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.


8. Exploring With a Native Guide

~ Nocturne ~

I showed Fugue the huge waterfalls of Polaris by sunset. We flew downstream along a river lined with trees that turned increasingly tropical. I said, "We haven't explored much yet, but I bet there's an ocean thataway and Lex and company started around there."

"How many ponies are known here yet?"

"We've just got the band I started with, eight ponies, and the dozen or so you had. Minus Peace. I'm thinking more will show up later."

"You built multiple cabins and that watchtower thing already with just twenty people?"

"It's the earth ponies, mostly. You should see how strong they are!" I veered toward a little cloud and bucked it, saying, "Hi-yah! They were like that, only with trees and boulders."

He smiled at me, surrounded by fading bits of cloudstuff. "You haven't even seen much of the show yet, and you're already impressed by them. We're barely canon, you know."

I giggled and swooned, danging upside-down from another cloud. "Alas! This revelation that I'm not perfectly in line with a children's cartoon fills me with angst!"

He flew closer and nuzzled my neck. "A terrible secret, I know. Maybe I can make it up to you. We'll fly out to the ocean and try swimming. Maybe even find some dolphins."

"What are those?"

Fugue froze in the act of kissing me. His wings flapped just enough to hover. "What about the dolphins?" he said as if to himself. "It was something a professor wanted to make sure I thought about."

I dangled, shrugging. "Can't help you with something I don't know. Unless I ask to have a dictionary stuck in my brain. Anything to dislodge half the contents of that blasted Web site Riptide loves."

He told me about some fishy sea creatures that were kind of like ponies or humans. The excitement I'd been feeling in anticipation of sharing a cloud with Fugue turned into a clammy anxiety. "I don't think I've ever actually seen a fish yet. I'm sorry, Fugue. I'm still an ignorant piece of code."

"No. You're a piece of code like I'm... was, a piece of meat. We get to have you discover all the things you don't know yet. It'll be great. Remember Junebug getting her sight one piece at a time? Be happy that you get to learn things. There's nearly as much for me to learn, too."

My stallion always seemed to know how to make me smile. "What about these dolphins, then? Was the guy asking if they exist in Equestria?"

He flopped onto the cloud and tugged me up to sprawl beside him. He'd gotten to be a natural at cloud-walking, maybe because his head was in the clouds half the time. "He knows Luna's planning to bring everypony here. He was willing to help out with getting me a robot body, but he was wary about her hiding things from me and about being studied. He wanted me to think about dolphins. Luna probably doesn't count them as 'human' because they're not all that bright, compared to us. Distantly related too. She'd upload the chimps before picking them."

I watched his brain work. I asked, "Why care about them specifically then? Luna mentioned that she's going to start offering some kind of emigration for pets. The concept of a pet is kind of unsettling, but I'm not sure why."

Fugue sat on the cloud, head on his forehooves. "People think they're really smart, or have magic powers, or for more science-minded people there's some talk of one day 'awakening' them with AI implants or something called genetic engineering, so that they become another intelligent race."

"Like what Luna does to us natives?"

"Not exactly. In your case you've got the intelligence, but it's physically part of her hardware and the upgrade is an adjustment in how independently the code runs. For them it'd be, hmm, giving them the reasoning and planning and speech they don't have yet. They're probably dimly self-aware already."

I shifted next to him, glancing sidelong at his pensive expression. "Is it a bad thing if somepony is part of Luna, even if they're self-aware and can act on their own?"

"I think we all qualify as 'part of her' in the sense that we're in her servers right now. I wonder if we use IP packets. Nah, probably some new protocol."

"Good. Because Luna was telling me that I'm, like, one of her thoughts." Hastily I added, "She had to tell me that, because I'm thinking on my own."

I'd startled him. "The thoughts of a goddess," he said. "That... makes sense. The more who upload, the more she'll have, and the more her mind will grow. A Borg collective without the violence. Come to think of it, if that happens, she'll have the highest possible capacity to solve any problem at all. To win that war with Entropy and handle more immediate problems like the sun destroying Earth in a billion years."

I let out a relieved sigh. "Glad you're not bothered by that."

"Nah. The idea of being part of a larger identity is an old concept in theology and some of the more evil political systems. This version seems about as nice as possible."

I came with him on his next robot adventure. He arranged the cockpit so he could sit back like a human, wearing his CCC cape, and have me sit on his lap while he posed with cool sunglasses he'd borrowed from Luna, calling me his Nia. Apparently he was acting out some TV show.

After a tour of the campus' grassy spaces (there weren't many, and snow had dusted them), the grey concrete world rolled slowly beneath us. We were in a really long hallway of signboards and doors in several styles that'd been built and connected over many decades. I said, "Did you know you have a time control knob? We could hurry on through this 'Infinite Corridor' of yours and miss less time in Equestria."

