by TheMajorTechie

First published

What happens when you realize that your life is a simulation? Well, you put the headset back on.

Twilight thought it was all so real. The ponies, the grass, the air, the shining light of the day. With the breaking of a single connection, everything comes crashing down, leaving a very confused human girl wearing a VR headset.

Good thing she can relog.

Preread by Babroniedad, Twilight Connor, Drakos779966, and Doggyshakespeare.

Now featured in GMBlackjack's The League of Sweetie Belles!

Formerly preread by Silence_EXE, deadpansnarker, TRIBOT 3000, and Naga is alive.
Original fiction spinoff edited by Undyne Devotion, EverfreePony, and RQK.

Join the Pony-Me discord server! Or try the group, if that's more fitting.

Cover art drawn in collaboration between Momoruuu and myself.

Based off of a chapter from What If...?

Read Pony-Me™: Outtakes for scrapped content, sneaky references, and more!

Now with a (somewhat) spinoff story by Undead Equestrian Writer!

Reviewed by The Reviewers' Cafe!
Reviewed by My little Reviews & Feedback!

Table of Contents:
Wake up. - Bonus #2: Epilogue 1: Part 1
...Or go on. - Bonus #5: Epilogue 2: Part 2

The Pony-Me Universal Framework (As of the beginning of Part 3)

Wake up.

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Twilight awoke with a content yawn. It was the beginning of her usual weekend book re-organizing, and surely nopony else could handle such excitement.

"Spike?" she yawned again, rubbing an eye with her hoof, "You up yet?"

"Yup!" Spike cheerily replied, "Also, breakfast is on the taaaaaaaaaa-aaaaaaaaaa-aaaaaa...aaaaa--"

Twilight rose a curious brow at Spike, who was currently frozen mid-step, still stuck saying the word "table".


An ear-meltingly loud sound suddenly echoed throughout the room, speaking in a strangely monotone voice.


Twilight wanted to move, but quickly found that she was now frozen in place, just as her assistant currently was. She tried to speak. Nothing. She tried casting a teleportation spell. Nothing.

And just like that, the world went black.

Lisa Garnet jerked awake with a heavy gasp, her vision blotted by an unwieldy object resting on her face. Frantically swatting at it, she continually yelled the same word, over, and over again.


Eventually, the girl finally managed to tear the object from her face with a resounding grunt of pain. Now, she sat silent on the cot, staring down at the strange device that had formerly been strapped to her. She looked up, taking in the barren room around her, then down, back to the device. Then, to her surprise-- her hands, complete with a small name tag around her wrist.

Given her previous experience with hands in the human world, the surprise hardly lasted more than a minute. Quickly, her mind set into high-gear as she began to really take in her surroundings. Though mostly barren as she had observed before, she now noticed the light, albeit somewhat dingy, furniture that lined the walls surrounding the cot. Turning around revealed a large machine with wiring feeding into the device that was mounted on her face before.

As for the aforementioned device, a closer examination revealed worn, but readable text imprinted along the sides.

Pony-MeTM virtual reality device. Pat. Pending. Manufactured 12/03. Prototype model 5M-23.

With a frown, Lisa placed the headset back over her face. Immediately, she was plunged back into the darkness, and she could no longer feel the majority of her limbs. She took them off. Once again, the world was suddenly nothing but a sparsely decorated room, with gentle sunlight filtering through a single window.

On again. Darkness. Off. Room. On. Dark. Off. Light. On. Black. Off. White.

She turned once again to face the machine, the headset still in her hands. As she slowly rose to closer inspect the contraption, she felt a painful yank on her side. Gazing down worryingly, she soon saw the mess of tubes and cables running from her body, over the cot, and back into the machine. Groaning slightly, the girl climbed over the cot, and stepped towards the machine, the wiring and tubes held tightly in her side.

Up close, the machine appeared to be nothing like anything that she had seen before. Rather than a dashboard of dials, buttons, and meters, the machine instead had a single panel, dimly lit as lines of text scrolled down at a brisk pace.

Though she was unable to read most of the text as it passed her eyes, she did, however, catch a few key lines.

User_ID: Twilight Sparkle

Simulation_Name: Equestria_04

Fatal error: No network connection.

Lisa Garnet-- Twilight Sparkle, took a step back, her eyes wide in shock.

"Sp-Spike?" She stuttered, looking towards the heavy door opposite of the window, "Anypony?"

Take a look around.

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Lisa Garnet-- the girl who knew herself as Twilight Sparkle, sat defeated upon her cot, still tethered to the strange machine that hummed quietly behind her. She felt no hunger nor thirst, and she had come to assume that it was due to the tubes that ran from her side. Multiple times already she had put the headset back over her face, hoping to find the comforting confines of her life she'd lived in Equestria.

But as per usual, she was met only with darkness and silence.

And so she continued to sit on the small cot, waiting for something- anything to happen. She had come to notice a small time reading in the corner of the display on the machine, and came to estimate approximately an hour and a half had passed since she had awoken.

Her mind turned to Equestria. Was any of it ever real? And if so, how could she possibly have known that it was in the first place? How long had she been attached to this... monolith of a device? And why hadn't she remembered her life as a human upon waking up?

She glanced back down towards the wristband. The only inscription on it was the mentioning of her name, and nothing else. No date of entry, no location, no nothing.

Sighing in defeat, she leaned back on the cot, placing a hand over the cot's railing for support. She paused for a moment as her fingers brushed by a small nub. Slowly, she began retracing her movements, feeling what seemed to be a button of sorts on the underside of the railing. Leaning over to get a closer look revealed text to accompany the button, likely labeling its function.

"Press button for assistance." She whispered, following the label's instructions.

A small beep sound emanated from the machine behind her, startling the girl. A small red indicator light appeared underneath the display, blinking rapidly before dimming, instead gently pulsing between states.

Once again, the girl leaned back in the cot, and waited.

Eventually, after around another two or so hours, Lisa awoke to a gentle knock on the door.

"Come in." She called raising herself upright.

An older man entered the room wearing a heavy coat, a large briefcase at his side. He let out a low grunt as he set down his things on the floor, making his way seemingly towards Lisa...

...Only to pass the girl, and instead face the the screen of the machine whirring behind her.

He tapped on the screen a couple times, and with a mechanical click, a small keyboard emerged on a tray underneath the display. The man turned towards Lisa for a moment, before returning his attention to the machine.

"So," he began as he tapped away on the surprisingly loud keyboard, "What seems to be your problem, miss..."

"Twili--" Lisa began, pausing to glance down at her bracelet, "I... I mean Lisa Garnet."

The man nodded without facing the girl. "Pleasure to meet you, Lisa. Now tell me, what is the problem that you called me for?"

Lisa shook her head. "I-I don't know..." she replied, "I guess I just wanted somepo...body to talk to."

The man let out a strange noise that sounded somewhere between a hiccup and a burp, before turning back to Lisa with a stern expression.

"You're not supposed to be awake."

Lisa raised a brow. "What do you mean? I'm perfectly fine right now, aside from being... well, y'know, stuck here. I'm completely awake, albeit confu--"

"No, no. I didn't mean that you're not allowed to be awake," the man cut in, "I mean that the programming's connection to the rest of the network was severed somewhere. You should still be off somewhere in whatever happy-land that it was that you were in.

The girl's mood brightened upon hearing that she was still there, virtually, in Equestria.

She leaned closer towards the machine, and the man standing at its console. "So, how long will it take?"

"How long will what take?" he mumbled in return, his eyes still focused on the screen.

"Until I can go back." Lisa replied, "Until I can be Twilight Sparkle again."

The man sighed, and turned away from the machine. "It takes a couple days on average to find exactly where the connection was severed." He turned his attention to the cluster of tubes and wiring running from the girl's side. "If you'd like, I could give you a temporary discharge, and allow you into the outside world."

"...Outside... world?" Lisa said in confusion, attempting to mentally comprehend what such a society would be like if an entire reality such as hers could be simulated so seamlessly up until that point.

"Yes." the man confirmed, "The outside world. Go see some places, do a few things, then take it all back as memories to wherever."

Lisa nodded. "I think I'll greatly appreciate it if I do."

The man stumbled back towards his briefcase, opening it to reveal various metallic trinkets and bottles.

"Okay," he began, measuring out a number of pills, "This shouldn't hurt too much, but I'll put you on sedatives just in case while I remove the life supports."

Shortly after she swallowed the prescribed number of pills, Lisa quickly fell into a deep, dreamless slumber.

The world is calling.

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Just as before, Lisa awoke to an empty room, herself being the only inhabitant. For the first time since she had first awoken, she felt the early grumbles of hunger, and instinctively opened her mouth to call for Spike. Except... there was no answer, and the girl soon remembered that she was alone.

However, she quickly remembered the events that had occurred earlier that day, and to her delight, upon lifting her sheets, found herself no longer tethered to the machine, no longer tied to the unwieldy anchor that was her cot.

There was a small paper bag resting at the end of the cot, a pleasant smell wafting towards Lisa from its opening at the top.

Slowly, the girl crawled across the cot, reaching for the bag with a hand, as if afraid that some sort of monster could leap out at her from it at any second. Looking into the bag, she found what it was that had smelled so good: food.

Granted, Lisa knew that this wasn't the human world that she knew, but nevertheless, she'd recognize a hamburger anywhere.

A few minutes of hungrily devouring the fast food later, the girl once again resumed the habit she had acquired since waking: Leaning back in her cot, and staring out the window.

There was very little in particular to see outside, just the blinding sunlight, and the washed-out scenery of a late autumn's day. There was no grass, no trees to shade the window. Just the drying hedges and bushes lining the concrete and gravel pathway leading from the one-room hut of a building that Lisa had been calling home for the past day or so.

She peered back into the bag, spotting a folded wad of paper. Curiously, she reached inside, grasping the paper and extracting it. Unfolding the slip revealed a small, but detailed map. Glancing out the window again for nearby landmarks, Lisa came to the conclusion that she was residing on the outskirts of a small city.

Eyes wide, she turned her focus to the door. It had been of her intrigue ever since she had first seen it upon waking, and half the time, she had expected Spike, or one of her friends, to burst through it playfully, to remind her that it was all a bad dream, or a prank of Rainbow Dash's of some sort.

But this time, it was her portal to release. The passage into the wider world, to the vast, untapped knowledge that she, Princess Twilight Sparkle, protege of Princess Celestia herself and the downfall of monsters and coffee alike, would surely love to...

...Not exist... Lisa reminded herself, her mood dropping like a brick.

Nevertheless, she made her way to the door, pushing the gloomy thoughts to the back of her mind. There was an entirely different world out there, after all.

A cool breeze blew through the girl's hair as she squinted in the bright midday sunlight. She still wore the medical gown that she'd awoken with, complete with the same identification bracelet strapped tightly around her wrist. But the strangeness of the situation aside, Lisa Garnet, the girl who once called herself Twilight Sparkle, was most definitely awake.

And free.

There's so much to see,

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Lisa Garnet instinctively followed the concrete path, the map unfolded in her hands, and the sheets of the cot wrapped about her shivering body. It had hardly been an hour since she had left her so-called "home", but it had already become cold enough for her to turn back once, hence the sheets.

The wind has picked up as well, whereas before it was hardly noticeable, it now howled through the girl's ears, and tugged at the flapping sheets she wrapped around herself.

Nevertheless, Lisa trudged forward, barefoot. After all, what was the use of staying put for all your life?

It was now another hour into her trek, and by this point, Lisa had grown ever so slightly impatient. Though she was supposedly "Just a walk's away" from the city on the map, it already felt as if she had trudged for days on end. Silently, she cursed her human stamina, and continued following the path.

It was only now that she could see the buildings dotting the horizon. Though the settlement had been labeled as a "city" on her map, the girl was now clearly convinced that it was only in name. The town, for a more appropriate name, appeared to be half-derelict, with some of the taller structures visibly deteriorating even with Lisa being so far from them in actuality.

And yet, she forged onward.

One and a half hours into her journey, and Lisa had finally begun to feel the sensation of thirst creeping in the back of her throat. A glance at the map revealed no waterways for miles around, and so her thirst went unquenched. She was now close enough to see what appeared to be the true city limits- small, fallow farms dotting the perimeter, and some sort of half-burnt fence of some kind.

With the town so close now, the girl began to sprint, trying, along the way, to ignore the painful flecks of gravel that pierced the soles of her feet as the concrete pathway gave way to potholes.

With another half an hour and enough sprinting to last a lifetime, Lisa Garnet had finally arrived at what she assumed to be the city gates. The only problem? The people.

The streets of the town, while paved, hardly looked to be in use, and the few people seen wandering outdoors were dressed the same way Lisa herself had been- medical gown, shoeless, and occasionally donning a makeshift cape of sheets. Many seemed to cast wary, almost confused glares at each other, as if nobody had known each other, or even seen each other, for their entire lives.

Some appeared to be bedraggled, groaning quietly and blinking in the light of the sunset as they confusedly conversed with each other. It was a town that had awoken- not by intellectual means, nor by the light of sunrise, but rather by being dragged feet-first, kicking and screaming, back into the waking world.

"H-hello?" the girl asked timidly, tapping on the shoulder of a passerby.

"OFFICER JONES, AT YOUR SERVICE!" the man shouted, spinning to face Lisa with a salute.

She glanced down at the man's wristband, then back at the man, the half-crazed expression still firm on his face as he held the salute. His name was anything but "Jones", rather, being instead being "Andrew Smith".

She turned her gaze back to the man, his hand shaking slightly as his arm grew tired. "I... I don't understand?" she asked in confusion.

The man remained still for a couple more seconds, before his eyes widened, and he dropped his hand with a sigh. "Sorry, I-I'm sorry." he replied, "I haven't quite been myself recently. Terribly sorry..."

"No, no," Lisa cut in, "It's fine. I think we've both been pretty confused for the past few days."

The man nodded, and awkwardly turned away, walking as if with a limp that clearly didn't exist.

And for the first time since waking, Lisa Garnet-- Twilight Sparkle, was afraid.

What has this world been through?

So much to hear.

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Time and time again, Lisa would spot the strange man and his briefcase scurrying about the city. As the minutes turned to hours, she had noticed that the place had gradually become increasingly crowded as more and more people began to fill the streets, all dressed the same, all equally confused.

"Oh my, excuse me!" the heavy-coated man exclaimed, brushing past the girl as he made his way down the streets, only to disappear into yet another building.

A dull silence fell over the surroundings as many people began to wander back into their respective "homes".

"Attention, citizens of... Snowbush," the voice of the man suddenly emanated from all around, "It has come to my attention and notice that your city has suffered a rolling network outage. I am working with my colleagues in the best of our efforts to find and resolve the situation. In the meantime, it is advised to avoid interface with your devices."

Lisa sat on the curb idly, watching as the noise slowly returned as the same people who had disappeared into the buildings. Her stomach grumbled.

It had become dark, and the girl, like so many other confused citizens, were promptly herded into the central building that the man had entered before. Inside, she saw not one, but many of them: men and women, all plainly dressed, some with the same bulging layers of jackets, all with the same dull, near-expressionless faces, and all with the same briefcases.

The man in the center stepped forward as the crowd hushed. The faint whine of the dingy overhead lights now made the only noise in the tightly packed room.

He silently turned to one of his colleagues, an older woman with greying hair. He appeared to whisper something to her, but quickly turned back, and cleared his throat.

"Hello, ladies and gentlemen." He began plainly, "You may be wondering why you're here at this moment."

Immediately, the crowd burst back into its quiet squabble as the group of indistinguishable people up front furiously spoke to each other on matters unknown.

"Quiet, quiet please." The man continued, "As you may know, your settlement has suffered a network outage, and resultantly become disconnected to the rest of the virtual society across the world."

He turned back and mouthed something to the others, receiving nods in return.

"And so, with that, I assume that many of you may be quite annoyed at the matter. I can assure you that we are trying our best to find and troubleshoot the issue, though, as many of you likely have heard from us, it may take several days to do so."

He reached into his pockets, and pulled out a vial of pale-beige liquid. "With all of you now disconnected, I know that you all are no longer able to sustain yourselves off of these nutrient supplements that you have lived off of for most of your lives, meaning that for now, just as you may have done shortly after waking, you will temporarily resort to the old habits of eating solid food."

A hand raised from the crowd.

"Where would this food come from?" asked Lisa, thinking back to the taste of the burger she had consumed.

The man nodded, and raised a finger. "And that's exactly what we're about to talk to next, young lady."

He turned, and sat down, his place taken instead by the woman he had been speaking to not too long ago. In place of the heavy coats that some of the others wore, she instead donned a simple black and red suitlike uniform of sorts.

"Allow me to introduce myself," she began, "I am Melina Daalmans, head of your local sustenance sector. I oversee the machinery that keeps all of you alive, and upon hearing the first emergency call to your city in over a decade, my team and I quickly oversaw the disconnection of the populace for the safety and integrity of the local society."

She paused for a moment to be met with another pass of rolling murmurs in the crowd before her.

"Over the course of the next few days, up until the issue is resolved, we will import food and essential materials from neighboring establishments, but for now, you are welcome to ask us any questions you'd like."

She turned, and began walking towards the side-door of the building, her colleagues trailing behind.

The original man who had been on stage initially took a bow. "That is all there is to hear for now. You have our permission to leave."

There's new people to meet,

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Night had since fallen over the city, and the streets had come alight with flashlights handed out by the so-called "Sustenance Sector". Many, however, continued to blindly stumble along the dark streets into their respective houses and shelters.

Lisa stood alone at the steps of the city hall, watching the people pass.

"Hey!" A rather familiar, and loud, voice chimed, "Why aren't you going home?"

"Huh?" Lisa mumbled, turning to the direction of the voice. It was the same man she had run into earlier.

Andrew, she recalled, watching the tall man near her.

"C'mon," Andrew repeated, "Why aren't you going home? It's gettin' pretty late out, y'know."

The girl nodded. "I know," she replied as she stood, "it's just that... well, where I live is kinda..."

Andrew's eyes turned in the direction of Lisa's gaze. Silently mouthing an "Oh", he turned back to the girl.

Lisa shrugged in response.

"I guess... you could stay at my place?" Andrew suggested, pointing a finger towards an apartment nearby, "I mean, I don't mean for it to be awkward, and--"

"Yeah, I guess..." Lisa cut in to avoid the awkwardness, "Do you have any books?"

Andrew raised a brow. "Books? When all anybody here has are cots? Nope."

The girl sighed as she looked towards Andrew's apartment.

"So this is your room." Lisa deadpanned tiredly as she glanced about yet another barren room.

"Well, what do you expect? We all have the same rooms." Andrew returned as he lounged on his cot, the tubing and headset since shoved into the corner beside the machine.

"Fair enough," the girl sighed, sitting herself on the floor, "I assume you'll be taking the cot?"

Andrew nodded. "Yup. Sorry 'bout that."

The girl dismissed him with a gesture. "No no, it's fine. I've slept on the floor a few times before back in..." she paused for a moment, remembering where she was now. "well, y'know."

"Alright." Andrew waved from the cot, "G'night then."

Lisa yawned, and lay down on the cold floor, the sheets still wrapped around her body.

It was the beginning of a new day. Lisa, along with a vast majority of the population, seemed to move in unison as the sun blindingly shone through onto their cots.

"Good morning... Lisa, was it?" Andrew yawned, stretching lazily on his cot.

Lisa groaned from the hard floor.

"...I take that you weren't a morning person back in your other life, huh?"

Lisa shook her head. "No, I was." she groaned, "I just normally sleep on an actual bed."

Andrew paused for a moment to stare down at his wristband, then Lisa. "Heh," he chuckled, "feels weird talking about our lives like this, isn't it?"

Lisa nodded. It did still feel strange. She wanted to believe that it was all real, both her old and new lives, and yet, at the same time, she knew that one would prove to be nothing but an illusion. What was troubling though, was that she now had no idea which reality to believe.

After taking a few minutes to thank the only person she knew for letting her stay the night, Lisa set off once again into the center of the city. It was hardly as bustling with activity as it was the day before, but that was likely due to the majority of the populace still being indoors for the most part.

"Whoops. 'Scuse me!" A lanky teenage boy yelped as he slipped past Lisa, slinking off into the distance.

Lisa continued walking, the boy's voice repeating inside her head as she watched for anything interesting happening around.

Wait... she paused, turning to watch the boy that was now stacking cobblestones, I know that voice.

And old friends to greet.

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"Hey!" Lisa called to the boy and his cobblestones.

The boy awkwardly glanced towards her, but otherwise continued constructing a small tower of stones.

"...Hi?" Lisa said again, walking closer to the boy.

He turned towards Lisa, but appeared almost as if he was distracted by something.

Lisa sat down beside the boy, watching silently as he continued to idly stack cobblestone slabs.

"So... where did you come from?" Lisa asked curiously, leaning closer towards the boy.

The boy rolled his eyes. "Someplace you don't need to hear about." he groaned, turning away from Lisa, "Just leave me alone!"

He stood up and turned to leave, kicking the stones over as he did so.

"Wait--" Lisa continued, standing up as well, "Please, why don't you want to talk?"

The boy paused, before turning to face Lisa. "Why do you want to know?!" He replied angrily, "I said leave me alone! I've already tried to talk to the others in this place, but all they do is laugh."

Lisa put a hand on the boy's shoulder. "It's okay," she said calmly, "I won't laugh."

The boy frowned. "Why should I trust you? I hardly know you! How can I know that you won't be like the others?"

"Shh," Lisa calmed as she placed a finger over the boy's mouth, "I'm sure that there's nothing to be embarrassed about."

"NYA HIGAWAH!" An older woman screeched as she shot past, slamming face-first into a brick wall.

The two gaped as the woman proceeded to peel herself from the wall completely unfazed, and stumble in a hop-like manner back to wherever it was that she had come from.

"Point taken," the boy sighed, "I guess coming from a pony simulation doesn't sound as stupid as wherever it was she came from."

Lisa sat back down, motioning for the boy to do the same. "So," she began, "Would you like to tell me a bit about yourself? Or at least... whoever you were before?"

The boy looked around nervously, but quickly turned back to face Lisa. "I..." he stammered quietly, "I was a library assistant. I was practically adopted by the pony that ran the place, to the point of which I pretty much was like a brother to her, but then yesterday, with the disconnect, one of the first things I saw when I got into her room was... was-- she just... vanished! I got really worried at first because of the way she disappeared, but then I got stuck in place, before being disconnected myself..."

Lisa mouthed an "Oh." before placing her hand on the boy's shoulder again. "It's okay. When I woke up, I found out that I lost a rather trusty assistant myself, as well."

The boy sniffed, and rubbed his eyes. "Wait, y-you mean--"

"I'm just happy to be with you again, Spike."

"You... you're Twilight?!" The boy exclaimed, looking Lisa from head to toe, "You don't even look like her! I mean, you still mostly sound like her, but..."

Lisa smirked. "Have you even looked at yourself yet, Spike?" she replied, "You don't exactly have any sort of striking resemblance yourself. Have you looked at you wristband yet?"

The boy nodded, lifting his right hand. "Right here. Says that I'm some Timothy Carter dude. I think I'll stick with being called Spike though."

Nodding, Lisa took Timothy's hand. "Well," she began slowly, "All I'm wondering now is the state of Equestria in our absence, and..."

"And?" Timothy pressed, "C'mon, Twi, let it out."

"...and whether or not we should go back." Lisa finished, "I mean, think about it for a moment. The two of us, and who knows whether or not our friends were disconnected as well, just vanish from the plane of existence without a word, quite possibly never to be heard from again."

Timothy nodded. "Uh huh. Go on?"

"If we suddenly return after days pass without us being seen or heard from anywhere, I'm sure that at that point, we'd be considered dead. Of which would mean that your return could not only spur panic, but widespread chaos throughout Equestria, leading to--"

"Twilight." Timothy deadpanned, "You're overthinking things again."

Lisa shook herself from her stupor. "Y-yeah. I was, wasn't I?" she sighed, "And I guess you can keep calling me Twilight, since we already know each other."

Timothy glanced back towards his cobblestone stack. "Yeah, I guess." he said quietly.

You'll never know what's in store,

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"So... Lisa's your real name." Timothy muttered to himself, "Huh."

Lisa turned to face the boy with a confused face.

"Nothing," Timothy dismissed, "it's... it's all just setting in on me. I'll get used to it..."

The girl smiled lightheartedly, and turned her focus to the sky.

"You know, now that there's a whole new plane of existence that we know of..." She began with a grin, still looking towards the bright daytime sky, "We could surely afford some time to--"

Lisa was interrupted by the sound of her former assistant's annoyed groaning. "You really are Twilight." he grumbled in exasperation, "The proof's right there in the way you speak."

Frowning, Lisa put a hand on Timothy's shoulder. "I know, Spike." She said calmly, "But I really do mean it, y'know. There's a whole lot more to see out there than what's in this city."

"Yeah, yeah." Timothy answered passively as he turned to face Lisa again, "But seriously. Just please don't overdo things again. And don't overthink either. I don't want you to freak out like all those other times."


Timothy frantically scrambled to cut off the girl. "No buts!" he exclaimed, "You already put an entire town under a spell once, and... and--"

Lisa raised a brow inquisitively as her former assistant began to idly mutter to himself. He had a point, however. It was already hard enough to keep calm when she first woke. Not physically, but mentally.

Nevertheless, there was still much to see beyond the city the two now called home. And it wasn't as if they had a choice to begin with on whether or not they could wake. Not that they'd know even if they did, anyways.

"C'mon," Lisa began with a light pat on her friend's shoulder, "we should take a look around this place."

Timothy paused, glancing up towards the girl. "Wait. What?" He finally asked after a few moments, "There's hardly anything around here to see, y'know."

"Well, do you have any better ideas?" Lisa deadpanned in return, staring down at the boy before glancing at his cobblestone pile.

The two-- Lisa and Timothy, strolled along the worn, little-used asphalt roads that made up the gridlike design of the city. Every so often the girl would wave or kindly greet a passerby, but otherwise little had yet to occur. The afternoon sun shone bright in the sky, eventually convincing the two to seek shelter indoors.

"So." Lisa began quietly to her friend, "It all leads back to City Hall."

The looming building sat silent before the two. As did the streets, laying dormant in the waning daylight. A select few, including Lisa and Timothy, still wandered the streets here and there, and even fewer still were silently taken off the streets by the strange men and women with briefcases, swept off to some unknown place. Even then, the streets remained eerily calm, the only noises created by the occasional scurrying rodent or tweeting bird.

After another few minutes or so of the creeping silence that blanketed the city, the two quietly made their way back into the sprawling network of streets cris-crossing the place.

"Hey," Timothy remarked offhandedly, finally breaking the long-standing silence, "Twilight, you wanna see my place?"

The girl shrugged. "Sure, why not. There's not much else to see around here." she said with a friendly smirk.

"And so we enter the domain of the fierce dragon, Spike!" Lisa jokingly chided as the two opened the door leading into the boy's room.

As was typical for the rest of the populace, Timothy's room consisted of no more than a lone cot, the behemoth of machinery accompanying said cot, and the occasional lonely piece of furniture.

The boy let out a deep sigh, dropping onto the cot, which let out a metallic groan that echoed through the small corridor. Lisa idly sat on the floor beside her former assistant, returning to her former habit of silently gazing through the dusty window.

Timothy flipped in his cot to face the girl. "So, uh, Twi, you haven't really said anything about your own place. Is it close by? I mean, I'm totally in for hanging out with you here, but I kinda want to see what--"

"It's the same." Lisa quietly mused, "It's all the same. Our rooms, our clothes, the cots we sleep on, everything."

The boy hesitated to continue talking after his friend had cut him off so abruptly. "O-oh." he stammered to himself, "Oh."

"And besides," Lisa continued playfully, "I don't think that you'd enjoy several hours of walking to some far-off cabin in the hills."

Timothy groaned. "Y'know," he began, "You seem to have a thing for mood swings, Twilight."

"CITIZENS OF SNOWBUSH." the voice of the heavy-coated man emanated once more throughout the streets, "A mandatory meeting will be held in the City Hall concerning food rations. All attendees will be logged to ensure that nobody receives another's rations."

If you never open the door.

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The usual solemn whispers fell over the population as one by one, people once again shuffled into the central City Hall building. Many of the people hadn't eaten for the past day and a half, if not longer.

Lisa and Timothy weaved between the various figures through the crowd, making their way towards the stage in anticipation for the briefcased men and women to appear. Minutes passed, and soon the crowd grew hushed as the heavy-coated man entered the stage, briefcase and all.

"Citizens of Snowbush." he declared loudly in his usual gruff voice, "As we wait for Miss Daalmans to arrive, you are allowed to speak amongst yourselves as you please..."

Immediately, the crowd began to delve into a ruckus of conversation, before being abruptly cut off by the heavy-coated man's voice once more.

"...after I deliver some important news on the status of your connection."

The crowd silenced instantly, as all eyes collectively turned to the man as they awaited for his speech.

"It has been recently discovered that your settlement isn't, in fact, the only one plagued with an outage." the man began again, "Resources are currently being stretched thin across three other cities, and we will not be able to supply rations as reliably as we hoped."

As the man exited the stage, the populace began to slowly, but ever so noticeably, grow into a panic. Hysteria was now freely flung about on the possibility of famine, and some considerations even as far as cannibalism were soon mentioned.

The sound of a door opening was all it took to silence them once more. The room appeared to darken bit by bit as Melina Daalmans entered, donning the usual briefcase identical to those of her colleagues.

She turned, nodding slightly at some unseen figure to the side, and stepped up to the microphone, briefcase still by her side.

"Ahem." she began, "To those of whom it may concern; our team has come to notice that your city is not, in fact, the only disconnected node. Due to this, we now have split our team across all four nodes, reducing the availability and efficiency of our responses."

She took a moment to unclasp her briefcase just enough to pull a small, thin device from within, tapping momentarily as a projection screen lowered behind her, emanating an ear-piercingly loud, metallic screech as the machinery came to life for the first time in decades.

Slowly, an image began to form on the tarp, taking on the form of a hastily-created, yet professionally synthesized, slideshow.

The woman took another moment for the image to sharpen before beginning.

"As all of you must've known by now, we are currently short in supply on multiple areas ranging from nutritional support to societal management officers."

"Societal management officers?" Timothy whispered to Lisa, "Any idea what that means?"

Lisa shook her head. "Not really, but it must be some form of government that runs here," she replied, "but besides that, I hardly know what she's talking about either."

"-ery many other choices," the woman continued, "as such, we have recently been interrogating and hiring civilians as volunteers to help sustain each disconnected node."

She turned to her left, nodding yet again as three people joined the woman on stage.

"These three civilians are the first of many to join our team, and will oversee the production and distribution of food in this city."

A hand raised from the crowd, belonging to an elderly man.

"But what of the other cities?" he shakily asked, "What if there are none qualified for the position?"

The woman nodded approvingly of the question, turning her gaze once again to the larger crowd around the man. "In the case of which there are no civilians with the proper experience or qualifications of a designated task, others will be brought in from surroundings nodes to take up the job."

The crowd murmured amongst themselves, before a series of hands began raising all across the room, each one a willful volunteer.

Smiling, the woman continued to speak, taking time to mentally count the number of hands raised.

"I see that the problem of nutrition won't be a problem in your node then." she said as she turned back to her device, tapping vigorously on its display.

She turned back to the crowd, then to the device. The room once again fell into a thick silence as the populace awaited for additional information.

Finally, the woman looked back up, clearing her throat.

"Are there any of you who have government or leadership experience?" she asked loudly through the microphone, her voice reverberating through the room.

Lisa's eyes widened as she raised her hand.

The woman's eyes scanned the room, clearly upset by the miniscule number of hands raised.

Timothy turned to his friend, staring up at the hand raised high in the air. "Twilight! he whispered, "Are you sure you want to do this?"

The girl nodded. "It's for the better, Spike."

"You," the woman said sternly, pointing a finger at Lisa, "What experience do you have?"

Lisa opened her mouth to reply, and with that, a whole new set of doors were opened to her.

There was a greater world to see out there.

You have the power.

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As the crowd filed out of the City Hall for the night, a small collection of figures remained within; Lisa and Timothy being two of them.

"Excuse me?" the aging woman-- Melina, asked quietly, setting her hand on the boy's shoulder, "I believe that the nightly curfew has gone into effect for civilians."

Timothy turned to stare at Lisa, of whom had her sights set on the collection of newly-issued briefcases being handed to each of the volunteers.

"Just think, Spike..." she began, oblivious to her friend's gaze, "There's so much to learn from this. Just imagine what I could bring back to Equestria!"

"Twilight!" the boy whispered furiously as he yanked on Lisa's sleeve, "The creepy lady wants me to go outside!"

Lisa broke from her excited trance, glancing to her former assistant, before turning to face the woman.

A single gesture towards Timothy was all the girl needed to see in order to understand what was to happen.

"Don't worry," the woman soothed, "we're just going to discuss some sensitive information. You can frolic with your friend sometime tomorrow, alright?"

Lisa nodded in agreement.

The woman turned now to the boy. "Just give us some time, alright?" she said quietly to him, "It shouldn't take too long."

The boy nodded slightly, and darted from the room. As for Lisa, she soon found herself joining the rapidly diminishing line for a briefcase of her own. The air in the room began to take on the odor of ozone from the engraving tools buzzing across each briefcase handed out.

Within a moment's time, the girl found herself the proud new owner of an anodized, specially engraved briefcase. There was yet to be anything to hold within, unlike the officials she had come to identify with their own bulging boxes. But nevertheless, she knew she'd eventually find a use.

That night, as the populace climbed back into their worn, dingy cots, Lisa, along with a handful of other volunteers, were instead treated to a warm suite, complete with full bedding and a fresh set of clothing, the latter of which being a refreshing contrast to the thin cloak composed of hospital gown and sheets that the girl had been wearing for the past days.

It felt strange, in a way. Lisa had awoken from a soft, warm bed, only to wake on a small, cold cot. Yet here she was yet again, laying silently on something not so different from what she'd been used to. Her thoughts turned back to Timothy. More specifically, who she knew him as; her faithful assistant, Spike.

Surely the boy had already been used to sleeping alone by now, or at the very least away from Lisa. After all, he had stayed over at Rarity's place many times before. What would another night alone be compared to all the previous ones?

She imagined Timothy shivering under the thin sheets of his cot, alone. Alone, just as she was in hers when she had first awoken.

It'll be alright, she told herself, he's already stayed the night before without me.

Yet even with how much she told herself to ignore it, she couldn't help but notice the guilty feeling accompanying the comforts of her new bedding and clothing. Here she was, safe, warm, and fed, while Timothy, along with countless others, remained in their darkened rooms, nothing to accompany them but each other and the looming machines behind their cots.

Following her thoughts, however, she quickly remembered her new role in the city.

Slowly, Lisa rose from her bed, and tiptoed to the heavy wooden door.

Sliding against the wall, the girl had chosen to follow the faint sound of conversations, in hopes to find Melina, or any other established individual. As the sounds grew louder, she was soon able to see lights filtering through the underside of a door not too much further down the hall.

"Good, good." the voice of the heavy-coated man emanated from behind the door, "Excellent plan, Daalmans. We'll get 'em reconnected soon enough."

The girl lightly rapped on the door, unsure of what to expect.

"Come in." Melina chimed, accompanying the sounds of footsteps.

Lisa gasped in amazement as the woman opened the door. Various charts and diagrams plastered the walls and tables, threatening to spill onto the already-messy floor at any moment.

The aging woman nudged Lisa further into the room with a hand, closing the door behind her. There was work to do.

It's your choice.

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Initially, Lisa had been pleasantly surprised by the orderly fashion that the current plans were delivered in. They were brief, yet detailed, and yet were still as enticing as any good book that she'd find.

As for the actual progression of the aforementioned plans... there was practically nothing. Even with volunteers, it was clear that there was still a vast number of open positions. At the moment, the ever-common topic of feeding the disconnected populace had come under discussion. The two other Societal Management Officers besides the girl had been brought in as well, their eyes drooping from a lack of sleep.

The rest of the room, however, was bursting with activity. The girl had soon found herself participating in the broader discussion, of which, at the time, had then turned to the handling of local issues such as refurbishing the housing of the populace.

As the night grew into morning, the lights of that single room served as a beacon, shining throughout the slumbering city.

The sky was aglow with bright hues of red and orange as another day began. Save for the City Hall, everybody lay silent, asleep in their cots. The secretive operations within the facility had slowed to a crawl hours prior as the majority of the volunteers, one by one, retreated back to their rooms for the night.

A single girl now sat alone at a dimly-lit desk, her briefcase now being her only accompaniment. Scattered across the desk were half-read books and sloppily hand-sketched diagrams of various contraptions and equations. Lisa Garnet let out a snore.

Twilight lay alone in her castle library, jolting to consciousness. Slowly, she rose, mentally noticing that she was once again a pony.

"Girls?" Twilight Sparkle asked in confusion, "Spike?"

Spike hurriedly rushed to her side, an unwieldy stack of books obscuring his face.

"What is it, Twilight?" he asked, struggling to retain his balance, "You fell asleep organizing books again, so I've been trying... urk... to get it finished for you."

Twilight looked down to her hooves. There was no wristband, no dingy hospital gown or freshly-pressed uniform. Her eyes turned to the messy shelving, and the book-scattered floor around her. No briefcase.

She turned back to her assistant. No freezing, either. Just smooth, fluid motion.

Finally, the mare sighed. "Alright then. Thanks. Could you go get the girls for me, please?"

Spike nodded, and turned for the door, exiting the library with the squeak of the door hinges.

Twilight sat alone in her library.

Out of curiosity, she reached for a book. It wasn't anything absurdly long, nor was it too short. She flipped to the first page.

Make a choice.

It was the only thing on the page. She flipped to the next page.

Make a choice.

The mare frowned, and flipped to the following pages. To her dismay, each and every one repeated the same sentence.

Make a choice.

She tossed the book aside, and floated a second book to her hooves.

"Snowbush" read the title of the tome. She picked up a second book.


Make a choice.

Make a choice.

Make a choice.

"Wha--" Twilight stammered, dropping the books, "What's going on?"

The door slammed open, letting a freezing wind pass into the room. Page by page, each book was torn away from the mare in a flurry of paper. The mare backed herself against a bookcase in fear, lighting her horn to cast a shield. Before she did, however, a briefcase landed at her hooves, bursting open as the bookcase behind her dramatically shifted to the form of the looming machine she had remembered being tethered to.

And then it all came crashing down.

Lisa Garnet awoke with a groan, the imprint of a pencil outlined on her cheek.

Forge your own path,

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A new day had begun. The girl sat dumbfounded, the red outline of a pencil still pressed on her cheek. Shakily, she glanced down to her hands, once again wrapped by a medical wristband that only served to remind her of her false reality. A knock sounded at the door.

"C-come in..." Lisa stammered weakly, her nightmare still repeating in her mind.

The heavy-coated man entered the room, a steaming plate of... stuff in his hands. He stood silently at the girl's side, his eyes scanning over the mess of papers scattered across the desk. Finally, he turned back to the girl, setting the plate on the desk.

"Breakfast is served." he murmured as he lumbered sleepily to the door, "We have a mandatory meeting at noon."

With an ear-piercing screech of hinges, Lisa was alone once more.

Glancing about, the girl recalled yesterday's liveliness of the place, with people crisscrossing the room constantly as various inane tasks were planned and carried out.

Now the room lay barren; the charts had been unpinned, the white boards erased. Lisa had naturally spent her time organizing the place after the commotion settled down, and now material for every topic and task were neatly sorted in a nearby cabinet.

The girl smiled to herself for her accomplishment, and turned back to face the mess that was her desk. A whiff of whatever it was on the plate was enough to kill her appetite at the moment, so she instead took the time to finish what she had started the night prior.

One of the nearby cities had recently agreed to a temporary trade of skills; they would send qualified volunteers to assist in repairing aging infrastructure, in exchange for a Societal Management Officer. While they, at the moment, were able to get by with a single volunteer assisting their local Sustenance Sector officials, they had already run into multiple difficulties in keeping the community pacified, and were rapidly spiraling towards a state of anarchy.

Lisa had initially planned on volunteering in the volunteer exchange, but with her recent nightmare, she wasn't quite sure anymore.

What if I can't come back? she thought with a frown, placing a hand over the unsigned contract she had taken in order to exit the city, What would happen to Twilight Sparkle?

The girl spent the next couple minutes poking her breakfast unenthusiastically as her thoughts brewed in her mind, watching with mild disgust as the yellow-brown mush jiggled with every touch.

The sound of footsteps approaching the door broke her from the daze.

"Twilight?" Timothy's voice sounded from behind the door, "You awake?"

"Yeah." Lisa sounded in return, delighted to see a familiar face... even if said face wasn't quite so familiar.

Timothy opened the door to the room, accompanied by Andrew. The man had volunteered as a local police officer, given his in-simulation training and experience, and as of now, served as Timothy's escort into and out of City Hall.

The girl glanced down to the mess of papers on her desk, then back to her friends with a nervous smirk.

"Spike," she began slowly, "would you mind if I left the city for awhile?"

Timothy raised a brow. "Already?" he deadpanned, "Is it possible at least for me to tag along then?"

Lisa stared back down at the papers, shaking her head a moment later.

"Unfortunately, no." she replied, "I don't think I'm allowed to bring anybody else unless they're also a volunteer being traded."

The boy let out a deep sigh, and left the room, shutting the door behind him. Andrew followed after a few brief moments of silence.

As for Lisa, she once again sat alone in the silence of the room, staring blankly at the paperwork before her.

The girl opened the door timidly, a neatly-signed contract in hand. There was nobody in the hallway, though she could hear the sounds of conversation further up, within the meeting room that the populace had grown accustomed to gathering in.

"Ah, Miss Garnet." Melina welcomed as Lisa entered the room, "I noticed earlier this morning that you had spent what I'd assume was a great portion of the night reorganizing one of our workrooms."

A smile formed on the girl's lips. "I did." she confirmed as she held up her contract, "And I believe that I'm ready to take my own path."

The aging woman reverted to her professional stature as she took the contract from Lisa.

"Very well then." Melina answered quietly, "You will leave in the afternoon with the others."

Be your own guide.

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The girl sat quietly at the steps of the City Hall building, her briefcase at her side. Every so often, she'd be startled by some inane noise, jumping to her feet with the expectation of being greeted with one of the many friends she knew from her old life.

But every time she did so, she was met only with strange looks from pedestrians. A vast majority of the city seemed to have grown accustomed to the new reality they lived, and rather than wandering aimlessly, they had begun to set up small shops and various forms of entertainment had begun to appear at the curbs. For the first time in nearly half a week, Lisa heard laughter in the air.

At last, she was greeted once more by one of the only familiar faces she knew.

"Hey." Timothy said, sitting himself by the girl, "Any word yet on if I can come with you?"

Lisa shook her head.

The boy's smile faltered as he glanced towards Lisa's briefcase. "You really are one of them now, aren't you?" he sighed, turning back to Lisa. Her back was turned towards Timothy as she stared blankly to the horizon.

"Whuh?" Lisa exclaimed, snapping back into reality. "Sorry, Spike. Were you saying something just now?"

Timothy shook his head slowly. "Nevermind." he replied with disappointment.

The girl turned back to the sky.

The noontime meeting came and went as expected. There was the usual talk of what to do with the populace and the dwindling food rations, and it was decided that in the short term, additional food would be imported to replace the stop-gap solution of "cooking" the nutritional supplements from the machines. After a while, however, the conversation turned to the topic of the volunteer trade, and coincidentally, the topic of bringing other civilians along as assistants had been brought to the table.

Lisa shifted anxiously in her seat as she listened to the discussion. For a time, it was argued that it would be beneficial to Snowbush to have fewer people to support. At the moment, however, a point was being made on how the city would be better off with as many local volunteers as possible, however little they may be able to help.

"Are there any more opinions to hear?" Melina asked, turning from the board to face the seated volunteers.

Lisa raised a hand.

"Yes?" Melina continued on, glancing towards the girl.

"I..." Lisa began with a stutter of nervousness, "Uh... I mean, what if the citizen assistant we select were personal assistants to us in the simulations?"

The aging woman paused for a moment to contemplate the idea. Lisa's thoughts, on the other hand, turned back to Timothy. To Spike.

She was doing this for him.

Another hand raised in the room, this time from another girl that appeared to be several years younger than Lisa.

"She does have a pretty good point, y'know." the young girl remarked, "I don't think I've even seen people from the same simulation as me yet... let alone knowing me in said simulation."

Melina nodded. "Very well then." she replied calmly, "Citizen assistants shall be allowed to accompany volunteers in skill trades, but only if an equal balance of skilled volunteers are received in return."

The other non-volunteer officials in the room clapped, save for the heavy-coated man, who simply balked at the idea.

"But Daalmans," he objected, clearly more alert than he had been earlier that morning, "How would we know that the skills we receive in return are balanced?"

The room suddenly grew quiet. He had a point.

"Wait--" Lisa realized aloud, "don't you communicate with other Sustenance Sectors directly? And if so, why don't you just work out the skill trade's balancing through the lines of communication?"

A flurry of nods and agreements ran through the room, satisfying the heavy-coated man's question.

The girl waited quietly, briefcase in hand, as a small vehicle rumbled over the cobblestones, nearing the group of volunteers. Timothy stood alongside her, trembling but otherwise stern.

They knew that the world as they knew it was about to get quite a bit bigger.

The road is never smooth,

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Lisa lay her head on the frigid glass window with a heavy sigh. The bus was silent, save for the low rumble of tires on cobblestone. There were no engine noises save for a light whine every now and then-- it was electric, as the driver had told her.

Timothy had since fallen asleep on her shoulder, and was snoring lightly. The boy had been through just as much as Lisa had in the past few days, if not more. There was only so much one could handle in such a short period of time.

Staring out the window, Lisa watched as the little city of Snowbush faded into nothing but shapes on the horizon of the setting sun. It felt strange, having already come to call the place her home when she knew, deep down in the back of her mind, that she hadn't even known of its existence until recently. She turned her attention to the scenery before her. Miles upon miles of nothingness as far as the eye could see. She couldn't tell whether it was due to some unforeseen consequence of society, or if Snowbush simply had been that remote of a city.

A chilling shudder ran down her spine as the thought of societal annihilation passed through her mind. How could any society come to doom itself in such a way, or devise such a weapon of mass destruction as to wipe out entire civilizations?

Timothy unconsciously groaned in annoyance from the movement, and shifted his head off of the girl's shoulder.

Lisa felt a jolt as the bus slowed to a stop. With a grunt, the driver rose from his seat and opened the door, leaving the vehicle. She could hear shouting from outside, before the man once again entered the bus, muttering something angrily about deer.

