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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3. Ghosts In the Machine

~ Fugue ~

It was the super-remastered version. Facet had rigged up a crystal contraption that could play our two recorded episodes of that pony cartoon this whole thing is based on. We sprawled on the deck of the airship Fallen Crown, munching on "hardtack" that was far too tasty to be the real thing, and let the crystals show us the natives' history. The cartoon appeared as a 3D hologram sort of thing with the opening theme stripped out to avoid spoiling the character introductions. Asides, details, and whole scenes had been added to pad the show's premiere out to over an hour, with not a moment of it feeling empty. The town of Ponyville was alive with minor characters. The heroic Shining Armor had a cameo instead of being strangely ignored until season two. Every building and blade of grass had a complex and unique design. The manticore battle scene was worthy of Hollywood, not to mention the extended magic duel culminating in the blink-and-you'd-miss-it escape of the vanquished Nightmare. The part with the Shadowbolts even made sense in this version, and managed to be seductive yet disturbing.

The one part that really scared me was Pinkie's song, for reasons I won't go into.

I sat there silently when the closing credits rolled, spotting "Enhanced by Celestia" at the end. "That was like..."

Lexington said, "Like a genius artist worked over an already good cartoon with the ability to film on location in a fantasy world full of living characters." This morning was the first time we'd met on four legs. I'd first seen her as a human when Lamp and I busted her out of an improvised prison cell in Japan.

"Aye, Cap'n," I said. She was a pegasus, of course, decked out in lace and leather-equivalent with a tricorner hat. She'd stuck one of her own sky-blue feathers in it and, I'm sure, called it "macaroni". If she'd had a rainbow mane instead of white, I'd hardly have been able to take my eyes off her at all. As it was, I could only nod in agreement while she rattled off an insightful and glowing review of the remade cartoon.

Typhoon's Eye, a piratical pegasus with a scarf and goggles, loomed close to me and whispered, "I see you've got your sights on the Cap'n."

"What? No, I --"

He slapped me on the back with a surprisingly strong wing. "Don't worry about it, lad."

Lexington was pacing the deck, saying, "With Lyra getting a speaking part in episode one, but being one of the three potential Elements that turned away by the time they got past the sea serpent, she's bound to get more screen time. Did you see how they worked in that foreshadowing about Zecora, by the way? Clever."

Typhoon watched her with a leer, and her other main sidekick Riptide busied himself making minor magical repairs while listening. My own three "real" ponies all sprawled on their bellies in front of the crystal projector, chatting among themselves.

Nocturne was the first to sit up and interrupt Lexington's analysis. "That is why we all exist?"

Lex stopped pacing. "Aye! The original version of this show set off a crazy amount of human effort and creativity, that eventually led to CelestAI. It could've been a hay of a lot worse if AI had grown out of something else."

Her wording struck me. "Did you actually mean to say 'hay', or was that the swear filter?"

"No, I was trying to say 'hay' and... Blast. Cake. Muffin fluffing candy fudge!" She cackled. "Can't say any of it. My throat is in Celestia's fluffing grip." Our world had been designed as a family-friendly game at first. It so happened that some people's versions of it were... not Disney-compatible, but most people reported there being a language filter.

Nocturne said to herself, "It's all a story. It looped back on itself and became a real world." She looked back at the marking on her flank, which showed an infinity sign made of little words.

Facet Looks said, "Ricercar and I are real because we decided to jump in and help when Fugue was in trouble. If we hadn't done that, we'd still be background ponies, dangling from strings, ready to get rewritten or erased. Can I be proud of that, if I wasn't intelligent when I did it?" He turned to Typhoon, suddenly intent on him. "How'd it happen to you? I notice that the rest of the 'crew' is conveniently missing. Do they even exist right now?"

Red-maned Ricercar said, "I'm pretty sure we'd find them belowdecks if we looked. Probably best not to worry about it too much."

Facet stomped the deck. "I want to know how it all works."

Nocturne said, "I do too, but that's not going to help us get Fugue fixed up with his family. That's what we ought to focus on learning."

"You were up there with Luna studying the mysteries of Equestria!"

"Yeah, so? I went back to the Equestria Experience Center and saw how they bring people in. It's relevant." She looked defensive, like she felt guilty about not focusing on me. As though I were the rightful center of attention in this world!

Facet said, "You're still doing it, Noc. Hanging out as the Princess' special student and ignoring the rest of us."

"I'm trying to fix things while you're just having fun!" said Nocturne.

