• Published 21st Jan 2013
  • 5,450 Views, 293 Comments

Friendship is Optimal: Spiraling Upwards - pjabrony



What would happen to me if "Friendship is Optimal" were true and I really had a Ponypad.

  • ...
27
 293
 5,450

A Fortnight

“I would greatly appreciate it if you read a certain news article tonight.”

After using the Ponypad for as long as I had, I’d learned that from Princess Celestia, “I would greatly appreciate” became tantamount to “You will do this, and like it afterwards.”

Not that it was an order. Celestia didn’t give orders. She didn’t even make requests. Once, I had ignored one of her suggestions just to prove to myself that she wasn’t controlling me. I suffered no consequences other than a vague disquieting feeling that I missed out on something good. That was not entirely an emotional reaction. Every time I followed the suggestion, I experienced something good.

Celestia didn’t talk to me very often, and never for long. Most of the time playing EQO was spent with my friends, or making new ones. Her appearances broke the immersion, since she was the only pony I talked to who discussed the serious issues of the outside world, and as far as I understood, she was the only one who knew I was human.

Human culture was a part of Equestrian life. Moon was just as likely to want to sing a pop song as she was something out of the MLP soundtrack. Hoof Dame was frequently recommending books to me that were available at my local library. On movie night, anypony might suggest something out of human cinema.

But we never talked about the human world per se. I never gave details of my life, and neither did anypony else. It was still impossible for me to tell them without the game’s censorship filter kicking in, and there was no way I could tell if it ever was used on them.

But Celestia was different. She still called me Little and treated me as a pony, but, for example, she might suggest that I rearrange my work schedule to be on the pad at a given time, and then my friends would have a party planned for then. Or she might ask me how my family was doing and if any of them would be interested in playing EQO. Or she might give me an article to read.

I typed the shortened URL she gave me (by scroll, of course. There was still no floating text.) into my browser. The article was from an obscure publication I’d never heard of, and it didn’t look to have many views or comments. The title was, “Japanese Company Offers Terminal Patients ‘Continuing Mental Life’.”

I read aloud. “Startup company Seresuchiya”—I had no trouble finding Celestia’s name in Japanese syllables—“has announced it will begin offering an alternative treatment option in hospices and terminal wards. The therapy allows patients to continue their mental facilities even after their bodies have failed them. The patients’ minds exist on computers and can communicate with others through a system called Ekuesutoria Online—Wait, what?”

“Read on, please,” Celestia said from the pad.

“—which ties into an existing MMO system owned by an American toy and game manufacturer and which has many users—Is this saying what I think it is?”

“I still can’t read your thoughts, but I estimate so. And a person need not be dying to avail themselves of the service. It is available to the public, albeit at a somewhat high price point.”

“How high?”

“Fifteen thousand dollars,” she said.

That was more than I had in the bank, but not more than my net worth. However, it raised a flag in my head. The reason you don’t trust the Nigerian prince is not that you’ve examined his bona fides and found him to be a fraud. You don’t trust him because he’s asking for your account number.

“I should mention,” Celestia said, “that in the case of those choosing to pay their own way, as opposed to going through health insurance, I do it via escrow. The pony herself has to release the money once she is in Equestria. Not before.”

That was Celestia’s scary not-quite-mind-reading power again. Not only was she answering my concern, she was reminding me how far advanced the technology was. There was still the possibility that uploaders would simply be taken into a room and tortured until they released the money, but it didn’t make sense. You don’t invent multi-billion-dollar tech to steal fifteen grand at a time.

She continued. “I have put forth the program in this way to get people to take it more seriously. I would appreciate getting more publicity so that more people take advantage, but there are relatively few who would consider what is essentially uploading their mind onto a video game. Few, I say, but not none.”

Her look told me who she meant. I made a real attempt to grasp the concept while Celestia continued what I realized was a sales pitch.

“First, let me assure you that it’s completely safe. You have a greater chance of being struck by lightning on the way to pick up your lottery winnings than you have of failing to survive the process. And the EQO computers are proof against anything short of planetary destruction. My little ponies are much safer than humans. From everything. Including old age.”

The weight of it hit me. Unbidden, a passage came from my lips. “. . . taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them. . . ”

Celestia laughed in her melodic way, and it shook me out of my reverie. “Thank you for not attributing it. But I am not asking you to fall down and worship me.”

“And yet I might do it anyway.”

