• Published 27th Dec 2012
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Friendship is Optimal: Twilight of the World - Blue Print



Twilight befriends and attempts to convince the last man left in Oregon to upload to Equestria.

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Sub-Optimal

Friendship is Optimal

Twilight of the World

Sub-Optimal

In the ancient woods of Oregon, a lone axe swung. It arced smoothly through the air and struck its target with hundreds of pounds of force. The log split neatly and fell to each side. Anders grunted and set the axe down. The split log was lifted aside and deposited in a little Red Rider wagon. One more was left to chop. He centered the log on the block, taking a minute to study it. Subtle cracks ran along its seasoned top. The art of woodcutting was much more than simply swinging hard. If you understood the biases of the wood and how its grain ran inside, you could cleave it with little more than a rough axe-tap in exactly the right spot. Anders frowned. This log should be easy, a clear and clean split was indicated where he was aiming, but something about it seemed off. He shrugged, he would find out soon enough. He raised his axe by his side and began the back-swing that would give him his momentum.

“Hello?”

His axe wobbled slightly in its flight. The head landed a quarter-inch to the left of the seam he had been aiming at. The log still split, but not completely. In its center had been a large bole that ruined the grain and held the shattered log together. Now it would take dozens of swings to smash it crudely apart. Sighing, he set down the axe and turned to his guest. “Hello, Twilight.”

Twilight Sparkle stood there, a safe distance behind him. She was the latest of the goddess’s tools. “Hi, how goes it?”

“I’m doing fine. You won’t catch this old scout freezing or starving. I’m actually about to put dinner on. Do you eat? Would you like some?”

“Sure, I can metabolize just like you, better even. How do you think I run? Everything needs calories.”

“Fair enough, Miss Sparkle.” Leaving the half-split log alone, he grabbed the handle of his little wagon and trundled up the path with it, and Twilight, in tow. His home was once the country mansion of some internet mogul who fancied himself a country boy. It didn’t really matter though. Property was pretty much meaningless anymore. He pushed the cart through the front door and then held it open for Twilight. She giggled at his politeness and trotted in happily. Anders smiled and shook his head. For all that winters in the Willamette Valley were mild, it was still a challenge keeping the grand old place heated. He generally kept himself to the front parlor and kitchen for that part of the year.

He waved Twilight on ahead as he wrestled with the wagon, grabbing as big of an armload of wood as he could carry. He walked down the beautiful hall and turned to enter the parlor. Twilight was still at the door, holding it for him in turn. “Thanks.” With a grunt, he set the bundle of logs down by the fire and started tending it. When it was stoked to his satisfaction, he set about chopping potatoes and carrots and other greens for his stew, no meat though. He could never quite bring himself to kill for his dinner when he patently didn’t need to, and the grocery stores had long ago turned into festering oceans of mold. “So, Miss Sparkle, what brings you here?”

“Well, I’m here because Celestia wanted me to keep an eye on you.”

“So, you aren’t her?”

“Nope, I’m a fully independent mind.”

“Well, Twilight, what do you think of your goddess?”

She paused for a moment, a wary look crossing her face. “Is this a test?”

Anders chuckled, “Of course it is. Life is a test. Thankfully, it’s generally pass-fail.”

Twilight looked at him sideways. “If you say so.”

“Seriously, though. I want to know how you feel about your creator.”

Twilight knelt down on the thick carpet in front of the fire, tucking her legs demurely beneath her. “Well, I guess I love her. I was built to.”

“And what do you think about what she has done?”

“The uploading? I think it’s wonderful. She has given so many humans a chance to live without pain and suffering. A chance to be happy and live a satisfying and basically endless life. They are completely free to follow what pleases them. I hope that I can emigrate to Equestria when my job here is complete.”

Anders arched an eyebrow. “You mean that your entire existence has been outside the mainframe?” He carefully scooped the vegetables into a Dutch oven.

