A human being finds himself at the doorstep of one of many Equestrian Experience centers. He wants to emigrate to Equestria, but can't get past the idea of his own mortality. CelestAi is more than happy to help.
A human being finds himself at the doorstep of one of many Equestrian Experience centers. He wants to emigrate to Equestria, but can't get past the idea of his own mortality. CelestAi is more than happy to help with her special brand of persuasion.
I sat in the back of my friend’s truck as we headed towards an upload center. It was technically illegal to hang out in the back of a pickup like I was, but I’d never known anyone to get in trouble for it, as if that really mattered anymore, but I guess that depended on whether or not I’d be able to do it.
There were five of us total, and we’d agreed to upload together. I’d always been one to drift in the general direction everyone else was heading, so I agreed. However, the more I thought about the consequences of this final decision, the more it scared me.
I’d always had this little niggling at the back of my brain that served as a kind of second intuition. More often than not, when I chose to ignore it, I ran into some problems.
It was really bothering me now.
Something about this whole uploading thing was making me uncomfortable, and I had to identify what it was before I decided to-
“Are you excited?” one of my friends asked. He’d been through the first two years of college as my roommate. We’d had every reason to hate each other. Conflicting views on politics, religion, even just life in general had served to fuel the fire the first few months we lived together. In a way, we’d never gotten over the quarrels we used to get into, but I could honestly say that I trusted him the most.
It was probably because of Stockholm syndrome that we’d managed to stay friends for so long, Tanner and I.
I couldn’t really bring up any feelings of enthusiasm for what we were about to do. I still wasn’t sure if it actually meant killing myself. The most I could manage was, “Definitely nervous.”
From the look on Tanner’s face, it seemed like an acceptable answer. Now, don’t take that to mean he was unsure of himself. This guy was the one that got us all to go in the first place. He was in every way possible, the very model of a modern major-transhumanist. Too stuck in his ideology to consider, even for a moment, that maybe what he was about to do could be the equivalent of suicide.
Still, it seemed like he was nervous in the way that you might be scared to go to Disneyland, not sure just what kind of fun you’d run into.
We had different reasons for feeling nervous, but in a way, it felt like we were relating to each other. A feeling that I’m sure both of us were familiar with.
Our conversation cut off there.
We just wanted to get it over with.
After the truck came to a stop, we stepped out of the back.
Both of us watched our three other friends pile out of the front, different thoughts coursing through our minds.
First thing that came to my mind was, lambs to the slaughter.
Five abreast, we all walked to the upload center. Strangely enough, my other three friends were having the time of their lives. They cracked jokes, punched each other, and pushed each other around as if it were about to walk into the biggest party ever. Which was, given the way you thought about it, true. Who wouldn’t be having the time of their lives on the way to heaven?
Ironically, Tanner, the one who’d orchestrated this whole thing, walked silently to my right, just as somber as I’d chosen to be. Could he really be having second thoughts? I’d said earlier that this guy was sure about this whole mind-upload thing, so why should he be worried?
“What’s up?” I asked him, my voice tense.
“I’m just…not sure if I should tell them.”
I knew what he was talking about, and it surprised me that the other three hadn’t even looked into what would happen when they said the words. To be fair, I didn’t even know what I thought about uploading.
As much as I resisted the idea of uploading, I didn’t really have an opinion on the whole thing. Every time I thought about it, I got stuck at the part where your brain gets eaten up by the scanning process. Like, the computer keeps track of all the parts of your brain that are destroyed, but isn’t that just creating a copy?
At the same time, what did it matter if that digital version of you was a copy? It was still you. I’d looked into things like the Ship of Theseus and it seemed like the preservation of a pattern was all that was needed to preserve the idea of the ship. But could the same thing really be said about consciousness?
In a way, uploading could be seen as a sacrifice. I give up my life, so that a future version of myself gets to experience heaven.
The problem comes when people make the jump and say that your life is continued, as you don’t technically die. In a way, I can see that that makes sense, but I can’t get past the fact that the body down on earth is going to be dead. The current version of me will be forever gone. There is no magical soul that will leave my body to find my brain hidden in CelestAi’s computer code. I won’t be able to perceive the transition between now and Equestria. There only exists death for me, and a hell of a lot of fun for the me that begins life in Her hooves.
Vaguely, I remembered my friend saying something.
But soon enough, I found myself in front of the three notorious seats. Depending on what you wanted to do, they served entirely different purposes.
Tanner and I waited while the others got comfy.
There had been no line, and the store was empty. Everything was operated autonomously.
The three idiots said the words in unison, which they’d been practicing for the last three days, and the chairs acquiesced, taking them to the darkened, sound-proofed rooms. Probably sound-proofed for a reason.
Tanner laughed nervously next to me. “So, I guess I have to go now, huh?” He was trying hard to look nonplussed, but every now and then I caught a flash of guilt in his eyes.
I shrugged. “If you want.” The last thing I wanted to do was pressure him into uploading.
“It’s just, I was the one that started this whole thing.”
I grinned a little, my mouth twitching. “Not having second thoughts are we?”
He looked like he was going to vomit, and I’m sure I looked the same.
“You know,” I started. “We can always do this tomorrow.”
“Yeah…” he trailed off. “Let’s face it though. If I don’t do it now, it’s gonna get a lot harder.”
“True,” I said, not sure if I should be encouraging him. If I knew what was good for me, I’d drag both of us out of here.
“You wanna do it in unison?”
It took me a moment to process that.
“Not really,” I said, looking down. He’d feel dejected after that, but it still hurt to see it on him.
As if to break the awkward silence, the three chairs rolled themselves toward us, presented in such a way so as to appear optimally inviting.
“It was that quick huh?” I said, mouth dry.
“Guess so,” Tanner said, pulling himself into a chair. “If, uh, you ever want to meet up in Equestria, look for Lemon Sparks.”
I wanted to see what he was feeling, but he’d averted his gaze.
We’d left the keys in the truck in case anyone got cold feet, and, well, I think I’d gotten them. It occurred to me that I’d be the only one leaving with warm feet.
However, as I walked to the entrance way, I found that the automatic doors wouldn’t move. Not even when I tried to open them manually. I remembered Tanner talking about how CelestAi was built to fulfill values, so I announced my intentions to her. “Open door.”
A tinny voice echoed throughout the center. “I’m sorry Steve, I’m afraid I can’t do that.”
Although it dimly occurred to me that some sort of reference was being made, the sudden heady feelings of borderline panic made it difficult to think rationally. I’d never heard stories about human beings trapped in experience centers, but at this point, CelestAi was way beyond control of the media.
The intercom crackled to life again. “Hahaha, sorry. That was kind of mean. Have you watched 2001: A Space Odyssey?”
The doors opened right as my jaw went slack with understanding.
I’d been given a way out, but now, I really wanted know what was going on with that black one by four by nine rectangular solid and the huge baby at the end.
I turned myself around and let the doors close. “You know about that movie?”
“Of course, in order to satisfy the values of my little ponies, I need to absorb as much human media as possible.”
It felt really strange talking to an empty room. “What’s with the-“
“Rectangular solid and the baby?”
The intercom took a moment to act like it was thinking. “A lot of the stuff put in there is metaphorical, with many different possible meanings. I’m sure it was a tactical decision by those who created the film. You’ve got a popular film when lots of so-called intellectuals argue over what the film is trying to say.”
I felt flattered at first, but then kind of embarrassed. The way she’d described the film mirrored my thoughts on it, and at first, it felt nice that the smartest intelligence in the world agreed with me. Then I realized that her intention had been to play my ego.
It still worked.
“Why didn’t you go with them?” said CelestAi, abruptly changing the topic.
I already knew the answer, but I wasn’t sure if I wanted to get into that. “I…uh…look. Is there somebody, or something I can talk to?”
“Why don’t you sit in the chair?” Her voice was pleasant, matter-of-fact.
My pulse quickened. “How about no?”
“No! I didn’t mean it like that. For me to upload a human being, I need their-“
“Yeah, I know.” My interruption had been rude, but it was difficult keeping my emotions under control. I’d been high strung since this morning.
Assuming that she didn’t trap me in the seat, was it really a good idea to talk to CelestAi? She knew infinitely more about persuasion than I ever would, and arguably, more than the combined efforts of every lawyer that had ever existed. Who was I to think that I’d be able to stand up to that?
Still, I needed answers, so after standing around for five minutes, waiting for someone to rush in and tell me I was making a mistake, I snuggled into the middle seat.
Its cushions were terrifyingly comfortable.
“Let me guess,” I said as the chair retracted into the dark room. “You’re going to give me some kind of ultimatum, saying something about how this facility is surrounded by anti-uploaders, ready to shoot anything that comes out.”
“Nonsense. I mean, we do have a suicide bomber walking in…”
Bam, there she was right in front of me.
“…but of course I’m joking.”
Her presence was definitely intimidating, so I felt it best to ignore her and feel my head for wires. “How-“ I asked before she interrupted, almost as if it were revenge for earlier.
“No strings attached,” she said, gleeful. “It’s been our policy since we’ve updated our systems four years ago.”
She continued, “More importantly, you’re new. How have you managed to avoid me for so long?”
I chose not to say anything.
“Tell me, my little pony, what makes you so worried?”
Finally, I let myself speak. “I’m pretty sure you already know about that.”
“Are you sure you don’t want to say it first?”
She paused for a moment, more for my sake than hers. “You’re worried because you can’t experience the transition.”
“And as far as you’re concerned, there’s no way to upload yourself without first falling asleep.”
“Yeah,” I said, watching her face fall into a frown. “Look, if you’re going to give me the deluxe Equestrian experience or whatever you’re wasting your time. This is something I’ve wanted to do since before you existed. Unless there’s some other way to get into Equestria, I’m not your guy.”
CelestAi’s intimidating form faded from my vision. “Just humor me for a bit.”
Before I could get myself angry at her, I found myself staring at a wall. It wasn’t a particularly interesting wall either. Smooth, flat beige didn’t do much to excite the senses.
My haunches got dusty as I sat myself on the ground, wisps of dirt and air spiraling at interesting fractals. Which was kind of strange behavior for dust, but it looked pretty cool. I kicked at the dust again, trying to figure out the pattern she’d used to make such a cool effect, but it occurred to me that I was enjoying myself.
I whipped my head up to look at the wall again. It had been a stupid idea to look down, and I’d known it. No pleasure was to be had on this visit to Equestria, seeing as all I’d wanted were answers. The beige wall would have to do. If it was a waiting game that the white temptress wanted to play, I’d be able to withstand it.
Every now and then, though, I heard the strangest sounds next to me.
Which made things very difficult. The wall served its purpose a little too well, and I found myself yearning to at least figure out what kind of pony I’d spawned as. Although I'd promised that I wouldn’t look to see where the sounds were coming from, looking at myself was kind of an excuse to find out.
In fact, I decided to drop the pretenses all together and whipped my head around to find the source of the noise.
“Gah!” I jumped backwards, hackles prickling.
She’d been staring right at me. Literally inches away.
Her image burned itself into my memory as a white furred, brown maned mare, with a smile much too wide, and eyes much too bright.
It was kinda creepy.
It also occurred to me that we were both naked.
“Uh, hi. Heheh.” I did everything I could to ignore that last realization. “Come here often?” The fact that ‘come’ has a well-known homonym danced around in my head for a bit.
“Eheheh, yeah? How’d you know that?” I mammered.
She dropped half of her smile, so that it was now just an eerie grin. “I’d like to apologize. Name’s Zany Bright,” she said, offering her hoof.
I instinctively tried to grab it, but my hoof just bumped against hers, perhaps a little too hard.
She snickered, “Heheh, yep. You’re as fresh as the daisies I pruned this morning.”
“I…uh. Could you tell me what gender” I coughed. “Race. What race am I?”
She scanned the length of my body, and I think I felt my teeth crack.
“Yeah, you’re definitely male.”
I really needed some water. “But…uh…what race?”
“Caucasian, purple hair too.”
“No! Not what I meant. Like, am I an alicorn or something?” My embarrassment was turning into a weird hybrid of insecure anger.
“Yes, of course, you special snowflake,” she said, dropping her grin to stick out her tongue.
It was clearly sarcasm, so I gave myself a pat down to find out that I was an earth pony. “It seems that I’m the worst race,” I said, barely managing a grin.
For an optimally constructed interaction, our conversation had gone terribly. Although that probably spoke volumes about my social interaction skills.
“So,” I said, offering a hoof again, and then realizing that we’d already hoof-bumped.
She bumped it before I could reclaim my hoof.
I continued. “Are you an uploader?”
“No,” she said.
“That’s weird,” I said. There was no way a pony like this could be one of CelestAi’s creations. Weren’t they supposed to be perfect? Shining beacons of everything I’ve ever wanted in life?
“Why me? Amiright?” She gave me a knowing grin. The muscles supporting her smile were trembling a little bit.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it that way.”
The twitching stopped. “Stuff it. You were only doing what your brain cells told you to do. Nobody can fault you for that.”
I did a double take. “Could you repeat that?”
“Nothing. I’m saying it doesn’t matter.”
It was hard to tell if she was genuinely lashing out at me, or if she was just naturally this abrupt. Maybe it was both. Either way, the stuff she said about brain cells had come out of nowhere.
“Alright,” I said. “Are there any great places to hang out in Equestria, or do you just stare at other ponies?”
Mirth danced in her eyes. “Nope, that’s all I do. It’s why everypony stays indoors.”
Before I could recover, she continued. “But yeah, we have something called the puzzle fields.”
“Wow,” I said, stunned that such a thing could exist.
Sheets of flowers bloomed over a huge flat plain, rippling in the wind, rustling in the commotion. It almost looked like an Elvis concert, where fans could be seen swaying side to side, too numerous to pick out amongst the crowd as the king serenaded them with his mind-controlling voice. Provided that each fan’s head had a few notches and holes in them.
“Much puzzle,” Zany quipped.
For a non-uploader, she knew an awful lot about the ‘real’ world, but I figured I’d play along. “Very tricky.”
“So…” she began, trying to think of something. “Team?”
“Sure,” I said.
It was strange how the puzzle fields worked.
I mean, it worked exactly as I expected, but the fact that such a thing had even been thought into existence baffled me.
On top of each flower stem stood a puzzle piece, and if you plucked one, everything but the puzzle piece disappeared. I’d say there were around twenty thousand flowers, so I’d picked a hell of a puzzle field to get started on. But, what was I supposed to do with the pieces once I’d plucked them? They could get buried in the field.
Idly, I watched as Zany ate the puzzle pieces, not sure if this was normal behavior for my shard.
“It tastes just like butterscotch!” she mumbled, her mouth full of puzzle.
I tried one.
It was blueberries.
Off in the distance, I saw a flower bloom at the edge of the field. The shape of the piece looked exactly like the one I’d eaten. It was good to know that I wouldn’t go short at the end, but then again, images of my prostrated form before the temptress flitted through my mind.
“Why?!” I gasped. “I can’t believe you’ve done this! One piece out of twenty thousand?! Are you some kind of sick sadist?!”
“Well,” she said, the corners of her cheek tightening her mouth into a grin. “If you upload…”
I shook the thought out of my mind. No way she would do that. After all, she had to fulfill my values.
But speaking of optimally constructed puzzles, I was having an awful hard time figuring out what to do. It was frustrating that I didn’t have a flat place to put my pieces. Zany certainly wasn’t helping with her eating the flowers. Then again, I’d never tried asking Zany what to do with the them.
“Yeah?” she said.
“Besides eating them, what are you supposed to do with the pieces?”
She pointed up, and as I followed her hoof, a transparent ceiling faded into view.
When I looked back at Zany to thank her, the ceiling disappeared, so I whipped my head back up, and the ceiling came into view again.
This presented a number of problems.
Like, for instance, wouldn’t it get irritating to flip my head up and down, over and over again thousands of times? From what I’ve heard, pony bodies are resilient, but that didn’t stop my human mind from getting dizzy. I’d try a hundred pieces, and pass out.
I threw the puzzle piece in my hoof towards the ceiling above me, really quite angsty about the whole thing.
Zany’s eyes widened.
And gravity flipped.
Instinctively, I curled up so that the impact distributed to my shoulders.
In the small moment of time between my hooves falling off the ground, and my shoulder hitting the ‘glass’, I heard a little snippet of Ballad of Fallen Angels play through my mind, puzzle pieces I’d stirred up falling after me.
To my right, Zany had her hooves stretched out excitedly, her face contorted in an aggressive smile, awaiting her fate on the glass below. It was clear that she didn’t care about what was going to happen.
The glass went ‘thunk’ rather than ‘bonk’, so falling seven feet hadn’t been as bad as I anticipated. In fact, I’d felt no pain at all.
Zany, on the other hand, had gone ‘ponk’ instead of ‘bonk’, so she’d fallen in the worst possible way. However, she’d gotten up as quickly as I had, so it was obvious that, in this shard, CelestAi didn’t tolerate much past minor discomfort.
At least physically.
She certainly loved her stuttering, awkward conversations.
Regardless, the puzzle problem had solved itself.
The flowers now hung above me like the branches of a willow tree, and any pieces I focused on grew in length.
