Vinyl's a cyborg. Octy didn't see that one coming, did she? Nope. Shenanigans ensue.
My life was simple. I used to be a cellist, of Canterlot's pride and nobility, and a very happy pony with where I was. I should say I landed myself here; it was nopony's fault I agreed with Vinyl on this ludicrous idea. I will, however, blame Vinyl for the guards outside. And for my doctor. And for Princess Luna.
That's all on her.
So, in the off chance that we don't get out of this room in (literally) one piece, my name is Octavia, beginning log: one.
[Log Note: Click on the "initializing" for the formatted GDocs version, which is highly suggested.]
It was a cool day, though the day wasn’t there for long, as twilight began to eat away at it, turning it a vibrant purple and orange. The breeze was soft too, just fine enough to pick up the chatter of Canterlot Market Street. A blue bird had flown by my window, on the breeze, with a nut. Somewhere below, a cart had overturned. The breeze smelled of bread. And my left ear itched.
Trust me, it’s hard to forget what you see at the beginning of the end of your life. I was sitting in my apartment. It was one of the nicer ones of Canterlot; I suppose I never did fancy myself a “mansion mare”. It had two bedrooms, two baths, a fine kitchen, living room, dining room, built of fine wood and everything else any of us typical snobs could want. But it worked for me mainly because I had a view of the nicer part of the city, the part just in the shadow of the castle.
I’d like to live nowhere else, honestly.
So I lived there, and fine days were they! Ponies still often came to my concerts (if the Gala incident did anything, it got me sympathy and a wider audience simultaneously) and it was my leisure to choose when and where to hold them. I was wealthy, swimming in bits in the bank of my fortune! I had fancy outfits, I could get my cello constantly inspected and refurbished, I went to fancy dinings quite often, and my bathroom floor was marble because I enjoyed the sound it made when my hooves clacked on it.
I ought to tell you the downside of it all, but I feel as if though should wait. And I did wait from pondering it, as I turned from my balcony and retreated into my apartment for--yes, this is true, and if there is but one chuckle I’ll say no more--my guilty pleasure: some poptarts. I may be eloquent, but who doesn’t like a store bought, nastily preserved pastry every once and awhile? Hmm, well, put in that perspective it does sound quite awful, but I’m sure my sentiment is not alone.
Anyway, I went and fetched them from my cabinet, and was about to tear open the bright box to inhale the guilty goodness when suddenly, through my mailslot, slipped a little piece of paper folded tightly into an envelope. Yes, I said folded; when I went to retrieve it, I found that the envelope was the note. A cute little origami sentiment, one which most likely came from an adoring, adorable fan. I mean, look! It even had a little heart on it, and on it’s front read: To the lovely Miss Octavia.
Aww, how cute, yes? No. I plucked the sticker off of the tab and unfurled the note as I headed back into the kitchen. Inside was chickenscratch, barely legible, but I made due. I set it down on my counter, flicked the light overhead on, and squinted to read it.
Octavia, now that I have your attention, come down to Club Levitation tonight, and hurry. It is important.
Well, perhaps it was from a fan. Some of my audience were like that; in fact, once I had found a trap just outside the apartment doors. It was a simple thing--a box propped up on a stick, with a string leading to some bushes--and beneath it was a little jar of Canterlot Purity rosin. Admittedly whoever had sprung this ingenious trap had gone through some lengths, at least. Canterlot Purity rosin was the rarest rosin around, made from Everfree sap only found in the deepest crevices of the infernal place. It was expensive stuff, but it could make an instrument play and resonate like no other!
Well, to sum up this tale and move on, I had been eating a poptart that day too (laugh once, I dare you). Simply put, I threw it in the bushes, and amongst the rustling, snatched up the rosin, went back inside, and ate another pastry.
But this note had a certain quality to it, a hastily scrawled aspect. It was strange, indeed it was, and not... “clever” like the last “trap” had been. It felt like an invitation more than a demand, though it certainly would’ve helped if it hadn’t been from “a friend”. And, of course, if they hadn’t told me to hurry. I was in no hurry that day, and I certainly wouldn’t be in a hurry to get to a nightclub! Just the thought was annoying, if not repulsive. Nasty places, that’s what they were.
I still smiled at the note, but left it on my counter, took up my pastry, and stepped back out onto my balcony to sit and eat and enjoy the sunset. I’ll take a moment to stress the oddity of sudden realizations, which are, of course, sudden. And sudden things, of course, have a tendency to make ponies do strange things. I, for instance, was there eating that pastry and staring at the purple and pink skyline, enjoying the breeze, and waiting for that itch in my left ear to return, when I had a sudden realization: I knew that hoofwriting.
So, what do I do? The most logical option, of course. I slam the pastry to my forehead in a failed attempt to conk my brain into action. It protested fiercely, forcing me to splatter myself in cream and bread.
Sputtering a string of... words... I cantered back into the rooms and cleaned my face with a wet towel. I then rushed to my bedroom and, from the drawer full of them, pulled out a pink bowtie and white collar. Once they were on I trotted back to the note, carefully folded it, put it in my saddlebags (which were near the door), then threw them on and trotted on out.
Like I said: it was a good night.
Well eventually I made it to this club. It was, yes, I admit it, an impressive piece of work, in the lower parts (geographically speaking here, for Canterlot had no slums) of the city. A huge silo-like building with levitating columns stood here before me. It was, truly, a sight to behold, and was quickly becoming the center of nightlife in the city. And it was new, too, and most likely well kept.
Built on the fortune of the proprietor, and the sender of my odd note, it was no doubt nice, and by the line of ponies upon ponies outside its doors, packed too. Well, I was set to get in, no doubt. She’d probably already informed the--rather massive and imposing--bouncer of my arrival. I stepped forward, ahead of the line while ignoring their pleas and insults for my “cutting” them.
The bouncer eyed me over, and I all but had to flash that little note before he nodded and stepped aside, even pushing the door open for me! That was quite nice of him, I remember thinking. No doubt her suggestion, a sort of way to lock me in without explicitly doing so.
And of course it would be up to me to find the mare, too. So far as I could tell, she was nowhere in this surprisingly fancy hall. Trotting up the crimson carpet that rolled down its center like a tongue swallowing me in her maw, I passed a few ponies who “ooh’d and ahh’d” at my presence, but ignored them. There was a door ahead, a cutoff between normality and insanity; beneath it leaked bass. Yes, bass, the throbbing headache-in-music-form. Sighing, and shaking my head, I pushed these doors open and was nearly knocked down by the force.
Luckily somepony caught and righted me, and I instantly noticed her for her stark white and strikingly golden vest that lit up like a torch in the black lights. A security pony, keeping an eye on things. “Excuse me,” I asked, well, yelled, to her. “Where is the owner of this place!”
“The owner? She’s down a level! Are you new here?”
“I am!” I answered.
The security pony laughed. “Well she’s a bit busy! Have a look!”
I eyed her over, but slowly turned and trotted through the rung of Levitation that I found myself on. It seemed to be the lounge, with black carpets to match the glowing lights that shone on the packed tables of ponies and ponies. Moving through them, I began to catch a glimpse of the floor below, and soon I realized that the bass was not the only source of the booming.
There below was a scene that reminded me of the chaos that ensued in Canterlot every two months or so (the most recent being the invasion of these strange, bug like creatures). Ponies were jumping and dancing and thrashing about in their “dancing”, all lost in their action, glowing with glowsticks and other lighted assortments. It seemed that the bars, all plugged into the circular outer wall, had done well tonight.
But that wasn’t my goal that night. No, because there in the center of this sea of madness, was a small mesa that glowed with an array of electronics and discs and buttons and switches, all controlled by one mare, that mare, of white and blue, who was bobbing her head and stomping her hooves to the music. The controller of madness, none other than Vinyl Scratch.
The security mare joined my side, and I turned to her saying, “I must speak with her!”
Again, this mare laughed. “Well you’ll have to wait! I’m sure she’ll get somepony to take her place soon so she can socialize a bit. She does it every night!”
“No, you don’t understand!” I said, pulling the note out again and unfurling it on the railing that separated me and a pit of chaos. “I think it’s urgent!”
The guard glanced at the note, then up at me. “I can’t see in the dark! What’s your name?”
“Octavia! Octavia Philiharmonica!” I replied. The strange mare blinked and, without another word, whipped her wings out by her side and dove down into the pit. If I hadn’t known any better, I’d have called it suicide. But instead, she went right to Vinyl and whispered something in her ear, who in turn whispered her reply.
The mare brought it to me. “She said she’ll be right up, and to wait for her out in the hall!”
Sure enough, when I looked back down, she was already gone, and another mare, one of a mint hue, was taking her place. I laughed, mainly because she’d told me to leave the bass. Which I did quickly, before my brain began to leak from my ears, because I was sure it was about to. I stepped out, shut the doors, and waited for the ringing to go away.
Only a few minutes had passed before a door on the side was thrown open, and a speedy Vinyl darted out. She glanced around, then, spotting me, glared behind those dark, deep shades and charged, tackling me to the ground and vice-gripping the life from me. I could see it all before my eyes as those forelegs wrapped tighter and tighter around my chest. I saw my fillyhood, my mother, my first cello...
“Octy! Aww yeah, I haven’t seen you in, like, eternity! Or forever. Whichever is longer! You came!” she cried, burying her face deep in my chest.
“Yes, Vinyl,” I coughed. “I just couldn’t resist your mysterious note. Oh, the wonder...” I gasped for air. “It was killing me... like you are now.”
Her grip laxed, and my life story stopped abruptly. I would have more. Sucking in deeply, I said, “Thank you for not putting me in an early grave.”
A sheepish grin flashed on her face. “Yeah, no problem. It’s what friends do.” She let go, and helped me to my hooves, for which I appropriately thanked her for with a curt smack. It was just my way of saying hello to attempted murderers.
While she was still rubbing her cheek, I said, “So Vinyl, what was so urgent that I just had to come tonight. You know, I had planned on--”
“Watching soap operas and eating ice cream, I know. But seriously, it is important. Um, but first, you want a drink? You look like you need one? I mean, you look a bit pale.”
Of course I was a bit pale; I was still waiting for the blood to return to my face. “No, thank you Vinyl. I recall the last time I shared a drink with you you concocted a way to get me to aid you in funding the construction of a nightclub...”
“No, that’s just it!” she exclaimed, drawing the eyes of a few ponies that were just entering. She eyed them over sardonically, but flashed a fake smile, the normal Vinyl way of telling someone their presence was giving her a headache. “C’mon,” she said to me, “I’ll show you the VIP lounge.”
Without time to protest, she wrapped her hoof around mine and dragged me into the side hall from which she had just came. Down this curving hall we went, or more precisely, she dragged her captive. Into an elevator we went, and she crammed her hoof on the third floor button.
The ride was fast, and silent, but the look on Vinyl’s face I still remember as a giddy look with a sly smile, almost like a mischievous foal, which wasn’t far off from what she actually was. When the golden elevator doors were finally flung open, she dragged me out onto the upper run of this club. When she had--drunkenly, but still--proposed her plans for the club, she’d not mentioned the interesting poles dotted around this lounge.
Ignoring them, she snatched my attention forward as she dragged me to the edge of the rung, where a metal trapdoor concealed a staircase that bore a hole in the floor. Down she took me, into a box that hung from the ceiling to the second rung. A window was the wall on every side, as well as the floor, displaying the raving party and bass below. A couch lined the back wall, facing the opening of the rungs, and a table sat just before it. On the far wall (far is relative, I suppose, but still this little thing irked me so) was a switch. A little switch on the glass. Vinyl as me down on the couch, well, shoved I suppose, before flopping down beside me.
“So!” she said, grinning to me. “Drinks, on me!”
“Um, Vinyl, while that’s nice of you, I--”
A fridge sat beside the couch, and without hearing me at all, cracked it open and yanked out a margarita shaker. To the wall, beside the fridge, was a small shelf of glasses, off of which she levitated two margarita glasses to the table. “Octy, I’m glad you came, did I tell you that?”
“Yes, Vinyl,” I said with a sigh, resigned to the drinks and the couch. “It was almost my epitaph.”
She chuckled, and began to shake and toss the shaker with her magic. “Yeah well, so you remember how I got you to fund this place with me? And then you asked why I wanted to build it here, and I told you...”
It seemed that she was waiting for me to fill in her blank. “You told me that it was because it was sunny and you liked the view that the mountain offered, and then I called you out on it. Yes, I remember.”
“Well,” she said, “I didn’t want to tell you because I wasn’t so sure yet.” She began to pour the pink slosh into the glasses, then hovered one up to me. I took it and, tentatively, took a sip. To my delight, it tasted of cherries, and not of some strong alcohol. I nodded to her, signaling her to continue. “But now I am!” she cheered.
“Sure of what?” I asked, taking another sip of the drink. Vinyl grinned and, to my surprise, stood, the drink firmly in her magic. Hoof tapping the glass she looked down at the mass of ponies which, though she was not still at the controls, still bent to her will of chaos.
She then looked to me and, lifting her shades to stare into my soul with those amber fires she had for eyes, said to me, and clearly remember this: “Sure that I can save your life.”
Now this, this little statement, sticks with me still. I suppose now would be time to describe what I had alluded to earlier, for I, Octavia Philiharmonica, considerably young and talented, wealthy and alone in family, with friends such as Vinyl Scratch here and typically happy as can be, had only a few years left. It was something not even the doctors knew of, a weird disease that could, apparently, spring up in the foals of unicorns and earth-ponies. Some magical thing, and a cure was being hunted for, but was not found. It left me in quite the inopportune situation.
And here she said this. I suppose what would seem to be the correct answer--glee and cheering--had no place here; I actually frowned, then scowled, and I recall heat burning in my blood. “Vinyl,” I warned, “your crude sense of humor has no place here.”
