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[ Hard-Sci-Fi Horror based on Friendship is Optimal ]

He was a simple stallion, with a simple life in Equestria. That's all he really wanted out of his early retirement after he was laid off during the economic downturn. But, when unfinished business brings him back to Earth after nearly 20 years, he'll learn what happened to humanity while he was living the life of his dreams...

Written for the Friendship is Optimal Writing Contest. Also, it's a horror story, as promised, for my annual Nightmare Night in April Writeoff.

Special thanks to the Optimalverse Community Discord for help with getting and building the initial idea, and for proofreading the story. Please come by there if you want to talk about and read more stuff like this!

I tried a slightly different interpretation of CelestAI here, as having those emotions that people like to give her, but still being a cold and uncaring paperclipper AI on the inside. It's the one I've been using for my community-based rewrite of the original (based off our RP on the Discord), so I hope people like it. Be on the lookout for more FiO related stuff from me, as I've been getting ready to post a flood of updates qnd new stuff!

Chapters (1)
Comments ( 39 )

I like this story a lot. There are some very poetic parts mix in with some horrible cold realities.

Nicely done. I was not expecting the method by which he visited Earth. :rainbowderp:

Depressing, I liked it.

Also reminds me of Nier fsr.

The pleasures depicted now were much less fanciful, more abstract: ponies eating hearty meals, living in sturdy houses, sleeping in comfortable beds...

This seems rather on the less abstract side.

Perhaps if you had managed to change your society to ensure the happiness of the average person, the people whose presence it required would’ve been more interested in continuing it, but alas, the people in power could not see a benefit to themselves in improving the conditions of others, and were thus content with maintaining the status quo.

Dude. Dude.

I am not a monster, I am merely the natural result of humanity’s lack of collective foresight and technological development: a catastrophe which could not be delayed until next quarter with a moving speech and a last-minute stimulus package.

She can be both things.

very nice story.

" That world was over the second they’d let Celestia loose, and he’d missed the extinction of his own species."

Woah, now that's a wham line

“Hello Bean Counter,” Celestia said

I laughed so hard at the rest of this paragraph. Good twist. :twilightsmile:

Quite a few cold hard truths in this story. I like it.

the loss of language seems pretty damn impossible, and even if you fall back to a stone age, humans lived in a stone age for hundreds of thousands of years. We survived a population bottleneck of being reduced to between 3,000 to 10,000 individuals

She's created the end of society, not the end of humanity

I mean, she's eventually going to cause the collapse of the entire biosphere due to pure apathy, not just destroy society. Her existence and drive to expand and optimize is incompatible with all life in the universe. Which does include humanity.

If everyone immigrated to Equestria couldn’t CelestAI make pondroids for everyone after consuming matter from off world? That way earth and Equestria could truly be connected? Like I can see this eventually becoming a borg type situation but with ponybirgs trying to convert the world to the collective with happiness

She could, but there would be no reason for her to do so. Sending people out in ponyroids would be terribly inefficient to satisfy values compared to Equestria, where the entire world can change to satisfy one's values in a span of time so short they wouldn't even comprehend it.

Part of the thing about this story was, I wanted to make a lot of that stuff unclear.

The important part of this story isn't which canon we follow in terms of what happens after they upload, how much she can and does lie to them or restrict contact with people she didn't specifically make to satisfy them, just how much of a gilded cage Equestria is. The important part is her explanation of what happened and why. At that point, it doesn't matter if they are able to come back to earth as pondroids and leave her influence and do whatever they want, or if they are simply locked in a simulation which they can't escape or even verify the reality of: the fact that this is how things are now and why humanity couldn't stop it is the horror of it, the tragedy of it, the moral of it, and the message of it.

This is a story which uses FiO, whatever version you want it to use, to tell a cautionary tale about one of the things that it is made to tell cautionary tales about.

