• Published 27th Jul 2021
  • 583 Views, 93 Comments

Suck it up, Buttercup - David Silver

He marched through the wastes. He was also bright yellow, and had a tail that did not sway much. He was also named Buttercup, not exactly a manly name, but it was his. His friend needed him. What is that? It looks like him, but also very not...

  • ...

12 - To Lead Without Command

"It was about me." Skyline frowned, barely brushing the plate of food that had been set down with a wandering hoof. "But also not. We weren't an accident." He pointed at Buttercup and himself. "People made us, on purpose."

"You looked way too... not misshapen to be random," agreed Stan with a light shrug. "But why? No offense or nothin', but not puttin' together why someone wanted all of ya."

Buttercup stuck out her tongue at Stan. "Well, for one, we're nicer than humans, by a lot."

Stan shrugged. "Can't rightly argue that, but it ain't somethin' a human would normally go to a lot of trouble fer."

Skyline popped the last of the sweet treat he had into his mouth. "They were talking about a leader. A leader that didn't boss everyone around. But still a leader."

Buttercup's ears perked. "Did they mess up? We have the elders. They're leaders, but they do boss us around; for our own good."

"For our own good," echoed Skyline. "But when they decide what needs to be done, there is a pony they send to see it done."

A moment of quiet descended on them. "Oh," broke Stan. "Is that why you're... extra?"

"Extra..." Skyline frowned at the word as if taking measure of it. "That isn't an awful way of putting it. They made me..." He flexed his metal fingers slowly. "They made me to stand at the front, but not take the reins."

Fend nudged Skyline, metal snout against his side. "Why are you upset? Can I assist?"

"Don't think you can." Skyline pushed Fend's friendly face away. "I was so upset at the idea of being an elder. 'I didn't look like one'. I feel like a complete fool now." He placed a metal hand against his head. "Did they do that? Am I any better than you robots? I did it because I was programmed."

All three robots were fixed on Skyline. Giddyup broke the quiet first, "I may have been programmed, quite well by my measure, but I have also advanced beyond that starting point."

Yellow inclined his head at Giddyup. "In what way are you performing outside your programmed parameters?"

Fend raised a hoof at Giddyup. "He was demonstrating by use of non-standard vocabulary and speaking parameters."

Aunt set down the water carafe in easy availability, freed of all the things she had brought. "I am programmed. It's hard to avoid that, being a robot, which we are. My variety is programmed specifically to be very adaptable. They coded where I started, but they could not even predict where I'd end, just hope that they pointed me in the right direction." She set her metal graspers on the closest equivalent to hips that a mister handy chassis had. "I trust you are satisfied with it and how I've performed, but if you aren't, too bad. I will work on it."

Stan's shoulders went up even as he reached for that water jug to avail himself. "Look, let's be real. We're all programmed if you squint hard enough at it. Ah do all kinds ah things without thinkin' much 'bout it, built in." He directed a finger at Skyline. "So you got a few more instincts. Don't decide the kinda person you are."

Fend jumped on the opportunity. "Correct! You have made many decisions outside the parameters of your programming." He looked to Giddyup. "Like you."

Giddyup nodded in a vigorously strong enough motion for his jaw to squeak in its swing. "I have learned and grown. Outside, protecting my child and friend, I must." He began to trot in place, the trotting noise playing from within him, ending with a spirited neigh of triumph.

Fend and Yellow echoed the neigh as if joining the chorus in celebration. Yellow inclined his head. "You are performing at or beyond acceptable levels."

"Affirmative." Buttercup sounded pleased despite his dry terminology. "Your children miss you."

Fend looked over at Skyline. "Is this true?"

"Is this true?" Yellow was looking at Buttercup, both seemingly worried about the ponies there next to them.

Buttercup hopped to her feet and approached her metal caretaker. "I'm still getting used to you." She circled the big metal horse. "But I think you're pretty cool." She sat with a frown. "I thought Giddyup was pretty amazing, and you're like him."

Yellow nodded, not squeaking as Giddyup had. "I see. You did not answer the query."

"Huh? Oh!" Buttercup clopped her hooves. "Right. No. I can't miss you, you're right there."

Skyline shrugged at that. "Ditto."

Both robots looked to Giddyup expectantly, who did not leave them hanging, "I am referring to your other children. There are many more ponies where they came from." Giddyup paused. "Technically, they are grandchildren and more. There is a good chance you would be welcomed in their herd."

Skyline put a metal hoof to his face. "Nice idea, but programming. Are any of these robots allowed to leave? They went to sleep rather than come with us last time."

"This is correct," stated both vault giddyups without delay in synch.

Miss Aunt hovered as close as she could to the two without setting the grass on fire. "Last time, they didn't ask you. Last time, they were running and scared. This time--" She gestured at Skyline. "They brought their leader, and if he asked you to come with them, would you say no?"

The two giddyups turned to one another, whispering to one another heatedly. Yellow peeked at Buttercup and Skyline, the conversation continuing quietly. Fend turned away. "You are correct. Buttercup." The earth pony twitched her ears up. "You are not my child; however, the programming is explicit. Skyline is not permitted to command." Yellow nodded in silent agreement. "As the only child with command giving authority, what is your command?"