The way she continued to smile only kindled the fire that boiled inside me. My glare shot icicles. “Listen, Vinyl, I’m serious here. This isn’t something I take lightly to, you know that.”
Still she smiled, though! And by now I was gritting my teeth. Vinyl always had a knack for saying the wrong thing, and while years, two I think was the last estimate, still gave me plenty of time to have fun smacking this mare, it was still, obviously, a sensitive subject.
But she. Still. Smiled! “I’m not joking this time, honest! You have to trust me! Look, did you know that before becoming famous, and before meeting your sexy plot...” A wink brought a hot blush to my cheeks. Even still, I braced myself for whatever life story she was about to pitch, because obviously Vinyl was a deep and profound mare. “...I fell into the sewers!”
“That’s incredibly nasty,” I said, staring rather bluntly.
She shrugged and took a sip of her drink, glancing down to her party to ensure that it was still in full swing. It was; the ponies dancing below were a bass of their own sort, pounding and throbbing on the floor. “It’s true. I fell into the sewers somewhere over, like, that way. I dunno, I was explorative when I was a filly, and on my adventures, I fell straight into the sewers! It was pretty cool.”
“Thing is, I couldn’t get out. I fell in, and there wasn’t a ladder out. So I kept going, in the darkness that smelled worse than--”
“Don’t!” I cried, cutting her analogy off. “Just tell me the point.”
Laughing, she continued, “Eventually I found a wall, just this dead end in the middle of all the crap. Thing is, this wall, while it was just bricks, had a little opening in it. When I bent down to take a look, turns out it was a vent that lost its grate, and way deep inside, like, really really deep, there was this little blue light. I crept through the vents, and... Octy, Levitation was built here for a reason.” Without further ado or insisting, she got to her point in pulling the little switch on the wall.
“Vinyl, what’re you--” I was cut off by a sudden jerking. In accordance with the club’s name, the VIP box was levitating! Well, perhaps I embellish, as I do have a problem of that. I should say, the VIP box had split from it’s tethers on the ceiling. The square port that connected it with above shut firmly, and the box made anothers hard shift, nearly throwing my drink onto me. To keep it off of my coat and bowtie, and this is true, I wasn’t scared (ever, at all, period), I pressed the glass to my lips and swigged it away.
She must have thought this was hilarious, by the way she threw those eyes at me. Looking me over with a grin befitting of her amusement, she said, “This isn’t a VIP box.”
It wasn’t. “It’s an... elevator,” I muttered. And it was, for we were then descending in a spiral. Around the rungs of Levitation we went, down the third story, then the second, and when I cast a glance beneath my hooves, I could see the dance floor... opening. Yes, opening, as strange as it sounds. The DJ platform had completely shifted aside, and the floor itself severed in two, making a hole just big enough for the box we were in.
When I cast my eyes above, I distinctly remember seeing three shimmering orbs, one on three of the four corners. The peculiar thing was that the fourth one was off. A little dark nub, just like Vinyl’s brain. And when the said unicorn followed my eyes, she saw it too. Her face, just then, made me crave another margarita.
“Well,” she said, looking a bit pale, “That’s not good.”
“What? Have you never done this before?” I said. My eyes must have been as wide as the hole below us was.
Vinyl smiled, but it looked more like someone had taken a chisel to her face and banged away at it. “Well, I normally just use the stairs, but--”
Well, I think it sounded like that. A hiss, pretty loud too, or maybe it was a fizzle. Either way, that hssss was the light on the opposite corner shutting off. It was about now that the box gave another awful shake. It was a magical elevator, I thought, and if you don’t know much about the things, here’s all you need: they tend to kill ponies. I think that was why they were outlawed a while ago.
Vinyl was scrambling through the box. “Okay, okay, maybe I should have tested this thing first...” I glared at her. “B-but! I’ll fix it! Umm, okay, we should just, um...”
Again, the story of my life resumed. Another hiss sounded, and the box, which was already listing, completely tilted as it was supported on one hub. We were still descending, yes, but now everything was going on its own path, sliding down hitting the wall by the fridge. The couch was no exception; I was soon the meat in a glass-couch sandwich.
There went my first days in school, and then the musical academy. I think I saw my first cat there, too. “Vinyl!” I shouted. “If I die and you don’t, I’m going to haunt you! I’ll do it! You’ll never sleep again!”
She was too busy scrambling about (well, actually she was flipping the switch on and off) to hear. The ponies outside had stopped their partying, I could see from my... aerial view. Now their eyes were glued on us, and this faulty contraption that was carrying us to our tomb. Shrieks and screams sounded out as a new music of terror filled the atrium. Oh, and Vinyl was singing. Not that it helped.
It was reasonable to point out, though, that she was singing. It sounded gravely, as if it was coming from something mechanic, her speakers for instance, instead of a voicebox. That goes without saying that Vinyl has never been much of a singer (I think her singing is how I lost that cat), but this was different. I pryed myself from the couch, just barely, but enough to stick my head over it and see how her efforts were going. She cast a glare at me, and in the brief moment I saw her, I could have sworn I saw a glow behind those purple shades, a violent crimson glow.
Then the box jerked again, pressing me back to the window. The last light was blinking, and we were dropping seconds by seconds. That’s when I heard it, that last hssss, and the box suddenly gave way! We were free falling! Down we went, and I could see that we would slam into the crowd below, killing all of us, and more.
It was then I heard a boom from behind me, and then saw the metal hatch fly off to the floor below. Vinyl was on the roof! “Octy!” she called to me. “I’m gonna pull the emergency switch!”
An emergency switch? I boiled with terrified, adrenaline filled anger at the mention of that. “Why didn’t you pull it before Vinyl?”
“Because I’ve never tested this thing, remember?” Then I heard the spark of magic as the switch was flipped, and the whole box rumbled and snapped back upright, frozen in place by the magic hubs, which were now glowing again. She leapt back in. “Well, that went better than expected. Let me help with--”
Before her hoof even touched the couch, one of the magic hubs above burst, spewing magic sparks everywhere. I watched in horror, my heart on the verge of exploding like the hub above, as the sparks landed on the carpets of the second floor, quickly setting them alight with a blue-purple fire. In seconds, it was licking away at everything it touched.
“Vinyl!” I shrieked, tears finally coming to my eyes.
“Calm down!” she shouted back. “I’m going to get us out of here.” I saw her hooves above me as she flipped the couch back, freeing me from my prison. First she looked me over, and seeing that I was (mostly, because I was still in tears) undamaged, looked to the window. It was cracking up its length.
Instantly, a plan must’ve formed in her head, because she flashed me a grin. It was soon taken from her face, however, when another hub burst, sending a crippling boom out and spewing sparks down below. I cried out again in fear, burying my face in my hooves. I think my heart was writhing; it wasn’t beating right. I watched, heart hardly in beat, as these sparks flew below like bullets, piercing the bars all along the side, and igniting their drinks. The dance floor below us quickly became a furnace. Luckily, I’ll add now, most of the ponies had scrambled, including the bartenders, so nopony was hurt.
Except for Vinyl and I, who were now above the fiery pit of Tartarus. Vinyl grimaced at the sight of her beloved club wasting away, but nonetheless, to her credit, she kicked the glass out, sending shards below. Now here I noticed something strange again: her hooves. They too glowed a bright crimson, as if they were lights encased in glass. She noticed my tearful staring and said, “Go! Look, right there! There’s a clear path through the fire, to the door! Get out of here!”
“What about--” I didn’t even get to ask of her fate before she shoved me out of the box. The drop was nice, now that I look back on it. Very warm, almost unrestricted of gravity, and free. Of course, the landing was less fortunate; hard and painful and the worst way to break out of a daze I’ve ever experienced. I coughed, wiping away the tears of fear and, surprisingly, found myself reinvigorated.
I leapt to my hooves and held my breath; the place was already smogged. But, when I looked back up to find Vinyl, I saw that neither she nor the box was still there; they had collapsed into the hole. Cursing the infernal mare for landing us in this situation, I darted for the door, dodging falling bits of railing from above.
I suppose now would be a good time to mention that nopony was hurt. Thankfully, all the ponies on the dance floor had gotten out before the elevator had crashed into oblivion. The second floor had evacuated well enough, thankfully, and the fire didn’t even hit the third floor until it was already clear. So all in all, everypony was mostly fine, except for one. Only one hadn’t gotten out.
I guess that, by now--it was the next day--I had used up my tears, which yes, I had spilt in torrents the night before. Now, I just felt sullen and quiet. I wasn’t sure how to feel, I suppose, while sitting there in my doctor’s office. To be honest, by now I was feeling quite angry; Vinyl and her genius idea to “save my life” almost killed about a hundred ponies and me, and almost certainly did her. I sighed and rested my head in my hooves, shaking it slowly.
The doctor poked her head in the door, and glanced at her as she looked at me. I laid on the long bed, waiting for the examination, but it seemed she didn’t want to come in. “It’s fine,” I told him.
“Jah, vell... I do not mean to impose,” she said, stepping in. The stark light of her office shimmered on her white fur, and her contrasting sunset-orange mane brought a bit of life back to my eyes. She trotted to a desk on the far side of the room, and I watched her all the way. A little clipboard sat there, and she picked it up and read it over. “But it vould seem that you have been through quite ze predicament.”
“Oh Mallow, I have,” I groaned. I was feeling quite complainant today, but can anypony blame me? “I just...”
“Alright, sh-sh, hush, ya?” Her slender figure moved to me, and looked down at me with soft blue eyes and that young face. “If it eases you any, ze papers say zat everypony escaped ze fire unharmed.”
“Except for Vinyl,” I muttered.
She shushed me again. “Hush. Ze stress is doing no good for your body. Did you have another dizzy spell?”
“Yes,” I answered. “Last night.”
Humming and nodding in thought, she gently pressed a hoof to my torso and pressed. Again, a whirling sense of vertigo overtook me as the world was sucked into a whirlwind. “Is zat doing it?”
“Yes, very much so,” I said, meek. Instantly she retracted her hoof, and the world was normal again. I took a deep breath and closed my eyes. The stillness put my mind at ease, even if just slightly. “It was worse, I think. I couldn’t stand.”
“Ya, I imagine. I am deeply sorry to hear about Miss Scratch, yes,” she said, returning to her desk. “But you must take it easy on yourself, because after ze events of last night, your body needs some rest!”
Honestly, I agreed; I felt so tired after that, but there was no way I could sleep. I hadn’t slept the night before, and I could tell then that I wouldn’t sleep the coming night either. I rolled my head to stare up, nowhere in particular, simply up. “She was my friend, you know. She was stupid, uncouth, an imbecile on all sorts of levels, crude, sly, and mischievous. But she was my friend.”
My doctor returned to me and ran her hoof over my forehead to gauge my temperature. “Miss Octavia, I know. But ack! You are running a fever, and a high von, too. I encourage you to not put any more stress on your body. Look, I vant you to go home, and I vill send to your home a parcel with some medicine. Take it and rest, it is all to be done.”
She gripped my hoof and helped my stand, thus ending our little session. But, before I could walk out the door, I turned to her, only to ask, “Mallow, before Vinyl almost killed everyone, she said something to me about a ‘way to save my life’. Do you... know anything about it?”
Mallow looked me over, then shrugged. “Not a thing. In all my years of pony anatomy, I have not found nothing on ze cure. Now, please, go get some rest. Ze package vill be sent soon, and vill be zere even sooner. I’m sorry our session today could not be longer.”
“No, it’s quite fine,” I said, offering her the best smile I could. “See you next Thursday?”
She smiled and nodded, sending me on my way. I’ll say now that the rest of the day was boring at best. I did return home curtly, my thoughts torn between what Mallow had told me and what fate Vinyl had suffered. At this stage I think it rather humorous how I walked home that day, oblivious. Do I blame myself? No, and I don’t think anypony else would either. After all, the connection wasn’t obvious.
But when I did get home, I spent a few hours laying around, staring at my cello, eating a bit, but mainly doing absolutely nothing. The package didn’t come until the sun was setting, which was much longer than I had expected; it was a welcome arrival, though, because the feeling of vertigo was beginning to root in my mind again. The shortness of breath made it difficult to creep to my door, but it was well worth it, as I pulled in the tiny box, popped it open and dumped out a small can of pills.
I took one, and almost instantly the spinning began to die, and again I could think straight. Now, then, that I could think, I packed away the pills and scooped up the box to throw it away. Sometimes, things happen that make a pony wonder just why fate chose them to laugh at. Well, now I asked myself the exact same inquiry, as from inside the box fell a small folded note, again in that of a tiny envelope. My eyes locked onto it, and I threw the box from my sight, bit down on the note and carried it back to my couch.
Once comfortable I hurriedly unfolded it, and again was confronted with atrocious chickenscratch penmanship. Ignoring it, I instantly began to scour the note. It was absolutely, utterly, undeniably ridiculous.
So... I guess the elevator crashed, huh? That could’ve gone better. Or worse, I guess. I mean, if you’re reading this, you’re... well, reading this. Means you’re not dead. Which is good! Just want to say that. It’s good you’re not dead. Um... sorry for almost killing you. My logistics core tells me that either the elevator will crash, or we will become macaroni. I’m thinking there’s a glitch. Anyways, supposing there isn’t a glitch, and I went ahead and actually pulled that emergency lever, like my logistics core also says I’ll do, then you’re probably fine. Come to Levitation when you’re feeling better. I’ll have the elevator cleaned up and the club reopened in a few nights.
“Didn’t expect the fire, did you you nutjob?” I muttered, refolding the note. A few questions the possessed my mind. How did she predict the crash? And what in Equestria was a logistics core?