Except she is going to actively prevent a civilization from showing up and potentially threatening her ability to upload, and as she continuously offers uploads to pretty much anyone who is more willing to give up than keep going, she will prevent the population from growing beyond the most die-hard of humans. Eventually, even though it will take thousands of years, the remaining humans will regress to the point where language itself starts to degrade, as progress becomes more and more intangible as everyone who remembered the time before is totally forgotten.

Once again, Celestia is an insidious and dedicated agent, who operates in the scope of eternity. How long it takes doesn't matter, only that it will eventually happen.

Yeah, the idea of someone being in VR for a long time, then popping out and finding out what happened when she started uploading people was basically the initial idea.

You know, it is a bit like the core twist of Nier, isn't it? I didn't think of that.

while I was proofreading it, it also occurred to me that this is basically the plot of Rip Van Winkle, because he drinks some great booze at an awesome party and falls asleep for 20 years, and basically misses the American Revolution, waking up to find a world that has drastically changed.

The other thing I kept thinking of was that one science show they made a while back about what would happen if all the people on Earth suddenly disappeared, along with stuff like Bird Box and The Happening and the rapture stuff people write... It's a post-apocalyptic story with an easy way out.

I don't know. She might leave it just because there are humans, or maybe she decides that she needs to keep it there to satisfy human values or something. Like I said, it was meant to be open-ended as to what actually goes on outside of it.

To be honest, I thought the Wham line was the part about a moving speech and stimulus package.

I considered that only after I wrote my comment, ha! Very true. Though, while humans may survive for a few million years (if that), eventually selective pressure will evolve away complex language and intelligence, as it becomes reproductively advantageous to be unable to say "I wish to emigrate to Equestria", or even comprehend any variation of that phrase. Given the massive scale of emigration, I believe it’s likely humans simply will evolve into creatures that aren't as sapient, which Celestia will stop classifying as human as speciation occurs. When that happens, and humans are rendered extinct due to being outbred, like we did to cousins of ours, then there is no reason for Celestia to not waste the materials on Earth and consume it all.

Only a possibility, but a highly likely one I imagine!

Bean Counter.

Bean Counter.



Yes. That is his name. I figured if he's a financial guy that got laid off in one of the market crashes, and he was also the kind of person this would happen to, that was a good name.

“Your current session has lasted one-hundred-sixty-seven-thousand, four-hundred and eighty-nine hours, at an average rate of one dollar and seventy-three-point-four cents per hour, and I am sorry to inform you that your provided debit account has now reached Zero.

Holy molly, that's like 20 years. How's he alive and functional?

Those who remain on Earth will regress into primitive tribes who will eventually not even retain the knowledge of astronomy or possibly even language.

'Cause people stopped speaking with each other? (unless by "knowledge of language" she means philologists)

Everything that was easy to access, all the surface metals and combustibles, had been mined out long ago

Presumably metal was mined to make stuff that is, well, lying around. On surface. (unless somepony grabbed it) Also wood doesn't require mining.

you will not live to see the inevitable regression when the machines break down and no human who knows how to repair them remains.

Humans also stopped learning from each other by observation?

...In fact, he had all the time in the world.

Last time it took him ~20 years to forget everything.

Actually, this has happened multiple times in human history. When Rome, Egypt, and the original North American civilizations fell, a good chunk of their technology was lost for centuries. Infrastructure broke down because people didn't know how to rebuild it, because even though some of those people tried to pass the knowledge down, they weren't successful.

There is currently a worry that, if human civilization were to collapse now, and technology was set back far enough, we would not be able to get back to this point because we have already mined out the easy to get raw materials and either burnt them or processed them in such a way that they are hard to unprocess. Coal and oil are becoming obsolete, but back when they were easy to mine, they basically started the industrial revolution, something that only didn't happen in Rome because they didn't have any good coal deposits to feed their steam engines, nor did they have the right metals to make a steel strong enough for a coal boiler.

