Unlocking Your Cutie Mark

by Dezmo

First published

A ponies Cutie Mark has always been accepted for what it is, but what if there was more to be discovered?

Sunny Dew was recommended a position at a top secret R&D due to his recent Cutie Mark thesis. He will have an in person interview and hopefully a job. No job means that he may get drafted, so he has one shot to get this right.

Written for Equestria at War HOI4 Contest!

More than meets the eye

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Class ended in five minutes and all I could think was, an hour is too long for lunch.

Since receiving the application letter last week, I had been looking forward to the interview. With the ongoing Changeling war there would soon be a draft. The news tried to kept the death toll down but I had sources, and despite the propaganda I knew we were losing. It's because of this dwindling timeline that I need this meeting to happen sooner rather than later.

I'm about to graduate from college here soon, a place that I hope to never visit again, and recently finished my magnum opus. A thesis that the Cutie Marks we have on ourselves could be changed for better or worse. A topic that has brought me immeasurable hatred.

"It's who you are!" - Some old fart would yell.

I am defined by my experience in life.

"Princess Celestia personally chose your special talent!" - A child would screech.

That's a child's tale, and I guess you forgot about Princess Luna?

"It's destiny!" - Literally everypony in this school.

Fuck destiny!

My cutie mark is a goddamn question mark. What kind of special talent is that? Was I supposed to be a great detective? Or a game show host? I was furious. And to top it off, It wasn't even that amazing when I got it. Hell, my parents only noticed it before I did and that was because they decided to look at me that day.

I was walking around outside trying to delay going home after school, when I stumbled upon to this weird symbol etched into the ground. I knew it was complete nonsense but the fact that it was out in the middle of nowhere got me thinking. Why there? Why have half of it in stone and the other in dirt? So much effort into something that would get washed away before the day was over.

Apparently I was so lost in thought that I didn't notice I had received my Cutie Mark while walking back home. Not that it would have helped me anyways because I never did figure out the significance of the symbol. I had a cutie mark, but no clear skill. Fantastic.

My family figured I was really good at solving things, I was not. Perhaps I was meant to be the next great philosopher, booooring. Maybe answer the unsolvable riddles like death and entropy?


No, instead I decided to focus my studies on why my cutie mark sucks. Surprisingly I found out that there were very few studies conducted. Either they were purged or no one truly bothered to look into something considered as fundamental as gravity.

The shrill of the class bell had me moving and out of the door before it was even over. Sitting by the front door gave me the few precious seconds to get some distance down the hall before the crowd slowed me down. Normally my bag would be bulging with tomes and scrolls for classes today, but if this goes well, then I will not be coming back.

The cool air outside was needed for the gallop I was about to make. Seven blocks, three bridges, and a 'Pre-screening' at the front door before it would start. The word excited was not enough to describe my feeling right now. I started off with a slow and steady pace, learning from pasts attempts to run great distances.

As I ran my mind began to wander how I even got here. My thesis about cutie marks was admittedly not popular and so I never thought I would be contacted. But clearly somepony out there understood the tone and was interested. What was confusing was the royal seal on the envelope. I know every social circle in Canterlot and have been harassed by nearly all of them for my research. How has this one gone under my nose?

A bakery nearby caught my nose and it's smell made my stomach grumble. The instructions were pretty straightforward until it got to a cul-de-sac. The last step was to look for the blue door. Which made sense as soon as I turned into the street.

Other than the door it was a completely unremarkable building. But I knew better, a second glance showed its strengths. Only one path to the front, and it had a thick metal gate all around. No windows was another red flag that this building was under heavy protection. Catching my breath at the door, I gently pushed in and prepared for ... I'm not sure really.

Grey and boring. Figures that a government building would have little to no decoration. I felt a gentle buzz of magic course through me and stood still. A familiar biological scan for Changelings but this one was taking it's sweet time. Once completed I went to see what the signs said on the desk.

'Please put on the lanyard and wait to be greeted.'

A small stand holding red lanyards was next to the sign along with a candy bowl. I took one of each. Sitting down and slipping on the lanyard and popping the candy in my mouth I took a deep breath and closed my eyes. I began to wonder the significance of the lanyard and the candy. Perhaps there was a magical tracking spell so that I do not get 'lost'. Maybe the candy had poison in it and I would only get the cure if I agreed to whatever they said.