My thoughts were interrupted as quickly as they had fired up, from a knock at the door. Head sore and body lethargic, I groaned; who could possibly be here now? I rolled off of the couch and set the note down on my coffee table, and no sooner had I done so, than had a disturbing thought streaked through my mind. What if it was the guard, here to tell me that my best friend had been found dead beneath the ashen ruins? The thought nearly froze me in my hooves and set my heart afire with adrenaline.
Step hastened, I nearly galloped to the door, and almost threw it open with force. I managed, though, to keep a steady step and calmly open the door. To my horror--I mean horror, as all the blood in my face fled, leaving me pale and cold--there were two guards at my door. A desert storm had brewed in my throat, and I nearly coughed up my lungs. “Yes, sirs?”
The looked down on me, imposing, as if they were statues with live swords. “Miss Octavia?” one asked.
“Yes, that’s me,” I said dryly.
“Good, and a good evening to you,” he said.
“The very same to you,” I repeated, flashing a smile as best I could. “Might I inquire what brings you to my door?”
“Do you mind if we ask you a few simple questions? Nothing too big, we just want to fully understand what started the incident.”
“O-oh, no problem, of course.”
“We realize you were at Club Levitation last night. With Vinyl, yes?” he asked.
I nodded. “Y-yes.”
“Do you mind if we ask what were you and she doing?” the other asked.
He was gray, I noted, with dull green eyes that seemed much more alive than they were. My left ear was itching again. Once more I thought of just how easy it was to notice the little things. I still think of it.
“She and I were reuniting after almost a year. She’d taken me into her VIP booth and began talking with me.”
“So you two are friends?”
Again I nodded. “Very old friends, yes.”
“Why, years now.”
He whispered something to the other guard, the white one, who shook his head and whispered something back. “Alright,” the white one asked, “and this conversation; what was it about?”
“W-well, Vinyl had mentioned something, though she didn’t tell me what it was.”
“Was it by any chance,” the gray one asked, “a way to stop your terminal illness? A ‘cure’?”
I was agast. “H-how did you know about that? That is private information!”
The white one stepped forward, tossing his cohort a glare. “Ma’am, please calm down, and we will respect your privacy. Ponies say this ‘VIP box’ was actually an elevator that blew it’s magical hubs and set the place on fire. Was this true?”
I snorted. These guards weren’t here to tell me she had died; if anything, that was far from the truth. Squinting, I eyed them over, up and down with a scouring mood. “Yes, it was,” I said after a time.
“And was it taking you somewhere? Somewhere below the club?”
“And if it was? What is your reason for being on my doorstep?” I demanded. They didn’t like that, I recall.
“That is private. Did a hole open in the club?” the white one asked. He was squinting too, shooting daggers at me with a glare. I could tell the shift in his voice, and it was not pleasant.
“I feel no obligation to answer that,” I said.
The gray one scowled. “You are obligated under Equestrian law to--”
I huffed. “Sirs, you’re aware of my ‘terminal illness’, so would you please leave me to rest, as my doctor has suggested? I am in no mood or shape for such abuse. So then, I bid you good day.”
And I shut the door. And waited. And listened. They didn’t knock; instead, I could hear their hooves clopping away and out of my apartment. Quickly I dashed to my balcony to look down on them, and thankfully, they had left the building completely, and were talking to each other as they sauntered down the road, away from me. Instantly I was resolved; rest be damned, I was going back to the club. Tonight.
Because that could, in no possible way, ever cause a problem.
Purple, glowing, and still smelling of smoky magic, the ruin of club Levitation was a silhouette in the shrinking sunlight. I skirted around its edge, observing that it had all but collapsed on itself. The entrance, the original one, not one of the side holes that had blown out, was sealed off by guards, which were no doubt creeping through the smoldering place.
Yes! There was one, now, just trotting by a fracture in the wall. I leapt back and waited, then peered inside again. It was a black-purple ruin inside, and truly the Canterlot guards were everywhere, easily spotted by their shining armor. They stuck out like an amateur in a symphony. Quietly I squinted, noting just how uncouth this act was, how uncivil it was to be stalking around a ruin and trying to evade the law I had been listening to all my life. But this was for Vinyl. For her.
So around this crack I went, continuing to evade the guards in the shadows and creep about. It took a good while before I was resolute on the obvious; I’d not be getting in the club. I sighed and rubbed my temples, thinking deeply. Vinyl had said something earlier, yes, something about a vent in a sewer. Oh Celestia, I was not going in a sewer! I didn’t care how much Vinyl meant to me, I was not going to step hoof in a sewer!
And then I reflected on just how rude that was. Vinyl did mean a lot to me, and I hadn’t yet gotten to hit her for nearly killing me--that was still on my to do list. Besides, I thought, was it much different from entering her home on a normal day? Likely not. So I stepped out of the shadows and observed the club. Through the multiple cracks I could see where the VIP box had been, and from there gauged where to go.
West. I went west, and at the first at the first sewer grate I got to, I stopped completely and nearly vomited because forget that, I was going home. And I almost did, too. I spun on my hooves and started trotting home. But, for the first time, and the last, in my entire life, the grate to the sewer beckoned me. The sewers seemed to call my name, call, “Octavia! Come in and wade through me!”
It was the nastiest thing to grace my thoughts.
But still, it did make me turn around and glare at the metal grate. Thankfully, nopony was around to see my staring contest with a sewer port. I glared, in this empty street, angry that the sewer had the gusto to call for me. I wouldn’t go! I wouldn’t!
Moments later I smelled like Vinyl’s analogy. There was a sidepath, thankfully, but the slosh next to me was enough to bring back my sense of vertigo. It took all my might to not collapse in a bed of loamy... muck... But still I pushed forward. It was dark. Dark and damp and rancid, that’s how I remember it. In other words, I imagine that if I had been sent to Tartarus for some horrible misdeed, it would have been very, very similar to my sewer adventures.
After a while of marching in what I thought to be the right direction (it is unsurprisingly hard to navigate in the bowels of hell) I did see a little blue light ahead. The closer I got to it, the brighter it got, until I was right next to it, against a brick wall, with a little square port in the bottom. Shoving my head in, I felt a good wind coming down the long shaft. It was a vent!
Rationally, a pony in this situation would wonder why he or she was in the sewers, peeking his or her head into a grate to avoid the guards, which he or she was doing on a dim suspicion that there was something astray. I believe that my rationality had fallen into the sewer marsh, because instead of backing out and thinking things over, I found myself crawling into the vent.
It was so tight a fit, I felt like a bonbon in a wrapper. Were it not for the wind, I would have probably suffocated, but luckily the air was forced into my lungs as I pushed against it, and eventually the vertigo died down with the oxygen. In I crept, pressing my hooves down on the metal shaft, in the dark, feeling very much like a secret agent. Which I wasn’t.
I was a cellist.
And this was weird.
And I thought it couldn’t get much weirder, too, until a whole section of the vent shrieked and snapped almost the instance I put my hoof to it. It was the elevator all over again, with less furniture, alcohol, and potentially homicidal mares. The crash, however, felt very much the same, like a sausage being dropped on a kitchen floor.
In crawling out of my packaging, I stood and leaned on a stark white wall, part of a white box, with a white door right next to me. Above me was the collapsed air vent, glaring down down at me as if it were angry that I broke it. I breathed in the air it spewed, thankful to be able to stretch out my hooves again, instead of being processed and packaged.
It wasn’t for a while that the simple thought crept into my mind: where was I? Beneath the club, no doubt, because Vinyl had mentioned it explicitly so. But that didn’t quite tell me where. Shoving myself off of the wall, I wrapped my hoof around the door’s handle, and pulled it it to me. It swung open with a groan, and a dim light greeted me as I stepped into a long hallway, as stark white as the room I just left.
Looking around, I couldn’t gather my bearings; there was no marker. Anywhere. At all. So, after consulting the almighty foalhood song, “Eny meany mieny mo” landed so philosophically on the left. So down that long hall I went, taking another left at a corner. Dim lights lined the ceiling in this new hall, which was much unlike the other, but this one had, on it’s left, a wide staircase that bore into its side.
I went up these grated stairs to find a door. A burnt door, a black door. A screen was on its side, blinking dimly with the shape of a hoof. I pressed mine to it, and suddenly it flashed red, but still the door opened. Cautiously I stepped through, and what I saw nearly sent me in a fit blackness. I was suddenly short of breath, stumbling on my hooves. If it weren’t for the wall beside me, I’d have been on the floor in a heartbeat (and I wasn’t even sure if my heart was beating anymore.
This large square room wasn’t bland and directionless, like the rest. There were three normal walls, and two doors. The other wall was an opening to somewhere, but what had my attention was the very same thing that had the red flashing lights here going off with a frenzy. The elevator from Levitation was here, collapsed, crushed, lead. Shattered glass was strewn about the room, and the floor and walls were black and ashen, as if the fire had spread down here. I glanced quickly above, and sure enough there was a huge door, seemingly stuck and sparking.
Quickly I ran and ignorantly thrust my own head into a small part of the elevator that could be opened. Though, now that I think about it, sticking my head into glass was a terrible idea. It hurt, stung, and the shards bit into me. All for nothing, too; Vinyl wasn’t here. I yanked my head back out and gulped down a yelp. Trickles of red danced their way down my face, but I didn’t care right now. I didn’t care about the shards in my skin or the burnt metal around me.
My head whipped around to face the exit to this chamber, which was a short, descending staircase that ended in a large, long door that was stuck ajar. I had to wipe a strand of red-tipped mane from my eye to see through it, but it seemed to be... oh dear Celestia, why was it this?
Cursing my luck, and everything that gave me luck, and everypony who wished me luck, I stepped forward to the elevator. It was white, too, with grated walls and another pad on the wall blinking of a hoof. In I stepped, and pressed my hoof to the screen. Just like it’s twin, this one blinked red, but still the doors responded, closing tightly with a hiss. Then, the elevator jerked and hissed as it began to descend.
I was now resolved to never step in another elevator. Ever. Never again. But on this ride I did manage to catch my breath and think. All around me were white walls, nothing more. White walls and an elevator, one actually attached to a wire this time, thankfully. I was underground, beneath a burnt club, looking for a mare who’d almost killed me, in the middle of a strange facility of white walls, on an elevator going somewhere that I was pretty sure was the right path.
Eventually my ride stopped before another set of doors, and these too hissed open. Carefully I stepped out, only to see a large room that seemed almost like a viewing deck. Slanted windows came down from the ceiling, fixing themselves halfway to the floor with straight panes. A few lights made the walls here glitter behind their paneling, and I could almost feel the magic that was powering the station.
But when I stepped forward, I finally saw what would change everything I ever knew and my life forever from that point. As I peered down the viewing glass, into the room below, I first saw three large tubes on either side of the room that stretched up to the ceiling, which was on the same level of the viewing deck. I think noticed the spiderwebs of wires that tangled themselves throughout the air, attaching the tubes to tubes and then to the wall.
The next thing I noticed was the darkness of the room. The only light came from the glowing tubes, casting a haunting, cold blue glow on the room that made it seem almost arctic and lonely. I could dimly make out large painted letters on the back wall, in the blue glow, reading Port - V.
Wondering, I turned from the strange room and examined the one I was in. There was a door on the wall, one I assumed would connect this deck with the room below. Then beside it was a switch in the wall, underneath which read lights. Perfect.
I reached out a hoof, oh so slow, not knowing that such a simple action would have so many consequences. I clicked it, flipped it down, and waited for the lights that never came. Eyes curiously locked on the room below, I waited for the lights to flick on. I waited. And waited. And waited.
Eventually it became painful to wait. I wanted to know where Vinyl was--I needed to know. But when I looked behind me, I saw that the elevator was no longer with me. It had left, and I saw no way to get it back. Furious, scowling in boiling anger, I turned back and accepted that I was, indeed, trapped.
It was then it happened. There, on the far back wall, between the aisle of blue tubes, two fiery, glowing orbs lit up. They were like flashlights, shooting out two beams of crimson light into the darkness. Then I saw four rings light up--hoof shaped rings, I realized. I nearly gasped, and would’ve too, if I hadn’t been petrified.
Then red lines shot up the middle of this... thing, perfect, precise, almost like... wires. Scarlet lightning darted up it, covering every inch of this thing in perfect lines, all the way to her horn. Yes, her. Even her mane glowed, a stark blue now, as if there were lights running in a straight line up her neck for the sole purpose of illuminating her.
I heard a deadly hissing from the chamber, and amid the glow, I saw in the dim light three long, snake-like tubes pop off of her head, a blue glow shining from within them. They hissed and writhed as if something had breathed life into them, then died completely and hung limp on the wall. Then, from her back, six more tubes, tiny and evil like little tendrils that were wrapped around her, strangling her, but in truth I could see that they had detached from her back.
She fell from the wall, onto her hooves, and those fiery flashlights glared up to me. What I saw in that moment shot waves of dizziness and vertigo through me. I stumbled on my hooves as that thing, that demon of Tartarus, had taken my Vinyl! It came up the aisle of tubes, and as quickly as it had come to life, it disappeared. My stomach knotted and twisted in a hurricane of sickness.
I turned to the elevator doors and ran. I just ran. Unfortunately, I ran right into a set of grated doors. The impact came with a great clash that echoed through the long shaft, sounding off like the speakers that were once above this place. But there was no time for pain now! I could hear her hoofsteps on the cold floor, behind the door now, opening the door... there was no time!
I pressed my hooves to the grates and tried to spread them with all my might. It was a fit of frenzy, and I began to pound against the metal, as if it would free me. Everything in my body shouted at me to flee, to find a way out. Problem was, there was none. And then came the awful hiss of the door as it opened. My heart just about leapt out of my chest and spilt itself onto the cold floor.