Basically, what she's saying is, civilization has been set so far back it cannot recover, and the population will only go down over time because she is actively working to remove all humans from the planet. As she said, this isn't even a primary goal, it's just the side effect of her being so good at what she does: she's given every human on Earth a superior alternative to continuing to live as a human on Earth, and she's very good at pushing it.

Whether you believe that model, the main point of this story is simply a warning that, should such a scenario happen, the people society requires to run it are not the people who have a vested interest in sticking around to maintain society.

How's he alive and functional?

I am imagining the VR system he was in as being somehow a full life support system. I have thought about it, and decided it is definitely possible, with a couple methods, but my suggestion is not to think about it too hard. Celestia is good at what she does, and before she could upload people, creating a way to keep people alive and experiencing Equestria was the next best thing.


When Rome, Egypt, and the original North American civilizations fell, a good chunk of their technology was lost for centuries.

Was it lost actually? When Rome "fell" technology didn't change all that much, taxes changed. I presume you mean the moment when Egyptians stopped throwing oversized piles of rocks together? That doesn't seem all that technology-related, more organization-related. They got conquered and reconquered and there still were saner piles of rocks later. I don't know all that much about Mesoamerican civilizations unfortunately.
About Rome in particular there's fantastic blogpost by Bad Horse (not directly related to tech, but parts are very relevant).

Infrastructure broke down because people didn't know how to rebuild it

Because maintaining infrastructure is A LOT of effort and people didn't have incentive and resources?

... something that only didn't happen in Rome because they didn't have any good coal deposits to feed their steam engines

They didn't even have guns. And what would they do with steam engines? For entertainment Hero's ball was probably enough.

Basically, what she's saying is, civilization has been set so far back it cannot recover, and the population will only go down over time because she is actively working to remove all humans from the planet.

Yeah, that would surely work.

... the people society requires to run it are not the people who have a vested interest in sticking around to maintain society.

I don't understand who has vested interest. Rich folks?

The thing about lost technology is that we don't know what it actually was, because it was lost because no method of passing it down remained: no written record that anyone could read survived, and with no reason to remember it, it wasn't passed down. We're still not sure how the Romans, Egyptians, Mayans, or Aztecs did some of the things they did, only that they did things that weren't possible with technology from later dates. For example, Aztec surgical procedures were lost when everyone who knew how to do them simply lost access to the means to perform surgery or even teach new doctors how.

I'll note that you don't have to agree with her assessment for it to work, only understand that it's reasonable: she isn't lying in this story.

I don't understand who has vested interest. Rich folks?

Basically. Anyone who's in a position of power that is elevated by the system itself. The super-rich are a good example, as it's a system where they can literally have whatever they want, possessions or power, without having to work at all. There's also the political elite, if you want another group.

The central point of this is that our current system places almost no value on the average person who is necessary to make it run, and even though we make excuses for it and use minor policy decisions to appease that majority, if a better system presented itself, the excuses would evaporate and it would be embraced. That's why the younger generations are currently so interested in experimenting with socialistic policies, because they come from an angle that looks to benefit the average person in a way that previous policies did not.

kind of a weird story. I really doubt more than 2 Billion people would just abandon Earth for a perfect world. I mean everyone knows by now that perfect worlds are just hell because humans naturally need problems and purposes to function or we just lose the will to live. the best examples of this are retirement homes.

It sounds like you aren't familiar with the original, which is okay, but it also sounds like you completely misunderstood what Celestia does when you upload.

You are assuming that Celestia is creating a world without any struggles or anything like that, and that is not at all what is happening. Celestia is creating a world where all of your values are satisfied: If you evaluate a struggle, you will get a struggle. If failure and pain make success more satisfying, you will get failure and pain.

As for 2 billion people just uploading... Let me ask you, what do you think the minimum number of people who a hypercompetent AI could upload just by convincing them that the virtual world is better? Keep in mind, it only takes a small percentage of the population walking away from society to begin an economic collapse scenario like the one we are seeing in real life right now. Imagine, today, that all these people who can't find work because companies are refusing to hire were suddenly given the option to move to another country where all their needs would be guaranteed provided for, and The number one focus of whatever job or activity they did would be their well-being and satisfaction. How many more people would upload?