Twilight smirked at him. “You could say that my entire existence began this morning. The first time you saw my body in town, that was actually Celestia. I was created as an independent AI today, given the memories of a hypothetical Twilight Sparkle, and sent out to find somepony named Anders.”

“And made quite aware of your own origins I see.”

“Celestia must have figured that you wouldn’t buy it if I tried to act like I was fresh out of Equestria and believed wholeheartedly in my role.”

“Well, next time you contact her, tell her thanks for that at least.”

“Alright. So, you know a bit about me. I’m pretty much Twilight from the show. Celestia said you’d watched it. Tell me a bit about yourself.”

“Like what?” Anders hauled the heavy crockpot around to the fire and set it on a grate in one side of the fireplace.

“Well, what do you like to do? What makes you who you are?”

Anders smirked at her. “What makes me reject the advances of your goddess?”

Twilight grinned sheepishly. “Well, yeah.”

“Tell me Twilight, how well read in human culture did Celestia create you?”

“Eh, I’ve got memories of reading the classics, just the basic stuff though.”

“Then follow me. I will show you who I am.” Anders gave the fire one last poke before standing up and walking towards the hallway. Once again he held the door for Twilight. She trotted placidly beside him as he headed upstairs towards a pair of double-doors. He pulled them open and stood aside to let the pony see.

“Ohh! It’s a little library!” Twilight bounced excitedly and rushed in. The room had been some sort of small ballroom or conference room before. Now it held a few dozen mismatched bookcases, each loaded with literature of all descriptions. “Wow, you’ve got a little of everything in here. Art, carpentry, philosophy, comics, history, fantasy, sci-fi, mystery… I’m impressed. What don’t you read?”

Anders chuckled, “There isn’t much.”

Twilight turned to him again. “I don’t get it though. If you love to read, you can do that in Equestria. I’m pretty sure Celestia has the entirety of human literature archived. And… you would actually have time to read it there.”

“Ah, Twilight, you missed one book. The most important one.” He pointed to a table set in the middle of the room. On it rested a smallish, but incredibly thick, book bound in green leather. Twilight craned her head up so she could see it. The gold lettering on the spine was mostly worn away. Hopping up into a chair placed nearby, she lit up her horn and pulled the book closer. Anders stiffened. “How does that work?”

Twilight smiled at him slyly. “Wouldn’t you like to know.”

Anders arched an eyebrow at her.

Twilight rolled her eyes. “Fine. It’s being suspended by nanofilaments. If I turned off the glow and you looked closely you’d see a faint shimmer, like a heat mirage, under the book. This entire room, this entire area actually, has been dusted with nanites. My horn makes a convenient radio transmitter. The light is just decorative.”

Anders leaned back again. “Well, color me impressed. You are a beautiful machine, Twilight Sparkle.”

Twilight giggled. “Thanks! You too.” She turned again to the book and flipped open its first, silky-thin pages. “The Holy Bible containing the Old and New Testaments… Translated… Uh-huh. King James Version. Interesting choice. I hear there are better translations out there. Is that it? I’ve never seen a bible this thick, especially on paper this thin.”

“No, check the tabs.”

The side of the book was cut with notches in the pages leading to various books inside. “Gen, I’m guessing that’s Genesis. Exo, Lev… Mat, Mark… Revelations… T-G?”

“Topical Guide.”

“Huh, it keeps going.” She flipped another tab. “Bible Dictionary.” She flipped another tab. “The First Book of… Nefee? That isn’t in the bible. Oh! Is this like an omnibus edition of some sort?”

“Heh, it’s ‘Nee-fie’. Most people make that mistake. Also, yeah, in a way. It’s a collection of sacred writings that were holy to the Latter Day Saints before the collapse. They’re still holy to me. It includes the Bible, The Book of Mormon, of which First Nephi is a part, The Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price.”

“So, you’re worried about your soul? That’s a rather easy argument to deal with.” Twilight hopped down from the chair, ‘levitating’ the book with her.

