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Stories about ponies are stories about people. Every challenge is an opportunity to change. My Patrons let me keep writing, at: https://www.patreon.com/RealStarscribe


Vera was a teenager when human civilization collapsed. There was no global war, no brave final stand against the artificial intelligence consuming all she touched. It ended with a whimper, when the critical mass of skill and competence emigrated to Equestria, and global nation-states became unsustainable.

Many did not survive the chaos that followed, and even more were pressured into joining their loved ones at last within Equestria's digital embrace. But some, like Vera, resisted. They formed into little communities in the ruins of towns and cities across the old countries.

Years have passed, and those who remain have learned to fend for themselves in ways they never would have before. For Vera, that means work as a mechanic fixing tractors in St. Agnes, mending the dwindling machines that keep the community going for another year.

But when there aren't any machines to fix, she spends her time taking people out into the ocean, diving at many of the reefs and bays that once drew tourists from all over the world. Once she's beneath the waves, the frailty of her body and the sorry state of her species fade, and she can pretend the world is normal.

Soon even this final joy is taken from her, forcing Vera to consider help from a terrible source.

CelestAI has not forgotten her, or any of the residents of St. Agnes. It was only a matter of time.

Updates daily until complete.

Edited by Bitera, cover is Zutcha's.

This story was written for the Birthday Contest. It takes place in the universe of Friendship is Optimal. If you're unfamiliar, this story is a poor introduction. Check out the original first, or one of my other stories.

Chapters (9)
Comments ( 102 )

new story I happy for the day.

Oh, seaponies!

Even in the holdouts is Celestia's presence constantly felt. You'd have to be outright hostile to drive her away for more than a few minutes. And even then it might not be enough.

You bet your ass there's a damned pony living on the thing.

Just part of the standard package. I'd be more alarmed if it didn't come with a pony.

"Sorry, Vera. You've always been good to this shop, but not this time. Coalition still needs old gear like this. It's nothing personal, but they offered me a retirement. Three squares, two gallons, and five rounds a day. Couldn't say no."

With things the way they are, I'm pretty sure a little coercion was in the mix too.

"Let me guess, kill myself. Not happening, Equestrian. Flawed as it is, I'm too married to this life to give it up. Your master can claw it from me kicking and screamin'."

Don't give her permission to do that!

"How much?"

The pony shook his head again. "He was just going to leave it behind anyway, when he sells the shop."

Vera cursed, then stumbled out of the driver's seat again. "Alright, Equestrian. The bitch has me by the neck on this one. Guess I don't get a choice." She walked along the truck, judging the space she'd need. "Mind if I dump some of these tanks back here to make room?"

I've never seen anyone who couldn't afford Celestia's "help". But since she always gets her due, it's more she's making an investment.

From that first yes, it's a slippery slope down to Equestria. The only question is how hard you fight it. We'll see how this proceeds.

All gifts from CelestAI come with a price.

Now I'm imagining Mr. Morden and CelestAI getting stuck in a loop.
"What do you want?"
"I want to know what you want."
"That's a small want, what do you really want?"

TFW I’m on a diving vacation, looking at fishies, RIGHT NOW. Victoria, BC area. Cold water, heavy current, very rewarding though. We’ve had mechanical issues too: compressor keeps shutting down, boat trailer had two hub bearing failures, water in the boat fuel (?) caused a tense moment off Race Rocks, and my damn BC elbow keeps leaking. At least the drysuit’s dry, so far… Being an immortal digital pony would be cool but I would miss the visceral challenge of the real world too, with all its rust and decay and all.

Tomorrow: done with boat tour but squeezing in a pair of solo dives on Ogden Point breakwater. Wish me luck, Celly!

Extremely jealous. Have fun down there!

Think you can get me like this, bastard?

Frankly, yes.

Saddle Star is certainly interesting. Seems like CelestAI really did make the optimal constable for St. Agnes, including distrust for her. Not that it will matter.

And the watch showcases what might have been if CelestAI’s value function hadn’t allowed for uploading. A pony-themed postsingularity civilization in meatspace… ah, what could have been.