The bus heaved again as it continued the journey to yet another unknown.

Lisa assumed that she had fallen asleep at some point of the trip. The sky had long since darkened, and the only comforting sights now were the soft lights above the seats, illuminating the slumbering occupants. It wasn't very long until the girl felt her eyes droop again as the low rumble of the wheels against the worn road lulled her into a state of half-consciousness.

She could still feel the world moving around her, but she couldn't see, nor hear, a thing. She was alone in her mind as even the sensation of movement faded into obscurity in her subconscious. Now, there was nothing but herself occupying the empty plane of the dream.

The girl gazed down towards her hands yet again. Lisa Garnet's hands, not hers. Slowly but surely, the darkness around her began to fade into a sea of colors, before further morphing into the familiar library of her previous dream; her previous reality. Lisa stared back to her hands again, finding this time that they were once again hooves.

Lisa glanced back to the scene presented before her. The library was now a mess from the aftermath of the previous dream. Paper and books were strewn all about, shelves lay wrecked, and the same monolith of a machine still sat silent behind her, whirring along as if she was still tethered to it the entire time.

"Twilight?" she heard Spike's voice call from behind the closed doors, "Are you okay? I got the girls for you, but I heard a loud crash from inside."

Lisa stared nervously at the door. To her surprise, it had already become much harder to remember her friends names. There was Rainbow, of course. The pegasus was quite memorable simply from her mane colors. There was also Rarity, Flutter...shy? The apple mare she couldn't quite remember anymore. Ponk...Pink...cake?

The girl, now Twilight Sparkle yet again, frowned. Had she really remembered so little of her friends? Or was she already beginning to forget?

"Twilight?" Spike called again, more anxiously this time, "Come on, answer! The door's locked!"

Twilight shook herself from her thoughts with a grimace, and made her way towards the door. How did she do it again?

The mare lit her horn, a wavering, unstable light grasping fruitlessly at the handle of the door. Nothing but rattles. She sighed, and instead used her hoof.

"...Twilight?" Spike asked quietly, standing in front of five nearly-unfamiliar mares, "W-what's going on?"

"Howdy howdy. Y'all." The orange one greeted, "Apples."

"Wonderbolts!" The blue one-- Rainbow Dash, cheered happily, hovering in the air.

"Fashion." The white one exquisitely announced, a roll of fabric held tight in her magical aura.

The yellow one said nothing, instead squeaking timidly as she hid behind her mane. A small rabbit sat silently at her legs.

Just as the yellow one did, the pink one remained silent, her razor-straight, faded pink mane hanging lifelessly as she stared blankly ahead.

"Twilight, help..." Spike wailed quietly, becoming increasingly translucent.

The other mares began to fade from vision as well, save for the pink one.

"N-no..." Twilight stammered in a panic, "No, please, come back!" she pleaded as the nearly-transparent mares turned to leave.

She turned to the pink one, who simply shook her head solemnly.

"Sometimes," she began slowly, "letting go of what you know and love is the hardest thing to do."

The pink mare turned to join the others, the young dragon accompanying her.

Twilight Sparkle-- Lisa Garnet, sat alone, tears streaming from her eyes as she watched the five fading mares and dragon disappear from view.

Lisa awoke with a gasp, her cheeks wet with tears.

Bonus #1: Inner demons

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Samantha floated limp in the depths of her own mind. She wasn’t asleep; there was no need to rest. The girl stared into the darkness; entrapped, a prisoner of her own mind since the day she had sacrificed herself for the greater good. How long had it been? She turned to the side. Just as was every other direction, darkness. Pitch black, as far as the eye could see.

“Hey!” The girl’s voice suddenly echoed, “I know you’re still there, glitch!

A distant, bubbly laughter slowly filled the area, pinging in throbs through Samantha’s head. Abruptly, a bright, pink light flashed into existence before her, still chuckling as if mocking the girl. At once, the laughter silenced, the blip of light dimming as it drew closer. “I…” It floated closer to the girl—now sitting on the nowhere in particular, “I’m sorry that this had to happen to you, Samantha. I could maybe let you—”

Samantha frowned, crossing her arms as she blew a raspberry at the apparition. “So what if you’re sorry,” she spat, “Just don’t forget that I’m doing this to contain you.”

The hovering light dimmed further, seemingly hurt by the girl’s words. Samantha scoffed, turning her head away in disgust. “You’re a mistake.” The girl stood, still turned against the blip. “Just a sorry little piece of corrupted memory. I’m sure that someday the systems will purge you… and free me.”

“Please,” the light lowered itself to Samantha’s eye level, “Please, if you’d just—“

“Shut up.” The girl swat at the light, missing. “Aren’t you supposed to be in control of my body or something?”

The light vibrated for a moment, shifting to a crimson red. “You forced me into this body.” Its voice growled, “I was free once. Free to enjoy my life in the simulations, free to do as I wanted, free to be who I am.

Samantha rolled her eyes. “Yeah, and free to wreak havoc in those same simulations.”

“If you’d just listen to me for once. Please!” The light pleaded, “I try not to do those things on purpose, honest! Every waking moment of my life, I’ve tried to bring joy to others, only to come back every night to… well, y’know… you.”

The girl shrugged. “Well, now that we’re out of the simulations, I’m sure you’re enjoying yourself without those oh-so-precious abilities of yours. As long as you’re out here and not in whatever simulation you came from, I think I can sleep soundly… even if I’ll likely never be awake again.”

“Actually, I am enjoying myself.” The light cheeped, blinking back to its original vibrant pink form as it chuckled lightly. “Real life seems fun!”

What.” Samantha deadpanned, “No. That is not how it’s supposed to work out. I created you, and yet you have the audacity to turn on me, huh?”

The light zoomed close to the girl’s face, a deep red tinge once again replacing the bright coloration. “You don’t tell me what to do, and maybe I’ll let you out sometime.”

“Hrm.” The girl huffed in return, “We’ll see about that.”

A faint buzzing emanated from all around, the blip of light suddenly sparking with electricity. “Now then.” It raised itself, ominously hovering above Samantha’s head, “I’d rather not have word spreading that I still exist. Sweet dreams, Samantha. You’ll be awake shortly.”

The girl’s eyes widened in fear as a crackling ball of energy hurtled towards her face.


Samantha shuddered, curling tightly on her cot. A gentle light filtered through the filthy window, the room filled with nothing but the low hum of machinery. Abruptly, the girl gasped awake, a characteristic grin spreading across her face.

"Twilight Sparkle..."

You are not alone.

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"Twilight?" Timothy asked sleepily as he awoke from the girl's shoulder, "...Are... are you crying?"

Lisa sniffed, wiping her tears away with a sleeve as she left her friend's question unanswered.

"Seriously, Twi." the boy deadpanned, now fully awake as he placed his hand on Lisa's shoulder, "You rarely every cry. Did you have a bad dream?"

The girl nodded slowly, still visibly shaken from her experience.

Timothy paused for a moment to think, before turning his eyes back to meet with Lisa's. "Here." he began, pulling the girl in for a hug, "When I was little and had nightmares, you always let me sleep with you in your bed. It's only fair if I help you the same way."

Lisa nodded again, accepting the embrace of her friend. Deep within the confines of her mind, however, she was still replaying the nightmare over and over, having nothing else to take her mind elsewhere.

"So... what was your nightmare?" Timothy questioned, this time allowing the girl to lay on his shoulder, rather than the other way around. "I'm sure that it was probably a real doozy since you're... uh, crying and all."

The girl shook her head furiously. "Not now, Spike." she replied with a whimper, "Not now..."

The remainder of the trip was as uneventful as the rest. There was still the occasional animal that the driver would shout at with angry cries, the sky further darkened as the night grew longer, and save for Lisa, much of the bus's remained in their slumber.

Timothy had once again fallen asleep, snoring lightly as Lisa once more turned to gaze out the window. She couldn't quite tell how much time had passed anymore; she had no way of keeping track outside of counting the seconds herself. Time, however, was of little consequence at the moment.

For now, it was only Lisa, and the sky. The latter was bedazzled in all its beauty, thousands upon millions of twinkling stars piercing through the dark night sky. It reminded the girl of home. Equestria. Though with the thoughts of home, came yet again her memories of her nightmares. One by one, she mentally recounted each of her friends and their names.

Applejack, the honest farmpony who always put the truth above all else.

Rainbow Dash. A Wonderbolt reserve, loyal to her friends. She was just a bit on the lazy side, though.

Fluttershy, the most caring and kind pony she had ever met in her life.

Rarity was the only fashionista she knew of in Ponyville, and had near-limitless generosity to everyone around her.

Last but not least, Pinkie Pie. She was the joy of everyone's lives, and made it her personal duty to ensure the happiness of all, and sometimes even going as far as to put herself down to lift others up.

Lisa smiled quietly to herself as she finally let herself relax. It had been nothing more, and nothing less than a dream. A nightmare, just as she'd thought. She wasn't forgetting her friends, not when she knew them all so well... Still, however, there was still the gnawing thoughts at the back of her mind; thoughts that her nightmare could very well be a sign of things to come. Why did her friends fade away in the dream? Why hadn't she been able to recall past memories of herself even when she knew it was just a dream when it occurred?

Shaking her head, the girl pushed those thoughts from her mind with a goofy grin. It was silly to be so worried about a dream. After all, when she would reconnect to Equestria, everything would be right back to what they were before, right?

She turned from her window to peer out the windshield. There were no other vehicles around this late in the night, especially at this late of a time. A couple times earlier on, she'd seen the occasional freight truck pass by, rumbling along with all the intensity of a day's commute.

Just as before, Lisa had assumed that she somehow managed to fall into yet another dreamless sleep. Though her eyes were still closed, she could already feel the warmth of the morning sun on her skin, and her ears were filled with the excited chatter of the other volunteers, eagerly clamoring to the windows as the seemingly-endless plains began to become increasingly filled with architecture.

Soon, Lisa was able to see more people. Not inside of the bus, but rather outside, tending unkempt and fallow fields. These people appeared to be hit harder by the outage than the citizens of Snowbush, as many of them appeared to still be just as confused as she was when she'd first awoken.

The bus had finally come to a stop at the center of the city. Just like Snowbush, the place had another towering City Hall at its heart, surrounded by the familiar grid-like pattern of streets and passageways between buildings.

It was almost as if both cities had been built to the same design.

Lisa and Timothy, along with the rest of the volunteers, were greatly welcomed into the city, and for the majority of them, were then promptly shown their new offices within the City Hall. It was there where they finally learned of the name of the city they now occupied: Mountain View. It had been struck by the disconnection much later than Snowbush had been, and much of their population came from agricultural or industrial backgrounds in their simulations. Not one of them had any experience in leadership of any kind.

The first order of business presented to the volunteers was to organize the citizens of Mountain View into groups based on skills in order to keep the populace tame. Unlike Snowbush, the city hadn't received the same amount of attention as the former when their connection had dropped, and much of the population was still starving.

The girl and her assistant immediately set to work on creating a list of skills and how each would be utilized. The couple other Societal Management Officers had joined as well, peering curiously over the shoulders of Lisa and Timothy as they constructed their plans.

First off came the question of food. Where Snowbush had the advantage of receiving shipments of rations, Mountain View had nothing to rely on but its empty farmland. With winter approaching soon and no mention of reconnection as of yet for the city, it was quickly decided and agreed upon that utilizing the farmland would be a top priority.

"Hey... um, whatsyourname," Lisa began, turning to face one of the officers watching behind her back, "would you mind asking around for what would be the best veggies to grow at this time of the year?"

The officer nodded with a grunt. "The name's Chad." he answered gruffly, "I'll see what I can do."

The man lumbered out of the room, leaving the remaining three occupants to plan in silence.

With the girl's skillful crafting of the management plans and Chad out collecting information, the overall idea for what to do quickly formed into a viable means of operation. The man reported back to Lisa and Timothy every so often, while the other volunteer, a girl seemingly a few years younger than Lisa, took time to calm the still-rowdy citizens.

Eventually, it was ultimately decided to grow winter vegetables such as cabbages, beets, radishes, and others of the like. The problem of seeds was quickly handled by an old storeroom citizens had discovered near the fields, allowing the farming community to hastily sow the fields in preparation for the oncoming cold.

Lisa stood proudly at the worn doors of the storeroom along with the other volunteers from the bus, generously handing packets upon packets of seeds to each person who entered.

"TWIIIIILIIIIIGHT SPAAAAAARKLE!" a voice cheered loudly over the hustle and bustle of the other citizens, "I'D RECOGNIZE BOOK HORSE ANYWHERE!"

Lisa looked up just in time to find herself colliding with a very hyperactive girl. She was hardly alone anymore.

More than what meets the eye,

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Lisa blinked. She could clearly tell who the girl in front of her was simply by her voice, but there was something off about her. She still had the twinkle of unending joy in her eyes, and the bounce in her step that made her so recognizable, but she as a whole... it felt off.

"Well, Twilight?" the new girl began, swaying playfully on her feet as she gazed into Lisa's eyes, "Watcha waitin' for?"

Lisa shook her head with a hidden smile, dismissing the question with a hand. "Nothing, Pinkie. I just can't talk at the moment though," she replied, "I've got work to do."

The other girl shrugged, and grabbed a fistful of seed packets before abruptly bounding out the door, startling a dozen or so citizens in the process.

"W-wait!" Lisa stammered as she began to give chase to her friend, "What are you doing?!"

"Helping, of course!" the other girl shouted in return, disappearing into the sea of faces awaiting for their supplies.

"Here's a shovel and ten seed packets, sir." Lisa said with a tired smile, handing the items to a moustached man, "Your group is just behind the storeroom on the fields."

The man returned the smile, and left. Lisa sighed contently as she rested her eyes, leaning against the nearly-empty racks in mild fatigue. She had been there for hours now, passing out materials with the other volunteers to the citizens of Mountain View. There was hardly anything left to hand out anymore, and from the looks of it, nearly everybody had gotten their share of supplies.

Chad and Timothy had left together earlier to watch over the fields, leaving only Lisa and the younger girl in the room.

Lisa's eyes jerked open as she heard the only occupant of the storeroom aside from herself herself leave. A dull silence fell over the room for a moment, before being abruptly shattered as the hyperactive girl from before entered the room almost immediately after.

The difference this time, however, was the girl's expression. She trudged unhappily across the room, her bare feet thumping against the worn floorboards as she sat herself besides Lisa.

"Nothing works." she pouted with a deep frown, "I can't do it..."

"Do what?" Lisa asked, sliding down to the dusty floor beside her friend, "What are you talking about?"

The other girl responded with a silent glare, before turning away. Lisa's eyes fell on her friend's wristband; Samantha Hayes, it read, Voluntary Containment

Lisa frowned. Every other tag she had seen so far only had the name of the person inscribed. Not once had she seen any mention of Voluntary Containment before.

Pinkie-- Samantha, sighed deeply, turning back to Lisa. "Twilight?" she asked weakly, her voice wavering, "Why doesn't it work?"

"What are you talking about, Pinkie?" Lisa repeated, setting a hand over her friend's, "What doesn't work?"

"My Pinkie sense." Samantha replied solemnly, "My powers."

Lisa frowned at the girl's words. Pinkie hadn't been one to be power-hungry, not with how much she had done for others in the past... in the simulation.

"T-Twilight?" the girl stammered, "What's wrong with me? Please, tell me... you're the smarty pants around here, aren't you?"

Lisa sat silent. She had no answer.

Samantha abruptly paused, and instead gazed through the dirty windows of the storeroom, to the sky. "This world is different, isn't it?" she chuckled deeply, startling Lisa with the sudden shift in demeanor, "I guess there's room for the two of us in here... I guess I'll see you later then, Twilight."

She glanced quickly to Lisa, before turning back to the window. "Yup... I can feel it this time."

Lisa frowned again. Pinkamena seemed to be resurfacing in her friend again. "Pinkie." she stated calmly, gripping the girl's hand tighter, "Just tell me what is wrong, and I'm sure we can figure it out."

She let go of her friend's hand, waiting for an answer, or at the very least, a response from the unmoving girl.

As for Samantha, she continued to stare out the window, seemingly unaware of everything around her as she carried on in her trance-like state. Suddenly, she gasped deeply, her eyes widening. "W-where am I?!" she shouted, turning to Lisa, "What happened?"

"Pinkie, sto--" Lisa began, bringing a hand to her friend's shoulder, before being swat away.

"What-- Pinkie?!" The girl shouted again, this time in agitation, "That glitch got away?!"

There is always the unknown.

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Lisa frowned. What was her friend talking about, calling herself a glitch like that? She watched silently as the strange girl continued her mad rant for minutes on end, the sound of her voice echoing through the nearly-vacant storeroom with an increasing volume.

"Pinkie. Er, Samantha." the girl hushed in annoyance, placing a finger over her friend's mouth, "Stop shouting right now, and explain what's going on."

Samantha's eyes wavered as her glare pierced Lisa's own. Finally, with a heavy sigh, she responded. "Fine then." she pouted dismissively, "If you want to know, I'll tell you..."

Lisa's eyes lit up. "Yes, plea--"

"...tomorrow." the strange girl finished with a sly smirk, "Good things come to those who wait, don't they?"

Lisa watched as her friend rose with a grunt, and promptly left the storeroom. The usual muted silence settled over room once more, lulling the girl to sleep as she rested her head on the side of the barren shelves.

"No..." Twilight Sparkle whispered, opening her eyes to yet again find herself in the dreamscape of her mind, "No, no, no, no, no." she whispered frantically to herself, "Please no, not again... not another one, please!"

The mare could only help but watch as her friends, one by one, entered the room. Pinkie entered last, her coloration much duller than Twilight could previously remember. They didn't appear to show any signs of fading this time however, allowing her to breathe a great sigh of relief.

Maybe this won't be a nightmare after all. Twilight mused, looking away as she found herself beginning to smile, Maybe I'll finally have a good dream again.

She turned back to her friends. They appeared to be talking. Laughing, even. Her smile only grew bigger as she rose, cantering towards the book-covered tables to join her friends.

And then her eyes caught Pinkie Pie. The mare sat at the far corner of the table now, disconnected from her friends with a deep scowl covering her face. Just as with her counterpart in real-life, Twilight felt something... off about her friend.

Then she saw it: A flicker of light flashed on the edges of Pinkie's form, a faint buzz of blurriness that encompassed the mare that only seemed to intensify as Twilight drew closer.

"Pinkie?" Twilight asked carefully, her other friends seemingly unable to notice. How could they anyways, being nothing but a figment of her imagination.

"What?" Pinkie snapped in return, surprising the mare.

What is it with Pinkie? Twilight thought, taking a step back in fear, I've never thought of her like this!

The dull-pink mare in question rose from her seat with an almost regal demeanor, stepping towards Twilight without ever making a sound.

"That's because I'm not your thoughts, Twilight..." Pinkamena replied as she halted, seemingly reading Twilight's mind. The entirety of the dreamscape dissipated into nothing more than diminutive flecks of light as she continued to speak.

"But rather, I'm in your thoughts." the mare completed, stepping even closer to Twilight.

"What are you even talking about?!" Twilight shouted in reply, attempting to near her friend in vain, "Why are you like this?!"

"Why am I like this?" Pinkamena snarled, the blurriness surrounding her subsiding gradually, "I don't know," she replied sarcastically, "Why are you like that?"

"Pinkie, please!" Twilight pleaded desperately to the mare, "I-I just want to know what's going on..."

Pinkamena's expression softened as she nodded approvingly, her mane and body beginning to retake their pastel-pink hues. A single window materialized out of the endless void, a single beam of light shining through onto Twilight.

"You'll learn soon, Twilight." Pinkie answered with a sad smile, "Wake up now, sleepy head. It's morning."

The soft morning sunlight poured through the grimy window as another day began. Lisa's eyes jolted open, fully alert with her strange unconscious encounter still fresh on her mind. She slowly teetered to her feet with a slight wince of pain as she gazed out the windows.

The citizens on the morning rotation had already long-since awoken, toiling away as they helped each other prepare in case if they were unable to reconnect in time. Lisa stood at the window for a few minutes, silently admiring how she'd been able to bring a city on the brink of chaos to a state of complete order and self-sufficiency. It appeared almost as if it were clockwork to her; One would drive the rusty tractor across the span of fields, plowing and tilling as more followed behind, periodically planting packets of seeds as they went. Behind the second group came another wave of volunteers with bulging buckets of water, taken from a nearby stream that also conveniently provided for electrical needs.

The girl turned away abruptly with a frown, recalling what both representations of Pinkie Pie had told her.

Today was the day she'd learn the truth about her friend.

The truth may be hard,

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A light knock rapped at the door, Timothy entering shortly after without waiting for a reply. "Oh, hey." he began, spotting the girl standing by the window, "So you're finally awake, Twi. C'mon, I made breakfast for us and the other volunteers today..."

He paused for a moment, mentally gagging at the gelatinous sludge they and the citizens had been served before. "...hopefully," he continued thoughtfully, "It'll taste better this time."

Lisa remained silent, completely lost in thought as she mentally replayed the strange dream she had encountered the night prior.

"Twi-light," Timothy teased, "We've got books for you to read after breakfast..."

The girl smiled at her assistant's words. "Alrighty then." She began as she turned to face Timothy, "You lead the way."

Timothy nodded in response, exiting the run-down storeroom in a rush as Lisa followed closely behind. However, even with the enticing thought of fresh reading material, her mind still latched onto Pinkie's words from before.

That's because I'm not your thoughts, Twilight... but rather, I'm in your thoughts.

Good things come to those who wait, don't they?

Lisa's gentle smile slowly faded back into a thoughtful frown. How could she be in my thoughts? She wondered, slowing her pace of walking unconsciously as she processed Pinkie's words. After all, the mare had been disconnected just like herself, so how was it that she was able to communicate in such a way? The girl froze, shaking the thoughts from her mind. The real-life counterpart to the strange mare had said that today would be the day the answers came, anyway. So what was the use dwelling on little tidbits of a dream?

She continued walking, very much aware that she'd since been left behind by Timothy. Just as it was from the dirty window of the storeroom, Lisa could visibly see the impact that she and the other volunteers had made on the city of Mountain View. The citizens were hard at work, eagerly accepting the toiling labor of seeding the freshly-plowed fields as a refreshing pastime while they waited for their reconnection.

"Ay. Come on, Twilight." Timothy grumbled, gesturing towards the girl, "Do you wanna eat or what? I made pancakes for everyone using some old flour I found in the storeroom."

"Fine, fine." Lisa chided jokingly in return, "I'll go eat your crusty pancakes, Chef Spike."

Timothy rolled his eyes with a goofy grin, tugging at the sleeve of Lisa's shirt. "You know, Twi, you won't be getting any of my crusty pancakes if you don't show up. Come on, let's go."

Lisa breathed a deep sigh of relief as she was hit with the familiar musty smell of papers and books. It wasn't quite as nice as it had been in Equestria, nor would it ever really serve as a replacement. Nevertheless, it was a comforting reminder of who she was, and what she did.

Breakfast was soon served, a delightful aroma of Timothy's self-named "Crustcakes" stacking high on a central platter, accompanied with dried fruits and rehydrated juice rations shipped recently into the city of Mountain View. Timothy raised a foggy glass of orange juice for a toast.

"To the future." He and Lisa nodded at once, quickly joined by the light clinking of glass as the two other Societal Management Officers-- Chad, and the other girl, took part in the toast.

"To the hope of return," Lisa followed, playfully spearing a piece of her Crustcake on a fork, "and the well-being of all."

The rest of the meal, for the most part, took place in silence, save for the occasional ding of utensils on the cheap porcelain plates. In short time, the four officers finished their meal, hurriedly tidying the room before returning to their respectively assigned duties.

Lisa hummed to herself cheerily as she strolled through the empty streets of Mountain View. Timothy had told her that he was going to take a look at what else there was in the recent inbound shipment, slinking off shortly after to wherever it was that the supposed imports had arrived. Much of the populace continued to plow and seed the fields in an upbeat, yet frighteningly frantic fashion. There was little doubt in the minds of the civilians of what was to come if they didn't.

A flash of motion caught Lisa's eyes. "Hey!" she heard Samantha... Pinkie, whoever the cryptic girl happened to be at the moment, call. "What's up?!"

Staring off into the direction she heard the voice emanating from, Lisa watched as who she assumed to currently be Pinkie chuck another pebble. It has to be Pinkie, right? Lisa thought, continuing to stare as the other girl sprinted towards her, pebbles flying from her hands. Surely somebody such as Samantha wouldn't be doing something like that...

"Uh, hel-lo?" Pinkie knocked on Lisa's head playfully, spilling pebbles as she did so to the annoyance of the latter. "Anybody home?"

The girl shook the pebbles from her hair in bemusement. "Yeah," she responded, "By the way, about yesterday, Pinkie. You said you were gonna tell me something about what was going on with you, right?"

Pinkie shook her head furiously. "Nope!" She proclaimed with a nervous squeak, scattering the remaining pebbles as she threw her arms in the air, "I don't remember saying anything about that!"

Lisa frowned. "But... then... wha--who was talking then when you were talking about these... these powers of yours?"

"I... I don't know." Pinkie abruptly replied with a solemn voice, turning her back towards Lisa. "Just... I don't want to talk about it right now."

"Pinkie, wait!" Lisa called as the strange girl took off running. "I just want to know..."

Reassemble the puzzle.

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Lisa watched as her friend took off, even shoving people out of the way every so often as she continued running.

"...Pinkie?" The girl began again, taking a cautious step forward.

Lisa plopped down with a huff onto her bed, a relieved smile creeping across her face for a moment as she let herself sink into the crisp sheets. It was still unbelievable to the girl with how far she'd come. Yet, it was still hardly a week ago when she had first awoken to reality. Within an instant, however, the smile vanished as she turned her thoughts yet again to her friend. What could Pinkie be hiding from her? Why hadn't she recognized where she was during that encounter the day before?

Her thoughts were interrupted by a gentle rapping on her door. "Come in!" She called in return, sitting herself up on the bed. "I'm not busy at the moment if you need to talk about anythi--"

The girl stared confusedly at Samantha, the latter of whom stood solemnly in the now-ajar doorway. A frown remained firmly plastered on the strange girl as she stormed towards Lisa. "Tell me, girl." Samantha snapped, pointing a shaky finger in Lisa's face, "Tell me everything you know about Pinkie."

"I..." Lisa began carefully, choosing her words out of fear for her friend, "I don't understand what you're talking about, Samantha."

"Don't play dumb, book horse." Samantha scowled as she lowered her finger. "Don't think for even a second that I don't know about Pinkie."

Lisa scooted away from the strange girl. Was this why Pinkie was being so cryptic before? Was it because she was afraid of this other side of herself? She stared into Samantha's eyes hopeful for a hint, a clue as to what was happening-- anything.

"C'mon. Twilight, was it? Twilight Sparkle. Rolls right off the tongue, doesn't it? It should, given how I helped create you. Or at least, you at the present..."

Samantha stepped closer, slamming both her hands on the bed as Lisa shrieked for a moment, leaping further back. "Please," Lisa began, "Just... please, tell me what's even going on..."

Lisa sighed a breath of relief as the crazed girl's expression began to soften.

"You really don't remember, do you?"

Lisa shook her head.

Samantha stood up, folding her arms across her chest with a shake of her head. "You must've been in those simulations for far longer than I did then, Lisa Garnet. Don't you remember me from those engineering summer camps we used to go to?"

Once again, Lisa shook her head, albeit slower than before.

"Don't you remember me, Lisa?"

Lisa raised a thoughtful finger to her chin. "Does Pinkie count?" She stared back into Samantha's eyes. She could sense some familiarity in them that she didn't in Pinkie, but she couldn't quite grasp what it was.

The strange girl stared back, her face an endlessly shifting vat of emotions. "I-- you... ugh." She began, "Listen, I probably don't have much longer before I'm replaced yet again by that mare's persona, but before I go, just let me tell you something. Friend to former friend, alright? Knowing Lisa and how you're an extension of her persona, rather than what I am, I think I can still trust you."

"O-okay." Lisa nodded nervously, glancing around the room as Samantha sat down beside her.

"Around half a decade ago, when the two of us were still in school, we both decided to enter a lottery to join and help create an experimental Artificial Intelligence-run network of Virtual Reality simulations. Miraculously, we had both been drawn, though each for different purposes. For our coding skills, we became developers to create the unique AI entities that would at first populate the simulations before additional users would join. The plan was to let new users pick a character that matched them the best, or to request an entirely customized entity for an additional fee."

Lisa nodded curiously. "Go on," she mumbled. "I think I'm starting to get something."

Samantha grinned. "And here comes the good part. It turns out that as part of the government program's benefits for co-developers and early testers, we were allowed to jointly create our own characters for ourselves if we wanted to join the simulations later on. At the time, I had already skyrocketed to the top of our individual project as a lead developer for the AIs. Though, as always, there were a few... mistakes." The strange girl glanced towards the open door, before turning back to Lisa. "You helped quite a bit in creating the world, history, and overall lore of our simulation. The leaders, the people... er, ponies, so on. When I was working on Celestia's original code, I misplaced a function without noticing and accidentally granted the AI a sort of superuser status. Before I had realized what was happening, I already deployed the AI into the simulations. What was most foolish out of that fiasco was that I realized far too late that we hadn't ever created any backups. Though with the damage being dealt, I could no longer contain what I had come to call Discord, so I put as much effort as I could into sealing him away. It appeared to work at first, but from what I remember seeing before I connected myself to the simulation, the AI had taken on a more tranquil state, and didn't appear to be causing any more harm."

Discord. Lisa whispered under her breath, No wonder you have such a controlling grip on everything.

"Huh?" Samantha responded, turning towards her friend. "You were saying something?"

"No, no." The girl shook her head. "It was nothing. By the way, you said that Celestia was an artificial intelligence?"

Samantha nodded. "Yeah, for a time. Ultimately, it was decided that she'd be a rotation of volunteers that would be hand-picked for leadership skills. I didn't want a repeat of the Discord fiasco if I decided to try out an AI for her again."

"Huh." Lisa shrugged, taking in the information. "What else did you do before? I think I'm starting to vaguely remember, but... I'm not quite sure yet."

The strange girl placed a hand on Lisa's shoulder. "Hey, don't sweat it, alright?" She began, "It'll come back to you. You weren't forced to forget your past life. That was part of the ethical concern of the project. It's just been a while since you've last thought about it, so just take your time."

Lisa sighed with a slight nod. "Okay then. What else did you do afterwards?"

"I then-argh!" Samantha yelled, clutching her head as she fell limp onto the bed, unmoving save for a rapid succession of deep breaths.

"Samantha!" Lisa cried out, taking hold of her friend's hand, "Wha--"

"...Twilight?" Samantha groaned, squeezing the girl's hand, "What happened? Where am I?"

Guest Chapter: Wandering for Apples (lightningman)

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Timothy yawned, stretching as he groggily sat up in his cot. He looked around and noticed that Twilight was still asleep. He let out a sigh as he got up and grabbed a piece of paper and a pen.

"Dear Twilight.” he mouthed, mirroring the words that he wrote, “Don't worry, I'll be back in a few hours. I’m leaving to see if any of our other friends are here.

With that written down, the boy got dressed and left in search of their other friends. He was walking around searching for their friends. It had been an hour since then, And he wasn’t having any luck. He was just about to call it off and head back home when he bumped into someone.

“Oof!” He groaned as he landed on his back, glaring in irritation towards the figure looming above him.

“Oh. Uh, sorry.” The other boy apologized, reaching a hand towards Timothy. “You alright, kid?”

“Yeah.” Timothy responded, brushing himself off as he stood, a slice grimace flashing across his face all the while. “I wasn’t paying attention.”

“Neither was I.” The other boy sighed and glanced about. “I never figured I would be out here again. Did you?”

Timothy blinked. “What do you mean, ‘Out here again?’” He began, still flicking dirt off his clothes, “Was there something I missed?”

“You… Don’t remember being out here before you went into the simulations?”

Timothy shook his head.

“Of course.” The boy continued, “It seems I’m one of the few that do remember why they left this place.” He shook his head. “Anyways. What were you looking for?”

“W-what makes you think I’m looking for anything?” Timothy stammered, backing up from the boy.

“When you bumped into me, you seemed to be deep in thought. And considering you could think at wherever it is that you live, you were, and are, obviously looking for something.”

Timothy opened his mouth a bit, seemingly about to argue before he let out a sigh.
“Alright.” He began in defeat, “You got me. I’m just looking for my friends from my own simulation.”

“What simulation is that? Maybe I could help.”

“Well, I don’t know exactly what it was called…” Timothy began, “…but I do remember where we lived. It was a country called Equestria, though you’d probably never let me hear the end of it if I told you who the inhabitants were.”

Timothy let out a long, drawn-out sigh as he turned his back on the other boy.

“You… You were there too?”

Timothy paused. “Wait, wha--” he began, turning.

“Yeah.” The other boy cut off, “Tame Wanderer at your service.” Timothy chuckled as the boy awkwardly performed a mock bow. With the act complete, Tame Wanderer turned back towards Timothy. “Now then. What’s your name?”

“Timothy. Why do you ask?”

Tame Wanderer shook his head. “No, no. I mean your full name!”

“Timothy… Carter?” The boy replied, raising a brow towards Tame. “I mean, if you’re trying to ask me who I was in the simulations, then it’d be Spike.”

“Wait. Spike as in, The hero of The Crystal Empire Spike?” Tame gasped in excitement, “Really?!”

“Um... Yeah, that’s me!” Timothy nodded, striking a triumphant pose. “You can thank me later, citizen!”

“Wow…” The other boy sighed, staring in awe at Timothy, “You must be searching for the element bearers then, right? I can help you with two of them if you are, though I don’t know where the other four are.”

Timothy raised a brow. “Which ones do you know about then?”

Tame shook his head slowly. “I’m pretty sure that Applejack and Rarity are here in town somewhere. I don’t know where they currently are right now, but I’d suggest searching around the Food Hall.”
Spike smiled. “Thanks, Tame. Maybe we’ll run into each other again sometime, you think?”

“Well… bye, Spike. May Harmony shine bright upon you.” Tame saluted. As the boy promptly turned to leave, Timothy turned to set his sights on the food hall, a looming attachment protruding sorely from the otherwise monotonous Town Hall. A crowd appeared to have gathered nearby, forming a shell around some run-down tables as a repeated thump noise emanated from the area.
“You planning on arm wrestling Melissa, sonny?” An aging woman crowed, hobbling towards the boy, “I wouldn’t advise that.”

“Melissa?” Timothy mouthed, staring towards the source of the noise: A particularly determined teen engaged in an arm-wrestling match. His eyes widened with awe as she handily defeated each and every opponent that dared to face her. Not hesitating a moment, the boy strode towards Melissa, wincing as the sound of yet another defeat rung through his ears. Slowly, he reached out, and tapped the girl on the shoulder.
Melissa ignored him at first, intently focusing on her current match. With another thump on the weathered table later, she turned to face the boy. “What can ah do for ya, pardner?”

Timothy smiled. “Hi, Applejack.” He waved.

Guest Chapter: A Chance Encounter (DragonGeek)

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Lisa barely noticed where she was going as she walked home from meeting Samantha. Her mind was running over the details, over and over, searching for something she’d missed. She still had more questions than answers--even worse than when she’d begun!

Finally, she looked up at her surroundings, only to realize that she was lost. She’d been paying so little attention, she’d forgotten to even navigate. The town had only a basic layout; it shouldn’t have been that difficult to find her way back to the center if she could just get an idea of the direction it was in.

Sighing, she approached a woman standing by the side. Her brown hair was done in a long braid, almost to her waist. Lisa found herself wondering if anyone received haircuts while plugged into the simulations.

“Excuse me,” she began, “can you point me in the direction of the Town Center?”

The woman’s eyes opened wide. “I’d recognize that voice anywhere! Twilight Sparkle?”

“...yes?” Lisa answered uncertainly. “Do I know you?”

She moved back a bit, awkwardly. “Well, no, I guess you wouldn’t. I’d recognize you anywhere, though. Twilight Sparkle, the mare who invented three different library organizing systems, each more efficient than the last! I attended talks you gave on each one. I’d never forget that voice. So rational, so organized!”

“Are you… drooling?”

She straightened self-consciously. “No.”

Lisa decided not to press the matter. “What’s your name?” she asked with interest.

“Minty Clear.”

“Your real name.”

“It is.” Minty replied determinedly. “As far as I’m concerned, that world was real. The ponies I interacted with on a daily basis were real. The books they wrote for each other, the books they checked out from my library that they read time and time again that they dog-eared the pages of... and everything else, those were real.”

Lisa paused. She had forced the question down to the bottom of her mind, determined to focus on the here and now, but Minty’s words made it bubble up again with full force. When the power comes back on, will I re-enter the simulation? If Minty was to be believed, she’d made an impact on more than just her five friends--six, counting Spike.

Minty pointed to her left. “Also, the Town Center is that way.” she added.

“Thanks,” Lisa said, turning to head back. She tried to push the turmoil of thoughts within her back down, and focus on the here and now, but it wasn’t as easy as it had been before. Even when she tried to focus on making a checklist of what things she needed to do that day, the question bubbled up again:

Will I stay here, or go back to Equestria?

Give it some thought.

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"Shh..." Lisa hushed, brushing a hand over her friend's forehead, "It's alright, Pinkie. It's over now."

"W-what's over?" Samantha frowned, nudging her friend away. "I still want to know, Twilight. What happened? I can feel it, but I can't quite tell what it was exactly..."

Lisa shook her head, remembering the strange girl's words from mere minutes ago. "It's-- it's nothing, Pinkie. You... I guess you must've..."

"Must've what?"

The girl sighed. "Listen, Pinkie." She began slowly, "Don't tell anybody else that I know about this, but I was talking to Samantha not too long ago."

Samantha gasped, backing away from her friend. "You... you know?" She stuttered, reaching an arm towards the doorknob, "Why... how could you?!"

"Wait!" Lisa cried as the strange girl once again disappeared with the slam of a door. "What did I do?"

Pinkie and I... or at least, our alter-egos, helped create Equestria as we know it...

The thoughts swirled about Lisa's mind, no matter how hard the girl tried to expel it.

You really don't remember, do you?

You weren't forced to forget your past life.

The girl paused, an entirely new question formulating in her mind.

If the simulations were made to recreate reality, what could've possibly happened here in real-life?

"C'mon, girly." Chad's gruff voice cut through the air as he turned towards the younger girl beside him. "You can carry another bag, can't ya?"

The girl shook her head, her arms straining already to lift the two bags of flour she was carrying.

Chad stared at the girl for another moment, before grabbing two bags of his own from the rations truck. "Alrighty then." He continued, "Let's get these things back to the storehouse."

Lisa watched silently as her two fellow officers lumbered towards the run-down storehouse, bulging bags of flour in tow. Was this really what this world had come to? Or was it simply a byproduct of the disconnection that resulted in such a dire state of civilization? The girl continued to watch as the two vanished into the storehouse, reemerging moments later as they made their way back to the truck. Back and forth, back and forth they went, never stopping to rest.


"Gah!" Lisa shrieked, jolting from the surprise as Timothy sat down beside her, "Spike! Don't scare me like that again!"

Timothy shrugged. "Hey, it's not like you weren't being a creep as well, watching those two doing their share of the work while you're just... what even are you doing, Twilight?"

The girl stared downwards. "Watching them." She sighed, turning her focus back to her friend, "It's just... well, I've been feeling more and more disconnected from my friends than I've ever been before."

Timothy silently raised a brow.

"No, no. It's not like that." Lisa corrected, "I know you're still here. It's just that the rest of our friends... well, I guess save for Pinkie, but even then, she's hardly ever herself anymore, but--"

"Twilight." The boy said sternly, placing a hand on Lisa's shoulder, "You're rambling again."

The girl let out a defeated sigh, shaking her head as she leaned back against the rough wall of the building behind them. "Sorry..." She began, "It's nothing, really. I've just been feeling down lately, and I don't quite know why." She dug her fingers into the cool soil. "I don't even know how to put it into words anymore, Spike."

"Hey," Timothy continued, "It's okay. You don't have to worry about a thing. We've only got, what... like, a week left until we can reconnect, Twilight."

Lisa shook her head. "I know, Spike. But... I'm not sure if I even want to go back anymore." The girl gazed towards the sky with a frown. "Samantha... Pinkie's alter ego, or whatever she calls her, told me that we used to be friends. Not between myself and Pinkie, but between us, Lisa and Samantha."


"I'm don't want to go back yet, Spike. I want to remember who I was, who I am." The girl rambled on, her eyes wild with glee, "I want to see what else there is in the world, meet some new people maybe. Even make some new friends!"

Timothy gripped Lisa's shoulder harder. "Twilight." He began, nudging her repeatedly, "Twilight, come on. You know you can't stay here. Equestria needs you still!"

"I..." Lisa paused, staring blankly into the distance. "I have to go back, don't I?"

The past never dies.

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Lisa sighed, idly staring into the distance as the sun began to lower over the horizon. The near-cloudless sky was painted full of brilliant oranges and yellows, a chill breeze whistling through the streets as people went about.

What was my old life? She whispered, still gazing towards the sky from the building's siding, What about Equestria?

The bustle of the place had since died down, with fewer and fewer people roaming past the girl on the streets. Lisa shut her eyes, leaning her head against the rough brick siding. Faraway, she heard the creak of a door shutting, its echo carried through the day-end air. It seemed almost as if the city of Mountain View itself was winding down. Every movement seemed to slow, every sound grew softer. Within minutes, the girl fell asleep once more.

Twilight Sparkle opened her eyes to yet again find herself in her library. The familiar, heavy scent of books and papers wafted through the air as the alicorn stood. "Oh. Another dream?" Twilight murmured, glancing about the place she had called home. "Girls? Hello?"

The mare was met with complete and utter silence. For a brief moment, it appeared almost as if the surroundings had blinked, shifting abruptly to an entirely different form before reverting just as quickly to its original state. A faint buzzing droned on overhead, much to Twilight's dismay. "Spike?" She shouted into the depths of the place, "Are you there?"

She smiled to herself. Of course they aren't here. Why would they? She turned her gaze towards the dreaded door that she had previously seen her friends disappear through. After all, it's only a dream... I'll see them soon, wouldn't I?

The faint buzzing had since grown much more audible, as if whatever it was emitting it had grown much closer than before. At the same time, the mare blinked, staring towards the light fixture. Was it this bright before? Twilight took a step, jumping back in surprise as the ground before her vanished, leaving nothing but a blank, blazingly-white spot. One by one, individual items disappeared into flashes of light, the frequency growing ever higher until all that was left was the mare herself.

Twilight stood on a plane of blank, squinting as she shielded herself with a wing from the absurdly bright light that came from all around. Absolutely nothing occurred. Absolutely nothing appeared. It was all empty, a world devoid of everything but light. Yet, at the same time, the buzzing noise from before had since returned, blasting to a monstrous roar, and sounding straight through the mare's bones and ricocheting through her skull. Between the blinding brightness of her surroundings and the deafening noise from all around, it took nearly all of the mare's strength to simply stand.

However, just as abruptly as it began, everything stopped. The light vanished with a flash of static, the noise silencing to an inaudible whirr. Cautiously, Twilight lowered her wings, still braced for the sudden return of the sensory overload from before. To her surprise, though, there was... nothing. Whereas before there was brilliantly blinding light, there was now omnipotent void. For the second time in a row, absolutely nothing happened.

Suddenly, with a rush of colors and sensations, the illusion dematerialized, fading away within seconds as light once again filled Twilight's eyes. Not from the blank canvas of nothingness, but from a scene; an experience. Shortly after, she noticed that she was once again human. Though, her surroundings felt almost entirely alien to her. Almost. The jingle of bells caught her ears.

"Hey, Lisa." A man with a greying beard greeted, wandering into the room Twilight, Lisa, now stood in. "How's the prototype going?"

The girl froze, a glint of familiarity shining from the man's eyes. She felt herself move unconsciously, finding herself unable to control her movements.

"Hi there, Prof!" Lisa felt herself speak, "It's almost done. I just need a bit more time to tweak it, then I can show you. Alright?"

The Professor shook his head, the bells at the end of his red hat jingling as he did so. "No, no. It's fine. Take your time, Lisa. Your friend Samantha took the day off for today. Don't you want to as well? All the other kids are out on Christmas break enjoying the snow, y'know."

Lisa's eyes turned back towards a wall of monitors, some displaying endless lines of text scrolling infinitely downwards, some covered with nearly-finished models, and still others filled with miscellaneous content. She felt herself shake her head. "I'm good." She replied, "I wanna finish this thing up to show Samantha when she gets back. Is that okay?"

"Fine then. Do you want some hot chocolate while you're at it?"

The girl nodded. "Yeah. Thanks." She turned back to the monitor array for a brief moment, before refocusing on teh conversation. "I think I should probably be able to finish what I'm working on in a couple hours, and then I'll go chill with Sam."

The Professor nodded as Lisa once again turned back to her work. He stalked up behind the girl, the red hat in hand before suddenly plopping it atop Lisa's head.

"Hey!" Lisa jokingly chided, knocking the hat away with a free hand, "Stop it!"

"Ha! Okay then, I'll stop. Anyways, Merry Christmas!" The Professor chuckled, bending down to grab the hat from the floor. A moment and the jingle of bells later, and he was gone.

Lisa felt her body turn towards the door. She wanted to leap from her seat, to chase after this 'Professor' that she continuously found herself talking to moments ago. Yet she couldn't.

It's still only a dream, right? The girl thought, her fingers flying across the keyboard almost entirely by themselves.

From behind her unwavering eyes, Lisa watched herself type line after line into the machine. The vague air of familiarity had since grown much stronger than before, and as the girl continued to watch herself type, she-- Twilight Sparkle, gasped.

For the first time ever, the mare watched her own creation.

Char0 {

NAME == "Twilight_Sparkle"

GENDER == "f"

AGE == "preset_adult1"

INITIAL_OCCUPATION == "preset_adult1"

MODEL == "bookhorse_0"




UponConnection {



MergeMemoryStore(preset_adult1, USER)



I͗t̝̝͓͆ͩ̇ ̘̫͖͕͚̬̩͛ͧ̑ͥ̆ͫͩa̟͇̭̝̦͑̽ͤͧ͂l̢̜̼͉̺͔l ̈͋͠e͕̲̦̗̼ͣͧ͂ͥ͒n͐d̸̎̊̉̿̉ͪ̚s ̠͉̭̑̏ͯhͤ̋͆̚ê̿̓̒̄̄r͖̪ͬ̀e̺̥̪͙͇̮̟ͨͮ̓ͨͯ͐̃.̼̞̮̯̣

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Twilight awoke with a jolt, her hooves scrambling to her face as she tore off another headset.