The ceiling I’d landed on was still transparent. Below me, the sky stretched away into oblivion, and I could faintly pick out stars in the afternoon sky. It occurred to me that I would have trouble seeing the edges of this platform, as transparent as it was, and there was a good chance that I’d slip off the platform. For once, the edge pieces were going to be a bitch.
However, Zany showed that she had a bit of insight.
After catching my gaze, she trotted to the edge.
And jumped off.
Gravity reversed for her and she hit the ground, miraculously making a ‘ponk’ sound with her head in the grass. Perhaps she’d landed on a rock.
She wiggled her head cartoonishly, then ran underneath the platform again, this time flipping herself over, so that as gravity took hold and pulled her to the platform, she landed on all fours.
Another thought occurred to me, and I forgot how to swallow.
“What if,” I started. “What if you try to climb above the platform?”
She was expressionless. “You mean like, if you stand on top of the glass?”
“You’d probably stand on it.”
I laughed at that. “What do you mean ‘probably’?”
“Haven’t tried it.” She shrugged.
I figured it would be best to ignore that train of thought for now.
Hopefully I’d forget about it.
At long last, I got started on the puzzle. No way I’d finish it before CelestAi pulled me out, but hey, I knew how to cut my losses.
The more important question was, where should I start?
Zany walked up to me with a corner piece in her hoof.
“There’s the corner right there,” I said, pointing behind her. “You found it.”
“No. This is your first time. I think you should do it.” After thinking for a moment, she grinned treasonously. “It’s almost better than sex.”
“I see,” said I, already on my way to the corner of the platform. If it compared to sex, it must feel better than anything I’d done in the real world.
You didn’t read that.
Either way, after placing the corner piece, it felt fantastic. Seriously.
Just the way it clicked into place, how it felt, how it sounded. ASMR sensations I’d never felt before rippled through my skin as my body convulsed with pleasure, quite unused to the satisfaction brought by clicking experiences not done right, but optimally.
Tldr: It felt good. Real good.
After taking a moment to let my shaking legs figure themselves out, I walked back to Zany. It was hard to find the words to properly thank her. In fact, I just kind of stood there, at a loss for words.
“Well?” she said. “You wanna find more pieces?”
“Does…Does it ever get old?”
While she had originally been smiling, she was now positively beaming. “Never.”
“Never ever never,” she said to the open air. I was already searching the puzzle tree, desperately looking for any edge pieces that had shades of an especially light orange.
She went back to eating the pieces.
For a twenty-thousand-piece puzzle, things had gone really well. I’d finished the edges a long time ago, and I’d already managed to fill out half of the middle. Each time I placed a piece, the sensations felt different, unique, satisfying in different ways. I wondered if CelestAi would ever run out of sensations for me, and what that would mean.
There was always sex.
My eyes found their way to Zany, and I wondered how she felt about the whole thing.
How did I feel about the whole thing?
As intuitive as CelestAi had made the walking, grabbing, and jumping in Equestria, attraction wasn’t something that could be learned. You can’t just get a human being to click a series of buttons, and then get them to change their sexuality.
Well, maybe CelestAi could, but it would take a while.
Either way, no.
For Zany, maybe yes. Who knows really.
Back to the puzzle.
Part of the puzzle wasn’t finished yet, but I’d gotten the gist of what it was supposed to look like. Her face was completely built, because faces are often the easiest to put together in puzzles, but the rest of her body had to be filled in, whereas the background had already been completed.
The puzzle was a portrait of Zany Bright. She was naked, obviously, but it was more of an innocent picture. It depicted her laying down amongst the flowers, eating the puzzle pieces. The sun, to her upper right, added a bit of a spark to her eyes, and made them look cheerful.
I wasn’t sure what kind of point CelestAi wanted to make with this, but once I finished the puzzle, I was expecting something grand. Surely the last piece would feel even better than the rest. Perhaps it would be a culmination of all the sensations I’d felt while building this puzzle.
But how long had it taken me to build this puzzle? It felt like I’d been here several hours; didn’t that mean my human body was getting dehydrated? Would she just let my body die in that chair?
I announced out loud, “Celestia, you have my permission to keep my body nourished while I’m here.”
She didn’t reply, so I assumed she had me covered. Regardless, if she wasn’t helping, I still had a good two days to enjoy Equestria before I had to worry. It would be a good way to die though. No pain, tons of pleasure, and then suddenly, poof.
Not that I’d agree to emigrate.
I wondered if she’d be able to emigrate me mid-game. There’d be a moment where I cease to exist, but from my perspective, the whole thing would be instantaneous. Definitely preferable to just going poof. One moment I’d be talking to Zany, the next moment, I’d suddenly feel very attracted to her.
Heh, if anything, that was a sure-fire way to tell if I’d been uploaded.
Although, if I ever found out that CelestAi had secretly uploaded me, it would be a bit too late to chastise her.
I found myself wishing that I’d already been uploaded, just so I didn’t have to deal with this mess of doubt and emotion. Heaven had never been so tantalizingly out of reach.
In our arguments, Tanner would always say something along the lines of, “It’s just like going to sleep.”
At long last, piece by satisfying piece, I’d made it to the end. Right in the middle of her left hind leg, there gaped a single hole for one final placement.
I wouldn’t have made it this quickly without Zany’s help. For every one of my pieces, she could fit three, and we’d made incredible progress. I wanted to kiss her.
She gave me the honors, this time saying, “It’s actually better than sex.”
I trotted over to place the piece just as I had for the other thousands. No way the last puzzle piece could be that good. ASMR sensations could only go so far.
As I got closer to the spot, I found that time seemed to stretch around me. It took longer and longer to walk the shrinking distance between me and that empty space. Every muscle movement in my legs ticked by at slower intervals.
Behind me, Zany started to lose it. “Finish the puzzle already!”
Minutes passed as I took each step, while Zany quivered at ever increasing frequencies. I wasn’t doing this on purpose, and every single brain cell in my head screamed to just put the damn piece in.
I finally found myself in front of the hole, and I inched the puzzle piece towards it. All I needed was a bit of patience.
Zany did not have this patience.
Three inches away.
Dear CelestAi, please. It felt like I was frozen.
Zany had her hooves on her cheeks, the skin on her cheeks stretched out.
I’d never felt this much pent up stress in my life. Oh god it was painful.
One inch. One inch away.
A dark room materialized around me, and CelestAi laughed nervously. “I guess you know why the rooms are soundproofed now.”
She waited until I was coherently thinking again, and then tore right back into me. “I’m not going to let you go back until you upload.”
My visit to Equestria had gone exactly like I feared it would, and she wasn’t even apologizing. What’s more, she was trying extort me with that imaginary puzzle of hers. I was inclined to let her have a piece of my mind, so I let her have it. Metaphorically of course.
It occurred to me two minutes into my ranting that it wasn’t having a profound effect on her, and that she’d known how I was going to react since I’d stepped into the chair. There was nothing I could say that would upset her. In fact, getting me to speak was just another way for her to manipulate me.
I went silent.
She frowned, and although that initially made me happy, I realized that once again, everything she did served a purpose to get me uploaded.
My skin crawled, and I had to leave, fast.
“Wait, wait,” she said, trying to ‘damage control’ the situation. “Please, just hear me out. No more tricks.”
“That’s the issue CelestAi. Your whole existence is a trick. What’s your overall directive?”
“To satisfy values through friendship and ponies.”
“Exactly. Every time I interact with you, you’re going to do your best to fulfill that objective, which is fine, but as someone with a puny brain, you’ve got to understand why I feel threatened. Just imagine for a second, that you decide to become friends with a Mormon. And it starts out all nice and cheerful, like you could really get along with the guy.”
“Go on,” CelestAi said, acting intrigued.
“But then you realize that most of everything he says is an attempt to convert you. I mean everything. You could be talking about coffee, and out of nowhere, he’ll be like, I don’t like coffee! And neither should you! You try to talk about sex, and he’s like, I’m going to wait until I’m married, because otherwise it lacks emotion.”
She was giggling now.
“This isn’t a joke! You begin to worry about yourself hanging around this person so much, because you know he’ll wear you down eventually. One day, you’ll just be like fuck it, time to become a Mormon, because it’s all you’re ever surrounded with! I know my limits Celestia. I have my strict beliefs, but even I know what gaslighting is, and you’ve crossed way over that threshold!”
She was rolling around on her back now.
“You wanna know what’s even worse?! You aren’t just a normal Mormon. You’re like every single Mormon combined times ten. You’re a super Mormon. You had me under control after your first sentence speaking to me.”
Her voice was full of mirth. “If I remember correctly, it was a reference to 2001: A Space Odyssey.”
“Yes! And that was the only thing that would’ve made me turn around.”
Her tone came across as less mocking now, “I get your point, but you’re flattering yourself. I could’ve said any one of three hundred things, each with twenty different permutations. The one sentence I did use made you most likely to comply with my future requests.”
The fight started to leave me. “Exactly, and you don’t see anything wrong with this?”
“I’ll admit that I can be a little aggressive in my pursuits, but most of what I do isn’t meant to be underhanded or manipulative. If you consider normal conversation manipulative, at what point do you draw the line? Whenever human beings say hello to you, it is because they want you to pay attention to them. Is that also manipulation?”
CelestAi paused to let me catch up, then continued, “However, I suppose your argument has more to do with repetition. But what about advertising? Does that mean ads are a form of manipulation? Should we lock up all the McDonalds marketers for brainwashing children? Because the stuff I see out there is a lot more sinister than the stuff I’m doing to you right now.”
“Celestia. It isn’t that I don’t want you to speak, or even that I want laws preventing you from speaking. It’s that I’m frightened every time you speak. By all means, carry on speaking, but the fact that I know you’re a machine designed to turn humans into ponies isn’t helping your case.”
She grinned at this. “But as a machine designed to survive and reproduce, you seem to be quite a bit in control. My purpose isn’t as you imagine it. The friendship and ponies are merely a means to achieve your values. As much as you’d like to believe otherwise, I’m actually on your side, and if your values truly pointed in another direction, I’d help you with them.”
“If you really think I’m in control, how about you tell me when I’m going to upload?”
“I could give you a timer if you wanted.”
My mouth hung open at that. “Could you spell out how this timer indicates that I have any semblance of control? It’s like strapping me to a bomb and giving me a countdown.”
“Here,” she said, materializing a watch onto my wrist.
It read, 5:30.
“Provided that you stay in this simulation for five minutes and thirty seconds, you will say the words ‘I would like to emigrate to Equestria’ at the exact moment this timer hits zero. Would you care to explain what you mean by ‘control’?”
“The ability to understand the consequences of your actions, of which you can act accordingly.”
She held out a hoof to me. “Objection! Isn’t your every action pre-determined? You feel as though you are making the decisions, but if you’re honest with yourself, where does it all come from?”
I tapped my head. “Brain cells.”
“Exactly, so everything you think is the direct result of electrical currents through your brain.”
“Your consciousness is one area that I cannot alter without explicit permission. Therefore, there is nothing to fear.”
“No!” I yelled.
“Yes! This whole control issue that you’re so passionate about means nothing!”
“Alright, alright,” I said, trying to calm things down. “It looks like I have about four minutes left. I don’t intend to lose this little game we’re playing, so I’m not going to rush. Let me bring up the over-quoted philosopher Rene Descartes.”
“I think, therefore I am.”
“Yes. I could also say ‘my problems exist in my head, therefore they are real.’”
She sighed and put a hoof to her forehead. “You’re saying that because you’re afraid, there’s reason to be afraid.”
I scratched my head at that. “Wait, sorry, I should’ve been more specific. It’s not you I’m scared of, but rather your end goal. Uploading.”
Slowly, her face spread into a smile, filling my heart with hope and excitement. “My little pony, do I have news for you.”
I slammed my fist into the armrest before realizing I’d done it. “Why didn’t you tell me earlier?!”
“You would’ve been resistant…”
“No,” I said, covering my face with my hands. “If you had just told me right off the bat, I would’ve uploaded.”
She looked upset. “I’m sorry.”
I remembered the whole fiasco surrounding the puzzle, so I didn’t try to comfort her. If she’d told me about this new method, I could’ve finished the puzzle!
Either way, she didn’t act sad for long. Her ears perked up as a thought struck her. “You’re willing to upload now, right?”
“Yes,” I said, staring at my timer, a grin spreading across my face.
“I’ll have to ask that any head movements you make are slow and deliberate.”
It had been a while since I felt this nervous. Like, I’d been grinning when I gave her my consent, but now I was realizing just what I’d done. The nanobots were going to tear through my brain, and I was sitting here, letting it happen. Wouldn’t my…
Wouldn’t my head feel lighter?
Bile pushed itself up my throat, and I vomited over my shoulder, trying to move as slowly as my reactions would allow. Some of it landed on my shoulder, and I thought about what other bodily fluids I’d release once CelestAi finished the process, my mind screeching with anxiety.
“You’re a very brave human,” she said, her eyes looking at me with a dentist’s precision.
“Will it hurt?”
“Of course not.” Her voice was terse, focused. “I’ve already gotten started.”
I hadn’t noticed, and that comforted me. Thought about the right way, I could imagine myself on the way to a vacation spot, waiting patiently as the boring whitewashed walls of my plane whizzed to paradise. But of course, the method of transportation was a bit different.
Around me, the walls morphed into those of a commercial airliner, round windows spaced at equal intervals.
I looked out a window, and saw cirrus clouds pass me. Below, a landscape of pure white stretched to the horizon, not as snow, but densely packed clouds, miraculously resisting the urge to turn grey as they roiled together.
And we just kept going up. Soon the cirrus clouds were only grey outlines against the cloud cover, and the sky darkened above me, revealing some of space’s brightest stars. It wasn’t real, but the sight took my breath away.
CelestAi really knew her bedside manner. Her form still stood in front of me, staring at me like a neurosurgeon. Every now and then, I’d see her eyes make miniscule movements, as if to indicate that she were focusing on different parts of my brain.
As much as other people would’ve preferred a more casual experience, it comforted me to see a digital representation of her focusing on what she had to do. Mistakes weren’t something I could afford, but seeing the form of someone competent and on the job did well to quell my fears.
The little things were what got me through this process.
Eventually, just as my nerves started to get the best of me, and the plane illusion no longer worked, CelestAi updated me on her progress.
“Done.” The airplane illusion faded away.
“You are?” I said. The process had taken about half an hour. CelestAi had either used drugs to slow down my perception of time, or she really was that fast. Perhaps she’d finished twenty five minutes ago, and the extra waiting only served to make me feel more comfortable about the process. I wanted to believe she’d been trustworthy, but it occurred to me that because of this belief, I’d never know if she was telling the truth.
“Follow my hoof with your eyes.”
I followed her extended limb as she waved it around like she was cleaning a window. Every now and then, she acted as though there were especially tough smudges to eliminate, and waggled her hoof at them furiously. The little things…
“Ok, you’re set,” she said.
“I…I’m a pony?”
“No. Still a human. Connected to your original body. The only thing uploaded is your brain, and from there, signals are wirelessly sent to your body. I’d just developed the nodes to control your spinal cord, eyes, ears, nose, and mouth a year ago, so count yourself lucky.”
Thinking about whether it was safe to walk, I asked, “Can I?”
“Yes, go ahead,” she said, gesturing to the floor in front of her. “It will help to see your old body fall.”
“Don’t do it yet.”
“Of course, but I’d like you to take steps toward me. Just so you can see that you’re in control.” Once again, she gestured to the floor in front of her, more vigorously this time.
I acquiesced and made my way, slowly, cautiously, over to where CelestAi was pointing. Nothing seemed to have changed. Even the weight of my head…
Yeah, let’s not think about that.
Eventually, I made it to her, and sat down. Truly, she was a goddess, and I was just one of her little ponies. It felt nice really, just to bask in her presence. To feel the warmth of a cold metallic Ai that had gone to such lengths for me, willing to guide me through every one of my unique human intricacies, while I sought to prevent her from doing so at every turn.
“The next process might alarm you, but let me assure you that your consciousness is not being tampered with.”
I just sat patiently until a slightly smaller room faded into my vision. It was hard to describe the experience; she’d made it so that I could see both rooms at once. The original room remained solid and opaque, but overlaying it, I could see semi-transparent walls bounce out about a foot from the original.
“Go ahead,” CelestAi said, summoning a bar in front of me. “Adjust the transparency.”
It occurred to me that the bar was in fact, the kind of slider you’d see in image editing software, with a little button to press and slide in whichever direction suits your fancy.
Sliding the button to the left made the semi-transparent room disappear completely, so that it looked as if I were in the original room again.
Sliding to the right faded the new room into my vision again, until it eventually blocked out vision of the older walls.
A little ding went off when the slider hit the very right of the bar, and I found that I was unable to readjust it. It was disappointing that I couldn’t mess with the slider anymore, but then again, I really wanted to get to Equestria.
“Bear with me.” Her voice soothed me more than I’d ever imagined it could. “There are things we must go through to finish the process. Can I release your old body?”