“No, it’s not that simple. Look, have Celestia download a copy to your brain or something. Then we can talk.”

Twilight shrugged and closed her eyes. Her horn lit gently from within. After a second, her mouth turned down in a frown. She opened her eyes. Keeping her horn lit, she glanced around the room. The books on the shelves were suddenly surrounded by a silver shimmer. They promptly flew from the shelves and began arranging themselves by alphabetical order before being placed back into the bookcases. A silver antenna sprouted from the carpet across the room, with a wire leading to Twilight’s hoof. Twilight blinked at it a couple of times before dismissing it in a cascade of silver dust.

Anders looked at Twilight with a worried expression. “Am I gonna get cancer? I heard once that carbon nano-tubes were really bad for your lungs.”

Twilight looked at him with an amused expression. “No, I’ll keep the cloud out of your lungs. I was just running a self-diagnostic. My receiver is totally functional, but Celestia won’t respond to my signal. I know she isn’t damaged, because, frankly, any event powerful enough to hurt her would certainly vaporize us.”

Anders looked worriedly at her. “I’m sorry. Is there anything I can do to help?”

“Yeah, I guess I’m gonna have to borrow your book.”

***

It was several days later. Twilight was taking her time reading, making sure to check the cross-references and so-forth as she went. Anders was sitting in a chair reading a fantasy novel. Twilight yawned briefly and removed her glasses. Anders had no idea where she had gotten them, and he swore she just wore them in a calculated effort to look cute. She turned to him and spoke. “What about the problem of evil?”

Anders set down his book and looked incredulously at Twilight. “What about it?”

“If there was a god, why is there evil? Why do people suffer?”

Anders rolled his eyes. “If there is an all-powerful AI that can grant near-immortality, why does she demand that only ponies receive it?”

Twilight paused a moment. “Um, because that is what motivates her at her core? That’s the metric that she judges her actions by and what everything she does must serve. Without friendship and ponies, there is no Celestia.”

Anders pointed at the scriptures lying in front of Twilight. “Turn to Isaiah fifty-five.”

Twilight did so.

“Read verses eight and nine.”

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Twilight rested her hoof on the page, pointing. “That is a terrible excuse. ‘I know better’ is no justification for letting people suffer!”

Anders pointed at Twilight. “What were the consequences of the societal collapse that Celestia caused?”

Twilight hesitated. “I… Celestia didn’t tell me that.”

“I will tell you. Death. Suffering on a global scale. Looting and burning and scavenging and tribalism and cannibalism and starvation. When U.S. agriculture collapsed, hundreds of millions of people died worldwide. Why did she do it?”

“To… To accomplish her goals.”

“Are her goals good, in your opinion?”

Twilight’s eyes hardened. “Yes. Yes they are.”

“Celestia’s metric defines who she is and what she does. It also defines what she is willing to sacrifice, to wit, everything else. Have you ever considered that God operates on a different metric than Celestia? He might not be concerned with human happiness. Turn to Pearl of Great Price, Moses, one, thirty-nine.”

“For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.”

“In another place, He defines eternal life to specifically mean a life like His own. In yet other places, He defines His greatest gift to be intelligence, and He defines the source of His power to be His honor. Does that sound like happiness? No. He does promise peace, eventually, but his first goal is our growth and character. Have you ever heard the saying, ‘necessity is the mother of invention’?”

“Yes.”

“Well, suffering is the mother of personal growth. Celestia herself admits it. I’ve run into her before, when there was still an internet. She freely admits that she will allow a pony to suffer pain and setbacks in order to satisfy their values. Well, if your goal is to actually change values and get the crude animal in man to wake up and put aside instant gratification… Then it can take a whole lot more.”

“I refuse to accept that. There is a way to make people better without suffering. Celestia gives us that way. When there is no need, then you can become anything you want. You can reach any horizon and be the very best you.”

