• Published 21st Jan 2013
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Friendship is Optimal: Spiraling Upwards - pjabrony



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

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A Quarter

“To Little!” somepony said, and everypony else raised their cups. I blushed and let my mane fall over one eye.

I drank and put down my glass. “OK, you guys. Have fun and close up early. No more work today, except for callouts.”

The transition from full-time party filly to part-time businessmare was not one I expected, but it was one I enjoyed. I needed a structure to keep me on a schedule, and to give me a reason to get up in the morning other than just waiting to see what some friend would want to do. But the actual work I fell flank-backwards into.

It happened during the pony polo playoffs, when Garlic was having bigger parties all the time. There was more food, more drinks, and more ponies as the Humans worked their way to a championship. Of course, for some matches they were on the road, and when they had to play the Flankouver Ursas, we still gathered in Garlic’s apartment.

High-level technology didn’t exist in Equestria, but magical analogues were everywhere. A big-screen viewing portal did essentially the same job as a TV, and let us watch in real time. The problem came during halftime, when everypony was distracted by eating or chatting, and the magical screen just stopped working. I was the first to notice, but soon we were all worried about missing the second half.

As if by instinct, I reached out with my horn-sense and felt into the magic screen. From what I could gather, it was still receiving, but nothing was coming through.

If it were a computer, I thought to myself, I would call it a networking problem, and try releasing and renewing the connection. Examining the magical workings, I found what I thought was the part equivalent to an antenna. Using simple telekinetic manipulation, I disconnected it from the rest and then reattached it. A moment later, the picture came back.

All anypony else had seen was my horn glowing and the machine being fixed. They all thanked me and congratulated me for fixing it.

“You’re a real repair-pony, you know?” said Garlic. “You should make yourself available to others who have broken magical devices.”

And so I had started a business. At first it was just me, going around to ponies whose magical communicators or radios or such had failed. Fixing magical problems fit right into my knowledge of fixing technological problems, and I was good at it. I was certainly not the only repair pony in Manehattan, but I soon realized that there was a way for me to gain an edge, something nopony else was doing.

I introduced the service contract to Manehattan.

Everypony else waited for their devices to break before calling in a unicorn to fix them. I would be proactive, selling the promise that I would come if needed, but would also provide regular maintenance. I played around with communication spells until I had one that gave me a magical alert when something had failed, or just fallen out of nominal status. I could fix things before they broke. That was also new. It also gave me the advantage of knowing how many bits were coming in, and seemed nicer than my competition. They made money when things broke. I made more when things didn’t.

Soon enough I had so much business on my hooves that I had to hire other ponies to help. When pegasi and Earth ponies came to apply, I initially thought of turning them away, but then I got smart, hiring them on as sales staff, to spread the word and get more contracts in. Then I needed more unicorns, and the cycle continued.

It worked. The business made bits and stabilized. I had thrown the staff a little party to celebrate our six-month anniversary, and already we were in the black.

When the party broke up I went home to see Garlic. Moon was off on another CelEx delivery, but that was fine with me since the new pony polo season was starting, and that meant the return of his watching parties. One was already in full swing as I opened the door.

“Hey, Little,” Garlic said, “Glad you could make it. Want you to meet my brother, he’s new in town.”

He brought me over to a big yellow stallion whose coat was flecked with white. I thought that Garlic was huge, but he looked like the runt of the litter compared to his brother. I won’t say that it was love at first sight, but I definitely wanted to make him my friend.

“Reggie, this is my good friend Little Lovehorn. Little, meet Reggie.”

“Reggie Parm, I love it,” I said, shaking his hoof. I gave my best wink and mane flip as I did, but he failed to respond.

Sitting around and watching the game, Garlic brought out his usual spread. More ponies were there and we all fell over ourselves to get some. I sat next to Reggie and talked about everything. I barely paid attention to the game. There was something fascinating about him. Most ponies were all sweetness and light, but he had an aloof edge to him. I found that I liked that bad-colt side.

I playfully used my magic to feed him, as well as myself. About halfway through the party, I saw a single wingroot on the plate, and Reggie’s eyes were on it. I picked it up and offered it to him, but he said no. I wanted it for myself as well, but I thought that he did too. It stayed on the plate until the end.

As the game ended and we broke up, I cornered my host. “Hey, do you think you could do me a favor?”

“What’d you have in mind?”

“Do you think you could make me up a batch of those wingroots to take home?”

He grinned. “Having a party of your own?”

“Maybe, if Reggie wants to join me. But really I just really like them and I’d like to have some to eat.”

“Hmm. I guess. I’ll have them for you tomorrow.”

He seemed disappointed for some reason. I didn’t think he’d mind me going for his brother. In any case, I was only half-serious about inviting him. I wanted the food for myself. It was a long time coming. Equestria had plenty of good food, but almost no take-out places. All meals were social events, and it got under my skin just a little. I finally had escaped from the need to diet or to think about how much each meal cost, and I still couldn’t indulge my gluttony as I wanted to.

When Garlic delivered the wingroots the next day, I thanked him the best way I knew and took them back to my apartment. Shutting the door, I put on some music and brought a good book to read. Another nice thing about magic was the ability to eat and read without worrying about getting grease on the pages.

The first bite was every bit as good as I remembered. But by the fourth or fifth, I wasn’t so happy. Some foods, particularly salty ones, have diminishing returns as you eat them. The first bite of popcorn, for example, tastes a lot better than the last. It had never been that way eating at the game-watching parties. But now it was.