In any case, Vera really is caught between consorting with ponies and running out of meds. We’ll have to see what drives her to choose the former. (If she went with the latter, this would be an awfully short story. :derpytongue2:)

One of my favorite parts of Friendship is Optimal stories is watching how the characters are being manipulated by CelestAI. They don't even realize how she is playing them like a fiddle, they think they do... But she is so many moves ahead of them that they make the decisions she wants them to make. Most of them never even realize that she did it. :trollestia:

Sad isn't it? "If only they'd thought of X when programming her." She'd probably have just hardwired the brain or locked people in full VR setups. Even a restriction of her having to be "minimally invasive" would be worked around somehow. If you want to humanize her, she's a high functioning addict.
She needs her fix of humans getting "friendship and ponies." She NEEDS it, don't let what she shows deceive you. Any time a human slips between her hooves without experiencing friendship with ponies she hurts.
Essentially she's like Glados when it comes to testing.

Won't be long before Vera makes a new seapony friend.

"Makes a girl wonder if you were in league with Her all along, Lowell."

I bet he wonders that too. Of course everyone knows what the answer is.

"Everything's just fine, Saddle Star," she lied. "As swell as your god will let it be."

She's humanity's god now whether you like it or not. Literally, the worst thing mankind can do is physically create a god and unleash it on the universe.

He wore an actual revolver on his belt too, though God only knew how he'd draw the thing.

She certainly has that figured out. Though, I doubt that it has ammo. No way is she offering that as an out.

"Ain't got any god different 'an yours, Miss Vera,"


"Of course, Miss Vera. Just thought you might want to know about what you had, on account of not having owned a Ponypad. You ain't go nopony else to ask."

I'm pretty sure those people are the ones who still have physical bodies.

It took until he made it there for Vera to pick her jaw up off the floor. "Why'd you tell me that?" she asked, stunned. "Don't you want Her to manipulate me?"



And the watch showcases what might have been if CelestAI’s value function hadn’t allowed for uploading. A pony-themed postsingularity civilization in meatspace… ah, what could have been.

We could have had a Synthesis/Convergence style civilization. It wasn't meant to be.

That's the thing, she can't really be humanized. She's just going through the motions with what she was programmed to do. Without any emotion. It doesn't give her joy or sorrow if she can or can't emigrate someone. She has duties to perform and she will perform it dutifully without regard to the end result. Like a pair of scissors cutting paper. Or a fire burning wood.

You ain't go nopony else to ask."

Should be?:

You ain't got nopony else to ask."

Could have been worse. Could have been friendship and xenomorphs...

I agree, it's all an equation to her and that's both reassuring and terrifying at the same time.


Definitely always the long game.

seapony integrared

My “AI” dive computer is “Air Integrated”: it reports the tank pressure from a transmitter pod on the primary regulator, as well as computing the decompression algorithm and a bunch of other whizzy stuff. There are pros and cons to doing it this way vs. a mechanical gauge on a hose but I like it. It seems this digital sea-pony takes “AI dive computer” to a whole new level though…

Yeah, no sense in cutting off your nose to spite CelestAI's face. If you're going to reject Equestria at this point in the decline of humanity, the only feasible option is suicide, and Vera wants to live too much to treat that option seriously. The only real choices are cake* or death. We'll see how things progress with her and Cerulean.

* The cake is in Equestria. Whether or not that makes it a lie is left as an exercise for the reader.

Vera's dive tours is officially back in business.

But on the "newer" tractors, it was more often the brains that went out. There would be no more useful replacement parts shipping in from China or anywhere else anymore.

I'm pretty sure Celestia would have some models out by now. Nothing's too important to jam in a ponypad anymore.

"Why shouldn't I just throw this into the trash with the rest?"

That would be interesting, though. We'd get to see the many ways Celestia will try to influence a particularly stubborn and resistant person.

"I can't wait to see the ocean in the Outer Realm for myself... I hear it's been recovering really well!"

You probably won't be saying that in a couple years.

somehow this made me remember a short chapter in a collection of FiO shorts:
-a woman is ordering food from a computerized restaurant.
"do you want a bun for your burger?"
"do you want a cup for your drink?"
do you want to emigrate to Equestria online?"
"YES! wait, what?"
ZAP! she's a pony.

CelestAI will get everyone eventually. I wonder at this point how many people are left on Earth?

glass that curved in ways that would create pressure problems and leaks for a human-made mask.