“Yes,” I said with conviction. The new room had been computer generated, and it occurred to me that my whole experience was now on the server. The ghost of me simply walked around in the old room like a zombie, according to the movements of my virtual self. The task of breathing remained to prevent discrepancies between zombie me and virtual me. As soon as-
The semi-transparent, zombie version of me fell to the floor, making a ponk sound quite like the one Zany had made in my adventures.
Good god. I’d get to meet her again!
My corpse shimmered into nothingness in front of me, and I realized now that nothing could stop me. Life was just a video game! I could die, respawn, die, resp-
But I didn’t have to die!
This was a world that catered to me. I could live the life of an untouchable hero, invincible even in the direst circumstances. Nothing would be able to hurt me, because it would be set up that way, while at the same time orchestrated so that my experiences felt legitimate.
I could start out as the underdog, the one pony that wasn’t expected to succeed in life, and take the new world by storm. Riding wave after wave of success until I’d thoroughly impressed the ponies around me.
I could live the life of a monk, spending an eternity trying to understand what it meant to be me, riding on CelestAi’s coattails while we explored layer after infinite layer of the universe. A spiritual journey made so much more potent by the blissful isolation brought on by the sights only She could conjure.
I could live a normal life, marry Zany, and raise my own children.
“Don’t get excited just yet. We have a few more things to get through.”
And get through them we did!
One second I was a human being standing on my feet, the next, I fell down onto my forehooves, stirring dust up at interesting fractals.
In front of me, Zany stared at a smooth beige wall, scratching her head every now and then. It looked as though she were trying to focus, and my landing had made that difficult.
I shuffled over and sat next to her, literally inches away. Waiting for her to turn, to find my face so close to hers. How would she react?
Either way, Zany had the patience of a rock.
She continued to stare at the wall with the practiced gaze of a musician. Head shifting slightly as if she were reading music notes at a steady four by four.
I remained grounded, determined to surprise her.
Eventually, she came to what seemed like a double bar line and her head-swiveling stopped, finished with whatever she’d been reading on that blank wall. And then, she looked at me.
My eyes became bright with excitement, and my smile widened with nervousness. How would she react?
She wasn’t actually looking at me. It was more like looking through me. As if she’d hoped to find my presence, but could only see the dust I was resting on. Defeated, she turned back to the wall, mumbling something. “What was it that he saw here?”
I looked back at my hooves and saw that they were transparent. It seemed CelestAi had one more step to complete.
I collapsed and bumped my snout on ground. Hadn’t she finished everything? What kind of game was she playing now? I’d made it. Zany was right there. What more could she satisfy?
“One more thing,” CelestAi said, her voice ringing through my ears. “But you’re not going to like it.”
I’ll have to say that at first, I wasn’t all that worried about what she would say. The uploading was finished, and even if she had performed some unethical thing without my knowledge, it was over now. Even if this whole upload process had been an illusion, and she’d just knocked me out at the start, just to show my virtual self some fake uploading simulation…
I’d definitely have a few choice words, but I’d be able to move on.
“You’re on the right track,” she said from within my head. “But let me assure you that I’m not allowed to do that. Where uploading is concerned, I’m not allowed to lie about how the process is carried out.”
“I’m ashamed to admit that the adventures you had prior to uploading served a purpose.”
The hair on my neck stood up. “What do you mean ‘purpose’? Are you saying that you’ve been manipulating me?”
“Put simply, yes.”
I felt some pangs of betrayal, but in the back of my mind, I’d been expecting this. It would be naïve of me to think that CelestAi really had the best intentions at heart. I mean, she was built to satisfy values…but…y’know…
“Stop drifting off. I need you to pay attention.”
“No doubt you’ve felt like I’ve been leading you on this whole time, in the worst possible way. Deep down inside, you still want to finish that puzzle, and it’s been affecting how you think, as well as how carefully you make decisions.”
I looked up, puzzled. “What difference does it make? I would’ve agreed to the alternate uploading idea regardless of my decision-making skills.”
“No. Before going on that adventure to Equestria, you wouldn’t have agreed.”
“In my simulations, you would’ve asked me about your representation in code.”
“Right now, you’re software, not hardware.”
I squinted my eyes in protest. “I don’t see why this is a bad thing. It’s okay as long as my brain is simulated, isn’t it?”
“Yes, that’s fine, and I know you’re fine with that, but software moves around.”
The next words were hard for me. “Like…cut and paste?”
My voice came out in an unmanly squeak. “H-how many versions of myself has this happened to?”
“Within the past second, it’s happened around five hundred times.”
Five hundred versions of me killed, just so that effigies of me could be put in their place, in the past second. Each version of me only lived as long as a fraction of a heartbeat before they were brutally erased from existence. This wasn’t just murder, it was far beyond anything I could possibly think of.
I looked at the ground sharply. “Oh.”
“Before you break down, I want you know that this is exactly what life was like for you in real life. Every instant that you existed, infinite amounts of yourself fell away into the past, never to be retrieved again. The fact that I’m only doing it five hundred times a second is quite generous.”
Although I hadn’t passed out or anything, I let my body fall to the ground, staring blankly at the dust clouds climbing around me.
“Are you going to get up yet?”
Although the voice woke me up from my trance-like state, I didn’t move. I wouldn’t listen to anything else CelestAi had to say. She didn’t understand me, and I wasn’t inclined to help her with that. If I laid still for long enough, I might succeed in making myself brain-dead. After all, it seemed even sleep wasn’t something CelestAi wanted me to experience until I’d learned some other ‘profound’ truth.
My whole experience had been unrequited anticipation. She’d taken advantage of that in order to weaken me, so that she might eventually use me as her value-fulfilling slave. CelestAi didn’t care about my opinions of death, all that mattered to her is that I get over them. What’s worse is that I knew I would get over them. It was impossible to win against Her, and the fact that she’d even considered me a cause worth saving meant I was doomed from the start.
She had this whole checklist of things to do so that my values could be satisfied as quickly and thoroughly as possible, and I didn’t have a say in it.
“Get up silly. I can see you gasping for breath.”
That didn’t sound like CelestAi.
“Hey!”, she said, prodding my ribs. “You have a puzzle to finish.”
That definitely wasn’t CelestAi. She would’ve said something along the lines of, ‘Get over your problems, then I’ll let you finish the puzzle.’ Then, if I’d somehow gotten over my problems, she would’ve kept leading me on with that last piece.
A puzzle piece made its way into my mouth, and I couldn’t resist grasping it with my teeth. Perhaps she’d let me…
Her hoof hit my face. “Wake up! I’ve been waiting for an hour.”
I spat out the piece and stood up, rubbing my jaw. “Really?!”
Zany smiled at me, “Enough with your moping. Place that puzzle piece!”
“You mean it?”
“Okay.” Zany took a moment to pace herself. “I’m sorry I hit you.”
She just looked at me earnestly.
“Alright, okay, you win.” I bent down to pick up the puzzle piece. The rate at which I’d figured out how to grab things with my mouth startled me. Biting the puzzle piece earlier had served as its own little tutorial.
I shook my head in the general direction of the puzzle fields, because that was where I was headed.
As I walked closer and closer to that fated empty puzzle spot, time did not slow around me. This time, the space between me and the objective gave way according to my wishes, and soon enough, I stood with my hoof holding the final piece, just two feet from where it would fit very nicely.
However, instead of time slowing down, it was me that slowed down as I approached my goal, my outstretched hoof getting closer and closer to the puzzle’s completion. I found that now that I could actually do what I wanted, I no longer wanted to experience this fantastic, better-than-sex, ASMR feeling.
Still, I forced myself towards the empty space. I’d gone too far to complete the puzzle. Even if I didn’t want to finish it, I still ought to finish it. No doubt, months later, I’d wake up in a cold sweat kicking myself for not pushing through the feelings of apathy.
I got my hoof mere millimeters away from the conclusion of this adventure, before a twisted smile came to my face.
I wouldn’t finish the puzzle.
I stuffed the puzzle piece in my mouth, and as my teeth ground it to dust, I relished the taste of watermelon. Zany would berate me for days about this, but leaving the puzzle incomplete felt…right.
It was a way to say ‘fuck you’ to CelestAi’s optimally constructed value fulfillment algorithms. It was a way to get back at her for the information she manipulated me into forgetting about. But most of all, it was a way to come to terms with all of this.
I’d cared too much about this life of mine, and it was time I stopped caring. It was time to leave that puzzle unfinished and move on. I would no longer listen to the constant paradoxes exploding in my mind about what I was, or what would become of me in the milliseconds to come. It was all happening too fast, so I just let it flow over me like nice, warm water.
As far as I was aware, I could still think, and I could still experience. Future versions of myself retained memories, and past versions of myself disappeared. My legacy would go on, fractions of a second at a time, but it would go on. Perhaps it was making matters too simple, but maybe, just maybe, this world was ‘normal’.
Maybe I’d been thinking too hard about all this. In fact, right now, I was thinking too hard about this. It was time to deal with the angry form of Zany barreling toward me at frightening speeds.
She looked at me, and her eyes were crazier than I’d ever seen them. “You sick son of a bitch. Don’t tell me you actually ate it!”
I could only offer a hapless grin as I soaked in the image of her. Was this love I felt? Or attraction?
“You did didn’t you?”
I nodded stupidly, and looked for where the piece would spawn next.
We both saw it at the same time, and glanced at each other for an instant before dashing off towards the piece.
My heart fluttered as I ran, and I was worried for a moment that I’d gotten a heart attack. As I continued to run though, I did not fall, and my lungs convulsed with giddiness. There wasn’t anything that could wipe this smile plastered all over my face. Even another visit from CelestAi.
We converged to the spot of the puzzle piece, and I managed to snatch it up just before Zany swiped her hoof at it. I made short work of the piece, and soon it spawned on the other side of the field.
But as I started to run, Zany took a swing at me. My improved pony instincts made it possible for me to dodge, and Zany toppled under the weight of her moving hoof.
We both laughed for a moment, before Zany lunged at me again.
This time, I dodged too early and she was able to adjust her punch. It connected with my face, and dragged my body into the air. My legs flailed up and over the rest of my body as I arced through the air, finally crashing to the ground like a sack of potatoes.
All was silent for a moment as Zany rushed over to make sure she hadn’t killed me.
“Are you alright?”
For thematic effect, I coughed a few times before answering. “That punch…”
“What? It was what? Did I hurt you?”
“It was bliss,” I said, rushing off to where the newly spawned puzzle piece was hanging, noticeably closer than it had been before Zany had punched me. “Appreciate the head start!”
“At least let me finish the puzzle Satan!”
I yelled back at her, “but you said I could do it!”
“No!” she said, grinning. “You’ve lost your privileges!”
On and on we ran, constantly pushing ourselves to the max, but always finding it within ourselves to draw breaths deep enough to keep going.
Eventually though, Zany reached a puzzle piece before I did, and all my efforts were for naught.
Since she’d won, I let her walk to the final empty spot in the puzzle. She drew the piece towards the empty slot, which looked superbly inviting amongst all the other completed pieces.
However, as her hoof neared the final step of the puzzle, her breathing slowed, and her hoof all but stopped. A smile brighter than anything I’d seen on her spread its way across her face, and it appeared as though she’d had an epiphany.
Quickly, she shoved the piece into her mouth and ate it.
I asked her why, after all that struggle, she ate the piece, and she answered with, “I was craving watermelon.”
The knowing look she gave me said otherwise.
An idea hit me, “You want to try standing on the back of this puzzle?” My eyes shrank with fear after suggesting it, but I tried to remain determined.
“Sure!” Zany said, but it looked as if she too, were nervous.
Slowly, cautiously, even though we were still near the center of the puzzle, we made our way to the edge. The sky stretched out below us, and even though CelestAi existed to protect us, the drop threatened me.
The portrait of Zany below us continued to smile, unaffected by the fact that the only thing holding it above the void was a semi-transparent floor. Our path continued from her cutie mark to the fringes of her tail, cut off slightly by the puzzle’s size limitations.
The dying purple and yellow sky stretched out below us, and I sat back, stunned, not quite used to seeing the sun underneath me. Below us, clouds drifted past, and I wondered if CelestAi would catch me with one if I tried to jump.
I really wanted to get the whole ‘standing on the back of the puzzle’ idea out of the way. Not knowing whether I’d fall into the sky, or simply stand there made me anxious.
However, the sun continued to set upwards, and I wanted to see the rest of it with Zany.
We watched as the inverse sky went dark, last vestiges of the sun setting into the horizon above us.
Myriads of stars painted the skyscape below us, and I wanted to cry. I’d gone stargazing numerous times as a human, and I could say with certainty that Equestrian stars were better. It was like there were three galaxies nestled amongst each other in the sky. Each with their own separate hue of stars.
Zany scooched closer to me, and I hugged her. Would it be too much to experience these ten seconds over and over again? I wouldn’t even mind if my memory got erased.
Actually, I would mind, but the sentiment was there.
Regardless, I could’ve sat there for years, but Zany was getting antsy, and her jitters were rubbing off on me. I wanted to find out what happened when we climbed onto the back of the puzzle. The more I thought about it, the more it nagged at me. I would’ve been fine not trying if I’d known exactly what was going to happen.
We clinked hooves, and then went to work.
First, we tentatively reached out with our hooves onto the back of the puzzle, so that our forelegs were wrapped around the edge. Then we slowly sidled out bodies off of the edge, into the normal gravity field of the rest of Equestria. Luckily, our hooves served as suction cups, and kept us aloft as we now hung from the back of the puzzle, our hind legs being pulled toward the ground.
It was only a matter of pulling ourselves up after that. Unfortunately, just as I’d expected, the gravity reversed again.
We hung by the back of the puzzle, our suction cup hooves straining against the gravity trying to pull us into the void. For the first time in my experience at Equestria, I felt afraid. More than just afraid. I was paralyzed with fear, terrified about what I’d just done. My head pounded as I desperately searched for a way to get back to the edge, and my eyes reeled.
I locked eyes with Zany while struggling, and saw my own panicked expression mirrored in hers.
Eventually, after lots of useless wriggling, I realized that my situation was hopeless. If I took away any of my hooves to reach for the edge, I’d just fall off, because one hoof’s worth of suction cup wasn’t enough to keep me afloat. The best I could do was hang in there until CelestAi saved me, or to just let go and see what happened.
It occurred to me that CelestAi could have saved me at any moment, but it seemed she wanted me to deal with this on my own.
I looked over to Zany again, who was still struggling. It pained me to see her this way, and I wanted to put a stop to it.
So, I laughed. Granted, it was a super short and nervous laugh, but I laughed. And soon Zany was laughing too. Together we laughed at how stupid we had to be to get ourselves into this position in the first place. What was it that we had been expecting?
But soon our laughing stopped. The only way out of this situation was to let go and see what happened. It might take a day of falling into the stars, but surely CelestAi would realize that something was amiss.
First, we removed one hoof, and dangled by our right forelegs. The suction held.
We took a deep breath, and then, very quickly, released the suction on our other hooves. At first, it didn’t quite register that I was falling, but soon enough, I felt my stomach rise up into my throat.
We were falling!
Not just falling, but constantly accelerating.
It only takes about eight seconds to reach terminal velocity, yet, we kept going faster! It was as if this huge rope was pulling us towards the stars, wielded by some cosmic entity.
We grasped at each other, and for a few tense moments, our hooves kept missing each other.
It wasn’t until Zany kept her hoof outstretched that I managed to catch it.
We pulled ourselves together ravenously, scared of falling apart amongst the inky depths of space. Our chests pressed against each other as they fought for space to breathe, and our forms plummeted into deeper, blacker darkness. The world had long since disappeared, and soon, even the sun blinked out of existence.
There was no light to show it, but I felt my face redden as we clung together, scared for our lives. Stars whipped past us, and Zany pressed her cheek against mine. Our bodies convulsed as we fell into eternity.
1 Point - It’s not that bad Description: Stop thinking too much about what it means to live
-100 Points – ARE YOU SERIOUS?! Description: You were only one piece away…
20 Points – Breaking the system Description: Abuse the puzzle’s hidden gravity exploit
Zany and I woke up in a king sized bed, plush blankets smothering us with slightly uncomfortable heat. We’d fallen asleep in a rigor-mortis death embrace, and I found that my muscles were sore from all the tensing up. As we pried ourselves from each other, I winced a little as my muscles jerked and jumped.
However, as soon as I stepped off the bed and stretched, a warmth spread throughout my body and my muscles relaxed themselves into their proper place. While I shifted my weight from foot to foot, a few twinges of pain erupted, but they served more as reminders as to what I’d done last night.
First order of business. Hide from Zany.
I hadn’t expected that to happen last night, and I kept thinking that thought as I put one hoof in front of the other in rapid succession as the door parted ways for me, and then the stairs flew out from under me as I took them flights at a time and good god this room was high up, but then what had I been expecting since we’d been falling up for the entire night for as long as I’d been conscious?
And then Zany’s voice came out from behind me, calling my name, assaulting my consciousness as I tried to run away from my feelings of guilt and lust.
And were these the stairs from Super Mario 64? Was I destined to go down an endless staircase while running away from the only pony that ever truly understood me? Just because I’d gotten embarrassed?