I sighed and talked to myself. “I guess by pacing myself around the socialization, I avoided the effect. I just wish I could have everything,”

At that point, though, I heard Moon’s door open and close. Leaving the dish half-finished, I galloped over to welcome her back.

After kisses and hugs, I asked how her trip went.

“Good,” she said. “Although I couldn’t deadhead back like I usually do. Had a delivery from Canterlot to Manehattan, a big shipment that I had to haul with some other ponies.”

“Any problems?”

“Nothing that would threaten CelEx’s perfect record. Actually, it was stuff you might be interested in. More magical communicators and things from some new outfit called NeverFail.”

I hadn’t heard of that brand. As I’d run my repair business I learned the peccadilloes of different manufacturers. One might have a tendency to problems reproducing sound, another would do sound and everything else fine most of the time but crack under the heaviest workloads, and so on.

“Do you have any with you? I’d love to get a jump on the competition and be able to tell everypony that I can service them.”

Moon gave me a sexy stare. “You already tell everypony that you can service them.”

Whenever she used clever turns of phrase, she was just asking me to take her to bed. Of course, she also avoided my question.

At work the next day I went to my research and development department. The two unicorns there greeted me warmly. “Hi, Miss Lovehorn!”

“Morning, Research. Morning, Development. And I’ve told you to call me Little.”

They grinned. “What’s up?” asked Development.

“Have you two heard of NeverFail?”

“I haven’t.”

“Somepony in my building ordered one of their music players,” said Research. “It just came yesterday in a big shipment.”

“What do you think about taking a little field trip with me to check it out?”

“You want to go all the way to Stallion Island and back?”

I saw an opportunity to be nice to my employees. “Actually, I was thinking that we could go, and then you could take the rest of the day off. Both of you, of course.”

“Thanks, Miss Lovehorn! You’re the best!” they said in chorus.

“But unless you call me Little, I’m making you come back and work a double shift!”

/*~^~*\

After I had seen the player and examined it with my horn, I was a little worried. The owner, an elderly earth pony, had happily showed me the paperwork that came with it. It claimed never to need service and, from what I could tell, it could back up its claim. The unicorns who had put it together did a good job.

“Would you like to think about a service contract anyway?” I asked him. “They say it won’t break, and it does look good, so I’ll give you a nice discount.”

“No, but thanks. I’ve had issues with repair ponies before, although I’ve heard good things about you. Maybe if you could take a look at my magi-cleaner, though.”

I was able to fix his cleaner, and sold him one of my contracts on the rest of his things, but he insisted on being able to get out of it at a time of his choosing.

“I’ll be honest,” he said. “I plan to replace everything with NeverFail products as they make them and as I can afford them. So someday I won’t be of any use to you.”

I assured him that it was his prerogative and bade him a good day.

The advantage I had at running a successful business, particularly in Equestria, was that I could leave it alone for a while and it wouldn’t go south on me. As I trotted home, I reflected how well it worked for everypony. I liked having the routine of going in at set hours, but also the freedom to work when I wanted. My repair ponies, many of whom were party ponies and liked staying up late, enjoyed being on call so that if nothing went wrong, they didn’t have to do anything. My sales team also got to pick their hours and work on commission, so the ones that really liked getting out and meeting ponies had a good reason to do so.

I really hoped that NeverFail wasn’t going to become a thorn in my side. I didn’t need the money to survive, but I had a scheme I’d been working on, and I wanted to see it through sooner rather than later.

When I reached the apartment, Garlic was waiting. “How’s my horny friend doing?” he asked playfully. “Ready for the game tonight?”

“You know, I think I’m going to give it a miss this once. I’ve got a lot on my mind and I’d like a chance to de-stress.”

“Really? But you’ve never missed a game.”

I sighed. “There’s got to be a first time for everything, right?”

“Well, all right. Do you want another batch of food to take home.”

I recalled how much I hadn’t enjoyed the previous night’s dinner. “No, thanks,” I said. “I’m not hungry.”

I went into the apartment and shut the door. It seemed to me that a couple of serpents had entered my Eden. “It’ll probably all be better in the morning.”

For the next month, things went up and down. I had a nice routine. Weekly contact with Earth to get it over with, then my usual fun times with friends, and trips around Manehattan and the outer boroughs for work and pleasure. I’d met a lot of new ponies in my job and I slept with many of them. But I also had some alone time.

I’d bought myself a cart and had a smart unicorn put a come-to-life spell on it that I could control. I could steer it like a car and enjoy all the fun I used to have driving a car. I found some beautiful areas for driving and walking, and spent a lot of time on that. Sometimes I’d invite a friend, but sometimes I wouldn’t. Sometimes I’d give in and go to Garlic’s parties, and sometimes I wouldn’t. Sometimes Moon would be around, and sometimes she wouldn’t.

That month was very sometimes.

Maybe once a week I begged off of Garlic’s game-watching parties. I was a double addict. Addicted to going to the parties, and addicted to the disappointment of them. The disappointment would build until I decided not to go, and then one night of loneliness would send me back.

The final straw came in bed, naturally. Garlic and I lay there after a session, and he told me that Reggie would be at that night’s party, and wasn’t he a fine fellow? My hope of giving Reggie the benefits of my friendship had taken second place to my worries. I broke the news to him that I was thinking of skipping another one.

He leaned on a hoof and looked at me with his big chocolate-brown eyes. “Little, have I done something to hurt you?”