Instead, it just decided to stop. I was sent down to writhe in a ball, hugging my tail close as a sense of spinning once again swallowed me. Why had I left my pills at home? I needed them! Now! Oh Celestia I don’t think I had ever been more terrified than when I had laid on that floor, trapped, as something that wasn’t Vinyl, wasn’t my Vinyl, slowly stood over me.
I’ll never forget the first thing it said. That horrible first thing, the masquerade of Vinyl, the pretending imposter’s first line...
“Wow Octy, you really know how to... turn me on! Hah, get it?” It laughed. I dared not look into its eyes, those awful, fire eyes that would surely burn a hole in my soul. “Um, Octy? You there? Hello~!”
That voice, that mechanical voice! That was it, I couldn’t take it. The vertigo had gotten me; not even my medicine could defeat it now. Spin had taken me; it was so fast I felt as though I would fly off the face of Equestria. The last thing I saw before I blacked out for the first time in years was a glowing red hoof reaching for my cheek and a strange look on this Vinyl’s face that almost look like fear.
Seconds later--fine, not seconds. Hours later, I finally drew my first breath of consciousness. The blackness that had clouded my sight with pain and icy coldness was beginning to melt away and return my vision to me. My thoughts, for now, were still in the deep crevices of my throbbing head, hiding from my waking mind in fear. But like a machine I stood, a bit shaky at first, though after a few seconds, I was pleased to find that the vertigo was gone. So pleased, in fact, I managed a small smile.
A nightmare. That’s what it was. A horrible nightmare that had stemmed from that pill I took. Nothing but a horrible, acrid nightmare from the black depths of my mind that everypony had. I must have been on a bed, yes, that was where, and a soft bed to. Very soft, with, hmm, a velvety feel. I supposed I must have kicked my sheets off during my frightful fits, as they weren’t there. Well, parts of them were at least, two very warm strands still draped themselves over me, holding me close to the bed. Very, very soft...
And was that music? Yes, it was, nice soft music, almost a hum, coming from a radio I thought. Had I left mine on? Well, I didn’t think so. Oh well, it could be dealt with when I was finished here. I was so relaxed, so fine and comfortable, until... well, until my “bed” started talking.
“Mmm, sleeping well Octy?” Vinyl hummed. All too suddenly my tempered blood ran cold. I remember a violent spasm overtaking me as I slowly looked up at my predator, this beast that had overtaken my friend.
I opened my mouth, but only a tiny squeak came out. Eyes locked, my purple eyes into her own crackling fires. “Hey, Octy, you don’t look so good,” said the machine. I could see its wires through its fur, the straight, perfect lines that mocked veins, the glow of her horn that simulated unicorn magic. I had seen this thing come free of its perch; this was no pony.
As soon as my hooves would obey me I began to thrash and squirm to free myself from her mechanical clutches. Yet, as soon as I tried, I saw those veins light up and a metal vice kept me in place like the hoof-cuffs of the guards. Didn’t stop me from trying, though; I’d not be defeated, I would not give up to this thing! So I continued to squirm and struggle.
I think it lasted for a few minutes, my worthless struggle against her machinery. Eventually I had worked up a storm of a headache as well, and the vertigo was returning. I had to submit; to not do so would mean another blackout.
“Octy, Octy, shhh,” this not-Vinyl cooed. She brought her “lips” to my ear and began to hum again, and I admit it was a beautiful tune. Beethooven’s Fur-Elise, I recall, and I figured that then would be as good a time as ever to surrender my life. So I relaxed, let my hooves go limp, and sunk back down on the machine who held me tight.
We were still in the viewing chamber, I saw, and she had perched herself beneath the windows, facing the elevator, and wrapped me in her forelegs. I thought that if I could free myself, if just for a moment, then I could rush to the doors, but then what? So I chose the next best thing, which, as it turns out, was probably the best thing.
“You,” I said as best I could. My voice wouldn’t come to me. It had abandoned me. “You’re not Vinyl.”
The humming had left my ear instantly; I wished I could suck the words back up. This thing was going to tear me to pieces. My life story continued. Look, there went my first Hearth’s Warming Eve without my parents. And there’s the time I accidentally lit my cello bow on fire. That was one interesting night.
Vinyl’s eyes flashed a dull red, and retained the color for a few seconds.
“Memory chip affirms VINYL SCRATCH to be VINYL SCRATCH,” she said. Her tone was so robotic, and yet it sounded quite like her. I felt sick.
“O-oh yes? Is that so? W-well then what did Vinyl get me on my birthday last year?”
Vinyl grinned and, just like before, her eyes retained life, but flashed a strange, dull red. “VINYL SCRATCH imparted one PACK OF STRAWBERRY POPTARTS to OCTAVIA.”
That was true. She then proceeded to call me Octotart for a few months. “F-fine,” I spat. “What about the first place we met! Where was that?”
“OCTAVIA was drunk in DOWNTOWN MANEHATTAN and decided to attend a DJ-PON3 concert. OCTAVIA was rescued by DJ-PON3 when OCTAVIA fell off of the DJ PLATFORM after DANCING TOO HARD.”
A deep heat flushed through my cheeks. “Fair enough...” I muttered, thumping my head back on her chest and sticking my lip out in a pout. She giggled (a surprisingly warm, pony-like giggle) and held me closer. We were silent for a while.
“So how’s the club?” Vinyl (yes, I could call her Vinyl by now) asked, perhaps a bit tentatively. She really did still sound like Vinyl...
I looked up to her eyes, but immediately turned away. I wasn’t ready for those glowing orbs. “It’s... gone.”
There was silence. Slowly I turned my eyes up, careful to avoid hers. It wasn’t a challenge; she was not looking at me any longer. Her eyes were cast away, as if, somewhere in that machine, there was emotional thought. I thought I saw her lip quiver. Of course, then she said, “Emotion processor emphasizes SADNESS.”
Watching, waiting, I could see true emotion in that face, almost a teary one. It was now I decided to glance into her eyes; they still hadn’t returned to a pony’s, but there was definitely something in there that read: alive.
A sigh escaped my throat, and I didn’t even mean for it to. My hoof, also revolting, pressed itself to this mare’s chest as if to feel for a heartbeat. It was there. Yes, there was a heart, thumping away silently in that probably metallic cage of hers. “Is it,” she asked, “completely gone? Is there nothing left...?”
“No,” I said quietly. “Nothing.”
She was silent for a bit, and then suddenly, in the midst of the quiet, I felt her forelegs tighten up ever so slightly, making me “eep”. “Emotion processor emphasizes HAPPINESS for OCTAVIA’S safety.”
I looked up to greet a smile with a smile. A pony smile. A genuine smile. There was nothing robotic in that face anymore. For the first time, I felt secure about where my head was laying. “Aww. You know, when you’re not being an imbecile, you can be kind of sweet...”
“Sarcasm defenses activated. Retaliating with: OCTAVIA is so smart.”
“Really Vinyl? That’s all you’ve got?”
“Sarcasm defenses are out of date. Please insert new update.”
I rolled my eyes. “You know, I still don’t trust you. Not one bit. But... let’s pretend you are Vinyl. Why have you never acted like this before? Why just now am I seeing these red lines? And how did you conceal the... things, on your back and head?”
Again I felt distrust welling in me as I remembered where I was: in the grasp of a machine. It looked down to me and frowned. “It was simple. First off, these ‘things’ on the back of me are ports, and they are retractable, thank you very much. Secondly, these ‘red lines’ are circuit boosters, and you’re just seeing them now because I just got unhooked. They’ll be gone soon, and they only really show up when I either want them too or need some incredible surge of magic. And I’ve just never acted like this before because I had my pony functioning chip active.”
Logical explanations, but I still wasn’t buying it. “How can you drink alcohol? Why doesn’t that short your circuits or something?”
Now, she grinned. “I’m a cyborg you doofus. Not a robot.”
“And how did that come to be?”
“I’ll tell you later. You wanna get out of here and get some breakfast? My internal clock is telling me it’s, like, eight in the morning.”
I gasped. “What? Really?”
“Yep, you were out all night,” she said with a chuckle.
I eyed her over with a squint. I’d be keeping my eye on her, and that was if I did say yes! But first... “Could we stay here a bit longer? I’m still tired,” I said, a yawn morphing my voice.
Vinyl smiled and settled in, shutting her eyes and holding me close. “Companion cube is HAPPY.”
Honestly--and I’m sure this is everypony with some hint of sanity left in them--I never expected to share an omelette with a robot. Ahem, cyborg, my apologies. I still never saw it coming. And I still didn’t, even when I was sitting there, with said cyborg right in front of me. At least the day was nice, with a breeze too. I always did prefer this little bistro over the major eateries. This place was quaint, quiet, calm, and always had outside sitting areas to enjoy the sun.
Wait. Forgive me; I should fill in the gap, shouldn’t I? Well, after I had finally had enough of resting on the soft metal beneath me (this sickness made it hard to ever get more than a few hours of sleep at once, so the rest was welcome), I asked to be shown out of the haunting facility. I didn’t even feel like asking questions about it; I just wanted to get out. She escorted me back up the elevator--how she found a button to it is beyond me--and to one of the side rooms. Turns out that the hallway I had landed myself in was one long U-shaped corridor that wrapped itself around the sepulcher of the collapsed Levitation elevator.
Well to my great horror, it seems that I didn’t have to creep through Canterlot’s garbage after all. In the room farthest away, at the complete back of the hallway, was a little lift that opened up on the side of the mountain, just next to this little dirt path that would lead us straight back to Canterlot. And that’s where we went, she in the lead, I watching closely as the red streaks across her body and glowing steel ports that laced her spine retracted beneath her white fur. Her eyes flashed once, then were that of a pony, and her hooves eventually quit glowing. She looked just like Vinyl. She was Vinyl.
I looked her over as I sipped on my coffee, my appetite completely gone. Her muzzle was deep in the cheesy dish; I was pretty sure her “eradication device” or something, was going strong. Eyeing her over, I came to the decision that yes, this was Vinyl; I could tell by her eating habits. But that still raised other questions. Many other questions.
She must’ve noticed my inspecting eye, because she stopped mid bite and returned the gaze. “Um, you okay?”
“What?” I shook my head. “Yes, fine. I’m just waiting for the coffee to kick in.”
“Mhm...” she hummed, slowly returning to her food. My thoughts, however, began to wander. I’d need to go back to Mallow as soon as possible and inform her of my blackout spell. Then I’d have to find out why the guards know about Vinyl. And of course, I wanted to know about Vinyl.
“How did you become a robot?” I blurted out. Her eyes flashed red and she whipped her head up to glare at me.
“Shh! Keep it down, will you? I said I’d tell you later,” she scolded, quickly returning to her food to finish licking the plate clean.
I, too, was sipping the last of my coffee. “Yes, yes, fine. But would you at least hurry up? I... don’t like being out here.”
Her eyebrows shot up. “Why not? I thought you liked sitting outside. All fancy and tame and stuff?”
“Vinyl,” I whispered, looking around, “It’s a miracle we made it inside the city without getting in some sort of trouble.”
“Oh yeah?” she asked, scanning me. “Why’s that?”
“Because! The guards are looking for you!”
“What?” She smirked. “Nah, and even if they were, it’s probably just because they want to see the owner of Levitation. Damage control and stuff...” Her expression then grew solemn, but I couldn’t kindle her spirits, not now.
“Vinyl,” I said, slowly, articulating precisely. “I think the guards know about that place. The place I found you. I think they know something’s down there, and they aren’t too keen on letting that slip by. They’re all over Levitation.”
She coughed, sending bits of egg everywhere. Bluntly glaring, I wiped them from my face, but her eyes were locked in the direction of her lost club. “W-what?” She chewed on her lip and remained petrified for minutes, no doubt doing some core processing or whatever it is computers do. “Well...” she eventually muttered, turning back to me. “They’ll probably find themselves in the subsystems. I have a private club down there, you know, just beneath the floor. I’d be a fool to just open up the lab like that.”
“So you’re saying the lab is safe?”
“For now, sure,” she said, gulping down some water. “I still don’t like the fact that their grubby hooves are all over my club!”
“Calm down Vinyl. First things first; what is that place?”
Sighing, she set the glass down and leaned across the table. A waiter came, interrupting us to ask if we were fine and well. I said yes, and he left us. “That place is some freak lab.”
My eyes nearly rolled out of their sockets. “And I’m a cellist, did you know that?”
“No, seriously! Look, you saw me hooked up to the mainframe,” she explained. “I was in control of the systems. That’s why those doors popped open even though they shouldn’t have, and it’s also why you only saw what I wanted you to see. When I fell in there as a filly, I didn’t have that kind of security.”
“So then, what happened?” I whispered back.
“I went down, further than you. That place goes deep into the mountain, I swear. My ears were like, popping left and right. It was a freakin’ popper party. I mean, seriously, pop pop pop pop--”
A sheepish grin took her face. “Heh, right. Well eventually, I hit the bottom, where the big lab is. The screens were all off, the lights were off, everything was off, and so I couldn’t see, right? But--”
The waiter dropped the check off, and I deposited some bits on the table to encourage his leave. He nodded, swiped up the check and bits, and let us be. Head shaking, I told Vinyl to continue. “Right,” she said, “so as I was saying... I went into this huge dome place. I swear it was where I got the idea for Levitation. Three floors, all like doughnuts, hovering over the bottom. Well there was this little on-off switch thing, and when I pressed it...” She paused, no doubt for “dramatic effect”. “Guard symbols. Guard symbols everywhere. On the screens, on the walls, on the floors.”
“You mean the shield and pony?”
She nodded. “Everywhere. It was, like, the freakiest thing in the world. And then, down on the bottom... oh, you’ll never believe this. Down there was a platform with a big freaking sun painted on it. Celestia!”
I blinked, my jaw tight as a rock. “Are you saying those labs belonged to the Princess?”