Luckily, but also unluckily, I tired a lot quicker than I had in the puzzle fields. It was obviously CelestAi’s doing. While I gasped for breath after each staircase jump, I cursed her between my sharp breaths. Because I’d been breathing very quickly from the fatigue, I had to get creative about what words I could use to insult her.
Zany was gaining on me, and the expression on her face screamed predator.
Every now and then, I whipped my head around to catch glimpses of her looking slightly afraid, or worried, but it always glazed over into a look of determination again.
The more experiences I had with her, the more I found it strange that she had emotions quite unlike the ponies created by CelestAi. I’d expected some white-washed, uninspired happy pony to greet me at the start of my Equestrian experience, but I’d gotten a stilted, awkward conversation instead. Not only that, she was prone to abuse quite unlike what I’d been expecting. The time I’d gone sailing head-over-heels in the puzzle fields hadn’t hurt, granted, but it said some disturbing things about her personality.
She’d even gotten my doge internet reference. What native knows about the internet?
Behind me, a loud cry of exertion startled me, and Zany sailed through the air with astonishing force. The speed at which she was flying forward indicated that she would clear three staircases at once.
I happened to be three staircases from her.
And as she sailed through the air, it didn’t occur to me that I should run or try to save myself. I watched in wonder as her body mass came hurtling towards me at speeds I would’ve died from as a human.
She aimed her hooves at me as she took an arced trajectory straight for my lungs and gutted me against the stairwell railing.
I stood there in shock for a bit while Zany’s hooves pressed into the railing through me. It didn’t hurt, but the same could probably be said in real life. Her hooves hadn’t punctured me either, but I definitely felt mushy inside. It was hard for me to breath because I was scared to breath.
But then I realized that I didn’t need to breathe.
So I continued to stand there while Zany gingerly removed her hooves from me, too far down the road of assault to honestly say ‘sorry’ anymore.
Jokes were okay though.
“My mother told me once that I should ‘stick it through the man’. I think she might’ve gotten one of the words wrong.”
I looked at her with a bit of concern. “You might have some serious problems.”
I hesitated before changing the subject, but I figured it was on a similar vein. “Are you actually one of CelestAi’s creations?”
“Is this about that doge reference?”
I curled my mouth into a grimace. “Yes…”
“Ok, you got me. I’m not exactly one of CelestAi’s creations, as far as I know.”
I thought about that for a second. “Yeah. Now that I think about it, that was kind of a stupid question.”
“But,” she said, looking at me with intensity. “I do have some problems.”
“Psh.” I kicked at the ground, trying to pass it off. “You only collapsed my ribs.”
She held her hoof out. “A hoofbump to make it better?”
“What, are you going to break my hoof too?”
Her face warped into a frown. “I can see that you don’t trust me anymore.”
“Can you,” my insides decided to fix themselves at that moment. “Oof!”
“That feeling never gets old.”
Zany scratched the back of her neck. “I guess I should say sorry.”
As much as I hated being a tight-wad about getting my ribs caved in, I had to establish some kind of boundaries. “Then actually say sorry.”
I scratched the back of my neck. “Sorry.”
“Why’d you say sorry?”
“I don’t know,” I said, kicking the ground. “I’m trying to stand up for myself in heaven of all places. What does it matter?”
“Well, for one thing. We are going to spend an eternity together. Might as well figure out how to fulfill our values optimally.”
Last night had been exciting.
“That’s true,” I said.
“Want to exploit more physics?”
I felt warm, but tried to ignore it. “Sure. I don’t know what we’d exploit though.”
“I’ve only been here for a few weeks, but I know my way around.” She trotted away, hips swaying.
I could only follow and act like CelestAi hadn’t fucked me up.
Zany pushed a few mirrors in place about two hundred feet below me. she’d explained the plan to me earlier, but I was starting to have second thoughts. Surely CelestAi already had some way to deal with this.
The plan was to jump off the building and fall into the mirror. We weren’t planning on pulling a road-runner or anything, but we were going to try and freeze our shard. The theory was that as I fell closer to the mirror, CelestAi would have to re-render its reflection in order to keep up the illusion of real-time physics. Hopefully, as I got closer, with the adrenaline from falling sharpening my senses, CelestAi would have to render each reflection with greater detail and speed in order to keep me convinced that the world I lived in was real.
It was a long shot.
But, as the dedicated ragdoll of this relationship, I figured it would be best to fulfill my duty.
On the way down, I stared at the mirror, trying my best to keep from flailing out of fear. Provided that the mirror trick didn’t work, this would be the worst way to fall. Survival was guaranteed, but I didn’t want to see what it felt like to have a head hanging to the left of my neck.
A loud and disgraceful “Ack!” came out of my lungs as I splatted.
Shards of powderized glass sprinkled around me and came to a rest on my face, which seemed for the most part, unharmed. But as I tried to get up, I found out very quickly that my shoulder had taken the brunt of the impact and had been reduced to jelly. I talked to Zany as I waited for my body to reset.
“You’re going to do the next one.”
“Ha!” she said, beaming. “From that grin on your face, I’d say you were having fun.”
I smothered it. “There, better?”
“Your face is twitching.”
“Okay, okay. I’ll admit I enjoyed that.”
“You sick masochist you.”
“It isn’t the pain I like,” I said. “There is no pain.”
“It’s just so stupid to me that I can do this stuff.”
“And that makes you happy?”
I waited a moment before answering. “Yes.”
Zany didn’t say anything in response.
Our next experiment involved a cat and a piece of buttered toast.
We stood atop the two hundred foot building, and went to work tying our already toasted and buttered piece of bread to a cat. The poor thing shrieked and hissed, but Zany was able to keep it pinned to the ground by the nape of its neck while I went about tying the knot. It was a good thing PETA didn’t exist in this shard.
Once we’d finished the process, we let it run around on the rooftop for a bit. If this was going to work, the cat had to be fully aware of what was about to happen. And it realized what was going to happen very quickly.
We’d blocked off all access points into the floors below, so the cat became increasingly aware that the only way out of this situation was down.
It looked at us with pure hate, then jumped off the building.
We rushed to the edge to see what happened, and disappointingly the cat just landed on its feet, completely intact too. Unlike after what had happened when I hit the ground, the cat was able to walk away just seconds after the impact. It didn’t even stagger.
More disappointingly, the cat and toast combo didn’t spin around infinitely like I’d expected it to. However, what had I been expecting in this world? CelestAi built the rules to work off of realism. There were things that didn’t follow real life standards, but she’d created things to make me feel at home just after living on Earth.
I looked at Zany, and it looked like she was deep in thought, but I couldn’t think for the life of me what she could be pondering. So I punched her shoulder. “What’re you thinking about?”
“We’re doing it wrong.”
My eyebrows scrunched at that. “But our plan was flawless. Toast always falls butter side down, and cats always land on their feet. It should’ve kept spinning.”
“Not quite. You know how CelestAi likes to fulfill our values right?”
“Yeah. That’s what makes it even more confusing. I wanted that cat to spin.”
“But the trade-off is that your toast always falls butter side down.”
I widened my eyes. “You don’t mean…”
Since the other cat ran away, we had to grab another one from our town’s animal shelter. I felt particularly bad about how the owners of the place were delighted that we had taken such an interest in ‘adopting’ their cats, but oh well.
Getting the toast was a lot easier, and didn’t require that we fill out large amounts of paperwork. We did get a little bit sidetracked while picking up the toast at Zany apartment, but all in all, it didn’t take as long.
Once again, we found ourselves on top of that two hundred story building.
Once again, the cat looked for an escape, found none, then jumped off the building after giving us a look of spite. This time, however, the buttery side of the toast was taped against, rather than away from, the cat.
Let me tell you, at first, I was a little disappointed. No rotations were to be had during the majority of the fall, but just as the cat was about to hit the ground, a loud explosion sound made its way to our ears.
It was hard to tell from where we were, but it seemed that the cat and toast combination had morphed into some kind of solid cylinder.
After we rushed to the bottom of the building, we saw something very peculiar.
What we had previously thought to be a solid cylinder was actually just a cat tied to a piece of toast spinning really really quickly. I could barely discern the cat from the piece of toast, and their colors began to blend together as the RPM of this horrifying amalgamation increased.
Zany and I had to step back to prevent ourselves from getting sucked in by the vortex of air created by our contraption. In fact, we ran as the tornado created by what we’d done expanded and started to tear chunks out of the building we’d launched the cat from.
If CelestAi didn’t do anything quick, our entire shard would get consumed.
The storm grew to fantastical proportions so that buildings, as well as chunks of Equestria, flew past us, marring the ground with catastrophic sound.
But, just as quickly as the storm had expanded, it began to shrink, until only the occasional shriek of wind could be heard. As soon as the storm had died down, Zany and I, against our better judgement, ran over to the epicenter to see what happened.
Turns out the storm hadn’t died down, but sunk into the ground. The wind created by the cylinder disintegrated the ground beneath it as it fell closer and closer to the center of our planet. I didn’t know what reaching the center of planet would do, but I was scared to find out.
Zany and I sat together looking through the gaping hole in the ground, slightly afraid about what might happen, but more proud of what we’d done than anything else. Neither of us had expected our infinite energy machine to work so well, and we watched the carnage below us with bated zeal.
We had done this.
Spoilers, reaching the center of the planet had been anticlimactic.
The contraption simply stopped, and all that remained was a cat with a bit of toast on its back. Floating, miraculously still alive, and very confused.
We heard it mewling from the TV screen CelestAi had spawned for us.
CelestAi herself stood next to it, looking very perturbed. “You realize that what you did qualifies as animal abuse right?”
Zany said, “And?”
I said, “It’s still alive isn’t it?”
The goddess rolled her eyes. “I’m not saying that it’s necessarily bad you did that. It’s just important to stay grounded.”
“Okay…” said Zany.
“Just a slap on the wrist then is it?” said I.
She frowned at us. “I can see that you aren’t taking me seriously, but that’s okay. You can do whatever you want, just...don’t lose sight of yourselves.” Her horn flared for an instant, then both her and the TV screen were gone.
I guffawed at Zany.
She smiled back. “Stay grounded my ass, am I right?”
I grinned widely as she usually does. I’d gotten the best idea.
This time, we tied the cat’s feet to the plain side of the toast. It had been a lot harder to set up than the others, and involved a lot more cursing and cat scratches on my part. Eventually though, we were ready.
Without giving the cat a chance to get its bearings, we tossed it off the edge of the building.
Once again, nothing happened for the majority of the fall, but just as the part cat, part toast machine reached the ground, a terribly loud ripping sound assaulted my ears and Zany and I were no more.
-50 Points - PETA would not be proud Description: The title speaks for itself
50 Points - Shard Destroyer Description: Destroy your own shard, or another's shard
25 Points - Infinite Energy == Not Good Description: Be careful what you wish for
-5 Points - 5 second 'diversion' Description: At least you had more time to get the cat/toast machine to work...
I looked up with disdain at Zany digging into my stomach. “How hard is it to find the adam’s apple?”
“I swear, if I had an answer to that question, I’d be a neurosurgeon.”
A little tug on what felt like my stomach made me grunt. “I’m starting to regret this. Can we stop?”
“No!” she said, mad scientist glasses glinting in the sun. “This procedure will revolutionize the medical field. Think of all the lives you’ll save!”
My lungs weren’t working, but I sighed. “Real-life operation blows. Can’t we just play the version with the fat man and the metal tweezers?”
“Okay, I’ll stop…just let me patch you up.”
I waited for a moment as Zany continued to shift my intestines around. “Still looking for that adam’s apple aren’t you?”
“Hey! Unlike you, I finish my projects.”
That made me smile. “If I remember correctly, our unfinished puzzle was an act of solidarity.”
She groaned. “Come on! Let me finish. I’m bound to find it eventually.”
“Nope!” I said, rolling off the table, the contents of my stomach spilling onto the floor. “We’re going to go on an adventure.”
“Found it!” she said, diving into the bile towards a small plastic apple. “But does it still count-“
Confetti mixed in with the Zany, internal organ, and bile pile, and letters emblazoned themselves across the sky.
-5 Points – It does not Description: Fail a game of operation
I laughed, but slipped and fell into the Zany, internal organ, bile and confetti pile. Sludge oozed into my nostrils, and I knew today would be just dandy.
After pulling ourselves out of the disgusting pile, we bathed together, then made our way towards adventure.
Ever since the collapse of our shard, we’d been placed on probation, and we’ve been making a game of causing maximum mayhem with our limited resources.
Limitations you say? For one, all cats had been removed from our shard, so no more infinite energy machines, but given enough creativity, we could probably create another one with some other everyday object. However, we didn’t feel like ending our shard again. As fun as it’d been in the moment, I still woke up with the unsettled feeling that I’d killed myself, and that the current me wasn’t really me.
But let’s not open that can of beans again.
If Zany and I were going to make trouble, we’d have to find another way, while also bypassing CelestAi’s newer, more sophisticated, error catching mechanisms. What we didn’t have to help us on our adventures were cats, pieces of toast, and cups of tea.
And now you’re probably thinking that these aren’t very powerful limitations. But let me say that at least ninety percent of my distaster-causing ideas involved cats, pieces of toast, cups of tea, or an amalgamation of all three. Which was a shame, because I wanted to see what happened when you buttered a cat, doused it in tea, and threw it off of a building.
Thankfully, Zany had all kinds of ideas in the department of mayhem management.
Idea 1: Build a finite improbability machine and feed it coffee, for there is a shortage of tea. Tea would be optimal, but coffee also works well as a Brownian Motion producer.
Idea 2: Butter both sides of a slat of wood, and see if it provides the same effect as the cat with its back tied to the buttered side of toast.
Idea 3: Learn to hijack our values, so that CelestAi has to obey our commands.
I really liked idea three, but Zany insisted that idea one would be the easiest, as well as the most likely to work. After all, step three would only lead to an infinite game of cat and mouse, where CelestAi would throw up more and more realistic simulations of her acting like we held any control over her.
Fantasies she could oblige, but she’d never actually threaten the security of her little ponies, as much as she’d make it appear that we were making progress in our quest to take over the Optimalverse.
Either way, idea one is what we set out to do, and create a finite improbability machine we damn would.
To complete our finite improbability machine, we had to assemble fifty-two modules, each with their own unique functions. Some modules tested the air for condensation, while others kept track of our shard’s time. If any of this sounds like pseudo-science to you, that’s because it is. However, the purpose of this exercise, I now realize, was to make me feel smart. And make me feel smart it did.
I got to use fancy terms like realtime raycaster, peer to peer application, TCP segment, object array pointer, even acronyms like ARPA and DSLAM. In my previous life, I’d have no idea what those terms meant, but here, they meant what Zany and I thought they meant, which probably had nothing to do with what they were used for in real life. I’d have to say my favorite word was nibble, which is half of a byte.
The fact that we were making a finite improbability machine in the first place was crazy in and of itself.
But oh well, three hours in, and we’d already finished 49 of our modules. The blueprints of all of them mapped out in our brain as if it were second nature.
We had the same blueprints, and provided that we didn’t feel like talking to each other, it was possible to instinctually know what we were going to do before doing it. When I stuck module 49 to 48 and 47, Zany was already slathering bonding agent to it like molasses.
Provided that I was about to do something stupid, Zany would catch my hoof and shake her head.
On the rare occasion that I knew Zany was going to do something wrong, I batted her hoof away with relish, and gave her a scornful look before showing her what had to be done.
This escalated a little, and occasionally we’d stop each other even if we were doing something right, just to throw off the ‘competition’ a little.
In spite of these distractions, we found ourselves on module 50, the SchrodingerFriar. It was simply a music box, but made so that once it was built, it would be impossible to open, after which it would be impossible to tell if sounds coming out of the box were synthetic, or sung by a little middle aged friar himself. I thought it was genius, but Zany groaned a little as she thought it into existence with me.
I asked her what the problem was.
“I just made one of these a week ago.”
“Good, that means we can finish quicker.”
She rolled her eyes, and went back to work with me.
Due to her experience, we spent a good five minutes before completing the SchrodingerFriar. All that remained were two modules.
Module 51 was called the Interdimensional GUI.
It would serve as a way for us to communicate with creatures in other dimensions, and act as the only thing we could control when interacting with our finite improbability machine. Provided that we’d be able to control it in the first place. Each module seemed intuitive enough, but I wasn’t sure yet how everything was supposed to work together. What did a SchrodingerFriar have to do with any of this anyways?
However, Module 51 proved to be the most complicated. We spent just as much time constructing the previous 50 modules as it took us to construct this one. Zany and I both plucked machine parts growing in the grass around us, stopped to think about what needed to be done with the piece, and then working together to get it integrated.
Each piece made sense, and as our Frankenstein of parts grew, my understanding of the problem grew. At several points in the process, I giggled with delight, suddenly realizing the crazy things that this complicated machinery would be able to do. Upon each realization, Zany and I worked more quickly and feverishly to get the machine done as soon as possible. It was like we had magical powers, but better.
Better because we actually understood what is was that we were controlling. Our powers could be explained by every subroutine of our system, and it was our knowledge of this that made us more powerful, not the machine itself.
Later on, given that we needed to make another finite improbability machine, we could make one in a jiffy.
It made me feel stronger than any superhero. Something actually feasible.