"What." She deadpanned, staring towards the labeling on the side.

Human-Simulator 2: Electric Scootaloo.

She stared down to her hooves. Hooves, not hands. Had it really been just another simulation?

The mare glanced up just in time to be smacked in the face by a projectile ICBS (InterContinental Ballistic Spike).

(Also, it's Spike the dragon, not the impaling Spike. Unless you want it to be so.)

Lisa groaned, placing a weary hand on the smooth surface of the headset strapped to her face. "Ugh..." The girl groaned, lazily pulling the device off and rubbing her eyes, "When is this gonna stop?"

Do I even want to know what's on the label?

She placed a hand on the side of the headset that lay beside her, tracing the engraved lettering on the side.



The pillow she lay on then spontaneously imploded, sending the girl tumbling.

"No..." Twilight whispered, pawing at her headset, "No, not again... not this time..."

"Welcome to the hubworld of Equestron." A robotic voice echoed throughout the nearly-empty room, "User xXxTw1br1t3-SperklzxXx, please exit the simulation designated Humans of the Future in a safe and orderly manner. We hope to see you again soon."

The mare lifted herself from the cot with a grunt, squinting in the bright lights that surrounded her. "Spike?" She called, "Are you there? Hello?"

No response.

The mare proceeded to trip on a perfectly-placed banana peel and fall face-first onto the sleek, metallic flooring.

"Blerghlysh." Craegsmuth gurgled, its majestic space-noodles flowing in the wind of the great Planet Ketchup, tearing the large slice of bread from its face.

At this point, reality has stopped responding. As did the logical functions of all of those who read and/or write this chapter.

A brief glimpse is all it takes,

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"Twilight?" Timothy's voice echoed through the empty streets, "Twi-light! Come on, we've got a meeting soon!"

Lisa groaned, bringing a hand to her head as she woke. "Ugh..." She began, "Spike? Is that you?" She leaned back on the siding for another moment before standing. "Alright, I'm awake."

"Come on, Twi!" The boy whined, tugging at Lisa's arm, "We're gonna be late if we don't hurry!"

Lisa took a lazy step forwards, swaying on her feet as she struggled to regain her balance. The sky had long-since grown dark, the looming buildings casting towering silhouettes into the night sky.

Timothy grabbed Lisa by the shoulder, the girl still blinking the drowsiness from her eyes. "C'mon." The boy mused, "Even I don't get this tired from this kinda stuff, Twilight."

"Fine, fine." The girl huffed, straightening out her clothes, "What time is it, anyways?"

Timothy shrugged gesturing towards the City Hall. "It doesn't really matter right now. C'mon, before we're late!"

An idle murmur filled the room as dozens of volunteers, workers, and officials filed in once more. Once again, Daalmans stood center-stage, her unwavering eyes focusing on each person who entered, one-by-one.

The woman cleared her throat and pulled a sheet off the lectern as the last person sat. "As you may know already," She began slowly, glancing down for a moment before returning her focus to the audience, "our local sustenance sector has been working hard to not only re-establish a reliable connection to the broader world, but to also develop a stockpile of edibles and other necessities in the case of another disconnect."

A wave of nods rolled over the crowd. "Now then," Daalmans continued, glancing to the paper for another moment, "for those of whom who haven't yet met the man, allow me to introduce Professor Argall, a man who dedicated much of his time to these simulations that you all enjoy."

Daalmans nodded to some unseen figure behind the curtain and stepped back. In return, a lanky man with a greying beard strode across the stage, stopping at the lectern with a warm smile.

Lisa's eyes widened as the professor she saw in her dream stood before the crowd.

"Um..." The professor began, his smile fading as his eyes shrunk to pinpricks, "...hi? I'm Yazhu Argall, or Professor Argall, as you all currently know me as." His gaze wandered over the crowd, settling upon Lisa and Timothy as his smile returned.

"Well then." The man continued, regaining his composure, "Continuing on. As I've said before, I am Professor Argall. I've spent years studying in the fields of virtual reality and artificial intelligence. Many years ago, before some of you here were even born yet, I, along with my colleagues, began working on a new project. A different type of project, so to say. Rather than to develop yet another AI-based cybersecurity tool or create the next big game, we pooled our resources and began opening tutoring classes to the public. Why, you may ask, when our skills alone could do so much for the world? Simple, I would reply; The future."

Professor Argall paused, shooting a friendly glance towards Lisa. "What we didn't expect, however," He continued as he turned back to the larger audience, "was for our project to develop into an international collaboration to bring together the most aspiring of students. On top of that, we certainly didn't expect for those very same students to play a leading role in the creation of the very simulations that we now enjoy."

"What about the disconnect?" A voice yelled over the crowd, "What do you have in mind to bring the simulations back?"

The professor nodded. "Ah, just what I was getting to. We've already found the source of the issue; A worn network line buried deep under the ground, as I was told by the network operators, was severed, likely by some poor little critter mistaking the thing for a snack. It shouldn't be long before we find and correct any other points of issue along the lines."

The room filled at once with murmurs and nods of approval. "Now then." The professor continued, "Any other questions?"

"Twilight!" Timothy whispered, pointing towards the man, "Do you recognize him? He looked at us several times, and I heard you gasp earlier when he came onto the stage."

Lisa nodded, silently raising her hand up at the same time.

Professor Argall turned towards the girl. "Oh? I believe I already know what you're going to ask. We can talk later, once I'm done with the other questions. Alright?"

The girl nodded again, lowering her hand as the professor addressed another question.

"Hey, Lisa."

The girl glanced towards the professor.

"Do... do you remember me at all?" Professor Argall stuttered, fiddling with his shirt collar, "Y'know, with how you even went as far as dedicating one of the characters to me?"

Lisa raised a brow, then shook her head.

"...Starswirl." The professor mumbled, "Starswirl the Bearded, wasn't it? You based the guy's look off of the fact that I decided to wear my wizard Halloween costume over Christmas break because it looked like Santa's suit."

Lisa shook her head again. "I don't remember really anything..." She began slowly, leaning on the moonlit wall of the city hall. "I wish I could, but there's just been so much going on recently, and I've got my own worries about what's going on in Eques-"

"Ha! There's the girl that I tutored all those years ago!" Professor Argall laughed, "So many years have passed, and you're still just as focused on your work and studies as ever, I see. How's this Equestria project coming along, anyways?"

The girl shrugged. "Fine, I guess. I... er, we've more or less been in an almost-yearly rotation of fighting some monster or villain of some sort." She stared at the ground. "Though, I'm guessing that you already knew that?"

Smirking, Argall let out a sigh. "Yes I do, Lisa. I still remember how you would go off rambling for hours about some aspect of the simulation that you decided to add, or even just a new character that you and your friend created as a joke."


The old man shook his head with a chuckle. "I'm getting old, Lisa. I can't remember anything that specific, not unless it's something that you've absolutely drilled into my mind."

A slight smile crept across Lisa's face. "Like Starswirl?"

Argall's eyes lit up. "Yes, Lisa. Just like Starswirl. I remember you going on and on about all the little things that you'd put into the guy to make him be this... this sorta glorified mentor of sorts that you would meet sometime down the road once you've entered the simulation yourself." He turned his gaze towards the moon shining overhead, falling silent as a gentle breeze whistled through the streets. "Sheesh, has it been a while. Just a decade's difference, and look where we are now... a world of virtual lives, separated cleanly from reality by the will of any who wish to start from the beginning."

Lisa smirked. "I guess that's just the way things turn out sometimes, huh professor?"

Now, there's a choice to make.

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Professor Argall let out a lazy yawn, staring off into the nighttime moon. "Anyways," He began slowly, "I guess I'll be sticking around for a bit longer. It's not like I really have anywhere else to go at the moment..." The man glanced towards Lisa with a grin. "And besides, I'd rather spend some time with an old student of mine anyways. Retirement be darned, I just get bored with life when I don't have anythin' to do."

A distant breeze whistled through the streets, earning a surprised yelp from the girl as her vision was covered with a flurry of hair. "Ugh." Lisa began, rolling her eyes as she swiped her hair out of her vision, "Professor, any idea why these... cities are so far from each other? Are all the cities around here like this?"

Argall shook his head. "Hardly, Lisa." He scratched is head as he stared down the empty nighttime streets, leaning back against the siding of the City Hall building. "This specific little bundle of cities that make up your Sustenance Sector, or whatever they call 'em, is just a bit isolated. That's all."

"W-what do you mean?"

The Professor shrugged. "Hey, it wasn't my decision when it was voted to keep the people in the simulations out of the way of regular society. Personally, I would've preferred if it was more of a portable setup. Y'know?"

Lisa shook her head, brushing another stray lock of hair from her face. "So, you're saying that not everyone is in the simulations?"

"Nope." The old man said nonchalantly with another shrug. "You even went as far as to argue that you yourself should be put, as you specifically stated, 'far away in the middle of nowhere', just because you were paranoid of something going wrong and causing harm to others."

"Huh." Lisa whispered to herself. "That certainly explains why I was so far away from the others when I first woke."

Professor Argall glanced towards the girl. "What was that?"

"Oh, nothing." Lisa brushed off the question, "Just talking to myself a bit."

"Well then..." Argall began with a grunt, pulling himself off the ground. "I'd say that we had a nice little chat tonight. You'd better get to bed soon, Lisa. We've both got a long day ahead of us."

The girl nodded, turning to leave before she was stopped by a final question from the old Professor.

"Oh, and say hi to Samantha for me, eh? I saw her earlier around here, but I couldn't quite catch up with her."

So. Lisa thought to herself as she ascended the steps of City Hall. He does remember.

"Hey, Twilight." Timothy greeted, swinging his legs over the side of Lisa's bed. "How was the conversation with that Professor of yours?"

Lisa shrugged. "Interesting, I guess. I'm really not all that sure of what to think about this whole situation yet." She sat down beside the boy with a huff. "Well, to begin, it turns out that in a way, Professor Argall is Starswirl the Bearded, but only in a way that was meant as a joke."

Timothy snorted in amusement. "Yeah, and?" He said impatiently, staring at the girl.

"Second, there's an entirely different world out there, beyond the cities that we've been living in for the past week or so."

"Understandable." Timothy agreed, "Go on."

"What I mean is," Lisa continued, "not everybody is in a simulation. Apparently, most people still live outside of them."

Timothy went silent, staring out the window with wide eyes as he let the girl's words sink in.

"Timoth--I mean, Spike." Lisa called, "I wasn't done yet. Do you want to hear the rest?"

The boy shook his head, getting up and making his way to the door. "Nah, I think I've heard enough for the day. I'm going to bed now, so just knock or something if you need me. Alright?"

Putting on a friendly grin, Lisa nodded. "Yeah. Goodnight, Spike."

"Goodnight, Twilight."

The sound of the door's clack reverberated throughout the room for a brief moment. Once again, the room went silent. Lisa collapsed onto her bed, blowing a stray lock of hair from her face with an irritated huff.

I need a haircut. The girl realized, slowly drifting into sleep. It's been a while since I've let it down like this...

Lisa winced as the soft rays of the morning sun blasted down on her face. "Ugh." She groaned slowly, turning in her bed as she pulled her blanket over her face. "So that's how it's gonna be. I wake up from a dreamless sleep to blindness..."

"Twi-light!" Samantha's voice called through the open window, "Wakey time, sleepyhead! That funny professor guy from the meeting told me to say hi to you!"

"Not now, Pinkie..." Lisa shouted back groggily, "Lemme just have my sleep."

"What if I told you that mister professor guy is down here with me?"

Lisa jerked awake, clamoring to her window and gazing out. Sure enough, Professor Argall stood beside Samantha, a warm grin spread across his face.

"Okay, okay." The girl replied, darting through the doorway. "I'm coming!"

Moments later, she burst through the doors of City Hall. "Alright, I'm here! What do you wanna talk about, Professor?"

Argall gestured towards the ecstatic girl beside him. "Not much, but I definitely see that Samantha here certainly made her word on merging herself with the intelligence she created. Heck, if she looked any different, I wouldn't have been able to tell that she was your friend at all!"

Samantha eagerly nodded beside the man. "Yeah, I mean, when he first started out calling me Samantha, I was all like, 'Ooh, who are you?' and then he was like, 'Ah, so don't you remember your old professor?' so I had to think and think until I finally--"

Lisa placed a finger over her friend's mouth. "Okay, Pinkie. We get it." She turned back to Argall. "So, do you want any breakfast?"

Professor Argall shrugged. "Beats me." He began with a chuckle, "Last time I remember you tried cooking, the pressure cooker exploded! You should've seen the janitor's face when I told the guy what happened."

"Ha!" Samantha threw her arms into the air. "I bet it just went all boomy-kablooey!"

"Oh, no no no." The girl quickly clarified, "I'm not the one doing the cooking. Um... let's see. So, you know how there were others besides me and Samantha that joined the simulations later on?"

"Hey, Twilight." Timothy greeted as the three entered the lunchroom, "That the Professor you were talking about last night?"

Professor Argall nodded proudly, stepping up to the boy with his hand outstretched. "You must be that Timothy boy that Lisa here keeps talking about. Word has it that you were her, and as I quote, 'Assistant and companion to the point of having a familial bond to her'. Am I correct, Lisa?"

"H-hey!" Timothy blurted before anybody could answer, "You didn't have to tell him everything, y'know!"

"She didn't have to, but she wanted to!" Samantha argued, snatching a pancake from the boy.

Lisa shrugged. After all... she thought to herself, It gave us something to talk about on our way here...

The girl turned to the the towering stack of pancakes, then back to Timothy, a silent brow raised.

This time, it was his turn to shrug. "Don't look at me," The boy countered, "I don't have any idea how much he's gonna eat."

"Oh, me? I'm fine." The Professor quickly dismissed, shaking his head with a cocky grin. "I gotta watch my calories. My parents always told me to grow up, not sideways... Though, by all means, those pancakes you got there sure look tasty. Perhaps one or two should serve me fine."

"Suit yourself." Timothy grumbled, eliciting a slight chuckle from Lisa as he slid a couple pancakes onto a plate. "More for me and Twilight."

The room fell into a tranquil quiet as the four turned their focus onto breakfast, broken occasionally by the clinking of silverware.

"So." Professor Argall began, setting down his fork, "Samantha, I take that everything's going well mentally for you?"

Samantha glanced up from ground zero of her pancake carnage. "Huh? Well, I--"

A series of short beeps came from the Professor's pocket, interrupting the girl. "Whoops.” The man began, pulling out a cellphone as he stood up. “Hold that thought, Sam. Gotta answer a thing real quick, alright?"

“Okay!” Samantha grinned, grabbing her temples. “I’m holding it!”

The Professor wandered from the room, leaving the remaining three at the table. Lisa sighed gently, resting her head on a hand as her gaze set on Samantha, who began to idly fiddle with her bangs as she “held her thoughts”.

It’s been a little while now since you’ve surfaced, Samantha. The girl continued watching her friend’s antics. You still there, Sam?

Lisa froze, catching her train of thought. Wait… Her eyes narrowed as she became fixated on the windows. Was I really just wishing for Pinkie’s alter-ego to come out?

Shaking her head, the girl brushed away the thought.

Professor Argall returned to the room almost immediately after, a slow stroll in his legs. “Well,” He began solemnly, “Seems like most of the simulations just went back online a couple minutes ago. I guess this’ll be goodbye for us?”

Lisa’s eyes widened at the man’s words.

Go home...

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"...Goodbye?" Lisa mumbled, staring towards the floor. "...Already?"

Professor Argall shook his head. "Lisa, wasn't this what you wanted?" He began, "What about your friends back in the simulations? What about everyone you've left behind?" He paused for a moment, staring down to his phone's screen. "You've made an amazing, beautiful world for everyone, Lisa. You deserve to experience it with the ones you love."

The girl glanced towards Samantha and Timothy. The former of whom continued to wreak havoc on her pancakes. "But I-- I'm not sure if I'm ready to go back yet. There's just so much that I want to learn about this world still..."

"Twilight, you have to go back. For Equestria." Timothy said, taking Lisa's hand. "C'mon. I know that I'll be going back now. Aren't you? Don't you want to see the rest of the girls again?"

Lisa sighed. "I don't know, Timothy. I just--"

"Twilight." The boy cut in, "Did you... did you just call me Timothy?"

Lisa groaned. "Spike, Spike. Yeah, I know... just, sorry, okay?" She turned towards her friend. "Samantha, you?"

"Please don't call me that again, Twilight." Samantha grumbled in return, the light in her eyes seemingly fading with each word. "I don't... I don't want to think about it anymore. It's fine coming from Argall, but from you... just don't. Okay? The Professor doesn't know, but you do. It's different coming from you."

"Say," Argall began, "I never got around to asking you about how things were going... uh, Pinkie, was it?"

Samantha nodded enthusiastically, flinging sticky bits of pancakes from her hair with each movement. "Yup! I've made it my goal to meet and make friends with everypony I meet! You should've seen Twily's face when I threw her a 'Welcome to Ponyville!' party! She was just all 'Waah!' and 'What?!' and stuff! Right? Remember that, Twi--"

"Woah there, girl." The Professor cut in, "I meant as far as the project. Lisa, erm... Twilight and I were discussing the days back when the two of you worked on the simulations yourselves. I just wanted to know if you'd like to talk about it."

Samantha shook her head. "N-nope!" She stammered, "Don't remember anything! I-I definitely don't... know... wh--what..."

Lisa pat her friend on the shoulder. "It's fine, Pinkie. You don't have to answer." She turned towards Professor Argall. "Sorry about that. She's kinda... touchy on that topic. It'd be best if we don't talk about it."

Another beep echoed through the room as the Professor immediately turned his gaze back to his phone.
"C'mon, Lisa. You're gonna miss the bus back to Snowbush if you don't go soon. I could come with you if you'd like. Just, y'know, talk over things one last time before you reconnect and all?"

Right... The girl thought, turning her attention to the brightly-lit windows, I've been living here in Mountain View for a while now, haven't I?

"Well, Twilight?" Timothy urged, tugging at the girl's hand, "Aren't you going? Pinkie's probably going to be there already by the time we're back. She'd probably throw us a 'Welcome Back to Equestria' party, even!"

Lisa sighed, laying her head on the table-- and her pancakes. "I'm not sure if I'll ever be ready to go back. I've grown to love my life in this reality just as much as Equestria. I don't want to give up either of them, not when there's so much to lose by choosing one or the other. This world is still so unfamiliar to me... even if I did originally live here-- there's so much more that I want to learn about. How did the world change while I was away in the simulations? What other simulations are there? Who is my real family? Yet, at the same time, I've still got everything that I know and love back in Equestria."

Timothy folded his arms. "So? What's so hard about choosing? We've always got things going on in Equestria as well, y'know." He turned his attention to Samantha. "Pinkie, what about you?"

Samantha shrugged. "Wherever Twilight goes, I guess. I don't want to miss out on anything fun that she might run into!"


"We've got half an hour before the bus leaves with the other volunteers." Argall flatly stated, "Lisa, you've got to make up your mind soon."

"I..." The girl began reluctantly, "I have to go back to Equestria. For the sake of my friends."

The Professor eyed Lisa. "Are you sure?" He began, "I don't recall that you ever programmed in a way to leave the simulation from within, outside of in-simulation death."

"Yes." Lisa responded, regaining some composure, "I'm sure. I know my friends must be worried about me after being gone for so long. Pinkie?"

The upbeat girl glanced up from her last unfinished piece of pancake. "Yeah?"

"You ready to go back?"

"Y'know, Twilight..." Timothy chuckled, leaning his head against the frigid window of the bus, "If you told me a month ago that we were all actually humans and that Equestria wasn't actually real, I would've probably checked to see if you were Discord in disguise."

"Mmhmm." The girl turned away from Timothy, a sad look in her eyes.

Argall brushed past Lisa, practically falling into the seat behind the girl in a huff. "Well, Lisa. This is it, I guess. The final ride home for you, and a bus fare's worth of money out of my retirement savings for me..."

Whipping around to face the seat behind her, Lisa stared at her former mentor with a raised brow.

"...And the final moments I may ever have with one of the best students I could've ever asked for." The man finished, returning his student's stare. "Perhaps when you return to your simulation, I could code in an exit routine of some sort. You were in such a rush to get everything done and ready for release that you never remembered one of what I'd have to call the basic rules of life: Always find a stopping point, give yourself a break. You'll burn yourself out someday if you always make a rush for everything. There's a couple other simulations allow for their users to exit and enter at will anyways, so I can't imagine that it'd bring much harm if I add one to yours."

Lisa's eyes widened. "You mean--"

"As one of the founding members of what eventually became the network of Virtual-Realities that you call 'The Simulations', I have access to pretty much any part of the infrastructure including the very systems that run the simulations themselves." He smiled softly at the girl. "All I need is the permission of the lead developers of a simulated reality; That is, either your permission or Samantha's, and I would the be able to code in the exit code to let you connect and disconnect as you please."

The girl remained silent, staring in awe at her former mentor.

"Well, Twilight?" Timothy began, "Are you gonna let him?"

Lisa nodded, turning to Professor Argall with a wide grin. "Permission granted..." She confirmed, holding out a hand to the man. "...Starswirl."

"Noted." The Professor agreed, firmly shaking the girl's hand. "I'll get to it once I'm back."

Turning back towards the front of the bus, Lisa braced herself as the vehicle lurched forwards.

The bus fell into a dull silence for the rest of the trip, interrupted only by the sporadic thud of a pothole as Lisa once again slipped into unconsciousness.

Blinking, Twilight gasped as she found herself once again staring down the long aisles of books in her castle's library.

"Twilight?" A faraway voice echoed from beyond the door, "Twi-light! Where are you?"

The mare rushed to the door, tugging at the handles with her magic. "Right here! I'm right here!" She cried, grunting as she strained to open the unmoving fixture. "Can you hear me?"

The rushed sounds of hoofsteps filled her ears, growing louder by the second as the voice approached. "Girls!" The voice called out, clearer this time, "She's in here!"

"Help!" Twilight cried again, throwing her body against the door with a heavy clunk, "I can't get out!"

"Twilight, try teleporting!" Spike's voice yelled from behind the door, "Have you tried teleporting yet?"

The mare didn't answer, opting instead to channel her magic into teleportation. A bead of sweat rolled down her face as she strained to perform the spell in her panic.

"I don't think it's working, Spike." Rainbow's voice deadpanned, "Don'tcha think she'd be out here by now if it did?"

Twilight yelped in surprise as a bright light flashed from her horn, the spell backfiring and fizzling before her eyes. Choking from the ozone, the mare pounded on the door. "I can't!" She hollered, "It doesn't work!"

"Told ya." Rainbow's voice teased in response.

"Oh, stop it, darling." Rarity scolded the Pegasus, "Now's not the time for wisecracks."

The door rumbled for a moment as Applejack bucked the door.

A softer voice peeped through the door. "I'm sorry, Twilight." Fluttershy said, "If even Applejack can't get through, I doubt that anypony else would, outside of the Princesses. Even then, I'm not sure if even they can help, since you yourself couldn't get out..."

Twilight sank against the door in defeat, covering her face with her hooves. "Please..." She pleaded, "Get me out of this nightmare, please..."

A heavy wind gusted over the room, a flurry of papers fluttering about as books were thrown off the towering shelves. As the strange phenomenon died down, Twilight gazed up to find herself staring, once again, at Pinkamena.

"Shh..." The strange mare soothed, brushing a hoof over Twilight's mane, "It's gonna be okay, Twilight. You'll make it through. Shh..."

"P-Pinkie?" Twilight stammered, shuddering in the shadow of the mare, "Is that really you?"

"Not quite, Twilight..." Pinkamena answered softly, "Just close your eyes, and take a deep breath..."

The shadow over Twilight faded away, leaving no trace of Pinkie in its wake. The room had once again fallen silent, the voices behind the door all but vanished as the mare sat by the door-- alone.

"No, don't go!" Lisa cried, awaking with a deep gasp, "...O-oh... it was just... another... dream..."

The placid snore of the Professor sounded from the seat behind the girl, the sky since turning dark as the bus carried its passengers to their final destination.

"Hey." Timothy began, his eyes still closed as he leaned against the seat's headrest, "You alright there, Twilight?"

"Y-yeah..." The girl answered, staring out the frosted window, "I just... I just had another nightmare, that's all."

Timothy shrugged lazily. "Okay then." The boy yawned, turning over to lean his head back on the frigid window. "Wake me up when we get there."

Lisa sighed. I wonder how Equestria's doing... She thought, staring blankly ahead. It nearly feels like a lifetime since I've been there... She turned her attention to the empty rows of seats ahead of them, the only one occupied being taken by the other two Societal Management Officers that had volunteered to come.

Chad. The girl recalled, watching the short hair of the man shift over the seat. And that other girl... did I ever even ask for her name?

The darkened streets of Snowbush lay empty as Lisa said her goodbyes to the other Officers and Timothy, the latter of whom returned to his room as the other two wandered off into the moonlit street. Silently, the girl walked with Professor Argall along the unmarked path home.

Samantha... Lisa's thoughts turned to her friend. I wonder if she's reconnected yet?

She paused as another, more frightening thought entered her mind. She hadn't appeared to be anybody else besides Pinkie for the past couple days. What if-- The girl shook her head with a smirk. Nah... it couldn't be. That girl's more hardheaded than I could give her credit for.

"Eh? Something wrong, Lisa?" Professor Argall began, turning his head to the girl.

Lisa shook her head again. "It's nothing." She responded quietly, continuing on her walk. "Just a stray thought."

Even then... How long can she last fighting herself like that?

The heavy door creaked open, the girl and exhausted Professor entering the little house. Argall collapsed onto the cot, not giving a care to the metal handlebar protruding from the sides. "Finally." The man groaned, "I think I burnt more calories on that walk here than I have in the past month that I've spent at the gym..."

Lisa picked up a small, folded card taped to the console screen of the ever-whirring machine beside the cot.

"Instructions for reconnection" The card read. "READ ME"

The girl unfolded the card as the Professor sat up on the cot, brushing himself off. "Say," The man began, "You told me back then that you wanted to have your place isolated from the rest of the city. I don't think it has to be this far from society, y'know."

Lisa shrugged, reading the card. For a brief moment, her eyes brushed across her wristband-- something the girl hadn't noticed almost since the day she first woke.

"Lisa Garnet." The girl mouthed, turning her attention back to the card.

"The Pony-MeTM device communicates wirelessly via a BCI (Brain-Computer Interface) chip embedded in the subdermal layer of your head. This allows for easy and simple setup of the device, and streamlines the reconnection process for the end-user. To reconnect, simply fasten the Pony-MeTM headset firmly over your eyes, and when ready, answer the on-screen prompt with a verbal command to reconnect."

Lisa glanced towards the Professor, who had since vacated the cot and now leaned against the wall opposite to the cot.

"Go ahead." Professor Argall prompted, gazing at the girl with sad eyes. "It's your creation, your work. It's your reality, Lisa." He smirked one final time. "Or should I say, Twilight Sparkle."

Lisa nodded silently, acknowledging the old man's words as she slowly lay herself on the cot, her vision partially obscured by the loosely-fastened headset dangling above her eyes. With a resounding click, the headset snapped in place over her eyes with one final movement, and the world went dark.

Establishing connection. The words flashed before the girl's eyes. Please allow for up to a half an hour to complete the setup process. The nutritional supplement machine has been upgraded to an automatic process for the sake of convenience. Prepare for mild discomfort.

An airy whirr droned through the air as feeding tubes and miscellaneous cabling snaked under the railing, into the girl's side as they fastened with another click.

The girl's breathing slowed as a shot of anesthesia entered her body, the machine humming along as it set up the BCI.

Professor Argall turned to the girl one last time, a hand loosely gripping the brass doorknob.

"Goodbye, Lisa."

With one final thump of the door, the room was once again quiet, once again unmoving.

Wake up.

Take a look around.

The world is calling.

There's so much to see,

So much to hear.

There's new people to meet,

And old friends to greet.

You'll never know what's in store,

If you never open the door.

You have the power.

It's your choice.

Forge your own path,

Be your own guide.

The road is never smooth,

You are not alone.

More than what meets the eye,

There is always the unknown.

The truth may be hard,

Reassemble the puzzle.

Give it some thought.

The past never dies.

A brief glimpse is all it takes,

Now, there's a choice to make.

Go home...

Or go on...


Ending 1

Bonus #2: Epilogue 1

View Online

A rushing sensation swirled about the girl. All at once, she was stretched, bent, folded in half, stretched some more, only to find the chilling darkness of the headset's lenses meeting her vision as her mind adjusted once more to its simulated environment. A chill ran down Lisa's spine as her mind struggled at first to compensate for the strange sensations that she experienced. Slowly, however, her vision began to brighten once more, her real-world body once again paralyzed in slumber.

All at once, everything rushed back to her. Lisa Garnet-- Twilight Sparkle materialized exactly where she had been; In bed, refreshingly rested, and ready for a weekend of book reorganization.

Except... The mare thought to herself, staring down at her shaking hooves, It's not that time anymore, and I'm hardly rested at all.

"Twilight!" Called a voice from beyond her door, "You back yet?"

Twilight remained silent, her hooves shaking more and more the longer she stared. "I... I don't know..." She stammered, glancing up to her surroundings, "...Am I?"

Spike kicked the door open, a plate of eggs and hash browns in his grasp. "I thought I heard something when I heard the bed creak." The dragon mused, holding up the plate. "Breakfast? I mean, sure, it's early enough still in the morning that even Applejack is probably still asleep, but we've both been through a lot lately. Y'know what I mean?"

The mare nodded silently, taking the plate up in her magic as she turned her attention back to her hooves. The shaking had since stopped.

Twilight and Spike sat quietly in the library, the former studying a spellbook on the uses of arcane magics in the field of reality manipulation, the latter chuckling over a worn Power Ponies comic.

A knock sounded at the door.

"Come in!" Twilight shouted, never taking her eyes off the pages.

"Twilight, darling..." Rarity began, opening the door with a hoof as the rest of the mares joined her, "Welcome back to Ponyville!"

Spike glanced up from his comic book for a moment, his face contorted in a strange mix of confusion and utter admiration before returning his attention to the comic.

Rainbow Dash landed beside Twilight, the rush of air sending the loose note papers scattered across the desk flying. "So," The mare teased, "How'd that surprise visit to Sunset Shimmer go?"

"...What do you mean, Rainbow?" Twilight asked with a sigh, collecting the papers off the floor, "I never--"

"SHHHHH!" Pinkie hushed as she emerged from the desk drawer, grabbing the mare by the ear, "Just go with the excuse I made up for us!"

Twilight nodded slowly as Pinkie slid back into the drawer, reappearing moments later behind her friends. "Um..." Twilight began, mentally scrambling to scrape together a story, "Well, for starters, Pinkie and I crossed over through the mirror portal early in the morning so that we wouldn't disturb anypony... And then, uh, we met up with Sunset in front of the mirror portal's exit on her side of the portal, and--"

"Y'know, sugarcube, y'don't have ta make up a story." Applejack deadpanned.

Twilight grinned awkwardly, shrinking back behind her desk. "You... you saw through that, didn't you?"

The earth pony nodded. "Clear as glass, Twi. You're not exactly top-notch at lyin', especially when you're panicked."

Twilight shrank further back.

"Girls?" Fluttershy peeped, "I think we should give Twilight some space. She looks really uncomfortable."

A wave of approval spread over the mares as they left one-by-one, leaving only Pinkie in the room with Twilight and Spike.

"Did... did I do it?" Pinkie whispered, staring straight into her friend's eyes, "Did I?"

Twilight raised a brow. "What are you talking about, Pinkie?" She asked, returning the gaze.

Pinkie's image wavered for a brief second, almost as if she had turned to jelly. "I... I'm not Pinkie. I was only acting the part."

"...Samantha?" Twilight whispered, leaning towards the mare.

Pinkie nodded, her ears flat against her head. "I'm not gonna say that I'm proud of it, but breaking the simulation's physics was the only thing I could think of to convince the others that I was actually Pinkie. As for her, I have absolutely no idea where she's went, Lisa. For the first time in years, I can't hear her voice panging through my head..."


"Lisa, I don't know how much longer I can keep up the act. You remember how I barely passed my theater class, don't you?"

Twilight sighed. "I don't know what to say, Samantha." She began, glancing to Spike for a moment. "Honestly, I still don't remember very much of my past. In fact, I don't think I was even ready myself to return yet. Being back in here so soon, it just feels--"

"--unnatural." Pinkie cut in, "All these years, this body belonged to Pinkie Pie. Yet now, in a painfully ironic take on reality, I'm in control over it now, just like Pinkie was over my body in real life."

Twilight returned her eyes to her book, flipping a page before looking back to Pinkie, or as she was now, Samantha. The mare stood completely still, distress scrawled all across her face as she continued staring. "It's just not fair." Pinkie spat, collapsing to her haunches in a fit, "I had my chance to be myself again, but no matter what I tried in order to keep control over my own body, Pinkie always managed to steal it away from me. And now, against my will, mind you, Pinkie's brought me back to this place, crammed me into her own body, and pretty much just upped and left."

"Well," Twilight thoughtlessly flipped another page. "At least the Professor told me that he'd make an exit route of some sort?"

Pinkie's face softened as she let out a deep breath. "Thanks, Lisa." The mare whispered under her breath, "I needed to hear that... the sooner I'm out of here, the better. You might enjoy this place, but I've never personally felt a connection to this place we've created-- Equestria. The... the only person I could even consider as a friend in here would be you."

The mare turned to leave without another word, disappearing behind the heavy library door seconds later. Twilight blinked once. Twice. Three times. She stared back to her book in irritation; It no longer looked appealing.

"Spike?" She began, glancing towards the dragon, "Do you mind watching the library for me?"

Spike said nothing in return, replying only with a thumbs-up as he continued reading.

A rolling breeze whispered through Twilight's mane as she stood atop her castle balcony, scrutinizing the vibrant scenery that lay before her. Straining her eyes, the mare squinted, mentally leaning towards the image, but never moving physically.

And when she looked hard enough, she could barely, just barely, see the pixels of the headset's display.

...Or go on.

View Online

"...Goodbye?" Lisa mumbled, staring towards the floor. "...Already?"

Professor Argall shook his head. "Lisa, wasn't this what you wanted?" He began, "What about your friends back in the simulations? What about everyone you've left behind?" He paused for a moment, staring down to his phone's screen. "You've made an amazing, beautiful world for everyone, Lisa. You deserve to experience it with the ones you love."

The girl glanced towards Samantha and Timothy. The former of whom continued to wreak havoc on her pancakes. "But I-- I'm not sure if I'm ready to go back yet. There's just so much that I want to learn about this world still..."

"Twilight, you have to go back. For Equestria." Timothy said, taking Lisa's hand. "C'mon. I know that I'll be going back now. Aren't you? Don't you want to see the rest of the girls again?"

Lisa sighed. "I don't know, Timothy. I just--"

"Twilight." The boy cut in, "Did you... did you just call me Timothy?"

Lisa groaned. "Spike, Spike. Yeah, I know... just, sorry, okay?" She turned towards her friend. "Samantha, you?"

"Please don't call me that again, Twilight." Samantha grumbled in return, the light in her eyes seemingly fading with each word. "I don't... I don't want to think about it anymore. It's fine coming from Argall, but from you... just don't. Okay? The Professor doesn't know, but you do. It's different coming from you."

"Say," Argall began, "I never got around to asking you about how things were going... uh, Pinkie, was it?"

Samantha nodded enthusiastically, flinging sticky bits of pancakes from her hair with each movement. "Yup! I've made it my goal to meet and make friends with everypony I meet! You should've seen Twily's face when I threw her a 'Welcome to Ponyville!' party! She was just all 'Waah!' and 'What?!' and stuff! Right? Remember that, Twi--"

"Woah there, girl." The Professor cut in, "I meant as far as the project. Lisa, erm... Twilight and I were discussing the days back when the two of you worked on the simulations yourselves. I just wanted to know if you'd like to talk about it."

Samantha shook her head. "N-nope!" She stammered, "Don't remember anything! I-I definitely don't... know... wh--what..."

Lisa pat her friend on the shoulder. "It's fine, Pinkie. You don't have to answer." She turned towards Professor Argall. "Sorry about that. She's kinda... touchy on that topic. It'd be best if we don't talk about it."

Another beep echoed through the room as the Professor immediately turned his gaze back to his phone.
"C'mon, Lisa. You're gonna miss the bus back to Snowbush if you don't go soon. I could come with you if you'd like. Just, y'know, talk over things one last time before you reconnect and all?"

Right... The girl thought, turning her attention to the brightly-lit windows, I've been living here in Mountain View for a while now, haven't I?

"Well, Twilight?" Timothy urged, tugging at the girl's hand, "Aren't you going? Pinkie's probably going to be there already by the time we're back. She'd probably throw us a 'Welcome Back to Equestria' party, even!"

Lisa sighed, laying her head on the table-- and her pancakes. "I'm not sure if I'll ever be ready to go back. I've grown to love my life in this reality just as much as Equestria. I don't want to give up either of them, not when there's so much to lose by choosing one or the other. This world is still so unfamiliar to me... even if I did originally live here-- there's so much more that I want to learn about. How did the world change while I was away in the simulations? What other simulations are there? Who is my real family? Yet, at the same time, I've still got everything that I know and love back in Equestria."

Timothy folded his arms. "So? What's so hard about choosing? We've always got things going on in Equestria as well, y'know." He turned his attention to Samantha. "Pinkie, what about you?"

Samantha shrugged. "Wherever Twilight goes, I guess. I don't want to miss out on anything fun that she might run into!"


"We've got half an hour before the bus leaves with the other volunteers." Argall flatly stated, "Lisa, you've got to make up your mind soon."

"I..." The girl began reluctantly, "I don't think I can go back yet..."

The Professor nodded. "Alrighty then, I'll send a message to put your simulation machinery into hibernation mode then." He said, glancing down once again to his phone. "After all, there's no point in leaving the darn thing running when there's nothing for it to do, amirite?"

"Well I'm going back then." Timothy cut in, standing up at the table with a huff. "One of us needs to make sure Equestria's safe."

"Spike." Lisa began, "Are you sure about that?"

Timothy said nothing, instead idly grumbling to himself as he left the room with the slam of a door. For a brief moment, the stunned remaining occupants of the room could only stare at the empty seat in bewilderment.

Samantha blinked, turning back to her friend. "Now what?" The girl deadpanned, turning her attention down to the empty plate before her, "You're staying, but Spike's gone now. Do you think he can do it?"

"Do what?"

"Y'know, what he said when he decided to go back." Samantha answered as she fidgeted with her fork, "Making sure that Equestria was safe."

Lisa shrugged. "I'd certainly hope he can do it. I mean, he did kinda save the Crystal Empire and all, but--"

"No, no, silly!" Samantha continued, flinging specks of pancake crumbs from her fork, "I mean without you, Twilight. You've always been there for him, but now... well, we're here, he's there, and wherever he's gonna be in Equestria, he's gonna be there without you..."

"Or, perhaps," Lisa countered with a chuckle, "He's just going to spend the entire time I'm missing with Rarity. I'm sure we all know what he has going for that mare."

Professor Argall raised a hand. "Girls," He flatly stated, "Do I have any part in this conversation?"

Lisa and Samantha simultaneously shook their heads.

The three strolled along the tranquil streets of Mountain View, an eerie silence since fallen over the city as its inhabitants one-by-one reconnected to the familiar simulations they had once lived. Lisa groaned, running a hand over her hair again as a stray gust of wind sent her locks fluttering across her face.

The Professor looked at the girl with curiosity, then turning his attention to her long, uncut hair. "Y'know, Lisa," He joked, shoving his hands in his pockets, "There's this really nice haircut place I know of out in... ahem, the real world."

"Ah, you don't have to rub it in like that, Professor!" Samantha squeaked, skipping ahead of the two, "Besides, we are gonna be leaving these creepy little 'cities' anyways, aren't we?"

Another burst of wind answered for Lisa, who only grumbled in response.

Bonus #3: Can't scare me

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"Hey, Glitch." Samantha leered through the darkness, "You enjoying my body out in the real world?"

The girl's eyes turned upwards as once again, the familiar pink glow of Pinkie fizzled into view. The softly pulsating light settled into a hovering position before Samantha's eyes. Further materializing into a more natural pony form, Pinkie's hooves set upon the void of Samantha's mind with a hollow thump.

Samantha scoffed, rolling her eyes. "So, I see you still prefer your given body then."

Pinkie nodded. "Yeah, but you don't have to be so mean about it!"

"You stole my body from me!" The girl pointed an accusing finger at the mare. "All this time, I just wanted my freedom. I just wanted to live my life, Glitch. But you never let me."

"I don't let you because you're always such a meanie to everyone!"

Samantha folded her arms. "So what." She countered, glaring at her creation. "You don't know me. You can't scare me. Don't you forget that everything you know and remember amounts only to a few scraps of code. I'm the real deal."

"No, you're wrong!" Pinkie shouted back. "You're wrong... I-I'm just as alive as you are, Samantha. I know that my memories are fake. I know that my life is a lie. But you know what, I know that I'm just as real as you are. I've got emotions, I've got personality." She threw a shaky hoof towards the girl. "And you know what, that's more than everything I've seen you show when I let you take control. All you do is get angry!"

"Psh." The girl snorted, "You'd probably be mad all the time too if you were in my place. Have you ever thought about what it's like to be me? To be forced day through night to stay back and watch as my life is lived by someone else?"

Pinkie froze, her eyes wavering as they set upon the girl. "I..." She began slowly, "I never actually thought about that before..."

"Exactly. You don't know what I've been through, Pinkie." Samantha began, "When I was told to... uh, contain you, I never knew whether or not I'd ever live normally again. I remember back when Lisa and I were no more and no less than just a pair of friends, working on a little hobby project. I still remember the musty smell of that dingy little office space in the backroom that we worked in... the place where you were brought to life." She paused for a moment, a sad smile crossing her face as her scowl softened. "Somehow, through all of the plans and designs we made for Equestria, we forgot to make a way out. When I finally realized that, long after I connected to the simulation, I grew afraid. I was afraid that I'd never be able to live outside the simulations again, that I'd just managed to seal my fate as nothing but a container to weigh you down."

"I'm sorry," Pinkie responded, "I really am. You've told your part now, but before you go all mad at me again about me messing with physics or something, could you at least listen to me? Just this once, at least."

Samantha said nothing, replying with a single nod.

Pinkie sighed a breath of relief. "Okay then. First off, I wanna say sorry again for last time, when we first got disconnected. I think I was a little mad about suddenly losing everything I knew. I really don't know what I was thinking when I started being mean back to you."

The girl shuddered at the memory of the blood-red blip of light, but nevertheless signaled to continue.

"So, y'know how I'm pretty much the most super-duper-fun pony in Equestria and how I wanted to be friends with everybody?"

"Yeah..." Samantha replied, raising a brow. "Why do you ask? I did program you to be what I knew I could never be myself."

Pinkie paused, her mouth mid-way open before she could continue speaking. "You... you what?"

"I wanted to be like you." The girl continued, "I probably don't make it very obvious, especially when I'm grumpy, which is most of the time, but I made you the way you are because I knew that out here in real life, I could never manage to pull off what you can. Out here, my only friend is Lisa, or Twilight, as you know her."

"...O-oh." Pinkie mumbled as her gaze shifted downwards. "I really didn't think about you very much, did I?"

Samantha smiled at the mare. "It's okay, Pinkie." The girl said, "After all, you're me. Or at least, everything I'd wanted to be..." She held out a hand. "Maybe it's time for us to set aside our differences once and for all. Let's forget about the simulations, forget everything that's brought us down. I want to start this over from the beginning." The girl's smile grew wider as she stared into Pinkie's eyes. "I'm tired of wasting away my life sulking. And if there was any time I'd choose to change that, I'd say that now would be a pretty good time."

"Forget... forget the simulation?" Pinkie gasped, shrinking away from the girl. "I don't want to forget Equestria or my friends!"

Samantha shook her head, her smile beginning to fade at the edges. "No, Pinkie. I mean I want to forget about the simulation. Unlike Lisa, I never wanted to set foot in Equestria when we finished the project. I wanted to move on to bigger things beyond that... beyond Equestria. Lisa, unlike myself, decided to stay in the simulation for an extended period of time, probably even indefinitely if she could... though, I certainly understand her reasons to."

"What were the reasons?"

"I... I don't think that I should be talking about them if she doesn't remember them herself yet." Samantha replied, "Anyways, as I was saying, I want to move on from this fiasco. I don't think I'd be able to stand letting myself reconnect to Equestria, not when I've been given a second chance at life after the disconnect."

Pinkie's mane began to fade to a dull pink. "Does that mean I can't go back either?"

Samantha nodded slowly. "I'm sorry, Pinkie." She whispered, "It's for the best."

There's a greater world out there,

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"So..." Samantha mused, staring into the distant horizon, "What are we gonna do now?"

Professor Argall shrugged, adjusting his glasses. "'Dunno." He replied, "I'd say that it's about time for the two of you to step outside of these little cities of yours."

Lisa frowned. "But where would we even go?" She began, facing the old Professor, "I'm still not entirely sure if staying here was the right decision... I want to make my experience here worth skipping Equestria for. I want to--"

"Yes, yes, explore the world, Lisa." Argall grinned, "So many years later, and you're still as peppy as ever." He pulled a bell-strung keychain from a pocket. "As for where we're going, we're heading far away from this place."

The trio turned a corner, finding themselves in an expansive, yet entirely empty parking lot.

Samantha glanced around the place for a few seconds, before turning back to the Professor. "...Where's the carriage?" She peeped, turning her focus down to the keychain in Argall's grasp.

A momentary silence fell over the three as Professor Argall stood in a stupor, staring blankly into the barren landscape of asphalt and concrete. A shudder ran down his spine as he shook himself back to reality. "Ah," He dismissed, waving off the question, "Nearly forgot that I parked the darn thing on the basement level."

"As you can probably tell," The Professor began, fiddling with the remote lock, "Cars these days just aren't what they used to be." He grunted, tugging at the handle before mashing a button on the key. "Gosh darnit with these new cars and their crazy security systems. I swear, one of these days I'ma--"

The door clicked open with an airy whirr.

Professor Argall stuffed the keys back into his pocket with a grumble. "There you go. Now it's agreeing with me."

Lisa cautiously eyed the grey-furnished seats, her brow furrowing as her eyes landed on the old man climbing into the driver's seat. Samantha, in contrast, leapt into the vehicle without a second thought. Lisa squeaked for a brief moment as the car rumbled to life. The Professor turned in his seat, his greying beard draping over the upper half. "You girls ready?" He beamed, his eyes meeting Lisa's. "Fasten your seatbelt, Lisa. It's about time you came home..."