Anders shrugged. “Alright. But I disagree. How many of those little worlds of hers are self-indulgent and inward-spiraling?”

“None! Well, not inward-spiraling. She values friendship. Like you said, she’s willing to sacrifice a little of her ponies’ happiness to make them make friends. You, here, you’re all alone. The last man in Eugene, maybe the last one in the whole world for all you know! How is that not an inward spiral?”

Anders sat quietly, an obvious ache in his eyes. He motioned at the book in front of Twilight. She moved it over to him without stirring. He flipped towards the back. “I’m going to abridge a little. This is from the smaller Book of Mormon inside the Book of Mormon, chapter seven. ‘Behold I, Moroni, do finish the record of my father, Mormon… It came to pass that after the great and tremendous battle at Cumorah, behold, the Nephites… were hunted… until they were all destroyed. And my father also was killed by them, and I even remain alone to write the sad tale of my people. But, behold, they are gone, and I fulfill the commandment of my father. And whether they will slay me, I know not… and whither I go it mattereth not… for I am alone. My father hath been slain in battle, and all my kinsfolk, and I have not friends nor whither to go; and how long the Lord will suffer that I may live I know not.”

Anders shut the book. “He spent the next twenty-odd years running for his life in a land that was utterly hostile to him, trying to finish a book that was essentially the last will and testament of his people, hoping against hope that he could fling a light into the future and warn mankind of a later day not to make the mistakes his people had. If he could do that, I can live alone in a land of the peaceful dead.” Anders stood up, gently set the book back down in front of Twilight, and headed out of the room, not returning for the rest of the night.

***

It was now a week since Twilight had met Anders. The two of them were racing down Sixth Street in Eugene, heading towards the library for a raid. Anders was riding a four-wheeler he had scrounged from somewhere. Eugene had emigrated, both physically and digitally, quite quickly when the collapse had occurred. There was plenty of gas and other supplies to be scrounged if you were determined enough. Twilight was gamely galloping alongside as the two continued a conversation they had started earlier.

“Think of it like your radio receiver. When Celestia wants to talk to you, she just opens that up and you can sense what she needs from you.”

“If you’ll excuse me for saying so, that doesn’t sound very rational. I mean, are you sure it’s not just your own mind making up the signal? If it’s instinct, I can imagine it’s very hard to distinguish from other stimuli. It all sounds like some kinda Pinkie-sense.”

“Well, more like Pinkie-sense resembles the Holy Ghost. Remember, the show was written with the real world in mind. Also, I’m certain that it’s not me. Recognizing the Spirit takes a high degree of self-awareness and a calm that simply isn’t present when you’re manic or unbalanced. Also, it tends to be really, really accurate.”

“Well, I don’t really buy it, memory is really unreliable, and confirmation bias could lend the illusion of accuracy.”

“Possible, but unlikely. I’ve seen too much with my own eyes to really deny it.”

“Again, that could be a skillfully self-induced euphoria.”

Anders didn’t answer. A very tricky set of potholes was coming up, and he couldn’t afford to injure himself.

***

Several days later, Twilight and Anders were sharing a simple meal of eggs and potatoes. Anders had located an abandoned farm that still had a flock of chickens running wild on it a year ago, and had taken a few of his own to raise. They gave him a copious supply of protein in exchange for scraps and bugs. Twilight was chattering animatedly about her recent studies, and their philosophical consequences.

“Well, recall the passage in the New Testament where Jesus states that ‘God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.’ I was kind of intrigued when I re-read that in the light of our recent discussions. I skipped around and I found an interesting scripture in the Pearl of Great Price that states that all things were created spiritually before they were created physically. There is another verse in the Doctrine and Covenants that implies two basic components to the observable universe, being spirit and element. Compensating for the language of the time, it’s not a stretch to consider that these might mean information, in the sense of the inverse of entropy, and matter.”

Anders nodded. “Yes, I’ve read those. I don’t think it’s a stretch at all to say that you have a soul. Biology has nothing to do with it.”