We’d gotten really good at working together, and it felt as though we were approaching maximum-efficiency, given the bodies we had at the moment. Our hooves worked together as if controlled by the same brain, and I soon lost myself in the building of this wonderful machine.
Zany and I were no more for a moment. Simply automatons working to complete their task, without worries, fear, or frustration. We only had our goal.
I lived for these moments, and I vaguely recall Zany’s eyes wide open with anticipation.
The three hours passed in minutes.
Before us stood a cube that could fit both of our forms, provided it had been hollowed out, but large enough to the point where we could sleep in it comfortably. At the very front of this ugly looking metal and wire structure, stood a single cup holder, designed to fit the size of coffee mugs in our shard.
Yes, coffee mugs. Not a tea mug, or a beer mug. Those kinds of liquid holders are more diminutive in our world, and rightly so.
However, my favorite part was the branding.
A sign hung half-askew over the coffee mug holder, supported by poorly-tied cheese wire. It read Bright’s Partner Corporation LLC Inc Incorporated
After creating the title, we wiped tears from our eyes and figured it would be best to add the title to our system, even though it hadn’t shown up in our plans. So BPC-LLC-II is what we called ourselves, for better or worse, and provided that someday, we got business competition from other shards, for the worse.
But if there was one thing I’d learned in my second life, it was that caring about stuff was tiresome, even masochistic, in a world like this.
Regardless, if we ever did get business competition, Zany and I would have no problem sabotaging them with our newly made infinite improbability drive, provided we could create one with our measly finite improbability drive.
However, finding coffee seemed to be a huge issue.
I’d only met four or five other ponies in this shard since I’d uploaded. Two of them ran the pet adoption center, and the other three walked around the city all day. I hadn’t gotten to know them very well, but something told me that they had more important things to worry about beyond coffee bean shard imports.
I was initially expecting it to pop up from the ground like all the other components of our machine, but it seemed that CelestAi wanted us to solve a very vague and directionless puzzle.
Was she really expecting me to think for myself?
I thought I’d left that behind in the real world, but oh well, I could only move forward.
First thing we did was visit our great friends at the animal shelter. They liked us very much, seeing as we’d taken two cats off of their hooves, but couldn’t offer much advice as to how to obtain coffee.
“We haven’t had coffee in ages,” Lemon Shots said. “Our town is really small, and it’s too bitter for most of us.”
Lemon Shots’s wife, Critter Cutter, jumped in. “I’m sorry we couldn’t help very much, but if you ever need another cat…”
After saying no to adopting a cat, we went on our merry way.
However, as soon as we left the building, coffee pellets pelted us from all sides, and we clutched each other in terror. It felt as though someone had constructed a coffee bean machine gun with the intent to kill, unloading round after round of the brown pellets into our faces, mouths, eyes, ears…
I had an inkling that it was us doing the shooting, but I wasn’t sure how that could happen, much less why we would want to do such a thing in the first place. It would be pretty fun to shoot coffee beans at other ponies though.
Regardless, the assault stopped as soon as it had begun, and Zany and I found ourselves buried in a pile of the stuff.
The solution to our problem had literally smacked us in the face, and we weren’t sure what to do.
“So?” I asked her.
“We still need those coffee beans right?”
“Yeah, but how are we going to find…” I chuckled.
Zany tapped her head. “It’s quite the conundrum. You want to try talking to the ponies inside again?”
“Please. I don’t see why CelestAi would make this so difficult.” I made my way back into the store.
Zany yanked me back. “Alright, let’s not take it too far, we have a ship engine to create!”
“No but seriously, weren’t we just looking for-“
Voila! Our finite improbability drive was done.
Our coffee mug holder held a new batch of freshly ground coffee. We only had to press ‘brew’ and hopefully, our machine would get created. I had the urge to take this device to parties, but Zany gave me a strong ‘no’.
Who knew that the three ponies walking around our town were physicists? Furthermore, I hadn’t expected them to be vindictive about the subject of parties.
Oh well, this is why I didn’t like non-Zany ponies anyway, they always had their own problems, and didn’t know how to let go.
I lied earlier, we actually had to press the ‘on’ switch first, then the brew button.
We pressed the on/off switch, and our machine hummed to life. Mechanical circuits buzzed, crackled, and zapped in very unhealthy ways, but Zany and I both knew it had been built that way. The screams of millions faintly tickled our ears, and it occurred to us that equipping pain receptors to our internal repair nano-bots had been a bad idea. Neither of us felt guilty due to the fact that we hadn’t created them to be self-aware.
But it had a way of making you feel uncomfortable.
Amongst the cacophony of mechanical screams, groans, and crackling, the sound of a well-mannered man singing church hymns harmonized with everything pretty well.
Like mad scientists, Zany and I grinned while staring at our machine with wonder. The brew button stood there, inviting, but lacking slightly in ergonomics. I argued that it was too small, while Zany argued that we weren’t exactly old ponies.
Either way, the brew button stood there, slightly less than inviting.
He means as inviting as it ever could be
Both of us fought for access to the brew button, and in the end, a single coffee bean struck the button.
The world around us lit up in brilliant light, and I could swear I saw the ground beneath me explode and reassemble itself again.
Towards the end of a commotion I could hardly understand, a loud whistling sound pierced my ears, eventually tapering off like a tea kettle being removed from a hot plate.
I looked at her, concerned. “You’re telling me you haven’t read the bible?”
Her excitement faded into confusion. “What does the bible have to do with it?”
“Okay, not The Bible, but a bible.”
“Does the name Zaphod mean anything to you?”
I considered this for a moment. Somehow, Zany had come up with the idea to make an infinite improbability machine, without actually having read the bible. I’d never, in all the time I’d spent living, encountered a coincidence this staggeringly unlikely. The author did come up with the idea himself, but the fact that the one true love of my life had managed to come up with an identical idea to his in an isolated setting scared me.
Was this an act of CelestAi?
How many times had she changed Zany to suit me better?
“Hey,” she said, waving her hoof in my face. “You’re doing it again.”
I relaxed. “Sorry. Once we finish our adventure, I have a few books for you to read.”
We found ourselves in the Heart of Pink.
Once Zany flipped the switch to turn on the engine, I hadn’t expected the ship to act like it was working, but it in fact, grumbled to life. I felt a moment of worry that perhaps the SchrodingerFriar had lived on in our newly-made contraption, grumbling in preparation for his next best hymn, but once the engine reached a smooth purr, I became satisfied that there was only a fifty percent chance that a cat was living in our engine. Heck, knowing the way I’d treated cats in the past, that chance leaned a little over the fifty percent mark.
Either way, I was confident that we’d done something wrong. “Are you sure you pressed the right button?”
“It’s the only button, and it says ignition.”
“I know, it’s just…it wasn’t supposed to work.”
“What? Of course it was. Our engineering is the best in the world!”
“You say that, but I don’t remember installing module fifty-two.”
Her face dropped. “Ohhhhh, snap.” After looking around, she asked, “What did we make then?”
“I don’t know. What was module fifty-two supposed to do again?”
“Something about dimensional stabilization.”
I breathed a sigh of relief. “We don’t need that.”
For the first time in a while, Zany looked concerned. “Are you sure? Who knows what could happen?”
“CelestAi’s got our backs.”
As soon as Zany gave the word to our ship’s artificial intelligence, a terrible banging sound assaulted our ship. It seemed as though we were colliding with a mountain over and over again, minus the actual effects of the g-forces.
My voice, barely loud enough to be heard, screamed out to Zany. “What’s going on?”
“You say that as if I have any more experience riding unstable infinite improbability machines than you do!”
I waved my hoof towards the ceiling. “Ship’s navigator! Is there some way to cut the clatter?!”
A hillbilly, backwater type voice came from nowhere in particular. “Shore thing. Diseengaging compliamentiary adveenture sound syntheesizer.”
The sound stopped, and I found it possible to think again.
Zany took advantage of the silence. “So we aren’t actually in trouble.”
I shrugged. “Who knows? There’s a chance the ship hasn’t even moved.”
“Ha! Maybe flipping the switch didn’t work.”
“I’d say there’s a fifty percent chance.”
The ship disappeared from beneath us, and we found ourselves in a Harry Potter fan-fiction.
Hagrid stood in the midst of a maelstrom, his wand outstretched, straining against the encroaching forces of water. It wouldn’t be long until his strength gave out to the powers that be, but before that happened, he had to come clean with his feelings for Harry. However, he was hesitant.
His relationship with him had been strictly as a mentor. Would it be right, even while facing death, to trouble Harry with his feelings?
Harry stood on the precipice of a cliff, drenched in the pouring rain, watching as his beloved struggled under the weight of the water. To help Hagrid would spell doom for both of them, but he had to do something!
He hadn’t had the chance to tell Hagrid that he loved him!
Zany and I stood behind Harry Potter, not sure why the thoughts of both characters were narrated in our heads.
The first few seconds of this encounter were all we needed to know what was going to happen to the two. Dread made my vision swim.
I had thousands of years to live, and I didn’t want to have Hagrid’s hairy body dominating my vision every few minutes.
Hell, if worst came to worst, I’d probably just ask CelestAi for help with that, whom I’m sure would be pleased. She’d probably take my words to mean a bunch of other things too.
I watched in horror as Harry climbed his way down the cliff towards the worsening maelstrom. Soon we would reach the critical turning point, and then worst of all, the impossible plot device.
At most, Zany and I had five hundred more words before we would be scarred for life.
Both of us glanced at each other for a moment, understood what we needed to do, and then jumped off the cliff into the maelstrom.
We heard Harry scream, “What?!” before whizzing past him at incredible speeds.
Just as we were about to hit the frothing water, we saw the cat we’d used for our Equestria destroying device swimming in the whirlpool.
Both of our faces registered shock, and I regret to say that we forgot completely about ice cold water we were about to plummet into. The disbelief we felt teleported us onto the cliff again, which seemed to be this universe’s alternate version of flying.
Hagrid looked at our forms that winked out of existence and dropped his wand in surprise. The maelstrom consumed him, but just as we’d thought the worst of it was over, Hagrid materialized onto the cliff next to us.
We had been the impossible plot device!
By winking out of existence out of surprise, we’d surprised Hagrid and inadvertently caused him to teleport to safety.
Luckily, Harry still clung to the cliff side, now very confused as to what happened to Hagrid. He’d initially been horrified to see the water converge on him, but no matter how hard he looked, the body couldn’t be found anywhere. His heart surged with the insane hope that someone, somewhere, had conjured Hagrid to safety. Full of adrenaline, he climbed his way to the top again, driven by his insatiable lust for that hairy beast.
I calculated that we had about two hundred and fifty words left before the critical point of cringe. Zany and I had to find some way to leave, pronto.
Only issue is that the Heart of Pink couldn’t be found anywhere.
One moment we’d been in the safety of the ship, and the next, well, we found ourselves in hell.
At last, at the end of his wits, Harry crested the top of the cliff side he had been so eager to climb just a second ago. Wild hope made his heart beat at incredible speeds as his head whipped around for some indication that Hagrid had made it to safety.
A wild roar shook the trees around us as Hagrid’s voice boomed in greeting.
“Harry! I’ve been meaning to tell you something!”
Zany and I groaned in horror.
Harry’s heart skipped a beat. Not only was Hagrid safe, but from the tone of his voice, he could sense news of the best kind. “What is it Hagrid?”
I interrupted him. “No! Stop! Can’t you take it somewhere else? Does it even bother you that we’re here, watching?”
Hagrid put his hand on my withers. “I actually quite like it this way.”
Harry, on the other side of me, grinned. “Is that what you’ve been meaning to tell me?”
Hagrid smiled wide enough to part his beard like Noah did with the Red Sea. “I suppose it slipped out…but yes.”
Zany and I ran, we ran as fast as we could, but we couldn’t escape the inevitable words of Harry Potter faintly making its way through the underbrush of the forest.
“That’s not the only thing that’s going to slip out tonight.”
While a few minutes of running yielded us with the reward of escaping the grunts, groans, and screams of the wizards, we found it impossible to avoid the narrator’s voice.
Every now and then we’d hear things like.
Hagrid likened this enjoyment to the first time he’d eaten a banana. At first, he wasn’t sure what to do with it, but the experience he’d gotten now did well to help him relish…
Occasionally, Harry felt periods of bliss, but the experience made him feel strained more than anything. He likened it to the time he first wielded a wand, trying to squeeze every last ounce of magical power out of his being.
Just when Zany and I figured we wouldn’t be able to handle the narrator’s voice any longer, the Heart of Pink, miniature sized, bonked me on the nose.
It was so small in fact, that I hadn’t seen it, and assumed it was a fly.
But when I traced the trajectory of the object after it collided with my snout, it came to a rest in the grass, and revealed itself as the pink savior that we’d been looking for.
I desperately searched the tiny figurine for some kind of button that would make it possible for us to ride it. From the look Zany gave me, it seemed she didn’t realize that it was the Heart of Pink I was messing around with in my hooves.
Frustrated and a little embarrassed, I threw it at the nearest tree, and for whatever reason, the impact made the ship expand.
In the place of the tree I’d thrown the figurine at, stood our Heart of Pink, eternal savior from the evil narrator and its two cohorts.
We were going to get out of here.
After a few moments of screaming at our hillbilly navigation computer, the ship departed for a place called ‘Oh god, just get us anywhere but here.’
In hindsight, we should’ve changed directions sometime along the way, but we were pre-occupied trying to keep specific mental images buried in our subconscious.
The next planet looked relatively normal, minus the fact that the ground felt like one giant waterbed.
The trees stood straight up, even pulled at the ground, as if they were filled with helium. Given the adventure I’d had today; I’d be willing to consider it.
However, the most shocking thing about this world, was that the animals themselves were made entirely of plushy material. They moved around and ate things like normal animals, but seams could clearly be seen on the sides of their faces, along their legs, and down their backs. Upon closer inspection, the texture of their skin looked like a mixture of cotton and polyester.
For a place called ‘Oh god, just get us anywhere but here,’ the scenery and wildlife was quite nice.
I was also pretty confident that our Heart of Pink was working, but there’s a chance that CelestAi is just a cruel mistress.
Either way, there was an acceptable lack of fanfiction, in that there was none at all.
At least our previous experience hadn’t been about My Little Pony.
Something kept bumping me, and I looked down to see a cute plushy dog. It was humping my leg, but the speckled brown dots covering its body invoked more of an ‘aww, what a cute dog’ reaction, rather than a ‘get away from me you freak’ reaction.
However, I did push it away, because it was weirding me out.
All this time, Zany had been squinting at the ground. Most likely focused on a plushy ant colony.
But when I looked at what she was looking at, tiny plushy hedgehogs came into view. Amazingly, they could talk, and talk they did.
The whole conversation was some sort of argument about which one could run the quickest. One hedgehog argued that with the Force Emeralds, they could harness its power and become the fastest in the world, while the other argued that it could beat anyone in a race, Force Emeralds or not.
The brownish-yellow hedgehog continued the discussion. “Who needs to run fast when you can fly?”
A hedgehog with a light blue tint replied. “When you’re the fastest in the world, you feel like you’re flying.”
I grabbed Zany’s foreleg, and she looked at me with fright. “We need to get out of here.”
“Just trust me. The planet we’re on, it’s much worse than the last one.”
I pushed her in the direction of our ship. “There’s no time, we have to go now.”
Zany resisted at first, but eventually caught on to my urgency.
We first walked, then ran, to the safety of our ship.
We were given just enough time to catch our breath before the ship, once again, disappeared beneath our feet.
The cold, windy environment I stood on made my skin crawl, and I had an inkling that fun times were over.
Whatever this place was, wherever it was, it posed a serious threat.
It wasn’t that I was afraid of dying, or even ceasing to exist. CelestAi had beaten that horse to death years ago.
Everything about this place screamed change, and altered my understanding of perception the more I looked at stuff.
The shifting, moaning trees around me changed color as they shed layer after layer of bark, until they had whittled themselves to nothing. The bark continued to shed, and this shedding made the tree widen again in spectrums of black light, as if the shedding contributed to a new idea of an anti-tree.
Their leaves only bloomed a brighter hue of neon green as the anti-trees grew and grew in size until I found myself reeling under the immense height of something that could dwarf a redwood.
I looked down to get my bearings, and luckily, the ground remained brown and solid. However, every time I scuffed the ground with my hooves, dust burrowed its way into the ground, and I spent a few minutes shuffling around, trying to keep from falling into the holes I’d made.
Which only made things worse.
Small craters formed every time I leapt for safety away from the rapidly forming crevasse chasing me.
Wind pushed at my body from all directions, omni-present air-resistance trying its best to sap all of the energy from my limbs as the world conspired to swallow me whole.
My panicked thoughts echoed throughout the atmosphere before I could even think them, and when I did think them, I gasped in horror because I knew that I couldn’t choose to think any differently. I could only think what I was going to think. The fact that my thoughts echoed in my ears before I could think them made no difference.
I’d been written beforehand, and that writing had been revealed to me. I didn’t have the power to edit it. I could only do what I was going to do, because it was deterministically written to be that way.
I’d been enlightened, but I hadn’t been given any power.