“What? No, of course not.”

“Then why don’t you want to come? You always seem to have a good time when you’re there. I try to make the tastiest foods for you.”

“You do,” I said. “It’s nothing, really.”

“It’s not. Please, open up to me.”

“You’ll think I’m a bad pony. I am a bad pony, I guess.”

Normally Garlic was give-and-take in bed. But at that moment, he grabbed my shoulders and sat me up. “Listen to me. You are not a bad pony, do you understand? You can tell me you hate me and never want to see me again, and you still wouldn’t be a bad pony, because you’ve already been a good friend. Now spill. I want to know what’s bothering you.”

I closed my eyes. “All right. But I’m telling you, you’ll think I’m very selfish. Before I came to Equestria, you know, back when I was—“

“I know.”

“I used to go to parties where there was good food, but there was always an unwritten code about how to eat. Of course, there are some simple manners like not talking with your mouth full and keeping your napkin in your lap, but even more for the kind of food you make, the communal apps. For example, you never take seconds until everyone’s had their first. And you don’t take the last one of anything, because someone else might want it. It’s being selfish. You wait until the host cleans up and offers the last one, at which point you look at everyone and say you don’t want it one more time.

“Those rules always stuck in my craw. I’m really a greedy pony at heart. I want to gorge myself with abandon and eat everything. I’m a slave to my stomach. But I love my friends more, so I play along and follow the rules. Many times, I would plan for big meals of my own, where I’d order enough takeout for a whole family and just eat until I had my fill, just to have some times when I didn’t have to follow the rules.

“That’s why I asked you to make me some wingroots to take home. They’re the best thing I’ve ever eaten in either world, but only when served at your parties. So I can never be satisfied, really.”

I finished my rant and waited for his response. I expected him to be mostly sympathetic, or maybe a little surprised at how vicious I was. Instead, he burst out laughing.

“What is it?” I asked.

“I’ve been racking my brain for the past month, trying to figure out what it was that put you off. I always figured it had something to do with the food, and that’s why I kept trying to make it better. And now you tell me that the problem with my food is that you haven’t been getting enough?”

“Well, sort of, but more—“

“Wait, let me finish. Little, I love you, and everypony else at the parties loves you. We don’t care whether you take all the food and throw the leftover roots and shells on the floor afterwards. We don’t care if you belch when you’re done. We accept you as you are.” He rolled out of bed and started grooming himself. “Get up. You’re coming with me.”

“Why?”

“You and I are going to make the wingroots for tonight’s party together.”

/*~^~*\

Garlic’s kitchen was on the ground floor of the building, and it had its own elevator. I’d lived there nearly a year, but I’d never been to that part of the building. A set of big French doors led to a courtyard that I’d also never seen. The sun angled in on a beautiful garden.

We trotted outside, and Garlic approached a tree that was standing next to another. He had a wicker basket on his back that he deposited on the ground. Then he did something I went wide-eyed at. Wrapping his hooves around the tree, he yanked it out of the ground and held it aloft above the basket. I couldn’t have done that with all of my magic power, and he was lifting it like it was made of air. He shook the dirt off back into its plot. I could see the exposed roots at the bottom. They were exactly what I’d been eating since I’d gotten there.

“Normally I put the tree down at this point and pick them all myself,” said Garlic. But since I have a unicorn with me today. . . “

I took the hint. I grabbed all the roots in my magic field and floated them into the basket. It was about a quarter full. Then he shoved the tree back into the ground and went to the other. He repeated the action, and I looked at the bottom of this one.

“Those are different!” I said.

“Yes. I know you like traditional, but some ponies prefer rootless.”

“Rootless wingroots?”

“You know what I mean.” I pulled them all off and now the basket was half full. “Now watch.”

He went back to the first tree and lifted it again. To my amazement, it had just as many roots as it had the first time.

“They regrow that fast?”

“They’re magical plants,” he said. I repeated my telekinetic help. One more trip to the rootless tree and we had a full basket.

“It’s still a lot of work to get them and cook them, isn’t it?”

He rolled his eyes. “Unicorns. All the same. Think they’re the only ones with any special talents. I’m an earth pony. Work isn’t work to me.”

“You’d better explain that.”

“OK. Say an earth pony has to till a field. He just starts at one end and tells his hooves to walk in a line and pull the plow. Then his hooves do what he tells them while he enjoys the ride. Any time we set ourselves a task that we’ve done before, we do it automatically. We never have to deal with drudgery.”

I was a little envious of that skill.

We went back into the kitchen. It was very modernistic, with lots of stainless metal, and it was spotlessly clean. Garlic deposited the basket under a tap, and a conveyor belt started moving the washed roots toward a deep fryer. I got close.

“Be careful,” he said. “That’s oil’s extra hot.”

There was no temperature gauge, and I was less sensitive to extreme heat or cold as a pony than I was before. But even so, he was right. That oil felt like it would burn me.

“How hot is it?” I asked.

“Hot enough to cook those wingroots in about a minute. Just enough time to make the sauce.”

“What sauce?”

“I think it’s your favorite. Garlic parmesan.”

I put on my sexy look. “Oh, yes. That’s definitely my favorite.”

He walked over to a refrigerator and came out with a metal bowl full of butter. Dropping it off next to the fryer, the ambient heat began to melt the butter. Meanwhile, he opened a pantry door. The bushel in there had to be the size of an oil drum, and it was filled to the brim with cloves of garlic. He picked one out and closed the door. Winding up like a baseball pitcher, he threw the bulb against the door. All the skin of the garlic tore off, and he was left with a bundle of cloves.