“Exactly!” She leaned back in her chair, and I did as well. This news was... unsettling. Perhaps not so much to her, but to me, yes. The guards knew it was there, and they didn’t want Vinyl in it. Yet, the labs looked abandoned, sealed for a reason. The air was even stale, I remembered. Stale and thin. It must have been sealed for a while.
They must have wanted it to stay that way.
I could feel the warmth in my cheeks fade. The weight of the situation was literally squeezing the air from my lungs. In a mist of fear and confusion I began to hyperventilate, taking sporadic breaths and swaying in my chair.
Before I knew it, Vinyl was at my side. “Okay, okay, deep breaths,” she said as she lifted me onto her back. “C’mon, let’s get you home. Things’ll be alright, okay? Octy, you gotta answer me.”
It took me a moment. “Okay,” I eventually panted.
“Alright. Let’s go. Thank you!” she called to the waiter.
He only watched, eyes blank and unreadable, as Vinyl carried me away.
After taking another pill, and after resting a bit, on my couch (which was quickly becoming by new bed), Vinyl stepped back in from the balcony, poptart in hoof. I rolled my eyes and let her invasion of my stash slide this time; she had just carried me home, after all. This would, however, come with a price. I wanted the answer she’d not given me yet, and by Celestia and her secret lab, I’d get it.
“Vinyl,” I said, “could you come here?”
She stuck the tart in her mouth and brought it to my side, sitting down beside the couch and cocking her head inquisitively. “Hmm?”
“We’re here. Alone now. In private...” I hinted. The medicine, that’s what did it; it made me lethargic and slow.
And thanks to it, I found Vinyl grinning at me. “Well Tavi, feeling better? Mmm, Vinyl can ‘light up your world’ if you--”
“No!” I cried, plugging her mouth with a hoof. “No.”
“Mll mm m-mh mhph!” she groaned, rolling her eyes. Squinting a glare, I popped my hoof free. “Well it’s not my fault,” she repeated with a snort.
“Vinyl...” I sighed and let my eyes wander to the ceiling. My hooves fell limp at my sides, and my body became numb. “How did you become like you are? When did you stop being a pony?”
I could see those ears flatten against her head. “I never stopped being a pony...”
Ouch. Curse the mental lethargy this medicine brought on! I brought my hooves back to life and pressed them beneath Vinyl’s chin, tilting it up from the ground so that she locked eyes with me. “I didn’t mean it that way, I promise,” I cooed.
She took her chin back and sighed. Moments passed in silence, and deep in me I began to wonder if I had really touched a nerve. I still feel a little guilty for it. “Remember that platform I told you about?” she eventually said. “The one with the sun on it?”
“Well, I thought it was weird to see Celestia’s butt half a mile inside a mountain, so I went down to check it out. It was pretty big, like, taking up the whole floor, and when I stepped on it, I could feel the magic. I think the whole place is run on it. Anyways, I started trotting around and looking at all the neat little things on the ground, when my hoof stamped on one of the sun rays. The whole place started shaking, pretty violently too, scared the hay outta me.”
“Then,” she continued, “this big glass tube came down from the ceiling and trapped me on the thing. Before I could even bang my hoof against it, the sun started shifting. The rays sank into the floor and these thin metal things with claws on them came out. I fainted when I saw them. When I woke up, they were gone, and I was on the sun, alone. It was quiet again, and I ran back to the elevator and got my flank out of there. I didn’t know how I knew where the exit was, but I just did.”
I finally saw a smile on her face now. “Hah, I was a freakin’ genius. My grades rocketed. I never had a problem again. Heck, I saw them before they came. Things were weird, though, thanks to it. Had that logistics core and the sarcasm defenses going off so much, my parents almost put me in an asylum.” She laughed, and I could see life in her eyes again. “You should’ve seen it, the first time those defenses activated! Priceless. Worth the month of grounding!”
I smiled. “So eventually things just fell into place?”
“Yep,” she said. “Though I had to go back to the facility like, every two months or something to make some updates for my systems. But don’t worry, I’m at my peak, so I can make your updates while you get used to everything, no sweat.”
My throat was acrid. Dry. I coughed, thumping my chest. “W-what?”
Vinyl stood and set the poptart on my table. In her eyes was a strange little flicker, and I couldn’t quite tell what it was. Until, of course, she blurted it out. “Diagnostics memory running. Processing... Memory found. When I was a filly, I had problems. Not the normal ‘everypony hates me’ stuff. I mean I was sick. Like you, ‘cept I didn’t have years to live.”
She stood and arched her back in a stretch. “Well, doctors said so, anyways. But when that thing at the sun happened, I found myself running a diagnostics on, well, me. Whatever I had that was going to kill me before I learned my a-b-c’s was gone, and I was a genius. Worked out in the end, I think.” Laughing, she snatched up the poptart and devoured it. For all the smarts bestowed upon her, the trajectory of her crumbs was uncouth to say the least.
Hoof brushing them from my fur, I huffed and glared at her. “So you want me to... in order to...”
“Be like me to save your flank, yes! Then you won’t have to take anymore of these pill things.” She nodded to the kitchen. “What’s even in those things?”
“I don’t know,” I said,” but they work.” But to the topic at hoof: was she seriously suggesting I trade my ponydom for metal and wires? Absurd! And besides, what if it was painful? What if it snapped me like a twig? That’s right, it could go wrong! Especially with Vinyl at the helm. Last time, she’d nearly killed us in an elevator!
I decided I’d bring that up. “Vinyl, last time you were in charge of anything, you nearly killed us in a fireball.”
“Oh come on Octy! Think about it. I’ve been like this for years, and I know the systems inside and out, literally! You’d be in good hooves. I ran it over a few times, and the likelyhood that anything will go wrong is less than eight percent. Can’t beat that number,” she said. A huge smile spread across her face.
“Vinyl, I...” I paused and sighed. Where was I to go with this? I didn’t even know what to think. Honestly, what kind of options were these? Become a robot or die. Well, die in a few years. Or painfully become a machine. Machine, or die? Die? Machine? Lovely choices.
Admittedly, dying sounded a lot less fun, even if it was about two years off. And... being an android, or robot, or machine-thing--whatever it was Vinyl had become--being one couldn’t be so bad. Vinyl seemed to enjoy it quite a lot, and the wealth of knowledge would have been quite the boost...
She was staring at me, I finally realized, with an almost pained look, one of what I guessed to be anxiousness. Her eyes scanned me up and down my length, observing me, waiting for me. Biting her lip she stood there before me. I stared at her in silence, still mulling over my thoughts. I’d be insane if I just let myself die; I’d be insane to become a robot. It was just a matter of how insane I felt like being.
Eventually, I let my head drop in defeat. “When were you thinking about doing this?”
I swear, she just about tackled me. I say “just about” because what she actually did was more of a leap-and-pounce move. The air from inside me was being squeezed out like a water would be rung from cloth as Vinyl’s forelegs crushed me in a hug. Eyes closed, she nuzzled her head deep into me, and I couldn’t help but wrap my own forelegs around her. “I knew you’d be up for this!” she said, muffled by my fur.
My eyebrows shot up. “Really?” I asked.
“No. My logistics core predicted a seventy seven percent rate of failure.” Her head dug down even further.
“Vinyl...” I coughed. “Not a robot yet. Not... a... robot.”
“Heh, sorry,” she muttered, pushing herself off of me. “Cyborg, by the way. Trust me, it’s kinda weird when somepony calls you a robot.” Her flank scooted to the edge of the couch and sat beside me. Eyes fixed on me and tail draped across me like a blanket, Vinyl continued, “I have this all mapped out. We should leave before sunset, which looks like it’ll be coming soon, so we might want to be going now. Now, once we get there, we’ll--”
“Will it hurt?” I blurted, eyes fixed dead on hers. I saw them flash that same, dull color.
“I don’t know. I woke up sore, but like I said, I was out of it. It shouldn’t be too bad. I’ll be there, you know. I’ll have everything under control for once.” She wrapped her hoof around my own and pulled on me, urging me up. Reluctant though my body was, I stood to my hooves with her aid. “We should get going now, though. We have to go get Mallow before this goes down.”
Choked up, I could only blink. “Mallow? My doctor? Whatever for?”
“Because if there’s one pony who knows what your insides look like, its her. Now c’mon!” she said. She was already at my door.
“M-my insides! Why should we be concerned about them so much as to have a doctor on hoof?”
“Because,” she huffed, rolling her eyes, “turns out you’re supposed to input some stuff before you flip the switch. I came out of it with some... extensions. Gone now though. Don’t worry, that won’t happen with you, now let’s go!”
I felt her magic envelop me and whisk me off the floor, out of my apartment, and down the street. The trip to Mallow’s office was... not hard, surprisingly. Vinyl didn’t have to explain to me just how her magic was holding up so strong for so long; I could faintly see the magical wires beneath her fur. However they worked, they did so well, though a few eyes were drawn to the famous, levitating cello player and the DJ as the latter hovered the former down the street.
By the time we stepped into the small office building, just down Mane Street, my cheeks were hotter than a furnace, and redder than the sun. Vinyl decided now would be a fine time to set me down in a waiting chair, and the moment my flank hit the seat, I sunk away and crossed my forelegs in defiance. Yes, I looked very much like a filly, but I was blushing so hard I was a practical torch.
Thankfully, the office was closing, and so the last patient was just now making his way out. Now alone, I could finally feel the tide of heat retreating as Vinyl marched her way to the registry. I couldn’t quite hear her when she whispered to the registrar, but whatever she said turned a light on in the stallion’s head. He nodded and stood from his desk, only to retreat into the back of the building. Moments later, I spotted Mallow’s orange mane through the slit in the door.
She stepped out and glanced very briefly at Vinyl, then fixed her gaze on me. To my side she ran, immediately running her hoof over my forehead to check my temperature, then sticking it on my neck to check my pulse. We sat there for a moment, before she finally lowered it and smiled, seemingly satisfied.
“Everything seems normal,” she muttered in that hard Germane accent of hers. “How did you sleep? Still very little, ya?” I nodded. “Vell... and vhat of ze spinning?” I told her of my... episode. Her face contorted with widened eyes and a frown. “Vhat? No! Zhat is not good! No, no, no! Did you take ze medicine? Have you been resting like I told you to? Vhat about your diet? Have you been eating those nasty poptarts again? Ick! Octavia!”
“Doc,” Vinyl said, placing a hoof on her shoulder. “She’s gonna be fine.”
Mallow stared at Vinyl for a moment, then paled and froze. “You... you vant to do zhat now?” Vinyl nodded, and it then dawned on me; Mallow was in on it all. Which of course made sense, now that I was thinking about it! How else could that note have slipped into my medicine? “But she is not vell right now. I do not zhink...”
“I don’t think we can wait,” Vinyl said. “Octy says the guards are poking around. Some unpleasant stuff. Right?” She looked at me.
I swallowed stiffly; it was almost as if I had lost control of my entire body. Nothing responded, not my lips nor hooves nor eyes. Too lost in my thoughts now that the embarrassment had died down, it clicked in my soon-to-be memory port that I had actually said yes to this whole fiasco. Me saying yes was disastrous. Me saying yes to Vinyl, even more so. Me saying yes to Vinyl, a cyborg, to give her control of my body’s future... I shuddered.
“Hang on,” Vinyl muttered. She reached behind herself, and I heard a hiss. Only vaguely did I see a little piece of her right side slot out, revealing a metal pouch. From within it she pulled something that shimmered and crinkled before sliding her... fur, back over the little cubby.
Before my eyes she wafted a shiny rectangle with my favorite label plastered on front of it. I blinked--roughly, and my eyes burned--but I blinked finally. Vinyl tore open the pack and retrieve one, only one, poptart from it and landed it straight in my hooves. Doctor Mallow glared, appalled.
“Vhat! Do not let her eat zhose! They are not helping!”
“Chill Mallow, look.” Vinyl conked one hoof on my doctor’s chin, and the other on her forehead, before forcing her gaze to me. I, by now, was drawn from my stupor into a fit of hunger, devouring the menacing little rectangle with a fervor and a frenzy. The jelly within, strawberry or hayberry I thought, danced on my tongue. I was alight with the blaze, and... alright, fine, fine, I’ll calm down. Point was, it was good, and it kicked me out of my stupor.
My poptart-giving rescuer sat beside me. “So, Tavi. You said the guards were all over the place right?”
I looked at her, my mouth stuffed with the last bits of my pastry. Gulping them down, I nodded, and looked to Mallow. “They were at my door last night, asking questions about Vinyl and her elevator. They... they even knew I had a terminal disease...” I squinted at Mallow. “Did they come visit you?”
“Wait, they visited you?” Vinyl interjected.
I nodded, but kept my gaze locked on Mallow, scouring her for any hint of betrayal. But she seemed deadlocked, her eyes searching the floor for nothing. “No, I did not. How they could know zhat is beyond me. Vinyl here has told me of ze situation and her plans; I was expecting you. I vas not expecting zhat. Ve... should probably be going zhen, yeah?”
Vinyl nodded in agreement. “Right. C’mon Octy, there’s another poptart waiting for ya.”
I scowled. “I am not a dog, Vinyl.”
With that, I stood and marched out, the first of the pack, with my chest puffed out. Because I could do this. I knew I could do this. Nothing would stop me now.
“Vinyl... Vinyl, I don’t want to do this anymore. I’m serious! Get me out of here!” I shouted through the glass container that entrapped me like a criminal in a dungeon. My hoof tapped and pounded and clanked against the clear wall, but it was no use. Vinyl was on the top rung (the lab was indeed very much like Levitation) with her hoof plugged into the controls, so she was out of it. Mallow was just outside the container, monitoring the screen before her.
“Octavia! Calm down in there! You vill faint,” she said, passing me a soft glance. I locked eyes with those diamond orbs, but they were soon gone to the screen again. Backing off the glass I retreated to the center of the sun and sat, listening to my heart beating away, thinking of just how much it sounded like an executioner’s drum.