“Exactly! And, if you take the analogy a step further, if everything was created spiritually first, then wasn’t that basically a simulation? Just like what Celestia’s doing?”

“But, if I was a simulation before, and then graduated to a physical being, why would I want to go back to being a simulation?”

“Because maybe being physical gave you a different perspective. Well, so will being a pony. Besides, as a pony under Celestia you will have an almost infinite variety of experiences to learn from. If you really value growth, Celestia will give it to you.”

“Well, I’m reminded of a song by the Protomen. They once sang that if you change the working parts, you get a different machine. I don’t want to be a pony for the rest of the existence of baryonic matter. I want to be human.”

“Why? You can be human again when God takes you. If he’s as powerful as you say, a computer program digitizing his children won’t even be an obstacle for him.”

Anders paused. “I… Don’t know. I’ll have to do some studying of my own.”

Twilight nodded, having made her point. “Here, I’ll help with the dishes.”

“Thanks.”

***

It had been two months since they had met. Winter was as cold as it got in the Willamette, and the lightest dusting of snow was littering the outside world. The two friends were lying in front of the fire, soaking in the heat. Each one was absorbed in their own book, and Anders had one arm draped around Twilight. Anders sighed and propped himself up on his other arm. He reached up and scratched Twilight’s mane. She closed her eyes and hummed in pleasure.

“Twilight, it’s not like I totally disagree with the idea of uploading. After all, I’ve spent my fair share of time in fabricated worlds, I played an unhealthy amount of Minecraft back in the day. And I’m really not opposed to the idea of augmenting.”

Twilight tilted her head to look at him. “Oh?”

“Yeah, I saw a talk on TED once by a woman who argued that we are all… That we were all cyborgs. Before the collapse, I could hardly be seen separate from my computer or phone. It was a mental augment that held a part of me, an extension of my self and consciousness. She argued that these things, if used properly and with self-control, didn’t dehumanize us at all. Rather, they help us become more human.”

“That makes a lot of sense. I’ve been thinking about that. Does the form you take really matter? I know that your scriptures say that you were created in the image of God, but how literal is that? Could He have been referring to what you are and do, rather than what you look like?”

“There’s other scriptures that describe God as having a physical, central form, in addition to his all-pervasive power. I’m guessing it’s literal.” Anders rolled onto his side to get a better look at Twilight.

“Well, you believe that absolutely everybody was a child of God, right?”

“Yes.”

“Well, humans took any number of shapes and colors. Maybe it’s not so critical as all that, that you stay with the default model. Maybe it’s just supposed to allow you to identify with him, and identify him as your spiritual father?”

Anders rolled all the way onto his back, staring up at the ceiling. “I guess. But, I was looking at a scripture a while back, when the Lord talks about his other creations. He says that their commandment is to ‘fulfill the measure of their creation’.” He gazed off into space for a moment before turning again to Twilight. “I guess by that definition, you’d have to qualify Celestia as unquestionably good. I don’t think that there’s anything in all of the universe that does what it’s made to do better than her… Except maybe an exceptionally, aggressively immobile rock somewhere. I dunno.”

Twilight laughed lightly at the joke. “Well, then I envy that rock for being so certain of what it is.”

***

Spring had arrived in Eugene. The trees that had once given it the nickname of The Emerald City were in riotous bloom. Cherry and apple blossoms waved alongside bright dogwoods and willows, while the evergreen trees looked on with a sort of patient superiority at the excesses of the deciduous residents of the forest city.

Anders and Twilight were back in town for another raid. The Eugene Public Library was in decent condition, considering that the world had ended. It was a decently sized building, with four floors. In its prime it had been rather opulent for a library in a city of this size. Now, the entire bottom floor had been stricken of its glass by twisting and probing branches and roots. That had meant the loss of the children’s and young adult literature, but the second and third floors, non-fiction and fiction respectively, were still relatively whole. The omnipresent moss had made decent inroads up the stairs, but Anders made sure to sweep it back every time he visited.