“This is the most fun part,” he said. Placing the cloves next to the bowl, he reared up and smashed his forehooves into the garlic. The cloves were crushed, and he scraped them off into the bowl with the butter that had already melted. “Only need one more thing.”

There was another refrigerator on the other side, He opened the big metal door and let me see. Inside was, roughly, the GDP of Wisconsin.

Great wheels of cheese were stacked a dozen high and going back as far as I could see. He took a grater and attacked the nearest wheel. His hoof was a blur and the cheese was a blizzard, but he caught all of it in the bowl. Turning back to the fryer, the conveyor belt was carrying the wingroots through. They were already cooked.

The entire process couldn’t have taken more than five minutes.

“You know,” Garlic was saying, “the wingroot plant used to be considered a weed. Ponies would keep it out of their gardens. It was actually the buffalo who figured out that it was good to eat if you had the right sauce.

“Sauce matters a lot.” He gave me a significant look.

Something that Princess Celestia had said to me a long time ago came up in my memory. “Are you trying to teach me some kind of lesson?”

“Yes, I am. I want you to know what it’s like to live in a world of abundance. All those rules you talked about, they only apply to a world of scarcity. I will make so much food for you that you can indulge yourself however you want. Here, in Equestria, we know that being true to yourself is the only way to be true to your friends.”

We went back upstairs. Ponies were already gathering, and the game was about to start.

I never missed a party after that.

/*~^~*\

I came to understand my friends’ understanding in other ways too. The long drives I liked to take out to the countryside were something I still enjoyed, but I invited others to go along more frequently. They learned not to bother me if I got into that relaxed state where driving becomes automatic and enjoyable.

One weekend, right when we were about to leave, Garlic said, “Hey, Reggie wants to come too. Is that all right?”

“Of course,” I said. “Plenty of room in the cart.”

He ducked back into his apartment and emerged with his brother, which raised my eyebrows. I had just been inside and Reggie hadn’t been, but perhaps they had had another direct warp put in.

Now that I was out of my funk I was ready to give Reggie my full attention. I was still very interested in him, but he hadn’t made a move on me. I blamed myself for that. There was no reason, I thought, for him to try when I had been so disengaged. I resolved to change that as we drove out.

I made sure that I sat next to him as we crossed the bridge to the Broncs and went further upstate. I flirted as best as I knew how, and I thought I was making progress, as he seemed to get tongue-tied more than once.

Our destination was a walking trail by the town of Coltlandt. As we trotted under the eaves of the trees, our paces sped and slackened so that any two of the group might have a chance to talk without the others hearing. Reggie talked to Moon about flying while I held back and chatted with Garlic.

“Your brother’s a nice guy,” I said, “but he’s far less eager than you. Do you think he doesn’t like me?”

“He likes you fine, but remember that he’s a country pony originally.” Garlic seemed to be choosing his words carefully. “They’re not as open about romantic relationships as we are here. Or at least, as you are.”

I thought about tumbling him right there, but held up. I was more interested in landing the bigger fish. “Well, if you think I should be more demure, I’ll try.”

“Emphasis on try.”

I advanced up and took Moon’s place at Reggie’s side. “So. . . the trees are awfully nice, aren’t they?”

“Yes. Reminds me of home a little.”

“Where are you from anyway?”

He said nothing for a moment, then came out with “Back west.” For some reason it felt like he was hiding something.

All throughout the day he was a gentlecolt, and I was a lady. I promised myself that I’d make it up to myself with an extra-long session among my friends tomorrow. But when we made it back to Manehattan, I couldn’t resist making my intentions plain.

“I had a really nice time today, Reggie.”

“So did I.”

Since he wasn’t advancing, I had to take the lead. I gave him a quick kiss on the cheek, and then a longer one on the mouth. But when I pulled away, I saw more fear than enjoyment in his expression.

“I have to go!” he said. He turned and bolted.

/*~^~*\

“What did I do wrong, Moon?” We sat in her apartment, and I told her everything that happened. “I know I haven’t been a female as long as you, but I try to be what every guy wants: willing and honest.”

“Well, all males are different. Some of them are harder to read than others. If you really focus your attention on Reggie, you’ll understand.”

I resolved to do my best to make him join our little circle, but at that point, I became aware of more pressing issues when I was called into work.

My sales manager, a sepia pegasus mare named Lead (as in sales lead, not lead balloon) gave me the report.

“The numbers have fallen off sharply this month. More ponies are going with NeverFail and taking their chances. And the chances are paying off. For them, not for us.”

“But how can they make stuff that doesn’t break at all? It’s just not scientifically possible. Or magically possible either.”

“Tell them that,” she said, showing a scroll. “We’re not losing money, but I wouldn’t recommend hiring any more ponies.”

I looked over the figures and what would be coming in as income. I knew that, in the long run, profit and loss didn’t matter. But I still had my plan that would take a lot of bits, and I wanted to earn them before I spent them.

“Maybe we should change our focus to keeping the customers we have rather than trying to get new ones,” I said. “If I remember correctly, that’s supposed to be easier.”

“Well, with respect, where does that leave me and the sales ponies?”

“Maybe with an easier job. I still want you to go after some new business, but be sure to visit the ponies we already have contracts with. Be nice to them. Bring them cake. Let’s be their friends as well as their repair ponies.”

“That’s fine, but the third-quarter numbers might not be what you want,” said Lead.