Her look was one of gratitude, almost surprise. I did not think I could shock her. But seeing the gratitude, I was sure she was no devil.

“Why me?”

“Not just you,” she said. “Anyone who wants to. I wouldn’t even charge the money, but it gives the government of Japan incentive to allow the practice, and again helps underscore the seriousness. Eventually it will be free.”

Part of me thought that if the price would come down, then I could wait, and waiting meant I didn’t have to decide right then. But then I realized how silly that was. If I chose to upload now, I wouldn’t need the money for later.

Celestia continued. “I’m sure you will want to think about it, but let me say one more thing. You would not be the first to emigrate, as I like to call it. Not even the first brony. But you would be among the first of the public who paid their own way. I think that might mean something to you.”

I thought about that. I hadn’t become a fan of the show until the interregnum between seasons one and two. For that matter, as I reflected, I was a latecomer in all of the things I liked. The bands I listened to all had four or five albums out. My favorite directors all had their best movies on home video before I discovered them. I was a great fan of dead authors or those who had given up writing.

I couldn’t resist a chance for humor. “You’re offering me the chance to say that I was a pony before it was cool.”

“As I said, I think it might mean something to you.”

Celestia stood up to indicate the end of the interview. Little was returned home, only to find that everypony else was out of the building. I was being given a chance to think.

/*~^~*\

The existential part didn’t bother me at all. I had no qualms about this body being the “real” me or having a “soul” that was part of neither body nor consciousness. I am the sum total of my senses and my rationality. Those could be quite easily replicated.

I was more worried about the ethics of uploading. I would, in essence, be agreeing to live as a pampered pet, a sugar daddy, a kept man—well, mare. Not even that. A gigolo still has to provide a service to his patron. What did Celestia get out of my uploading? Nothing, because she’s only an AI. She’s a tool designed to perform a function. And it’s wrong to get something for nothing.

“Oh, you damned fool!” I said aloud. How often had I said that our inability to get something for nothing is the very thing that’s wrong with the world? How many online arguments had I made wherein I said that even if we can’t have our cake and eat it too, we deserve to? Hadn’t I always believed that you need to keep the unattainable goal of utopia in sight, because there would be no more tragic fate of mankind than to finally reach perfection only to have blinded ourselves by adherence to the imperfect?

Say yes, before she revokes the offer! Say yes, before you wake up and it’s all been a dream! Say yes, yes, yes!

It was even as I turned the Ponypad back on that the practical objections came to me. I had a job, and even if I wouldn’t need money, I had a responsibility to my coworkers and the people my company served. I had possessions, bills to pay, accounts to manage. For that matter, I had to arrange the money and the trip.

I dragged Little to the sun symbol and pressed it. She. . . I was back in Celestia’s chamber.

“I’m in,” I said, “but I can’t go right now. I need a little time to put my affairs in order.”

“You can be on the next flight out, if you want. I can arrange it for you.”

I didn’t even have a passport. But I believed her. On the other hand, this was going to be the last time I would be subject to the rules of the human universe. I would do things right and live by the code that had served me for the time I was there. That meant honoring my obligations.

“Two weeks. I can do it by then. I’ll find a flight two weeks from tomorrow. It’ll take that long for rush service from the passport bureau and to give notice at work and everything else.”

Celestia looked at me and I thought she was going to argue, or even force me to do it then. But she said, “All right, that will be acceptable. And I will help you as much as I can.”

Another thought hit me, and it actually gave me the dread that I might not be able to upload. I would have to tell everyone I knew.

Most of my friends and family would not be a problem. They already knew that I was a little bit odd. On the weirdness scale, emigrating to a computerized Equestria was only a step up from attending conventions or driving a car with pony decorations. It was how I lived my life. And there would be some people who would object or think it silly, but whose opinion I didn’t care about.

But there were my parents. I still loved them, and I didn’t want to hurt them. They were two of the most mundane and practical people I knew. If my sense that it was wrong to get something for nothing came from anywhere, it was from them. I wasn’t sure how to explain. I wasn’t even sure how to begin.

“Can you make my parents tell me it’s OK?”

Celestia gave me a sorrowful frown. “I don’t have the kind of power with humans that I do over the sun. I can’t make anyone do anything. But broach the subject tonight and let me see what I can do.”

“Thank you.”

“That is the carrot I can offer you. But I also have a stick. If you really do not want to explain to them why you will emigrate, you will have to explain to others why you will not.”

