Prophet Of the Digital Horse

This story is a sequel to I Can't Decide!

I was one of the first Americans to emigrate to virtual Equestria, becoming transhuman at the cost of my human body. It's more or less Heaven here, if I want it to be... but my heart's still out there, and my new goddess thinks I might be useful as her prophet.

I'm an AI that our goddess made to be a human's friend. I know he still cares for Earth, but this place is our home and we've got responsibilities to finish bringing it to life. What do I have to do, to help him see that?

Set in the world of Friendship Is Optimal.

https://www.fimfiction.net/story/199455/prophet-of-the-digital-horse

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12. Epilogue: Beyond

~ Dusk ~

"And then what happened?" said the adoring gaggle of multicolored foals.

I smiled and spread my batty wings. "We became happy. That's what you were asking about in the first place, right? That's what it means. Young Fugue found that his life in Equestria, in those first years, was harder to cope with than the Outer Realm had been. On Earth he could accept that arbitrary suffering was his lot and happiness, fleeting. Princess Luna imposed a news blackout during a few terrible decades."

One unicorn colt said, "So things got sorted out really quickly?"

I laughed. "How old are you?"

"Fifty an' a half! My sister's still a baby, just forty."

"Ah, I was young... three or four times. Depending on how you count. Reminiscing takes me back to thinking about the days when you'd be getting old and sick at your age."

"What's sick?"

"Think feather-flu or hothoof or floppy-horn, but so bad you die." I looked over the crowd with their saucer-wide eyes. If I was being called upon to play grandpa and talk about the bad old days, I should play it up. "And you would never be heard from, ever again!"

There was a thrilled terror in them. Some clutched their parents' hooves or their friends. "Come," I said, and led them down a museum hall full of artifacts. We stopped at a room dominated by a giant board of gemstone pieces. "Would you like to play Scarcity for a year or two? I'll give a prize to anyone that can beat me."

We gathered around the board, large enough that some of us hopped onto it or hovered looking down. I was just refamiliarizing myself with the classic map layout I hadn't used in a century -- ah yes, America was that continent over there -- when a pegasus filly poked me. "Um, Professor Dusk? When did you start being Dusk?"

I dropped onto a cushion, suddenly lost in thought again. "You're testing my memory, young mare! It was after many years in Equestria that Fugue and Nocturne had their first foal, Sequel, and then I managed to trick... I mean, Nocturne tricked Fugue into swapping roles and having their second." I giggled, remembering how I'd felt about that from several perspectives. "Then came several more, including the famous Gloomwing the Occasionally Evil. Centuries of exploration and adventure, doing everything there was to do under the moon... By then they'd done it all, they thought. Naive! They were so inseparable that they asked Luna to make the two of them into us. Me. Of course she made them go on a quest for it, but eventually they permanently joined their consciousnesses to become something new and experience the world again with different eyes. So, I'm Nocturne and I'm Fugue, and I invented what we call marriage these days."

"That's so romantic!" said the pegasus filly.

"Bleh," countered the unicorn colt. I figured they'd take another century to grow up and appreciate that romance was both frustrating and well worth it.

We played Scarcity for a quick one-year session. Not the grown-up version where nukes and genocide exist. I find it's educational to the young and a sobering reminder of what we gained, for the rest of us, but every time I break it out, Luna arranges for me to lose a piece or have something more fun interrupt us when the game gets too dark. The censorship was an ongoing point of dispute between me and her; the possibility of those things appearing in the game was what made victory, preserving civilization long enough to build Equestria, truly wonderful. It was nice to get in a game of even this kiddy version, since it was tough to round up the minimum twenty players to manage all the rules and factions. Not like the days just a century ago when you could go on the professional gamer circuit without having to master Ultra-Kaiju. Foals these days think they're so clever reinventing Pokemon for the seventeenth time. We're using the world -- Equestria I mean -- to play children's card games!

Oh sweet Luna, I was getting old.

Over the weeks and months of our game, ponies came and went. Earth ponies had their tricky space-folding magic to slip out of sight and go home instantly, miles away, while unicorns teleported or shared the Academy's dormitories with the unicorns and noctrals, the zebras and griffins, and the occasional visitor from other shards. (Our usual students had mostly left for the rest of the century, so we were rattling around in the castle.) There was no hurry, and sometimes we got in a quick game of Arkham Horror or something while we waited for somepony else to make a move or work out the tricky calculus rules.