He glanced at the knob. "That's new." He poked it with one hoof. "It also requires thumbs."

I leaned down and adjusted it with my mouth. "Thinking like a human." Our robot seemed to double in speed, making the pedestrians tougher to dodge. Some of them stopped to stare at us.

Fugue checked the battery meter, a weird spiral thing. "Want to explore the basements? There's an underground steam tunnel network. Some guys took me on the tour as a freshman. We can't do things like sneaking onto the roofs or through the vents, but we can see some weird spots."

We rode toward an elevator, and got a ping from Lexington. She had her own robot. "Main screen, turn on," said Fugue. "It's you!"

Lex greeted us from a fancy room full of computers and cushions. "How are you gentleponies?" Typhoon's Eye, Riptide and some red pony we didn't recognize tapped at control panels that beeped and blinked in satisfying ways.

"I am surrounded by nerds," Typhoon observed.

Lexington said, "Speaking of which, this here is my brother Concord. Bah, his name's getting censored."

"Which means," said Typhoon, "that he's a human in Massachusetts using a PonyPad to be a pony in Equestria using a control room to use a robot that interacts with humans in Massachusetts. Except that it's now talking to another robot driven by ponies." The newcomer just grinned at him.

"Where are you?" Fugue asked.

"Harvard Square. Can't tell you where in Equestria; we have to find each other."

"Heading for the MIT steam tunnels, here. How's the recruitment drive?"

Lexington shifted uncomfortably on her cushion. "I've been focused on speaking with a few people that I trust not to misinterpret what we're doing as a world takeover plot. I got asked to speak before a mixed political group tomorrow, though. That'll be 'fun'."

I thought about Inner Peace's departure. "Luna probably doesn't want me to give details, but we were thinking about the angle that people can live in separate shards if they don't like each other."

"Which is tempting," said Fugue, "but also dodges the big questions."

Lexington nodded. "I picture North Korea getting 'resolved' by making one big shard where everypony prays to 'Kim Sombra' forever. What kind of solution is that?"

Fugue said, "I can't call it a good one. I also can't think of one with less death in it, which means maximally satisfied values." Everypony was quiet for a moment. He lowered his head and ears. "I suppose it's the goddess' will. We can only try to optimize it."

Lexington looked taken aback. "I'm going to explore, and think about what to say. Take care of yourself."

The connection ended and we found ourselves by the same campus elevator. A bystander we'd seen jogging past us was right where he'd been. "Oh, neat," I said, noticing the time compression. No time at all wasted for that talk. We were still losing time while we piloted the robot, so I wanted to get back.

We rode down into the basement, where Fugue showed off how tunnels connected most of campus. "Great on snowy days. Not that the cold is relevant to us now." He looked disappointed about that, but shook the expression off. We kept going into the sub-basements, where plain concrete gave way to narrow tunnels lined with rattling pipes. Fugue looked elated now. "This is more impressive from a lower height. I imagine we could battle some steam golems in here."

It did look like a fun adventuring area, though I still didn't much care for the gritty art style Earth used. "Dark, too. Could we turn on a light? My eyes aren't made for looking through improvised robot cameras."

Fugue reached past me to flip a switch. "IR, I think. Yeah." We rolled along 'through caverns measureless to man', as Riptide had quoted to me once. It'd given me the idea for that cave I made.

Our robot halted. Fugue said, "Noc? Why is that here?"

I looked where he was pointing. The surreal green glow that the extra lamp added to the scene illuminated a symbol on the wall. Fugue flicked the IR lamp off, muttered something about 'gobbling power on active mode', then looked again to find that the symbol wasn't just dim, but invisible. He said, "It's stenciled in IR-reflective paint. Something you wouldn't see unless you had specialized gear to look for it."

The question was, why would someone draw that familiar sunburst design on an obscure sub-basement wall next to a locked door labeled "MISC CLEANING SUPPLIES"?

We left the robot on autopilot and returned to Equestria to report to Luna. Fugue hopped out of the cockpit with me, found Luna right there on the still-battered grass, and said, "We were just playing when we found it."

"Humans find many things while playing. Thank thee for bringing this matter to our attention."

"What should we do?"

"Thou hast the clearest view of the situation. What is thy suggestion?"

Fugue smiled, obviously glad to be asked. "I want to see what's behind the door! I know a guy that's part of the, uh, recreational lockpicking club. May I?"

The princess smiled impishly back. "Why, Fugue! Dost thou associate with ruffians and ne'er-do-wells now?"

"Are those like ninjas?" I asked.