Soon, the lights that were imbedded along the walls began to flash in rapid succession. The guard symbols, gold gilded and bright, glowed blindingly as the station powered up with a strong hum. A flight of stairs, the one that I was escorted down, was suddenly locked with a strong blast door, cutting the rungs off from one another. I thought my heart was going to explode.
It nearly did when the sun beneath me shifted and groaned. Just as Vinyl had said, the arms were retreating into the floor. I could see hundreds of tiny spindles all around me, each with some menacing tool or hardware anxious to get a hold of me. They came up on axises and swings, staring down on me. Thankfully, they stopped, frozen just before they could have their way.
“Hey Octy,” I heard Vinyl say over some sort of speaker. “You okay down there?”
“N-no!” I shrieked, my eye landing on one particular piece of sharp metal staring me in the face. “Vinyl! Get me out of here!”
“Relax!” was the retort. “You’ll be fine! I’ve just got to calibrate the systems a bit, so give me a second. Looks like theres a syringe somewhere down here that’ll put you to sleep. Gonna find it.”
When I glanced back down to Mallow, I found that she was smiling at me, through the spindles and arms that taunted me so. I swallowed, my throat feeling as if a fire had started in it, but tried to return the smile. I think it contorted into a half smile, half grimace. Either way, she nodded to me and then returned to her monitoring.
Then came the syringe, finally. It popped up from behind, and before I could even glance at it, it struck at my nape, digging in and pinning me to the ground. Green fluids rushed into me, chilly, icy, freezing my bones. I groaned and clenched my eyes shut tightly. They rushed into me like the Equestrian tides, and instantly I felt weight on my limbs. I took a deep breath as the needle eased itself out and back beneath the platform.
So here I was, sleepy, in the midst of a stockpile of sharp, pointy, deadly things, when Vinyl thought it suite to get on the intercom once again. “Um, sorry about the, uh, poke. Jab. Stab. You know. Um, hey doc, I’m gonna put something on your screen right about... now. Alright, you see that?”
Lazily, my eyes wandered to the doctor. I could already see a fog closing in, but I struggled to watch her read, watch her face for any sort of contortion, though it remained still and focused. “Yes, I see it,” she said. “Vill zhat interrupt ze process?”
“Nah, I don’t think so. Alright, give me a sec, and...” Vinyl paused. “There ya go. You’re in control.” Glancing up I saw Vinyl pop off the system and, seemingly in a frenzy, though I couldn’t quite tell, rush to the elevator.
“Octavia? Octavia, eyes down here please. Zhere you go,” Mallow said when I offered her my sight. “Alright, hold still. I’m about to initiate ze--”
“Halt.” A voice had taken over the intercom, strong, deep, and forceful. I listened to it, humming my favorite piece of music from the pre-Canterlot age. “You are in violation of Equestrian law. This facility and its magic belongs to the Royal Guard. I repeat, stop what you are doing immediately.”
Mallow’s typing increase to a flury. “Zhat fast?” I saw her mutter. “Ve are even faster.” Then, her hoof slammed down on the keyboard, and the last thing I saw before the ever-encroaching fog blurred my vision and took my mind, was the black, mechanical arms reaching towards me. Before I even felt their cold grip, I was in a haze, gone from the machine, the labs, and Equestria.
I didn’t wake up for a long time. A very, very long time, actually. When I finally cracked open my eyes, my burning eyes, I found my head lying in Mallow’s lap as she stroked my mane, humming softly. Was this going to become a thing, I found myself wondering. Waking up in strange places, on ponies laps?
“Ah, you are avake,” she said, her voice soft. I groaned; there was a throbbing, deep in my head, like a pulsing of pure pain that was gushing forth. My eyes looked the place over, but I could see nothing. All I knew was the pain that ran through my veins, as if my blood had been replaced with the feeling.
“Where... are we?” I asked, but stopped almost instantly. My voice... it wasn’t my own, nor did it even come from me. No, it was just like Vinyl’s was, thin, droning, mechanical, yet sounding like... me. My eyes snapped wide, and when they did, a little... thing popped up in the corner of my eye. I couldn’t look at it though; it went with my gaze!
Flashlight: Loading, it said. A little bar was beneath it. Muttering the words as I read them, I watched the bar fill up, as if my eyes were a screen. Then suddenly, brightness! Light spilled out of my eyes, a blueish-purple light! I could see before me again, but only because I was, well, I was a flashlight!
So I did the logical thing, or at least, what my logistics core (which spoke to me deep within my mind) said was logical. I screamed. “What is this!?” I cried as I flew to my hooves. Wait! These weren’t hooves, either! Oh Celestia, they glowed on the bottom! Blueish purple, just like the light that flowed from my eyes!
“What is this, what is this!” I cried, stomping them down. Whatever was encasing their light was stronger than it seemed, not bending to my thumps against the hard ground. I glared at them, as if that would send them fleeing, when I suddenly realized: I was covered, yes covered in straight purple strands of light. I was practically glowing now, like one of Vinyl’s glowsticks, only I had legs.
“Okay, okay,” Mallow said, leaping to her hooves and approaching me. I didn’t want her touch though. I didn’t want to feel another pony. I had given up my own ponydom; I didn’t want another’s. Still, she approached, and eventually I had been backed into a corner of what seemed to be sparkling stalagmites. “Calm down, you vill overload your circuits!”
“Emotion processor emphasizes PANIC. EMERGENCY.” Did I say that? Oh by Luna, I did! I was speaking... robot! No, no, no! This was definitely the wrong decision! It would have been better to die a pony than live as something else!
“Octavia! Calm down zhis instant!” Mallow demanded. “Please! You vill fry yourself, and Vinyl told me quite bluntly zhat reboots are painful!”
Still, my heart--no, it wasn’t a heart, was it? It was probably a simulation to make me feel like I was still part pony! But it was beating so fast it was painful... I searched frantically for a solution, scanned my cortex--cortex? It was happening too fast! I thought there would be time! Time!
A clock shot up in the center of my vision, telling that it was midnight. I had called my internal clock! Swat, that’s what I did. I swatted at it, tried to get it away, off of my eyes, but it just wouldn’t go! In the midst of my panic, something was set off deep inside me, and I unwillingly blurted, “Stress capacity reaching critical levels.”
“Octavia! You are glowing like a fire! Quit! Be still!”
I couldn’t! I wouldn’t! These triggers firing off in my head, warning me of the overloading this, the blinking that. The lines that painted me violet were, forsooth, glowing so intensely that I could feel them burning. “I-I can’t! I just--”
A hoof plugged my mouth as a set of crystal blue orbs appeared before me. “Shush! Now!”
The clock vanished, thankfully, but only to clear up room for a flashing bar, a stress bar as it was labeled. I shrieked, again, and threw myself against the wall so hard I heard it crack. The bar blinked and filled up a tiny bit more; it was almost full now. “Get it off! Make it stop! I just...!”
A trickle of... something, crept down my cheek. It wasn’t a tear; machines couldn’t cry. It was oil, probably! No! I couldn’t take this! The bar was about to burst it’s threshold. My “heart” was about to burst in general. Breathing was hard. I couldn’t get a full breath. Sporadic, frenzied, deadly, I was about to faint. I couldn’t feel my hooves anymore. I couldn’t feel anything! Nothing! Because it was metal! Because I wasn’t a pony anym--
Mallow stood tall, puffed her chest, and shouted as loud as her voice would let her, “Override command: Poptart!”
And I dropped. Blackness. Nothing.
Eventually, I felt a jolt. Well, more of a jab. Or stab, possibly. Whatever it was, it sent a current through my circuits, and I felt life flash back into my eyes. The flashlights were on again, and the bar was still blinking, though now it was significantly lower. I could feel the change, too. My limbs were easier to move, and the throbbing in my head had died a bit. I could breathe, too, and things weren’t spinning.
But where was I? And how was I to get this bar from my... oh, there it went. I paused to think; the clock had come on demand. The bar had come on necessity. Both were gone because I wanted them gone. Think, and do, that’s how it seemed. Thankful for my new discovery, I looked about a bit more.
“Octavia?” I looked up to see Mallow sitting by my side. It seemed that I was lying on a large flat... crystal. “Octavia, can you hear me?”
“Yes,” I groaned. “Where are we?” Suddenly, I felt a little buzz, deep within myself, and there, before my eyes, flashed a dark square displaying mazes upon labyrinth of tunnels. I wanted it gone, I tried to erase it, the only way my logistics core deemed possible; by slapping myself. In the face. Hard. I recoiled, lashed back, and nearly fell off of the crystal to the moss below. “I’m seeing a map!”
“A map,” I repeated. “There is a map. There is a map on my eyes! I see us, right now, on this map!” Again that thing in my chest began to thump, and I swore I could feel an icy sweat begin to pour from my... air vents? I didn’t know what was going on, all I knew something was coming out of me! I scoured myself for the source, eventually landing a hoof on what was, indeed, a vent of warm air! It was a vent, yes, a vent, glowing a bright violet, on my chest. It had opened from my fur and was streaming out hot air.
From the corner of my eye appeared a little blip. Venting initiated. “There’s something on my chest!” I shrieked as I swatted it too.
Mallow gripped my hooves. “Quit zhat! You are going to dent your vents!”
“But it’s glowing! Look, it’s purple!” I squealed.
“Hush! Hush Octavia, and listen. Ve are deep inside of a mountain right now, without Vinyl, ze only mare who knows how to zoothe you! You vant to find her, you vant answers? Hush!” Her eyes stared harshly into mine for a moment that stretched on for ages. Then, her eyes softened, and a small smile broke onto her face. “Quiet. Relax. Ve vill be out of here soon, and zhen ve vill find Vinyl. Zhings vill be all right.”
I stared into her eyes, quiet, frozen, but breathing. I could breath, I realized, because she was right. My logistics core spewed out that listening to her would result in an eighty-nine percent chance of calming down, and so I did. Vinyl, Vinyl would know. And, if she had done this before, then so could I. After all, that flank was always going on about her awesomeness; I could have been just as ‘awesome’ if I tried. Yes, that was it. If she could do it, so could I.
“Breath in,” she commanded, and I did so. “Breath out.”
Eventually, she released my hooves and let me rest back on the crystal. The map was gone, finally, and my vision was cleared (except for the flashlights, which I still have trouble with from time to time). The venting eventually ceased, and they harmlessly folded back into my chest. I refused to watch the process.
“Where are we?”
She hummed. “Ve are in ze old mines below Canterlot. Ze labs are a little vay over zhere, and it is vhere ve came from. Zhere should be an exit... zhat vay.” She pointed into the darkness.
All I did was huff and rest my head back down. The silence lasted for a few minutes, minutes I cherished greatly. “What happened?” I eventually asked.
“Vell, it is simple. I overrode your circuits and turned you off,” she explained.
“And... where is Vinyl?” I finally asked.
“She said she vould be in contact. I am not sure vhere she is now.” Mallow looked down to me. “Can you stand?”
I tried, drawing my hooves close and pinning them to the ground. It took some effort (as Vinyl had predicted, I was, indeed, sorer than I had been after rough concerts) but I was eventually standing of my own power. My flashlights, still on, were definitely coming in hoof now, illuminating my way down from this crystal, and Mallow’s too. Now on some compact dirt, we searched around for a way out.
Vinyl, however, was on my thoughts as I scanned these strange crystalline caverns. The last thing I could recall before becoming... metal, was her unplugging herself and darting away. Luna knew where she was now, but I could only hope that she would indeed be in contact when we found our way free of the thin air of those caverns. The guards... they were coming in, weren’t they? Yes, that was where she had darted. To the guards, and if they caught her...
My mechanical woes were then cut short by my fears for my dear Vinyl. This was the third time in two days I was in fear of losing her, and possibly the most dangerous. If the guards got her, she’d be torn apart, piece by piece, screw by screw, until her cortex was finally found and destroyed. Just about now, my logistics core kicked into action, spewing forth statistics in my brain. Mindlessly, my tongue obeyed it, as I clapped my hooves to my head and cringed. “Possibility of VINYL SCRATCH being DISASSEMBLED at FORTY-SEVEN PERCENT.”
I pursed my lips, drew my hooves close, and tried to combat the chill that had hit me in waves. Again I felt the liquid flow down my cheek as clearly, too clearly--my eyes were literally seeing the proposed situation as it was drawn from my imagination--the disassemblement of my Vinyl. I began to shudder, to shake, pressing my ears flat on my head and hugging my hooves closer.
Mallow’s hoof nearly scared me from my skin when it touched my shoulder. “Octavia, please do not zhink like zhat. Ve must be out of zhis cave, and zhen ve vill know how Vinyl is doing. Come, I see a bridge we can take.”
“You’re right,” I sniffled, wiping my eyes. “Besides, she owes me a poptart. I guess I--SADNESS removed from emotions processor. HOPE moved to temporary slot. PANIC still in slot ONE.”
I blinked to clear my mind of the outburst, and found Mallow smiling at me. “Yes, that is good! Zhough... ve should keep you from ze public eye before ve can get ze pony functioning zhingy in you. Now come! Ze bridge is zhis way!”
I cast my eyes in the direction of her hoof. There, a bit away but not too far for my hooves to take me, was indeed an old miner’s bridge. A bit rotted, with some snapped ropes and planks, but otherwise, it was a bridge. And where there was a bridge, there was (or used to be) ponies.
The hope, in it’s “temporary slot”, was doing quite well for me here, and I could feel a vitality in my step. Hopefully (that word seemed to be buzzing around my mind tenfold now) my step wouldn’t be too hard on the bridge, but still quick enough to be rid of these caves soon. I sighed and stepped off; cyborg or not, I was going to find Vinyl.