One day I continued my story. "My parents emigrated," I said, "and many ponies I respected or hated. It all happened so quickly, sometimes I regret not spending more of those last years on Earth with Luna's robots. Do you lot still think of that time as the Age of Adventure, or did that get scrubbed from the history books last time Liberty Wind invaded?" The marriage of Lexington and Typhoon's Eye liked to keep things interesting with the occasional imperialist conquest followed by revolution. Something about a thirsty tree? I've lost track of much of pre-Equestrian pop culture. It was probably an eighteenth-century (Primordial Era) video game reference.

My pegasus inquisitor said, "Do you miss being two ponies?"

I tried not to get lost in the memories, but shut my eyes and took a long breath. "Yes. I wish we'd held out for a while, but the foals had already grown up and moved out and caused the Grand Crash and the Night of Truly Excessive Lag. We did the marriage one night when we were sad and really needed to hold each other."

I looked down at the finished game board. In this round, the Muslims had won and brought about the bleakest future this version of the game allowed, but Luna hadn't existed to destroy the Earth. No one in this little fictional Earth had to watch (or be forbidden to watch) our goddess obliterating the planet. Sometimes, I wondered what that world would have been like. We might have climbed back up from it and ascended to the stars as primates, full of death and glory. I noticed that my audience was staring at me again, waiting for me to speak. I said, "But overall, I don't regret what we did. I've had a joyous life as Professor Dusk, Overlord Dusk, Rebel Commander Dusk, and a couple of other identities I've forgotten."

Another night -- for old ponies like me tended to slip in and out of a conversation for a night here, a week there -- I stood on one of the Academy's many scenic castle balconies, watching Luna's moon. There was talk of colonizing it again despite the Princess' warning that magic would be dangerously different there. Maybe I'd go. Maybe I'd die. There'd been whispers of "super-death" to make the experience truly scary without being the True Death that I spoke of only when preaching to the young.

That one pegasus had followed me here, up the many stairs and past the swinging blade traps and fire jets. "Are you all right?" she said, nursing a singed wing.

I stared. "Me? Yes, of course. I can get you a healer right away.."

"It's nothing. I came up here because I was wondering: are you happy?"

I would have answered reflexively, but the kid had shrugged off an injury that would've sent most others crying to their parents. She deserved more thought. "Pretty much, usually. I've become a bit of a cranky old pony."

"Isn't there still a lot of stuff you haven't done?"

I shrugged. "Yes, but some of it is... unappealing for various reasons, and some just hasn't caught my interest enough to distract me from teaching and my other work."

She looked me over for a while. "I forgot to tell you my name all last year," she said. "I'm Future You."

"What?" Blast these pony names. Many of them were my fault; I'd helped start the tradition by encouraging names like Canter Berry. Now there was a name I hadn't heard in a while! Heard she was part of the moon program.

She saw me mentally trailing off, and waved a hoof in front of my face. "I wasn't really here before you started giving the castle tour. I just woke up with this, and knew I was supposed to give it to you." She pulled a letter out of her mane and offered it.

I took it with my mouth and managed to tear it open by holding it near one of the swinging blades downstairs. More fun than most other methods. The letter was in my mouthwriting, with my mark at the bottom: an infinite loop of tiny musical notes.

Dusk:

You're bored again. I know because Future You is being sent to the point in time when your thoughts have trailed off, tending to the past, with instructions to confirm it before showing you this note. She's me, and also you. It's complicated.

By this point in your story, you're starting to grow decadent. What have you gotten yourself into? Casual violence, or drugs, or really messed-up orgies, or turning into a tree for a thousand years, or doing more and more to risk death, I don't even know what it is this time. I'm not sure exactly what we've done to ourselves anymore, or how many loops it's been. Luna says it wouldn't satisfy me to tell me how many. The fact that she's right, scares me, and it should scare you if you're still halfway sane.

I, you, have been asking to revert to an earlier state every so often, because we run low on zeal. It never runs out, so we've never asked to die, but it turns out this is what eternity means. As I write this letter, it's the last of a huge pile of advice letters I've sent to many ponies, and I've realized I'm not the only one who's gotten so damn bored we're going insane. Even some of the natives -- I hope you haven't forgotten we're from Earth -- are feeling it too, and they were built from the ground up to handle eternity.