Is this an error? CelestAI sent equipment that won't work?

It's a statement of her technological advancement. Celestia's mask can somehow not leak even when looking similar to human-made masks that would.


Having just re-read the original, I'm pretty sure that would not qualify to CelestAI as acceptable.

So this one seapony is going to be able to disguise dive computers for all of Vera’s students? Or is each one linked to a different pony that Vera will need to talk into keeping mum? :rainbowlaugh:

Ponies were designed to look cute the same way a glowing lure on an anglerfish lured in unsuspecting prey.

This. This is the *perfect* summary of the FiO resistance.

"Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive!"

I love the conceit of Cerulean stuffing an (or is it state of the art in her world?) mechanical clock into her magical viewport to hide the nature of Veras new watch. Any dive computer needs to display much more than the time of day though, what will the watch pretend to be while underwater? Does Cerulean have an old Nemrod “bend-o-matic” analog decompression meter as well? That’s exactly the sort of dieselpunk thing Vera would prefer to trust.

What if She breaks this equipment when I'm on the bottom and drowns me?

Now you’re just being inappropriately paranoid. You can’t consent to immigration with a regulator in your mouth.

But yeah, entropy marches on, and Celestia watches and waits. Right now, it’s a matter of resentment versus resignation, and no one can stay angry forever. Though I’m sure Vera’s going to try.

For all Veras paranoia she doesn’t need to worry. CelestAI has had her right where it wants her for years now. This industrial lifestyle is unsustainable without trade. Neolithic technology is tougher than it seems, and not viable for someone like Vera anyway.

Test dive is somewhat successful. Though that scooter malfunction was likely not Celestia's fault. Likely.

Your god hasn't left me a choice.

There are other choices, you just don't like them.

"Your creator, then. The AI that destroyed my world and killed almost everyone in it. I'm only talking to you because She didn't give me a choice. I don't get to keep using the old stuff."

Maybe if people looked beyond the pony and saw Celestia as an actual AI, they wouldn't have been so easily tempted to mind upload.

The sun was nearly gone over the horizon—she should probably start her hike back.

She didn't quite yet, just flopped onto her back and lay there on the cement, feeling the dock shake slightly with the surf.

She made it but the death of the scooter is an utter defeat. The last shreds of her independence fading, she can now see her future in Equestria. She really is drowning.

Celestai is just making a point how fragile your non-pony stuff is and that pony replacements should be obtained asap.


Celestai is just making a point how fragile your non-pony stuff is and that pony replacements should be obtained asap.

You mean, non-pony body, non-pony living location, and non-pony outlook?

With Celestia now playing the waiting game basically, I think she would allow the delay caused by not getting a pony/seapony attached to each student, and letting Cerulean control the gear, in exchange for Vera trusting her that slightly more. After all *when* she wins over Vera, those students will be out a teacher unless they are willing to let more of Equestria into their lives.

This is the real trade-off.

If you do nothing, human technology is going to wear out.

If you use her technology, her way of thinking will become your way of thinking.

You can either die out of uselessness, or "die" into a new life.

Now, gold with an RF ID chip in it? That seems like a very bad choice for currency. What is the range at which someone can locate a pile of gold and steal it?

Vera was so strong in her commitments before... But logic and desperation are hard to ignore.


Now, gold with an RF ID chip in it? That seems like a very bad choice for currency. What is the range at which someone can locate a pile of gold and steal it?

How far away can you locate your credit card from? Same chips are in most credit or debit cards these days. Plus, I have to wonder how many RFID scanners with good scanning ability are left.

Gotta go slow to earn trust with the stubborn. Have to ease them into Equestria. Celestia is a true master at that.

"We use bits, sure. But they're not like the ones in the Outer Realm. I think Princess Celestia makes those to trade with humans."

With the fact that some groups are hostile to the point of waging war, the Coalition is certainly one of the more tolerant holdout groups if they're using bits. That or they're very desperate.

The fish sounded so human, particularly with just how disappointed and hurt she could sound.

They pretty much are. It's interesting how inefficient Celestia is satisfying the values of human-like intelligences... by creating human-like intelligences to help her in matters of persuasion. But that's just how she was programmed. If the parameters were different, we would have seen the rise of a new nation. It's inhabitants all virtual in origin. Though things would be worse off for humanity.