Fun theories but ultimately given up as I heard the door click open.

"Mister Dew?" A short young Pegasus mare called out to me. She was easy on the eyes, but I didn't have time for those thoughts.

"Here. Thank you for hav-" I was cut off abruptly as she spoke over my greeting.

"Yes I know, please follow along, we don't have much time." She was already turning around leaving me to catch the door. The hallway was exactly how I expected it to be, lifeless and dull. But what caught my eye were the many unmarked doors. Massive buildings always had some sort of markings to help navigate. Either simply naming what the room was or assigning a number scheme. But to have nothing was a bit weir-

"Sunny Dew! Glad to see you made it on time." A loud stallion voice called from down the hall which opened up into a massive room. He was flanked by what seems to be guards. The mare that greeted me stood beside him turning around to face me, giving me a moment to look at the group. Two stallion Unicorns on each side giving me a 'look', a bulky Earth stallion, and the Pegasus mare made even smaller when standing next to him.

"Let's get started. First stop, subject 843." The stallion walked off with the mare in tow and the Unicorns followed behind me, encouraging me to follow. Not what I expected, but I'm willing to play along. Something told me to keep my mouth shut so I just took in what was around me. Which was frustratingly nothing. Much like the front room, it was a barren layout of hallways, big open spaces, and unmarked doors.

"So tell me a little bit about your thesis." The stallion asked. With a quick cough I began to recite my published paper.

"Cutie marks are not predetermined. If you were to control the environment, life experiences, and knowledge, you could force a young pony to have a specific talent." I took a breath trying to gauge their reaction to my blasphemous first line, but got nothing so I continued, skipping ahead to the more interesting argument points.

"For example, the Apple family. Everypony accepts that their cutie marks are tied through family love, but has one considered what would happen if a child was taken away from that environment? You wouldn't have to because there is a living example. Herbert Ice, an earth stallion born under the family name and yet received an ice cream cutie mark. The difference in his life was that he grew up in the city away from the family and infamously refused to go to the family reunions as a colt." Still no response, and I was getting frustrated. Thoughts on what was going on were whirling in my head.

Why were there no introductions? Who were the guards behind me? Why only one mare? What even are their names? 843? Who designed this place? Why red? Why aren't they reacting to my thesis? And why are the god damn doors unmarked?!

I stopped walking.

Which was short lived as the guards behind me shoved me onto the floor. I just noticed how cold the floor was and looked at the pair in front of me as they finally turned around. The stallion had a smirk which only pissed me off more.

"Why?" Was all I asked.

"Why not?" He replied furthering flaming the coals of anger in my chest.

"Why are you doing ... this?" As I gestured to the entire situation. I stood up are fixed them with a glare.

"You get my hopes up about my research and then when I finally arrive you have done nothing but be rude and frustratingly mysterious." My mind was racing now and my breathing was getting shorter. My rant only picking up.

"She looks bored out her mind. You don't even fit in and the guards behind me haven't done anything but attempt to look menacing and push me to the ground." I turned to face the one who pushed me.

"Fuck you by the way." He shrugged at that. I turned back to the two in front.

"You aren't doing this for fun. In fact it seems like you have done this so many times it's driving you as crazy as I am." The last bit pointedly said to the mare, which actually got the first reaction I have seen from her, a raised eyebrow.

"If you wanted to mug me then you would have done it already. Can't steal anything I know since it is already published. Created arbitrary rules and a situation that is so dry it has to be on purpose." Thoughts were becoming clearer as I kept talking.

"You somehow had my favorite candy in a bowl, and knew that my favorite color was red." The thoughts I was so furiously fighting for now came against my will. I was just now noticing things that were extremely uncomfortable.

"The unmarked exterior, the bland inside, and the Celestia forsaken doors." I was slowing down but unable to stop.

"All of this, to show that you have control over me. You know my likes, dislikes, fears, and curiosity." I sat down rubbing my head and closed my eyes. When I opened them the red lanyard caught my attention, but the shadow it had was wrong in the light. I looked up sharply and saw a shadow of a Unicorn Mare tied to the lanyard.