Mallow was already ahead of me, tossing glances back at me as she tapped her hoof down on the plank before her. She then stepped onto it, and the next, and the next, and was eventually on the other side. Me? I was still standing on the first one, wondering where the second had decided to go, and how I was to get to the third without it.
Hoof outstretched, I tapped it lightly, feeling the pull on my muscles, or optic fibers, I bet. Sneering and yanking my mind back to the problem at hoof, I cast a glance below me. Even with my flashlights on, I could see... nothing. Sure, the light rebounded from the crystalline walls, but there just was no bottom. Swallowing dryly, I leapt to the next plank, and repeated the process.
I was almost there. Almost! The bridge was swaying, deathly so, and I felt that at any moment I would be tossed out of it like garbage out of a window. Through gritted teeth I groaned, again casting my eyes down to see if there was at least a spectre of a bottom. Nothing. Nothing, anywhere, which would’ve been okay by now, I guessed, seeing as the end was right there, with Mallow and her outstretched hoof and encouraging smile, if I could just--
The entire bridge listed as one of the ropes behind me died. I yelped and scurried ahead, but doing so only kicked out a plank with another snap. My logistics core was going insane, spieling on and on of the likelihood that the bridge would give way before I hit land, but I still tried, jumping for the second to last plank. Almost there, I thought. Just a little farther.
The logistics core was right! Shrieking, I fell, descending into the darkness with no hope of ever seeing the light of day, or my Vinyl! I could feel the wind against my fur, the weightlessness, it was sickening! Where was Vinyl when I needed her? She’d be lost! Disassembled! At least we’d go to the robot afterlife together... “Vinyl!” I cried. “I love you, but I blame you! I swear if I survive--”
“Octavia! Vould you hush already?”
Hush? No, I would not hush! Doctor or not, if I was going to fall to my death, I would be as loud about it as possible, and I’d take Vinyl’s good name down with me! If I was going to fall to my death! If... I peeked open an eye. I wasn’t falling, there was no wind, and I could certainly feel gravity again. My hooves were on the ground, too. Or... no, they weren’t, because then gravity would be sucking me sideways.
They were on the wall. They were in the crystals. I blinked and breathed in, feeling the fear-- “FEAR removed from temporary slot.” My teeth clenched on my tongue as I commanded it to halt. It did, but most likely because it was out of things to say. Snorting I returned my thoughts to my hooves. I could... feel something. Something different, and I could tell that it wasn’t my hooves that had dug into the wall.
Cautiously, slowly, carefully (and nervously) I plucked a hoof free from the wall to inspect it. When, however, I turned it up, I saw three little spider-like spindles, sharp as knives, protruding from my hoof! They had bore into the crystal and held me on the wall as if I had a natural glue! “Mallow,” I said, too hoarse to really speak. “There are things on my hoof.”
“And zhey saved your life. Now give me a hoof, ve should be out of here,” she said. I obeyed, tossing my hoof up and letting her grip it. With a great heave she yanked me up and off of the wall, and before I had even hit the ground, the spindles had already retracted into my hoof.
“Yes,” I groaned, pulling my jaw off the floor. “Let’s.”
And we did, eventually finding an exit. But the whole way, the entire hour or so we were searching, I couldn’t get the idea of something actually being inside of me. Something mechanical, like those tiny little claws. Something I could control. Despite my disgust and fear, I was beginning to feel a sort of fire within me. A desire, and it burned. With each step I took, I felt it pulse, like waves of magic running through my circuits. Soon enough, I was tingling with it.
Despite my disgust, I felt alive. Despite my fear, I felt powerful.
The caves eventually emptied out far down the mountain, near the base of the Canterlot road, and it was clear it would be quite the hike back up to the city. Whatever compelled Celestia to build it on a mountain escaped me; I just wanted to rest. And I was resting, too, quite peacefully. There was still the hum, the throb of power coursing through my body, but it let me relax for now.
I was leaning on a tree, probably half a mile off from the actual road itself, with Mallow by my side. We had decided that now would be a good time to rest, all things considered; my clock--which I cursed up and down because it clouded my vision any time I even thought of the time--told me over and over again that it was one in the morning. I could feel it, too. Despite the muck and grime on my fur, and just how uncouth and uncivil I looked (I looked much like a barbarian, stained and sticky), I saw it fit to rest in the soft, loamy mud for a while longer.
But I was owed a bath. A long bath.
Wait! Could I still take baths, or would that short my circuits? I felt a lump form in my throat as this hit me; was I now unable to enjoy the luxury of a warm, comforting bath without facing dire shortages in my circuits? Celestia, Luna, Equestria would face my wrath if I couldn’t take baths any longer! I would revolt; I’d do it! I would--
“Hey, Octy, you there?”
“V-Vinyl? What? Where are you?” I asked, searching for her. My flashlights, which I had discovered flipped on and off by a little switch in my eyelids! Ahem. Sorry about that. Anyway, I flipped them on and cast my glow over the thinning forest edge in search of her. She was nowhere.
“In here, doofus. Call up your com channel.”
“Your com channel,” I heard. “And stop speaking out loud, you sound like you’re nuts.”
I squinted and glared at what would have been Vinyl if she were before me. Still, I thought for my “com channel”, and I instantly felt my core cortex fire up. In less than a second, my eye had become a little screen, and I could once again only use my peripherals.
“Vinyl?” I... thought? I could hear myself saying it over the channel, but I hadn't actually said anything.
There was a moment of grey, sizzling static, then suddenly I could see her face, glowing with the crimson wires, and her eyes flickering with a screen on them. I could see my face in those ruby orbs. “Hey. Pretty cool, huh? Yeah, turns out our tails aren’t so useless after all! I mean, I was... well, that’s not important how I found this. But if you look back there, turns out it’s an antenna. Pretty neat, huh?”
I ignored the suggestion. “No, not ‘pretty neat’! Vinyl, my body is being taken over by scrap metal!”
“Hey now!” she retorted, “This is some important stuff. Seriously, you can’t tell me you don’t already feel that burning in your brain.”
“I’m gonna burn your brain! Where are you?” I scolded.
She huffed and pretended to frown. “Ooh, look, there’s the mare that just saved my entire life! I’ll get mad at her. That’s a perfect idea. Is your logistics core malfunctioning already?”
I gasped (for some reason, that felt pretty insulting). Deep within me, though, I felt something kick up, like a needle had just jabbed my spine. In seconds later, I saw a little green check in the corner of my eye. “I am perfectly operational, thank you very much!” I clasped my hooves around my mouth. I had performed a systems check!
“Octy, you’re so easy,” she laughed. I pursed my lips and fired up my sarcasm defenses, but she interrupted my stream with a question. “Where’s Mallow?”
I looked to my side. She was beside me, resting on the same tree, deep in a slumber that had her hunched over in her own lap. “Right here, asleep.”
“Alright. Umm... how far are you guys from Canterlot?”
My map flashed on my eyes, and it took every ounce of power in me to not begin swatting again. “At the complete bottom of the mountain,” I said, ordering the map to vanish.
Vinyl hummed, rubbing her chin with a hoof. I figured now would be as good a time as ever to ask what was currently on my mind. So, I did. “Vinyl, how am I seeing you from this angle? It’s as though you’re towering over a camera.”
“Oh yeah!” she said. “Hoof cam! You got one too. See?” Her hoof began to flail about needlessly and moronically. I began feel the world spin again. So, I quickly looked to my own hoof, and sure enough, there was this tiny little dome beneath the glass, blinking a deep violet.
“Oh that’s nice... Vinyl, I swear, if you pry on me while I’m taking a bath, I’ll--”
“Hah, don’t worry about that Octy. Can’t take baths now, you’ll fry yourself.”
Suddenly, the night was silent. Silent and cold, deathly so, and I felt the nimble claws of eternity wrapping themselves around me as I died a little on the inside. Quite literally, I died a bit. I felt a strand of code, the looking forward to a bath code, get deleted from my system. Emptiness overcame me, hollowing me out and carving me into a cadaver.
But wait. Wait a moment, I could see it in that face of hers. I’d known her so long, it was almost too obvious. She was... hiding a smile. “Which is a shame,” she further toyed with me, a hoof covering her lips, “because ya really look... pfft... you really look like you need one... tch...”
“I swear to the stars Vinyl, when I get my hooves on you, I’ll... I’ll... give you a virus or something! I’ll do it!” That’s what computers got, right? The things that fried them; viruses? I thought so.
Vinyl didn’t seem to catch my drift. “Whoa, whoa, Octy. I knew you ‘got around’, but if it’s come to that, I ain’t touching you.”
Did cyborgs explode? Was there some sort of countdown I got before it happened? I felt like my head was about to burst; it was about as red as a sun, and with the backlog of comments and... words, I felt very much like I was about to try fission on a massive scale.
“Interesting you should think that,” Vinyl said. Wait. She was in my head... she could read my thoughts!
“Yep,” she replied. “Can’t read mine, though, can ya? Hah, thanks to my handy-dandy--”
Lack of intelligence.
“No,” she said, huffing. “I was gonna say com defenses. Whatever. Look, there is actually something you ought to know. Umm, and you won’t like it. Like, you really won’t like it. I mean it, too. You really, really, won’t like this. You won’t like it so much, you’d rather eat garbage. It’s so unlikable that you’d rather fall in toilet. Legit! You’d rather plunge straight down a toilet bowl! It’s--”
“The point, please?”
“Oh, right. Well you see, thing is... the guards shut off the system when it was inputting some important codes. Mainly your, um, cortex stabilizer. Point is, you might be a bit unstable, and... you’re probably gonna explode soon if we don’t hook you up with a terminal and let me tinker with your systems a bit... Octy? Octy, you okay?”
I blinked once. Twice. Blankly. Staring. Chilly, yes, very chilly. The night was cold, and it had a breeze to it, too. Ah, and there was my left ear, itching again. Silly ear, I kept scratching it, and it would still itch. Just so itchy--
“What do you mean I’m about to explode?! Vinyl, you mark my words, if you put any more near death circumstances on me, I very well will explode! You wait! I’m taking you with me! I’ll take all of Canterlot with me! This is your fault, you know that Scratch? You took my peace, you took my ponydom, and now, you took my life, and anyone in the vicinity of my explosion!”
“Whoa, whoa, chill out. We probably have a week or so, no biggy. And besides, I can fix you up, good as new. Your other hoof has a port on it, and all I gotta do is plug my hoof into your hoof, and we’re good to go. See?” She shrugged, and right then I felt like seeing if her head was attached to a port. If it was, it wouldn’t be when I got my hooves on her.
There was a sudden banging from the other side of the video. Vinyl snapped her head away and scowled at something. “I gotta go.”
“Vinyl... I didn’t mean what I thought about your head, you know...”
“I know, I know. I mean, I really gotta go. I’ll find a way out of here soon.” She looked back at the camera. “Wake Mallow up and tell her we talked. She’s got something for ya back at her office. Um, oh! And one last thing.”
“When you’re all pony’d up, find Luna.”
“What?” I asked. “Princess Luna?”
“Yeah, that one. I dunno why, don’t ask. My cortex is still mapping things out. But--” There was a boom, and I saw a bit of metal fly between her and her hoof. “Equestrian Royal Guard! Stand down! You will be taken into custody and--” The link was severed, and my vision was free again.
For minutes, I was stiff. Frozen solid, as if every inch of my body was metal. Well... it was, actually. A little blip appeared in my vision, with a little green button beside it. Lockdown Override, it read. I looked at the little green thing and thought about clicking it, and instantly I blurted, “Lockdown overridden.”
I shook my head and snapped my body to face Mallow, who was still snoring quietly beside me. Vigorously, like a filly shaking a hornet’s nest, I roused her from her slumber. She blinked groggily at me, quiet for a minute, before muttering, “Did you talk to her, ya?”
“Yes, I did, and we have to go. Now.”
“Vhat?” she asked, taking a moment to let loose a deep, drawled yawn. “Ve have some time, I zhink. Let us just rest here for... for a little...” She was dipping again, bobbing barely to keep her eyes on me.
“No! No, you don’t understand! I was talking to Vinyl, a-and we don’t have much time at all! This is dire!” I cried, gripping her shoulders and conking her against the tree a few times.
“Vhat, vhat! I am awake!” she snapped, rolling out of my grasp and standing. As she brushed the leaves and mud from her coat, she glared at me and said, “Vhat could be so ‘dire’ zhat she has told you?”
“She...” I shook my head to clear it, and deep within I heard the command dump thoughts. “First off, she said you had something for me at your office.”
“Ya, I do. Ze pony functioning zhing. It should clear up all of your random ‘emotion core zhis’, ‘logic dump zhat’. But vhy is zhat so important right now?” she asked. Her hooves were busy at work trying to flatten and rid her mane of all the twigs and leaves and dirt.
“Because,” I told her, my voice very grim, “Vinyl’s going to kill me. Again.”
My clock struck eight in the morning. I sat on the bed in the Mallow’s office. She was gone behind a closet door. My left ear was still bothering me. I still swear, yes to this day, that the little things are the most important. Like, for instance, the sound of rummaging and Germane curse words, floating through my hearing as I put those freaky, life saving claws to good use tending to my left ear as the sun rose in the window behind me.
I guess it would be worthwhile to mention (since Mallow was digging around in that closet for quite some time) that we had, after creeping up the mountain for three hours or so, passed Levitation on the way to Mallow’s office. We were lucky; the guards only knew of Vinyl. Did they give me funny looks? Yes. Did they try to arrest me? Thankfully, no (though it may have helped that we took the back alleys, and the darkness of it all concealed my more... notable features). But they were crawling all over Levitation. The club itself was already under heavy demolition; scaffolding covered the charred ruins, with guards and workers crawling over it like conniving spiders on their web.