Buttercup folded her arms across her chest. "Well, alright! First, I command you apologize to Skyline. He's not allowed to boss us horses around, but that doesn't mean his opinion isn't wanted. That's a rude way to treat a friend, eesh."

The two looked towards one another in a side glance before focusing on Skyline. Fend dipped his head. "I value your opinions."

Yellow bobbed his head. "Not as highly as my child."

Skyline snorted at that. "Yeah, that's fine. She's your personal project."

"You are mine." Fend moved to sit next to Skyline, but his eyes were on Buttercup. "Do you have other commands?"

Stan suddenly howled with laughter. "Don't take it personal none." He hiked a thumb at Giddyup. "You think he listens to all my 'commands'. Heck no. But that's what bein' a friend is about." He knocked the metal hide of his buddy. "We may argue an' fight, but we care fer each other."

Giddyup snorted authentically. "We would have many less fights if you would agree to eat and drink on schedule."

"Never change, bud." He patted Giddyup, but did not make any promisses of eating on a better schedule. "So, got any commands?" He was looking at Buttercup. "They're waitin'."

"Oh, um..." Buttercup danced in place, thinking with a frown. "The elders would really like to meet you two. Will you come with us?"

"Command accepted." Yellow nodded, the matter settled.

Fend did not echo it, looking instead to Skyline. "What is your opinion? I value your opinions." The second part was a repeat, even the way he said it identical to the first time. It was a reminder that Fend and Yellow did not have the breadth of experience that Giddyup had gained.

Skyline quivered an ear. "But I can't command you, so what would the difference be, hypothetically, if I said go, or not to go?"

Fend sat. "That is a good question." He looked to Yellow as if for backup, but none was coming. "If you were to say to comply, then, in addition to other factors, I would comply." Fend nodded, confident in the logic there. "If you said not to comply, I would require additional consideration." Fend fidgeted in place much as Buttercup had. "I want my child to be happy, even if I am not permitted to obey their commands."

Skyline grabbed Fend, taking hold of his metal snout in both hands. "Well, I'll make it easy then. Fend, if you follow the rules we have, you're welcome to join us." He thrust one finger up. "One request, not a command, just a polite request, but don't tell the others stories about me as a foal."

Buttercup burst into giggles. "Aw! Why not? I bet you were so cute!" She squealed at the imagined sight of the little cyborg bat pony. "Aw..." Which got her shoved by Skyline. "Hey! See, you're less cute now. Let us enjoy the cute past."

Yellow leaned in on Buttercup, face close to hers. "I would like to hear of your foal stories. Will you share them?"

Buttercup squeaked, fidgeting with a lack of returned enthusiasm.

Miss Aunt looked towards Stan. "One thing settled, but another problem awaits."

"Yeah..." Stan stood up. "Figured. There's a boss of this place, ain't there?"

"They are also programmed," reminded Miss Aunt. "They are capable of adaptation, like myself. But they have had little reason to do so. They followed their orders and that was, as they say, that." She picked up the carafe and tray. "I should get these away, but something to consider. I doubt they will approve of the idea of Fend and Yellow leaving."

Her leaving was cut off by Giddyup moving in her way. "Pardon me."

"I will not pardon you." Giddyup inclined his head with a click. "You are also friendly. The ponies would welcome you. Why are you not considering joining them?"

Miss Aunt hovered there with the low roar of her thruster. "Hm. I'll admit it. I'm scared." She waved the half-full water carafe at Giddyup. "This vault has been the site of my operation since... I had memory. Outside these walls, things will be different. Very different. Almost everything I learned will be of no value."

Buttercup blew a ripe raspberry in a hearty pfft. "As if! You know all kinds of things." She hopped in place. "And you're nice and you're smart. Those two things are great all by themselves." Her eyes dipped to the flames. "You'd have to watch out for our plants though."

"That isn't a thing I can turn off," Aunt murmured as if embarrassed. "But I am careful about it. See, no scorch marks on the grass." She waved a free grabber at all the grass, unburnt, in sight. "You still have a problem to deal with before what I decided to do even becomes a factor."

Stan rolled a hand. "Ah get what yer sayin'. You don't want to agree until there's a way out that doesn't get you reduced to scrap. Not gonna blame ya on that."

The two buttercups jerked upright, clanging in the motion. "Reduced to scrap?" asked Yellow.

Fend leaned towards Stan. "We are not engaged in unauthorized activity." His eyes moved to Aunt, who was busy leaving the area along the sidewalk with a receding noise of her thruster. "We are two valuable giddyup buttercup units in good repair. Why would termination be considered?"

Buttercup suddenly clapped her hooves to her cheeks. "Are we supposed to stay here?"

Yellow considered that a moment. "Yes," came the reply. "You are only permitted to leave the vault under specific situations."

Skyline's expression darkened. "So you'll come with us, but we shouldn't leave, so you're happy to come with us... inside the vault." He trailed a finger through the grass. "Am I understanding right?"

Fend nodded quickly. "You are just as smart as I predicted. I am proud to have you as a child."

Stan held up a hand. "No more beating around the bush here. What are the situations they're allowed to leave under? Just tell us that an' we can figure out the rest."

Author's Note:

This hotel was so easy to check into... The typos lurk in the fine print.

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