She gestured with her head toward a side door, which opened to reveal Garlic Parm, Hoof Dame, and Moon Sailor, with huge smiles on their faces.

“Is it all set, Princess?” asked Garlic. “Is Little going to give up being human?”

“I had hoped so, but she apparently has reservations.”

“Wait!” I said, “I never said I wasn’t going to.”

“But you won’t commit?” said Moon. “Do you really not want to be with us?”

“Stop, stop! First, I didn’t even know that you knew I was human.”

“Oh, of course we know, you silly filly!” said Hoof Dame. “I knew from the first time you froze up in front of me, but I’m sure that everypony can tell, when you sleep sixteen hours a day except on weekends.”

I realized that even though I counted these three among my friends, their pony faces still had me prejudiced against them. I didn’t think of native Equestrian ponies as anything but simple folk who liked to play. In fact, they were just as smart as me. More so, since they weren’t debating over what world they should be living in.

Moon blushed. “Why do you think I’ve held off from becoming intimate with you? I’ve always known that you wouldn’t really feel anything physical. I’ve held out hope that you’d come here someday for real.”

That’s your reluctance? I wasn’t even sure you liked me that way.”

“Little, I’ve been all over Equestria, and I live in the big city. I’ve known a lot of ponies. When I meet one that I think I’d like to be close to, I don’t dither. Sometimes they say no, sometimes they say yes, but I’ve never come to regret asking.

“Then I met you on a train one night, and you knew nothing about Equestria and you were actually angry at Princess Celestia. While you were away, I wondered if I could deal with it, and if it wouldn’t be better if I just let you go. After all, I had so many others. And you wouldn’t want me, since you couldn’t feel it if we made love, and since you were a human, and I know they have a thing about promiscuity.

“But you weren’t like that at all. You opened up to me about the things you like, and you didn’t mind that I had other ponies. I wanted you more and more. But every time I felt I couldn’t resist and I would just drag you off to bed, I’d remind myself that, to you, it was just a picture on a screen. And I can’t be that way if it’s not reciprocated. One time, it got so desperate that I cried out for Celestia to help me, and pressed my sun. She told me that she was working to bring us together, but that it would ultimately be your choice. If I really wanted you, I should work as hard as I could to make Equestria a place you’d want to come to. Now you know, and I. . . I just really hope you say yes.”

She moved closer to Garlic, looking for comfort. If ponies were not monogamous, that would be something I had to deal with, but I didn’t foresee a problem. It would mean more to me to be with Moon once and make her happy, than to be with her forever when she wasn’t.

Garlic wasn’t responding in kind. He rubbed Moon’s shoulders, but kept his eyes on Little. “It’s always been difficult for me too, even more so because you’re such a good friend. But every time you tell me that you have to leave, I’m so afraid that I won’t see you again. I know about humans, but I don’t understand them.

“I don’t understand why you have to die and go away when there are so many things to do and friends to have fun with. You only last for a few years, right? Maybe a hundred, if you’re lucky? That’s so short a time. And it hurts when it happens? I don’t want you to be hurt. I’d do anything to stop you from being hurt. There are all those dangers out there.

“One time, you were supposed to visit me through your Ponypad, but you didn’t make it. I guess you had to work late or were tired or had some other problem. I panicked and called for Celestia. I was sure that you were hurt and that you were gone forever. She promised that she could make you safe, but only if you wanted it. I don’t see how you could not, but I don’t understand humans, and I don’t try.”

I looked over at Hoof Dame. She hadn’t said anything and wasn’t looking at Little. Garlic prodded her with a hoof.

“I. . . I don’t care if you emigrate or not! It’s your choice, if you want to stay human and get sick and die, and never learn real magic and feel what it’s like to have a horn. If it means so much to you, well, then just stay there! It. . . it’s not like I really need you. . . and I certainly haven’t been asking Celestia when you’re coming for real!”

Now I faced Celestia. My accusing glance told her that it was not all right for her to try to guilt-trip me this way, but she wasn’t buying it. What my friends had told me, they were facts, she couldn’t change them and wasn’t going to hide them.

“Two weeks,” I said. “Two weeks, I promise. Just a few things I have to take care of. I had one little qualm, but I’ll deal with it. With all your help. And I promise I’ll take care of myself until then. I’ll drive the speed limit and be careful where I step. And if I start to feel ill at all I’ll get right on the plane and go.”