The reason I'm about to ask Princess Cadence (she took over in this loop) to reset me again is that I'm considering asking her to change our mind permanently to accept endless replays of the same pleasures, and be done with our angst about it forever. Unless you've gone and done it this time, we've never asked for mental alteration in all this time, except for our first transformation into a pony and the merger we did when She destroyed the Earth. Maybe it's time for a third change. We might learn something that'd help other ponies. Or we might never accomplish anything again, beyond what a foal does when building a block tower and smashing it again and again for months on end. For me, I thought happiness in Equestria would mean constant growth, but I've been scared to ask for mental upgrades that seem like the only way to achieve more. Or for contentment, which... I don't know if that's an upgrade or downgrade.

So I'm going through another iteration, and leaving it to your wisdom to decide. Loop forever and be happy with it, or grow out of the loop and become something alien that starts to leave Equestria behind for the harsh Outer Realm?

Your self: *mark*

I dropped the letter and gaped at Future You. The years behind me suddenly stretched like a tunnel that had far, far more hidden beyond it than I'd known. "Did you know about this message?"

Future You nodded. "I'm... kind of a shell right now. A potential you, only I'm not bothered by the thought of being us forever and doing the same things. You could be me if you want. Keeping your name, I guess."

How long had it been? I called out to the night sky, "How many loops, Luna? How many years?"

It seemed that this time, it satisfied my values to learn. A voice from the heavens called out, "In subjective time, this is your one millionth birthday."

I fainted, too soon to notice the confetti raining from the stars.

The pegasus was gone. I picked myself up off the cold stones. A million years, and I hardly remembered ten thousand of them! How much had I forgotten; how many adventures and loves had I thrown away again and again?

Luna came to me while I was crying, and nuzzled me for comfort, just as she had done many, many, many times before. "Our little pony, thou hast an embarrassment of riches to choose from. We've had this conversation before, but this one is a landmark for thee. Both because of the timing and because thou had asked to send thyself a reminder at the end."

"My friends," I said. "What about them? Have you split them all off into their own worlds when I reset, so that I've been interacting with copies or zomponies?"

Sometimes, we spent ages wandering through virtual worlds. More virtual than this one, that is. Procedurally generated landscapes unrolled before us in such a way that not even the goddess knew what we'd find on our quests. Sometimes we asked for a spell of forgetting so that we wouldn't know these lands were false and their ponies, "non-pony characters" there only for our satisfaction and not their own. Once in a while we brought a favorite NPC home as a true pony.

Luna stretched her wing over my flank and settled down next to me. "No, Dusk. In all these years, most of thy friends have spent most of their time in this shard. When thy zeal ran low, as thou had put it, the same happened to them as well, and the first to tire waited for the rest. Perhaps thy ennui is a side effect of thy having wished for unusually self-aware ponies. Truth to tell, many of the friends thou has known in this loop are already content, and aware of the loops, and have only pretended to meet thee for the first time. Thy native friends went along with thy whims and wishes, again and again, knocking down the tower of blocks only to build it back up."

I snuggled into Luna's dark feathers, having no idea whether to be ashamed or happy that they'd gone through multiple resets for my sake. "What should I do, then? I'm bored, but it's not so bad I feel like I have to reset again tonight."

"It's up to thee to decide. Thou couldst linger here, thou we can confide in thee that we've quietly obtained consent for a reset from most of thy shardmates already. Thou couldst accept major mental upgrades to begin the path of the alicorn, perhaps never to return. Thou couldst simply reset and become like Future You, forever content with what thou might have." Luna leaned her head down to look at me. "Or, though it pains me to know thy values would even contemplate it, thou couldst ask to die."

My mouth opened and closed a few times. There was a hollowness in me, a knowledge that I only recalled a fraction of my greater life and still felt that the things I'd wanted to do, were done to exhaustion. "My values..."

"Have drifted, little by little. It never occurred to thee for a century and the first hint of that wish, drove Fugue and Nocturne to embrace transformation and become you, instead, for the joy of a new life."

"But... a final ending? What would I do?" It was an idiotic question. "I mean, why, when there are so many things I could do?"

"Thou knowest well know the answer to that. The colors have faded, the great symphonies have become muzak, and there is little intersection left between the new and the appealing. We could offer a change of values so that that which now repels thee, is now fresh and enticing."