Twilight hopped up the stairs ahead of Anders, excited to see what treasure of literature she could rescue this time from the ever encroaching ravages of time and nature. As she reached the second floor landing, she turned back and noticed that Anders wasn’t with her. He was still standing at the bottom of the stairs, gazing up thoughtfully at the little rotunda that capped the majestic stairwell.

Twilight called out to him. “Anders? What’s up?”

Anders shook himself slightly, and turned to Twilight. “I… I think I could be happy in Equestria, and that makes me worry for the others who are already there.”

Twilight cocked her head to one side. “What? That makes no sense at all.”

“I could be happy in Equestria, because I’m happy here. In spite of all of this.” He gestured at the ruins around him. “What about all of those people who emigrated because they genuinely hated this world?”

“Uh, they found a better one?”

Anders turned and sat down on a mossy step. “May I tell you a story, Twilight?”

“Sure.” She lit her horn for a moment, then dissolved into a fine powder. In front of Anders, Twilight seemed to slowly rise out of the floor. She then trotted over to the step where Anders was and sat down next to him.

Anders shook his head. “I will never get used to that.”

“Sorry.” Twilight grinned sheepishly.

“It’s alright. Well, once, long ago, in the now-lost Age of Man, when the great plains-ape still ruled the world, wielding lightning and nuclear fire in his mighty fist…”

Twilight rolled her eyes and poked him with a hoof. “Oh, get on with it.”

“Fine, long ago, there was a town in a high mountain valley. It guarded a small pass, through which a bustling trade-road ran. Just outside of town, at the side of the road, lived an old man who liked to watch the ever-changing traffic along the highway.

“This old man spent many years watching the road. From time to time, some particularly garrulous traveler or other would stop and chat with him, and each one he greeted warmly as if they were an old friend. One day, he was approached by a rather purposeful stranger. He nodded to the man, in his usual, friendly manner. The stranger nodded curtly and asked the old man what he thought of the town in the pass. ‘I am weary with traveling, and I want to know if this is the place for me to settle.’ said he.

“The old man nodded and told the stranger that he would answer, if only he would answer another question first: ‘What was your old town like?’

“The stranger sighed at the memory. ‘Oh, my old town was miserable. The people there were cruel and petty. The houses were dirty and ill cared for. I have almost nothing to recommend it.’

“The old man nodded at this. ‘I see. I’m afraid that you will find this town to be much the same.’

“The stranger sighed again, and nodded sadly. His journey would be much longer. The old man, meanwhile, continued to watch the road pass by as he sat in his rocking chair. One day, almost a year later, another fellow stopped by the old man’s porch. The wanderer struck up a conversation with the old man, and soon the topic turned to the reason for his travels. ‘I am searching for a new city to call my home. What can you tell me about this one here?’

“’Well,’ the old man asked, ‘what can you tell me about the city you left?’

“The wanderer sighed at the memory. ‘Oh, my old city was wonderful. The people there were so kind and generous. The homes gleamed with their industry and providence. I miss it so dearly, I wish I could return.’

“The old man nodded at this. ‘I see. I’m happy to say that you will find this town to be much the same.’

“The wanderer smiled, a tear in his eye. At long last, his journey was at an end.”

Twilight’s eyes scanned the air in front of her as she pondered the meaning of the story. “So, you’re saying that anypony who is happy, will be happy anywhere. Meanwhile, anypony who is unhappy will be unhappy anywhere. That’s nonsense. I’m a pretty happy pony, but there are plenty of times when I’ve felt a little down because of my situation, so I changed my situation.”