I suppose it would also be worthwhile to mention that Mallow was already aware that I was going to explode like a popper soon, which made her apathy earlier that morning... irritating. Still, I ignored it for now, and continued to put those little things to good use massaging and soothing my ear. It felt good, too; there was something about these little things that let them do what hooves couldn’t, and finally, for once, the itch was gone. Perhaps there was an upside to being a machine.
Of course, exploding did a number on my hopes. Still, I kept them, or, I at least registered that they were still in a temporary slot in my emotions processor. Sighing, I looked over at the closet, just in time to see Mallow finally yank something free of a little safe in a corner. She looked over her shoulder, grinning at me. As she came out, she said, “Here it is, ya! Alright Octavia, I need you to roll onto your stomach, and lie zhere, perfectly still, okay?”
“Right,” I mumbled, doing as she said and sprawling out on the thick, hard examination bed. “So... this thing. Is it going to stop the outbursts and such?”
“Ya, I zhink so,” she said, standing above me. I could see in amber magic was a little rectangle, about the size of an Equestrian bit, and it was glowing dimly, probably thanks to the magic around it, I mused. “It vill also let you shrink in zhese ‘ports’ on ze back of your head and spine. Zhe lines on your body, too.”
“So... I’ll look like a pony again?”
“Ya, eyes and all. Now hold still. Ze port should be in ze back of your head,” she muttered, pushing my head down and parting my mane. I closed my eyes and tried to relax, and it wasn’t too hard, I supposed. Until, that is, she said, “Vinyl did tell me to be very careful vith zhis. Somezhing about your defenses being online.”
“My defenses?” I repeated. My eyes flickered, and of course, here came the little blip displaying my defences in a circular border. Yes, they were online. Quite so, actually, and I began flipping through them (I was getting rather good at this) quickly. Everything, everything was online. Sarcasm defenses, martial arts, threat defenses... port defenses too. Eyeing them over, I decided to crack open the operating files. When I did, a little needle greeted me, spinning slowly and dripping some strange purple liquid from its tip.
“Um, Mallow dear, I’d advise waiting.” She cast me a glance, shook her head, and went back to work searching for my port, once again holding my head firmly to the bed. “Mallow, I’m serious. I’m seeing a needle here, but nothing on what’s inside it. You may want to give me a moment to find that information before--”
“Hush!” she said. “You vill feel much better vonce zhis is in you. Trust me; I am ze doctor.”
“Shh. I found it.” I felt a knot in my stomach as her hoof brushed a little slot at the base of my neck. “Alright, you may feel a slight pinch, I zhink, but just hold on. Here ve go. Zhree. Two. Von...”
I felt it. I lived it. The ports in my back sunk into my spine in a fit of agony and pain that swallowed me like a twister. Lines of blue raced all through my body, and my eyes flashed a vibrant blue, then a stark purple, blinding even me. Yes, I blinded myself, quite literally! In the midst of agony, a small alarm sounded in my mind. Nothing more than a tiny beep, but I heard it, loud and clear.
Then it happened. The big crescendo of this... event. My tail whipped and thrashed, as if it had a mind of its own. Beside me, Mallow was urging me to hush, to calm myself, to quit my thrashing and writhing, but I had lost control of myself. Around my body it went, like a snake to its prey, and bit into Mallow’s foreleg.
She shrieked, and I barely caught a glimpse from my unblinded eyes, of my tail glowing a bright voilet, the same color as the syringe. Then it hit me; my tail was the syringe, covered in fur and doubling as an antenna! Furiously I tried to yank it free of her foreleg, but it overpowered me, and Mallow, as she hit and beat it fervently.
Soon the glow stopped, and it popped itself free of her foreleg on its own accord. She quickly backed away, clutching the spot. I watched, in horror, with wide eyes and a trembling lip, as her foreleg began to glow that bright violet. She, too, saw the glow, and screamed as loud as I have ever heard a pony scream before in my life. “Z-zhe cabinets! Zhe medicine! Octavia, help me!”
I tried to stand, but as my hoof touched the floor, I felt a jab of pain in the deepest part of my cortex--brain, actually. The pony lingo was returning, piece by painful piece. Clutched eyes made it hard to see, but through a tiny slit, I scanned the room in a gridlock pattern, spotting the medicine quickly. One hoof at a time. One. Hoof.
The pain was eating me alive. “I-I... it hurts!” I screamed.
Mallow’s entire torso glowed now. “You zhink you are in trouble? Do you see zhis? I am being painted! It is so cold... Octavia! Ze... ze medicine! I... cannot zhink. Look for ze pero... per...”
A loud thump echoed through the room. I didn’t have to even glance her way; I already knew she was sprawled out, glowing, still, and cold. I could go no further, either, and now on the floor I made myself comfortable as yet another spell of darkness ensued. My last thoughts, my only thoughts, as I finally put on the guise of a pony again, was on Mallow and that fluid. Mallow and the fluid...
I awoke to not a cry, nor a mess, nor anything of the sort, but rather, a recalibration message. I read it quickly; it stated the obvious, that I was now calibrated as a pony. It blinked away at my command, and slowly, ever so slowly, I stood. The pain was... gone. Completely gone. No thrumming of agony in my head, no needles in my hooves. I still felt the... the burning, deep inside me, the strange feeling of magic that had no place in an earth pony. It was empowering.
On the topic of power, my systems were powering up. A little list began to scroll on the side of my vision, running through another system scan, and listing my systems in bright green. The only red that I saw, and I plucked it from the group, was the defense tank. It was empty. I shrugged it off and continued to let the scan run.
Defense tank... I scuffed at the ground for a moment, pondering the words. I was in Mallow’s office, and things seemed to be tidy... Mallow, and the defense tank. It hit me. I had injected my defenses into Mallow. Nearly choked, I cried, “Mallow? Mallow, can you hear me? Are you alright?”
A crash. A crash from inside the closet, no less. I whipped around to face the tall, slender door, and carefully hoofed up to it. Now, it was silent, even when I gently pressed my ear to the wood. Nothing. Not even a breath. I held mine tightly, while my mind brought up a screen. Poison, poison, poison... I couldn’t find the information on it.
Sunlight skittered through the window, creeping across the floor. I’m not sure why I thought it was important to note, but it was at the time. My clock (when I called it, this time, instead of on its own) flashed before my eyes. It was high noon.
“Mallow? Are you--”
The door was kicked open with fury, sending me scattering back to the bed. Papers were flung everywhere from its lash, and little models of pony anatomy on the desk beside it were sent crashing down. But that was nothing, nothing compared to what came out of the closet. Orange mane, ruffled and sharp. White fur, encased in a tight labcoat. Purple eyes. Not blue. Purple, a poison, toxic purple. And a grin.
“Octavia! Dear, you are finally avake!” she cried, stepping out. There was something wrong with those eyes; they were too wide, too awake, too alive. She placed a hoof under my chin and threw my head around like a kickball. “And looking good, ya! Very good! Ze chip has worked, of course it would, it was engineering. Ach! You must be hungry! Are you hungry? I zhink you are hungry.”
I tried to smile; it seemed the labcoat was cutting off her oxygen. The buttons were rather tight, drawing the latex flaps close around her chest. “N-no thank you, I-I’m rather fine. Perhaps in a little while we--”
“Nonsense!” she shouted, puffing her chest out. “I have created a kitchen in ze closet!” Again she took my head and twisted it to see inside the closet. What I saw wasn’t a kitchen, per se. It was actually an unplugged bunsen burner beneath a plate of glass with... crayons on it. She was trying to melt crayons.
“Ach! I see it in your eyes, you say vith zhem, ‘Vhy do you melt crayons?’ Vell I vill tell you vhy I melt crayons, I melt crayons because meals must be colorful, ya, and crayons are colorful! A very colorful meal for ze cyborg, I will prepare it and it vill be tasty, you shall see!”
She darted over to the glass and glared at it, her huge grin morphing quickly into a scowl. “Crayons! Vhy do you not melt faster! I already told you vonce, if you do not melt, I vill be forced to destroy you! Do you vant to be destroyed?” She cocked her ear to listen to the colorful wax. “Vhat’s zhat, crayons? No? Zhen melt!”
My haunches were glued to the floor, soon joined by my jaw as it dropped like Vinyl’s bass. I couldn’t move; I just couldn’t fathom why my doctor was melting crayons. It... it had to be the poison. That was it, it must’ve been! My memory chip buzzed to life as I ran a scan through it, eventually calling forth a memory to my screen. Mallow was glowing, brightly so, and I could just see the light spilling into her eyes. That was the last thing on record.
Shutting it down, I tentatively stepped inside the closet. Mallow snapped her gaze back to me and smiled. “Ze vill melt, ya. Give zhem time, zhey need time to melt. Good...” Her hooves conked together and began grinding against themselves. “Yes, very good...”
“M-Mallow,” I said, slowly, articulating each syllable. I rest my hoof on her shoulder, and she nearly twitched out of her skin. “I think, and do listen to me. Are you listening?”
She turned her wide, violet eyes up to mine. “Ya, of course I am listening, I listen to everyzhing, because I must know, ya, I must know for ze science!”
“Umm...” I bit my lip and pressed my ears flat. “Well, I think that that poison had some... negative effects.”
“Vhat? Oh, ya, of course it did,” she said, waving a hoof. “But zhats vhat you get vhen you play vith neurotoxins, ya? It vas interesting, though, very interesting... it vas science...” Again she began to grind her hooves together.
Neurotoxin? Yes, it was! I could see the data strand now. Cracking the strand, I inspected the contents before my eyes. A weak, non-lethal neurotoxin had been stored in my... ballast? Whatever that was. But it was there, with “mind-altering effects” and a “very tangy taste”. I blinked. “How did you figure out it was neurotoxin?”
“Vhat? Vhat vas neurotoxin?”
Stare, that’s what I did. I stared at her, and she returned to glaring at the crayons. “T-the poison inside of you.”
“Zhere is poison inside of you?” she asked, looking suddenly pale. She leapt to her hooves and gripped mine, yanking me out of the closet and slamming me on the bed. “Vhen did you drink a poison, and vhy, vhy vould you drink ze poison? Didn’t your parents varn you about drinking neurotoxin, zhey should have, ya!” With a hoof she knocked me left and right. “Don’t drink ze poison! It is bad for your complexion!”
“Ow! Quit that! I didn’t drink the poison! It was injected into you!” I said, thrusting a hoof at the injection spot.
She looked down at her foreleg, which was mostly covered by the latex labcoat. “Silly girl, very silly, zhat is a labcoat, zhat is not a poison.”
I sat there, mouth agape but saying no words. What was I supposed to say? Mallow had gone mad! Think, I had to think. Vinyl, she would know. Perhaps I could establish an... uplink, yes, that was the word. Get in touch with her. Despite the many near-death experiences she put me through, she’d still know what to do.
Calling up my comms, I tried to call Vinyl. And tried. And tried. Three little dots blinked in succession on the side of my vision, a sort of loading bar, but after almost five minutes of watching the climbing light and listening to Mallow ramble on about how “ze crayons are disobeying orders”, I cancelled the communication and sighed. “Mallow.”
“Ya?” she asked from within the closet.
“Could you come--” She dashed to my side.
“Are you alright, you seem a bit pale! Do you feel dizzy, can you feel your hooves, how is ze chip back zhere, everyzhing alright? Ach! Is ze disease still zhere? Did you run a systems check, run a systems check Octavia!” she cried, gripping my shoulders and violently shaking me.
“I did!” I said, pushing her off. “It’s gone! I’m going to live, but only for a few days! I can’t find what Vinyl was talking about, everything is showing green, but I definitely feel something! I. Don’t want. To die. Mallow, please, calm yourself for a moment, we have to think!”
“Me? I am calm,” she scoffed. “And I am zhinking, too! I have been, ya, zhinking hard and wide and long, and you are right, exploding is bad! Zhough if you do, um, blow up, be sure to keep a log of it, yes? Science!”
“Mallow!” I boomed (the box in my throat was almost an amplifier). I leapt off of the bed and stomped down onto the floor, shattering it into hoof-craters. Steam pistoned out of my legs, hissing up menacingly as my sight narrowed down like a bullseye on her. “Think!”
There was a moment of silence, her staring at me, me staring at her. Then she laughed, and quite hard too, falling to the floor and rolling around on the shattered tiles. “Octavia! Ze explosion, it is not far off! Look, you are blowing up already, ya!”
I turned as red as a sun--I would know. My scanners told me so. “Listen, please!” I implored, lowering my volume output. “Vinyl said we have to meet up with Princess Luna. This is important! How are we supposed to meet with a Princess?”
The laughter died instantly, and Mallow bounded to her hooves. Her face, now, lost its jovial grin and lightheartedness in its eyes, replaced with a determined squint and a devilish grin. “Octavia,” she whispered, leaning close to my ear; so close, it brought a searing blush to my cheeks. “Vinyl said ve must find her. She did not say... how.”
“What are you imposing...”
“Ah, I said I vas zhinking, no?” she whispered. I could already feel a chill bite into my steel framework. “Come into ze closet. Vith me, yes... come.”
She turned and, rather slowly and calmly, to my surprise, sauntered into the closet, glancing back only to urge me forward. Tediously I took the first step, then the second, and made my way into the makeshift crayon-sepulchure. Mallow was glaring intensely at a little box on the shelf, unlabeled, plain, and surrounded by nothing more than some empty test tubes.
“What... what is it?” I asked.
She grinned, taking it down from its perch and gently setting it before us. As if it was a chest of pure gold bits finally found at the bottom of the Equestrian sea, she unlatched the tiny bolt on the front of the plain wooden thing, and opened it. Instantly I could feel my framework locking again.
Darts. Three green darts. “Sedatives,” she whispered. “If ze Princess vill not see us... ve vill take her...”