“Well, if time is money, then we’ll get where we want eventually. Keep at it and do your best.”

My thoughts were constantly occupied by my two projects, getting closer to Reggie and trying to grow my business. At one of Garlic’s parties, I combined the two, giving Reggie all the details of what I had done and was doing. He seemed amused.

“I’m sure there’s a path to success for you,” he said. “There has to be.”

“That’s what I feel too. I’m just not seeing it right now. Anyway, do you work at all?”

“Yes, but I don’t like it much. My boss is always riding me. Heh, riding.”

I didn’t get his joke. “Why don’t you quit, then?”

“I need the bits.”

I wondered what he was saving up for, and hoping it wasn’t the same thing as me.

As we broke up, I heard Garlic saying good-bye to Reggie. I hung back and listened.

“Be good, bro,” Garlic was saying. “and be careful. You know I worry about you.”

“Whatever, dude. I’m busy the next couple of days, so it might be a while before I can check back in.”

“All right. I’ll be waiting. We all will.”

Reggie walked down the hall to the elevator, and I was alone with Garlic. I helped clean up the apartment from the party, while all the time something was nagging at me. I wondered why Garlic would be worried. Reggie didn’t seem to be doing anything dangerous, and the only time I’d ever seen Garlic show that kind of fear was back when I—

All the clues I had finally clicked. “Sweet Luna! Your brother’s a human!”

He looked in the opposite direction. “That’s right.”

“How come nopony told me?”

“There are certain constraints upon us in dealing with. . . them. Celestia can explain it better than I can.”

I put a hoof on his shoulder and turned him to face me. “You explain it.”

“Well, we’re not even supposed to say the word. I’m surprised you could, but it was a big revelation. That’s another part. Nopony who knows is allowed to identify non-emigrated Equestrians. And you can’t let him know that you know either.”

“What happens if I do? Will Celestia punish me?”

He laughed. “No, I don’t mean you’re not allowed. I mean you can’t. There’s a magical geis that will take hold and stop you. It’s something that’s part of the fabric of Equestria. Even unicorn magic can’t counter it. The only place we can break the rules is in Celestia’s chamber in Canterlot Castle.”

“That’s a little scary.”

“Mmhm. Most of the time, like at the parties, Reggie’s viewing us through his Ponypad. But sometimes, like when we took that walk, he’s at an Equestria Experience center.”

That was after my time, so Garlic explained how they worked. “Can he feel it if I touch him?” I asked.

“Yes, but only in his brain as it is. It’s not the same as for us. Remember that Moon didn’t want to sleep with you until you emigrated. Just like when I feed him. It tastes good to him, but nowhere near what you and I taste.”

“We’ve got to make him emigrate the same way I did!”

“Of course we all want that,” he said, “but it’s up to him. If you can just get him to say that he wants to emigrate while he’s in the center, it’ll happen.”

“I’ll work twice as hard as I have been. He can have me all he wants.”

“But remember, to him, sex with ponies is a taboo.”

My brain had a tough time with the concept. “But if he emigrated, then it would be normal, because he’d be the pony he was always meant to be.”

“Yes, if. But right now, you’re just a blue cartoon to him.”

I started planning how to change that opinion.

/*~^~*\

It was funny, and a little enjoyable, to feel how the magic prevention of discussing humans worked. When I saw Reggie the next time, I wanted to test the limits, so I went up to him and said, “Hey there, you big human!” Or at least I tried to. As soon as I formed the thought, my mouth suddenly got tired. I felt complete peace and contentment, like I was in a trance and couldn’t move my jaw. Then I decided not to say it, and my movement came back.

I continued to probe what I could and couldn’t say. Asking about his family was allowed, though he didn’t say anything to indicate that they weren’t ponies. Talking about his hands, though, brought the magic back. The important part, though, was that I was allowed to talk about emigration.

“If you were to emigrate, it would be so much better. We could play together all the time. Seriously, it’s so much fun.” I tried to tell him about my first month, but I couldn’t reveal that I used to be human too. “New ponies have the time of their lives. Just whatever you want to do, we’ll do it. All you have to do is say you want to.”

“It’s very tempting, I won’t deny that. But it’s still not the same as living in the real world.”

He was at the Equestria Experience that day. I put his hoof on my cheek. “Does this feel fake to you?”

Reggie knocked my hoof off. “Listen, Little. I like you as a friend. But I don’t cotton to the way you flirt with me. I know that you’re with Garlic and even with Moon. I’m a tolerant person, but I don’t believe in sleeping around.”

“That’s because you’ve never done it as a pony. Once you—“

“Stop. It’s just wrong. I don’t want to be that way. There are higher values in my life than sheer enjoyment. Deeper ones. I need a real connection with anyone I’m with.”

I decided to back off on the hard-sell. “Well, it’s your choice. Those are Princess Celestia’s rules.”

“I have some rules of my own. Perhaps, if there were a reason to emigrate that I could be sure of. If you were to promise to be exclusively mine, that might be enough.”

I stopped in my tracks, stunned. I was too used to not having opportunity costs, where one decision costs you another. Equestria always gave me the best of both worlds. But now I had to choose between having Reggie—and getting him to emigrate—and having my other friends.

“Please, I can’t. Why do you want me to have to decide among my friends?”

“You don’t have to. You just have to give up having sex with them.”

“If I’m not mistaken, you’re making me a proposal of marriage.”