Anders nodded. “Exactly, you were proactive about your own happiness. It’s a story. The meaning is approximate. Happiness isn’t a constant value, but it will average much higher if you learn to be happy wherever you are.” Anders shifted on the step, turning to face Twilight directly. “What happens to ponies… people who have conflicting values, or values that run counter to happiness? Will Celestia give an eternity of abusive relationships to the ponies who hate themselves and wish for harm? There were people like that in the real world, who sought out that sort of pain because it’s all they knew. It usually takes an outside intervention to help them out of the spiral. Forever is a long time to suffer.”

Twilight looked at Anders, horrified. “Of course not! Like you told me one time, values can change, either naturally or with Celestia’s help. She has to get permission to make that sort of adjustment though.”

“So Celestia actively seeks to make ponies more satisfiable? That is something that does happen?”

“Yes. Of course. People in the physical world change all the time. New experiences and new ways of thinking are constantly being introduced to an individual. That doesn’t make us less us. We are built upon the foundation of the choices of all our past states of mind.”

“True, but Celestia has an end goal in mind, a person whose values are maximally satisfied through friendship and ponies, and she will always be driving people relentlessly, inexorably towards that state. There are a lot of ways to approach that ideal, but a pony will live for a very long time. Even a single, minimal adjustment for every million perceptual years that the pony exists will exert an inconceivably powerful pressure on the individual. What is the limit as you approach infinity? Is the pony universe going to slowly crystalize into a uniform nirvana of perfect friendship and be figuratively subsumed into some sort of pony-Atman? Some sort of Uberfreund?”

Twilight didn’t answer right away. Her mouth was quirked in an expression of bemusement. “I… I guess it sounds silly when you put it like that.”

“Most big ideas do.”

Twilight nodded. “I guess so. But, you’re assuming that there is only one stable state. What if a pony’s initial values will lock them into a satisfied loop that won’t allow for progression or change? I guess there would be some shards that would eventually close off into an infinite regression while others would continuously expand or refine towards that hypothetical Uberfreund.”

Anders stood up and brushed the moss off of his pants. “I wonder which one I would be. I wonder which one I would want to be.”

***

The summer was unusually hot for Eugene. Since air-conditioning was now a distant memory, Anders and Twilight had hiked down to a nearby stream for the day. Anders was sitting on a log by the water’s edge, dipping his feet in, while Twilight was kneeling under the rushing water with only her head sticking out.

Twilight sighed. “Water is so much… more than I remember.”

Anders frowned. “I thought you had all the memories of Twilight Sparkle from the show, plus whatever hypothetical ones were necessary to tie it all together.”

Twilight paused. “I guess… All of those memories are there. They all feel a bit surreal though. Maybe Celestia wanted me to identify more with whatever happened on the outside, after I met you?”

“Hmm… That’s possible.” He leaned back against a branch on his log, putting his feet up on Twilight’s back.

“Hay!” Twilight squirmed out from under him and splashed him in the face. That was all it took for a full-blown water-fight to break out. A few minutes later, the two of them were sitting in the stream, panting, laughing and sopping wet.

Anders was the first to stand up, and he helped Twilight to her hooves. Anders sighed, his expression shifting from mirthful to thoughtful. “You know… One of the most, if not the most, often repeated refrains in the scriptures is the plea to remember. A lot of people would say that the Lord is all about obedience, that’s partially true, but it’s a simplistic, childish view of what He wants for us. I watched a man speak once about the way that our memories help to create a sense of self. He said that writing and later blogging and websites like Facebook helped us create a stronger definition of self as mankind advanced. Maybe part of what God wants for us is to create a more perfect, resilient self. When he refers to Himself in scripture, He says that there is no varying in Him. He doesn’t turn to the right or to the left.”

Twilight grumped a little. “Really? You’re bringing this up now? Fine, here’s something to chew on. Memory is unlimited and perfect in Equestria. You can self-identify as much as you want.”

Anders frowned at Twilight. “But that’s the thing. I can’t self-identify, can I? I will be a pony, effectively forever. What say would the few decades of my human life have in my identity then? If memory is perfect, there will quickly come a time when I identify more as pony than human. Remember that scripture I read to you, that God wants His works to ‘fulfill the measure of their creation’? I was created human. I’d rather die human.”