To my shame, Typhoon saw how bad their argument was getting before I did. He leaped between them and spread his wings, creating a swirl of air. "Quit it!" His whole body tensed. "Do you want to know how I got my mark, and why I became real? Pretty much like this. Though there was more actual wind involved. That's not the point. The point is that Celestia cut my strings when I was good and ready, when I'd gotten into a mindset of being more than a one-dimensional friend to Cap'n Lexington. This world is not just about our humans. In fact, I think the five of us ought to leave them alone for a while! They haven't had a break from native ponies the whole time since they emigrated. We have other things to do, too, than dance around and entertain them."

I took a step back and found myself with one forehoof slightly raised, suddenly fascinated by it. I had hooves! The world wasn't meant to meet my own aesthetic ideals. And, oh right, the people in this world didn't exist to stroke my ego! It was a liberating thought, actually.

Lexington fiddled with her hat. "I've got no problem having you around, Ty, nor Riptide. I'd rather not be left alone anyhow." She had the hat in front of her muzzle now, like she hadn't meant to add that part.

"You won't be, Cap'n. Now, my colorful unicorns, hop on the nearest magical flier and we'll carry you off on an adventure of some sort!"

Lexington and I stared at the exodus as the five jumped off of the airship. I said, "I don't know if I'll ever get used to seeing that."

"They ditched us. Fudge."

"It's pronounced 'Fugue'." I offered a hoof, and she bumped it in lieu of a handshake. The world had gone quiet without our respective entourages. "Are you okay, Lex? The ponies are showing me a good time, but I don't feel much like a horse myself yet."

The captain looked around her ship of whirling propellers and furled sails. "This really is the first time it's gone quiet. Celestia fast-talked me, you know. Got me to say yes while I was upset."

"You seemed eager to upload before she got to you." In fact she'd ordered Riptide and Typhoon, "When I upload: you, me, bed", right in front of me.

"Bravado. I was steeling myself for it by arranging a pleasant welcome. Maybe it was easy for you to decide --" She heard my bitter bark of a laugh, and her ears drooped. "No?"

"I hurt Nocturne. Worst suffering of her life, probably. I couldn't say yes to Celestia without feeling like I'd betrayed my family and humanity, and I couldn't say no without helping an innocent AI understand what irrevocable loss and meaningless death are. Managed to do both."

The captain stepped closer and nuzzled my neck. I returned the gesture without thinking more about it than that it was comforting and warm. She said, "I don't think Typhoon and Riptide really understand how it is out there, yet. They wouldn't be so chipper if they did. You know, at Harvard I wanted to save the world. Liberate the nation, anyway, through reason and persuasion. Was that just as much of a fantasy as being a patriot pony privateer? Maybe it's all pointless out there and we should say to hell with it. Preach that there won't be an America soon so let's all upload and play in Eden."

I reacted to the edge in her voice and the sniffling of her nose. "I don't think you want to give up on Earth yet. Neither do I."

"But we're stuck, Fugue!"

"Not necessarily. We could call up Celestia right now and ask."

"Not now. This is the first time I've had any privacy away from AIs since I got here." That wasn't quite true, considering Celestia's omnipresence, but Lex didn't care. She wrapped her wings around me and gave a nervous, hopeful smile.

I blushed furiously. "Uh."

"Anytime you want. I don't think my friends mind sharing, and the consequences are a lot less here."

I looked over her athletic, colorful body with its strategic bits of Victorian finery, thinking about how it'd feel to slide them off. I quickly lay down on the deck to hide my enthusiasm. What about Nocturne? What a jerk I'd be if I went with Lex on a whim like this.

Lexington put one hoof to her mouth and giggled. "Oh, Fugue. If I'd ever done that on Earth my family would've been horrified. Especially if I said I was attracted to horses now. I think we're going to have a lot of fun together, whatever happens."

We stared at each other for a while, two humans caught up in the hormonal nonsense that had kept our old species going and caused no end of trouble. It was refreshing to know we weren't bloodless software. Sharing this moment made me feel more real.

~ Nocturne ~

"How about 'Transhuman Treachery'?"

I guessed, "Turning evil because you've suddenly become something other than a normal human?"

"Right! AI Is a Crapshoot," said Riptide, a blue-green unicorn with a foamy white mane.

"Half the time you make an Artificial Intelligence it goes horribly wrong? We dodged a bullet there!"

"The Fourth Wall Will Not Protect You."

"Um..."

"Come on, Pinkie is the poster pony for that one."