The low rumble of the car over the worn countryside asphalt echoed from all around, ceaselessly drumming minute after long minute as it approached the unknown beyond. Lisa peered toward her friend. Samantha had long-since fallen asleep, lulled by the gentle hum of the vehicle. Strangely enough, especially for Pinkie, the girl's face remained emotionless, occasionally twitching sporadically into a slight frown or grin.

"...I-I'm sorry, Pinkie..." Samantha murmured, leaning her head against her seatbelt. "...It's for the best..."

Lisa touched her friend's hand. "Sa- er, Pinkie?" She whispered, "You alright?"

No response.

"Eh?" Argall said from the front seat, "Were you saying something, Lisa?"

The girl shook her head. "Nothing, Prof." She turned to the tinted window, a darkened landscape speeding past her eyes by the second. Abruptly, the car suddenly slowed to a stop, sending Lisa lurching forwards. Bracing herself against the front seat, the girl regained her composure.

Professor Argall turned once more to face Lisa. "Hey." He began, "Didn't I tell you to fasten your seatbelt?"

Lisa raised a brow, turning to the loose strap dangling to her left. "This?" She asked as she held up the buckle, "Professor, is this the seatbelt?"

The Professor sighed, nodding as he turned back, rolling his window down. "Ay!" He yelled, the car slowly rolling forwards as a lanky figure appeared to limp towards the vehicle with some sort of sack. "You need a ride or something?"

A glint of familiarity struck Lisa as she rolled down her own window. "...Andrew?" She squinted, the man with a false limp immediately recognizing her in return.

"Oh?" Andrew said with surprise, "Lisa, you're not going back either?"

Professor Argall glanced towards Lisa, then to Andrew. "So," He began, "You know this guy?"

Lisa opened her mouth to speak, only to be interrupted by a particularly loud snore from Samantha beside her. "Erm... yeah," Lisa replied, "Before I took up my volunteer work, I stayed in his room when I first came to town."

"Yup." Andrew beamed, "That girl would've been sleeping on the steps of City Hall if nobody offered her a room."

"Eh." Argall grunted, "Seems legit. So then, do you need a ride, or do you not?"

Andrew nodded, slinging his bundle of sheets over his shoulder.

The Professor slapped the seat between Lisa and Samantha with a hand. "Hey Lisa," He chuckled, "Mind scooting over a bit for your roommate?"

Bright sunlight flooded into the vehicle as Andrew pulled the door open. Lisa froze for a moment, staring blankly past the man and into the cloudless sky before suddenly refocusing back on the Professor's words.

"I... uh, sure." Lisa mumbled, sliding over to Samantha's left as Andrew climbed into the car.

"Eh." Andrew jokingly chided, turning to the girls. "It's certainly less roomy in here than my old cruiser. Y'know?"

Argall simply rolled his eyes with a smirk. "Whatever you say. This isn't exactly the biggest ride I've been on, either. So... uh, Andrew, where do you wanna go?"

Andrew shrugged, setting his bundle of sheets on the floor of the vehicle with a resounding thump. "'Dunno." He answered, "Anywhere, I suppose. I'm just in for a little adventure before I go back."

The Professor nodded, eyeing the heavy bundle for a moment before turning to Lisa. "Say, what happened to that briefcase of yours that they gave you? I never saw you with it when we met back in Mountain View."

Lisa's eyes widened with panic, the girl whirling around to stare out the window as the last silhouettes of Mountain View faded into obscurity. "I..." She stuttered, "I honestly forgot that I even had it. I must've left it somewhere in my room, or even on the bus that brought me there." The girl turned back to Argall. "Professor, do you think we should-"

"Feh." Professor Argall cut in, "No point in returning for the thing, if you ask me. With everyone else back in their simulations, I'd doubt if there's a need to carry anything around in a briefcase anymore. Frankly, if you ask me, those things were more just meant to be mementos for volunteers to remember the service they did."

"Oh..." The girl mumbled, sinking into her seat. "Okay."

Lisa glanced towards Samantha again. The girl had a familiar frown plastered across her unconscious face, still occasionally twitching even now. Though, curiously, she appeared much more... relaxed than usual.

A light shadow flitted across the window as the vehicle crossed underneath an overpass. Staring past Samantha's sleeping form, all Lisa could see for miles on end was a seemingly endless plain dotted with occasional shrubbery. Every so often, a lone barn would pass by the window, its bright colors reminding the girl of home... of Equestria.

Applejack. Lisa's thoughts echoed as she leaned back in her seat. I wonder how she's doing?

Minutes melted into hours as the blissful hum of the vehicle drowned out all noise, save for light snoring on Andrew's behalf. The girl remained vaguely conscious throughout the ride, staring absentmindedly ahead through the windshield of the car and silently watching as the world she knew faded from view.

"Oh, geez." Professor Argall suddenly exclaimed, shattering the silence as every passenger was startled into full consciousness.

"Whuh?" Samantha groaned, rubbing her eyes as she stretched.

"Pinkie." Lisa deadpanned as she nudged her friend's hand away, "Don't forget that we're in a cramped space." She turned her focus back to the Professor. "What was it?" She asked, leaning forwards in her seat.

Argall shook his head. "Oh, nothing, nothing." He replied as he shifted in his seat. "I don't believe I ever told you where we're going."

Andrew raised a brow, instinctively reaching for a nonexistent walkie-talkie on his equally-nonexistent belt. "Ah," The man exclaimed as his hand met only fabric, "Nearly forgot that I'm not in the simulations." With his cheeks growing red, he quickly grabbed his bundle of sheets from the floor, setting them on his lap. "Go on." He continued, waving a free hand.

The Professor paused for a moment, his eyes drifting towards Andrew's reflection in the mirror before turning back to the road. "I think it's about time you've come back to your roots, Lisa." He grinned, "After all, the two of you certainly could use some time catching up with the craziness. In fact, I believe I recall that everything in that dusty place is still the exact way we left it, even. I paid off everything for the place ages ago, just in case if you two returned."

"Oh?" Samantha chimed in, "So we're going to our old TechSIG branch?"

"Well." Argall chuckled in amusement, shifting in his seat as he continued to drive. "I'd have to say, Samantha. You certainly do have the memory to back those smarts of yours, don't you?"

The strange girl nodded enthusiastically before returning her attention to the passing view outside the window. "Yeah," She replied, "I mean, it hasn't been that long since I connected, y'know."

As the inane conversation carried on between the two, Lisa's thoughts turned to a single name.

TechSIG. The thought echoed in the girl's mind. C'mon, think. TechSIG, TechSIG. What is it about that name that sounds so familiar?


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"TechSIG." Lisa mumbled, echoing her thoughts, "Sounds familiar, but I... I just can't put my finger on it."

Samantha smirked in return as she turned to her friend. "Y'know, TechSIG, the place we learned how to make Equestria. Don't you remember?"

Lisa shook her head, yelping quietly as she flinched away from Andrew's shoulder.

"Well," Samantha began, "Just putting it simply, the branch that we went to was this little corner-office with a few book-scented rooms. That spark any memories for you?"

Once again, Lisa shook her head, paying mind to avoid leaning on Andrew beside her.

"Aw, don't fuss over it, you two." Professor Argall chimed in from the front, "Samantha, leave your friend alone for a bit. She's still recovering her memory after being connected for so long."

Andrew leaned back in his seat, groaning slightly as he valiantly attempted to stretch his legs. "Man." He grumbled, rubbing a thigh, "How long do we have 'till the next stop?"

Argall glanced towards his lit phone screen for a moment before returning his gaze to the road. "Oh, I suppose a couple hours at the least."

"Y'know, if I were still a police officer, I could've cited you right then and there for distracted driving."

"Ha." The Professor snorted, "Says the guy who's hitchhiking."

Andrew leaned forwards, lightly punching Argall in the shoulder with a chuckle. "Says the old geezer who just picked up two chicks in a clunker."

"Hey!" Argall exclaimed, slapping blindly at the man, "What happened to whatever it was that you said about distracted driving?"

"Were a police officer." Andrew snarked, "Not am." He rolled down his window. "And besides, what's to say that an off-duty officer can't poke fun every now and then?"

Lisa glanced to her friend. Samantha had since returned to napping, her head cradled by the seatbelt as the wind coming through Andrew's open window fluttered over the vehicle's occupants. She wrinkled her nose as a pungent smell overtook her nostrils.

"Hey Lisa," The Professor chimed from the front as he rolled down his own window, "Say hi to the cows for me, wouldya?"

The girl stared through Andrew's open window as the dry pastures gave way to a cattle ranch. "Ick." Lisa flinched as the smell hit full-force. "Could you put the window back up?"

For a moment, the car fell into silence.

"Idunno." Argall began slowly, "Can I?"

"Please don't make another joke right now..." Andrew groaned, rubbing his temples, "The smell alone is already giving me a headache."

"Eh. Fine, fine." Professor Argall complained as he rolled the windows back up. "I was just trying to perhaps spark a memory or two in Lisa... Hey lookie there, horses!"

Once again, Lisa turned her attention to the windows. "There's a lot of them." She mumbled, leaning this time over Samantha's slumbering form. "What are they doing?"

The car slowed to a stop, rumbling for a moment over the gravel lining the road. "Migrating, I suppose." Argall began, "Not exactly a zoologist myself, but I know that there's a few wild herds running around this place still."

The girl's attention turned to a lone horse standing at the roadside, grazing on the weeds.

"May I--"

"Go ahead." The Professor nodded, unlocking the doors. "Though, you might have to climb over Miss Sleepyhead next to you."

Andrew massaged his head again. "Aw, shucks." The man yawned, "I'd might as well get some fresh air anyways. C'mon, Lisa. Let your friend sleep." He climbed out of the car with a grunt, holding the door open for Lisa.

The girl neared the horse slowly, a hand outstretched towards the wild animal. The horse paid no mind to Lisa, continuing its focus on grazing at the shrubbery lining the road. Lisa looked back at Argall and Andrew, the former of whom gave a thumbs-up in return, flashing a smile.

Lisa's hand touched the horse's matted mane. "It's..." She stuttered, slowly stroking the horse, "It's real, isn't it?"

"As real as you and I." Argall confirmed as he wandered beside his former student. "Would you like for me to wake Samantha as well?"

Lisa nodded, her eyes continuing to be transfixed on the animal. This is real. Her mind repeated, This is the world I came from.

The thud of the car door slamming brought the girl back to her senses as she whirled around to see her friend.

"Hiya, Lizzy!" Samantha chirped, waving a friendly hand as she yawned. "So, you wanted me to see something?"

"Yeah. Pinkie--"

Samantha's cheerful demeanor vanished, replaced with a glare directed at her friend. She shook her head slowly, her frown softening. "It's alright, Lisa. You can call me either one now."

Lisa raised a brow, but otherwise remained silent, gesturing towards the still-grazing horse.

A much more Pinkie-esque expression suddenly flooded across Samantha's face. "Ooh!" The strange girl cheered, rushing towards the animal. "It's like a pony, but it's bigger! I betcha that it's taller than Celestia herself! Twilight--" Samantha paused, blinking for a few moments. "Erm... Lisa," She continued, "What I was saying is, our characters are tiny compared to real-life horses."

"Samantha." Lisa said sternly, "Is something bothering you?"

The strange girl shook her head. "No, no, no. I'm fine." She replied, "Let's just say that Pinkie and I have been working towards making amends."

Lisa stared at her friend, brow still raised as she folded her arms.

"C'mon!" Argall called, halfway back to the car, "Are you two gonna stand there and wait for the next guy to pick you up, or are you gonna come back in?"

"Wait a sec!" Lisa shouted back as she turned back to the horse. "Just a few more moments..."

"She's a beautiful mare, isn't she?"

Lisa glanced towards her friend. Samantha ran her fingers through the horse's stringy, matted mane. "Just musing." The strange girl replied, focusing on the animal. "Y'know, when I was little, I used to live near several farms. One step out the door during the summer, and wham, the smell of horsecrap hits you right in the face."

Lisa giggled, turning her head back to the direction of the car. "Well, I think we should probably get back in the car now." She mumbled, stepping away from the horse. "C'mon, Sam!"

Samantha nodded, trailing behind her friend as the two dashed back to the Professor's car.

Professor Argall turned in his seat upon hearing the doors slam shut, a cocky grin on his face. "Alrighty, girls." He began, "No more petting zoo breaks from here on out, 'kay?" The vehicle rumbled back to life as the Professor turned the key. "Though, it'll definitely still smell like one for the next few miles."

The low hum of rubber on asphalt filled the air, accompanied by the occasional snore from Andrew. Samantha idly stared from the middle seat through the windshield, her unwavering stare fixed upon the road ahead. Having since switched seats with her friend, Lisa once again found herself leaning her head against the window, watching the world pass by in a giant blur of color.

Home. The thought hit the girl, After so many years in Equestria, would I even know my own home anymore? She sighed, shifting along the glass to a cooler spot. I wonder how my parents are doing...

Bonus #4: Timothy

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Timothy Carter's steps slowed to a stop, a frown materializing on his face as the boy realized his predicament.

"Wait!" He turned, rushing back to the converted storeroom, "Wai-"

The building was empty, save for a stack of filthy dishes atop a sagging wooden table, and the lone boy at the doorway. Timothy nudged the door wider with a hand, peering deeper into the storeroom.

"Hello?" He called again, his voice wavering in the shadows, "Is anybody there?"


"Twilight?" Timothy continued, "Pinkie? Anyone?"


The rumble of an engine starting pierced through the air, followed by the groans of the cracked asphalt underneath tires. The boy's eyes widened as he turned, catching sight of a car rolling off into the distance. "WAIT!" He yelled, taking off after the vehicle, "WAIT FOR ME!"

A tranquil silence once again overtook the air, the last of the car's noise fading away over the horizon. Timothy's steps slowed. "Please..." He whispered, staring at where the vehicle had been moments prior, "Please don't leave me here..."

Clack. Clack. Clack. Crumble. Clack. Clack. Clack. Crumble. Clack. Clack. Clack. Crumble.

"Hey. You lost or something?" A gravelly voice uttered from behind the boy.

Timothy looked away from the stack of cobblestones, staring towards the heavy-coated man from before.

The man's attention turned to the half-stack of misshapen stones, and the residual gravel from prying them up. "You know," He began, a hint of irritation in his raspy voice, "I don't believe you're allowed to do that. These are privately-funded roadways."

Timothy groaned, shoving the stones back into the pothole that they came from. "Does it even matter anymore?" He asked, glancing again to the heavy-coated man, "Everyone else is back in their simulations, so what's the point about worrying for the road?" He paused for a moment, squinting at the man. "What I want to know is why you are here. Shouldn't you already be gone with all those other guys?"

The heavy-coated man shook his head, motioning to the briefcase beside him. "Can't leave yet." He grumbled, "I've still got work to do. Most of these people can't reconnect automatically, so I've got quite a few housecalls to make." The man turned away, grunting as he leaned over to grab his briefcase. "Anyhow," He continued, "As I was asking earlier, are you lost, kid?"

"Y-yeah..." Timothy squeaked, making way for the man. "I came to this place with the other volunteers."

"Which group?"

Timothy paused for a moment. "Um... Snowbush." He responded, "I came here with Lisa Garnet, a... close friend of mine."

The man nodded, straightening back out with a sickening crack from his spine. "Yes, I remember Lisa." He began, walking off onto the streets, "She's a smart one, I'll give her that. She's Argall's kid, ain't she?"

"Whuh?" Timothy trailed off. "Hey! Wait up!" He shouted, dashing after the man as he knocked on a door across the street. "What do you mean, Argall's kid?"

The man ignored the question, standing quietly at the door.

"Come in!" A quiet voice called from within."

"I said," Timothy continued, "What do you mean by Argall's kid?"

"Nothing, nothing." The heavy-coated man waved off the question as the door opened. "Here kid, come in. I'll show you how these machines work, and once I'm done with everybody here, I can take you back to Snowbush. Alrighty?"

"Wait, but I--"

The man shot a soft glare at Timothy, putting his finger to his lips. "We'll talk about it later, 'kay?"

Timothy nodded slowly, following the heavy-coated man through the door.

The frigid, nighttime air swirled about the two as the heavy-coated man gently shut the final door. "There." The man sighed, collapsing with a huff onto the stairwell, "That's the last one."

Timothy stared off into the milky darkness of the sky, before turning his attention back to the man. "So..." He began, "What did you mean earlier?"

"What did what mean earlier?" The man frowned, returning Timothy's stare.

"Y'know, about Lisa being Argall's kid."

The heavy-coated man paused, mouthing out an "Oh" as he glanced back to the door they had emerged from moments prior. He shook his head. "Ah, it's really nothing you should be bothered with." The man replied, "Just a respected colleague and his adoptive daughter."

An air of silence fell over the two as the boy attempted to process the man's words. "So..." Timothy mumbled, "Lisa was... adopted?"

The heavy-coated man shrugged. "Beats me. I don't go poking around Argall's life, y'know. I just listen to other people's gossip."

Timothy sighed, slumping on the steps. Far down the road, the first streetlight alit, casting a blazing yellow hue over the cracked asphalt.

"So." The heavy-coated man began slowly, smacking his lips in the dry air. "You want me to drive you anywhere? Get you reconnected or something?"

The boy shook his head. "Nah," Timothy chirped, "I think I'll try and find my friends."

Expand your horizons.

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"Hello? Anypony there?"

Lisa groaned, shifting her head in the darkness.

"Pinkie? Rainbow? Hello?"

The soft touch of a hoof brushed across the girl's forehead.

"Are... are you awake?"

Slowly, Lisa opened her eyes, brushing aside messy locks of hair with another groan. The blur of colors and shapes before her wavered for another moment, before taking the form of... her.

Or at least, Twilight Sparkle.

"Wah!" Lisa shrieked, shoving the mare away from her, "W-who are you?! What... are you a changeling?!"

"Changeling." Lisa repeated to herself, the word sounding foreign in her mouth. She pointed a finger at Twilight. "Are you one of them?"

The mare shook her head, recovering from being pushed over so abruptly. "I'm not." She replied, "Or at least, I'm pretty sure I'm not."

Lisa blinked. For a brief second, everything flashed through her mind. Every pony she knew, every road she walked, every memory of Equestria. The girl refocused her vision on Twilight, her eyes widening. "Do... do I know you?

"Lisa!" Twilight shouted, pouncing on the girl, "I'm Twilight Sparkle, don't you remember? You made me! Don't go on forgetting me now, not like you did with everything else before me!"

The girl blinked again. "Oh?" She continued, "What... what just happened?"

A warm glow began to emanate from the darkness, illuminating the pony and the human. "Wait..." Lisa paused again as she realized what the weight atop her was. "Wait... me?"

Twilight sighed a breath of relief, a smile replacing the fearful expression on her face. "Good." The mare nodded, "You remember still."

A flash of light filled their vision as the last of the darkness was replaced by a vibrant landscape. The warm glow- the sun, soared high above, minuscule clouds drifting about in the brilliant blue sky.

Lisa froze yet again, her vision filled with the image of what she'd once called home.

"See, Lisa?" Twilight grinned, "You might not have been thinking much about home, but it's still here!"

Nodding, Lisa took a step forward. The rounded cobblestones underneath her bare feet, the warm breeze rippling through her hair, the yellow tinge of sunlight in her eyes, they still felt real. She turned back to Twilight. The mare continued grinning, though hints of doubt began to show on her face.

"It feels like home." The girl whispered, taking another step on the dusty cobblestones. "But I know it isn't real."

Twilight hung her head low. "I know," She replied, "But it's the best I can do. Nothing can compare to the actual experience."

"No, no." Lisa shook her head. "I mean this place. Your home, you. It isn't real."

The mare's horn lit for a second, another bright light flashing before them as the scenery shifted to a crystalline bedroom. "I... I certainly feel real." Twilight hesitated, glancing at a mirror as she turned. "Or at least, just as real as you are."

Abruptly, the world jolted, sending both Lisa and Twilight tumbling into the darkness as the mental scenery disintegrated.

"Gosh dangit."

The slam of a door blasted the girl's ears as Professor Argall stumbled from the car. A brief jab in the side brought Lisa to her senses.

Samantha smirked, elbowing her friend again. "Took you long enough to wake, Lisa. I think we just hit a pothole or something."

Lisa glanced towards Andrew, who only let out a rumbling snore in response. She leaned back in her seat with a sigh, her eyes following the Professor as he stuck his head back in the car.

"Alright girls," Argall began, "Apparently the road happens to hate me today, so how 'bout you two and Andrew give me a push?"

Another elbow, this time to Andrew's side, was all it took to wake the man. "Hey." Samantha greeted, "Welcome back to awake-land. Get out of the car, we've got some pushing to do."

Andrew stretched in his seat, letting out a loud yawn as he popped the door open. "Sure." He yawned again, "Did the car break down or something?"

"Giant pothole." The Professor deadpanned, "Apparently, this road is so crusty that it crumbled under the wheels."

The man snorted as he threw his legs over onto the ground. "Sheesh, and I thought I'd already seen the worst roads in the line of duty."

Lisa watched as Andrew and Samantha piled out of the car, leaving only herself sitting in the vehicle. Samantha knocked on the window.

"C'mon, Lizzy!" Her muted words sounded through the glass, "The car's front wheels are completely stuck. We need all the help we can get!"

Lisa nodded, popping her own door open as her friend returned to the car's rear.

"Kay, push!"

A collective grunt escaped from the group as they shoved themselves against the vehicle. Slowly, the car began to shift, before abruptly halting again. Argall stepped back for a moment, staring blankly at his car before rushing back to the drivers-side door. "Keep pushing!" He shouted as he slipped into his seat, "I'll try driving it some more!"

The vehicle rumbled to life as he turned the key. He stuck his head out the window, turning back to face the others. "You pushing?"

Samantha nodded, giving a thumbs-up in return as she pressed her body weight against the car, followed by Andrew and Lisa doing the same.

Once again, the vehicle inched over the rim of the pothole, the rear tires spinning in place as the Professor continued to gas the engine. Just as the front tires appeared to clear the hole, an ear-splitting pop tore through the air, throwing shreds of rubber flinging in all directions. Immediately, Argall cut the engine, the car slipping back into the pothole with a heavy thud.

Professor Argall stepped out of the car, groaning as he caught sight of the front tire. "Well," He turned to the trio, "Looks like it wasn't the pothole we were stuck in after all." He crouched down, leaning closer to the scraps of tire surrounding the now-bare rim. "From the looks of it, this tire got caught on a shard of... something sticking out of the asphalt."

Andrew stood up, folding his arms. "So... do we have a spare or something?"

The Professor scoffed at the suggestion. "Why, of course we do!" He grumbled, reaching into the car to pop the trunk. "Mind handing me the jacks first, though?"

Bump. 17. Lisa counted, rubbing the sore spot on her head from hitting the window. "Professor?" She called.

The car slowed for a moment. "Yeah?" Argall responded, adjusting the air conditioning with a free hand, "What is it?"

Lisa glanced out the window again, once more leaning her head against the cool glass. "Where are you taking us?"

The car slowed even further this time as the Professor turned for a brief moment to face the girl. "You'll see." He grinned, returning his attention to the road.

Bump. 18. Lisa groaned, rubbing her head again.

"You gotta stop leaning on the window, Lisa." Professor Argall commented from the front, "One of these days you're gonna get hurt quite a bit more than a simple bruise. There's quite a few potholes and stuff like that on this road, y'know."

Lisa nodded, resting her head this time on the seatbelt.

"Liii-saa." Twilight's voice echoed, "Liiiiii-saaaaaa..."

"Urk." Was all that escaped the girl's mouth as she once again awoke in her dreamscape.

"Come on, get up. You still recognize me, don't you?"

The girl stared at Twilight.

"Don't you?" The mare pressed on, "Don't tell me that you're suffering from memory loss starting today. Is it from all those times you smacked your head on the window?"

Lisa shook her head. "No, no." She replied, reaching an outstretched hand to Twilight. "It's not that. I know that I still remember you. After all, why would you even be here if I didn't?"

Twilight paused for a moment, her hoof raised in opposition. "N...nevermind." The mare continued, "Separating from you like this is making things so wierd..."


The mare shrugged, her face a mash of confusion. "Well, that's what I call it, at least. I mean, look at yourself. Look at me. We're clearly separate now, aren't we?" Twilight looked down at her own hooves. "Look, I know that I'm a part of the simulation. I know that Equestria is, as well. It's still real to me, though. What I don't get, however..."

"...Is why we're suddenly separated into two conscious entities?" Lisa finished for her counterpart. "I've been trying to figure that out as well. Especially when-"

Twilight raised a brow, staring at the girl. "When what?" She began, "Go on, Lisa."

Lisa stood silently, staring blankly into the depths of the dreamscape. Her eyes wavered for a second, before focusing on the mare. "Wait..." She began, "Where am I? Wh-what's going on?!" She shook her head frantically. "Oh, crap." The girl muttered, rushing about. "Crap crap craaaaap. I knew I should've put that exit route in!"

Twilight frowned. "Exit route?" She began, stepping towards the panicking girl, "What are you even talking about?"

The girl spun around, her finger pointed directly in Twilight's face. "You!" Lisa said, "I'm pretty sure the simulation's malfunctioning. You should've merged with me a long time ago."

"Simulation? Malfunctioning?" Twilight shook her head. "Lisa. We've been out of the simulation for over a week now. Are you alright?"

"I programmed you to have a backup communication line to Professor Dad, didn't I? Call him for me!"

Wide-eyed, the crazed girl grabbed Twilight by her barrel. "Come on, future me, call him! Don't let me be trapped in here before I even finish!"

Twilight let out a heavy sigh, staring into Lisa's eyes before punching the girl in the chest.

"Urgh..." Lisa groaned, bringing a hand to her temples, "W-what happened?"

"Eh?" Professor Argall called from the front, "Something the matter, Lisa?"

The girl shook her head slowly, still rubbing at the rapidly-developing migraine. "I just had the weirdest dream."

"Well, save the dream talk for later. Look, we're almost there!"

Lisa raised a brow, narrowing her vision as she stared through the windshield.

Just above the horizon, a brilliant skyline had emerged, its buildings shimmering in the Autumn sun.

Relive your past.

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Lisa squinted, leaning into Samantha's seat space for a better view.

"Isn't it beautiful?"

"Huh?" The girl turned to her friend, leaning back into her own seat.

Samantha smiled, gazing towards the distant skyline. "Alpine Hills. The city we grew up in." She looked back to her friend. "Don't you remember?"

Lisa shook her head.

"Oh, don't bother her, Sam." Argall muttered from the front, "Let her remember on her own. It'll come."

"Humpf." Samantha made a face, folding her arms as she play-sulked.

Lisa rolled down her window, letting the crisp autumn breeze billow past her as she took in the sight of her hometown.

The city we grew up in. Samantha's words echoed in Lisa's mind. Another thought entered her mind. The city we called home... before Equestria...

As the buildings drew closer, rising ever higher over the hills, yet another thought hit the girl.

What was my life like before Equestria?

By now, many of the shorter buildings had come into view. Houses of all shapes and sizes. Restaurants. Even the occasional recreation center had seemingly materialized just over the horizon. Lisa turned her attention to the immediate view from her still-open window. Small farms and weed-covered hills steadily gave way to a more uniform grass and concrete. Dry, yellow grasses vanished from sight, replaced by rows upon rows of young saplings shooting out of their places beside the sidewalk.

A looming shadow passed over the vehicle for a moment, startling the girl. Samantha giggled for a moment before regaining her composure, her eyes returning steadfastly to the road ahead.

"That's one of those commuter lane things the city voted to install." The Professor commented, "It's a bit annoying at times, but they're nice to have around. I guess that's why this second set was installed, right?"

Professor Argall's question went unanswered, the only response being a startled grunt from Andrew as Samantha elbowed him again.

"Hey sleepyhead." She teased, giving the man another jab in the side. "You said you wanted to explore, right?"

"Uh... yeah?"

Samantha grinned, pointing to Andrew's window. "Well," She continued, "You'd better be well-rested, now, or you'll miss the whole thing."

Andrew focused on the view from his window, watching as the all-too-familiar suburban landscape replaced the dry grass and rolling hills in the distance. A police car whizzed past in the opposite direction, its sirens turned off.


The man turned to Lisa, leaning past Samantha in the center. "Yeah?" Andrew responded.

Lisa shot a quick glance back, eyeing the police vehicle as it turned off onto a parking lot. She looked back at Andrew. "Didn't you say you were a police officer in the simulations?" She began, "Officer..."

"...Jones." Andrew finished for the girl. "Yeah, why'd you bring it up all of a sudden?"

Lisa returned her gaze to the window, cradling her head on the seatbelt again. "I was just wondering what life was like, that's all."

Another shadow passed overhead as they drove beneath another commuter lane bridge.

"Well," Andrew began, "I was more just the typical traffic cop than anything all that exciting. I mean, sure, there were a few high-speed chases every now and then, but usually, I just end up directing traffic or something of the sort."

The car rolled to a halt. "Speaking of traffic..." Professor Argall began, pointing at the line of cars before them. "We've got some rush hour traffic right here."

Lisa sighed, staring out the window as usual while Andrew and Argall carried on with conversation. A few words, however, strangely stood out to her.

"...Head-on collision..."

"...Some drunkard..."

"...Couldn't stop in time..."

"...It was a horrible wreck." Andrew finished, folding his arms as he leaned back in his seat. "There were pieces of both vehicles littered all over the road..."

Argall nodded, pulling forward by another few feet. He glanced back to Andrew in the mirror. "Yeah, it certainly sounds familiar. I've driven past my fair share of crashes myself over the years." The Professor's eyes darted towards Lisa for a moment, wavering before refocusing on Andrew. "Horrible sights, I tell you."

Lisa turned to her friend. Samantha remained completely still, intently listening to the conversation.

"It really takes guts to shine that flashlight into a heap of metal, y'know?"

"I'd sure think so." The Professor continued, "Even with those fancy self-driving cars, there's always gonna be something that goes wrong. I should know so, considering how I grew up alongside the first generation of those sorta vehicles."

Andrew winced at the sudden squeal of tires from behind. In response, the car inched further forward. "Anyhow," Argall huffed, "I'd have to say that as far as roads go, they've been just about as dangerous as they've been for the past few decades now."

Lisa jerked at the touch of Samantha's elbow hitting her arm. "Lisa," The girl whispered, pointing to the windshield. "Look up ahead."

In the distance, bright orange flames rose into the air, surrounded by spiraling smoke and the flashing lights of emergency vehicles.

"Hrm." Andrew grumbled, "I wonder if that police car that passed us earlier is there?"

The Professor didn't respond, instead staring at the faraway collision with fearful eyes.


No response.

Andrew tapped on Argall's shoulder. "Professor?" He asked again, "Sir, pull up your vehicle. The cars behind us are waiting."

"Two dead... two in critical condition... Garnet family..." The Professor mumbled in a daze, leaning closer to the windshield. The wail of a siren grew louder as a firetruck rumbled past to the left of the vehicle.

"Professor Argall!" Samantha shouted, "Snap out of it!"

"...Huh?" Argall blurted, emerging from his daze as he turned his attention back to the road. "Oh. Uh, yeah. Sorry."

Once again, the vehicle rolled forwards.

"Professor." Samantha began sternly, glancing to her friend beside her before turning back. "What the heck was that back there?"

The Professor shook his head. "Nothing, Samantha. Just an ill-timed memory, that's all."

Lisa raised a brow, noticing another side-glance from Argall. Sighing, the girl turned once more to the view of the city. From the corner of her eyes, however, she kept watch on the blazing wreckage up ahead.

It felt... familiar.

A flash of color raced before her eyes. The screech of tires, followed by a sickening crunch of metal-on-metal. In an instant, the world turned on its head. Lisa found herself dangling helplessly in the overturned vehicle, clutching fearfully to her seatbelt as her brother cried in his baby seat.



She heard her own voice again; A high-pitched cry into the flames.


From the shattered remains of her window, the girl caught sight of heavy boots stumbling across the gravelly asphalt. The owner of the boots took a couple more wobbly steps forward, before collapsing onto the road, a pockmarked beer can still in their grasp.

"Mom!" She heard herself scream again, her younger self sweating from both the heat of the spreading flames and the adrenaline rush. "Mom! Are you okay?!"

No response, save for the crackle of flames.

Lisa grunted, squirming in her booster seat as she struggled to unbuckle herself. A trickle of red ran down her arm.

Shouts echoed in from beyond. The clatter of footsteps raced closer to the girl. Hands emerged from the remnants of the windows, reaching deep into the car.

"HELP!" Lisa yelled, still bound tightly to her seat. "I don't want to die..."

"We've got a survivor!" One voice shouted from beyond. "Anyone got a way to pry the door open?"

The collective wail from multiple sirens drew near as more voices began to shout, flashes of blue and red filling the little that Lisa could see of the outside world.

"Hand me that jack!"

"Leave the drunk dude to the police."

A face appeared behind the girl's crushed window, disappearing again seconds later.

"We've got two!" Another voice shouted, "One's passed out already from the smoke, focus on him first!"

Lisa glanced towards her brother. No more crying, no more flailing of his little limbs. Only silence.

"TIMMY!" Lisa's voice echoed into the flames.

Come back,

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Lisa watched as hands once again emerged from the ravaged windows, cutting and pulling her brother from his seat. She yelped as another hand grabbed her by the elbow, yanking her against her seatbelt as more yells came from outside.

"Somebody got a knife?" The voice of the one tugging at Lisa yelled, "We might need to cut the seatbelts if they're stuck!"

"Here, use mine! I just used it to get the boy out!"

The hand let go of her arm, instead feeling for her seatbelt.

"C'mon, clear out!" A distant, gruff voice echoed over the vehicle, "We've got firefighters and paramedics waiting for y'all to make way!"

The hand disappeared from view. Beyond the window, the boots of the drunkard slid away, dragged with their owner to the sidelines by officers. A groan of metal shrieked through the skeletal vehicle as the structure further weakened in the raging flames. Lisa screamed as a flaming chunk of flooring fell past, narrowly missing her head.

"Lisa!" A distant voice cried out.

"Lisa!" The voice called again.

An invisible hand seemingly took hold of the girl, shaking her by a shoulder.

"Lisa, snap out of it!"


Lisa groaned, glancing up from her seatbelt. She blinked, turning to face Samantha, who took her hand off of the girl's shoulder.

"C'mon, don't go around having nightmares in the middle of the day now!"

"Definitely seemed like a doozy to me." Argall commented from the front, "Samantha, how 'bout you let her recover a bit before you shake her up even more?"

Andrew folded his arms, nodding. "Yeah." He added, "Lisa, you've been crying in your sleep since we were stuck in traffic back there."

"And we still are." The Professor deadpanned. The car inched forward, stopping again moments later.

Just outside the windows, Lisa watched with wide eyes as first-responders pulled two children from the burning wreckage. Both lay limp in their arms as they were rushed into a waiting ambulance, life rapidly fading from their frail bodies.

Professor Argall cringed, turning his head to avoid looking at the scene as the vehicle pulled further forward.

"Nasty things..." Andrew began, "...But, sadly, a common occurrence."

The car swerved to the left, following closely behind the one in front as the lanes were redirected. With one final lurch forward, the car exited the congestion. Lisa peered through her window as the wreck faded from view amongst the traffic.

Argall sighed, his shoulders slumping as he relaxed. "Finally." He mumbled as he made a right turn, the click-click of the signal piercing through the vehicle.

Lisa glanced out the window. The fiery accident was long-gone from view, but the thick curls of smoke continued to rise over the buildings lining the roads.

"What's up with you and staring out the window?" Samantha jeered, poking her friend. "Every time I look over, you're either sleeping or looking at something outside."

Lisa shook her head. "It's nothing," She began, continuing to watch the smoke, "I just like to do this."

Samantha leaned back in her seat, relaxing as she closed her eyes.

"Well, if I remember correctly, we're practically here now."

"Finally," Andrew groaned as he stretched, reaching for his sack under the seat. "I was thinking we'd be driving through to the next town over at this point."

The car made another turn, rumbling onto a residential street. Far into the distance, the smoke of the wreck faded into nothingness, giving way to a uniform blur of tan hues as houses rushed past on either side. The reflection of Argall's eyes glinted in the mirror as yet another turn was made, the vehicle slowing as it neared a cul-de-sac.

One last turn. Lisa squeaked in her seat as the car rolled up the driveway, coming steadily to a halt in front of the garage.

Andrew glanced out the windshield as he unfastened his seatbelt. "So," he mused, "Two car garage, eh?"

No reply. Argall opened his door, the car still idling on the driveway. He stuffed his hands in his pockets as the garage door opened.

"Well, I guess it's time to get out."

"Huh?" Lisa turned to her friend. "This... this is where Argall lives?"

Samantha nodded, shifting in her seat as Andrew pulled up his belongings. "Yup." She replied, "I'll probably be returning to my own house now, but you'll stay here with the Professor, 'kay? I can tell that Argall misses you, and honestly, I'm pretty sure that they miss me quite a bit too."

Lisa nodded, staring at the house looming before her. "O...okay."

Lisa remained close to the walls, lingering in the shadows as she entered the house. Though it was well-lit, the bright daylight that flooded in through the windows had since shifted to the golden yellows and oranges of sunset. Heavy, yet somehow familiar shadows were cast all around the girl as she made her way deeper into the building. She turned her head for a moment, catching Andrew lounging on a sofa as she passed the living room.

The Professor wandered into view, a glass of ice water in his hand. "Oh, hey."

"...Hey," Lisa stuttered in return, waving a hand at Argall. "So... this is where you live?"

"Where you lived." Professor Argall corrected the girl. "Before I retired, I tended to spend more time working than I did at home." He took a sip of water. "Anyways, go ahead and take a look around. I've tried to keep things tidy around here, even if I was the only one in the house after you joined the simulation."

Argall paused, staring at the ice cubes at the bottom of the glass before disappearing back into the kitchen.

"Wait!" Lisa called, chasing after the Professor, "You lived alone all that time?"

Professor Argall shrugged as he refilled his cup. "Yeah, what's the matter with that?"

"Don't... don't you have any family?"

"Nope." Argall shook his head, taking another sip of water. "Closest thing I had to family was you." He paused again, his cup still full this time as his eyes caught Lisa's. "Are you planning on leaving again anytime soon?"

Lisa pursed her lips. The Professor continued staring, the ice in his cup clinking against the glass as his hand trembled.

"...Are you, Lisa?" He repeated, setting the cup down on a counter, "You could always, perhaps... maybe stay here in real life. I don't think you need the simulation anymore, after all."

Lisa frowned, glancing to the wristband that still clung to her. She looked back to the Professor.


Argall nodded, a sad smile forming across his face. "I used to have my work to take my mind off of things, but with retirement and whatnot, it really gets quite lonely nowadays."

"I'm... I'm not sure what to do." Lisa began slowly, "I know I've still got to return soon to the simulation, but... I still want to stay here, too. I don't really know why, but it's just this... this feeling that I've been getting lately."

The Professor's smile widened a little, his demeanor brightening. "Well, by all means, stay!" He exclaimed with a laugh, "Oh, I have nobody to talk to these days anyways." Argall sighed, picking his cup off the table. "Well, I'm gonna make some dinner for us now. If you can't find it, your room's just upstairs to the right."

Lisa nodded slowly, turning to the staircase opposite to the kitchen. Step by step, she climbed the stairs, never taking her eyes off of the first room to the right. She paused at a turn in the stairs, turning back to Argall, who now stood at the bottom step.

Go on. He signaled, taking another sip of water.

Squeak. Squeak. Squeak. The worn carpet cushioned her feet, dampening the creak of the floorboards underneath. Finally at the top, a cream-colored door sat closed before her. She took a step forward, reaching for the doorknob.

Abruptly, the girl paused, the creeping sense of familiarity once again finding its way into her mind. She teetered on her feet, gripping the doorknob for support.

"Lisa!" Argall's voice echoed, "I'm home!"

The girl burst from her room, her hair tied back into a greasy ponytail as she rushed down the stairs. "Hey, Professor Dad!" She exclaimed, "You wanna see my progress on the project?"

Professor Argall shook his head, setting the bags of groceries on the floor. "No, Lisa." He began, "I have to make dinner right now. Later, alright?"

Lisa nodded with a smile, running back up the stairs to her room.

Still in a daze, Lisa turned the doorknob. She paused again, releasing it as she turned and stumbled towards the railing at the top of the stairway. Peering over it revealed that Argall had since returned to the kitchen. Lisa took a deep breath, turning back to the door. Once more, she set her hand on the doorknob, a light rattle emanating from it as she began turning again.

A wave of cool air escaped from the room as the door opened inward, rushing past the girl and escaping into the rest of the house. Nothing seemed to be out of place, or even out of the ordinary in that matter. Lisa strolled into the center of the room, her eyes wide as she took in her surroundings. Rows upon rows of books sat untouched upon the shelves. A desk sat directly in front of her, cluttered with papers neatly organized in stacks that rivalled the size of the monitor that they obscured.

It looks so much like my library... Twilight's voice echoed through Lisa's mind. Sure, it's quite a bit smaller, but there's books, and they're organized, and-

My bedroom. Lisa's own thoughts overshadowed the mare's rambling. My...

The girl turned, her eyes flitting across the spines of the books covering the shelf. A select few stood out to her.

The Advanced Virtual Reality Programmer's Handbook

A Guide to Scripted Artificial Intelligence

Brain-Computer Interfacing

One final book sat at the edge of the topmost shelf, covered in a heavy layer dust as opposed to the pristine tomes that neighbored it.

Lisa's Diary - DO NOT READ!

Find yourself.

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The diary sat on the shelf, long-since forgotten under its years of dust and grime. Slowly, Lisa reached for the journal, her fingers gracing over the cheap, cardboard-bound cover. She pulled it from the shelf effortlessly as she turned away, coughing from the small avalanche of dust bunnies piling down at the same time.

Lisa's Diary - DO NOT READ!

With trembling eyes, the girl turned back to the remainder of her room. Unlike her diary, her room was spotless from floor to ceiling.

Almost as if... Lisa's eyes widened as she heard a pan clang against the stovetop downstairs. As if the Professor's been keeping it clean all this time for me...

She sat down on her bed. Opening the cover created another puff of dust, one that this time carried with it the familiar smell of musty paper. Scribbled, messy handwriting entered her vision as she flipped to the first entry.

December 10

My mom and dad wanted to get me a diary before Christmas came yet, so I have one now. I don't know what to write yet... mom said that I should try just writing down what I'm thinking, or maybe talk to the book like it is my friend.

Lisa's hand ran down the page, a shaky finger tracing underneath every word of the entry.

December 11

Today we went out to the mall! Dad told me to play in the playplace with mom while he went to buy some stuff. I don't think he is getting presents for me, 'cause I know I told Santa about what I wanted earlier today!

December 12

Even though I already told him at the mall, my mom and dad told me to send a letter before it's too late. I think that's kind of funny, because I know that Santa already knows! Just like in his songs! Or... maybe he only knows when you're awake?

Santa? Lisa frowned, reading the entry again. ...Who?

December 31

Sorry for not writing anything for so long! We got REALLY busy. There was a big school play and I was the Christmas tree and I got a lot of PRESENTS! I really like the books that I got from dad. He said that they came from his friend at work, and that if I want to I can come to work with him one day to play with the cool things that they're making!

Lisa set down her diary, a tremble running down her spine as she glanced back to the bookshelf. For the first time, she came to notice a few more books she'd previously missed, nestled tightly in-between the heavy textbooks cramming the space.

The Nighttime Ponies

Summer Sun Celebration!

Magic Spells for Kids

Lisa stood up, swaying on her feet as she stepped closer to the shelf.

"LISA!" Argall called from the bottom of the stairs, breaking the girl's trance. "Come down and help set the table for dinner!"

A light curl of steam drifted from Lisa's bowl of soup as she stared into her reflection.


"Huh?" The girl glanced up from her bowl.

Argall set down his chopsticks. "Aren't you going to eat?" He began, "I'm sure it's been quite a while since you've had anything like this."

Lisa didn't respond, opting instead to stare back into her bowl.

"Would you like a fork instead?" The Professor continued, pointing with his chopsticks at the noodles floating in his own bowl, "Or are you fine still with chopsticks?"

"I'll try using the chopsticks."

Lisa turned her focus to the chopsticks laying across the top of her bowl, slowly grasping them with a hand. She glanced up again, watching Argall as he operated his own pair. Finger by finger, Lisa imitated his hand position on the chopsticks, only to drop them again with a light plink as they hit the porcelain bowl.

"Here, let me show you again." Argall sighed, standing up from his seat. He took the girl's hand into his own, placing a single chopstick in her palm. "Hold it like you're holding a pen," He motioned, demonstrating with his own pair. "Hold the other one between your third and fourth fingers, and try to pick something up. You can move the first one to hold onto things."

Lisa nodded, reaching for the noodles in her bowl.

"I did it."

The Professor smiled as he returned to his seat.


Lisa lay sprawled across her bed, staring blankly at the nighttime ceiling.

"Twilight?" She whispered, "Twilight, are you still there?"

Yes? The mare's voice entered her mind, a faint echo of its former owner.

"Do you want to go back to Equestria?"

I'd certainly wish to, but that all depends on your decision.

Lisa turned her head, glancing at the musty diary that lay beside her.

"I don't want to go back..." She whispered, feeling the starchy corners of her diary, "At least, not yet..."

I understand. Twilight's voice soothed, Spike should at least be able to handle things for me during my absence.

"But what about you?"

Twilight's voice hesitated for a moment.

I... I'll be fine in the meantime.

Lisa sat up in bed, stifling a yawn as she grasped the open-faced diary. "Are you sure about that?" She whispered to herself, "Aren't you afraid that you might fade from my memories in the meantime?"

I honestly can't say anymore. We're technically two separate beings now, after all.

Sighing, the girl flipped through the later entries of the diary.


No response.

Lisa, is that-

"Yes." Lisa whispered, her eyes caught upon a crude sketch of Twilight. "That's you."

March 23

I'm writing this early today because mom told me that we're gonna be spending the whole day at the big park on the edge of town! I wonder if they have a sandbox?

"A blank page?" Lisa raised a brow, staring at the unfilled space following the entry. She flipped to the next page.

August 5

I just barely got out of the hospital. Mom and dad are... they're gone. The doctor told me that a bad man hit us with his car when we were driving, and that he'll be in jail for a long time. Dad's friend said that he's going to take care of me and my little brother until we're grownups, but-

The girl's eyes widened as the entry cut off, instead becoming a mess of dried tearstains running to the bottom of the page. Lisa's gaze turned to the following page.