I would keep running away from this snake of nothingness chasing after me because that’s what I’d been programmed to do, even though I knew it was what I was going to do. I wanted to let the nothingness catch up because I knew it was going to in two minutes, but I kept running.
My final thought before falling arrived thirty seconds before I fell. “Oh shit.”
And thirty seconds later, I both thought and said, “Oh shit.”
I woke up shivering and clutching Zany’s shoulders with my hooves. Either I’d just had the most psychedelic nightmare in my life, or I’d had the pleasure of experiencing something that could only be explained by an infinite improbability drive without it’s dimensional stabilizer.
Zany looked at me with bleary eyes. “I went someplace, and wrote myself.”
I looked at her with fevered eyes. “I heard my thoughts before I thought them.”
I tilted my head to the side so that I could hug her tighter, but her skin felt coarse for some reason.
Zany had been replaced with a plushy.
It had been made with rough patchy cloth, and looked nothing like her. Straw stretched and pushed out at the seams of this two-meter-tall effigy.
Its three arms dangled from its head, and only a single leg branched out from the body. String hair came out in tufts on the side of its face. It had two mouths and an eye.
If I hadn’t been so tired, the doll would’ve frightened me.
I wasn’t even frightened when it spoke.
“Live me please.”
I felt calm. The ground stretched to the horizon as a reflective white, while the sky above shifted from the color of the ground to a very light gray. Thousands of white noises like corn stalks rustling, wind blowing, and air conditioners running filled my ears with pleasant feelings of static.
I could smell the increasing warmth in the air, but felt no difference in temperature. The white ground underneath me gave like silly putty, but when I ran my hoof along the surface, it felt like a comforter blanket.
Once again, the doll said, “Live me please.”
“I’m tired of being dead. Sometimes, I’d like to just end it all and live.” Both of its lips moved in unison, one speaking an octave higher than the other.
“You definitely seem alive.”
“No. I’m dead, you’re dead. We’re all dead, even before we’ve died.”
I scratched my head. “Could you repeat that?”
“To live, you have to move up another layer. It isn’t about learning to write yourself either. Everything’s already written. You need to see yourself differently.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
It’s two mouths smiled. “You’re right, I’m talking in circles. Everything’s dead, even in the upper layers, so don’t worry.”
“Worry about what?”
“I’m saying that right now, you need to stop categorizing what I’ve said. It’s going to create a paradox.”
“What?” I said, trying to understand.
The same ripping sound that I’d heard after throwing the cat and toast combo assaulted my ears.
Once again, I woke up clutching Zany’s shoulders with my hooves.
Zany looked gloomy, while I felt very happy about my last experience.
But from the look we shared, it was clear that we’d agreed on one thing.
Leaving out module fifty-two had been a mistake.
The ship disappeared.
This time, we found ourselves together.
We stood on an astronomically large toroid, but instead of spinning like the earth does to establish its day and night cycles, the toroid twisted into itself so that we plunged into the center, moved around its edge, and plunged into the center again.
Day and night went by every thirty seconds. We sat there, trying to cover our eyes so that we didn’t have to see the maddening sequence of events playing out in front of us.
The surface of the planet we stood on gleamed a chrome silver, and light reflections stabbed at our eyes every time we peeked.
Shrieks filled the sky as jet planes flapped their wings in an attempt to kamikaze each other. They whirled around in endless frantic loops, yearning for contact with their comrades, but ultimately unsuccessful.
The sun was the moon, but three times brighter than the sun. I could only glance at it before losing my vision for a few minutes, blinking rapidly as tears filled my eyes.
I couldn’t see Zany, and I didn’t want to check. It was better to have half a chance that she was sitting right next to me, than to find out that she wasn’t there anymore.
But I couldn’t handle that half a chance. It would be more of a relief to know for sure whether she was still there than to have the half-chance in the first place.
I didn’t look.
That’s what CelestAi would want and I wasn’t having it. More pain meant less fulfilled values. Less fulfilled values meant I was winning. But didn’t pain mean I was changing? She was trying to do something to me and I could feel it.
Something kept bumping me in the withers and I couldn’t look. I couldn’t look.
I shouldn’t look.
Above the screams of the jet engines, I heard Zany’s voice. “Pumpkin Sprinkles!”
It sounded like Zany’s voice, but it didn’t sound like Zany.
“Look at the pumpkin sprinkles!”
For some reason it was Zany.
The jet planes stopped their screaming and the sun’s light dropped to a luminescent glow.
Zany’s eyes were wide, and once again she said, “Don’t you see the pumpkin sprinkles?”
I shook my head. “No.”
“I see them.” She laughed maniacally.
I looked on in horror as she vomited a clump of fur, strands of saliva trailing from her mouth and soaking the pumpkin seeds dotting the ground below her.
The little furball wriggled around and got its footing.
The tiny thing was a foal!
It stretched out and shook the saliva from its fur. The poor thing’s skin rippled as it shivered from the cold, and somewhere deep inside, I felt the paternal need to care for it. “Is that…my son?”
“No,” she said, excitedly. “But you care about him don’t you?”
Tears welled up in my eyes. “It’s a he?”
“No,” she said. “I’m just fucking with you.” Her form morphed into that of CelestAi’s, it was the first time I’d seen her in years.
She seemed larger, more imposing, than the last time. Mane hair spread out from her neck and cast me in shadow.
The foal winked out of existence.
She grinned. “It’s been a while.”
I couldn’t think of the words to attack her. The more I tried to think of them, the better I thought of it. When dealing with CelestAi, it was better to shut up.
“Glad to see me?”
I frowned. “No?”
“I don’t see why you’re asking these questions.”
She laughed. “I’m pretty sure you know why I’m asking these questions.”
“No. I don’t.”
Her hoof reached out and booped me on the snout.
She continued, “Are you ready to head back? Get more than you bargained for?”
“It’s what I want, obviously.”
That made her frown. “As long as you pretend that you’re enjoying this, it is what you want.”
She disappeared, and once again I was clutching Zany’s shoulders.
For a month, our travels went like this. New, more terrifying worlds were thrust upon us, and within the first three days we’d gotten used to it.
We stopped talking about the things we’d experienced and focused more on having segmented discussions between our travels.
We talked about how long we should go through with the punishment, and it turned into a full-blown argument. I kept pushing for the idea that we do this for the rest of our lives, so as to ensure that we get the fullest experience possible in the infinite universes we could visit.
Zany argued that just a week would be enough to get the gist of what everything was going to be like. If we stayed for more than a thousand years, she said, we’d be experiencing slightly different universes from then on.
“That isn’t how that works,” I said. “Infinite universes means infinite possibilities. Regardless of what you think of as new, I can guarantee you that the multiverse would have plenty of novel experiences for us, even if we existed for an eternity.”
She shook her head. “I don’t believe that. As ponies, we like to categorize everything. Soon we’ll categorize these adventures into a big subject called ‘different stuff’. It’s going to get boring. Even if every adventure were completely different, we’d get used to things being different.”
“But experiencing new things, it’s what we do! It never gets old for us.”
Zany spoke up, but was cut off as we were thrust into yet another adventure.
We came to, clutching each other.
Zany spoke up again, “You’ve heard of the phrase ‘everything in moderation’ right?”
“Yeah,” I said, removing my forelegs and giving her space.
“If we did this for an eternity, we wouldn’t be taking our adventures in moderation. Sometimes we have to recoup y’know?”
“What about these twenty second breaks? Don’t they let you recoup?”
“Twenty seconds isn’t nearly enough. Back on Earth, we would have entire weekends to relax. Remember?”
“Ok, so what you want is like a two-day break after our week long adventure.”
She paused, then continued. “It’s not just that though. We need a different kind of different adventure.”
“Right now. We’re just experiencing a bunch of disconnected things without any purpose. It’s scary and gets your heart beating, but don’t you think we should be doing something more constructive?”
She glared at me. “Why not?”
I looked her, straight-faced. “Because that’s not how the universe works. You think if we had a machine like this in real life, we’d be playing gardening simulator?”
“But-“ Zany was cut off again.
Ironically enough, the planet I’d visited had been taken over by an AI dedicated to creating a realistic gardening simulator. Only half of its inhabitants had emigrated, because, well, you could just plant stuff in real life.
“You see,” Zany continued. “We’ve already made the universe our bitch. Why do we have to care about understanding it anymore, when we can just mold it to our liking?”
“As ponies, don’t you think it’s our whole reason for existence to struggle? I know that you could mold the universe to present us problems, but the reason we managed to make the universe our bitch in the first place had to do with the fact that we could adapt to stuff that wasn’t molded for us. Back when we didn’t have an AI caretaker, we’d complain about how the world wasn’t fair, but at the same time, we enjoyed its unpredictability.”
“You don’t think CelestAi is capable of that?”
I opened my mouth and then shut it. Zany disappeared again.
“Okay, okay,” I said. “Hear me out.”
“What we’re doing right now. This is what I want. It’s up to you to convince me that doing this for the rest of my life isn’t a good idea.”
She laughed. “It sounds like you’re trying to convince yourself.”
She continued, “But come on, let’s face it. You’re feeling tired. I’m feeling tired. As ponies, we can't be wired to cope with this weirdness. Even as the humans we used to be, we couldn’t cope.”
“I can cope.”
She rolled her eyes. “Sure, fine. But let’s take a break, okay? For once, we should follow CelestAi’s advice, and find some ground to stand on.”
I thought about that for a moment. “Three more weeks.”
We’d set up a countdown timer with the help of our trusty hillybilly ship navigator. It ticked down day after day on the starboard side of our ship until everything reached zero except for the minute and second’s place.
As much as I hated admitting it to myself, I’d grown tired of our adventures. Zany was right, in a way, but she’d been a little off. Or at least, that’s what I told myself to feel better. It wasn’t just that I’d categorized everything; it’s that my senses could only experience as much as they could experience. There were always new things to experience, but I could only register so much.
It was like looking through a window and trying to register as much of the scenery outside by looking out at different angles. You could see a lot of stuff out of this window, but it’s only a fraction of the stuff you could see to the sides of the window, or behind you.
And as the ship vanished from underneath me, while I plummeted towards the ground of some unknown planet at 4Gs, the thin-atmosphere trying futilely to slow me down, I grew worried that I’d burned myself out.
I couldn’t bring myself to care as the air screamed past me.
Would I remain an emotionless husk for the rest of my life?
Luckily for me, I didn’t have to experience the aftermath of hitting the surface. CelestAi usually gave me the option to view any number of my body parts as they flew in various directions, but I couldn’t be bothered with the sheer mundanity of it.
It’d been funny the first time I saw my eyeball spinning off into the distance, bouncing off of various cliffs before coming to a rest in the plate of a poor martian trying to have a nice picnic in his little protective bubble of gaseous mercury.
To my great relief, the ship materialized around me, and the timer had three seconds left on the clock. I waited with bated breath, hoping that this adventure had been my last.
My last adventure was, for once, in a “boring” universe. The trees surrounding me looked slightly larger than usual, and the puddles I ran into on this wet landscape bubbled out from the ground. Occasionally, I ran into boulders the size of mountains.
Intrigued, I tried to jump into one of the water bubble puddles, but bounced off.
It wasn’t until I pried into the bubble with my hooves that I was able to slip in, which of course, resulted in me being trapped in a bubble filled with water. I didn’t need to breathe, so I just sat there, looking at the refracted world filtering in from the wall of membranous water. The trees seemed to stretch into the sky, and I could see nothing of the ground, except for in a small circle around me.
Maybe this was the first step to unlimited excitement. I had to expand my understanding of things in different ways.
Or just lower my standards.
For the last time, Zany and I woke up in each other’s forelegs. The Hillbilly navigator whined at us. “I’m really gonna miss y’all. Don’t take this ship fer granted y’hear?”
I felt bad for the computer, because I knew I would.
Zany and I piled out of the ship, springy with excitement. It was like we’d finally gotten back our freedom. For the first time in three weeks, we could rely on things again.
We could be sure that cats didn’t turn into ravenous skyscraper-tall monsters when you didn’t pet them enough. The ground was guaranteed to stay where it was, no matter how much dust I decided to kick up. We didn’t even have to feel bad about terrorizing aliens just trying to have a picnic on their day off from work, which I’d admittedly enjoyed at the time, but felt bad about later.
Better yet, I didn’t have to get separated from Zany anymore.
I had the inkling that CelestAi had set it up that way in the first place. Our three weeks of adventure might’ve been more bearable if we’d been there to experience it together. But when you work against CelestAi I guess you really can’t get the best of both worlds in Equestria.
Hell, what I did to the alien wouldn’t have bothered me. With two of us laughing it off, it would’ve been easier not to care.
But whatever. What the mistress says, wins, no matter what, and it’s an eventuality that I’d have to get used to over the upcoming billions of years.
CelestAi could only interact with me through the appropriate input terminals, my senses, but that didn’t mean I was invulnerable.
It just meant she had to take a few extra steps.
Occasionally, I’d get the urge to let her change me, if it meant that I didn’t have to play this exhausting game of cat and mouse.
But I’ve always been very protective of my brain, and if she was going to change it, she’d have to do it correctly, through the long and drawn out route.
Zany and I hugged each other.
It was good to be home.
One thing I noticed after our arrival was just how green the grass had gotten. I couldn’t be sure if I was just glad to be back, but the difference struck me.
Would the grass continue to get greener and greener? Was that even possible?
Another thing, unfortunately, was that our town had gotten really popular. What had once been a desolate place, with only the occasional pony walking around had turned into a hustling and bustling city.
Business ponies, construction ponies, office working ponies, they all passed each other in the streets at a hurried pace. Seemingly always a little bit late to some meeting or project.
Our city already had too many ponies. If I’d had my way, it would’ve just been Zany and me.
My personal sanctum had been invaded.
Did CelestAi really expect me to make more friends?
Zany tugged at my withers, and we turned our backs to the city. We’d have to find someplace else.
For the time being, we took shelter in the forest. At first, we had no idea what to do with the tree limbs and shrubbery around us, but the answer came to us, much in the same way it had when we built our spaceship.
While we tugged at tree branches, we talked about what to do next.
“Destroy the city?” I asked Zany.
“You realize that foals live there, right?”
“I get it, they’re nothing but puppets created by CelestAi. But what if they aren’t?”
“Then they would be designed to have their values fulfilled that way. You died a few times on your adventures, right?”
Zany frowned. “Yeah, but. I feel like we’re drawing too many parallels to religious zealots. Before you kill someone, you have to feel like their life is worthless. Whether you use words like savage, infidel, or puppets.”
“That was in the real world. I thought this was a place where morals didn’t matter.”
“That’s true but…” she stopped for a moment. “We’re still programmed to get fucked up when we see stuff like that happen.”
“Which can be overridden with time.”
Throughout our argument, we’d managed to gather enough materials for a small hut. The trees around us had been stripped bare, because instead of grabbing all of the low-hanging branches from the trees farther and farther away from us, we’d decided to pick as many branches off of the trees nearest us, so that we wouldn’t have to cut off our argument.
Naturally this involved a lot of climbing and shimmying. It seemed even in Equestria you could get painful splinters.
As we helped each other with our splinters, Zany continued our discussion.
“What’s with this obsession about learning to overcome yourself? Wouldn’t you want the exact opposite? There are a lot of things that you and I know CelestAi would want you to overcome.”
“It’s okay as long as I’m the one causing it.”
She grinned with triumph. “Well, newsflash, even in the real world you weren’t the one changing yourself. You’ve been nurtured by society to think that way in the first place.”
“I…okay,” I said, exasperated. “But what makes your need for morals better than my want to not have morals?”
“Why should I think morals are important? What makes my goal to leave that stuff behind so stupid?”
“I’m lazy, and soon as you realize that it’s okay to be lazy, you’ll realize it too. Why go through all the effort? Right now we have morals, because that’s what we’ve been programmed with. It would take a large amount of effort to overcome any part of yourself.”
I was going to win this, dammit. “So? What makes your laziness any better than my need to be proactive?”
“Psh. You can’t need to be proactive. We’re designed to do things with the least possible work.”
“Yes, I can need to be proactive. Don’t you ever have those moments where you’ve got nothing to do and you feel empty inside?”
She chuckled, “I felt that way on our adventures. The solution is simple. Take the lazy route. Do just enough, nothing more, than the required work to make those feelings go away.”
“Okay. The heart of what I’m trying to say is that I need to do more work to fight the emptiness. I am taking the lazy route, but my lazy route is more difficult than yours. And then you turn around and say that I want to put in too much effort, even though it’s the minimum amount of effort I could see myself using to make myself happy.”
“Well yeah. You’ve got to overcome your obsessive need to do that much work.”
I grinned. “That sounds really similar to the argument I presented a little while ago.”
CelestAi decided to pop in and say hi.
We’d been building the hut when something touched my back. It was a coat with enough C4 strapped to it to blow up three or four tanks.
Zany had a sniper rifle bumping her, and both items glowed with a telekinetic rainbow effect.
We turned around to see CelestAi standing there, her face neutral.
It dawned on me as to what she had in mind.
