• Published 2nd Nov 2020
  • 192 Views, 25 Comments

Ostraca - Reese

An anthology of bits and pieces and fragments of writing, of various levels of completeness and quality. I hope that, if you look, you'll find at least something of interest to you.

  • ...

Camping by Lake Mead

A campfire burned in the night on the dry shore of a calm lake, four figures around it. Two hovered just above the ground by unseen means, their bodies metal, roughly spherical, with grilles and stubby weapons facing the fire and long spine-like antennae pointing away. One sat, bipedal, still human and female by many definitions, and clad head to toe in sealed, faceless, dusty tan armor.

The fourth figure was a small purple unicorn, oddly proportioned for a horse but almost entirely lifelike, save for the purple-painted mechanical arm extending from an open hatch in her back and poking a stick listlessly at the fire.

The unicorn watched the fire. The woman watched the unicorn.

The unicorn sighed and slumped, her arm falling limp with the stick still in the fire. She watched the fire start to spread along it. The two hovering orbs watched the woman and the unicorn with their forward-facing sensors, and the entire surrounding area at the same time.

Finally, when the unicorn, otherwise still slumped, pulled her arm away from the fire-front on the stick to drape on the dusty ground nearby, the woman broke the awkward silence. Her voice reminded the unicorn of a friend's sister from her false memories, save that now she thought she might have understood the subtle shades Pinkie would have heard in it, were Pinkie real.

"Mr. House says that the reverse engineering and adaption of the hard-light hologram technology for remote manipulation is less than a year away."

Because the woman's voice had none of it. The unicorn had heard her with her helmet off, and if anything, the distortion from the microphones and speakers only added feeling.

The unicorn sighed again, the arm folding away into its cavity and the hatch closing to lose the seam in fake fur. She looked at the woman.

"The arm is fine. Thank you."

The fire crackled, rapidly using up its stickborne probe to the rest of the dusty world.

"Well. I suppose having levitation b-- wouldn't hurt. And I'm sure your war machines will benefit too."

"Yes," said the woman, giving no sign of noticing the slight bite in the unicorn's words.

One of the orbs let out a series of beeps, then pivoted in the air are fired a beam of red light into the night. In the distance, a pile of glowing ash that had been a mutant insect fell out of the air. The orb pivoted back, and both beeped. The unicorn, if slightly, smiled at them.

"Yes, I know. It's a dangerous world. And..." Another sigh, and a look to the woman. "You... well, Mr. House isn't the worst person to have this power." She frowned and kicked the dust a bit.

The woman said nothing. The unicorn sighed yet again, then rolled onto her back and gestured to the orbs with her forehooves. "Can't you talk to her?"

The orbs beeped.

"...Right, Enclave. I... forget that, talking to you. I still don't know how you..." The horned head tiled upside down towards the woman, but violet eyes closed. Quietly, "But you made me, didn't you?"

The unicorn rolled back to her hooves and opened her eyes to glare. "That's what I don't get! You're so... you! You don't get other... real, non-programmed people's emotions, you have no empathy for them, except Sarah somehow--"

"She's nice."

The unicorn looked.

"...Yes, she is. But so are a lot of people. And in all the time I've known you since you activated me and all the records I've looked at, you don't care, at all. You don't even pretend to. But--" She gestured at the hovering orbs, then herself. "--you can turn war machines into pleasant people and program machines to have more empathy than you do!"

"Thank you. But the work of making the ED-Es good people didn't start with me."

"But you continued it! You made them better people, and gave them resources to make themselves better people... if still fanatically loyal unapologetic killers." She gestured to one of the two orbs. "And -- no offense, ED-E2 -- how many thousands of humans did you kill to save his life, when he was ready and willing to sacrifice it to save them?"

"The slaves weren't worth it, and the legionnaires' deaths were useful."

The unicorn buried her face in her forehooves and let out a noise mostly groan and partly sob.

"Right," without removing her hooves. "Not even something about putting the slaves out of their suffering. Just 'They weren't worth it', like everyone else you kill. Celestia knows what would have happened if you'd thought Caesar was a better employer than House!"

"Unlikely, given his anti-robot stance."

The unicorn flopped back onto her back and stared up at the stars. The orbs bobbed around in the air to face her. The woman remained in exactly the same position she'd been in since sitting down, but after a moment the unicorn felt her own visual feed of the night sky being accessed. She considered closing her eyes to spite her creator/mother/slavemaster, but decided against it. The woman'd just use one of the eyebots instead if she continued to care at all, and the unicorn'd just be denying herself. If she looked into the sky long enough, and the vast and magnificent spread of stars over the desert, she could pretend that she was just lying on an oddly dry hill outside Ponyville, perhaps because Rainbow Dash was napping and missed some rain earlier on a hot summer day, and that the glorious display above was because of the loving work of the Princess of the Night rather than the unicorn's high-(-military-)-grade optical sensors.

"I know you care," the unicorn said softly after another period of silence. "I... can see that. You care about us, and apparently you can even care about at least one other human. And I know that, on some level, you understand empathy. Understand it... better than most people, really. Most people couldn't have made me, even if they had the coding skills, I think. But... you have to know what you're doing is wrong, then."

"I thought you thought Mr. House's plan was the best option available. Do you not?"