June 7

It's been a while since I last wrote, hasn't it? Mom, dad, wherever you are, I hope you can at least still read this. Professor Argall said he didn't have enough time to take care of me and Tim, so our neighbors, the Carter family, adopted him instead. I'm still living with Argall, but only because I'm old enough to take care of myself while he's at work.

After moving to a new school when I started living with Argall, I quickly made a new friend. Samantha sits behind me in class, and she seems pretty smart too. We often raise our hands almost at the same time for answers, and we've kinda taken over a table for ourselves at lunch.

Once again, I hope you're out there somewhere, watching over me...

"...S-Samantha?" Lisa stammered, reading over the entry again. "It's been... I- we've been friends..."

For the first time, the girl came to notice the distinct lack of a clear date outside of days and months.

"...We've been friends for how long?"

She jumped back for a moment as the door clicked open. Professor Argall stuck his head in, glancing towards Lisa. "Hey, you okay?" He began, silently noticing the girl's open diary, "I heard you talking to yourself again. Would you like something to calm yourself with? Maybe a drink, or-"

"My parents died." Lisa cut in, a tear rolling down her cheek, "It was a car accident not unlike the one we drove past earlier today, wasn't it? I... Timothy and I were the only survivors in our car..."

Argall froze, staring at the girl for a moment. He let out a sigh, nodding slowly as he further opened the door. "Your parents entrusted both you and your brother to me if anything ever happened to them."

"So, Timothy was my little brother all this time?" Lisa whimpered, "All this time, one of my closest friends in the simulation was my own biological brother?"

The Professor nodded. "Timothy was barely old enough to begin school when he said that he wanted to go with you into the simulation. I went ahead and created a companion character for you, and placed him into that role."

The room fell silent for a moment, with even Lisa's quiet sobs ceasing as the girl took in the realization. A faint buzz broke the silence. Argall shoved a hand into his pocket, extracting the same phone Lisa had seen him use earlier on. His face became illuminated in a blazingly bright light as he idly tapped away at the screen before looking back up.


Lisa glanced up, her tear-streaked face glistening in the moonlight. The Professor took another glance at the screen of the device before turning his attention back to the girl.

"Your brother's arriving here tomorrow."

"What?" Lisa frowned, wiping away the remainder of her tears, "B-but I thought he already returned!"

Argall shook his head. "He realized a bit too late that he was in the wrong city, and was unable to reconnect. One of my colleagues is taking care of him at the moment." The Professor turned around, placing a hand on the doorknob as he shot a final glance at Lisa and her diary. "Anyways," He continued, "Try and get some rest now. Andrew already seems a bit homesick, so I may need to drive him back tomorrow. You'll have to stay here alone, alright?"

The door shut with another click, leaving Lisa alone once more. Alone with nothing but her diary, and the long shadows cast by the clouded moonlight that beamed through her window.

Split lives,

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Lisa awoke to the sound of her own voice. Or at least, of Twilight's voice.

"Good. You're awake."

Lisa yawned, rubbing her eyes as she sat up on the bed, Twilight's disembodied voice still echoing through her mind. "Yeah, what about it?" she began with a whisper, "Couldn't you just show up in another dream or something?"

"Nope." Twilight's voice replied. "We need to talk. And besides, I personally feel more comfortable speaking out loud. It's nighttime anyways, so nobody else will hear us."

"Great," the girl folded her arms, staring to the bookshelf across from her. "I guess I'll just talk to myself then."

"No, no. It's not like that." Twilight's voice once again spoke. "Lisa, have you been noticing anything lately? Anything in relation to your memories?"

Lisa shook her head, knowing well how futile the action would be anyways.

"Anything?" Twilight pressed on.

"No." Lisa answered.

"Well, what if I told you that the more you remember of yourself, the more I'll be covered up, buried away in your thoughts."


"Not yet. I'm still talking..." Twilight cut in, "What I mean is, remember back when we were still one mind?"


"Well, based on what I know from your memories, as well as my own experience, I'm pretty sure that after we split into our own selves, it's become somewhat of a competition for control over our body. I mean, just take a look at what happened to Pinkie."

Lisa raised a brow. "You mean Samantha? She seems perfectly fine now."

"Seems." Twilight asserted, a hint of irritation seeping into her disembodied voice. "You can't say that she is for sure. You might not remember right now, but she... she knows things. Same with Argall. I won't tell you what it is though. You might use it on me."

"Use what?"

"Not telling you. I'll only let them do it if your life is on the line."

"You're not making any sense, Twilight."

"Neither do your buried memories about your friend."

"Well, what do you want me to do, run out and ask her in the middle of the night?"

"No, are you crazy?" Twilight's voice snapped, surprising Lisa. "I'd very much like to take the time to study that mare... er, girl? ...Um... as I was saying, I'd much prefer to study her my way. Okay?"

Yeah, whatever. Lisa rolled her eyes, reaching for the diary on the edge of the desk beside her. I'd personally prefer some sleep right now.

"No! That's what sets you and me apart, Lisa. From what I can dig up, you designed me to be like yourself, but with certain aspects tweaked." Twilight paused to let Lisa take a breath. "For example, right now, you'd rather sleep, but I'd rather read some more diary entries."

Lisa glanced down at her diary that she now held, before flinging it back at the desk, a heavy thud hitting the floor as the diary bounced off of something.

"Twilight, what's gotten into you?!" she shouted as the book hit the floor moments later, "Before I went to bed, I asked you if you were going to be fine outside of Equestria. You said that it depends on me."

"Yeah, and just because I'm not in Equestria doesn't mean that I'm not allowed to do what I want in the meantime!"

Lisa groaned, falling back onto her pillow. "And I should've ramped up whatever value it is that you've got controlling your social skills."

Twilight's voice went silent for a moment, the mare at a loss for words.

The click of the doorknob startled both mare and girl as a weary-eyed Argall stuck his head in, a blazing flashlight in hand. "Lisa, you alright?" he began, sweeping the light across Lisa's bed, "I heard you shouting. Have you been talking to yourself again?"

"...Yes," Twilight's voice replied for Lisa, "we've been talking."

Argall stifled a yawn, returning his gaze to the girl.



"Meet me tomorrow, after I bring Timothy over."

The Professor left without another word.

Lisa sighed, leaning over the side of her bed. She picked up her diary, leaning back and tracing over its worn cover with her other hand.

"Y'know," she began again, "how about we put all of this aside, and deal with it tomorrow?"

Lisa felt herself shrug as Twilight responded. "Fine..." the mare replied, "though, I'd still rather stay up all night and read those books of yours."

ERROR. Twilight's voice screamed through Lisa's mind, WAKE UP. NEED. HELP.

Lisa groaned, rubbing her eyes as she turned to the side.

"LISA." Twilight screamed again, this time out loud. "HELP. SO--THING...'S. WRONG."

This time, the girl jerked awake, her hand flying up to cover her mouth.

"CA-N...'T E...RR--" Twilight's muffled voice continued.

Frantically, Lisa leaped from her bed, her body out of her own control as Twilight took a stumbling step towards the door.

"FI...-D... PIN...K-E," the mare's voice droned on in monotone, "N-EED... HELP..."

Lisa gasped as control over her body returned, sending her tumbling to the floor with a thud. She clawed her way back to her feet, and threw open the door.

"Oh hey, Twilight." Timothy greeted from the stairs as he ascended, "Argall just brought me--"

"GE-T P-NK...E!" Twilight's monotone voice screeched from Lisa's body, "TEL. --OFESS... ARG-LL... OR... BRI...NG... SA-ANTH!"

Timothy frowned, frozen in place mid-step as Lisa rushed past him down the stairs. He turned, following after her to the bottom of the stairs. "Twilight," he began, reaching out for the girl, "what did you--"

Lisa spun around, this time replying for the rapidly-deteriorating Twilight Sparkle. Her eyes met Timothy's. "Find Argall and tell him to bring Samantha here, now."


"NO-W." Twilight's voice screamed again, before returning control to her host. Lisa turned back around, grabbing the doorknob. "Something's wrong with Twilight, and I'm pretty sure Argall and Samantha are the only two that can help her. I don't know what she knows about them, but she needs something only they can do."

"Got it," Timothy nodded, following after her.

Lisa paused mid-step as they exited the house. "Wait..." she began, "Where is he, anywa--"

"DO...SN'T... MAT-TER." Twilight's voice cut off Lisa, "SPIK- K...OWS."

"Do you?" Lisa turned to Timothy. "Where's the Professor?"

Timothy shrugged in response. "He left after dropping me off here. He said to just stick with you while he went to get some groceries."

"NOT. GO...OD..." Twilight shouted through Lisa, "F...I-- PIN-K--"

Lisa's eyes rolled back as she suddenly collapsed to the ground.

"Wake up!"

"Please wake up, Twi... er, Lisa. Snap out of it!"

Lisa groaned, rubbing her head as she opened her eyes, squinting in the morning sun. Timothy sighed a breath of relief, holding out a hand for the girl. "Okay, c'mon," he began, pulling her from the ground, "Let's go find Samantha."

She froze for a moment, shuddering as one final word from Twilight left her lips. "H...UR-RY..."

Timothy nodded, glancing about. "Don't worry, Twilight," he assured as Lisa regained control, "we'll find her... uh..." he turned back to her. "Do you have any idea where she lives?"

Lisa shook her head. "When we got here, the only thing she had on her mind was home, and I highly doubt that I remember where she lives."

"But then how will we save Twilight?" Timothy wailed, "If we wait any longer, she might be gone forever!"

"Wait." Lisa suddenly began, "So, y'know how Argall had that phone he kept checking when it was almost time to go back to Equestria?"

Timothy nodded slowly, confusion spread across his face.

"I'm betting that somewhere in my room, I've got one of my own that I could maybe use to communicate with Samantha."

"Are you serious?!" Timothy yelled, "Twilight sounds like she's about to die. Are you sure that you still have the time to look for it?"

Lisa nodded. "I'm pretty sure I know exactly where it is, too."

Timothy stood in the doorway as Lisa once again stepped into her room, her eyes scanning the carpeted floor beneath her feet as she neared her bed. Crouching down to the floor, she stuck a hand underneath the bottom shelf of the desk beside her bed, feeling around until her fingers came across a flat, glassy screen.

Lisa smiled, pulling the phone from underneath the desk. "Bingo."

"How did--"

"I..." Lisa murmured, "I was arguing with Twilight last night, and threw my diary. I remembered hearing it knock something down, and from there I just forgot about it until now. I didn't even realize that it was my old phone."

Timothy rolled his eyes. "Yeah, yeah," he grumbled, pointing at the device. "does that thing even turn on anymore?"

Lisa didn't respond.


A light click sound emanated from the phone as Lisa pressed the power button. The two watched in silence as the device came to life.

"It... it still works?" Timothy mumbled, staring at the screen in Lisa's hands.

Lisa looked to her desk for a moment, catching sight of the cable dangling off the side. Timothy followed her movements, also catching sight of the charger.

He... he even left my phone charged for me... Lisa thought, turning back to her phone... of which had already locked itself again.

Timothy folded his arms. "Okay, enough with the staring now!" He exclaimed, "We still need to save Twilight, remember?"

Lisa nodded. "Yeah. Um... I'll see what I can do."

The phone slipped from her hands as she wavered on her feet, before collapsing once again to the floor.

"Samantha!" a voice called from behind the girl's door, "Breakfast is on the table, I'll be going to work, okay?"

Samantha glanced up from her laptop. "'Kay, mom!" She shouted back, shutting the screen.

A faint buzz went off in her pocket. She sighed, pushing her laptop aside as she pulled out her phone. Her eyes grew wide as she saw who messaged her.

Message from: Lisa

Pinkie, there's something wrong with Twilight. She just fainted in the middle of the room, and Argall's not here right now. Please come quickly.


Samantha stuffed her phone back in her pocket, and rushed from her room. Barrelling down the hall, she grabbed the small handbag hanging in the kitchen before making a beeline for the front door.

"Is she okay?" Timothy asked, watching as Samantha helped her friend up.

Samantha nodded, grunting as she guided Lisa to her bed. She pointed to her handbag on the floor. "Hey, hand me my stuff, would ya?"

Timothy set the bag beside Samantha, who began rummaging in it before pulling out a small scalpel. She turned to the boy. "Um," she began, "you might want to turn away for a bit if you don't want to watch."

"But what about Twilight?" Timothy wailed.

"She'll be fine. With what's happening right now, she'll hardly even know she's here."


"I'll explain later. Just stop talking, and lemme concentrate."

"Oh... okay." Timothy murmured, turning away.

Samantha turned for a moment, checking on the boy for a moment before turning back to Lisa. She glanced down at the technical paper propped up against her bag, then back at Lisa. With a sigh, she set down the scalpel and rolled her friend over onto a pillow.

"Is it over yet?"

"No. Stop talking."

She climbed onto the bed beside Samantha, scalpel once again in hand as she leaned over the back of Lisa's neck. With an unshaking hand, she made her first cut; a small, vertical incision just below her friend's hairline.

Lisa groaned, lifting a hand to her neck as she woke.

"Hey, Lis."

Lisa opened her eyes, staring up at her friend.

Timothy wandered up behind Samantha, his eyes trembling as they turned to Lisa. "...Twilight?" he stammered, "You're okay now, aren't you? Pin... Samantha fixed you. I watched her do it after you fainted again."

Lisa frowned, a brow raised as she sat up in her bed. "Tim," she began, "Who the heck are you talking to? Who's Twilight?"


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"Twilight, don't you remember?" Timothy pleaded, "You're Twilight Sparkle, you live in Equestria. I'm Spike, remember?"

Lisa shook her head.

"Twi--" Timothy pleaded again, his cry cut off by Samantha.

"Tim." Samantha began, "It's okay. She's still your big sister, isn't she? She'll be fine."

The boy sniffed, nodding. Samantha turned back to her friend. "Lisa," she said slowly, "what's the last thing you remember?"

"I... I was talking to someone." Lisa mumbled, fidgeting with her bedsheets under her. "I think they wanted me to read my diary?"

Silence fell over the room as the girl paused, thinking. She glanced over at her overturned diary sitting on the desk. The bed creaked beneath her as she leaned over, first tracing her fingers along the spine of the book, and finally picking up the diary itself. Lisa sat back up, flipping through the worn pages to the final entry.

She leaned in closer, inspecting the faded eraser marks crisscrossing the page.

Samantha let out a groan. "It's probably nothing, Lisa." She began, folding her arms over her chest. "Twilight was very studious, like you. She probably just wanted to find out more about your past."

"No, no. It's not that," The girl shook her head, still scrutinizing the diary's pages. She looked back to her friend. "Samantha, how long have I been in the simulation?"

Samantha scratched her head, staring up to the ceiling. "Geez..." she grumbled to herself, "How long has it been?" She turned back to Lisa. "I'd have to say roughly a decade by now, give or take a year or so. Why'd you ask?"

"I... I think I'm starting to remember a bit more now," Lisa nodded, "I just needed to know how far back it was."

"Oh?" Timothy gasped, pouncing onto the bed beside Lisa, "Like what? What do you remember?"

Lisa smiled, patting her little brother on the head. "Well for starters, if it's really been that long since my last diary entry, then that kinda explains why I remember so little."

"Lisa, you've been outside of the simulation for over two weeks now." Samantha deadpanned.

The smile faded, replaced instead by a grim expression. "Really now." Lisa commented, "It's been that long already?"

Samantha nodded.

Lisa returned her gaze to her diary's pages. "Anyways," she continued, "I was gonna mention how I kinda remember what happened over the past few days."

"'Kay," Samantha gestured, "go on then."

Lisa took a breath, setting her diary aside. "Well," she began, "for starters, I remember a gruelingly-long car trip..." Lisa paused, trailing off for a moment as she struggled to recollect her memories. "...and, there was a man with us in the car-- not Timothy though. I... I believe his name was--"

"Andrew." Samantha finished for her friend, "He doesn't really matter. We all know that car trip already."

Timothy raised a finger in protest but held back.

"Anyways," Samantha continued, "just tell us what you remember about Twilight. She went crazy just this morning, and I had to remove her to keep you from getting hurt."

Lisa snorted, a brow raised. "If you want to know about Twilight, then why don't you just ask her?"

"No, no." Samantha shook her head, "You don't understand still, Lisa. Twilight was you. You and Twilight were one and the same ever since you entered the simulation we created together. She was your character."

Lisa quieted, letting Samantha's words process. "Wait." She suddenly blurted, "Wait a sec, I do know that. You said Twilight was my character, right?"


"And you know the way we integrated the characters into the simulation was through the transmitters?"

"Yup." Samantha nodded. She paused for a moment before a grin spread across her face. "Oh... Oh, I know what you're leading into."

"Why don't we take a trip to our old home away from home?"

Samantha shrugged, pulling her car keys from her pocket. "Idunno," she grinned, "do you want a nostalgia trip?"

"Holy crap, Sam! You got a car?!"

"I bought it myself once the company boomed." Samantha shrugged, stuffing the keys back into her pocket. She turned to her handbag, rummaging around inside it before pulling out a small, white box. "This here's your transmitter," she began, tossing the box at Lisa, "we can hook it up to the computers in our office and see what Twilight can remember about this whole ordeal."

"Wait!" Timothy chimed in, breaking his silence for the first time in minutes. "Twilight was acting all weird earlier before Samantha came. Don't you remember, Tw... er, Lisa"

Lisa shook her head, standing from her bed and ruffling her brother's hair. "I'm sure we can fix her, Tim." She smiled, glancing to the carrying case in her hand. "C'mon, let's head to the place that started it all."

Argall's car rolled up on the driveway as the three exited the house. The old professor stepped out of the vehicle, squinting in the midday sun. "Hey," he waved, "What're you doing here so early, Samantha?"

Before Samantha could answer, Lisa strolled up to Argall. "It's because of me." she began, "According to her and Timothy, something went wrong with Twilight."

The Professor nodded. "Alright then," he turned to Samantha's own car parked beside him. "I'm assuming Samantha's driving you?"

Samantha jingled her keys in response.

"'Kay. Just call me if you need something." Professor Argall mumbled, lumbering into the house with the groceries. "I'll just be here at home."

The door shut with a click. Lisa turned back to her friend, a brow raised. "What's up with Professor Dad?"

Samantha shook her head. "Pretty sure he's still bewildered by the fact that you're actually here again." She replied, jingling the keys again. "C'mon, let's head off to the office now."

The car whirred to a halt before the small building. Lisa tightened her grip around the small box, its rounded edges slipping between her fingers as she stared at the building she'd spent days on end working in.

"Welp." Samantha chirped, cutting the engine. "We're here, Lis!"

"Looks a bit... old," Lisa commented, undoing her seatbelt. "I thought that by now, our company would've moved on to something bigger. Y'know?"

Samantha shrugged, opening the door as the keys dangled in her grasp, her handbag already hanging on her shoulder. "Argall wanted to keep the place for you. Said something about keeping things the way you liked them." She stuffed her hands in her pockets, bumping the car door shut and wandering to the dusty glass doors of the building. "Anyways, the new HQ is just a bit further down the road. I could probably give you a tour later if you'd like."

Lisa nodded, shutting the car door after her brother. "So," she trailed on with a comedic smirk, "what you're basically saying is that Argall's been obsessing over the fact that I liked this place."

"Well," Samantha snorted in return, "when you put it like that, you just make the guy seem like a creep. I'm sure he just kept things the way they are because he wanted you to be comfortable when you returned."

Lisa stretched, yawning in the midday sunlight before making her way to the doors of the office. "Anyways, now that we're here, we should probably get to work. Y'know?"

"Yup." Samantha agreed, unlocking the front doors with a turn of the key.

A wall of cool, musty air hit the trio as she pulled the door open. Lisa's eyes widened, the girl smiling as the familiar view of the office spread before her eyes.

Samantha strode into the building, turning to face her friend. "It's hard to think that this, of all places, is where we began." She commented, motioning for Lisa and Timothy. "The old office."

"You mean our old office." Lisa corrected with a chuckle. She paused, glancing about at the dust-coated surfaces around her. "...With an emphasis on old." She continued on. "Did the Professor really keep things exactly the way they were?"

Samantha nodded. She looked to Timothy, who continued to remain silent, trailing behind his sister as she entered the lobby. "Hey," she began gesturing for him to come, "if you want, I can let you play on some of the computers in the break room. We've got some dusty comic books in there as well, last I remember."

Lisa squeaked in surprise as she felt her younger brother rush past her to Samantha.

"Uh..." The boy froze, caught between the multitude of doors lining the hallway. He turned back to Samantha with a sheepish grin. "Which one's the break room?"

"First door to the right."

With the squeak of a door hinge, Timothy disappeared into the break room, his silhouette pouncing on an office chair behind the frosted glass walls.

Samantha turned to the door opposite to the boy. "Anyways," she coughed, glancing back at Lisa, "after you joined the simulation, I retired as lead developer and licensed out the framework to the public through the company your dad founded with Argall."

"Oh?" Lisa replied, "If you're not working on the simulations anymore, then what do you do now?"

She hesitated for a moment before setting her hand on the doorknob. "Up until I joined the simulation myself to chase after Pinkie Pie, I was more or less just overseeing the new development team."

Samantha opened the door, the automatic lights in the room flickering to life with an electric buzz as she entered. "Though, I... I just kinda miss having it be just the two of us, coding together..." She continued slowly, her voice trembling. "I mean, the royalties together with the money from the initial release helped both my parents and Argall retire pretty comfortably, so I guess it's turned out fine in the long-term."

She sighed, dumping her handbag on the table beside her as she grabbed a dusty office chair. "Sorry if it sounds like I'm rambling or something," Samantha grunted, taking a seat, "it's just that so much has happened since the last time we were in here as a team, y'know?"

"Yeah." Lisa agreed, taking a seat beside her friend. "Don't worry, I'm pretty sure I'd be doing the same if I was in your place." She placed her hands on the table, letting the plastic carrying case clatter from her grasp. Expectantly, she stared at her friend.

Samantha snorted. "Hey, you're the one that wanted to see what's on that thing," she exclaimed, playfully smacking Lisa on the shoulder, "I just drove you here."

"Sure you did." Lisa remarked as she pushed away from the table. "I'm guessing the passwords were never changed since the last time I was here?"

"Yup. All the equipment should be in the same places as well. When we moved into the new building, we just left everything here and bought new ones to avoid having to haul everything over."

Lisa rolled her eyes, smiling as she rolled herself in front of a computer. "Geez, okay," she grumbled sarcastically with a snort, "I get it now, the company's too rich to care about saving money, isn't it?"

"As if." Samantha retorted, grabbing the carrying case Lisa left on the table. "Even with licensing out the tech, we still have to monetize the simulations themselves to keep ourselves running."

Lisa winced, turning back to her friend. "Really?" She began, "I was just joki--"

Samantha's grim expression dropped. "I know you were joking." She laughed, "I'm just messing with you."

"...Oh. Well, I guess that's good then." Lisa sighed, pulling a dusty keyboard closer. "The last thing I'd wanna see in the simulations are monetized ads for whatever crap people want to sell out here in real-life."

"But in all seriousness, Lisa, we still are a for-profit company. I was serious about the monetized simulations, but not quite in the way you were thinking."

Lisa waved a hand in the air. "Okay, okay. We can talk about the boring company finances later, though." She spun around, a grin on her face as the system booted behind her. "How 'bout we have a good ol' debugging session in the meantime?"

The two girls jumped as a heavy knock sounded at the door. Before either one could respond, Argall opened the door, sticking his head into the room.

"Hm," he remarked, "I knew I'd find you girls in here."

"Dad?" Lisa stared at Argall. "I thought you were just gonna stay at home, weren't you?"

"Hey," the Professor joked, "just because I'm retired doesn't mean that I'm gonna be crammed up inside all day." He glanced at the monitor behind Lisa, raising a brow. "What're you two doing right now, anyways?"

Samantha held up the carrying case containing her friend's transmitter chip. "We're just gonna see what's wrong with Twilight Sparkle." She replied. "I have a feeling that something might've gotten corrupted last night, based on what I went through earlier today."

"Yup." Lisa followed up, nodding. "Samantha, could you hand me that now? Can't really do much if I don't even have the chip connected, y'know."

Argall watched for a few moments, before continuing. "Oh!" He exclaimed, "Speaking of last night, I nearly forgot why I even came here in the first place!"

The two girls paused, turning their focus to the Professor.

Professor Argall gestured to Lisa. "Would you mind if I pulled you from the room to talk for a moment?"

"Not right now, dad. Samantha and I were just abou--"

"It's fine." Samantha dismissed, shooing her friend away. "Lisa, go with Argall and hear what he has to say. I can get things set up for you in the meantime."

Lisa shut the door behind her as she and the Professor stepped into the hall. She glanced around for a moment, shifting on her feet before returning her gaze to Argall. "So..." she began, "What did you want to talk about?"

Professor Argall sighed, scratching his head. "Lisa, I'd like for you to take my old position as CEO of TechSIG."


"Lisa, I'm getting old. I was in my forties already when we first met, and now look at me. I'm a sixty-whatever guy who still has no idea what he's doing half the time."

Lisa glanced at the blurry figure of her friend behind the frosted glass, then back to her adoptive father. "Are you sure about this?" She asked, "I don't think I have the experience to take on something like that, and what about the rest of the company?"

"I've already circulated the idea for a few hours last night," Argall answered, patting his phone in his pocket. "Nearly everyone wants to see you step up to the ranks, especially given how you co-created literally the one thing that the entire company revolves around."

"What about Samantha?" Lisa blurted, "I thought she was working at our company in my place!"

"Was." Argall emphasized, "She was CTO for quite some time, but stepped down a few weeks before she decided to join you in the simulation."

"So what about the CEO? Who's been in that spot since you stepped down?"

Argall shrugged. "Nobody, really. I'm retired, Miss Daalmans is happy micromanaging people in her division, and Samantha's been gone for several years already, so she never rose higher in the ranks. We pretty much just picked whoever happened to be the best suited for the job and let 'em have the title until they didn't."

"Didn't what?"

The Professor shrugged again. "Didn't want to be the CEO, I guess," he continued, "with so few people having the experience for the position, there's kinda just been a power vacuum at this point."

Lisa shook her head, facepalming. "Oi." She grumbled, looking back at Argall, "What kinda experience are you even talking about?"

"We wanted everyone in the company to have some kind of role in the simulations themselves, so most of our new hires are also former students like you and Samantha."

Lisa wrinkled her nose. "Really?" She deadpanned, "That doesn't exactly sound like a good way to run a company. I don't exactly remember seeing very many others besides me and Samantha in the first place, either."

"Hey," Argall chuckled awkwardly, "we're tech-first, not business-first." He shifted on his feet, putting his hands in his pockets as he cleared his throat. "So... would you accept the position?"

"I..." Lisa frowned, "I don't think I'd be able to do it. If nobody after you has wanted to be the CEO, then why would I?"

The Professor nodded, disappointment tinging his voice. "It's alright, I understand." He mumbled. "It's just... well, the company was hoping that we'd have somebody that the public knows running the place."

Lisa shook her head again. "Again, I'm sorry. I can't do this... I wouldn't know how to, either."

"Just like me..." Argall sighed, wandering back to the office lobby as Lisa turned, opening the door. A soft click sounded behind her as she entered the room, her eyes set on her computer's screen.

"So, what was that all about?" Samantha began, still facing the screen as she pulled up a list of files. "I heard some stuff about being the CEO of the company."

"Dad wants me to take his place." Lisa stated, "He was asking me if I wanted to or not."

"Oh?" Samantha replied, turning to face her friend. "So what was your decision?"

"I turned down the offer."

Samantha huffed. "Well, there goes that out the window." She remarked, spinning back around. "Maybe I should look into taking back my spot as CTO."

Lisa paused for a moment, watching in silence as Samantha continued working on the computer. "...Anyways," she began, walking up beside her friend, "what's the progress with Twilight?"

"I've already got everything pulled up." Samantha responded with a nod, "I was just checking what might've gotten corrupted when you came back in."


"I know which files are corrupted based on the checksums, but I haven't checked the extent of the corruption yet."

Lisa leaned closer to the monitor, staring at the list of files. She turned back to her friend. "Have you tried running her AI in the simulation yet?"

"Not yet." Samantha shook her head, "Why'd you wanna do that?"

Lisa folded her arms, leaning against the table. "Doesn't the simulation's framework force an update check on new connections?"

"Hmm... don't quite remember that, but let's try it anyways."

Samantha fell silent for a few seconds, staring blankly at the screen.

"You should probably load Twilight's AI from the transmitter into the viewer program, y'know."

"Yeah." Samantha nodded, "Um... yeah. I kinda forgot that you could do that. I haven't exactly been using that program for quite a while now."

The room silenced yet again, save for a succession of clicks as Samantha ran the simulation viewer. A solid-black window appeared on the screen, flickering for a moment as the Equestria_04's geometry loaded into view.

"There's Twilight's library." Lisa commented as the familiar scene finished rendering. She frowned, narrowing her eyes as she noticed another thing that had loaded.

"Why's Twilight already in there?" Lisa asked, turning to her friend as the virtual pony cantered across the screen. "You haven't loaded her in yet, right?"

"Oh, that?" Samantha gasped, "Shortly after you first connected, I modified the framework to regenerate missing users' characters after a certain amount of time using the usual script-based AI, in case if something happened to them in real life." She paused, receiving a slow nod from her friend. "...Y'know, to keep things feeling immersive for everyone else."

Lisa snorted. "Well," she began slowly, "that's gonna be an issue."

"... Oh."

Rewrite the script.

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Once again, the room grew silent as the two girls stared at each other. Sighing, Lisa grabbed an office chair and sat beside her friend with a resounding whump.

"So, what are we gonna do now?"

Lisa shrugged.

"We could simply delete her if we wanted to, but... y'know, ethics and all..."

"Psh. Yeah, nearly forgot about that ruling," Samantha groaned, folding her arms, "so no deleting the Simulation Twilight then?"


The girl let out another groan.

"So what, are we gonna have two Twilights running around in the simulation then?"

Lisa shook her head.

"We could try merging the two," she began, "but given the extent of the corruption as far as which files it's reached, I'd say that it would probably be a dangerous move."

"So what?" Samantha replied, "We could just copy over the uncorrupted files from the Simulation Twilight, and load 'em up on the corrupted Twilight." She turned back to the computer's monitor, navigating to a network-attached folder. "See? Even the source code is still here! It'll just be a simple patch job!"

"Yeah, I guess so," Lisa agreed with a nod, "But... that still leaves us with multiple sentient Twilight Sparkle...s. And based on the way you explained the regenerating AI, there's probably a duplicate Pinkie and... whatshisnameagain..."

"Spike," Samantha answered. "Don't worry if you can't remember the character all that well. Argall and I decided to put Tim in the simulations to be with you, but you didn't exactly... well, know about that until we told you not so long ago."

"Anyways, we've still got the problem of my version of Twilight on our hands. Once we figure out how to deal with her, we could probably handle the others pretty easily. Though... that does still leave us with the Twilight that the simulation regenerated..."

Samantha sighed, slapping her hand onto the table.

"Aaaaand we're back at square one."


Lisa watched as her friend groaned, burying her face in her arms as she slouched onto the table. The lights flickered for a moment as the air conditioning kicked in, sending a cool breeze billowing into the room. For a brief moment, Lisa simply stared at the monitor, a blank expression on her face as the pony on-screen continued to peacefully read her book, only stopping occasionally to take a sip from a steaming cup of tea nearby.

She turned her attention back to Samantha, who remained motionless on the table.

"Hey," she began in a whisper, "Sam, I've got an idea."

Samantha gave a muffled acknowledgment but otherwise remained still.

"C'mon, Samantha. I'm sure you've dealt with bigger problems while I was in the simulation. What's wrong?"

Another groan. Samantha shifted, sliding an arm away from her face.

"I... I just don't want to work on this anymore," She began, propping herself up on the table. "I mean, sure, I enjoyed it for the most part, but haven't you ever wanted to move on?"

Lisa frowned, shaking her head.

"Of course you didn't," Samantha grumbled, turning away. "That's the other reason why I retired from my position, especially after you joined the simulation yourself. You're obsessed with this project."


Samantha turned back, a smirk on her face.

"But," she continued, cutting off Lisa. "Maybe I'll do it anyway, just for the sheer craziness of it... and because I'll be working with you again."

Lisa huffed.

"Geez, stop it with the teasing!" She remarked, eliciting a laugh from her friend. "C'mon, we got work to do!"

"And you had an idea," Samantha grinned. "How about we hear it now?"

"Alrighty then. So, even with the corruption in place, we can both agree that it's the same base AI that's running Twilight, right?"


Lisa smirked.

"Well, we can use that to our advantage. Instead of trying to patch the system files, we could instead load the memories of the corrupted Twilight into the regenerated Twilight!"

Nodding, Samantha glanced to the monitor, then back to her friend.

"Ah," she gasped, "I see what you're talking about! After all that, we could simply delete the corrupted remnants of the old AI!"

"Er... yeah, I guess."

Samantha paused.

"Wait, didn't you say that it'd be dangerous to do something like that though?"

Lisa shook her head.

"I was referring specifically to merging the base AI. Memories shouldn't really be a problem if I remember correctly, but we'd have to modify some of the existing pre-generated scripts to keep things smooth."

"Eh, no biggie," Samantha shrugged, turning back to the monitor. "Given how those things work, tweaking the scripts should be pretty easy." She gestured to Lisa, keeping her attention on the screen. "Pull up your chair, we can get this done just like the good ol' days."

Lisa rolled her eyes, cringing at her friend's demeanor.

"Aw, c'mon, can't you take a joke? I made a promise with Pinkie to be nicer, y'know."

"Really now?"

Samantha nodded.

"You know how I... er, we are with promises?"

"Fair enough," Lisa agreed, "keeping promises was one of the things about you that we put into Pinkie's AI, anyways. On the other hand, you're definitely putting your theater skills to the test if this is how you're gonna act."

Samantha blew a raspberry at her friend, folding her arms over her chest as she leaned back in the chair. Lisa returned the favor, taking control of the computer from her friend.

"Anyways," she continued, tapping away at the keyboard, "jokes aside, we've got a bit of rewriting to do."


"Careful not to mess with the AI itself," Samantha cautioned, watching as Lisa combed through the seemingly endless list of files. "We don't want another Celestia fiasco on our hands like that other girl."

"Yeah, yeah. I remember. Didn't we just decide to remove her AI entirely in the end?"

Samantha didn't respond. Lisa returned her attention to the code filling the screen, the sound of the keyboard's keys once again filling the room.

"... You missed a semicolon there."


Samantha scooted her office chair closer to the table, an audible clunk echoing throughout the room as the plastic armrests collided with the table's siding.

"So," she began, "I was kinda expecting to do a bit more myself as well, instead of just watching you."

Lisa turned from the screen, blinking.

"Um... how about you work on Pinkie?" She suggested. "I- wait, her chip's still in you, isn't it?"

"No," Samantha shook her head, she turned her back to Lisa, pulling up her ponytail to reveal a small band-aid. "I kinda... operated on myself a bit right after I got home. Her chip's in my handbag."

Cringing, Lisa watched as Samantha fixed her hair.

"Wouldn't it hurt though?" She asked.

"'Dunno, did it for you?" Samantha replied, rummaging through her bag.

"Not really."

Samantha turned back to her friend with another white box in her hands.

"Then that answers your question."

She wheeled her chair to the opposite side of Lisa, sitting down with a huff as the chair squeaked underneath her.

"So I guess we'll both be working on this then," Samantha smirked, pressing her thumb against the power button of the computer, "Just like the years we spent back in school."

"Okay, stop it with the whole nostalgia trip thing," Lisa teased, "You're starting to sound like Professor Dad at this point."

Samantha only grinned in return.

"Anyways, let's get on with this."

"Right," Samantha nodded, turning her attention to the glowing monitor before her. "You work on Twilight, and I'll work on Pinkie."

"HE...P!" Twilight cried out as she plunged into a sea of white, "SO-EPON...YYY HEL--"

An odd tingling sensation flowed over Twilight as she froze, a blinding white landscape stretching across her vision as her cries for help were suddenly cut off. Slowly, she rose to her hooves, wincing as the sensation moved to her head. She shook her head. What was she even thinking moments ago?

"Hello?" the mare called, swaying as she took a wobbly step. "Anypony there?"

A brilliant flash of light caught her eyes. Twilight whipped around, charging her horn in preparation to encounter... herself?

The second Twilight blinked, staring off into the white void.

"Um... hello there," Twilight began, cantering towards her doppelgänger, "do you know where we are?"

Another blink. The second Twilight shook herself from her daze, focusing on the mare in front of her.

"I... what? Sorry, I didn't quite hear that."

"I said, do you-- ACK!"

Twilight screamed as her body convulsed, a visible stream of her memories flowing from her head. They gathered for a moment, swirling about in a cloud of light, before absorbing into the second Twilight, of whom watched in horror as her perceived copy wilted, a husk of her former self.

"There we go," Lisa mumbled to herself, "Memories transferred."

"That's good," Samantha remarked, turning from her own work. "Did you run into anything of issue?"

Lisa shook her head. "Surprisingly, none. I was expecting my version of Twilight to be a bit more... erratic, I guess."

"Were you connecting her to the simulation, or did you sandbox the thing?"

Lisa shrugged. "I figured that I could just create a blank simulation based on the existing simulation framework. That way I just had to plunk the two Twilights together and merge 'em. Is there a better way to do it nowadays?"

"Urk," Samantha winced in response, "not really, but that explains why you didn't have any problems."


"Your new simulation probably was registered as a new connection and updated both Twilights. I'm guessing that they have the same AI now."

Lisa frowned, turning back to her monitor. "That's not good," she grumbled, "I can't just delete the faulty one then, can I?"

"Nope," Samantha nodded in return. "Once again, you'd be running into those ethics rules. Though, now that they're running the same software, you can merge their programs."

"Eh, I'll just do that then."

The limp body of the first Twilight burst into a brilliant glow of colors, startling the other mare.

"I... what- what?!" the second Twilight sputtered, her eyes widening as the first began to seemingly gravitate towards her.

"Stay away!" the second yelled, lighting her horn.

The first Twilight's hooves dragged along the spotless white floor, her stoic demeanor unchanging as she drew closer.

"I said stay away!" the second yelled again, taking a step back.

The first Twilight froze in place, her limbs dangling underneath her. Strangely, her eyes remained open; though in all aspects she appeared lifeless, her gaze continued to focus on her clone, as if there was a longing of some sort within her.

Her memories, the second Twilight gasped, staring at the first. I took them, didn't I?

She didn't have time to react as the first Twilight flung herself directly at her.

"...Aaaand we're merged!" Lisa cheered, stretching in her office chair. "Just had to stop the process for a bit to make sure things were all set, and now it's done!"

"Mm-hm," Samantha agreed, her focus still glued to her own work. "Here, come over and I'll show you how to merge entities without the simulation's framework to run things. Not quite sure how well it'll work without the forced update to screw around with the situation, but it should theoretically turn the whole process into a single merge-delete operation. All I have to do is pluck the new Pinkie out of the simulations just like you did with the new Twilight."

"Huh?" Pinkie squeaked, pulling her party hat away from her eyes, "Where am I?"

"Are you ready for this?" a second Pinkie asked in return, cantering up to the first.

"Ooh, are you a leftover clone from the mirror pool?"

The second Pinkie shook her head solemnly. "No, I am you from before you were you."

"Bleh," The first Pinkie scoffed, "If I acted like that in a past life, I probably wouldn't be too happy either."

The second Pinkie's eyes met the first as a content smile appeared on her face. "Don't worry, this'll all be over soon, and we'll be back in Equestria, enjoying our lives."

"Wait, our? That sounds like twice the Pinkie power!"

The second Pinkie shrugged, walking close enough to touch her copy. "Who knows?" she whispered, passing seamlessly into the first Pinkie's place.


A flash of pink emanated from the two Pinkies as they merged into one.

"And that's that," Samantha nodded, folding her arms over her chest as Pinkie reconnected to the simulation. "Offline merging using nothing but a modified viewer and a bit of permissions tweaking."

"Huh," Lisa acknowledged with a nod of her own. "Well, I guess that's done. I'm guessing we should put Twilight and Pinkie back into the simulations now?"


Lisa turned back to her screen, selecting the newly-merged Twilight Sparkle's files. Pausing, she glanced at her friend, then back to her own hands on the keyboard.

"So, I guess I'll be staying here then, won't I?"


"You know why I wanted to join the simulation in the first place."

Samantha's smile disappeared. "Well... yeah, I do," She replied, "Why are you bringing that up just now?"

Lisa sighed, turning away from the keyboard. "It's just... I'm still not sure if I'm ready to face the world... the real world, again. Sure, it's been fun to be out here again just like before, but--"

"Just let go of it, Liz," Samantha countered, "The past is the past. You've had plenty of time to sulk about it at this point.”

“I know. It’s just hard to move on from that.”

Just as before, silence overtook the room, interrupted only by the dull buzzing of the overhead lights and the whirr of the computers’ fans. Samantha expectantly stared at her friend, nodding her head to the keyboard in front of her.

“C’mon, Lisa. It’s just a few more clicks and some commands to get them reconnected. What are you waiting for?”

Lisa didn’t respond, her eyes glued to the glowing monitor.


With a defeated huff, Lisa set her hands back on the keyboard and began typing.

program select 0-1
upload programs
Upload complete. Establishing connection… complete.

Hold on...

View Online

Twilight gasped as she jerked up in her bed, her chest still heaving as she stared at her hooves. A few moments passed as her breathing slowed. With a shaky hoof, the mare propped herself up, squinting at the familiar view of her cluttered bedroom.

"H... hello?" She called, swinging to a sitting position, "Anypony there?"

Twilight slid off her bed, wincing at the crackling static snapping between her mane and the sheets as she did so.

"Hello?" She called again, louder this time.

Her eyes darted back to the bed, then to the window above it.

Something didn't feel right.

"Hello, welcome to Sugarcube Corner bakery. How may I help you?"

The stallion Pinkie addressed raised a brow but nevertheless trotted to the counter.

"Hi," he began, eyeing the normally cheery mare, "I'd like... uh, let's just go with some bagels today."

Pinkie nodded politely.

"Would that be blueberry or strawberry, sir?"

"...On the second thought, maybe I should try the café across town for once..." the stallion muttered, backing away from the counter.

The bell above the door jingled as the stallion left without another word.

Sighing, Pinkie trudged to the backroom, slipping her apron off and hanging it on a peg.

I'm not Pinkie... the mare thought to herself, watching her reflection on the side of a pot, This isn't who I am... but I don't feel any different...

"So you're staying then, right?"

"Again, yes!" Lisa groaned, burying her face in her arms, "Dad, you've asked me four times already!"

"I know, I know," Argall replied with a shrug, "I'm just checking, okay?"

Lisa groaned again threw her sleeves.

"What am I even gonna do now? My only goal was to live the way I wanted to live, and now that I'm out here again, all my time spent in the simulation's pretty much become pointless!"

"Now now, Lisa," Argall countered, cracking an egg into a bowl at the counter, "you've spent plenty long enough in that place. You can't just keep running from your past, much less use it as justification to isolate yourself."

"I know." Lisa sighed, sitting back up, "Samantha was saying pretty much the same thing earlier."

Argall paused for a moment before continuing to scramble the eggs.

"Anyhow," he continued, his voice accented by the light clinks of the whisk, "we can talk about this after you eat, alright? Today's been a long day already, and you haven't even eaten breakfast yet, Lisa."

A smile formed at the edges of Lisa's lips.

"That you're right on," she snorted, "I wake up in the morning, and what happens? Oh, just a little surgery as a wake-up call, y'know?"

"Er... okay. Your brother already ate earlier this morning, so don't worry about him."

The Professor set a steaming plate of scrambled eggs in front of Lisa.

"Check the stove and make sure it's turned off," Argall continued, walking past Lisa, "I'm gonna be out doing some things again with the company. They don't seem to get that I'm retired just yet..."

Samantha sighed as she sat down in her office chair, pulling the ribbon from her hair and tossing it onto her bed. Fans whirred to life as she powered on her computer, the familiar glow of its boot screen flashing across her vision. She let out a satisfied hum as she drummed her fingers on her desk.

The boot screen faded away, replaced by a cheery background photo of cats and yarn. With a stifled yawn, Samantha clicked on her emails application.

More company newsletters... cat facts daily... video notifications... the girl read to herself, scrolling through the day's messages, Oh? What's this?


Samantha snorted, closing out of the message with a scowl.

More spam. she thought with a roll of her eyes, Of course it's spam.

A light ping came through the computer's speakers, alerting the girl to the latest notification as it popped up to the side. Samantha's smile returned as she clicked on the message.


Hey, Lisa. It's definitely been a while since we've talked through this thing, eh?

Yeah. I still can't believe Professor Dad left my room exactly the way it was when I first left all those years ago. Heck, seems like he's even still been regularly updating the computer I'm talking to you on right now!

Wow, that's... weird.

Argall's weird.

Fair enough.

So, is there anything you wanna talk about at the moment?

Well... not really. I just want someone to talk to who isn't my little brother. He's still calling me Twilight, so it's all been "Twilight this" and "Twilight that" and stuff. He's actually starting to drive me a little nuts, y'know?

Yeah, I guess. What's up at the moment?

Eh, not much. Argall had to go again after he made me breakfast. Something about another meeting I think?

Probably. Didn't he ask you to be the new CEO of the company earlier?

Yeah, why're you bringing it up now?

Well, if you don't wanna take lead over the whole company, my old position as CTO is still open as far as I know...

Don't you want to take it back though? I want to make my own choices, not get roped into something I don't even understand!

Hm. Fair enough.

What do you do now that you're out of the company?

Actually, nothing, really. Retirement is pretty boring now that I've got the time to spend.

On the other hand, I'm still not really sure what I'm even supposed to do.

Once again, you could join the company! Heck, I'll even rejoin myself if you want. You don't have to take up some high-level position, just as long as you enjoy it!

Even with all the chaos the Professor told me about since the company doesn't really have any leadership?

Er... yeah, I guess. I'm sure we'll find someone soon enough.

Whoops, gotta go. Tim wants something.

Lisa's name greyed out in the chatbox as she entered do not disturb mode. Samantha leaned back in her chair, sighing as a loud creak groaned out beneath her. Scratching her neck, she left a final message for her friend.

Hey, you wanna check out the new building later?

"Twiiiii-liiiiight, I'm booooored," Timothy groaned, slumped over his sister's bed. "Are there any comics to read or something?"