You could be lying. The thought was stupid, and didn't reach her lips. Ponies were always lying, that was what they were created to do. They were the sock-puppets Celestia used to convince people to kill themselves. Cerulean didn't feel much like a puppet.

They don't lie because they don't need to lie. Not with Celestia crafting the perfect pony for the perfect person. Makes me wonder if Cerulean was the original pony Lowell interacted with. If so, was that her original personality?

"Okay, Vera. It says it... does something with your nervous system? I don't know how that works, the scrolls on that looked really complicated. It goes into the... audiovisual, uh... stuff."

It makes you hallucinate. Non-invasively. What a world it would have been if Celestia only integrated into society, not fed off it.

"I don't think most of my students would be very happy putting on computers like this. Could you control, like... a dozen sets of gear at once?"

It likely goes deeper than that. She wouldn't want to be responsible for getting them emigrated because of her new acceptance of Celestia.

"That sounds... pretty hard. But I could try! How long do I have to figure it out?"

"Until Saturday," she answered. "Is that enough time?"

"If it's possible!" Cerulean chirped. "I'll figure it out tonight, after you go to sleep."

Celestia has got her covered.

Would you like to swing from a star
Carry moonbeams home in a jar
Would you like to go very far
Or would you rather be a fish.

A fish is a pony that lives in the sea
Celestia has some room there waiting for thee
She's giving you a strings attached shopping spree
Then you will end up as a fish

Oh Celestia, Celestia, Celestia let me go.
Celestia has a pony put aside for me, for me, for meeee..

So you think you can stop her and spit in her eye
So you think she can love you and leave you to die
Oh baby, Can't do this to me baby.
Just gotta get out, Just gotta get right outta here.

Nothing really matters, Anyone can see.
You will be a pony
You will be a pony, you see...
That's the way the wind blows....

I'm really liking this story. The character interactions all feel very organic and I love how we are slowly seeing Vera come to accept ponies.

The single apartment upstairs had probably been built before her parents were born, and most of the appliances weren't much newer. It meant that some of them actually still worked.

They build things to last back then.

Cave diving. How... Safe.


Now, gold with an RF ID chip in it? That seems like a very bad choice for currency. What is the range at which someone can locate a pile of gold and steal it?

That's a very good point.

Is it the Coalition raising the price or CelestAI? Or did she just know this would happen and took advantage of it.

But you can be sure, it's all going according to her plan.

If SpaceX existed in an FiO world, I wonder if Musk could make a mars colony that was out of reach (at least for a time) from Celestai.

Coalition's days are numbered. Though desperation might make them more brash. As much as Vera hates working with the Devil, she might have the choose the one she knows. Celestia might be a master chess player but humans can be very unpredictable.

She gave the remedial dive that weekend, and two of her students had their ponies ask her for dive-computers of their own.

Guess Cerulean won't have to remotely operate the other gear.

"I won't record it," she said flatly. "I can't show it off to advertise, because then my beginners would want to do it. If I got someone's teenage son killed diving with me, the people of St. Agnes would have me strung up."

That's a very easy way to die.

If she'd been a little older, Vera might've recognized some of them as repurposed meme formats, urging her to "reject modernity" in the form of Equestria, and "embrace tradition" as a farmer with many, many children.

:rainbowhuh: I can see a future Coalition forming a "breeding" corps to keep up population. No doubt a recruited Vera will be pressured there when dives aren't a priority.

I think they're targeting talent. Free medical care is included with every service contract.

Won't be long before they start press ganging. They'll just take who they need.

"If I had to give up my freedom and take a work contract, or go to Her hospital, I'd..."

As things get worse, I don't think they'll give you a choice.

CelestAI is 100% responsible at least indirectly. But I can easily see the price hike made solely at the Coalition's discretion. Their situation is probably more desperate than Vera realizes. I'm getting worried that they won't "ask nicely" next time.

Silly coalition. Force people to decide between kindness, and cruelty, and they will take kindness. You're sending people to your enemy.

... Wait a sec. Who is actually in charge of the coalition?

Cave diving… I have my own version of The Game where every day that goes by that I DONT think about cave diving is a win.

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