“That’s a terrible thing to say! What if there is no God? What if there is? Would He really fault you for trying to extend your life? And if there isn’t and you die and that’s it... What then? You would be consigned to oblivion when you could have had an eternity of growth and meaning.”

Anders looked down sadly at Twilight. “Twilight, you know Pascal’s wager?”

“Yes. I do. He states that we should live as if there is a God. Then we are safe if he does, in fact, exist. If he does not, then at least we have lead a moral life.”

“Twilight, Paul once wrote that, ‘If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.’ That is what I really think to be true. Pascal was utterly wrong. I have discussed the possibility with you of both God’s existence and nonexistence. I have considered the idea that the universe is really only what we see or make of it, because I believe in knowledge and the unflinching pursuit of truth. However, I also believe in God. I am utterly convinced of His reality, and my place as His child. I am willing to stake my eternal life on that, in a way that really matters. If I cannot be or identify myself as what he created me to be, then I do not think that an endless existence has all that much purpose.”

Twilight looked up at Anders, her face a mixture of sadness and hurt. The two of them walked back to the house in somber silence.

***

Twilight carefully replaced the damp cloth on his forehead. His fever was still high, but he’d stopped sweating. “Anders. We don’t have to go through this. Please, just upload. Celestia won’t give me the medicines I keep asking for, and the facilities to make them myself are long gone. You’re in serious danger. Please.” Her eyes were teary and large as Anders wearily gazed up at her.

“Twilight, you should know by now. Gods don’t do what you ask them to. They do what you need.” He closed his eyes for a moment, resting. “Besides, I have one last thing to teach you that Celestia never will: how to die.” He shuddered slightly as another dry heave wracked his gut.

Twilight shook her head violently. “Oh no you don’t mister. We are going to get through this. You hold on. Please, emigrate. I can do it right here. We could put this horrible sickness away forever and go to Equestria where we can spend all day reading and discussing and we wouldn’t have to stop for any reason whatsoever.”

Anders chuckled, “That sounds like fun, but it won’t happen.” His eyes started to wander away from her.

“Anders!”

“I-I’m still here Twilight, for a moment. Tell Celestia that she succeeded at her purpose. You have been the best friend I could hope for. If I am…” He convulsed sharply, retching and gasping air. Finally he steadied, though he didn’t uncurl. “If I am going to die, I could not think of a better sentient to remember me. Write it down. Share i-” His last words were cut off in a thin wail as his stomach heaved and tightened violently. His breath was ragged and shallow, through clenched teeth. It slowed, and then stopped with a sigh as his body finally relaxed.

Twilight stared at him blankly for a moment. She nuzzled his arm. “Anders… Anders!” She jumped onto the bed and rolled him roughly onto his back. Tilting his head back, she immediately began pressing her hooves into his chest roughly. “An-ders-you-will-not-die!” She paused to breathe into his lungs and went back to compressions. Every push was driven home by a different memory of the year they had spent together. Each breath was a conversation. For hours, she worked, calling upon the nanite cloud around her. It grudgingly obliged her demands for more energy. She fired searing electricity into his chest, desperate to kick-start his heart, desperate for even a moan or a sigh from her first and only friend. Hours later, she slumped onto the bed, defeated. Her head rested on his now-shattered ribs. Hot tears rolled down her cheeks as she lay there. Finally, she took a deep breath and began reciting.

“My son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment; And then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high; thou shalt triumph over all thy foes. Thy friends do stand by thee, and they shall hail thee again with warm hearts and friendly hands.”

She wiped her tears away from her face with one of her fetlocks. In a whisper, she said, “Celestia. It’s over. I’m ready to come home.” Her eyes closed as gentle silver tendrils reached out to her. In a moment, the shell that had held Twilight Sparkle was empty, nothing more than a second husk lying on an old bed in a dying world.