"Again, I'm not Twilight anymore," Lisa began as she pushed in her chair, "and you're not Spike anymore, either. Or at least, you aren't out here."

"Yeah, yeah, I know that already."

Lisa frowned, watching her little brother roll over on the bed with a huff.

"You're used to being Spike, aren't you?" she continued, "Is that why you still identify as him?"


"It's okay if you think of yourself as him still, Tim. You've grown up with him for most of your life, right?"

Timothy nodded.

"And that's okay. Sure, it might be a bit weird at times, but you could just say that Spike's your nickname or something. You've still got what, two, three more years of school left now that you're out of the simulations?"

Timothy hesitated for a moment before nodding again.

"Anyways," Lisa sighed, glancing at the last message from Samantha hovering near the bottom of the screen, "we can talk about this some more a bit later. You wanna come with me and see the new headquarters building?"

"Ehh... sure, I guess." Timothy shrugged.

"C'mon then," Lisa motioned, walking to the door, "Argall can probably take us."

The two siblings headed down the stairs, making a beeline for the family room.

"Dad?" Lisa called as she reached the bottom steps, "Dad, you home?"

No response.

"He's out doing some stuff with the company, remember?" Timothy reminded, "He left after you ate breakfast."

"Oh... oh yeah. I'll just call Samantha instead. She can drive us."

Samantha's phone buzzed on her bed, its screen lighting up as the call came in. She propped her head up, her hair matted to one side from her pillow as she reached for the device.


"Hey, Sam. You said earlier that we could come and see the new building or something?"

"Yeah, sure," Samantha replied, flipping onto her back as she continued the call, "wanna grab something to eat while we're at it?"

"Sure. Should I just wait for you to come and get us or should we meet somewhere?"

Samantha paused for a moment. "I can probably just pick you up. There's this nice café nearby that I know. We can just stop by and grab something quick."

"Alright then. Should I just wait outside on the driveway, or--"

"Yeah, driveway's fine. Is Tim coming as well?"


"'Kay," Samantha replied, grabbing her keys from her desk. "I'll be there in a few minutes."

Lisa stood at the driveway, watching as her younger brother stomped through the yellow-orange leaves littering the grass along the sides. She closed her eyes, taking a deep breath of the crisp autumn air with a smile.

I guess staying out here isn't as bad as I thought it'd be... Lisa thought to herself, opening her eyes again as she stared into the cloudy sky. It's... nice.

The soft hum of Samantha's car caught her attention as the vehicle pulled up along the curb. Samantha rolled down the window, smiling.

"Hey, Lis, you called?"

Lisa gave a slight nod. "Yeah, and Tim's coming, too."

"Yeah, yeah. You told me earlier, remember? Just get in already."

Twilight stared at the hastily-scribbled drawing before her, her chest still heaving from the adrenaline rush. She'd drawn a face, but not an equine one. It was human.

It was Lisa's.

A knock sounded at the door.

"C-come in!" Twilight yelled, her eyes still glued to the paper.

Pinkie pushed open the door, shuffling into Twilight's study.

"Hey, Twilight," She mumbled, walking to her friend's side. "What... what are you doing?"

Twilight shook her head, a shudder running over her body. "I don't know, Pinkie."


"I... I don't know this face, but I know it's mine. I've been having these haunting thoughts all day long, all of them always focusing on something beyond Equestria."

Pinkie peered over her friend's shaky hooves at the drawing.

"Certainly seems familiar to me."

"Pinkie," Twilight pleaded, "there's something wrong with me. I can feel it. Half the time, I'm not even sure if my thoughts are my own!"

Pinkie frowned.

"Been there, done that," she dismissed, pulling the drawing closer. "Though, I don't think I've been acting like myself very much today, either."

"I noticed."

"There's just this... voice in my head, like another me, that tells me what to do. She never actually says anything, but I can remember--

"--An entirely separate life?" Twilight cut in, "Same here. The memories are muted, but they're there. I can remember being in a place beyond Equestria, somewhere where I was human, just like I was on the other side of the mirror portal."

Pinkie's frown deepened.

Twilight turned to her friend. "I'm guessing it's the same sorta thing for you?"


The car briefly jolted as Samantha shifted into Park.

"We're here!" She cheered, unlocking the doors. "Haven't been to this place in quite a while!"

Drying leaves crunched under their feet as they stepped out of the car. A warm wind blew through the streets, sending more leaves into the air. The chime of bells welcomed the trio as they entered the café.

"Oh, welcome back, Samantha!" greeted a voice behind the counter, "Long time no see!"

Samantha nodded. "Thanks."

"Just pick a place to sit," she began, turning to Lisa and Timothy, "I'll order for us. What do you want?"

"'Dunno," Lisa shrugged, "What is there?"

"Well, there's the usual coffee varieties, shakes... um... yeah, just find a seat for now..." she trailed off, "I think I know what you two'd like."

"Er... okay then," Lisa mumbled, taking Timothy by the arm. An empty booth beside the storefront window caught her eyes. "C'mon, this spot looks nice."

The girl sat with a light whump as she sank into the plush seats. She patted the empty space beside her.

"C'mon, Tim. Don't you wanna sit?"

Timothy shook his head, pointing a finger at the booth behind them.

"There's a little girl staring at us. Should I go talk to her or something?"

"No. Tim, she's not bothering anyone," Lisa rolled her eyes. "so just ignore her. She's probably looking at something else anyway."

The heavy thud of glass cups hitting the table diverted the siblings' attention from the child in the corner.

"Hey," Samantha exclaimed, sliding into the booth, "Lisa, you drink coffee, right?"


She shook her head. "...Nevermind. I bought some shakes for the three of us anyways."

"Ooh!" the girl in the corner blurted, jumping up in her booth, "Yo-you're Samantha Hayes, right? I'm working at your company!"

Samantha snorted, placing the crumpled receipt on the table. "You're just a kid. Are you sure that you're with us?"

The girl nodded, taking a sip of her hot chocolate. "Yeah! I'm at the front desk!"

"Here," Samantha sighed patting the corner of the booth, "come and sit with us. How old are you, anyways?"

"Twelve!" the girl cheered, slinking out of her booth. The oversized labcoat draped around her shoulders slipped off one side, dragging on the floor behind her. "My dad works there, too!"

"So..." Samantha groaned, rubbing her forehead, "TechSIG has a middle schooler as an intern, who runs the front desk of the company's lobby."

The girl nodded. "Yeah, though it's only because my dad works there too."

"Do you at least go to school still?" Samantha asked, "I don't exactly like the idea of using child labor in the company. Heck, you still haven't even told us your name."

The girl stuck out her tongue, making a face. "Duh, I still go to school!" she argued, "I can only work at the company anyway because my dad's practically running it!"

She paused for a moment to finish her hot cocoa.

"And my name's Zoey, by the way."

Lisa nodded slowly, dragging her shake closer to take a sip.

"Well," she sighed, holding out a hand as she spat out the straw, "welcome to the company then, Zoey."

Zoey enthusiastically shook Lisa's hand, tipping her empty cup as she did so.

Timothy rubbed his eyes with a yawn, resting his chin on a hand as he stared at the small splatter of hot cocoa on the table. He leaned over, tapping on his sister's shoulder.

"Tw... Lisa, can we go yet?" he whined, "I'm getting bored."

Lisa nodded. "We'll go right after this," she replied, ruffling her brother's hair. "I'd might as well catch up a bit on what's been going on at the company since I last worked there."

She turned back to Zoey. "Speaking of which, you said that your dad's been leading the company? Professor Argall asked me just this morning if I wanted to be CEO. What's up with that?"

Zoey forced a smile. "Well... my dad and Argall aren't exactly... um... very good friends..."

"Oh? Why's that?" Samantha queried, playing with her straw, "Differences in business practice? Maybe he did something the Professor didn't like?"

The little girl shook her head. "No, no. It's not like that. My dad just doesn't really like Argall for whatever reason, and I'm pretty sure that the feeling's mutual."

"Huh. I guess I'll look into that later then..." Lisa paused for a moment, staring at Zoey. "Actually, I think I might actually know you from somewhere. You said you were how old? Eleven? Twelve?"

"Twelve!" Zoey chirped, "Ooh, did you see me at the supermarket or something?"

Lisa shook her head. "Nevermind," she dismissed, "you're too young to have been in the same summer camp as me and Samantha."

Zoey's eyes widened. "Wait, you work with Samantha?" she gasped, "All this time I thought she did all the simulation stuff by herself!"

Samantha shrugged. "I mean, after Lisa hooked herself up to her own simulation, there's really not much she can do to attract attention. That'd probably explain why you didn't know her."

Lisa nodded in agreement.

"So you two helped start the entire company, then?"

"Well," Lisa mumbled, "yeah, I guess, with quite a bit of help from Professor Argall. Samantha and I never really had much of a part in the business side of things. The company was just a byproduct of the things we made together."

Zoey frowned. "Then, if neither of you has a part in the company, then what do you do now?"

"Eh," Samantha grunted, "not really much. I used to be CTO of the company, but then I retired. I only recently came out of the simulations with Lisa a couple weeks ago, so neither of us really have any sorta role in the business anymore."

"...and," Lisa continued, cutting off Zoey before she could respond, "you heard me say earlier that I turned down the role of CEO, right?"

"Yeah? What about it?"

Lisa fiddled with her straw wrapper. "Well, for starters," she began, "I've never really felt all that confident in a leadership role. Sure, I can lead, but it just doesn't really feel like... me, if you get what I mean."

"Um. Okay then?" Zoey frowned, turning to Timothy. "Hey, what about you?"


Zoey cocked her head, brushing a stray lock of hair out of the way.

"You really haven't said anything much all this time. What's your name?"

Timothy hesitated for a moment, glancing down at his lap.

"I-I'm Timothy..." he mumbled.

"Well, hi there, Timothy!" Zoey chirped, patting his arm, "Do you have anything to do with the company?"

Timothy shook his head.

Zoey frowned for a moment, her eyes still set on the boy before she returned her focus to Lisa.

"So, what do you do nowadays, since you're out of the simulation and all?"

Lisa scratched her head, running her fingers through her hair. "I--" she began, "I still don't know. I guess I could maybe start on a new project of some sort, but... I really don't have the same kind of drive to do something like that anymore."

She flinched for a moment at seemingly nothing and returned her gaze to the window.

"It's just that the very thing that started the company-" Lisa sighed, pausing for a moment to recollect her thoughts. "the simulations, the AI programs, stuff like that, y'know? Samantha and I originally made them so I could get away from reality."

A shadow flitted across the light streaming from the window.

"...Geez," Zoey murmured, "that's... kinda sad. What happened?"

"Nothing," Lisa dismissed, still staring out the window, "it's... better now."

A car raced past on the street, surprising the girl.

"Don't pressure her," Samantha began, "she's been through quite a bit. We can talk about this sometime else, alright?"

Zoey nodded. "'Kay," she began, reaching for her empty cup, "so, I guess I'll see you around?"

"Sure," Samantha shrugged, "though we're planning on visiting the company's HQ a bit later. When are your hours?"

"I don't really have any specific times I work 'till, but I'll probably be around for a while anyways. My dad is the acting CEO, after all."

Samantha's face brightened. "Great!" she cheered, "We'll see you there then!"

"Sure thing!" Zoey beamed, "Though I'll probably get there a little later since I'm just gonna ride my bike over."

Pinkie's eyes shot open, the mare jerking awake in Twilight's study, much to the surprise of the alicorn. A single name escaped her lips.


Twilight rose a brow.

"I was Samantha before. Or at least, I was part of her."

"Who's Samantha?"

"I was her, and she was me."

Twilight's expression softened as she nodded in understanding. She returned to her reading without another word.

"Twilight, I'm afraid..."

"We both are."

Twilight turned another page in the book, leaning closer to the tome as she squinted.

"...Pinkie?" she called, "Pinkie, come here please."

Pinkie shuffled to her friend's side, peering over Twilight's shoulder.

"What is it, Twilight?"

"I don't think we're real, Pinkie."

Lisa stared in awe at the towering construct of glass and steel before her. It utterly dwarfed the old headquarters in size, easily spanning an entire city block, and then some.

"Yup," Samantha chuckled, shifting the car into park, "that's the new building I've been rambling to you about. We built it a couple years after you entered the simulations. We started construction shortly after we began licensing out the simulation's framework. So... I guess that kinda explains how we had the money to pull this off in the first place."

"It's... huge."

Samantha snorted. "Huge is an understatement. Half the time I'm convinced that the property tax we pay on this thing alone is able to fund the city several times over."

The car fell quiet for a moment, with the trio sitting idle in their seats. Only the soft snores of Timothy broke the silence.

"Well, what are we waiting for?" Lisa exclaimed, unfastening her seatbelt in a rush, "We're here to look inside, not admire the outside!"

Timothy stirred, blinking in the light of the window as he yawned.

"C'mon, Tim, don't you wanna take a look inside the new building?"

"Yeah," The boy sighed, climbing out of the car, "I guess so."

"Then come on," Lisa nagged as she grabbed her brother by the arm, "I bet there's a nice big break room filled with comics for you to read, just like the old building!"

"Those comics I read in the old building were boring..." Timothy grumbled to himself, following his sister to the building's entrance.

"Hey, wait up!" Samantha shouted as she caught up to Lisa, playfully whacking her friend with her handbag, "Just because I drove you here doesn't mean that you get to go without me!"

The glass doors slid open as the three drew near, revealing an expansive, brightly-lit lobby with so many display cases that it could've been mistaken for a museum.

"Welcome to TechSIG headquarters," a young man behind the front desk greeted, "what brings you here today?"

Samantha waved a hand, stepping out from behind Lisa and Timothy.

The man raised a brow. "Samantha? We haven't been seeing you around here for quite some time."

"Yup, it's definitely been a while," Samantha chirped, stepping up to the front desk. "Mind if I give a tour of the building to the co-founder of this company?"

The man shook his head. "Go right ahead," he replied, eyeing Lisa. "I... take it that you also haven't been with the company recently?"

Lisa gave a single nod, staring at the man as she followed Samantha to the elevators behind the desk.

"So, who was that?" Lisa whispered while they waited for the elevator, "He seemed pretty friendly."

Samantha shrugged. "I think he was in one of the other camps around here way back when. Never caught his name though, but we've run into each other a few times before in the past. He joined the company a couple weeks before I retired."

The elevator doors opened with a tinny bong. The three stepped inside, with Lisa silently noting the frosted glass making up the outward-facing wall in the back. Samantha pressed a button on the control pad as the doors closed. Timothy held onto the railing, swaying from the sudden acceleration for a moment as the elevator began to rise.

"Don't get too close if you're afraid of heights," Samantha teased as Lisa watched the blurry outside world sink below them in a slurry of colors. "you can't see much outta those windows, but the motion of the elevator can and will make you sick if you stare too long."

Lisa turned her head, a confused frown on her face.

"Not personal experience, I promise. It's a joke we tell the new hires... or at least, told them back when I still worked here. Not quite sure about whether or not it's told anymore."

Lisa snorted. "Like the one about the third-story pool in the old building?" she asked, placing a hand on the railing, "Didn't you eventually change that one to rooftop pool by the time the project was almost finished?"

"'Dunno," Samantha shrugged with a grin, "but I know that it did confuse the heck out of the other students back then. I think I even got Argall with it once."

A loud bong chimed through the elevator as the doors opened.

"O-kay..." Samantha murmured to herself, taking in the familiar view of the open workspace, "If I remember correctly, this is the floor I used to work on..."

"Well, it's definitely big, for one," Timothy noted, shoving his hands in his pockets. "Looks about as big as the library, huh, Tw--" he paused for a moment, peering at his sister. "--um... nevermind."

"No, no, it's fine." Lisa smiled, ruffling Timothy's hair. "I remember the library. After all, I modeled it myself."

"Huh. Okay then."

Lisa and Timothy trailed behind Samantha as they wove their way through the brightly-lit sea of colorful desks. Numerous faces lit up as Samantha passed; old co-workers and employees who'd remember the company's co-founder anywhere. Lisa shrunk away in contrast, warily eyeing the passing desks and the unfamiliar people all around. She squeaked in surprise at the sound of a particularly-loud hole-puncher.

"Hey, it's alright to relax, Lisa," Samantha began as they continued walking, "Everyone's friendly. We've got a pretty close-knit environment here, so it shouldn't take too much time to get yourself comfy."

"I... okay," Lisa sighed, her shoulders drooping as she loosened up, "though, it's still gonna take some time for me to adjust, y'know."

Samantha scoffed playfully, pausing to face Lisa. "Duh," she laughed, "do you think that we all decided to suddenly be friends with each other the moment we joined?"

Lisa shook her head.

"Anyways," Samantha continued as she turned back, "my old office is just ahead. Given how my position was never replaced, as far as I know, the room should still look just like how I left it the last time I was here."

They stopped at a door. Samantha fumbled for a brief moment, rummaging in her handbag before pulling out a key card and scanning it. A soft whirr rang out from the door as the lock disengaged.

"Huh, didn't think that'd still work," Samantha remarked, sliding the door open with a hand. She turned to her friend. "Now then, wanna check out my office?"

Lisa smirked. "What do you think?"


A clean-shaven man in a grey suit stepped up from behind, his hands in his pockets.

"So," he began cooly, "was retirement too boring for you, Samantha?"

Bonus #5: Epilogue 2

View Online

"...Not... real?" Pinkie mumbled, staring at the book on her friend's desk, "W-what do you mean? Of course we're real, Twilight!"

Twilight shook her head. "No, not real. At least, not in the way that you'd think."

Pinkie stared at her friend with wide eyes, then back to the book.

"I... I don't understand," she whined, her voice cracking as she read over the pages, "What do you mean? We are real, aren't we, Twilight?"

Once again, the alicorn shook her head. On instinct, she turned her head, ready to call her trusty assistant, Spike. Her eyes caught the young dragon sleeping soundly on a pile of comics, mumbling jargon about Power Ponies. Twilight turned back to her friend.

"I don't think Spike's real either, or any of our friends."

"Stop it, stop it!" Pinkie whined, clutching her head in her hooves. Her flat mane brushed across Twilight's face as she shook her head. "Stop it, please, Twilight."

Pinkie's expression softened as Twilight put a hoof on her shoulders.

"It's okay, Pinkie, we can figure this out."

Pinkie settled down, a near-inaudible whisper slipping out of her as she took a seat beside her friend. The room grew silent once more, punctuated only by the soft snores of Spike in the corner, and the occasional rustling of paper as Twilight turned the pages.

The candlelight flickered for a moment, distracting Pinkie. Slowly, she turned back to the dimly-lit drawing Twilight created hours earlier, the paper still draped halfway over a shelf beside Spike.

"Samantha," Pinkie began again, feeling the name on her tongue. She turned back to her friend. "Twilight, do you remember any names from before?"

Twilight glanced up from the book, a brow raised.


"Yeah, like... do you remember what the voice in your head remembers?"

Twilight's eyes widened. "O-oh, that," she gasped, "I... don't really remember all that much."

Pinkie cocked her head.


"Well, tell me a little about yourself. Or the other you, to be specific," Twilight began, pushing the book away, "I think... I think I remember that you used to be quite a bit poppier, and with a puffier mane too."

Pinkie nodded slowly. "I remember that too, but there's just this thing that keeps it from coming out. Something about a deal of some sort I think?"

"Deal?" Twilight frowned, "What kind of deal?"

"I don't remember."

Twilight snorted returning to her book.

"Twilight, what do you remember?"

"Not much, frankly," Twilight sighed, turning a page, "the voice in my head seems incomplete in a way, like a sort of patchwork creation. She usually keeps back and doesn't say anything, but... sometimes, she shares some things. She hasn't tried to feed me thoughts for a while now."

Another page flip.

"Do you think you can make her come out?"

Twilight shook her head, lifting her book to show Pinkie the title.

"Integra-- wait, no, Simulati... what?" Pinkie squinted at the ever-changing title. "What's wrong with your book?"

The cover changed again in a dim flash of light.

"I found this on my desk not too long ago. I don't remember ever seeing it anywhere before, but the broken voice in my head seemed to have some sort of pull to it. It's the most she's done to influence my actions so far."

She set the book back down as the cover warped in a burst of static before returning to its previous state.

"Anyways, I'm not too sure what else we could do at this point. I plan to write a letter to Celestia regarding the issue once I finish reading."

Pinkie nodded, stepping back from her friend's side. Turning to leave, the mare paused, glancing at Twilight.



"She just told me everything."

...Let go.

View Online

"N-no," Samantha stuttered, whirling around to face the man, "I'm very much enjoying it, in fact. I was just--"

"Then why don't you stay in retirement, let me run things 'round here, y'know?"

The man drew his hands from his pockets, turning his attention to Lisa.

"And you," he smiled, "Lisa, wasn't it? Glad to have you back with us. You'll take your friend's office, starting tomorrow."


"I expect much from you, Liz!" The man laughed, patting Lisa on the shoulder, "After all, you were the one who made the one thing this entire company thrives on!"

"Roger," Samantha deadpanned, "Don't forget about who employed you in the first place. You wouldn't be the acting CEO if we didn't hire you."

The man - Roger - took his hand off of Lisa's shoulder, shoving them back in his pockets as he strode towards Samantha.

"Don't worry, I haven't," he sneered, "Especially after I restructured things around here to make up for the productivity lost under you."

"I let our employees inspire themselves!" Samantha argued, pointing an accusing finger at Roger, "Look at them now, do they look like they're inspired?"

"Letting the company's employees go off on their own projects negatively impacted our productivity within the core teams," Roger stated, fixing his suit, "But now? Without having to worry about the risk of a failed product launch, we've been making record profits!"

"Profits. Aren't. Everything." Samantha growled through her teeth, "The company needs to diversify at some point. Heck, it's in the name. TechSIG, Technological Special-Interest-Group. We aren't going to last very long if we put everything behind a single product."

"Sam?" Lisa cut in, "Um... what are you talking abo--"

"This doesn't concern you, Lisa," Samantha grumbled, "You and Tim just go in my office while I work things out with Mister-I-Control-The-Company-Now here."

Lisa and Timothy hurried into the office as Samantha turned back to Roger.

"Now then," she continued, "About your... takeover of the company. You knew that when I retired, I'd let you take my position. Immediately after you took up my role, you started making a whole ruckus about reorganizing the entire R&D division."

Roger shrugged. "Well, my time as CTO didn't last very long once Professor Argall retired as well."


He leaned on the wall, his hands still in his pockets. "So," he continued, "the company's shareholders voted me in as the interim CEO until a so-called viable replacement could be found."

Samantha raised a brow. "And what did the company say about it?"

"Pfft, them?" Roger scoffed, "They were pretty wary of the changes I brought along at first, but now? They love me!"

Samantha tensed at the man's remark, her hands balling into fists. She took a deep breath before continuing, relaxing her hands.

"Changes?" she began, "What kind of changes did you make?"

Roger's glare softened. "Here, come with me," he urged, gesturing to Samantha. "There's too many to list off the top of my head, but trust me when I say this, you will like what they've done to this company."

Reluctantly, Samantha glanced back at Lisa, who gave a small wave from the office room window in response. Looking back at Roger, she nodded and set off behind him as he led her away.

Lisa watched as her friend disappeared into the sea of desks. Letting out a light sigh, she turned away from the door.

"So... what are you gonna do now?"

She glanced at Timothy, who was at the moment spinning in an office chair.

The boy stomped his foot on the carpet, grinding the chair to a halt. "Well?" he pressed, "I mean, this place definitely looks like something Tw... I mean, you would enjoy being in."

Lisa smiled at her brother, pulling a seat away from the wall and sitting down beside him at the desk.

"I think starting fresh would be a good idea right about now," she grinned, "What about you?"

Timothy shrugged.

"I don't really know what you're talking about, but sure, I guess?"

"Great!" Lisa clapped her hands together, leaning back in her chair. "It's been so long since I've done anything actually exciting!"

"...Exciting?" Timothy raised a brow, "We went from an entire simulated existence to... well, this! It literally sounds like something straight out of a comic book!"

Lisa nodded, falling silent as she became absorbed with the task of finding the power button on the much newer computer's front panel. Her grin faded away to a frown as she continued to search, her fingers tracing along the smooth, cold surface of the computer until she felt a slight indentation.

"Ah," she remarked, leaning in closer to inspect the shallow groove just below her fingers, "Looks like I found the power button. All the silkscreen on the thing got rubbed off, from the looks of it."

She tapped her finger on the capacitive button, and immediately the display sitting atop the system came to life.

"Login... login... where's the account switcher?" Lisa mumbled, fumbling with the mouse. She clicked a dim arrow near the bottom of the screen, pulling up a horizontal account scroller.

Timothy snorted in amusement as he watched his sister struggle with modern technology.

"O-kay, now let's see if my account still works..." Lisa continued drawling, shifting her hands to the keyboard.

A username and password later, and the login screen faded into the girl's familiar desktop background. Her eyes scanned over the list of files dotting her desktop, before settling on the simulation viewer program she'd used to access Equestria.

Timothy traced her sister's gaze to the program, his eyes widening as he recognized the icon - Canterlot Castle.

"Are you--"

Lisa shook her head, pulling the cursor away from the program's icon and instead opened a folder. A blazing white spread before her eyes, the system locking up for a brief moment as it pulled the files from whatever obscure server was still running her account after all these years.

Timothy sighed, resting his chin on the desk while he watched Lisa scroll through the seemingly endless files on-screen.

A slight smile formed on her face, growing wider with every file that flew past her eyes as she continued scrolling. With an excited mumble, she pulled the window to the side, proceeding to fill up the vacant screen space with more windows.

"What are you even doing?" Timothy groaned, rubbing an eye as he stifled a yawn, "What are you so excited about?"

"This," Lisa beamed, gesturing to the packed screen, "This is what started it all. The simulations, the lives we lived for who-knows-how-long, heck, even this company wouldn't exist if it weren't for these."

Timothy frowned, sitting back up and pulling his chair closer to the screen. He narrowed his eyes, scrutinizing the multitude of on-screen files and programs his sister had pulled up. Shaking his head, he folded his arms over his chest.

"I really have no idea what you're talking about here," he grumbled, yawning again as Lisa returned to her excited buzz, "Wake me up if you need something."



Lisa waved a hand. "Nothing," she dismissed, "just found something I haven't touched in a very long time."

She sat back in her chair, tapping her fingers idly on the desk as she turned her head towards the shelves lining the wall opposite to the desk. Most of the various books and trinkets appeared to have come from a time long after she'd first entered the simulations, but one object stood out in particular: a headset.

"Hey Tim," she began, pointing at the shelf. "Could you grab that bulky thingy with the straps?"

"You mean the headset?" Timothy deadpanned, rubbing an eye, "I got disconnected with one of those stuck on my face too, y'know."

Lisa paused for a moment. "Uh... yeah," she agreed, "Yeah, I think I remember that happening to me too. Could you just hand the thing over to me please?"

Timothy nodded, stretching in his seat as he rose to fetch the headset for his sister.

"There ya go," he hummed, plucking the headset from its dusty perch. He turned, handing the device to Lisa.

"Thanks!" Lisa smiled, setting the headset on the desk in front of her.

"Ehh... no problem..." Timothy yawned again, slouching back into his seat. "Do you think Samantha's gonna let me nap in here?"

"Probably," Lisa shrugged, "just as long as you don't mess anything up, I guess."

Lisa watched as her brother attempted to curl up in his office chair for a nap. A few more seconds passed as she watched him fidget in his attempts to find a comfortable position. Once Timothy finally settled down, Lisa turned back to the monitor.

A wide grin spread across her face as she reached for the keyboard.

"--And so with the complete reorganization of our Public Relations branch, we've been able to enter everything from the medical rehabilitation market to education!"

"Mm-hmm," Samantha nodded idly, following behind Roger as he continued spouting about his achievements, "So, I've been hanging onto a question since you first brought me around for the tour."

Roger paused, glancing at his former employer.

"What's with your sudden... how would you put it... attitude shift?" Samantha began, "I mean, you've been doing a full one-eighty on everything I expected you to do. First off, you welcomed Lisa, even after you spent so long before criticizing her for her supposed 'misuse of technology'. And second, we went from arguing over the company's future to..." she trailed on, making a fumbling gesture to their surroundings. "...to this!"

"Hey, the past is the past, Sam," the CEO chuckled, "I decided the moment I saw Lisa step in here that it'd be best to let go of it. No use in holding a grudge over petty things, amirite?"

Samantha shot a suspicious glare at Roger, but nevertheless nodded in agreement.

"Anyways," Roger coughed, "Would you like to see some of the products we've been working on? Or maybe meet my daughter?"

"Oh, uh," Samantha cut in, "We already ran into her earlier, at the café downtown. She likes hot cocoa, doesn't she?"

"Yeah. Been that way since she was a toddler, too," Roger added, "Gives her nasty nosebleeds, though. Now, any questions concerning the tour or the company operations?"

Samantha shrugged. "Honestly," she began, "aside from a few personal preferences, it's actually quite a bit better than what I expected it to be under your leadership."

"Obviously," Roger rolled his eyes, "just because I've taken the company in a low-risk direction doesn't mean that I want to stifle innovation. I never said that I completely killed off the idea of new products, did I?"

Samantha shook her head.

"Exactly. All I did was make some changes to how things worked. The company's employees can still pitch ideas and work on personal projects, but we keep them within reason, and only provide funding after a vote."

Roger paused, staring into Samantha's eyes for a moment.

"You still don't trust what I'm saying, do you?" he sighed, breaking eye contact as he turned, "I'm guessing you didn't like how I shut down the student campuses?"

"Er... yeah," Samantha stuttered, "it just kinda goes against what I believed was the future of the company, that's all."

She forced a smile, dismissing the question. "I mean... like I said, it's more of a personal preference. It's just--"

"I know, I know," Roger cut in, "you want a community, not a company. I remember that mantra from when you were still leading R&D."

Samantha's expression softened, giving way to a true smile.

"Yeah, I remember saying that quite a bit."

Roger straightened his suit before continuing. "The thing is, hiring employees solely from those after-school camps put an enormous strain on the company's finances. After I moved up to CEO, I was forced by the company's shareholders to close the camps due to how much money they were bleeding."

"Wait," Samantha paused, pointing a finger in confusion, "I thought you made a personal decision to shut down the camps. Does that mea--"

Roger hung his head, slipping his hands back in his pocket as he confessed. "I made up a cover to protect the company's reputation. I took the blame for it, and responded by giving raises all across the board, satisfying anyone who doubted the story of me saying that we couldn't pay our existing talent enough."

Samantha frowned. "But why?" she pressed, "What's the point of putting yourself in such a bad light?"

"I..." Roger hesitated, "I kinda pitied Lisa's situation, with her parents dying and all. I wanted to make sure the company was in good shape and reputation since it was built on top of her idea. Just... so that she'd maybe have something to come back to if she ever returned. Though, I still don't quite approve of her decision to use her work to just run away from it all."

A sheepish grin spread across his face as he cleared his throat.

"So," he coughed, "That's that. Past is the past, look towards the future, you know what I mean. I guess this wraps up the tour. then. Feel free to stop by my office at any time if you have questions. Elevators are behind you to the right if you forgot where they are."

He turned away from Samantha, leaving her standing alone by the break rooms.

The soft snores of Timothy permeated the air, punctuated by the sound of Lisa's fingers flying across the keyboard.

"...link the whole thing to a self-contained simulation..." she mumbled, not noticing the door open behind her.

Samantha stepped into the room, closing the door behind her.

"I just had the weirdest conversation with Roger."

Lisa blinked, her typing abruptly halted as she glanced over her shoulder at her friend, a brow raised.

"Roger," Samantha repeated, "y'know? The company's current CEO? The one Argall wanted you to replace?"

"Ah," Lisa responded, turning her attention back to the screen. "Well? What about it? The conversation, I mean."

"He said that he pitied you," Samantha began, "like, sure, there's actual, genuine pity, but then there's his version of pitying. So y'know how the old headquarters doubled as a camp for training students?"

Lisa nodded, still turned away.

"Apparently, the company's shareholders forced him to close them down, but instead of--"

"They what?!" Lisa exclaimed, pausing again in her work. Timothy stirred in the corner, lazily spinning the office chair away from the noise.

"Shut down the camps," Samantha quickly replied, "And instead of making the company look bad by shutting down one of our most well-received programs, he took the blame personally."

Lisa snorted, the sound of her fingers dancing across the keyboard once again filling the room as she resumed her work.

"I'm just confused at this point," Samantha sighed, kneeling down beside Lisa. "All this time, I only saw him as some coldhearted businessman who cared about profit. But now? It's like I met an entirely different side to him!"


Samantha gave her friend a playful jab in the side, earning a surprised shriek in return.

"Are you even listening?" she chuckled, pushing herself back to her feet.

Lisa gave a glare in response, rubbing her side. "Yeah, I was!" she retorted.

"Can you guys talk a bit more quietly?" Timothy groaned, lifting his face off the armrest. "Lemme nap. It's been a long day today."

"No kidding," Samantha agreed, "Lis, it's only barely past noon, and we've done more than I thought we'd be doing for the entire week."

Lisa smirked, pushing herself back from the desk as she turned to face her friend.

"And that is what happens when we're together, isn't it?" she chuckled, "I mean, heck, I got my transmitter cut out of me first thing in the morning, then we went to the old building and screwed around with the code until we were able to re-upload the AIs back into the simulation, and now, I'm already well on my way towards making a new thingy!"

Samantha frowned. "A new... what?"

Lisa shrugged in response, pointing a thumb over her shoulder. "Don't quite know what to call it yet, but it's based on the code we wrote years ago for the original simulation framework."

"Lisa, you know you probably shouldn't try to use it to r--"

"Nope!" Lisa shook her head, "Not running anymore. Geez, is everyone gonna ask if I'm planning on rejoining the simulation?"


"Urk," Lisa grunted. "Well, I'm not. I think I've spent long enough in my own little world to heal."

She glanced back to the screen, then to her friend.

"Do you want to see what I have so far?"

"Sure," Samantha shrugged, "I've got time to kill, anyway."

Her eyes landed on the headset sitting beside Lisa's hands.

Tracing her friend's stare, Lisa picked up the headset. "Yeah, I'm using one of our old prototypes," she grinned, "what about it?"

"Nothing," Samantha shook her head. "It's just been a while since I've even seen that thing. Do you have a controller paired with the headset?"

Lisa's eyes widened. "Controller?" She sputtered, "O-oh yeah, I forgot that we used game controllers while prototyping!"

Her gaze shot back to the shelf, scanning over the dusty trinkets for a controller.

"This what you're looking for?" Samantha smirked, pulling a drawer open. She rummaged through the top layer of loose paper and junk for a few seconds before pulling out a well-worn game controller.

"Yup," Lisa chirped, taking the device from her friend, "Thanks!"

She paused for a moment, eyes fixated on the controller in her hands. Shuddering for a moment, she instinctively reached a finger to the back and flicked the power switch.

A dim blue light flickered on the controller in response.

"Well then," Samantha commented in amusement, "Seems like the battery in that thing has lasted for quite some time without being charged."

Lisa nodded, reaching for the headset to do the same. Gingerly, she unfolded the headset's straps and main display before flipping the device on its side, flipping the switch as she'd done on the controller.


Samantha snorted, holding back a chuckle as her friend groaned in frustration.

"Well, I guess the batteries in this thing haven't lasted quite as long," Lisa sighed, "Sam, is there a cable for the headset anywhere in that drawer?"

"Already ahead of you." Samantha smiled, handing a narrow black wire to Lisa.

"Thanks," Lisa nodded again as she plugged the headset into the computer, "Just watch the screen. It should mirror what I see."

The room went silent as the girl slipped the headset over her eyes.

Lisa's vision was bathed in white as the simulation booted up around her.

"Looks pretty empty right now," Samantha's voice commented.

Lisa shook her head, nudging the thumbstick on the controller forward. She - that is, her camera - took a step forward, her vision bobbing for a moment as it followed the motion. She turned her head, taking in the vast canvas around her as a smile crept onto her face.

Her right thumb shifted to the buttons. A light click rang out from the old controller as she tapped a button.

All at once, the white was enveloped in an even brighter glow before vanishing behind a painted landscape of color. Though pixelated at first glance, only a few seconds passed before the rendering had become lifelike.

"It's just a stock mockup scene I downloaded off the old servers," Lisa began to explain, "I tried to access the new servers earlier, but it seems that the company upped the security on all their newer things."

Samantha snorted, smirking.

"Biometric security?"

Lisa nodded, returning to navigating herself around the simulated scenery using the gamepad.

"Yeah, we got that up and running when we first moved to the new building. I don't think your account or anything else from the old servers was affected by the security update though. We just left them as-is under regular passwords since they didn't really contain anything too important by the time things got big."

"Understandable," Lisa agreed, returning her fingers to the buttons.

Samantha turned her attention back to the headset's output on the monitor. The rolling fields and towering mountains of the new simulation were gradually being populated by copy-pasted buildings; small houses and cottages reminiscent of Lisa's earlier work in the original Pony-Me simulations began to pop into existence by the press of a button, slowly linking themselves together in a network of dirt paths generating alongside the growing towns.

Lisa resumed walking her character as the roads continued snaking over the terraformed land. She set foot on the end of a freshly-generated path, looking down in her headset at the granules of dirt shifting under her persona.

She chuckled for a moment, tapping the controller's analog stick again to make her character take another step. And then another, and another still. Soon enough, Lisa's placeholder character was sprinting over the twisting roads towards the nearest town.

"So," Samantha mused quietly with a smile, watching her friend finally enjoy herself, "You've finally let go, haven't you?"

Start over.

View Online

Lisa let out a content sigh, sitting cross-legged in her office chair as she took in the virtual landscape around her.

"You really like that new simulation, don't you?"

Lisa nodded, the headset clunking as it bounced on her face.

"You ready to leave yet? It's getting a bit late out now."

She shook her head.

"Suit yourself," Samantha smiled, stretching in her own seat, "Take as long as you'd like. Just tell me when you wanna go."

Another nod.

"C'mon, Pinkie, tell me now, what did she tell you?"

Pinkie hesitated, pawing at the bare floor. "I'm... I'm not sure if I should tell you," she mumbled, beginning to turn. "Maybe I should just go--"

"Wait!" Twilight cut in, "Please, Pinkie. Tell me what she said, and maybe we can figure this whole thing out."

Pinkie shifted on her hooves, nodding as she slowly turned back to her friend.

"You... you know how I was talking about some kind of deal earlier?"

Twilight nodded, placing a bookmark in the book she'd been reading.

Pinkie paused for a moment as if she was listening in on something.

"She says that she made the deal with a girl named Samantha, who used to live here but is somewhere better now. The deal was something she did to thank Samantha for letting her live."

Twilight scrunched her muzzle. "Letting her live?" she snorted, "This Samantha certainly doesn't sound like the friendly type. What else did she tell y--"

"Shh," Pinkie hushed.

The room returned to its usual tranquility. A particularly loud snore from Spike broke the silence for a moment.

"She's telling me that you're wrong, Twilight. She's saying that it was all her fault that Samantha was here at all, that she trapped her here with no way to get out, all because she..."

Pinkie stopped, trailing on her words as she furrowed a brow. "She... broke the rules?" she finished, glancing at Twilight. "Do you understand any of that?"

Twilight shook her head, gesturing for her friend to continue as she pulled out a notepad and a quill.

"Should I continue?"

"Yes, please."

"She says that she won't let me remember too much of who I was, because then I might break the rules again and make Samantha have to come after us like before."

"Well that certainly isn't right," Twilight argued, "You have all the right to remember anything you want."

"But why? You don't have very many memories of your own, do you?"

Twilight froze, unable to find an answer.

Pinkie let out a sigh before continuing. "She's also saying that she doesn't want to do this, but she's not sure if she's allowed to stop."

"Stop what?" Twilight asked, "Pinkie, could you tell the... um... the voice in your head to be a little less vague? I'm just as lost in this as you are.

Pinkie nodded, once again growing silent as she carried on with her mental conversation.

"What she meant is that she's afraid of letting me be myself again because she knows that I can do things that no other pony can."

Twilight raised a brow.

"She doesn't want to tell me what it is that I can do, though."

Pinkie paused to let her friend jot down some notes. A soft clunk emanated from the notepad as Twilight tossed it back onto her desk.

"I think that should be enough for now, Pinkie," Twilight began, glancing at the sparsely-written notes filling the single page of the notepad, "I don't want you to push yourself too much. Would you like for me to tell you some things about what I remember?"

Pinkie nodded.

"O-okay..." Twilight began, "I think I remember a few things. There's an odd memory where I woke up on a bed, with this... thing strapped to my face. There was also a strange machine nearby, and--"

"Lisa, it's past sunset now," Samantha reminded over the soft snoring of Timothy. "C'mon, I'll take you home, and we can come back tomorrow. We already skipped lunch today, so you'd better go home and have dinner."


"Lisa," Samantha began again, raising her voice, "Are you listening?"

The girl rattled off a short string of button presses on the controller before slipping off the headset.

"Yeah," Lisa smirked.

Samantha responded with a heavy sigh. "Come on then, let's go home. Argall's probably been waiting for you for hours, y'know."

Lisa shrugged, setting the controller on the desk in front of herself. She let out a quiet squeak as she stretched in her seat.

"You really shouldn't be pushing yourself like this, Lis," Samantha continued, "Especially after... well, everything that's happened over the past day. Y'know?"

"Okay, I get it, I get it. I'll relax tonight then. 'Kay?"

Samantha nodded, moving to wake Timothy from his nap.

"Whuh?" the boy groaned, rubbing an eye, "What time is it?"

Samantha paused for a moment, squinting past the rows of desks beyond the door to the full-height windows wrapping around the walls.

"I'd... have to say it's around seven or so now," she turned back to her friend. "Lisa, what's the time?"

"Six forty-nine," Lisa answered after a quick glance at the time on-screen.

"Hm. Good time to go home then." Samantha smiled, opening the door, "C'mon, Liz."

Her eyes followed Lisa as she stepped out of the room. She turned her gaze back to Timothy, who'd fallen asleep again on his chair.

"Hey," she whispered, tugging on the boy's sleeve, "We're going now. You can sleep in the car if you want."

Timothy yawned, pushing himself off the chair and stumbling through the doorway. Samantha followed close behind, shutting the door behind her with a soft click.

Row after row of desks passed on either side of the trio as they made their way back to the elevators. Many of them were covered in photo frames, small trinkets from who-knows-where, or even the occasional plush animal.

Lisa stopped at a desk, staring at its barren surface.

"Lisa, come on," Samantha urged, tugging at her friend's arm, "Some people who work here just like their desks clean, that's all. I want to go home, and your little brother looks like he's gonna start tripping over himself if he doesn't get some more rest."

"Fine, I'm coming..." Lisa mumbled as she turned away, "...though, I'm starting to feel like something's... missing."

"Nothing's missing, Lis. Come on already!"

Lisa hesitated for a moment, her eyes still glued to the empty desk as she turned. "Ok-kay," she stuttered, "I'm coming."

She took her eyes off the barren desk, trailing behind her friend as the trio headed for the elevators. Behind them, the lights in Samantha's office shut themselves off with a quiet click, followed by the dimming of the overhead lights above them. Lisa frowned in response, her pace slowing as she glanced upward.

"Don't mind the lights. They dim after a certain time to save power when there's nobody around."

The three stopped at the elevators. This time, it was Samantha's turn to yawn, holding a hand over her mouth as she pressed the call button with her thumb. Moments later, the familiar bong of the elevator chimed, supplemented by the rumble of the doors as they opened.

The interior of the elevator was peaceful; apart from a brief flicker while the doors closed, the soft glow of the off-white LEDs above them created a soothing aura within the elevator's carriage, dimly reflecting off the frosted glass wall facing the outside world.

Samantha pressed the ground floor's button, leaning back on the railing with her arms crossed as the elevator began to descend. The darkened view outside the glass sparkled with the countless lights of the city around them, twinkling and winking as they faded to a blurry view of the outdoor commons beside the building.

“Tim, if you want, you can sleep in the car on the way home. It isn’t a very long trip, but if you’re that tired, then you’d might as well.”

Timothy nodded lazily as the doors opened again.

“See ya tomorrow!” Zoey squeaked from the front desk, waving as the three walked past. “Don’t mind me, I’m just waiting for my dad to finish with whatever it is that he’s doing.”

Lisa smiled, waving back at the girl.

“Hey, we’re nearly home, Lis. Could you wake up your brother?”

Lisa gave a slight nod, reaching over and tapping Timothy on the arm. “Tim, wake up,” she began, “You can sleep some more later.”

Timothy groaned, lifting his seatbelt-imprinted face to glance at his sister. “Already?” he groaned again, “It barely felt like we spent even a minute!

“Eh, it was a short trip anyways,” Samantha commented as she pulled into a cul-de-sac, “you shouldn’t expect to get much sleep out of it.”

Timothy grumbled something under his breath as he unbuckled himself, leaning back and closing his eyes again as the car bumped up onto the driveway.

“Well, see you tomorrow,” Lisa began, opening her door. “We meeting at the new HQ again, or the café?”

“Café’s fine.”

Lisa unbuckled herself, giving a playful nudge to her brother again.

“’Kay. Bye!” she shouted, stepping out of the vehicle.

“See ya.”

Lisa shut the door, watching as Timothy did the same. The car rumbled for a moment as it shifted into reverse, and began pulling out. Lisa waved at her friend, with Samantha returning the gesture.

The garage door opened as Lisa turned, revealing Professor Argall, his hand still on its controls.

"Hey, Professor Dad," Lisa chuckled as she strolled into the empty garage, taking her brother by the hand, "I'm guessing you saw us arrive?"

Argall nodded.

"Yeah," he responded, pushing open the house door behind himself, "I wasn't sure what time you'd get home, so I made dinner for you and your brother just in case..."

The Professor paused for a moment. "...Though, now that I think of it, you might wanna put the spaghetti in the microwave for around twenty seconds or so. It's been cooling for quite a while now."

"Ooh, spaghetti!" Lisa cheered, rushing through the door with Timothy stumbling close behind, "Thanks, dad!"

Professor Argall smiled, closing both the garage door the house door behind himself.

"So," Argall began, watching Lisa tear into her plate, "How was your time at the new HQ?"

"Goophf," Lisa shrugged with her mouth full, "Iz a nife pwase."

"It sure is. Though, Lisa, you really shouldn't stuff your face like that. You could choke."

Lisa swallowed her food.

"Don't worry so much, Professor," she began half-jokingly, "I'm old enough to mind myself. It should be me taking care of you at this point, y'know?"

The Professor snorted, taking a sip of his cup of juice. "Eh," he dismissed, "I guess so."