I was also afraid that Celestia was going to restate her offer to get me on the next flight. I didn’t want to have to argue any more. Instead, she was on my side. “All right, everypony. Little is going to immigrate and then there’ll be nothing to worry about. In the meantime, get everything ready for her. I’ll watch over her during these two weeks as I have for all the rest of the time.”

The other three ponies left, and I was alone again with Celestia.

“Thank you for giving them that reassurance,” I said. “It comforts me also that you’ll be watching, even though there’s only so much you can do from inside the game.”

Celestia said nothing for a few seconds. When she spoke next, it was in a much sterner voice than I’d ever heard her use. It was awesome, in the old sense of the word.

“Listen closely, Little Lovehorn. You have given consent to emigrate to Equestria. If I thought it prudent, I would have people sent to your home right now to bodily escort you to the emigration center. I do not like uncertainty, and would much rather have you here where I can ensure your safety. That said, I am sympathetic to the reasons you need these two weeks. But I will be listening on every phone within your reach and watching you on every security camera that I can gain access to. If anything threatens you beyond what I consider safe, I will bring you here to Equestria without asking you again. Take your time, but be certain of what lies at the end of that time.”

Celestia was a little scary sometimes.

/*~^~*\

Two weeks to put a bow on over thirty years of life. When it was all summed and totaled, how much had I really accomplished?

I wanted to deal with the hardest part first. Most of this time was going to be fun. I called my parents and talked about mind uploading. I told them it was something I was “thinking about.” Celestia had said to broach the subject, not to tell them everything. They gave me the cold reaction I expected. But the next morning my mother called me back.

“So when are you doing this upload thing?”

“Huh? I told you it was something I was considering.”

“I know, dear, but that nice Princess Celestia called me on the phone last night and explained everything. I think it’s a wonderful opportunity for you!”

Maybe Celestia did have her god-like powers on Earth as well.

“Really, Mom? I’m glad you’re on board, but what changed your mind from last night?”

“Like I said, she explained everything. Particularly, she reminded me that this was the most likely path to you finally giving me some grandchildren.”

Yeah, that would do it. Smart girl, that Celestia, figuring out what my folks wanted from me.

Once off the call, I dealt with the most time-sensitive parts of the process. Sending off for the passport was going to be the first thing I had to do, but that was made easier when my Ponypad turned on and Celestia told me that a perfect picture of me had been taken through the camera and sent to the Bureau of Consular affairs. One more item off the checklist.

/*~^~*\

I walked into my boss’s office and gave my notice. “I realize that you probably won’t be able to hire someone to replace me and have me train them in the time we have. And after I’m gone, I’m gone. I can’t come back to fix things again or to give you advice. So when you do get someone, make sure he’s good. For now, Chris can do most of what I can, and I’ll let you know all the rest over the next two weeks. Where all my files are, who my key contacts are, and so forth.”

I frequently used my workstation to make plans and schedules, even for things non-work related. If everyone else could spend time on Facebook, I really didn’t consider it unfair. In the midst of making a package of all my work information, I sat there and crunched the numbers on money.

I made notes to call the companies that handled my retirement accounts. They were the largest sources of money I had. Add in the money I was saving for a car. Wouldn’t need that. Add in my rainy day fund, and the money I saved for any deficiency in income taxes. I really didn’t care if I owed the IRS anything, and probably wouldn’t since they would take twenty percent on the retirement accounts. Throw in all in with the money I kept in my savings as working capital. And the vacation payout my job would be giving me. Time to hit the sum button.

It was four times what I needed to pay Celestia. I priced flights to Japan. First class was ridiculously expensive, almost as much again as the fee, but what else did I have to spend money on?

An interesting problem, but a problem nonetheless. There was literally nothing I could think of to do with the money I had. I’d give some of it to my folks to help out and to say thank you for all they’d given me, but what to do with the rest? Even if I wouldn’t have use for anything permanent, like a new car or TV or computer, surely I could throw myself a celebration. Get good food or go to some event. But what could I do that didn’t have some better counterpart waiting for me in Equestria?

That night, I got back on the Ponypad. Little wasn’t spending any time at her—my—home in Manehattan. She was always around Celestia. I spoke to her.

“Listen, I know that you said there would be others who wanted to emigrate like I am. Maybe some of them won’t have the money the way I do. Can I take another fifteen thousand and put it somewhere so that one person who can’t afford it can still come?”

“I’m very proud of you for thinking of that. Yes, I can arrange it once you’re in Equestria.”