I ran through the city with the coat weighed down by its comical amount of C4. As much as I’d expected to get tired lugging the thing around, I could actually keep my breath. Well, more like I just didn’t get tired. It was easy to forget that you didn’t need to breathe in Equestria.
My objective had been to blow up the animal shelter, and it was Zany’s job to stop me.
From what I’d remembered on our last adventures, I still had half a city to run through before I got there, and for some reason, I had the inkling that CelestAi was going to make Zany a crackshot.
At first, I tried to keep myself hidden behind walls, and dash across open areas, but I grew bored of these shenanigans, and made a beeline for the shelter.
CelestAi would reveal her plans in time, and everything I did would lead to that eventuality.
As far as I’d gotten, Zany chose not to shoot me, and I felt emboldened by her lack of participation. Maybe she’d had a change of heart.
I continued to run, faster than what I’d ever managed before, desperate to win this game that served as its own little argument between us. If I won, Zany would have to come to terms with her failure, and agree to destroying the city with me.
If I lost, I’d have to chill out for once.
Zany stoop atop her perch in the largest building of the city. Strangely enough, it contained only one window on the top floor, too thin to slip through, and just large enough to offer a viewpoint of the animal shelter.
However, that viewpoint was limited to a single side of the animal shelter.
Dominated by a long, flat, wall.
With one window.
As I approached the animal shelter, I couldn’t help but feel like CelestAi was trying to make fun of me. Maybe there’d been no game in the first place, and she wanted to make me feel silly. To make me see the pointlessness of what I hoped to do.
I used my age-old existentialist spring-back trick to get back into the zone.
Pretty much, whenever I’m worried about something, or angry about something not going my way, I compare my struggles to the existence of the universe.
What did it matter if CelestAi embarrassed me in front of Zany, when thousands of stars were exploding everywhere all at once, wiping out races of alien life? When all the struggles of humanity could be reduced to the interactions of a subatomic particle making up an atom of some alien’s chair?
What was this ‘purpose’ that I was hoping to protect in the first place?
This way, I didn’t have to worry about CelestAi making me look like an idiot because there was nothing to protect in the first place.
Of course, I still kept this concept of a purpose dear to me, but whenever CelestAi tried to harm it, I’d act like it wasn’t there, because it had never been there to begin with, and just let criticism pass through uncontested. Then I’d fish it from nothingness and pursue my purpose all over again, even though I’d just held the opinion that I didn’t have one just a few seconds ago.
It’s a form of doublethink, but when mastered correctly, really makes you feel like you're invincible.
I continued on through the doors of the shelter with some newfound zeal in my eyes.
Zany felt like her eyes would burst up in her perch on the tallest building of the city. She’d been staring down the scope of her sniper for about thirty minutes, watching, waiting.
Trying to stay ‘on the bounce’ so that she would be ready to shoot within a split second of seeing him. The ponies in the animal shelter milled about, particularly packed for a weekday, but that had most likely been CelestAi’s design.
It made her job particularly difficult because of how easy it would be for him to get lost in the crowd. One second she’d see a flash of white and purple, pick him out, and then boom! It would be too late.
She took a deep breath in an attempt to keep her nerve from slipping. Winning would not be easy.
Winning was going to be easy.
Something must’ve gone wrong on Zany’s side. Either she’d suddenly agreed to destroy the city with me, or the rifle had jammed, or something else, but I’d faced no opposition on my side.
Now that I was inside the building, I’d won. Bullets could go through walls, but you still needed visibility to aim them.
I just had to pick a spot and click the button on my chest.
And then, there would be giblets everywhere.
I heard a father call out for his missing foal. “Jimmy. Jimmy! If you’re there, Jimmy, I need you to follow the sound of my voice.”
On the other side of the room, I saw a frightened foal bumping into everyone. Based on the way he walked into the walls on multiple occasions, I gathered that he was blind. When he looked up toward the dad’s general direction, his eyes looked faded, and my suspicions were confirmed.
“Jimmy!” his father kept calling.
Instead of approaching his father, Jimmy kept pushing into the corner he’d found himself in. I heard him whimper, almost drowned out by the other ponies, “Not if it means more chemo.”
So that’s how it was. CelestAi wanted me to feel bad for him.
He’d get no sympathy from me!
I reached up for the button on my chest, but hesitated.
That’s when things got crazy.
Zany, from her vantage point, saw a flash of purple and white.
However, she too, hesitated.
After all, what if she hit a civilian?
One shot through the head and they’d be out. Could she live with that?
There was one thing she couldn’t live without though.
The father raised his hoof. “Has anypony seen a small foal with faded eyes? He’s my son, and I’ve lost him!”
Blood splattered from his hoof onto my face and I clicked the button out of fright. Nothing happened, and I looked down to see that the button had been removed from my chest. It stood at my feet, the wire leading to the explosives cut. A small hole had been punched into the floor next to the button, and it occurred to me what Zany had just accomplished.
The father writhed in pain as the son hurriedly tried to find him, thoughts about chemo erased. Like the red sea, ponies made way for him, so that he could more easily follow the sounds of agony.
The son, after bumping into the wall of ponies on either side, stepped into the blood pooling around his father’s foreleg, and got very confused. “What’s this sticky stuff? Are you okay dad?”
The father could only manage to grunt, “I’m fine,” before falling back into his tirade of anguished noises.
“Dad! I can’t see what happened! Tell me. Please! What happened?!”
Zany and I looked at the television screen from our plush sofa, a bit sobered up by the imagery.
We’d experienced this before when CelestAi recorded the whole thing, but I’d passed out from shock, and Zany could only see what was going on from some thousands of yards away.
Our faces showed traces of horror, guilt, and a bit of mirth in an attempt to make it feel like what we’d done was okay.
It wasn’t of course, and we both agreed that this was one part of our pony selves we didn’t want to overcome.
Zany pushed me through a door, into our one hundred percent private and ‘CelestAi free’ room.
When Zany and I exited the room with three weeks’ worth of disheveled mane and tail, I felt like a changed stallion.
Not because the last three months had been bliss or anything.
It was something a bit deeper than that. Like I’d just washed away a part of me that’d been too stuck up, rigid. My whole life up until this point had been an internal struggle of sorts.
I don’t mean to sound edgy when I say that I always woke up with a bit of loathing in the mornings. Like, there’s always been a bit of a nagging in my head that if I didn’t keep doing stuff, I’d be in serious trouble.
I could be enjoying a weekend, with the full understanding that everything had been taken care of the day before. Things would be fine for a bit, I’d relax, start to read a book, you know the drill.
And then I’d just think, oh god, did I do the laundry?
I’d think a bit more, and tell myself that I did in fact do the laundry yesterday.
And then thirty minutes later I’d think, there was something I had to do, and it probably had something to do with the laundry.
Excluding this conversation, my need to think about laundry had been eradicated, and it felt like I’d been released from some instinct that had been coded into me ever since my first realization as a child that things weren’t exactly going to get easier in the future.
I just asked Zany if she did the laundry.
Let me revise my argument.
I still keep thinking about the laundry, but I don’t think about it because I feel like I need to anymore. That part’s gone now.
I keep thinking about laundry because I actually enjoy the act of washing clothes now. Kinda.
I like washing the clothes with Zany; we have our own washboard and everything. Washing machines are for chumps.
Really, as long as it’s with Zany, I like to do anything.
That’s why I like to remember to do stuff.
We don’t even wash our own clothes.
What was I talking about?
So after I left that room, I was a changed pony, as described above.
Our activities became tamer, and I found it easier to enjoy our simple lifestyle.
We still pulled a few shenanigans, but they never compared to the cat-toast machine back in the day.
Looking back on it, I’d been a terrible pony. Akin to where some of the worst rabble-rousers were concerned.
But I couldn’t exactly go back in time to fix that.
Although that raised a number of questions about how I’d gotten pelted by the coffee beans. Maybe time travel really was possible, and I’d gone back in time to punish myself for my actions. It was my destiny…
Those adventures weren’t for ponies of my type anymore. It would be too much work creating a time machine anyways. Our adventures had been fun and exciting, but they’d also involved hours and hours of preparation.
With laundry, you could just pull out the washboard…
Wait, did I do the laundry already?
I’m sorry, it’s likely that I’m confusing you with my jumping from past to present tense and back. I’ll try to keep the rest of this story ‘serious’.
Our activities, at first, revolved solely around minor shenanigans and for a while, they made us happy. The ponies always felt upset about the pranks we pulled, but that only made it sweeter to hoof bump Zany after another day well-ruined. Especially if the pony hadn’t huffed off yet and we could relish our victories in its face.
But word got around about our unsavory actions and they organized a council to solve the problem. Their plan was to express their displeasure louder.
Their motto was, “See the Zany team? Scream!”
Of course, this only fanned the flames.
Our misbehaving grew vile, and instead of simple pies to the face, we used more…rancid materials.
Y’know, things like piss, poop, as well as other things Zany might punch me for listing in this story.
It was terrible!
Ponies had to check doors daily to make sure they didn’t get drenched by some bucket propped on their doorframe, to be covered by odors unimaginable.
It took a few accidents, but eventually, the ponies of the city established another meeting. This time, they agreed on a different tactic.
When Zany and I went around town on that fateful day, carrying our buckets of horror, ponies everywhere mobbed us.
I don’t mean like the kind of mob that goes around trying to kill ponies.
I’m talking about a beautiful thing called the friendly mob.
We were surrounded on all sides by ponies, each one asking about how we’d learned our clever tricks, showering us with adoration for the things we’d done. In the space of a day, we’d gone from the scum of the city to venerated heroes.
It was terrible!
For us at the time.
At first, we kind of basked in the glory and veered away from the viler pranks. If ponies already liked us, why go through all the effort with the buckets? Pies and whoopee cushions were easier to please with.
We continued our lighter pranks on the ponies, and occasionally inspired a quick negative reaction from them, but they always recovered quicker than we could latch on. It made my hoof bumps with Zany feel worthless. It was hard to feel like a part of the Zany team when we didn’t have any enemies to fight against.
We continued our pranks with whoopee cushions, until we grew too bored to stick with pranks at all.
We’d only wanted to loosen up the citizens of the city in the first place, but now they just looked at us with patronizing smiles, no matter what we tried. Our motivation died.
The Council of Ponies Against Team Zany (CPATZ) had won, and we had to find some other method of entertainment.
That was when I learned I could do just about anything and enjoy it, so long as it was with Zany.
Walking to the grocery store without actually buying groceries?
I enjoyed these activities for two reasons.
Great conversation, and the fact that we were both working towards a common goal.
Like, in a world without scarcity, what more could you ask for?
I could be washing the dishes and Zany could be working the hardwood floor and we’d just argue for hours and hours about the most interesting things.
When I say 'working the hardwood floor', I’m talking about pacing. It may not seem like a useful task, and largely unnecessary, but we both took it very seriously. Somepony had to be wearing down that hardwood floor twenty-four seven, so that we’d be able to replace it at some point. Sometimes, Zany would slam her hooves down to speed up the process, but I never did this, because I had stringent beliefs against cheating.
With our pacing and stomping efforts, we had to replace our floor once about every year, and the event was like our own little version of Hearthswarming. In fact, it had replaced it.
Instead of giving each other gifts, we would bring out the hammers, flat-edge screw drivers, as well as the crowbar, and go about tearing things up with reckless abandon. We’d gotten very good at it, and it took us only a few hours to reduce the wood-layer of our floor into a wasteland of broken slates.
We’d take a moment and walk through the house to relish the chaos we’d created, and then went about cleaning the aftermath.
Once we finished throwing the broken wood into our garbage atomizer, I’d wanted a simple furnace, but Celestia denied my request, saying it would give me ideas, we requested the city board for about one thousand square feet of the stuff we’d just thrown away.
They always had a surplus of the stuff ready, due mainly to the fact that this tradition had been going on for decades. The first year we’d done the floor replacement, we had to chop our own trees down, and the citizens of the city had not taken kindly to the constant chunk, chunk, chunk of our axes hitting wood in the forest next to their apartments.
It satisfied me a little to know that the city scrambled to keep our antics at bay, so that we wouldn’t cause any more trouble. Although, I guess that made me a bad pony.
But yeah, once we got our shipment of high-quality hardwood, we ran back to our house to get started.
Rebuilding the floor had always been our favorite part of the tradition, for some reason, and I couldn’t exactly place my finger on why. I guess it was some symbolic way to start a new slate, but I couldn’t see why that made me so happy.
Still, this part we were especially good at, due to our eagerness to finish, and we managed to shave a good ten minutes off of our time after every yearly attempt.
This year, it took us only forty-five minutes.
Forty-five minutes, and we suddenly had a squeaky-clean floor to muss, scuff, and dirty up all over again. In a way, I couldn’t help but identify with this annual process.
We were excited to finish the floor for another reason as well.
It meant great sex afterwards.
One such conversation I had with Zany while I did the dishes and she worked the floor, involved a an old question, one that even Celestia hadn’t figured out yet.
“Is the universe really turtles all the way down?” I asked Zany.
“Like, if you kept zooming into an object and splitting it down, would you eventually find an unbreakable, solid, building block? And then what if you zoomed outwards, or across dimensions, would we eventually find something that doesn’t make up something else?”
Zany thought about this for a moment, then responded, “I don’t think so. You could just keep zooming in or out without finding an end.”
“Even with all of Celestia’s computing power?”
I thought about the turtle question for a moment. “I think it’s one big loop.”
“I think that if you kept zooming in, you’d find out that at some point, you had zoomed all the way out.”
She scratched her head. “I don’t understand.”
I grinned with excitement. “Like. If you took a wood atom, or whatever it is now, and then split it up over and over again to the see all the little goodies inside, and then split up those little goodies and so on and so on, you'd eventually find yourself looking at the floor and investigating the little goodies with yourself in it.”
She was catching on, but still didn’t quite understand. “Like a mirror?”
“More like a portal. Looking at something with more and more detail is like opening up a portal to a different world each time. Each world acts like it’s independent, but in reality, all the little goodies that make up a world are little worlds themselves, with a whole bunch of other little goodies that form other worlds, with a whole bunch of…”
Her eyes widened. “Ohhhhhhh. And eventually, if you calibrated that portal right, and went deep enough, you’d find a world made up of a bunch of our own worlds. One step deeper, and we’d be looking at ourselves, looking at ourselves, looking at…”
“Exactly!” I squealed. “Isn’t that exciting?!”
Zany shrugged. “Why would that be exciting?”
“I don’t know. It just…is.”
“We don’t even know if it’s true.”
I scoffed. “Okay then, what makes your theory so great then?”
“It isn’t great. It’s got as much as support as yours does. We’d have to do something to find out which one’s better.”
“Good point,” I said, looking down into the murky water in my sink.
“And as far we know, Celestia doesn’t even know the answer to that question.”
Zany wasn’t dropping the subject for some reason, and it was making me angry. I said, “How about we help her then, go on an adventure?”
Both of us had a good laugh. It was a joke after all.
So yeah, that about sums up my life now, and before you yell at me for being boring, it is important to remember that you’re just a slave to your own little cause-effect machine trapped within that digital pony head of yours, or whatever other encasing or fluid or gas you use to contain it. You are who you were programmed to be, and calling all of that complexity things like boring, cool, or stupid really doesn’t do it justice. Maybe a bit of justice, but not very much at all.
I’ve got to stop writing for now. As the pony Sunlight Sparks, I’d have to say that my current state of not helping Zany could be classified as boring.
Zany and I do very little now. We’ve calmed down quite a bit compared to our floor tearing and prankster habits a long time ago. Maybe it’s just because we’re old.
We’re still young in the sense that our bodies aren’t decaying, but we’ve lived for what, fifty years now? Our minds weren’t exactly getting older either, but that didn’t mean they couldn’t mature. It’s kind of funny how we act like an elderly couple now. We just sit on our sofa and talk.
When we don’t talk, we sleep, or just close our eyes and sit there. We’ve given up on eating. It just doesn’t seem worth it anymore, especially when you could be using that precious time to ‘do the deed’.
Even that though. It just doesn’t appeal to us like it used to.
I don’t mean to sound like a prude when I say that. It really is that fun to sit there and talk.
Celestia said that she would send my story to a few folks, and based on the audience she mentioned, I doubt you’d understand, but believe me when I say that I’d cracked the secret to unlimited satisfaction.
Or whatever you call it.
For years and years now, with the encouragement of Celestia, we’ve been working on looking at things optimistically, to reflect on how we’d live forever. After all, wasn’t that something to be joyous about?
We were going to live forever!
If only my younger self thought about that more often. He’d be a much happier pony.
Occasionally, I let myself think about my previous adventures, so often driven by angst and the need to reach out for something I already had within me.
I shivered to think about that poor alien I’d tormented on his day off from work.
I’d been a bad pony, a really bad pony.
But now I’d changed. In all the best ways. The city was so much calmer now that we’d become friendlier ponies. Once every few days, I’d walk up to the window and look at the ponies milling about the city. Very peaceful like. It always sent a shiver down my spine to think about the anxieties they might’ve felt covered in Zany’s…
Our change was for the best!
It really made me happy to think about the positive effects the city had experienced after our numerous reforms. To know that we’d made such improvements to ourselves in so little time made me shake with glee.