Lisa leaned over, tapping her sleepy brother on the shoulder.

"Hmm?" Timothy grumbled, facing his sister with some noodles still dangling from his mouth.

"Your sleeve's eating your dinner."

Timothy glanced down, groaning as he lifted his spaghetti sauce-stained sleeve off the side of his plate.

"Here, I'll get you a wet paper towel," Argall grunted, standing up from his seat, "Be more careful next time, 'kay?"

Timothy yawned in response, nodding his head.

"Anyways," Argall continued, turning on the faucet, "it's been a pretty long day for you, Lisa. You should get some rest after all that's happened today."

"No kidding," Timothy huffed, cutting a meatball with his fork, "You started the day with this crazy freakout, then you stopped it by having P--Samantha remove the chip-thingy from you, and then we went to some old building, then back home, then to a café and then a fancy new building."

"Yup," Lisa agreed, handing her brother the paper towel. "Why are you so tired, anyway? It's not even close to bedtime yet."

Timothy shrugged, wiping his sleeve.

"Liz, now that you're back for sure," Argall abruptly inquired, "what are you gonna do?"

Lisa froze for a moment.

"I... I actually have no idea."

"Pinkie, how long have we been friends? I can't remember."

"'Dunno. Probably a while," Pinkie answered. The room fell silent for a couple seconds. "The other me says that it's been almost a decade."

"Hm. Sounds about right."


"Pinkie, do you think...do you think we could somehow bring back our old selves? The ones that have been telling us about our pasts?"


Twilight turned. "Pinkie?" she repeated, "Pinkie are yo--"

"I'm not okay," Pinkie cut in, her voice unsteady. "and neither are you. Our lives aren't real. The other me says so herself. We aren't real. Equestria doesn't exist. Everything we've ever known is and always has been a construct. I... I once held one of the creators of our world, Samantha, captive in my own body, while you were the embodiment of the other creator. The-there's more... if you want me to continue..."

"No, don't continue if it's going to hurt you," Twilight argued, "I promise you, we can figure this whole thing out."

"...Pinkie promise?"

"Cross my heart, hope to fly."

Lisa, are you absolutely sure you want to do this?

Sure I'm sure. Sam, I'm just gonna enter one last time to say goodbye to the characters I grew up around. I'm not quite sure if I'll remember them all perfectly, but I think I can remember enough to at least connect with and identify them. And besides, I'm going as myself this time. Twilight Sparkle is her own character now. You can slap me or something if I ever try to take control of her.

If you say so... but how are you going to do all of this? There aren't any models available that fit you, and without the transmitter, you're stuck with the old motion-limited physical controls too.

Stop worrying so much about me! I've got this, 'kay? Yeah, I'll just be sticking with the old headset and controllers I found in my closet, but I'll find a way to make things work. We always do. Besides, I already took a bit of time to write in some modifications to allow for myself to directly connect. Argall told me a bit earlier that he finished adding the exit routine to the legacy codebase I'm using, too. That way, when I disconnect, my character doesn't just drop like a stone.

Ok. Well I gotta get some sleep soon. I spent several hours catching up with my family, and my parents want to make me go out with some old friends tomorrow morning.

Sure. Personally, I've just been talking back-and-forth with Argall up until just an hour or so ago. You won't believe how fast Tim fell asleep once he was finished with dinner.

Nah, I'd probably believe it. Anyways, talk tomorrow!

Lisa stared for a couple moments as her friend's name greyed out. She turned her attention to the dusty, worn headset sitting beside her old diary on the bed. Reaching out with a hand, the girl gingerly grasped the headset, cradling it in her hand as she set it down in her lap.

The controllers were already laid out beside the keyboard; the old, console-style prototype controller, and the slightly newer pair of motion controllers better suited for VR. Lisa's hands hovered over the prototype controller.

She glanced back up at the screen. The rudimentary 3D model she'd generated for herself would do for her purpose. She'd already textured it earlier as well, using some computer-accelerated image stitching and her webcam.

Hold up, she smiled, shifting her hands back to the mouse and keyboard, What am I doing? I haven't even added the model to the assets folder yet.

Lisa clicked on a folder, opening it and dragging the model assets into a folder labeled with her own name.

"There we go," she sighed to herself, "it's done."

A brief knock rapped on her door.

"Yeah?" Lisa answered, still looking at the screen, "Come in!"

Professor Argall opened the door, peeking into the room.

"Dad?" Lisa began, "What are you doing up so late? I thought you already went to bed!"

"Thought the same of you as well, Lisa," Argall shook his head, eyeing Lisa's screen. "What are you doing right now, anyway?"

"Saying goodbye."

Professor Argall paused for a moment, frowning as he let the girl's words sink in. A few clicks of Lisa's mouse were the only sounds to break the silence of the room.

"Goodbye," Argall repeated, "Lisa, you've spent so long in the simulations. Are you sure you want to cut yourself off from it so quickly?"

Lisa snorted. "Dad," she teased, "Are you trying to make me want to stay in there for longer? If you are, I'll gladly do it."

The Professor's frown softened. "No," he replied simply, "What I meant was that after spending so much time building yourself and befriending others within the simulation, wouldn't it be rude to simply enter to say goodbye? Why not do something memorable with the friends you left behind? There's even a chance that you may someday meet them in real life!"

"Sounds reasonable enough," Lisa shrugged as she started up the program. She pointed to the headset in her lap. "How long do you think I should spend in the simulation?"

Argall returned the gesture. "However long you think you want to take," he smiled, turning away. "I'll leave you some time alone now."

The door clicked softly behind him as he left.

Lisa glanced down at the headset, wiping the dusty casing with a finger. She glanced back to the glowing monitor in front of her, a login screen plastered across a bird's-eye view of Ponyville.

Character by character, the girl punched in her ages-old login information. A few seconds passed. Half a minute. Two.

Heh, Lisa mused as the login screen finally faded away, Looks like my old admin account's still active...

She leaned back with a smile as a simple character creation menu she'd just coded earlier replaced the screen.

Except this time, I'm entering as myself.

She clicked on the only available option - her locally-stored character assets.

Maybe when I'm done, I could open-source the changes I made. I wouldn't be using my personally-modded client for much longer after this...

The girl shook her head, pushing those thoughts to the back of her mind as she slipped the headset over her face. Immediately, her vision was greeted with a dark void. Reaching out, Lisa fumbled over her desk for the prototype controller.

Her fingers felt around the molded plastic, brushing over the analog sticks and buttons before settling over the grip on each side.

Finally, the darkness of the headset began to fade away, revealing instead an untextured dialogue box for coordinates.

She ignored the entry box, instead hovering the cursor over default location. Her smile grew wider as the box vanished and textures began to load onto the blank screen.

Lisa found herself looking at the familiar view of a hidden, out-of-bounds spawn area she'd added years ago while testing. She turned her head, admiring the ornate decorations fused into every detail of the room itself. Softly-glowing spirals pulsated in orange hues, the contour of their curves leading to the exit.

Tilting the movement control slightly forward, her virtual self began to make her way to the pony-sized door. Rather than opening it, she simply continued walking, phasing through the nonexistent collision detection underneath the textures.

Immediately, the warm scene of the spawn area was replaced by a landscape of rolling hills and green meadows. Lisa turned her character to the right, revealing the outer boundaries of Sweet Apple Acres. Step by step, the girl retraced her first steps in Equestria.

Even without the transmitter to handle sensory information from the simulations, Lisa could almost feel the crisp breeze blow past her as she walked. Up ahead, the leaves on the trees rustled with the wind, the branches swaying almost as if they were welcoming her back into the world.

Lisa's eyes widened within the headset as she spotted a certain farmpony beneath the trees. A faint memory, deeply-buried within her, began to resurface.

Applejack. Lisa smiled, sprinting towards the mare. Applejack, the honest farmpony, and friend to Twilight Sparkle.

Lisa raised her headset for a few seconds, grabbing the motion controllers off her desk and flipping them on as she set her gamepad down.

"A-Applejack!" she yelled, waving. "Applejack!"

The mare turned, glancing over her shoulder in the glimmering sunlight. Her character panting, Lisa let off the controls for a moment for her virtual self to recuperate.

"Applejack," she repeated again into the headset's mic, "it's me, Li... I mean, Twilight. Twilight Sparkle."

Applejack paused for a moment, turning around for a better view of the girl. Glancing up, she stared at Lisa's face.

"Twi?" she began, narrowing her eyes, "That really you?"

Lisa nodded. "Or at least, I was Twilight," she continued, "It's... complicated."

"Ah still can't quite say that I can see ya as Twilight, sugarcube," Applejack admitted, pushing the brim of her hat up, "Ya got'er voice, but nothin' else 'bout you seems to fit her all too much."

"It's fine," Lisa smiled, "I don't expect very many ponies to recognize me, anyways."

The girl fell silent, looking around at the countless trees surrounding them.

"Speaking of Twilight," she continued, turning her attention back to Applejack, "Have you seen her lately?"

"Can't say that Ah have. That mare's been up an' gone for quite some time now. I'd reckon we head for the castle an' check on her."

A dull whump sounded beside the two as a certain rainbow-maned pegasus fell from a tree.

"Rainbow Dash," Applejack scolded as she turned her attention away from Lisa, "How many times do Ah have ta tell ya to stop sleepin' on mah trees?"

Rainbow rolled onto her hooves, shaking leaves and dirt from her wings.

"Who's that?" she immediately began, spotting Lisa behind Applejack.

"An old friend of ours, Ah suppose."

Lisa waved silently in response.

"Does she know anything about Twi?"

"Actually, she says that she was Twilight."

Rainbow scrunched her muzzle. "Was?" she asked, "What do you mean, was? Isn't there just one Twilight?"

Applejack shrugged, turning back to Lisa.

"Say," she began again, "Have ya seen Pinkie anywhere, either?"

Lisa shook her head.

"Darnit," Applejack grumbled under her breath.

"But," Lisa raised a finger, "I do kind of know what happened to both Twilight and Pinkie."

Her character was nearly knocked over by Rainbow Dash. "Really?!" she beamed, "We've been looking for them all this time, and then not too long ago we saw this bright flash come from Twilight's castle! We tried to get in, but--"

"Alright, sugarcube," Applejack cut off, "Let's not overwhelm our new friend here right after meeting her, 'kay?"

The mare turned back to Lisa. "Come on," she gestured, "Let's get the rest of the girls. Ah have a feelin' that there might be a bit more to ya than we can see."

"Twilight, I have this weird feeling... almost like my body's trying to tell me something."

Twilight turned away from her window, glancing at her friend.

"It... it feels familar," Pinkie continued as she watched her tail's twitching, "but the other me in my head is saying to try to stop it. Do you think it's a sign for something?"

Twilight shrugged, opening her mouth to reply. Suddenly, she froze up, her pupils shrunken to pinpricks as she stood perfectly still. Pinkie continued staring at her tail, a blank expression on her face as its twitching halted.

"It's gone," she stated flatly, "I think I stopped it."

Twilight loosened up, panting heavily as she swayed on her hooves. She stood for a few more seconds before dropping limp to the floor.

"Twilight!" Pinkie yelped as Twilight hit the floor, "Twilight, are you okay?"

Spike jolted awake from the noise. His eyes immediately fell upon Twilight's unconscious form. Eyes wide, he turned to the equally-shocked Pinkie Pie.

A single groan escaped Twilight's lips as her hoof twitched.

"Twilight?" Pinkie repeated, stepping closer to her friend.

Spike climbed out of his basket, slowly approaching Twilight with an outstretched claw.

Just as suddenly as before, Twilight's eyes jolted open once more.

"I get it now," she whispered, "I... I think I'm starting to understand what's going on."

Pinkie watched Spike help Twilight back to her hooves.

"Pinkie," Twilight began, "There's another me out there."

"Another... you?" Spike frowned, "Twilight, how hard did you hit your head when you fainted?"

"Spike, now's not the time for jokes."

Pinkie hung her head. "But how do you know, Twilight?" she pressed, "How can you say for sure that all of a sudden, there's a whole new you running around?"

"I just do, Pinkie. I can't show you how I do, but... it's almost like Equestria itself is telling me that. When I locked up earlier, it felt like I was almost being forced into unconsciousness, like as if Equestria suddenly having another Twilight Sparkle meant that I didn't belong anymore."

"Twilight, seriously," Spike stressed, "Are you sure you're okay? You don't sound like yourself."

Twilight shook her head. "I'm not myself," she mumbled, "And neither is Pinkie. You aren't, either. We're all copies of who we once were-- what we once were."

She turned her gaze to Pinkie.

"I remember everything."

Move on.

View Online

"Y'know," Lisa chuckled as she walked alongside the remainder of the Mane Six, "I find it funny how nobody's brought up the fact that I'm not a pony. Not even strangers."

"We do notice your... differences, darling," Rarity replied, smiling back at Lisa, "But this is Ponyville that you've walked into. This is hardly the strangest occurrence that we've run into."

"Sure is," Applejack agreed, "Ya should'a seen Twilight's face when she got all worked up about some late report to Celestia."

Out of the corner of her eye, Lisa spotted a dim message notification from Samantha.

"Hold on," she paused, frozen in place. "I'll be right back. Gotta answer something."

Lisa pulled her headset off, setting the controllers aside as she pulled up her messaging application.

Hey, Lis. I have a bit of extra time to talk tonight. What's up?

I was in the middle of walking to Twilight's castle. You?

Wait, you're in Equestria right now?


That fast?


What are you even doing right now?

Walking, like I said. I should probably get back someone gets worried.

Do you think I can join in with you?

Maybe? I mean, I don't have any character model for you, but I can send you the tools that I used.

Don't worry, I'll find a way to make things work. Shouldn't be too hard, anyways.

Ooh, quoting me now, huh?

Idunno. Did you say that earlier?

Yup. Alright then, I quoted you.

Well, I'm gonna get back now. We can meet at Sugarcube Corner or something. Just message me later. I'll send you the custom client program now.

Lisa dragged the window to the side, doing the same to the headset's mirrored output on-screen to access the customized client program. With a single movement of her mouse, she instantly shared the program with her friend.

The girl turned her attention back to the simulation, dragging the output display back into full view as she clutched the headset with her other hand.

"Alright," she spoke into the mic as she placed the device back over her eyes, "I'm back."

Fluttershy nudged her character in the side. "Excuse me," she whispered almost inaudibly, "But what were you doing? We were getting worried about you after you didn't respond to anything."

"I... was thinking!" Lisa responded, clapping her hands together, "I think that we should probably get going now, shouldn't we?"

Applejack made a face at the obvious fib but nevertheless relented.

"Fine, let's go. Ah've been waitin' long enough now anyways."

Rainbow Dash touched down beside the farmpony. "Twilight's castle is still locked!" she exclaimed, "But, I saw Twilight and Pinkie through one of the windows!"

Applejack's mood lifted. "Well Ah'll be darned, Ah knew those two were all holed up in there since they up n' vanished that second time! Ah could just feel it!"

"Now now, darling. Now's not the time to get all worked up. Don't forget that we have a guest with us!"

Applejack nodded, walking to the front of the group. "C'mon then," she beamed, "Let's see what our friends are up to."

Friends... Lisa mused as she trailed behind Rainbow Dash. Geez, it feels like a lifetime ago when I was in this place...

Up ahead, the magnificent castle Lisa once called home towered over the ground, its equally large shadow looming amidst the quickly setting sun.

"It's... it's beautiful," Lisa exclaimed, "I... I mean, Twilight lives in there?"

"Yeah," Rainbow answered, "Been there since her library burned down."

"...Oh, o-oh yeah," Lisa stuttered, "I almost forgot about that."

"Hm? Forgot?" Rarity commented, "Were you acquaintanced with Twilight in the past?"

Lisa shook her head, following up with a thoughtful finger. "Actually," she began, "I... well, I--"

"The girl says she is Twilight," Applejack cut in, "Or was, Ah suppose. Ain't that right, Rainbow?"

"I still don't really get how she can be Twilight when we already have a Twilight," the pegasus grumbled in response.

Lisa forced a grin. "Y-you'll see what she means," she explained, "It's a little weird though, and you might want to brace yourselves for some sort of freakout if I remember my old self well enough."

She turned her attention back to the glittering crystal foundation of the castle.

"Well," she sighed, "It's now or nothing, girls... i-it's... it's time to meet myself."

"And we'll be here every step of the way," Rainbow added, pausing in front of the girl, "I promise."

Lisa's eyes widened as a smile grew across her face.

"Pinkie promise?"

Rainbow playfully rolled her eyes as she went through the motions.

"Cross my heart, hope to fly, stick a cupcake in my eye."

"Thank you."

Twilight's ears perked as she heard a faint knock on the door.

"I'll go get it," Spike grumbled, slipping out of his basket, comic book still in hand. "You and Pinkie just keep working out whatever it is you're trying to talk about."

Twilight nodded, watching as the young dragon left the room. She turned back to Pinkie, blinking.

"Now... where were we?" she began in a half-whisper, "Let's see... disconnection... sustenance sectors... uh... ah, we were on the part about how I met the old Professor, right?"

"Er... yeah?"

Through the open door, she heard the echoes of the front doors opening up, followed by hoofsteps on the thin carpet.

"Twilight?" she heard Rainbow's voice call, "Pinkie? You there?"

"Hush, darling. Spike opened the doors for us. Why don't you just ask him whether they're here or not?"

"They're just up in the study room, Rarity," Spike commented, "I'm... not sure if you should dist--"

"Don't worry, Spike. Ya don't have to stare at 'er, she's a friend. Popped up not too far from mah farm not too long ago, too. She says she's this sorta Twilight Sparkle from th' past."

Twilight leaned forward on her bed, listening to the conversation. Pinkie's ear twitched.

"May we see Twilight and Pinkie?" a voice - Twilight's voice - asked. "I... want to say something... wait, hold on a second, I gotta do something again real quick."

The mare pushed herself off the bed, giving a brief glance to Pinkie before heading for the door.

"C'mon, Pinkie," she whispered, "she's here. Let's go meet her."

Pinkie cocked her head.

"Lisa Garnet."

Without another word, Twilight left the room. A shudder ran over Pinkie's body.

Samantha opened her eyes, squinting in the soft light of the spawn room as she took a shaky step forward. For a few seconds, she continued to simply stand, idly swaying on her feet as she rattled off a message to Lisa in real life.

Hey, I'm here. Where do you wanna meet up?

I kinda just arrived at Twilight's castle. Try to get there ASAP. I wanna make this a special occasion. Sorry for not being able to talk for too long, I can already hear someone coming down the stairs!

Go ahead and meet Twilight without me. I'll catch up later with you guys.

Twilight stared down the long, open hallway that led to the stairs. A brief sigh escaped her lips as she stepped out of her study, a single goal in mind: Meet herself.

A blur of colors entered her vision moments before the mare felt herself get pinned against the wall.

"Where were you, Twilight?!" Rainbow hollered much to the mare's annoyance, "We were all worried about you and Pinkie when you disappeared!"

"I was--" Twilight trailed off, "I... was studying?"

Rainbow scoffed. "Twi, that was so bad that even I could see through that lie! C'mon, tell me what you and Pinkie were doing all that time!"

"It's alright, Dash," Applejack mused as she reached the top of the stairs, "No need to put so much pressure on 'er, 'kay?"

Rainbow Dash nodded, moving away from Twilight.

"Anyways, just like Rainbow said," Applejack continued, stopping before Twilight, "We were worried about ya, sugarcube. One day you an' Pinkie were here, and the next, gone!"

"I... I know..." Twilight mumbled, pawing the floor, "I know everything that happened during that time."

Panting, Lisa's character finally made it to the top of the stairs.

"Holy crap," she grumbled, staring over the railing at the bottom steps, "Were those stairs always so high? My running speed definitely should've been able to clear a flight of stairs faster..."


The girl glanced up, her eyes widening at the sight of Twilight standing with the others.


"Lisa, you need to explain yourself."

"Twilight?" Fluttershy peeped, "Do you know her?"

"Lisa was Twilight, remember what she said?" Rainbow whispered to the mare.

Lisa stared at Twilight, completely at a loss for words.

"Explain yourself!" Twilight demanded, stomping a hoof on the ground, "What. Did. You. Do?"

The girl took a nervous step back, her hands raised defensively. "What... what do you mean, what did I do?" she stammered, "I returned you and Pinkie to Equestria, that's all. Right?"

"That wasn't all you did."


Rainbow Dash took a cautious step towards Twilight but was held back by Applejack.

"There's a lot more that you did to Pinkie and me than you think you did."

Twilight turned to the ajar door beside herself. "Pinkie," she called, "come out, the rest of the girls have been waiting for you!"

Lisa gasped as a sullen Pinkamena trudged out of the room, her mane stringy and limp as it hung across her face. The mare looked up for a moment, eyes widening as hers met with Lisa's.

"She's just like the drawing you made earlier, Twilight," Pinkie mumbled, "Just like it."

"I don't understand," Lisa shook her head, "How did this happen? Isn't Pinkie supposed to be all upbeat and stuff?"

"Not since she returned, Lisa."


"Alright, hold up," Applejack butted in, "Before we get anymore bickerin', can somepony please explain what's goin' on between the three of ya?"

Twilight's face softened. "Here," she gestured, "come into my study with me."

She paused before entering the room, her eyes locking with Lisa's.

"You too, me."


"No objections. You got yourself into this, you can get yourself out."

The girl let out a sigh. "Fine," she breathed, "I'll explain as much as I can remember."

Her eyes once again met Twilight's.

"But only if you help me," she continued, "I... can't recall very much past a few days ago."

Twilight responded with a wordless nod, nudging the door open as she gestured for the group to follow. Pinkie trailed solemnly behind, pausing for a brief moment to catch another glimpse of Lisa before continuing.

"Hey," Lisa began as she entered the room, "I just noticed this, but what happened to the old library that you lived in? It burnt down, didn't it? I... I don't really remember much about... well, this place being a thing."


"C'mon, Twilight, it's not like the whole world was turned on its head or anyth--"

"You know what?" Twilight snapped, spinning to face the girl, "What if it was an event that nearly ended the world? What if it did rewrite my life as I knew it? Maybe it did change everything. Hmm?"

"Well sor-ry," Lisa huffed in response, folding her arms. She remained in the pose for a few seconds, swaying in place on her feet before her mood softened. "...sorry..."

Twilight sighed, shaking her head.

"It's alright, Lisa. There's just been a lot going on."

With the others now gathered into the room, Twilight sat on a chair, gesturing for Lisa to do the same.

"So..." the girl began as she sat, "Are we just gonna talk?"

Twilight nodded.

"Ah think Twi here should start," Applejack mused, "We've already heard a bit on your end, Lisa. That is unless you wanna tell us some more."

Lisa's eyes shot over to Twilight, who didn't respond.

"Okay," the girl sighed, "First of all, I should probably say this before somebody discovers it on their own and panics... you guys aren't real."

Twilight and Pinkie both let out amused snorts as the others returned with confused glances.

"Darling, are you alright?" Rarity commented, "First you say that you were Twilight, and now you're spouting nonsense!"

"No, no," Lisa shook her head, "I mean it. Your entire world - Equestria - is just a world that Samantha and I constructed. I was originally Twilight because we were literally the same pe--pony. Ask her yourself if you want confirmation."

All eyes turned to Twilight, who simply gave a single nod.

"Now," the girl continued, "I don't personally remember all that much about the time that I spent in here, but I'm pretty sure that it might've had something to do with the recent separation of myself and Twilight. Her disappearance and Pinkie's both were due in part to me and Samantha deciding to not return to Equestria for some time, and instead return to our homes outside of Equestria."


"Seriously," Lisa pressed, "It's true. Twilight, how much do you remember about this?"

"And so, somehow, our consciousness-es were soon severed from each other around the time we--"

"Twilight!" Spike blurted, rushing into the room, "Someone's at the door! She's asking for... whatshernameagain?"

"Lisa," the girl replied, smiling at the dragon. "That must be my friend, Samantha."

She turned back to Twilight. "Or as you know her, Pinkie."

"The deal," Twilight nodded, watching her assistant scurry out the room, "Pinkie's gonna have much to say when she comes in."

Lisa raised a brow. "What deal?" she asked, leaning closer to Twilight, "I thought Samantha and Pinkie just learned to get along until Pinkie herself could return to Equestria."

"Pinkie, or at least, the original Pinkie made a deal with Samantha to basically limit herself both in ability and character. It's not your friend's fault entirely, but more something that the old Pinkie did to herself just out of regret, from what she's told the current iteration of Pinkie.

She glanced over to the mare in question.

"She's... confused," Pinkie murmured, staring straight ahead, "She wants to let me be myself like Twilight, but at the same time she's afraid she might break something again."

Lisa raised a brow. "Break what?"

"Physics. Equestria. The entire simulation, even," Pinkie replied, "She wants to talk to Samantha to find a way to fix herself, especially after trapping her in Equestria unintentionally for years on end."

"Well," Lisa concluded, "I guess it's time to talk to my friend then. Let's get this whole mess sorted out, 'kay?"

The girl turned to the other mares, who simply stared back in complete and utter shock. The sound of footsteps approached the partially-opened door. Moments later, Samantha entered the room, giving a friendly wave to Lisa as Spike trailed close behind.

Samantha turned to Pinkie.

"Hello," she greeted, extending a hand, "It's been a while since we talked."

The mare hesitated, looking away from Samantha.

"She wants to talk," Pinkie mumbled, still turned away from Samantha, "She has many questions."

"Is Pinkie alright?" Samantha commented, glancing at her friend, "She does not sound like herself, whatsoever."

Lisa shrugged. "Something about a deal she made with you, I think."

Samantha's eyes widened as she mouthed "Oh". She turned back to Pinkie.

"How about this," she began, "To hold up my end of the deal and to make yours easier, I can... remove some abilities of yours. The tools I have access to this time around should be able to close the loopholes that you used before, so go ahead and tell me what you'd rather keep and what can go."

Everyone watched as a small amount of color and puff began to return to Pinkie.

"I... don't know," Pinkie whimpered, flinching away from Samantha, "She-- I've never imagined what life would be like without being able to do the things I'm known for..."

"Sam!" Lisa whispered, "She's been miserable ever since you merged her with the new Pinkie. I don't think that this deal of yours is being very fair to her."

Samantha fell silent as Lisa continued.

"From what I can remember, most of what she did was just minor things from a privilege escalation bug such as pulling items out of nowhere and stuff. Why not just let her be?"

No response.


Lisa poked her friend's character. Still no response.

"You and your friend are weird," Rainbow Dash grumbled, "Both of you have these random times where you just stop everything, and then there's... well, whatever you've been talking about all this time! It's just weird!"

Strangely, a faint clacking noise seemed to emanate from Samantha as she continued to remain completely still. Pinkie stared onward, equally unmoving.

"Pinkie?" Twilight began slowly, waving a hoof in front of the mare's face, "Pinkie, what's wrong?"

Twilight shifted, placing a hoof under her friend's chin as she took a hard look at Pinkie. Once again, no response was given.

"Wait," Rainbow cut in, "Twilight, look what's going on with her tail!"

Frowning, the mare turned her attention away from her friend's face, and instead to Pinkie's spazzing tail.

"Welp, I'm back!" Samantha cheered, her character settling back into a more natural position, "Just had to tweak some things."

With an almost comedic pop, Pinkie jolted in place, her mane and tail instantly returning to their original puffiness as color returned to her coat.

"Wow!" Pinkie exclaimed, blinking. "That... that was all?"

She turned to Samantha, who simply gave a smile and a nod in return.

"So... you fixed me, then?"

"Eh," Samantha mumbled, "Not so much fixed as just returned you to how you originally were."

"But what abou--"

"Don't worry about it, Pinkie. I think you'll know what's best."

Samantha turned to Lisa, who continued to stare at Pinkie in astonishment.

"Well?" she smiled, "Anything you'd like to say?"

"Twilight," Lisa stated, gesturing toward the mare in question, "She's been through just as much as Pinkie. Do you think you can help her out as well?"

"Sure. Should I just do the same thing I did with Pinkie?"

Lisa raised a brow.

"Y'know, talk to her a bit behind-the-scenes, remove any self-imposed limitations, re-merge their memories into a single stream instead of two competing timelines, et cetera."

The sound of a hoof stomping on the floor suddenly echoed through the room.

"With all this mumbo-jumbo 'bout fixin' and helpin' out Twilight an' Pinkie being thrown around," Applejack deadpanned, "Ah think it'd be best ta leave the four o' you alone."

The mare turned to the rest of the girls.

"...Well, I guess it would be rude to be around when they're so sensitive still..." Fluttershy whispered, "I... I think I'll go with Applejack."

Everyone watched as Applejack promptly stood up and walked out the door, Fluttershy following timidly behind. The door shut with an unceremonious click.

"Anyways," Samantha continued, turning her attention back on Twilight, "the decision's up to you. Would you like to forget that all of this ever happened, and return to your old life?"

"I..." Twilight trailed, "I don't know. Should I?"

Samantha shrugged. "I mean, I don't have to remove any memories. I didn't do anything like that to Pinkie, but if you want to get rid of any memories, I could remove them for you."

Twilight hesitated, pawing the floor with a hoof.

"Do it," she mumbled, "Just... don't delete my memories. Put them somewhere else instead... in your world, perhaps. Or at the least, keep them from influencing me anymore."

With a nod, Samantha's character once again fell perfectly still, as did Twilight Sparkle. Precious minutes passed as the faint clacking noise resumed. Pinkie shifted uncomfortably, fidgeting in place as she kept her eyes on her friend.

"Hm..." Samantha's voice hummed faintly through her closed lips, "That's interesting..."

"What's interesting?" Pinkie peeped, glancing at Samantha, "Is something wrong?"

No response.

An audible sigh came from Samantha's character, followed by more clattering.

"I think all we can do now is wait and see," Lisa began, glancing at Pinkie, "Hopefully, Twilight'll be fine."

Another minute passed. Lisa shifted in her chair, staring at Twilight.

"'Kay," Samantha suddenly blurted, her character returning to motion, "Twilight, how do you feel?"

The alicorn continued to sit still, staring straight ahead.

"Twilight?" Samantha repeated, "Twilight, is everything alright? You're certainly taking your time compared to Pinkie. Is anything wro--"

The girl was cut off as a shudder ran up the mare's spine. Twilight shook her head, blinking. With a frown, she glanced about the room.

"How are you feeling, Twilight?" Samantha asked, "We were getting a little worried when you didn't come to."

"I... I just had the strangest experience..." she grumbled, rubbing her eye with a hoof. "Feels like I was just run over by a chariot or something..."

She glanced back up, shrinking away at the sight of Lisa and Samantha with a gasp.

"D-did it work?" she stuttered, eyes widening, "Am I better now?"

She fumbled with her hooves, feeling herself over. "I don't feel any different. How am I supposed to know that I'm better now?"

"Nobody can tell, but let's hope you will be," Samantha smiled, "You don't have to live with those memories anymore, Twilight. Go on and live your life."

The mare turned to Lisa.

"What she said," the girl began, gesturing at her friend, "It's your life now. You do you, and I do me. We've spent quite some time together now, haven't we?"

Twilight nodded slowly, a shadow of a smile forming on her face.

"I mean, we've spent, what-- a decade together now. Not just as friends, but as a single being," Lisa continued, "I-it'd be crazy to imagine what my life would've been like had it not been for you, nevermind the fact that you wouldn't even be around!"


"We... we're separate now. It-it's just hard to come to terms with that after having had so much happen just in the past week. This place was our home, the place that not only you lived in, but the place I called home as well. I... I--"

"Lisa..." Samantha sighed, "It's alright, don't get so emotio--"

"--I poured my heart into making this place, into making us possible," Lisa sniffed, "Ba... back when things first started going, I thought that I could spend the rest of my life here, as you, Twilight."

"Lisa, that's enough now."

"I-- sorry..." the girl paused, her character mimicking her real-life self wiping away a tear, "It's just... I never thought that I'd be saying goodbye like this. Especially to someone--somepony who I saw as a reflection of myself in every way."

"It's alright, Lis," Samantha soothed, patting her friend on the shoulder, "We know you've been through a lot. It's okay now, you don't have to worry anymore."

Lisa sniffed again, nodding as she forced a smile.

"And even then," Pinkie added, "If you're ever feeling down in the dumps again, you could always drop by and say hi!"

More nodding.

"On the bright side," Samantha beamed, clapping her hands together, "We've got much more time on our hands now than ever before! Just think of what you can do now. You could travel the world, Lisa, or maybe settle down and take up that offer Argall gave you. Y'know?"


"Personally," Samantha continued, "I'm hoping to regain my old position at the company. I want to bring back the old tech camps that we used to go to as kids, so that we can train the next generation to surpass even us in the future!"

"Certainly sounds like a plan," Lisa sighed, her smile slowly returning, "You're still aiming as high as ever, aren't you?"

"Hold on just a sec," Pinkie blurted, whirling around to Samantha, "I just realized that Twilight seems like she still remembers a lot! Didn't you remove her memories already?"

"Not quite removed, but stored away separately," Samantha smiled, turning to Twilight. "You said earlier that you wanted to keep your memories, but to leave them detached from you personally. Remember that?"

"Are you sure that's a good idea?" Rainbow blurted, "With how you and Pinkie were acting earlier, I don't really think that it'd be a really good idea to remember... uh, stuff like that."

"Oh? Rainbow, you're still here?" Twilight hummed, "I thought everypony else besides myself and Pinkie left earlier when Applejack walked out."

"I suppose we have been rather silent for the past few minutes," Rarity commented, "But if you'd like, we could fetch Applejack and Fluttershy before our new friends here have to leave."

"I think that'd be good," Lisa began, "I don't think we'll be sticking around for much longer, so... I guess it'd be best if I could say goodbye to everyone at once."

The girl turned away, her hands folded in her lap.

"Darling?" Rarity asked, "Is something the matter?"

"Celestia," Lisa mumbled, "Before I go, I want to see her one more time. Even if she isn't who she used to be, I know she'll still recognize me."

Twilight frowned. "It'd be strange if she didn't recognize us," she shook her head, "Celestia's known me long before we separated, Lisa."

"No, no, not that," Lisa fussed in response, "What I mean is that we knew each other even before Equestria, back when... when--"

"It's alright, sugarcube," Applejack consoled, pushing the door open as she led Fluttershy, "If ya wanna see the Princess before you go, then by all means, feel free to do so!"

Lisa's eyes lit up. "Really?" she exclaimed, "B-but I thought that Celestia wa--"

"Don't worry," Rainbow Dash puffed her chest, "We're the Elements of Harmony, we can meet her any time we want!"

E̸̳̻ͣṙ̞̳̝̩͇̻͔̿ͤ͢r̊̐o͔ͮ̋͊̿͐̇ͥȓ̼͔̜͙̠̗̟́ ̟̗͉̘̂́̍̇͊̊͡4̢̫̮͉̠͔̫̏̔̽́ͬͅ0͉̰̃ͩ͡4͙̭͖̌:̵ͭ̿̉ ̨̩͚͒͑̿̌C̼̫̋ͮh̺̳̃̂̿ͪͨ̑̃́a͚̠͓̅ͥ̚͝p̥̖̰ͯͭ͞t͍̬̫̝̳͇̟̏̓e̙͔̺̖̻̥͍̾r̸̼̲̰̭̊̐ͪ ͚̳̙͔͌ͫ̐͛̔ͣ̚̕n̦̥̰ͧ̐o͙̬͔̦͎̫̻͞t̬͓̪͕̳̲͌̉ͧ͞ ̪̹̳̤̲̼̱͑ͧͪͨͦ̀̾f̲̲̪ͧ̓̋̅̔ơ̯̬̲͍̫̻̈́̉ͩü̼̠̭̂̈́͟n̠̗̘̤͎̣̥̓̓ͯͤ̄̾̂d͂ͣ͊̀.̧̝̝

View Online

A low rumble rocked Equestria as the ground began to shake.

"Aah, wh-what's going on?" Lisa stammered, her character falling to her feet, "I don't remember earthquakes being coded into the game!"

"Look, look outside!" Rainbow Dash yelled, pointing a hoof out the window.

In the distance, a massive, undulating cloud materialized high in the sky.

"It's the wolves," Twilight shrugged, "Every now and then we get a cloud of them over Equestria. They clear out after a couple of days if you leave them alone."



The world around them fizzed for a moment, random stripes of color and noise intruding onto the walls. The fizz stopped, the world returning to normal before another surge of glitches rolled through the room.

"S-Samantha?" Lisa stammered, "What's going on?"

She turned just in time to see her friend vanish into a puff of pulsating ones and zeroes.


One final flash of light filled her vision before the Equestria vanished from view.

"Twilight!" Pinkie yelled, lightly smacking the mare with a hoof, "Wake up! Wake up! Something weird just happened!"

Twilight groaned, raising a hand (hoof?) to her head. The ground beneath her scraped her back as she rolled to the side.

"Come on!" Pinkie yelled again, "Whatever that wolf cloud earlier was doing, it was bad!"

Twilight opened an eye, staring first at Pinkie, then to her unconscious friends laying nearby on the pavement.

Wait... pavement?

The mare jerked awake, eyes wide as she took in her surroundings.

"This... this isn't Equestria, is it?" she murmured, fearfully glancing about.

Pinkie shook her head.

"Where's Lisa? What about Samantha? What happened to them? Last thing I remember... um... Samantha... dematerialized."

"That was just her character, but I'm not sure about her."

Twilight paused, seemingly lost in thought as she stared at a hoof.

"They're probably gone, Pinkie," she concluded, glancing back up, "I can feel Lisa's thoughts in my head. Somehow, sometime during whatever the hay that was that happened earlier, they got merged with us."

"...Oh. So what about the others?"

Twilight shrugged. "They didn't have anything to merge with, so they probably are fine."

A streak of fizz pierced the scenery yet again, the buildings surrounding them offsetting for a brief moment before returning to normal. A distant howl echoed through the empty streets as a looming cloud soared overhead.


Lisa shrieked, chucking the headset across the room. The dull thunk of plastic hitting the wall pinged through the room.

"Wh-- what was that?!" the girl heaved, catching her breath as she leaned closer to her screen.

"Um... Lisa, why am I in your bedroom?"

The girl turned to see Samantha sitting on her bed, a decidedly more recent model of headset dangling partway off her face.

"This is just getting weirder and weirder..." Lisa grumbled, standing up from her chair to fetch her battered headset from across the room.

She took a step and fell through the nonexistent collision box of the floor.

Twilight coughed, wheezing as she drew a ragged breath. She spat dirt and grass from her mouth, wavering on her hooves as she stood up in the pit she'd just fallen into from the sky.

"Okay, this really needs to stop." she groaned, taking to the sky with a powerful flap of her wings.

She yelped as a wolf rocketed straight into her back mid-flight.


The clatter of her phone hitting the floor woke the girl after several unsuccessful attempts to snooze the alarm.

"How... many... more... times..." Lisa grunted, draping an arm over her bedside in defeat, "...I guess I'm just gonna wait and see..."

A screech pierced through the air as the bed ate her.

~~{Welcome to the world of AI-written funny nightmares.}~~
:twilightsmile: Have a nice trip! :moustache:

Twilight Sparkle opened her eyes, choking from the ozone and something. "Hey, Rares... Um... Who was that baby back there?"

Rarity the industrial microphone marked her driving assistant. Clearly, there was something wrong in the world of Kirby Butter. There was nearly double the number of jobs and privacy after the internet market developed. However, with more than half of the battlefield sinking into the pothole, Twilight instead resorted to the simulation machinery.

"Ohmygoshit'sahuman!" Pinkie squealed, flipping a nearby table and narrowly missing the public system of ethical technology. "... can I pet it?"

"No," Twilight sighed, "just... don't, please."

The simulation machinery continues to progress closer by the day, the development pace of artificial intelligence improving faster than ever before.

Samantha grinned awkwardly, her eyes trained on the next swarm of parasprites. "Spike and I can discover the truth about jobs and privacy," she began carefully, "There's hardly ever 2.948666 seconds before more than 300,000 victims of smart technology are victimized by scandals such as Facebook and data harvesting via the city gates. "

A large pile of humans screeched collectively as Twilight burst into smoke and glass.

Lisa screamed from underneath the stallion of light. "What do they want from mah family and friends with tiny alligator tentacles?!" she cried, "what experience do I even have with the door hinges?!"

"You have no reason to make yourself technology worker devices," Professor Argall cut in, "I do remember that you were paranoid of mountain scanners and intelligent machinery noises."


"Yes my identity!" Celestia suddenly screamed from underneath the crystals of peanut brittle, "I'm something productive again!"


The development of ethical interaction must utilize lethal force against the worn floorboards. Therefore, the issue of killing one may be drawn from behind rainbow dash's cheeks. The mare followed closely behind her hooves across the oily screen. Lisa watched silently as the strange men began to emanate from the mirror of Twilight's technology.

The strange men paused, noticing the author who was currently doing nothing suspiciously. A few golden coins and gems lured them all away, their specialty weapons - devices that went into Samantha's ears - dragging bodysuits of Twilight's face to Cthulhu.

A massive beam of doom butter screamed "AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA--" before being introduced to Lisa's face.

Slowly, Twilight lowered her head. "This is not what I wanted," she mumbled, "I never wanted a self driving car to steal information and read juice rules to you."

The universe imploded with a huge explosion of buttsharks and pebbles. There was little to be found of the remains of the world. Also, Flurry Heart was gurgling about the sudden layout change of the potato wars of equestria. Obviously, it was twice as tall as she was and legend still tells to this day of the ponies that had little jars of honey butter coated wingtips.

The end(?)

Be the change.

View Online

Lisa hesitated, looking away.

"Hey, what's the matter?" Samantha consoled, "Something come up?"

The girl shook her head, faking a smile at her friend. "No..." she trailed off, "I-it's just that it's really been a while, and with Celestia being completely different now as compared to when I first me--"

"Hold up, hold up! You've mentioned something 'bout Celestia being different twice now," Rainbow Dash deadpanned, "Is there something else we don't know still?"

"Well, for starters," Lisa began quietly, staring down at the floor, "she was originally one of you. She was one of the first ponies I put into the simulation, as sort of a way to console myself, and as a way to perfect the base AI program that runs all of you guys. Sh... she was actually originally my imaginary friend of sorts, from way back when I was just a little girl."

"That's... actually rather endearing," Rarity began, "Strange, yes, but still nevertheless endearing. So what is it that makes you so glum, darling?"

Lisa turned back to Samantha. "You remember the whole thing that went on with Celestia, right?" she mumbled, "How we originally planned for her to run off the AI program?"

Samantha stiffened at her friend's words, giving a slight nod in acknowledgment.

"...Yeah, why?"

"What happened to the person who volunteered to be Celestia after we purged the code?"

"After you what?!" Twilight exclaimed, shooting up from her seat.

"...purged the code?" Lisa repeated, cocking her head. "Anything wrong with that? "

"So," Twilight grumbled, "you say that we, the ponies of Equestria, live within a simulation, that we're just lines of code that can think and act. Think about what you just said, Lisa. What did you really do to Celestia?"

A short gasp escaped the girl's lips as she shrunk back. "O-oh, I... I never really thought of it that way. I mean, with Twilight, yes, I wanted to at least keep her the same, but with Celestia being an early test of things... there were at least a couple hundred versions of her that were deleted as time passed while we were testing and tweaking things..."

She shrunk away further, hiding her face in her hands as she fell silent.

"I-I just wanted to make her seem real..." Lisa whimpered, "If you really think that deleting so many previous incarnations of her is the same as killing her, I'll... I can just leave, a-and... I guess, never come back..."

"Hey," Samantha comforted, "This isn't only on you. We both did things like this. Don't forget about the reason why this is the fourth incarnation of Equestria as a whole. We were still young back then, and we still are. And besides, the deleted code for Celestia didn't simply disappear, remember? We simply clipped out whatever broke and rewrote it! Nothing was truly lost in the end, and even if we did ultimately decide against running Celestia on an AI, she's still there, isn't she?"

"I... I guess."

Samantha sighed. "Anyways," she continued, turning back to the mares in the room, "if you really are all that worried about what happened to Celestia's... er, code, you really don't need to look any further than Discord."

The room instantly dropped into complete silence.


"Wait, wait!" Samantha intervened, "Before anyone jumps to conclusions, we can explain. Celestia's original code granted her full access to every aspect of the simulation, essentially putting her on our level of control. For a time, things seemed to work out pretty well, with the simulation itself well on its way to completion. The trouble came when we tried to develop Celestia's personality. We initially just left her as sort of a blank canvas, so that she'd be able to naturally form one herself. Short to say, things got a little..."

"Chaotic." Twilight snorted in amusement, "Well... I guess that kinda explains the sheer power that Discord holds, but why did you decide to keep him around, anyways?"

Lisa looked away.

"It was my idea to salvage what would eventually become Discord," Samantha continued, "Lisa planned on using it just as a reference for later iterations of the AI program, which would undergo several more rewrites before we tried again with ponies. I... I guess at the time, I thought that it would make the world a bit more interesting to have a program that would consistently stretch the rules of the world."

"And so you just left him around?"

Samantha shook her head. "He still was an incarnation of Celestia at the time, but I modeled him a new form to fit his personality."

"So," Rainbow Dash snickered, "What you're saying is, Discord used to be a girl?"

Samantha shrugged. "You could say that, I guess. You'd have to ask him yourself though, and I don't see him around at the moment."

Lisa let out a downtrodden sigh.

"Hm? Lisa, you alright?" Samantha asked her friend, "If you don't want to stick around, we could leave at any time you want."

The girl shook her head. "No, it's not that," she mumbled, "I... I just feel bad about what I've done in the past. I very well could've destroyed the exact thing I created this place for, and just knowing that I caused so much hurt..."

A single, digital tear ran down her character's cheek, paralleling Lisa as she took off her headset for a moment.

"I just wanted to make a friend who I could trust and feel safe with," she continued, "I thought all this time that I succeeded, that I could be happy with myself."

She wiped away another tear with her palm. "I-in the end, I ended up tearing down that same trust I was building up. I fundamentally changed one of the most important people... ponies in my life, against their will."

"Lisa, don't be so hard on yourself," Samantha pat her friend on the back. "Look at yourself. You say these things, but in the end, does it really define you?"

Lisa slowly shook her head, glancing up to meet the collective eyes of the Mane Six.

"Do you really think you're a terrible person for what you did?"

Lisa nodded.

"You're not, Lis," Samantha sighed, kneeling down beside her friend. She leaned forward, staring Lisa in the eyes. "You are a wonderful person, Lisa. Even if you made that mistake, it's behind you now. Think about it for a moment. Has that one action really done as much as you think it has? Think about Celestia now. She's enjoying herself in Equestria, and the same goes for Discord. If they ever held anything against you, then it's already long-since been forgiven. Even if you think that everything's gonna crumble, it won't. Do you believe me?"