"Who is she and how does she know this?" The words fell out of my mouth and finally the Pegasus mare had a reaction.

"Holy shit, we got one." Her voice broke what ever trance I was in and a rushing headache came in. In a flurry of feathers she produced a notebook and rushed to me.

"Describe her with as much detail as you can." She spoke before putting the pencil in her mouth. I tried to look at the shadow again but it was gone. I recited from my memory.

"Unicorn, Long hair that went down her left shoulder. My head is killing me." The headache was overwhelming me at this point.

"Don't worry, you passed. Take a deep breath, the two behind you are medically trained." She had a smile for once and gave a nod to the pair behind me. The soft chime of magic was the only warning I got before the pain subsided.

"Can you please tell me what is going on?" I went to lay down and was surprised to see them all mimic me. The Earth stallion spoke up first.

"Your thesis was our missing piece. Well, we knew what we were looking for but we have only just begun to conduct research that you have already started. Not only that but you were also a candidate for our program. I literal needle in a haystack." He spoke softly but with pride and excitement just waiting to be let loose.

"You see, while you were focusing on how to possibly shape the creation of a cutie mark, we were focusing on how to harness an already created one. Every cutie mark can be manipulated to a certain degree, but you have to first figure out what it is. The biggest riddle that when solved, could unlock unfathomable power." He gave me a look expecting a question, so i obliged.

"You need me to solve those riddles?" I asked.

"Precisely, and to anticipate your next question, you passed your first awakening. We created an elaborate puzzle with no real clues and you still correctly guessed the answer." He was smiling and got into a groove with his speech.

"Your cutie mark was never about solving questions, but knowing which ones to ask. The greatest gap in all knowledge is the unknown. How could somepony study something they don't understand? They wouldn't know enough to even ask the right question. Forever stuck in a loop until luck or some unknown factor revealed the path." He shifted a bit and pulled out a photo.

It was the shadow mare I saw. Somepony I have never seen in my entire life, yet so familiar.

"Her name is Melody Sky and her cutie mark is a music note. Much like many other musicians out there she was among thousands that could play lovely music with nearly identical cutie marks. She was discovered by chance and my team went to investigate her."

"You see, Melody is a great cello player that deserves the first seat. But the times she shines the brightest are when she is in the second seat. There was an interview with Octavia, where she said 'Playing with Melody was like having someone read your mind..' Can you guess what her true cutie mark was?" He looked at me.

"Mind reading?" It sounded weird, but would be entirely possible with some other cutie marks out there.

"No. Because if that was the case she would react slower to the music she was listening and harmonizing with." He paused to give me time to guess again.

"Well if her reaction was zero then she was anticipating it." It sounded wrong but felt right to say.

"Exactly. Her cutie mark appeared when she was playing the cello for the first time. She was able to recreate the beginner song note for note, real time, without mistake. The only thing holding her back was the muscle memory to pull off what she tried to will her body to do for the harder songs out there." He put the photo away.

"So she can predict the future in music?"

"No, she can predict the future as a whole. It's because of her we knew everything about you." He was grinning again at my expression. He spoke up seeing the confusion on my face.

"Music was the easiest thing to latch onto. All we did was teach her to use her cutie mark for other things. Gave her daily puzzles, some she was aware of, others she wasn't. We trained her and she went from being able to guess something somepony was about to play into what was about to happen next."

"She can see the future?" Now that was astonishing.

"Only with a tremendous amount of information. She can't instinctively understand things as well which means she has to study a lot. But what she can do is see a photo of somepony and correctly guess their name." He pulled out another photo, this time of a group that everyone knew, the Elements of Harmony.

"We even have a case study of them. But I'll skip to the juiciest one of all, Twilight Sparkle. With Melody's help we were able to get a bit more information than she shared and we were able to figure out her true cutie mark." I knew he was pausing for dramatic effect, but it still hooked me in.

"Determination." He said.

"She has raw magical talent and amazing self taught study habits, but her actual skill is never backing down and giving 110% in er goals. And in the critical moment of receiving her cutie mark she was in the presence of Princess Celestia, who she chose as her goal." His excitement was turning maniacal.