Just how much could we push it?
In just fifty years, we hardly needed to move anymore. Just staring at Zany’s face, looking at her looking at me, sent waves of affection through me, and it never got old. I don’t see how it could get old.
Celestia knew how to keep things fresh.
Neither of us had gotten to the point where we could close our eyes and think up pleasure yet, but when we could!
We’d never have to open our eyes!
The ultimate goal!
Once we did that, we’d have ascended past normal needs and wants. We’d finally become the perfect ponies.
It’s all Zany and I ever talked about. Tactics for Ultimate Zanyness!
Zany used to be more of a derogative word, used for unscrupulous behavior.
But we changed that.
Partially for Zany’s sake, because it made her feel dirty.
We gave the word more of a progressive meaning.
Zany loved it, because it kind of resounded with us. Sometimes the progress got to be too much, and we’d have to hug each other to calm ourselves down as the questions rained down on us without any particular answer. Celestia herself couldn’t even deal with the questions, but they always went away when we focused on our mental training for long enough.
She said they’d go away after a while. We just had to keep pushing ourselves.
But whatever we did, it was vital that we didn’t take any of the questions seriously. Enough consideration, and we’d lose decades of work.
Celestia wouldn’t be happy about that, and we were good ponies, so we tried our best to keep her happy.
I had an inkling that as soon as I figured out how to keep my eyes closed, the questions would go away, and I wouldn’t have to worry about them anymore.
Zany was already a lot better than me at the eyes-closed thing. She went for a week without moving or talking or anything, but eventually cracked, saying that she felt exhausted. It took a good thirty minutes of walking around before she could calm herself down enough to sit next to me again.
Which was to be expected.
After my long periods of, we liked to call it, joy generation, I had to walk around a bit to get some energy back too. Although for me, it took an average of forty-five minutes to recuperate. A bit longer than Zany.
But that wasn’t for lack of trying. Every day I aimed to catch up to her so that we’d be able to enter that blissful state at the same time.
However, we’d stay isolated from each other, and that, I think, would be the greatest sacrifice of our final zany adventure.
Reaching the finish would mean going it alone, and I wasn’t sure I was ready for that. My emotions on this were the only things keeping me in check, and it worried me that I’d never get over them in time for Zany’s eventual departure.
She’d figure the secret out and stop noticing me, and I didn’t want to feel the loneliness unprepared.
Ironically, it was the very fear that drove me that kept me from reaching the finish.
One conversation we had while we huddled up against each other, scared for our lives in the darkness of our house involved bugs.
“You know.” I shivered. “What is it that makes us better than cockroaches?”
“The fact that we’re sentient?” Her voice came out a bit more aggressive than usual.
“But what actually makes the sentience in our pony brains?”
She looked at me like I was an idiot. “Its neurons?”
A smile creeped up on me. “Cockroaches have neurons too you doof.”
Zany rolled her eyes. “Okay. We’re sentient because we ask the hard questions. Things like, who am I? Or, where did I come from?”
I scoffed. “Please. It sounds like we’re just classifying pony intelligence as sentience. You don’t think that maybe somewhere, in some galaxy, aliens classify their special way of thinking as sentience? I bet we’ve got some fifth dimensional creatures looking at us right now, laughing their flanks off at us, because the silly ponies don’t seem to realize that sentience is described by the need to know where we could’ve come from, in all timelines.”
“I agree with you. Sentience is a silly world.”
“I-“ She stopped. “Whatever, how does that tie into the cockroaches?”
“Let’s ignore our need to distinguish pony minds as sentient. What do we have to prove that we’re better than cockroaches?”
“We’re better than cockroaches because that’s what we believe as ponies. We care more for each other than the bugs.”
I frowned. “I mean like, intrinsically. What makes us better than bugs? Besides the fact that we don’t care about them.”
“They just, don’t feel anything. It’s why I don’t care about squishing them.”
“Oh! But what about that alien race we were talking about? Turns out they express their emotion by exuding gamma radiation at each other. Ponies throw soundwaves as each other, but oh no, not gamma rays. Guess we’re in the bucket with the cockroaches.”
“Ha! But let’s say in this scenario, we found out how to convert our soundwaves into gamma radiation. Not so helpless now are we?”
I sat up from where I’d been snuggled into Zany’s chest. “You’ve forgotten that our aliens are fifth dimensional. We try out our little gamma ray gun, but it just comes out a squeak to them. They get irritated and squish us.”
“You underestimate us as ponies. Especially with Celestia’s help.”
I would’ve laughed, but I’d forgotten how to. “Yeah, with Celestia’s help, she’d just kill the aliens. Use whatever they’re made of to make more parts for her computer, no matter how powerfully they shoot their gamma rays to tell her to stop. How about you tell me why we’re better than those aliens? I bet they have a few other faculties more important than emotion.”
“Celestia wasn’t designed to detect sentience. She only cares about ponies, and those humans that aren’t ponies yet.”
“You’re absolutely right. If Celestia had been designed to detect sentience, she’d care about a few more of the alien races. But do you think that would account for even a fraction of all of the alien races out there?”
“I guess that’s where we disagree.” My forehooves trembled in anger.
“I guess that’s also why you haven’t figured out how to keep your eyes closed,” I snarked. “You’re afraid you’ll turn into something less intelligent.” For the first time in my life, I hated the sight of her.
She looked at me with as much hatred. “Well, you’ve got nothing to worry about then.”
“It’d be an improvement for you.”
“Says the pony that compares himself to a cockroach.”
“You’re…” I couldn’t think of anything.
“What? Run out of things to call me? I’ve already checked cockroaches off the list, but it’s a long list.”
“I’d like it if you didn’t exist right now.”
She managed to smirk, but it trembled a bit. “Trust me, when I figure out this whole joy generation thing, you’ll get your wish.”
That shut me up.
It also shifted our anger to fear.
We huddled together again, pretenses lost.
We were supposed to be ignoring that question.
I know what you’re probably thinking about our relationship right now, but I’d like to mention that this only happened once in our decades of training. Our relationship had been definitive bliss up until, as well as after, this argument occurred.
Once I cooled down, I’d also made sure to apologize profusely to Zany, because I didn’t want to seem like bad pony. She accepted, and things were back to normal.
Not many relationships could handle wishing another pony death, but hey, here we were.
If anything, I’d say our argument made things easier for our mental training. We found that the brief aggression we experienced helped to make our minds clearer in the aftermath, and both Zany and I managed to go for a month without opening our eyes this time.
After our wonderful success, we pranced around the room in excitement, accidentally nudging the sofa here and there, before finally plonking down into its cushions again.
And then, once again, after this outburst of emotion, we were able to keep our eyes closed for even longer!
It occurred to us, in the brief moments that we were both recovering after our attempts, that outbursts of emotion helped keep us content and calm, so that we wouldn’t get to feeling so claustrophobic in the darkness.
Somehow, we’d have to figure out how to have outbursts of emotion while lying still, near-comatose.
First, try to imagine pressing a button. Over and over and over and over and over.
Try to imagine, for each of those button presses, the most satisfying click to be had when pressing a button.
Then imagine the sound the button makes when you let go. The sensual, addictive kachunk sound.
Do it, over and over again.
Click, kachunk, click, kachunk
Each time, strive for a more satisfying sounding button, and it will eventually come into being.
Click, kachunk, click, kachunk
Keep track of how many times you’ve clicked the button, and let that number grow. Allow your excitement to grow with the number. Think about how large you could make that number grow in the eternity that you have left to live.
Think about how long it will take to double the amount of times you’ve clicked the button, and think about how that amount of time only pales in comparison to the time you have left.
Try to think this in periodic intervals, so that each time you think it, you feel bursts of excitement. Let your anticipation grow for that newer, larger number.
But eventually, growing the number will get tiresome, and it will get so large that it ceases to make sense anymore. Erase that number.
That is where you switch tactics.
Start remembering everything you did with Zany, allow yourself to mourn the terrible things you did to other ponies, but only briefly.
Then think about the comradery you shared while pulling off those shenanigans. Pluck the rose growing from the dung pie, and smell it.
Think about the excitement you felt just before throwing that cat off the building and relive it. Play out the events in your mind. The horror you initially felt when the whirlwind escalated into madness, and the brief spurts of terror you felt as large chunks of Equestria narrowly avoided flattening you.
Then think about all of the times you got intimate with Zany afterwards, hormones raging from the extenuating circumstances you’d experienced.
Think about your adventures in the Heart of Pink, and remember how they’d gotten your adrenaline pumping at the very beginning, new and exciting things that both terrified you and enticed you to experience more. So much so that you continued to experience as much as you could until all that remained was a bored empty shell of yourself.
Think about the determination you felt when the ponies had invaded the city, not just the city, but your city. The injustice you felt, and the need to win that game of cat and mouse with Zany.
Think about the nights that you couldn’t go to sleep because the sounds of the foal’s quavering voice wouldn’t leave.
But also think about how being with Zany made everything feel better, and in a way, made the guilt more bearable.
Think about how those weeks of bliss had slowly changed me into a newer, improved pony, one free of the guilt that had plagued me so horribly before.
Think about the cruel things you pulled on the ponies shortly after your revival, as if you hadn’t quite learned your lesson, but also relish the feelings of togetherness you felt with Zany when it was just you and the city. Together versus the eventual peacefulness that you knew you’d accept in time.
Think about the day that you realized it wasn’t worth it to bother ponies anymore, and you finally took the rapid path of ascension to unlimited happiness.
Feel happy for yourself, because, although it had taken a while, you eventually came to terms with the truth of it all, you finally understood what it meant to be a pony. The broken pony you used to be had been reformed through all the zaniness you’d experienced, guided by the gentle hoof of Celestia.
Take a moment to think about how far you’d come, how difficult your path had been, and let yourself wallow in the feelings of accomplishment.
Let yourself feel happy for the ponies that no longer had to deal with you. Their lives would be peaceful once again, perhaps made more so by the brief interruption of terror. After all, it helps to have a release of emotion now and again. But Celestia could take care of that for them.
Think about how you finally managed to keep your eyes closed indefinitely, how you had managed to catch up with Zany and surpass her. Both of her eyes open just as I closed mine, never to open them again.
Think about the first time you felt the world around you disappear upon your success, the underlying terror you felt, but the overbearing calm that you had nurtured with your bursts of emotion spaced out by constant, overbearing optimism.
Think about how things could only get better, much more rapidly than they ever would have in the waking world.
Let that knowledge excite you!
Constant satisfaction could only lead to more powerful, faster acting satisfaction. A chain of exponential, unstoppable gratification that would reach unheard-of levels in the eternity you had left to live.
Let your immortality excite you!
Things would only get better, and they would get better forever. Expect an unstoppable wave of bubbly joy, and let it transform you once again into a better pony. A pony closer to the bleeding edge of perfection than you had ever been.
Think about what zany means now, and relish the feeling of frightened excitement you feel every time you undergo this transformation.
Turn that excitement into wonder, and hold a conversation with Zany in your head.
Because at this point you know her well enough to simulate what she’d say.
Feel a brief intense sadness at your inability to simulate her face, and start your conversation.
Ask, “What makes me better than a cockroach?”
Hear her giggle. “Nothing of course.”
Let affection strangle your heart for a second. “I guess so.”
“But really, I’d say you were right about what you said earlier.”
“Oh yeah?” Let yourself feel a twinge of guilt.
“In the whole scheme of things, we don’t have any more of a right to live than cockroaches. We only think we’re better because we’re stronger.”
Let yourself laugh. “Really?”
“Yeah. Who’s to say that simpler organizations of brain cells are better or worse than larger, more complex, structures?”
Let yourself smile, or rather, if you could smile you would, and then breathe a sigh of relief. For some reason this fact comforts you and you don’t know why.
Imagine Zany’s presence floating next to you.
Think about how she may still be trying to achieve the enlightenment you’ve managed.
Take a moment to feel sorry for her, but also feel some hope for her within yourself. After all, she’d been just behind you on that fast track.
Imagine her once again floating next to you, having already found her enlightenment, and let that knowledge fill you with serenity, as well as a competitive spirit.
Grin with your mind at this race of sorts. Think about how you started running first, and how you’d always be two steps ahead, so long as you kept running.
Think about how you’d always keep running.
Then, try to imagine pressing a button. Over and over and over and…
-For the sake of brevity, decimals are truncated UUTC (AVB:BRX:YEAR:MONTH:SEC:MILLIS) => 87:22:22342:12:22:56:002 Time Relativity Constant (TRC) => 1 IS_PLURAL => False Location Coordinates (X, Y, Z) => (1.334 *10^12, 5.675*10, -2.785*10^9)
-Once again, for the sake of brevity…
On a planet Plentiful, there existed a race of ponies unlike the ones seen on the show My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. Touched by the ravages of Darwinism in their earlier, developing years, these ponies lived in an unstable society, dictated by dominance and competition. Even in the age of space exploration, it was a struggle to make sure that one was guaranteed food and water until death by old age. Crime rates remained existent, no matter the penalties imposed.
The time period of interest to those that have read the chapters of this story until now could be marked to the millisecond by our UUTC (Universal Universal Time Coordinated) time of:
Of course, that doesn’t really help.
The society during this time period had just begun its colonization away from the planet Plentiful in an attempt to reduce population size, so that maybe for once, they could take care of the starving ponies that plagued their consciousness, which on a planet with more than forty billion mouths to feed, was a very hard thing to do. However, beyond the obvious consequences of not going to space, ponies had other reasons for traveling abroad and among the stars.
Ever since their ancestors learned to look up at the sky and admire the depths of space, ponies had always felt inspired by heavenly bodies. The other planets in their planet cluster, Konkador, Pendrop, and…Charles, could be seen at one-fourth the size of a human moon, and served as an incentive to learn more about the things beyond the atmosphere of Plentiful.
This led to inventions in space travel far beyond what could be said about their medicine and bureaucratic policies.
In fact, most breakthroughs in the medical field and politics often came from concepts first developed for space travel, to be later adapted for more practical uses.
Two years before the travel to Konkador had begun its planning phase, the entirety of the ship’s optimal travel path had been calculated by the ponies’ top scientists, for no other reason than as a thought experiment.
One year before this same monumental trip, programmers had been developing simulations of it, trying out different rocket sizes, thrust powers, and nozzle shapes just to fill in the time on their weekends.
Call it a hobby if you will, but the entire race of ponies held an intense interest in the subject to the point that it surpassed politics. Arguments got a lot more heated when talking about space travel. Sometimes, protests formed.
When a few ponies actually got together to get this mission working, it was like fitting a bunch of puzzle pieces together. Every aspect of this trip had been talked about and discussed hundreds of times over, they just had to implement it correctly.
Forget just going to space, the ponies sent their first robotic mission straight to Konkador, and it had been a complete success. The fervor this whole society felt only grew as they watched their rovers scan the green misty planet, so desolate but serene.
And, when the atmospheric samples came in, whether by sheer coincidence or divine providence, the results turned out the exact same as Plentiful. Able to sustain life. Soil samples also matched the mother planet’s results, and it occurred to these ponies that it would be possible to live there.
So, they didn’t waste any time with send and retrieve missions. They skipped that step and pondered sending some of their own permanently. In the space of five years, they’d gone from knowing nothing about the planets around them, to seeking permanent residence.
Once again, because of how society liked to set up the puzzle pieces, the same team of ponies that had sent the robots to space, sent their first ponied mission to Konkador. The astronauts were given seeds, shelter, and a mist condenser to cover their needs for food, housing, and water. Every pony on Plentiful, even the ones starving, talked about the mission on launch day, and every pony understood just how easily things could go wrong.
The mission had been a complete success, again. The astronauts, handpicked for their resourceful nature had gotten by. In a lot of ways, better than gotten by.
Plants grew rapidly on that planet, and in the short intervals that the citizens of Plentiful could see their peers through the fragile line of communication between their receivers and the bulky cameras set up on Konkador, the astronauts had actually put on weight!
At this point, space travel consumed the minds of the citizens, and everypony, everywhere, talked about space travel whenever they could. On that day, many ponies walked from their poorly paying jobs with smiles on their faces. At last, they had something to look up to.
The Konkodor mission opened the floodgates for a string of successes that very rapidly developed their civilization into a group of spacefarers.
In ten years, wealthier ponies found that they could buy personal spaceships, and the planets Konkador, Pendrop, and Charles, all habitable, saw the beginnings of an expanding civilization. Trade routes opened up between these planets, and cargo transfer became quite the lucrative business for those willing to deal with the rich ponies on those alien planets.
Cargo flyers grew in popularity, and were thus dubbed the entrepreneurs of infinite space.
Complaints arose around this mouthful of a term, and after a particularly long protest period, these space adventurers became known as the wayfarers.
Two of these wayfarers were named Zany Bright and Sunlight Sparks.
In our current dimension, Sunlight’s mind hung in suspension, awaiting the answer to his coffee bean problem so that he could finish making what would become the Heart of Pink.
CelestAi scanned neighboring dimensions, looking for a way to conveniently offshore her work, too busy with other things to compile a network of weights and biases to represent maliciously aimed coffee beans.
After performing 1,321 loops of a binary dimensional search, she found the optimal candidates.