"It still is. I don't like... like how callous he can be, how much harm he's willing to ignore or inflict, but... this is a harsh world. And if he pulls this off... maybe it'll be a better one." Another sigh, and this time she sent a polite request to one of the eyebots. A moment later she was sharing its view of the woman. "And he keeps you in check. But he's not what I mean. You... your work as a mercenary, just solving problems for your employer no matter who's in your way -- even robots --, that's normal in this world. I get it. You're unusually cold and unusually effective, but those are quantitative differences. But this?" with a forehoof pointing down at herself and a tail flick. The eyebot not looking at the woman beeped, and the unicorn flicked the tip out of the fire. Undamaged, of course. "You made me to be Twilight Sparkle. A character from a two-hundred-plus-year-old children's show about a magical land of happy ponies learning about friendship. Your effort to get my personality right can only be described as a labor of love... but you know, doing that, that you were going to wake me up here. You made sure I had full memories of my friends, my family, and you also made sure I knew that those were implanted memories and I was a robot waking up in a dead world where they'd never lived. And even though after coming to terms with my situation I asked you not to make my friends or anypony else, you'd still do it anyway, wouldn't you, or even copies of me, if you wanted to or Mr. House wanted you to?"

"I'd try to keep them from being mistreated if we sold them, and the ones with you would be with you."

"But you'd still do it."

"Yes. I've ordered the ED-Es into battle many times, and gone with them. That you're good people doesn't mean sacrifices aren't needed."

"You're crazy."

"That's been said."

Another silence.

Then the woman spoke.

"I've been thinking of having one of the colony planets set aside for you. Robots make more sense than humans as colonists anyway, even if Mr. House wants humans. You and other ponies can build a real Equestria."

There was another silence.

"Bribery with a better world, far off in the future once Mr. House's won enough?"

"He keeps his deals."

"...Yes, he does. And you'd make sure he stuck to that one, I expect. That's if he pulls it off. And you don't get yourself killed, or just fail to "upgrade" yourself into effective immortality."

"He's very competent. So am I."

"Yes, and how many ways was his little empire about to fall apart under his nose before you came along? Extreme competence doesn't mean immunity from overconfidence."

"That's true."


"I don't plan to lose."

Another moment of silence passed, and then the unicorn heaved her deepest sigh yet of the night, rolled back to her hooves, and turn and sat again facing the woman across the fire.

"...I don't know if I'm about to tempted onto a dark path, or if this is reaching past the worst personal problems yet with the hoof of friendship. I really don't like that those look so similar here. But you need help, in several senses of the phrase... and you built yourself a friendship unicorn. Maybe that was even a cry for help." A shrug. "But you and Mr. House are clearly doing ahead with your plans whatever your slaves. People are going to get hurt. A lot of them; they already are. If I fully join you in this, become as much your colleague instead of your pet as I can while still being your property with a backdoor into my soul, their blood is going to be on my hooves too. But maybe then, I can make things a bit better. Maybe even make you better. And if at the end there's a 'real' Equestria... taking a bribe or not, I'll take that stain with the rest for my... future people."

"Thank you. We'll make a better future. I'm glad you'll be my friend."

The unicorn nodded, then lowered her gaze to the fire.

"Harmony help me..."

At which point the eyebots let out simultaneous fanfares. The unicorn snorted, laughed, and wiped a fetlock pointlessly under one eye given she hadn't been bothering to keep her tear reservoirs refilled.

With mirth, "You two are terrible too, you know? Alright, so you idea for a friendship camping trip worked. At least in whatever twisted sense that means in what is apparently my life."

She got up, dusted herself off a bit, and trotted over to the saddlebags nearby. The arm emerged from her back again, and with it and her forehooves she began the preparations for s'more-making.

The flying robots beeped.

"Yes, I'm still going to share my taste feed with you."

"Me too, please."

The unicorn looked over at the still-motionless suit of armor and flattened her gaze and tone.

"Right. You do remember that you actually have your own taste buds and digestive system, right?"

"I made yours better."

Another sigh. "Of course you did. Well."

She trotted back to the fire and began the roasting.

"Yes, I'll share my taste feed with you too. And good for saying 'please'. Heh. Though I have to wonder if I've just taken on the job of raising a psychopathic genius filly and her two excitable brothers. Who all have heavy weaponry."

"I... am not sure how I feel about that social configuration."

The unicorn blinked at the still still armor as her arm carried on the s'more-work.

"...Right. We're a mess, aren't we?" The two eyebots bobbed in the air in a cheerful manner, and after a beat, the woman stiffly nodded before returning her head to exactly where it had started. The unicorn looked suspiciously at all of them, then pulled the marshmallow away from the fire and began the next stage. "Well. It's a start."

Author's Note:

The first few (three?) paragraphs of this were written, uh... [checks date] mid-October 2019, apparently (though I did at least a bit of editing when adding the rest), then finished in a burst of unexpected creativity now (end-of-October 2020) when I really actually should have been doing something else, but... [shrugs]
This, like the other things I'm thinking of putting with it if I post it, is kind of a random idea, branching off one of my old New Vegas characters.
I think this turned out an... interesting piece. Slightly weird, definitely a bit dark, but that's what you get when an, ah, mentally unusual but extremely skilled mercenary builds a robot Twilight Sparkle in the Fallout* universe.
(*But apparently with Friendship is Magic instead of(?) Giddyup Buttercup.)