"Imagine this. Your work plus our training, we could gather children and successfully train super soldiers! And that is only the beginning. What do you say?" He finished speaking, looking at me.

He isn't wrong.

But that's fucked up.

"You haven't started that yet, right?" I asked with a sudden nervousness. Could each of these rooms have a foal inside? My started to hurt and I actively stopped that line of thinking.

"No, not yet." He gave a cough.

"Sorry I got a bit ahead of myself. If this war were to carry on for much longer we may have to take drastic measures. I am simply providing an alternate plan that should not be as deadly as Manehatten Project." He turned to the Pegasus who was taking notes the entire time. Was she 'awakened' too?

"Please call for the escorts." He turned back to me and offered a hoof.

"Go get some rest. If you are interested I would love to have a much more formal meeting. I do apologize for the scare today but it was necessary for you to grow." I took his hoof and shook it.

"Well I have to admit it was a bit exciting after your reveal." I said with a chuckle. Looking at it all now, it is pretty amazing what could happen here. Perhaps a few lines in the metaphorical sand must be drawn, but it won't be a while until we get there. If we have too.

With a smile I waved them off and followed the two Unicorns back to the entrance. Today was a very eventful day and I had a lot to think about. But first, time to get something to eat.


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"You haven't started that yet, right?" He nervously asked.

"No, not yet." I lied. I coughed to buy me a few more moments.

"Sorry I got a bit ahead of myself. If this war were to carry on for much longer we may have to take drastic measures. I am simply providing an alternate plan that should not be as deadly as the Manehatten Project." I turned my head towards Jolly but kept my eyes on him. They began to shine much like when he solved the riddle we set. Freshly awakened and already putting in work. I need to stop him before he figures out too much.

"Please call for the escorts." I spoke to Jolly and offered a hoof to Sunny.

"Go get some rest. If you are interested I would love to have a much more formal meeting. I do apologize for the scare today but it was necessary for you to grow." I told him to get his mind off whatever he was thinking about. His hoof shake had no strength behind it, but I moved my hoof to give him some satisfaction.

"Well I have to admit it was a bit exciting after your reveal." He said with a light chuckle. His eyes were getting brighter, but thankfully he began to trot off with the guards. He waved back once more and I humored him with a slight nod.

"I'm pretty sure I don't need your input but just in case my cold reading was wrong, what did you get?" I turned to Jolly and took a peek at her notes. She was an awakened walking soul reader. She could, with time, study a living being and learn what they are capable of, both good and bad.

"He won't do it." She replied. I got the same feeling but it stung all the same hearing it from her.

"Just keep him in strictly research department and he will never know. Going to have to update the procedures to deal with his extreme uncanny awakened skill. Thanks for making my job harder, boss." Jolly snarked but I knew she was all bark and no bite.

"I will bite you one day." She grumbled under her breath. See? All bark.

"Don't threaten me with a good time. I'm off for my rounds, see that he is contacted and set up within the next week. His work and skill will speed things up nicely." Jolly gave a simple nod and began to walk off.

With that complete, I left the zone of the massive illusion we set and entered our actual building. Pocket dimensions are a wonderful thing. Plenty of ponies got out of my way, a few bravely greeting me. I had to keep my stoic appearance as the leader of this highly illegal building. Cold, calculated, massively strong, and dashingly handsome. Traits that make a great leader for those to afraid to speak up.

A few moments later and I finally found the window to Observation station #3. #2 and #1 were still being rebuilt from the previous tests. Inside I could see our greatest creation yet. A young colt foal that was currently being trained by his strength coach. His small steps adding cracks to the reinforced floor as he shuffles about.

We gathered the orphans from the many displaced ponies coming east. For now we are content on taking those with no more family left. But I have tabs on the others if needed.

This one in particular was our first successful prototype. A cutie mark to give him super pony strength. The simple act of him walking shatters the floor, no older than five and he could kill anyone in this building by accident. The first of many to come after him. With science we can push magic beyond the limit it set itself. No longer will we be bound by destiny, we can forge it.

The small colt was directed to a captured enemy tank and was told to hit it. The resulting power from that was a massive dent in the side of the tank. Could kill the unfortunate being next to that spot, but it would not take out the tank.

Baby steps.