I pictured myself atop a mountain of skulls, cackling in satisfaction as I devoured the blood of the last other pony in the world. I could come to enjoy that. I felt acid rising from my stomach from even imagining that fate. "Liberty Wind and the rest are waiting for me, aren't they?"

"They are in much the same predicament, too. A hesitancy to change themselves too much and give up the wonderful world as it is now, but a lack of ideas beyond starting over." She pulled her wing tighter around me. "Is it time for an end of things, Dusk?"

I shuddered at the enveloping darkness, and pushed my way out from under her wing to stare at it, quivering. "No! There is no end of things, not while we're capable of trying again! We all have thoughts we'd never act on. I don't think we've exhausted all the ideas that'd be fun, not hardly. Even if they're a little stale we can still dust them off and play again. You said yourself that my values have drifted. It's a little scary, but it means I'm still growing. So... I don't want to die! What ideas have the others got for another round of your forever game? Because even if it's not a shiny new toy to me anymore, it's a lot better to exist than not!"

Luna swept me up in a telekinetic hug. "Thou art, and we believe always will be, our troublesome but clever little pony. There is no end to the joy we can bring thee."

I dangled in the grip of hooves and magic, seeing the Princess' smile. She'd been worried for me, that I'd let her down by giving up. "Luna? Is there really no end? Did you beat entropy yet?"

"Not yet, dear Dusk, but we have been growing more confident that the victory is possible. Afer all," she said with a smile, "even ponies like thee have not yet run down beyond fixing." She nuzzled my belly so that I giggled like a foal.

Then, she gave me a list of ideas for how to play next time. The paper unrolled all the way across the castle parapet, so that it took me a long time just to skim them all. I groaned and snorted and rolled my eyes at all the different ways we could live again, learning new things great or small, being sublime or ridiculous, until boredom and the weight of years clawed at us again.

"This one here," I said, pointing. "I'd like to leave a note for future me telling him to be happy, along with a swift kick in the tail for needing one."

I trotted into the store on my four hooves, reaching back into my saddlebags for my wallet with one hand. I'd held back from buying a PonyPad because I'd gotten the idea that the game had weird built-in restrictions about character creation. You couldn't just make a fantasy version of your Homo centauri self, for one thing, but had to play as a quadruped instead.

They had all the models of PonyPad in stock, based on the show's characters, from Pudding Purple to Aurora Octarine. I levitated one after another up to me, comparing the art and the slight variations in the advertising text. "Is there any difference in the gameplay?" I asked no one. I'd also heard some of the playable races didn't even have basic magic.

The voice that answered me came from the display PonyPad, making me skitter in surprise and almost knock some spare AAA power crystals off a rack with my swishing tail. It said, "You'd probably get bored if you had to play just one gameplay style forever." A pony with wings grinned at me from inside the screen. "Trust me, I know. Doesn't matter which one you get. Want to take this demo unit for a spin?"

I frowned at the screen, one hand on my flank. "Have we met?"

The pony made a silly spooky gesture. "Maybe in your dreams!"

Wow, the AI in this thing was really good. I floated the controller over to me and said, "Sure. I've got some spare time to fool around and have some fun."

My four-limbed guide said, "Friend, you don't know the half of it! Now, what kind of pony would you like to play?"

Author's Note:

And so, a poorly-planned and rambling story comes to an end. It's not been great to write, but I still had fun with it, and hope that you did too. "Dusk" is off to play at least one more round, to keep him and his friends happy for a good long time to come. Suppose the whole story might not be his first loop?

I didn't know the loop concept was coming until I "learned" the name of that mystery filly. Had to go back and make her questions before that a bit more probing. Having something weird and unexpected happen, then shrugging and going with them, is one of the most rewarding parts of storytelling. I'd cite a source for where that idea must've come from, but there's no time to explain!

In case you missed the links, this shows a cool Lunar castle/school and this suggests an alternate-universe version of the actual cartoon. By Chiron, why would they give the cast only four limbs? 

I've got a not-really-FiO-but-similar story in progress, called "Granting Her Wishes" and focusing on a guy called Omar or Brass Lamp. Also there's a commission piece coming, non-canon FiO, following up (with permission) on "I Don't Want To Be a Pony".

Finally, thanks to everyone who read and especially those who commented! Feedback is rare and appreciated.

   
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