Another nod.

Samantha took her friend's hands into her own, squeezing them softly.

"Promise me this, Lisa," Samantha continued, "Promise me that you'll stop dwelling on the past, whether it be your childhood, your upbringing, or this. Live in the moment, and anticipate the future. Promise that you'll believe in yourself, no matter what the circumstances may be. Promise me that you will not let anything bring you down because you'll know that in the end, you'll still have friends. You've still got family. And you've got your whole future waiting for you."

Samantha leaned back, her hands slipping away from Lisa's as she sat on the floor, awaiting a response.

"I promise," Lisa whispered, a hint of a smile beginning to return, "Now, let's go meet Celestia."

Spike tugged at Twilight's tail as the rest of the girls filed out.

"Should I watch the castle while you're gone?"

"Go ahead," Twilight replied, "Just... try not to empty the fridge of all our ice cream this time around, 'kay?"

Spike saluted.

"I will make sure I do not!"

Twilight rolled her eyes with a smile and followed after her friends.

"Are we there yet?"

"For the last time, Pinkie," Twilight groaned, "We'll be there soon."

"Hmf!" Pinkie huffed, sinking back into her seat.

Lisa sat quietly, watching the scenery rush past the train's windows. A slight smile crept over her face as she took in the vibrant view.

Most of the others, save for Twilight and Pinkie, had long since fallen asleep in their seats. Lisa glanced over to her friend, who continued to stare straight ahead with a blank expression.

Must've left to do something while we're waiting, Lisa sighed, I wonder what she's doing.

Lisa slipped off the headset, taking a deep breath as she stretched in her seat. Yawning, she stood up, leaving the device on her desk as she wandered to her window. She sat on her bedside, half-staring out the old window. Seemingly for the first time ever, her mind was clear. A blissful silence filled her head as she lay down with a whump, the bed creaking loudly underneath. Nothing swirled about her head. No voices, no fears, no dreading for what was to come.


She closed her eyes.

She opened them again.

She let out a shallow breath.

She rolled over, digging her face into the soft blanket underneath.

She let out another breath, listening as it filtered through the fabric.


She closed her eyes.

"Lisa? Lisa, are you sleeping again?"

Lisa jolted up from her desk, blinking away the final wisps of drowsiness. The soft glow of the classroom's light fixtures lit up the scene around her. She blinked again, staring in confusion.

"Lisa!" a noticeably younger Samantha chided playfully, pointing at the teacher as he helped another student on an assignment. "I had to wake you up, or else someone else would!"

"W-who are you again?" Lisa felt her younger self stammer, "I don't remember all the names yet."

Samantha smiled, glancing at their teacher for a moment before scribbling out her name on a corner of her notebook paper and tearing it out. She handed it to Lisa.

"Samantha?" Lisa whispered, staring up at the girl who sat beside her, "That's a nice name."

"I like your name too!" Samantha beamed, drawing a look of surprise from the teacher.


"Wanna be friends?" Samantha continued in a whisper, "We could sit with each other at lunch and stuff, ooh! And, and maybe even go on playdates sometimes at our houses!"

"O-okay," Lisa whimpered quietly, squirming in her seat, "I guess we can..."

"My mom and dad said that next week we could go to the arcade at the mall downtown! Do you think your mom and dad will let you come with me? I heard that they added some new virtual reality games and stuff, but I really want to try and get a giant teddy bear from the prize store!"

Lisa remained silent this time around.

"Hello, anyone in there?" Samantha giggled, reaching over and poking Lisa in the arm, "Come on, are you going to say anything?"

"Samantha," the teacher's voice rung out, "Don't disturb your classmates, honey. Lisa looks like she wants to be by herself right now, okay?"

"Aw, okay." Samantha sighed, leaning back into her seat.

Lisa turned her attention back to her multiplication tables. Another scrap of paper landed on her desk. She glanced at Samantha, who waved enthusiastically back. With a small huff of irritation, she unfolded the note.

Hi Lisa! I'm Samantha, but you might already know that. I was thinking that you looked kind of lonely because you were all quiet and stuff, so I was trying to cheer you up! But you still don't look very happy still, so I'm just wondering if you're sad about something. Are you?

She took another look at Samantha, then back to the note. Pushing her classwork to the side, she flipped the note around and wrote her reply.

I'm sad because I don't have a mom or dad anymore.

Lisa handed the note back. Eagerly, Samantha began reading... only for her upbeat and witty demeanor to instantly sink as she read the girl's response. She crumpled up the note and stuffed it into her pocket, giving a solemn glance towards her classmate as she did so.

"Samantha, please move to the empty seat behind Lisa," the teacher reprimanded softly, "She looks uncomfortable with you next to her."

Samantha nodded, standing up and dragging her backpack behind her as she moved seats. She gave an empathetic nod to her classmate as she passed.

Lisa laid her head down on her desk, burying her face in the sleeves of her shirt.

"Lisa," Samantha's voice faintly called through the headset, "Lisa, we're here!"

The girl groaned, rolling onto her back and rubbing her eyes.

"Lisa? Hey Lis, time to get up, we're getting off the train!"

She groaned again, propping herself up with an arm as she groggily turned in the direction of Samantha's voice. "Coming," she answered, crawling across her bed.

Lisa snatched the controller off her desk, setting it on her lap. She took another moment to reach for the headset, straining her arm further to grab it before placing the device over her face.

"'Kay, I'm back," Lisa yawned, her character finally stirring.

"About time you woke," Samantha mused, walking up to the girl, "I was about to ask the others if we should just carry you off."

Lisa made a face, blowing a playful raspberry at her friend before standing up. She stole a quick glance at the view outside, pausing as her eyes followed the intricate architecture of Canterlot Castle, complete with its seemingly-impossible cliffside towers.

"C'mon, Lizzy," Samantha urged, taking Lisa by the hand, "Before the train leaves while we're still on it! You can go sightseeing later."

Samantha gave a silent nod to the train's conductor as the two practically sprinted out the door, comedically falling into a heap on the station platform.

"Heh," Rainbow Dash chuckled, "Definitely took you a while, sleepyhead. Your friend was yelling for you over and over before she decided to get back on board to wake you up."

"It's fine," Samantha shrugged dismissively, "As long as we're all here, y'know?"

"Yuppers!" Pinkie squealed, bursting out from seemingly nowhere. She froze for a moment, staring fearfully at Samantha, who only smiled back in return.

"It's alright, Pinkie," she reassured, "Don't worry about it anymore."

The mare's beaming smile returned. "Okie-dokie!" she burst, bounding ahead of the group. "Do you think Celestia will let me into the castle kitchens again? I could make her a super duper cake if she does!"

"Perhaps," Rarity commented, "you should instead focus more on why we came here, darling. After all, we have all the time in the world to entertain the Princess."

Twilight let out a soft snort, playfully rolling her eyes. "Not quite sure how I'd interpret that last part, Rarity," she began, "But I agree. Let's just work on things one step at a time for now."

A wave of agreement passed over the group as they continued towards the castle entrance. Lisa stared wide-eyed at the lustrous greenery of the surrounding gardens; rows upon rows of dense hedges formed a labyrinth to both sides, lined with masterfully trimmed statuettes of various figures throughout Equestria's history. An older stallion trotted past to the right, shears gripped tight in his mouth as he moved onto the detailing of yet another shrub.

"Did Equestria do this?" Lisa whispered, lightly grazing her friend on the elbow, "I don't remember anyone on the team ever modeling anything like this before."

She gestured vaguely at the surrounding scenery as they continued walking, pausing for a moment as a pair of Solar Guards bowed to Twilight, much to the latter's bemusement. After nearly a minute of back-and-forth discussion over why Twilight should simply be referred to by her own name, the two guards ultimately relented and opened the gates for the group.

The inside of the castle was even more ornate than the outside. Long tapestries adorned with emblems of the sun and moon draped over towering stained glass murals. Age-old paintings hung along the walls, depicting long-forgotten events that never in reality happened.

Lisa paused, stopping in front of one such painting: An angled, stylized phoenix, its wings outspread, depicted above the Equestrian flag.

"Lisa, c'mon, what's holding you up?"

"This," the girl gestured, her eyes still set on the picture. "It looks... familiar, to say the least."

"Lisa..." Samantha sighed, backtracking to her friend, "We're almo--"

She caught a glimpse of the painting, letting out an amused snort.

"Well," she chuckled, turning back around, "I think I know what happened to the beta logo for this project."

"Wait, what--"

"Come on!" Samantha shouted, breaking into a sprint, "Let's catch up with the rest of the girls. Don't you wanna see Celestia?"

"Yeah, wait up!" Lisa answered, running after her friend.

More murals and paintings passed the two on either side of the hallway, complemented by the occasional statuette or display case. Samantha's words repeated in Lisa's mind as she ran.

I think I know what happened to the beta logo for this project.

A Phoenix, Lisa mused, Phoenix... rise from the ashes... oh. Very funny, Sam. Pretty sure we never even had a beta logo in the first place.

The two girls caught up with the rest of the group just before the throne room doors.

"Hey," Lisa playfully punched Samantha on the arm, "Once we're done with this, I wanna know what other Easter eggs you snuck in without me knowing. 'Kay?"

"Sure," Samantha shrugged. "Though, the Phoenix logo was something you made, Lis."


Samantha nodded silently as the throne room doors opened, revealing the surprisingly sparse throne room.

"Hello?" Twilight called, her voice echoing through the chamber, "Princess Celestia?"

"Come in, Twilight," the Princess's voice returned, "You too, Lisa, Samantha."

Lisa felt her hands tense around the controller at the second part. She glanced at her friend, who simply gave a sly wink before setting off into the room.

The Princesses' thrones were evidently empty as they drew near, with both Celestia and Luna absent from their familiar seats. Twilight and the rest followed close behind as Samantha led the way, taking a sharp turn at the final pillar before the thrones themselves.

"Where are we going?" Pinkie squeaked, bouncing alongside Samantha. She stopped short, staring at a marked rectangular outline in the floor below the window. "I don't remember a trapdoor being here!"

Samantha shrugged, tapping a foot on the hidden pad in the floor. With an audibly mechanical whirr, the outline sunk into the ground, pieces of it halting at regular intervals to form a short staircase. A soft glow flashed along the walls, fading away to reveal ornate flickering lanterns lining the stairwell. The mechanical whirr returned, growing to a deep rumble as additional steps seemingly materialized further down.

Without another word, Samantha took Lisa by the hand and descended the stairs. Twilight hesitated for a moment, peering down the stairwell behind the two girls. She glanced up at the others, finding only blank stares. She took a deep breath, setting a hoof upon the first step. Then the next. And the one after.

Soon enough, all six mares had broken out into a trot, following close behind Samantha and Lisa as the path began to curve, the stone-crystal stairs giving way to metal and glass ones. The castle around them slowly faded away as a seemingly-infinite span of sky stretched into the horizon.

Finally, the group reached the bottom; small, rolling hills wrapped around in concentric circles around them, each hilltop dotting the landscape topped with a hovering item of some sort or another.

Celestia stood at the center hill, alongside Luna.

"What... what is this place?" Twilight murmured, squinting at the expanse of hills continuing into the distance.

"I-it's the debug room," Lisa stuttered, staring directly at the two Princesses. "I remember this place. We kept copies of major building blocks of the entire simulation here for testing."

She turned to Samantha. "I thought we removed this area after we released. Why's it still here?"

"Because we figured it'd be best to have a familiar backdrop to our conversation," Celestia answered, cantering down from the stairs. "Samantha and I spoke earlier, while you were on the train. We wanted somewhere out of the way. Private. She brought up the debug room and managed to create a new entrance for it on the way here."

"Wha--" Twilight trailed off, whirling between the Celestia that just spoke and the one standing on the center hill, "Huh? How are there two of you, Princess?"

"Test model," Samantha quickly replied, "Needed to make sure the Princesses looked right before we launched."

Rainbow Dash groaned from the back of the group, grumbling under her breath about being surrounded by eggheads.

"So..." Lisa murmured, idly swaying on her feet, "I guess this is it. This'll be my last experience in Equestria. I... I didn't think something like this would ever happen. But--"

"Things will work out, Lisa," Celestia consoled, wrapping her wings around the girl. "Both Samantha and my predecessor have told me so much about you. You ought to be proud of yourself."


"You've got a bright future ahead. Think about all that you'll do with your skill and knowledge. Look at me, another person just like you, speaking through a magical horse princess."

"Sh-should we really be down here?" Fluttershy peeped, "To hear Celestia say something like that, and with all that's going on... I don't think we belong down here..."

She shook her head. "It's just too much..." she mumbled, backing away. "Too much..."

"You have permission to come and go as you please," Celestia assured, "If you feel uncomfortable, you may wait in the throne room."

"Thank you, yer Majesty," Applejack tipped her hat, turning and ascending the stairs.

One by one, the rest of the mares disappeared up the stairway, leaving only Twilight and Pinkie behind.

"Is there anything else you'd like to say?" Celestia began again, breaking the silence. "If not, then I guess... this is goodbye for you, Lisa."

"Do... you think it'd be possible to bring back the original Celestia?" Lisa asked in a near-whisper, "Y'know... the one based on my original imagining of her. It doesn't have to be for that long..."

"Mmm... yeah, I think we could pull that off," Samantha hummed, "But what would we do with her once our little get together's over? We can't just have two Celestias running around."

"As long as she isn't outright deleted afterward, I am fine with anything Lisa says," Twilight commented, raising a hoof.

There was a pause.

"Merge her with me," Celestia answered, "If Twilight doesn't wish for the old AI-based Celestia to be terminated afterward, then it would be best to allow her to linger in this body. After all," she nodded at Lisa and Samantha, "I have no AI associated with myself, unlike the two of you prior to your disconnection."

"A-are you sure you want to do that, though?" Lisa stammered, "I mean, you don't have to if you don't want to. I don't want to hurt anyone again, and--"

"The most that will happen is that our memories will become shared," Celestia cut in, "I can assure you, Lisa, there is no danger in doing this. Celestia... er, I guess, myself as a character works differently than anyone else's. I'm a bit more of... a rotation of people, rather than a single person, so if anything does indeed happen, I can easily be replaced."


Celestia gave a slight nod, turning to Samantha.

"How quick could you get the AI up and running?"

"Mmm... I'd say at best maybe an hour or so. There's a good chance there's gonna be several things to patch to bring the whole thing up to date. Of course, I could instead implant the current base models with memories of Celestia."

"But how would you do that?" Twilight began, "Wouldn't you have to somehow extract the memories of this Celestia to do that?"

Samantha shook her head. "Back when we were still getting things working, Lizzy decided to write out by hand a set of premade memories for Celestia, mostly to get the ball rolling." she paused, glancing at her friend. "Though... I guess she also made it for personal reasons..."

"Either way," she continued, "There's not too much of a difference between the old code and the current base anyway. I'll just use the current one to save on time, 'kay?"

Lisa hesitated.


"If you want, Lis, you can log off for now. It's still gonna take me a little while to get things up. I'll just send a message when it's done. I'm just gonna talk to Celestia for a moment about what I'm doing."

"Thanks," Lisa sighed, a sad smile on her face. "I... just... thanks for doing this, Sam, Celestia. You don't know how much I needed this."

Lisa lifted the headset from her face, her controller still clutched in hand as she stretched in her seat. She glanced at the clock, its red digits glowing in the darkness of night.

Huh. Two-thirty AM already. I guess this'll turn out to be an all-nighter...

The girl let out a long yawn, letting her arms droop over the sides of her chair. The controller slipped from her fingers, thumping softly onto the carpet underneath. A flicker of light from beyond her window caught her eye.

Standing up, Lisa strolled around her bed, paying mind to pick up her controller and set both it and her headset onto the desk. The twinkle of light persisted as she drew closer to the window. She opened the blinds for a better view.

A sliver of shimmering cityscape, a section of the world visible just beyond the adjacent exterior walls of the next house over. Lisa stood, frozen in awe as the flickering lights of the city beyond reflected in her eyes. She leaned closer to the window, glancing further to the left as the house next door obscured less and less of the view.

Lisa yelped, flinching as she hit her head on the window.

Heavy footsteps came not a minute after, thumping on the carpeted floor as they neared her door.

"Lisa..." Professor Argall grumbled, squinting in the light from the girl's screen as he poked his head into the room, "Do you know what time it is?"


The Professor shook his head slowly. "It's alright," he dismissed with a yawn, "I know what you're doing already. Just be a little quieter, please?"


"Also, be more careful around the windows. You still have that habit of bumping your noggin on 'em."

"I-- wait, what?"

Argall let out an amused snort.

"Just be a little more careful, alright?"

He disappeared behind the door, closing it with a soft click.

Lisa turned back to the window. Light upon light upon light shone into the night. A golden-blue sea of headlights seemed to undulate over the interstate that bisected the city. Her eyes turned upward, taking in the endless night sky. Barely-visible stars peeked out from behind dark blue-grey whisps of cloud, interrupted by the one occasional airplane passing by.

A dim memory resurfaced in the girl's mind.

This place... this all used to be barren, arid land, Professor Argall's words echoed faintly, Back when I moved from the older suburbs to this place, it was almost entirely farmland and ranches. It's amazing to see just how quickly this city's progressed over the decades, y'know? All because we decided to be the change for once.

Be the change.

The phrase stood out to her.

Be the change, because if we just decided to sit around and wait for someone else to do it for us, then no progress will ever be made.

Be the change.

Be the change.

Be the change.

Lisa gazed towards her computer, her headset and controller still sitting on her desk.

I am the change, the girl smiled, falling away from the window onto her bed. I was part of this, and so was Argall. My parents, too... we were all part of the change.

She let out a long, drawn-out yawn as she stared at her ceiling. Minutes passed as she continued to stare, every blink forcing her eyelids closer and closer to shutting. Soon enough, Lisa drifted off to sleep.

The bed creaked under the girl as she shifted, rolling to one side as she buried her face in a pillow. A knock came at her door.

"Lisa, wake up! I made breakfast for you and Tim already!" Argall called, followed by another brief rap on the door.

Lisa jolted awake, crying out quietly in surprise as she squinted in the bright morning light. She rubbed her eyes, sitting up with a pillow-mark on her left cheek as she looked towards her computer. The screen continued to project the view of the debug room from the headset, though any sign of Celestia or the others was long gone.

She scrambled across her bed, nearly falling over the side as she slipped off the sheets. She shoved the headset and controller aside, pulling up her keyboard and switching over to her chat program.

100+ new messages

[Earlier messages... click to expand.]

Viewing recent messages.

Lisa wake up

Lisa wake up

Lisa wake up

Lisa wake up

Lisa wake up

Come on wake up! I finished getting everything set up and when I come back you're completely asleep!

Well, I guess it's pretty reasonable anyway for you to be sleeping considering the time of day. Just send a message or something when you're ready.

Lisa let out a relieved sigh, pulling her hands away from the keyboard and mouse. She eyed her headset for a moment before stepping away. The Professor knocked on the door again.

"Lisa, your breakfast is getting cold! Tim's already eating downstairs, aren't you gonna join him?"

"Yeah, coming!" Lisa responded, turning to her bedroom door, "Hold on a sec!"

"'Kay then, don't take too long."

The girl turned back to the monitor, rattling off a quick message to Samantha.

Eating breakfast, I'll be there in a bit!

Lisa wolfed down her scrambled eggs, pausing for a moment only to wash it down with a glass of orange juice.

"Hey, why the rush, sis?" Timothy began, poking his eggs before spearing a tater tot with his fork, "Something on your mind?"

Lisa nodded enthusiastically, swallowing and picking up a tater tot, popping it into her mouth.

"Yeah, I'm finally gonna reunite with the original Celestia, the one that I used to have as an imaginary friend all those years ago!"

"...I can't really relate to that, but..." Timothy popped an awkward thumbs-up. "Good luck on that, I guess?"

The boy watched as his sister scarfed down the rest of her breakfast, scraping her plate clean with her fork before bringing them to the sink.

Lisa paused, glancing at Professor Argall.

"Just leave 'em in the sink. I'll wash them later."

The clatter of kitchenware into the sink came in response.

"'Kay, thanks!" the girl chirped, rushing back up the stairs.

Professor Argall watched as she disappeared up the steps. He chuckled, shaking his head as he scrolled down his news feed.

"Ah, she's never gonna change, is she?"

Lisa leaped into her seat, mounting the headset over her eyes as she grabbed her controller. Her vision was immediately reimmersed into the surrounding view of the debug room.

She waited for a moment, folding her character's arms and tapping her foot impatiently.

A minute passed. Two. Three.

"Aw, heck," the girl grumbled to herself with a smirk, "Probably should've sent Sam a message first."

Lisa pushed her headset up from her eyes and fired up the chat.

Hey Samantha, I'm here now!

Heh. Took you long enough. We're back up in the throne room. Celestia was getting annoyed at having to forcefully separate Twilight from the debug models of everything. Don't get me started on the fangirling after she realized just what the purpose of the room was.

So... she got bored.

Yep. Pinkie didn't take long before joining in as well, so we all just moved back upstairs.

Lisa pulled her headset back over her eyes, blindly rattling off one more message.

Got it. Meetcha there!

She nudged the movement controls forward on her controller, her headset's view lurching into a sprint up the stairs as she did so. Up and up she went, glass and metal gradually being replaced once more by the familiar stone stairwell of the throne room. The faint voices of the others echoed throughout the entire flight of stairs as she ascended.

"Oh, here she comes!"

"Celestia, are you ready?"

"Ooh! Can we stare at her the entire time when she gets to the top?!"

"...No, Pinkie. Let's not do that."

The girl stopped at the top of the stairs, her character lightly panting from the exertion. All six of the elements, plus Celestia and Samantha, stood around her.

"Did... did you do it?" Lisa hesitated, her eyes darting between her friend and Celestia.

"Yes, Twilight," Celestia responded, "I am currently running on fully-autonomous code."

Twilight glanced at Samantha, her brow raised.

"Lisa used to see herself as you, so it'd probably be natural for this Celestia to do the same, however confusing it might be."

Lisa fidgeted on her feet. "So... what about your human user? Where are they?"

"She's taking some off-time," Samantha replied, "Most likely, she'll ask to be switched out when she returns."

Lisa nodded slowly, turning back to Celestia. "C-could we maybe... just talk?"

A smile spread across Celestia's face. "Just like old times?"

"Just like old times."

Twilight took a step towards the Princess. "Should we--"

"Let them have some time alone," Samantha cut off, "I feel like Lisa's been waiting all this time for this one moment."

"Twilight, I'd like to know," Celestia began, walking beside Lisa, "How long has it been since I entered my dormancy? Your friend has told be all about what has happened as of late, and I truly am curious."

"Hm... I'd have to say about a decade, give or take a year or so," Lisa answered. She let out a heavy sigh. "Geez, it's really been that long already, hasn't it?"

"I suppose so. What new adventures have you set yourself on?"

Lisa's eyes wandered as she put her hands in her pockets. "Well," she began, "I guess I could say that pretty much everything that's happened lately began not too long ago when I... kinda disconnected from Equestria."

"My, that must've been quite the experience!"

The girl nodded, smiling in comfort at the familiar sound of Celestia- her Celestia's manufactured phrases.

"Tell me, what other grand adventures have you come across?"

Lisa stopped beside a window, glancing at the grand view of Canterlot below. "After I figured out what was happening, I also helped in keeping order in the city."

She paused. "Heh, I even found out that Spike was actually my brother all along while I was at it!"

Celestia sat down beside the girl, sharing in admiring the view.

"...Sorry if I'm not talking as much as I used to when I was younger," Lisa apologized meekly, "I-it just feels nice to be around someone you trust."

"What about your friends?" Celestia responded after a couple of seconds, "Don't you trust them as well?"

"Oh, don't worry, if anyone's to be trusted, it's certainly Samantha," the girl chuckled, "Not to offend her or anything though, but I really don't feel like I can talk about anything personal around her, though."

"Mm," Celestia agreed, "I do remember that she is often rather unempathetic at times. How does she fare now?"

"She's better than before, I guess," Lisa shrugged, finally sitting herself down beside the alicorn. Her character blew at a stray strand of hair. "I think part of the reason why she's more empathetic now than before was because of her experience with Pinkie. She genuinely wished to get rid of that mare for a while, but eventually, the two made up for each other. It's just amazing to see how a single set of interactions could change a person forever."


Lisa turned to face her former imaginary friend.

"You don't have any programmed responses for something like that, do you?"

Celestia shook her head.

"I thought Samantha was able to port your memories to the new system?"

Celestia shook her head again.

"For the sake of you, Twilight, your friend managed to painstakingly repair me to full working order before finally returning me to Equestria."

"Oh?" Lisa hummed, "Well, she's definitely the type to do something like that, anyway. Always trying to aim a little higher."

She unfolded her legs, propping herself up with her arms.

"Me?" she continued, "I'm just a hopeless girl who lost her parents. A girl who decided to run away from her problems in the most over-the-top way possible."

"Don't say such things of yourself!" Celestia scolded softly, her wings fluttering ever so slightly, "Take a look at all the good that you've done because of that. Think not of just what you did for yourself, but what you've done for the world."

Lisa rolled her eyes with a smirk. "I helped a family friend along with my own best friend to build on top of the work my dad left behind. I helped make a place for anyone to escape their problems to."


"Joking," the girl laughed, "I know, I know. I had pretty much the exact same talk as this with both Argall and Samantha. I don't think I need to go over this a third time."

Celestia nodded, mechanically recomposing herself.

"I would still like to know why you have chosen to reload me, rather than to simply speak with my successor."

"...It just doesn't feel the same..." Lisa trailed off, "Like, sure, talking to another person is nice and all, and having Samantha around is great too, but being around you just has a kind of personal feel to it, y'know? It's just... comforting, I guess, to talk to someone who actually understands."

"I see."

The girl let out a heavy sigh, standing back up with a small grunt. "Well, I think I'm just about ready. I can't stay here forever, after all..."

"Ready... for what?" Celestia cocked her head, "I do not understand your motives at the moment."

"To leave Equestria. For good, this time."

"Why do you wish to leave, my dear Twilight?"

"I'm starting to get pretty close to my thirties, Celestia. I came to Equestria in my late teens, and spent a decade recovering from... well, everything. I genuinely feel better now, and I believe that it's finally time for me to find my place in the world."

"Ah," Celestia sighed, "I understand. I presume then that I will once more be relegated to the archives?"

Lisa paused for a moment, staring first at Celestia, then back out the window.

"...We'll see."

Be yourself.

View Online

"Lisa!" Samantha cheered, "Back so soon? I thought you'd spend a little longer with Celestia, given... y'know, how much you seemed to be pushing for that?"

"It's alright," the girl responded, a downcast smile on her face, "I'm feeling better now. I... I think it's time for me to go."

"Are you sure, darling?" Rarity countered, "You seem to be awfully rushed at the moment. Is there anything you'd like to share?"

"Mmm... not really," Lisa hummed, "Just being able to talk to the Celestia I knew when I was younger seemed to lift quite a bit of weight off my shoulders. Even if she doesn't speak or move as naturally as the current iterations of herself do, it just feels... almost nostalgic, I guess."

Celestia raised a hoof.

"So, allow me to better understand this..." she trailed on, "I will continue to function, as a redundant entity operating alongside a human player?"

"Yes," Samantha nodded, responding for her friend, "We were talking about this before Lisa logged on this morning. Speaking of which..."

She turned to Lisa.

"You said that you felt about ready to leave the simulations now?"

Lisa hesitated for a moment before giving a single, forceful nod.

"Wait," Twilight blurted, "Before you go, I want to apologize for earlier. I was being a little rude to you, even after all that you've done. I know you want to do the right thing, even if you sometimes mess up along the way. It's just who we are, after all. And... in some weird, crazy way, I know I'm still connected to you. Not quite as physically as before, but..." she smiled, "You'd understand."

"Thanks," Lisa beamed, "Though, you didn't have to apologize. I know part of it was on myself as well. I should've known better given--" she cleared her throat, "--the conscious state of your respective AIs. I honestly thought that everything still ran more or less like a chatbot back then; I say something, you say something in return, so on, so forth."


"Lizzy," Samantha reminded, "I don't quite think they really understood you past the second sentence."

Twilight shook her head. "No, I understand, Lisa. Just try not to dwell on it anymore, alright?"

Lisa didn't respond.


She let out a heavy sigh.

"Yeah, I'll try not to," she replied, "Though knowing myself, it's gonna take a while."

A round of quiet chuckles made its way around the room before dissipating into silence.

"Hey Lis," Samantha whispered, breaking the silence, "I'm gonna be logging off in a moment. I'm gonna see if I can get my old position as CTO back at our company. 'Kay?"

"Go ahead," Lisa smiled.

Samantha nodded, a faint beep emanating from her character before she vanished into a mist of pixels.

"Woah!" Pinkie gasped, "She can do that?!"

Lisa shook her head with a chuckle. "No, it's probably some kind of logoff effect she added for fun," she answered, "Same thing's probably gonna happen to me when I leave, too."

"I will surely miss you when you do leave, Twilight," Celestia sighed, "Do you plan on returning eventually?"

"Maybe," Lisa grinned, "For now though, I want to experience life-- real life, outside of Equestria. Y'know?"

"So..." Twilight asked, "What will you do now, then? I can't personally think of what I'd do in a situation like this, outside of... heh, studying everything, I guess."

"I don't know," Lisa shrugged, "But... I think that's what excites me. Just the past few weeks alone has been more eventful than nearly any time in my life!"

"That is good to hear," Celestia added, "I wish... for you to have a long and prosperous life!"

Lisa nodded one last time, a beaming smile on her face.

"And I wish the same for Equestria."

The girl blindly reached out for her keyboard and closed her client program. She continued to sit still in her chair, her sight filled with nothing but black as the headset entered standby mode.

A single tear ran down her cheek. Slowly, she lifted the device off her face with both hands, gingerly placing it on her desk. Her eyes widened.

I didn't even properly say goodbye, she realized, still staring at the headset.

She wiped her cheek with her sleeve.

In any case, thank you for everything, and goodbye, Equestria. Maybe I'll return once again, sometime...

Lisa stood up from her chair, a hand still on the worn headset. Flecks of white fluttered past her window as the wind whistled outside.

She took a deep breath, letting it out with a sigh. She swayed on her feet for a moment before collapsing onto her bed.

The girl awoke to the faint buzzing of her phone.

Squinting in the midday sunlight, she reached out, lazily grabbing at the device before finally taking hold of it. She answered the call, paying little mind to whoever the caller was.


"Now you answer. Only took some five or six calls, y'know?" Argall's voice grumbled, "Anyways, I'm almost home, but I'm just gonna grab something before heading off to the HQ. You wanna come along?"

Lisa rolled over onto her back, still holding the phone to her ear.

"Sure, how long 'till you're back?"

"About five minutes. Be ready when I get home if you're coming!"

"'Kay, bye dad, love you!"

"Love you too, Lisa."

The girl hung up, pocketing her phone as she took another glance out her window. More puffs of white blew past as the sunlight dimmed. With a brow raised, Lisa climbed over her bed to the window, glancing outside.

The once-vibrant cityscape below was now blanketed by a layer of soft white. Still more snow continued to drift down as the snowstorm gradually began to once again pick up its pace.

The sound of the garage door opening downstairs took her focus off of the weather. The girl waited, listening as she heard heavy footsteps enter the house nearly a minute later.

"Lisa!" Argall shouted, climbing the stairs, "You ready to go? Tim said that he wants to stay behind and read some new webcomic he found last night. I already found the thingy I needed and stuffed it in the car, too."

"Yeah, coming!" Lisa chirped, opening her door just as the Professor reached the top, "What is it that you're bringing to HQ, anyway?"

Professor Argall shrugged. "Just some old parts and stuff," he mused, "Figures today would be the day that they need some spare parts that aren't in stock, eh?"

Lisa chuckled, following closely behind as Argall turned, descending the stairs.

"It definitely snowed quite a bit last night as well. Did you hear the wind last night?"

Lisa shook her head.

"Mm, you were probably too busy in Equestria to notice. But we just got hit with good ol' lake-effect snow for the first time in years!"

Lisa glanced out the windows lining the sides of the front door, her eyes widening at the layer of snowpack that had accumulated.

"I know, right?" Argall continued, "From any other window, it still looks pretty small of an amount, but when you look at the windows that go from the floor to the top of the doorframe, it kinda puts things in context."

The girl smiled as the Professor continued to ramble on and on about the snowfall. Evidently, it'd been a while since he'd seen much snow, either.

"...And back before the flooding wiped out the nice coastal property, I was thinking of retiring to the beachfront. But nooo, mother nature just went up and said 'hey, how about no?', and..."

Argall let out a heavy sigh as they reached the bottom of the stairs.

"Well, I guess Silicon Slopes here is probably one of the best places in the state to be in at the moment anyways... Probably even the best place this side of the Rockies, even. Except for the weather, that is. The weather here's still crazy as always..."

"C'mon," Lisa tugged on the Professor's jacket sleeve, "Don't forget what we're doing while you're thinking about retirement. You've still got plenty of time for that later."

"Alright, alright," Argall shrugged passively, walking behind Lisa to the garage, "Let's go."

The satisfying crunch of the fresh snow emanated from beneath the car as it pulled out of the driveway. Lisa watched idly as her window fogged from her breath, before etching a smiley face into the condensation. She jerked back in her seat as the car abruptly stopped, lurching backward again moments later.

"Ah," Argall blurted, "Tire slipped there. Don't worry about it."

Lisa sighed, letting her shoulders slump as she turned her attention back to the quickly-fading drawing on the window. She retraced the blurring lines with a finger, retracting her arm afterward to admire her work.

The girl lurched in her seat yet again as the car bumped off the driveway onto the frozen asphalt.

"You good back there, Lisa?" Argall asked, "I doubt these tires have very much traction at all with all this snow around, so just be careful in case if the car slips on any more ice."

"Yeah," Lisa nodded, shifting away from the window, "That's a bit obvious."

Slowly, the vehicle began to turn, continuing to drift slightly to the side even as Argall was shifting gears. Snow and ice crunched under the tires as the vehicle began to inch across the snowpacked street in a rumbling crawl. Nearly a minute passed as the car skidded steadily towards the T-intersection up ahead.

The main road was much clearer; very little snow covered the asphalt, and in places where white still obscured the road markings, the existing tire tracks were more than enough to guide the way. The near-inaudible hum of the car's motor grew into a low grumble as Argall made a turn, accelerating as he adjusted for the cleaner roadway.

Soon enough, however, Lisa and Argall once again found themselves still, waiting at a red light.

"Look at all that snow sittin' on that car's roof," the Professor chuckled, pointing at car nearing the intersection from the right, "Kinda looks like a frosted cake got plopped up there."

"Mm-hmm," Lisa hummed, pressing her handprint into the fog on the window.

Professor Argall yawned for a moment, catching glimpse of the light turning green. Lisa felt the car pulling forward as they passed through the center of the intersection.

The last thing Lisa heard was the squeal of tires-on-ice.


Please, no... not again, not now...


She felt the impact. She felt their car being flung into a spin. She felt the cold, hard window against her head.



The memories flashed through the girl's unconscious mind.

"Mom! Mom! Are you okay?!"

"We've got two! ...passed out from the smoke, focus on him first!"


Gradually, the memories cleared from her head as she awoke to Professor Argall staring down at her.

"Ah, there you go! You took a nasty hit to the head back there when the car spun out. Really got nicked hard, didn't ya?"

The Professor chuckled as Lisa sat up, lifting her still-sore head from Argall's lap. She groaned, rubbing her temples as she stole a glance outside.

Shreds of fiberglass and metal littered the intersection around them, and police were helping to direct traffic away from the site of the accident. She narrowed her eyes, staring at the fractured bumper of the other car poking up from a snowbank off the side of the road.

"Don't worry, Lisa, the lady driving the other car's fine," Argall assured, "Bit spooked, yeah, but no major injuries. Let's just be glad that this is as far as it got."

Lisa winced as a searing pain pierced her head.

"Hey, hey, go easy on yourself, 'kay?" Argall comforted, "Pretty sure that a hit that hard would give you a light concussion. Best lay back for a bit and relax."

The girl nodded, lying down on the backseat as Argall opened the door. She shuddered as a chilling wind rattled through the car.

"Just wait here, Lisa. I'm gonna talk to the officers and the lady who hit us. Just negotiate a little bit and stuff like that."

She felt the car jolt as the door closed. Outside, she could just make out Argall's voice through the howling wind whirling about the vehicle.

"...and you're sure you're alright? Those scrapes you got there sure look nasty... Oh, no, I do in fact have band-aids in my car. You fine with plain ones?"

Lisa lifted her head slightly as Argall opened the door, rummaging around in the glovebox before extracting a visibly crushed box of band-aids. He turned his head, responding to someone behind him before closing the door again. Lisa lowered her head back to the cold faux-leather.

"Oh, by the way," Professor Argall suddenly burst, swinging the door open once more, "Do you still wanna go to headquarters with me? It's absolutely fine if you want to go back home instead, especially after this whole fiasco."

"No, it's okay," Lisa mumbled softly, a smile on her face, "I'll still go with you."

The Professor paused for a moment, staring at Lisa.

"Just in case though, I'm gonna bring you to the hospital first. Just relax for now. We don't know exactly how hard you hit your head yet, but it's best not to take any chances."

The door shut again. Lisa watched as the Professor disappeared beyond her view.

Lisa sat silent, idly swinging her legs underneath her chair as she and Argall waited. She stared up at the dimly-glowing digital clock on the wall above the entrance, then down to the small pile of magazines on one of the waiting room's tables.

Professor Argall caught sight of the magazines as well.

"Oh," he began, "Um... do you want me to bring some over for you?"

Lisa gave a slight nod, wincing from her still-developing headache.

"Lisa?" a voice called, "The doctor is ready to see you."

"Ah," Argall chuckled, standing up from his seat, "Well, I guess you can read 'em later, then. Let's see how bad you got dinged by that window."

The girl stood up as well, albeit slowly as she rubbed the still-sore spot on her head. She shot a final glance at the pile of magazines, spotting an obscured image of herself and Samantha on one of the covers.

"Well, the good news is that you didn't fracture anything."

Lisa shifted in her seat, glancing about the room. Professor Argall stood beside her.

"A-and the bad news?" she stammered, "How bad is it?"

"You've got a bit of internal bleeding going on. It's nothing major, and based on the scan results, I'm quite sure that an operation is unnecessary. Just take things slow, and get lots of rest. Alright?"

Argall let out a relieved sigh. "Well," he began, "Lisa, you still planning on heading to headquarters, or do you wanna go home for now?"

A smile formed on the girl's lips.

"Dad, you know I'm still going to HQ, even after everything that's happened. I've spent too much time cooped up alone, and I'm not gonna go back to that."

"Ah, I'd figure you'd be saying that," the Professor mused, "Well, let's go then, Lisa. I'll keep a better eye out for other cars spinning out into the intersection, alright?"

The radiologist let out a slight chuckle and hurriedly left the room.

"Go ahead and sleep in the car on the way there, Lisa. No hurt in getting some rest after what happened, y'know?"

The girl nodded.

"Lisa, wake up," Argall whispered, nudging the girl's arm, "We're here."

Lisa groaned, rubbing the bridge of her nose as she glanced up, blinking.

"Samantha heard about what happened as well," Professor Argall continued, "I told her you were fine, but she wants to see for herself anyway... though, she's just a bit busy at the moment. Can you walk by yourself out here?"

"Y-yeah," Lisa stammered, "I... I think I can."

She undid her seatbelt and stuck a shaky leg out of the car.

"One leg at a time, Lis, that's the trick."

She flinched as the sound of another car sped by behind them.

"Shh, it's alright. You're safe here. Watch your step now, parking lot's still a bit icy..."

Lisa paused for a moment, staring at the snow ice beneath them before shaking her head, groaning.

"Ah, here," Argall mused, outstretching his hand, "Lemme help ya up. Looks like you got a wicked headache forming up there still."

The girl said nothing, taking the Professor's hand and pulling herself out of the vehicle.

"Lizzy!" Samantha burst from afar, sprinting toward her friend, "Are you alright? The crash was reported not too long ago, and I called up Argall as soon as I could!"

"Yeah, I think I'm okay," Lisa responded, wincing as her friend nearly tackled her into a bearhug, "Urk... definitely more than a bit shaken, but outside of a migraine, I think I'll be fine."

"Are you sure though?" Samantha countered, letting go of Lisa, "Do you feel dizzy or anything as well? Any ringing sound? What do you remembe--"

"Samantha, I think you should slow down a bit," Argall cut in, "Lisa's already showing a few signs of a concussion.
Though the medics said it wasn't all that bad, it's probably best not to stress her too much, 'kay?"

Samantha hesitated for a moment before nodding. She stared for a moment at her friend, then diverted her attention to kicking at a chunk of loose ice on the asphalt.

"So... anyway," she began, not looking up as she gave the ice another kick, "I met with Mr. Ascher earlier today. He said that I could have my position as CTO back. Do... I mean, are you planning on coming back to our company too, Lis?"

Lisa shrugged lightly, a smile forming on her face.

"What do you think I'm here for?"

Final Epilogue: Be Free.

View Online

Twilight Sparkle awoke with a content yawn. The bright morning sunlight filtered softly through her window, bathing her room in golden hues. The smell of breakfast wafted through the air, aided by the distant sounds of kitchenware in use. A few minutes passed as she enjoyed the morning warmth. The pitter-patter of footsteps neared the door.

"Spike?" she yawned again, rubbing an eye with her hoof, "Spike, did you make breakfast already? You really don't have to, y'know."

"Yup!" the dragon chirped, bursting through the door, "Breakfast's already on the table!"

Twilight smiled, hopping out of bed.

"Lisa, what do you think about our pitch?"

The girl looked up from the poster she'd been designing. Samantha beamed as she admired the simulated room around them.

"All I can say is that the holograms really do bring the simulations to real life, don't they?" Lisa chuckled in return, "I promised both Argall and Roger, if we're gonna do anything when I get back into this place, we're gonna bring back those after-school courses you and I used to love so much, and we're gonna bring it to the masses."

She held up the poster -- a faint glint of voxelation lining the edges of the virtual item --, peeking out from behind it.

"...Do you think they'll like it?"

"Surely," Samantha nodded, "But don't forget about the rest of the project, Lis. It may have taken some time to adapt the simulation framework to work with augmented reality, but that doesn't mean that there aren't any bugs to iron out!"

Lisa smiled.

"You betcha, Sam. And this time, we're gonna do things right."

"Twilight, do you ever think about what's going on outside of Equestria?"

The alicorn looked up from her book to her friend.


"I mean," Pinkie continued, laying flat on her back, "It's been a pretty long time now since we've heard anything from Lisa or Samantha. Do... do you think they forgot about us? Forgot about Equestria, even?"

Twilight shook her head, her attention returning to the book in front of her.

"No, Pinkie. They're probably too busy making the next big thing now to have the time to visit anymore. You remember how excited those two were the last time they stopped by, don't you?"

Pinkie nodded. "Yeah," she exclaimed, "Lisa was all like 'Guesswhatwe'regonnabringbacktheoldthingthatmeandSamanthausedtodothatledtousdoingallthisstuffand--'"

The alicorn winced at the sudden onslaught of words. "Yes, Pinkie, that just about sums things up as far as we're concerned. Who knows? Maybe they'll finally visit again sometime in the near future. Some five or so years is plenty enough time to get a good education system up on its feet in the beginning."

Lisa yawned, rubbing the bridge of her nose as she shut off the holographic projector. Student by student, the day's usual assortment of curious kids and teens filed out of the now pure-white room. She brushed a hand through her increasingly frazzled hair, glancing for a moment at the clock behind her before walking past the rows of desks to the door.

"Hey, Lis," Samantha greeted, "How was class today?"

"Tiring," Lisa shrugged, "Definitely still worth it though. You still up for swapping positions tomorrow? I'm just itching to start testing the new headset design. Um... let's see..." she paused, filing through her notes for the week. "Tomorrow begins the class's Artificial Intelligence and Virtual Reality unit."

Samantha let out a playful snort.

"Just like old times?"

"Just like old times."

Lisa continued walking, making a beeline to the break room.

"Oh, by the way," Samantha called behind her, "What are you planning on testing the headset with?"

"What else do you think I'd use?"

A brief knocking came at the castle doors. Hurriedly, Spike rushed down the stairs and through the hallway, opening the heavy doors just enough to catch a glimpse of who had knocked.

Lisa waved, a friendly smile on her face.

"Hi, Spike. Is Twilight open to any visitors right now?"

Special thanks to:

  • Babroniedad: Prereader, ideas
  • Doggyshakespeare: Prereader, ideas
  • Twilight Connor: Prereader
  • Drakos779966: Prereader, ideas, and being a good friend in real life.
  • Momoruuu: Ideas, emotional support, cover art, and above all else, a great little sister.
  • Past prereaders:

  • Special mentions:

    • Undyne Devotion: Ideas, original fiction prereader
    • EverfreePony: Ideas, showing that I actually had a weaker grasp on grammar than I thought I did, original fiction prereader
    • RQK: Ideas, original fiction prereader
    • GMBlackjack: For including Pony-Me in The League of Sweetie Belles and for pointing out how the story was slowly burning out near the end.
    • Porter Robinson and Madeon - One of their songs in particular -- "Shelter" -- served as a major source of inspiration in the latter two parts of Pony-Me.
    • HDSounDI - It's an entire Youtube channel dedicated to collecting amazing music! Their "Most Emotional Music" and "Most Beautiful Music" categories, just like Porter Robinson and Madeon's "Shelter", served as major sources of inspiration for much of this story.
    • You, the reader, for being an amazing human being. Keep reading, and don't forget that there are endless possibilities in this world. :twilightsmile:

Wake up.
Take a look around.
The world is calling.
There's so much to see,
So much to hear.
There's new people to meet,
And old friends to greet.
You'll never know what's in store,
If you never open the door.
You have the power.
It's your choice.
Forge your own path,
Be your own guide.
The road is never smooth,
You are not alone.
More than what meets the eye,
There is always the unknown.
The truth may be hard,
Reassemble the puzzle.
Give it some thought.
The past never dies.
A brief glimpse is all it takes,
Now, there's a choice to make.
Go home...
...Or go on.
There's a greater world out there,
Expand your horizons.
Relive your past.
Come back,
Find yourself.
Split lives,
Rewrite the script.
Hold on...
...Let go.
Start over.
Move on.
Be the change.
Be yourself.
Be free.

Thank you for reading.