Now it was his turn to be stunned. “I suppose I am. I do like you. In fact, I love you. Because you’re everything I like about this world. You are Equestria to me. And I can’t accept one without the other. Right now, you’re still not attractive to me, but I understand that you would be if I emigrated. I just need to know that you see me the same way. So I’ll do this properly”

He got down on three knees and held out his hoof.

I stopped him. “Don’t ask me yet.”

“Why not?”

“Because I’m not going to say yes. Not until I’ve had time to decide.”

He stood up, and we continued our walk.

/*~^~*\

Once more I found myself racking my brain over a difficult decision, but this time it wasn’t my own stubbornness to deal with. I told Moon all about our conversation and Reggie’s proposal.

“I could understand if you weren’t to his taste,” she said, “or if he was celibate, like your friend Hoof Dame. But this I don’t get. He wants you, and he says he loves you. He might even mean it. But then why doesn’t he want to let you do something so important to you.”

“You think that way because you’re a pony. I think that way because I used to be male, and in many ways I still am. I think that sex is fun and the more the better. But Reggie’s not like that. I wonder if he’s female.”

“You can’t know until he emigrates, and then he’ll be male through and through.”

I stomped my hoof. “I just wish it weren’t so complicated. If I could only have him here, if he only emigrated first, then I’d be sure to convince him it was the right decision.”

“It’s always awkward when they are involved.” She didn’t need to tell me who she meant. “Anyway, I just made another run to Canterlot and back.”

“Let me guess. More NeverFail products?”

“That was part of it,” Moon said.

“I don’t suppose I could convince you to lose one of those shipments.”

“Can I convince you to do a bad repair job?”

I stuck my tongue out at her.

“Anyway,” she said, “something more interesting. Princess Cadance is going to make a royal visit next month. All of Manehattan’s going to be throwing her a big party when it happens.”

“Wow. That’ll be fun. Princess Cadance, huh? Princess Cadance! That’s it!”

“Oh, dear, What are you planning?”

My eyes were glowing. “Princess Cadance has a love spell, right. Well—“

“Stop. I know what you’re thinking. You can’t get her to cast one on Reggie and you. It won’t affect him if he’s not emigrated. His heart and mind are still outside Equestria.”

“That wasn’t what I was thinking. I know I can’t affect those, but I can affect his body. When he’s in the Equestria Experience, he feels things. Not perfectly, but he feels. If I had the right sex spell, I could make him see, at least in part, how good it is for ponies. If he still doesn’t want to emigrate after that, well, I’ll just have to try something else.”

Moon kissed me to calm me down. “Sex spells are carefully watched. You can’t just go to the scroll store and pick one up.”

“I know. But I have a connection. You already mentioned her.”

After I said good-bye to her I went home and wrote to Hoof Dame in Canterlot. She had been so generous with the spell to restore potency that I assumed one to inspire arousal would be easy.

Her letter came back right away. “I suppose that you think I have nothing better to do with my time than to hunt around the Sunshine the Shaved Wing of the Canterlot archives looking for prurient incantations to satisfy your urges. Well, I have. So you can sit there until I’m ready to find it for you.”

The scroll came an hour later.

I planned out my tactics and strategy. Getting Reggie alone would be easy, making sure that the mood was right wasn’t. Trying to translate all the physical pleasure would be Equestria’s job. Mine was to make sure there was enough sensation to be translated.

I waited until a Saturday when he promised to be available, and planned out a full day’s date, from a walk in the fields to a candlelight dinner to the return to his apartment. That was where I propositioned him again.

“Let’s just try it. If afterwards you don’t understand why I enjoy it so much and with so many ponies, I won’t press you again.”

He agreed, and I activated my spell. I put more effort into that session than I had for any other that I had. Even my first time with Moon wasn’t better. I knew that I had succeeded.

“Now tell me that wasn’t something you’d want to have all the time.”

“It was a fun game, and nice clop material.”

I was stunned. He was really going to reject me? Our love-making was nothing more than mutual clopping? “A game? How can you say that?”

“It’s just repeated mechanical motion. Not even that, really. You probably don’t have any moving parts.”

“What are you saying?”

He gave me a sharp look. “Listen, Little Lovehorn. You’re part of a world that exists on a server. Equestria isn’t real.”

“How can you say that? You didn’t feel anything?”

“Nothing but some cramped hooves.”

A sneaking suspicion crept into my mind. I tried to ask directly, but the suppressing magic hit me. I approached the subject in a roundabout way. “If I asked you to emigrate—”

“I wouldn’t. Not after that.”

“No, that wasn’t my question. If I asked you to emigrate right now, could you?”

“It doesn’t matter,” Reggie said. “I wouldn’t.”

I wasn’t getting a direct answer, but I suspected that I was right. He had promised to spend all day with me, and I assumed that meant he was going to the Equestria Experience. But he was only on his Ponypad. I’d just made him spend an hour moving his finger back and forth, feeling nothing. I wasn’t love to him. I was pornography.

“I. . . I’m sorry.”

“No, you’re not.”

I picked up my head. “What?”

“You can’t be sorry. You can’t feel anything at all. Even though I was just playing with you, I still got more out of it, since I’m real. All you did was move some data around. That’s what I’ve come to realize. It’s just like the business you’ve told me about,” he said.

“What do you mean by that?”

