonsensical or extremely worrying and I was better off not knowing.

“Let me help,” Pinkie said, giving me a hoof off the ground. “You’re a really brave pony, Rarity. I heard about everything you did!”

“It was nothing,” I assured her. “Can you help me into-- yes, thank you.” I settled down into the chair, and Pinkie popped a box on the table.

It didn’t look like it was from the cafe, and when I opened it a quadcopter flew out of a nest of salvaged components.

“That’s not breakfast, in case you were worried,” Pinkie said.

“No, I think this is from Fluttershy. I forgot I even bought these.” I smiled. “At least I have parts for my next project. And apparently a new pet, which I don't recall adopting.”

“Neat! You should have told her to visit! I haven’t seen her in forever!”

“You know she avoids the city when she can.”

‘Yeah. I’ll have to ask the Cakes for a day off so I can go visit her,” Pinkie agreed. “Anyway, I got you a six-pack of crocakes! They’re croissant-donut-cupcakes! It’s like if all the best parts of breakfast got together and had a baby and that baby was a pastry!”

I looked into the bag she produced. The flavors I sensed were certainly interesting. I could smell butter, cheese, icing, raspberry, and mushroom, and I had a feeling they might all be coming from the same pastry. I was caught between being worried and intrigued.

“I don’t suppose you brought…?”

“Hot sauce?”

Pinkie dropped a small glass bottle on the table.

“This is the good stuff. Lab-synthesized capsaicin and pepper flavor with plenty of vinegar and garlic.” She winked.

“I was going to say coffee, actually.”

“I knew I forgot something! Don’t go anywhere!”

“I don’t think staying still will be a problem,” I assured her. She was out the door and beyond hearing range but, well, she was also Pinkie Pie. I had a feeling it didn’t matter if I was here or across the street.

I sighed and sat back, taking a bite of the crocakes and tasting a bizarre mix of sweet and savory.

By the time she got back I had passed out in the chair, dreaming of a world without quite so much ugliness in it.

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