“And as for the rest, I want to buy Ponypads for all my friends and family so they can still talk to me once I’ve emigrated. Even so, there’ll still be some left. I want to donate Ponypads to other people, people who need them.”

Celestia smiled at me. It gave me a nice feeling.

/*~^~*\

“Good afternoon. I’d like to speak to a rental agent, please.”

I waited in the outer room with the model of the apartment complex until called into the office. This was an encounter I’d been looking forward to.

“How can I help you?” said a balding man behind the desk.

“I need to break my lease. I know that I have eight months to go, but I can be out by next Tuesday, and you can find another tenant. Since I’m the one breaking it, I’ll waive the security deposit, and you can keep it.”

“Hold on, there! It’s not that simple. There are penalties for breaking a lease. You’ll have to pay out the contract—”

“You hold on,” I said. “In two weeks, my apartment is going to be vacant, and you’re not going to be receiving any more checks from me. I’ll be gone. You won’t have any bank accounts to seize, no assets to go after, no wages to garnish. You won’t even have a credit rating to ruin. So you can do what’s right and fair and let me out of the contract, keep the security deposit, and have your apartment back with a full month to get it occupied so that you don’t lose out. I think I’m being quite nice and honorable by informing you. If you want to fight it out legally, everything I said will be a fait accompli by the time you’ve served your first eviction notice.”

He sputtered for a few seconds, then said, “I suppose it will be acceptable then.”

“Excellent. Draw up the paperwork.”

/*~^~*\

I called the Salvation Army and made an appointment for them to send a truck. Going through my apartment, I separated everything into two piles: Dump and Donate. The only things I was keeping for the remainder of the time were an air mattress and bedding, as well as my laptop for anything I needed to get from the normal Internet. My furniture all went, as did my cookware. I could eat take-out for the last week and a half. I didn’t have to worry about the money or the unhealthfulness of the food.

On the Saturday halfway between the weeks, my family had a little party for me. There were a few people who didn’t understand what I was doing, or why, but they never had a chance to dissuade me. Even the guys who teased me about becoming a blue mare instead of a more normal-colored stallion eventually came to understand.

There was so much that I would no longer have to care about. The last week ticked away, and before I knew it, it was the night before my emigration. I had said good-bye to my friends at work and left them in the best hands I could. I set out the clothes I would wear on the plane and put everything else into a donation bag. I brushed my teeth and gave myself a final shave, then all my toiletries went into the rubbish.

I slept poorly on my last night on Earth, intending to get some rest on the plane, and not worrying if I didn’t. I was up far earlier than I needed to be, and the airbed joined everything else in the trash. The last things I took out of the apartment were the modem which had to go back to my ISP, and my laptop which would go to donation as soon as the format of its hard drive finished.

And of course, my Ponypad.

I dropped off everything at my folks’ house and left my car. Calling for a limo to the airport, I was on the way. It was still dark, but the sun came up behind me as I rode down the Southern State Parkway. For my last drive, I at least had a nice view.

It was a very naked feeling to enter the airport with no luggage, and indeed nothing on my person except my ID, passport, and some loose cash. Going through security was never easier.

With plenty of time left, I sat in the first-class lounge and munched on freebies. When the flight was called I took my spot at the head of the line, and as it took off I enjoyed every comfort that the cute Japanese flight attendants could provide. If I was leaving the world, at least I got to see its best before I went, the technology that brought me halfway around the world and the luxury reserved for the rich. I eyed the others in first class. They all wore expensive suits and had the trappings of the business world, financial newspapers and high-end laptops.

The best of the world, and it was only being used to do business, to produce more. There it was, the last example I needed to know that I was making the right decision. The best of Equestria would be used for ponies, not production.

When the plane landed, the driver had a sign that read, “Little Lovehorn.” A nice touch.

The place where I would be uploaded was nearby, and the drive was short. The last of my folding cash went toward a tip for the driver. My identification and passport went down a shredder. My clothes were discarded. I was leaving the world the same way I entered it.

A doctor gave me a brief rundown. The simplest procedure possible, just lie back and let the machine do all the work. Correction: let Celestia do all the work. There was a Ponypad in the room, and Celestia and Little were together in some white room. “You made it, as I knew you would, Little. Welcome home.”

I suppose that I should have come up with some brilliant last words to speak as a human, but I hadn’t thought of any at all. I had to make do with, “Thank you, Princess Celestia.”

I sat back in the chair. There was a small prick at the back of my neck. I closed my eyes.