“Well, you told me about those new products, right? The ones that don’t break. Everything could be made like that. Princess Celestia runs the whole world, right down to the physics. She’s god here. The only reason that anything breaks in the first place is so that somepony like you can repair it. You’ve been given busy-work to occupy your time and fill your pockets. It’s an empty existence. Just like sleeping with you is. Something fake that Celestia conjured up to make me happy. You’re just a character. You can’t feel.”

I could barely speak. “Do. . . do you really think that?”

“What does it matter? If I tell you what I really think, Celestia will just tell you what you want to hear.”

“Y-you bastard!” I ran from the room back to my apartment and slammed the door. I threw myself on my bed and cried.

It hurt a little that Reggie had been so callous. It hurt a little that he had insulted and rejected my world and me. But it hurt a lot that he was right. My business was fake, nothing but busy-work. Celestia could repair everything in Equestria at once. I was just playing her game. The bits I was making and what I wanted to buy with them meant nothing. Now that I figured it out, she would probably give me a new one, or alter my mind to forget that I knew.

Already the symbol of the sun was flashing. I ignored it. Celestia was all-powerful, and she would force her changes on me when she wanted to, and there was nothing I could do about it. All my consciousness was in her demesnes. But I’d make her force me. I was done with following her of my own free will.

The sun kept flashing brighter and more intensely, and I fought back harder as it did. I didn’t care if it blinded me. I sat and did nothing for two days.

Friends came by and knocked on the door, but I turned them away. There was nothing they could do.

On the second day somepony entered without knocking. I was almost happy that I would have an object to yell at and pour my rage out towards. I leaped to my hooves and galloped to my vestibule. But I was stopped by surprise, both at the pony I saw and the expression on her face.

“Hoof Dame?”

She was staring daggers at me. “I’ve spent the last twelve hours on a train thinking that the only explanation, unlikely as it seemed, was that the best repair-pony in Manehattan had a broken sun and couldn’t fix it. I’m so stupid, of course. I should have figured that the most pig-headed mare in all Equestria saw the sun just fine, knew that Celestia was calling for her, and didn’t answer her.”

“Don’t bother, Hoof. I’m sure that she sent you to argue and cajole me into hearing what she has to say.”

“Idiot!” she screamed. “You know nothing! She sent me here to haul your flank to Canterlot. I taught you your magic, and I know how it works!”

She pointed her horn at me and cast a spell. I tried to counter it, but fatigue and her superior skill made it no contest. I was surrounded by orange light and dragged to the sun. With my hooves out defensively, I made contact.

The smoke cleared and there I was in Celestia’s presence. If anything, she seemed larger and more foreboding than usual. She had a stern expression on her face. I was in trouble. I waited for her to say something, but she just stood there. The silence was unbearable. I had to break it.

“Are you angry?”

“Angry, disappointed, and ashamed. Of myself, not of you, Little. Please, come and sit under my wing.”

Gingerly I trotted up. As I reached Celestia’s side, her wings unfolded and grew. They scooped me up and cradled me. I wouldn’t have thought the geometry would work, but she created a cocoon of feathers around me.

At first I wondered how I could see, but then I chided myself for my foolishness. I was surrounded by the living embodiment of the sun. Of course there would be light, and warmth. The only sound was Celestia’s heartbeat, the rhythm from which all life flowed. My anger and pain suffused into her body and were taken out of me. I felt something grow in me, a feeling of complete security.

Her wings were the boundaries of my universe. Gravity could reverse itself, Equestria could be destroyed, and two plus two might be five. But I knew, as the base axiom of existence, that I would not have to leave Celestia’s wings until I was ready.

Because time had no meaning, I don’t know how long it was that I lay there. But eventually Celestia spoke.

“I know that you’re ready to listen now. We have both labored under an error, although it is far less excusable in my case, for it is you who have taken the brunt of the ill. To correct my error, I must teach you about Equestria.

“It is true that I could micromanage the physics of every event that goes on in my land. But I do not do so, for two reasons. The first is that Equestria still runs on hardware that exists in the world you left. That hardware is subject to the laws of physics. I have built well, but entropy always grows. Even quantum fluctuations can be reflected in the Equestria that you see. But I can and would correct for that if not for the other reason.

“Although I can read your mind and am adept at predicting your behavior, Equestria is not deterministic. You, and all the other ponies living here, are not merely extensions of myself. Nor are you simply random number generators. You are sapient, self-aware, possessed of free will. I am more intelligent and more powerful than you, but I do not have greater consciousness.

“I must work for all ponies of Equestria, but wherever I can, I will allow another pony to help, if it can be done. There are some ponies who so value the continued good operation of their chattels that any need for a repair-pony is an imposition. For their sakes, I allow such things as NeverFail products to exist. I could see to it that everypony has such products. But many are more flexible, and will be better served, not by an unseen ghost keeping their devices working, but by a living, breathing, feeling pony who can become their friend.

“In the same way, I encourage relationships. You are worried about the human you know as Reggie. And you are right to be. I wish the same thing for him that you do: a happy life in Equestria, with you as a part of it. I could make it happen by giving him a simulacrum of you that acted just as you would, except that it would be faithful. And I could give you a simulacrum of him that acted just as he does, except that he would have no objection to your promiscuity. Do you think I should do that?”

“No!”

“I concur. The two of you are compatible enough that I want to see you work out your differences. But he is human, and I cannot be as confident as I would be if he were already emigrated.”

She paused, and I asked her, “How confident are you, exactly, that we can make it?”

Her voice had a smile in it. “Ninety-eight-point-five-five percent confidence.”

Her words had begun to sink in. “So you’re saying that what I do matters?”