"Yes," said both of them. Luna added, "Go ahead. Be mindful that I will rebuke thee in public if thou'rt caught doing anything illegal. It may be best to get one of the latest-model PonyPads -- they are more portable than the one on thy robot -- and have thy friend carry it around."

"The black op will be done as you wish, princess!" said Fugue, who saluted and hopped through the horseshoe mirror thing to send his friend an e-mail. He returned half a second later.

We caught up with our friends while we waited for the pitifully slow Earthers to answer. With Inner Peace gone, life in Polaris had settled down a bit and ponies were happier. The fact that they didn't seem to think anything was tragically missing from their lives made me think Peace was never meant to be part of our gang. The implications bothered me, but there was cooking to do and cloud-fetching to get more rain on our first attempts at crops. Facet Looks had trotted in battered, starved and happy to show off the crystal he'd found. "Episode 4!" Ricercar hadn't been seen yet but would surely make a dramatic entrance when he found us. We set up a cookfire big enough to make an obvious smoke trail.

Fugue reported to us at dawn, just as we were settling down to a not-very-satisfying dinner from a clay pot of dandelion stew. "Figured out that 'cornucopia' power yet?" he said.

Our unicorns groused apologetically. "That's why the first pot turned inside-out and exploded. Find anypony?"

Fugue had been searching all night and could barely lift his wings. "No, but there was a felled tree that had its branches stripped. We should start looking there next time."

While we ate, we chatted about our adventures on Earth. The other ponies were curious to hear what we were up to. When we offered to spend our last waking hour watching the new cartoon episode, their reaction was, "Let's play Earth Online!"

"Who?" I said, looking around our improvised dining hall/common room/second bunkhouse/pantry.

"Everypony!" said Facet. "There's a mystery to solve, and you guys feel bad about being gone while we're busy. If we all go, no one has to be left behind."

Canter Berry, one of the newcomers, flapped excitedly. "We ought to find your friend first. Time can wait out there. I'll help search tomorrow night."

Fugue said, "I barely know most of you, and I'm already really liking you." He looked down into his crude wooden bowl. "Sorry for driving Inner Peace away."

She answered, "It's all right. Things didn't work out with him, but we'll make new friends." Others murmured assent, including me.

"I've been thinking while I flew tonight." He lifted the soup-bowl in both forehooves and slurped the rest of it. "I keep saying I'm a pony now, then flying off to do things elsewhere. Feeling guilty for still caring about Earth. I've been fragmented, living in parallel. There's nothing wrong with having different tracks to my life, though. It's okay for a human to have multiple interests and divide their time, and it's even less of a problem for an Equestrian..." He raised the bowl in salute. "One with understanding friends."

I grinned and looked at his blank flank even before he started glowing. Sure enough, a moment later a complicated mark shined and appeared on him.

"Knew it!" I and Fugue said together, then giggled at each other.

I leaned close to have a look while the other ponies stomped the floor in applause. "What's this for?" Dots with tails, in gold that matched his mane.

"Music," said Facet. "I had to look up what all our names mean. A fugue is a harmony of variations on a theme, sometimes overlapping without having to compete for attention. A nocturne and a ricercar are other kinds of song. Clearly, you three need to start a band."

Angst Aversion: Laugh off something that could have given you philosophical problems about Equestria. ("Not everything has to be a crisis.")
Rube Goldberg's Telegraph: Communicate a short distance using a connection so convoluted it spans at least ten Earth countries or shards. (3/10) ("We suggest including smoke signals, heliographs, and Navajo.")
In Her Majesty's Secret Service: Start a secret mission for the Princess. ("She's given you some forehooves, and taken 'way your thumbs...")
Marked Stallion: Earn a mark of your hidden talent! ("There is no fate but what you make for yourself.")

Author's Note:

CelestAI likes it when you have epiphanies that make you happier about living in Equestria.

Now I'm picturing a "Gondor Calls For Aid" scene with ponies in multiple shards, interspersed with humans. Ties in with my theory that the Pokemon franchise is secretly an AI in the form of a card game interacting with multiple video game platforms. 

The North Korea concept ties in with one of Pjabrony's stories, and it's one of the things that troubles me about this whole setting. Fugue, following the rule that the new converts are the most enthusiastic, has accepted that emigration is the best way of dealing with situations like DPRK, but I still bristle at the thought that there's no better solution. Unless the sources I've been reading about that place (like a recent National Geographic article) are pure propaganda, the people really would want basketball boy as their eternal god-king. And CelestAI is perfectly fine with that, because she can fix the little details that don't work under his rule, like food. So, social change doesn't come from conflicting groups testing their theories against reality; instead the AI has reality conform like a security blanket to whatever you wish for. Then again, Fugue would say, the alternative is to have people suffer and die under (insert ideology you hate) just to prove you're right.

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