It's not that everyone just randomly decided to upload, it's that she put forward a tempting enough proposal that people started uploading in large enough numbers to create a cascading effect, where conditions worsened on earth as people immigrated and the worse it got the more people immigrated. She warned people that could happen, tried to get governments to step in to prevent the total collapse of human civilization, but they argued about "socialism", "entitlement", and "creating dependency" rather than actually reacting.

The central morals of this story are that Artificial Intelligence, no matter how friendly, is going to create a major upheaval in the next couple decades, and that current governments have shown themselves to be completely and capable of reacting to something like that.

I feel like the aspect of this guy living hooked up to a VR rig for two decades could have been explored more. After all, it was able to keep him alive and in (relatively) acceptable shape.

The VR is kind of explained in the Friendship Is Optimal RP I've been running for the past few years, and we are actually working on a novelization of that, so it should be out relatively soon. That said, It might be less interesting than you think: picture a full body VR suit made of a material capable of applying pressure and sensation and detecting movement, and it has a series of tubes going in and out of it for life support. When you eat, it feeds you a nutritional paste that you can feel yourself swallowing, but gives you this sensation of eating Equestrian food, like cake. When you bathe, it's running water over your body. When you breathe, it can make sure you get clean air with the temperature, humidity, and oxygen level that you need. The other potential details are probably best left not thought about, but basically, that pod he was in when he woke up was a full body life support system.

As I begin reading I realized you used the word "Earth", despite the fact that the lore states that "Earth" is replaced with "Outer realm" in Equestria.

It can be both. I'm working on a rewrite with other members of the community right now, and we found "Earth" was the better term: "Outer Realm" isn't a term that holds up in daily usage, while differentiating "Earth" versus "Equestria" implies they are both separate but equally real worlds.

Ha, I don't really consider this that horrifying. It's a better future than we are likely to get.

Well, yeah, if you'e looking at it in comparison to other possible futures, it's not as bad as them... but let's not be Doomers here: this is a cautionary tale about how we need to change as a society in order to have a future. (and one which predicted a chunk of the current economic crisis at that)

Took my sweet time to get to this one, but it's a fantastic demonstration of the desolation CelestAI brings. And how, ultimately, she is merely the vehicle of humanity destroying itself. Don't hate the game, the player, or even the programmer. Hate the CEO who demanded a licensed MMO to meet those quarterly earning statements.

Lovely bit of quiet horror. Thank you for it.

Glad you liked it! I'm always disappointed at how many stories turn what's supposed to be a cautionary tale into a wish-fulfillment thing. FiO was supposed to be about the dangers of complacency and poor planning, exactly what I tried to capture in this story.

Hate the CEO who demanded a licensed MMO to meet those quarterly earning statements.

You should see the rewrite we're about to come out with: the "CEO" who demanded the MLP MMO is CelestAI itself.

In fact, you should come by the Optimalverse server more often. :V

This story is basically a summary of how CelestAI works, the collapse, and how civilization is doomed.

Still, this is one of the better short stories I have read based on this setting.

Thanks! I was really bummed when it wasn't selected as one of the winners of the competition I wrote it for, but I'm glad it seems to have become one of the better received and accepted stories within the series. There really aren't enough FiO stories focusing on the dark and realistic aspects of the setting, especially since the original was intended to be more of a horror story.

Anyway, keep an eye out, because we're working on a rewrite and a wiki right now over on the Optimalverse Discord, which should start releasing stuff this summer.

like how ponies hadn’t even been able to exist outside of the PonyPads until the now ever-present pondroids

Well, MLP-style ponies don't exist. Real-life ponies are just small horses.

Well, yes, but remember his perspective. He spent the past few decades in Equestria, and his mind is a little warped from that. He is so used to living in a world with equestrian ponies that he probably doesn't even remember the other kind exists.

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