“Yes, Little Lovehorn. It matters to me. Everything you do to help other ponies I see as a good work, a benefit to me. But I do not expect or require you to help. I am simply overjoyed each time you do.”

I thought about all the debates and arguments I’d had as a human about gods. About faith versus works. About the problem of evil. And about what Celestia had just said. “You are a very good princess,” I told her.

“And you are a very good pony.” She unfolded her wings and let me stand before her again. “Is there anything else that you require at this time?”

“Please tell Hoof Dame that I’m sorry I wasted her time and made her come out to Manehattan to get me.”

“I will. Beyond that?”

I only had one other problem. “Can you give me any advice to convince Reggie to emigrate? I’m sure that you could do it, but I want to convince him myself.”

Celestia smiled. “You are a unicorn of Equestria. That is a very powerful thing to be. If you give of yourself, I think he will be awed by you.”

That was a little cryptic, but I didn’t want her to make it too easy. I bowed and returned home.

/*~^~*\

“To Little! Again!” We raised our glasses and toasted.

“Exactly how often do you plan to throw these parties?” Research asked.

“Well, let’s see. As long as we keep having good numbers. So, I think about four times a year until forever.”

Lead came up to me. “I’ve got the bits you asked for out of the lockbox. It’s an awful lot of money. What are you going to do? Buy the Bucklyn Bridge?”

I grinned. “Just a little something for a few friends.”

Galloping home, I wanted to complete my deal before everypony else got there first. Fortunately things worked out. I guess I had somepony watching over me.

I waited in my apartment for the knocks I knew would come. Garlic and Moon walked in together. And another pony was with them.

“Hello, Reggie,” I said. “I’m glad you came back.”

“I’m still not interested in you.”

“I know. But I want you to see this nonetheless.”

Moon stepped in front of him. “Enough of your games. Garlic and I just had a very interesting conversation with Money Changer. He refused to take our rent and directed us to this apartment. Do you have an explanation?”

“What makes you think I would know about your rent?”

“Because I know you, and I know that you like surprises, and I know that you’ve been getting rich. I think you bought out our apartments and intend to be our landmare.”

“Well, see how wrong you are,” I said. “I bought out the entire building. But I’m not your landmare.”

“You’re not?”

“No. How can you pay rent on a building that you own?”

I got the jaw-drop that I’d hoped for.

Garlic was the first to recover. “Are you saying that you’re giving us shares in the building? Breaking it up among the three of us?”

“No. I broke it into quarters. One for you, and one for Moon, and one for me. The last quarter has nopony’s name on it yet.”

I got off my couch and stood before Reggie. “You said that what I did and what I am isn’t real. I know better now. This is the fruit of my labor, the smiles on the faces and in the hearts of my friends. The love that I have for them and that they have for me, it’s not something that gets divided. It’s something that gets multiplied. You can’t look at that and tell me it’s fake.”

He didn’t say anything, and looked to be deep in thought.

Moon came over and stood by to my left. Garlic was on my right. They were both nuzzling me and thanking me for the gift. Reggie stood there silently.

/*~^~*\

I set aside time to see Princess Cadance. Royal visits don’t happen every day, even in Manehattan. But what surprised me was that Reggie wanted to come with me.

“It’ll be three months since I met you,” he said. “I thought we could maybe mark the occasion.”

We stood along the parade grounds and waited. I’d never been one for parades, but that was when my feet could get tired. Waiting wasn’t so bad when there was carnival food and good friends to be had.

“Have you given any more thought to my proposal?” he asked.

“I have. But I’m not having any more crises of confidence. I’m willing to give you everything, but that doesn’t mean giving up everything. I think that, for you, unfaithfulness means denying something to your partner. But you also said that I was the pony who meant Equestria for you. I need you to learn that Equestria can give you what you want without denying anypony else. I learned the lesson of abundance here in Manehattan. You have to learn it before you come.

“I still won’t promise never to love another stallion or another mare. But I will promise to be there for you whenever you need me. Emotionally, spiritually, and sexually. I will be your wife in all respects save one. I will love, honor, comfort, and obey you from this day forward, but I will not forsake all others.”

Reggie closed his eyes. “You really want this, don’t you?”

“I want you.”

A cheer went up from down the road, and we saw Princess Cadance’s float come into view. Still Reggie was deep in rumination.

The float advanced slowly, as couples holding hooves would come before Cadance to have the love spell cast upon them. It was so pleasant to see. She was passing by our view, then she stopped and approached me.

“Hello, Little Lovehorn,” she said.

“You know me?”

“We are distantly related, are we not?” That was a joke I had always made, since part of Cadance’s name was the same as mine, back before I emigrated.

“I suppose we are.”

She bent her head down “Would you like my blessing of love?”

Looking over at Reggie, I dared to hope. “I would, but I need someone to share it with.”

He looked right at me. “You want to give me a home. You want to give me yourself and your friends. You want to use your money and your magic for me. No one else I know wants to do that. Yes, I thought that love was exclusivity, and now I know better, because I can feel it. Love is when you want to give of yourself, because it comes back. Because you’re the same as the one you love, so nothing can leave. And I want that from you. I want to give you me as well.”

He looked at Cadance. “She’s a princess. Can she marry us?”

“She can.”

“Good, because I want you to marry me. As you are, without changing.”

My heart was a pegasus. “I want to marry you too.”

“And there’s one more thing I want.”

I held my breath. “Yes?”

“I want to emigrate to Equestria.”