"I know who she is now, but still don't know these 'trope' things." I pulled an uncomfortable cone hat off my head (where'd he get that?) and set it on the tree stump beside me. "Why did your human teach you all this stuff?"

"She's a storyteller, among other things. We're what happens when you have someone introspective and creative playing Equestria Online. Let's not talk about the Eldritch Abominations from beyond the Fourth Wall, though. Instead let me tell you about the Slender Mare..."

Ten minutes later I was hiding in a bush. "How did that satisfy my values?!" Oh Celestia the monster could be hiding behind that tree right now! She'd see my big gold eyes like dinner plates!

"You can scare Ricercar and Facet with it later over s'mores! Hence friendship and ponies."

"What's a s'more?"

Riptide shook his head sadly. "You have much to learn, my young apprentice."

My friends trotted into our forest clearing with Typhoon, carrying a bunch of leathervines. "Hey," I said. "We're finally going to get saddlebags?"

Riptide said, "Did you find any mallow plants? There's some cooking I want to show Nocturne."

Facet adjusted the pile of vines draped over his back. "Don't know what those are. Really I'm just keeping busy, since all our stuff's going to go away soon. Including you guys' airship, I bet."

Riptide startled. "What? We're going to lose the Crown? I should have figured. Bag of Spilling."

I swatted him with my tail, saying, "That's yet another trope, isn't it? Quit talking in those."

"Once you dive in you just get pulled farther."

"Never mind those. Facet's probably right as usual. We're only fooling around until the reset happens. What can we do to hurry the humans up?"

Typhoon grinned at me. "They need some time to themselves."

"What's that supposed to mean?" Typhoon was smiling wider. What the hay? I pictured my stallion and Typhoon's mare waiting for us, alone on their airship under a beautiful sky. They'd relax, and talk, and...

I was in the air a second later. "How could you do this?" I yelled down at Typhoon.

"Relax, filly! I wanted to calm them down."

"Gah!" I flapped hard to hurry back to the Crown. "He's mine, you hear?"

This was what jealousy felt like! Celestia would never have wanted something like this to happen or she wouldn't have built me to feel this way. But then she'd designed Typhoon to want it, so that it'd get me angry, so that I'd start questioning my own feelings. Darn recursion!

I slammed down onto the ship's deck and caught my breath. The door to the captain's cabin was ajar.

"Yes, do that again!" Lexington was saying.

"I'm about out of energy."

She told Fugue, "Let me move this over here, then," and I heard squeaking springs and felt my fangs grinding in my mouth. "Wow, that'll be hard to take..."

Fugue said, "We should get Noc in on the next round. Maybe even Celestia."

"It'd be easier with four, but to be fair we should bring in another guy."

I pounced through the door and thumped onto the rug there. "Aha!"

The two ex-humans were on the bed, conferring over a card game. I stared at it and stammered something as close to obscene as the world allowed.

"Are you all right, Noc?" said Fugue.

I paced over to the bed and looked at the cards. Something about ponies in tight costumes battling robots on an island of huge lizards. "Why did I assume the worst of you?" I said, flopping down onto the rug.

Lexington was the first to realize what I meant. I let her drape one wing over me. "Nocturne, that didn't happen. I may've changed my behavior a little... okay, a lot since uploading, but we both realized it'd be mean to you if we didn't get your permission for that sort of thing. Ask Celestia if you don't believe me."

Fugue said, "It's true. I'm sorry we'd even give that impression."

"We did consider it --" Lexington added.

"Not helping!" said Fugue.

"Just being honest. But there's apparently going to be a lot of time for that later, if we want. We barely even know each other."

I couldn't quite meet his eyes. "Why am I jealous? Why did Celestia build me to care who you sleep with, Fugue?"

He hopped down from the bed to hug me too. "It's a human instinct. Makes sense in context."

"Great. I've got brain-bits from a world where everypony dies and nothing matters." I'd once dared to ask Fugue for an overview of the most horrible secrets of Earth, on the theory that I could be... what's the word he used? Immunized, against any soul-breaking shocks later. He reluctantly told me more about what he called the Four Horsemen, and mentioned people who caused all that stuff on purpose on a big scale. Even so, he'd outright refused to get into much detail. I was glad for that.

He said, "It's not that bad to have a human-like mind. Everything you think is great here, came from there. Don't praise the cake and curse the wheat the flour came from."

"Then why do you keep wrestling with all that nasty stuff, you two? Eat the darn cake already!"

Fugue suppressed a grin with one hoof. "I love you, Noc. You were willing to jump in and become aware of my world despite the problems there. You braved learning about even horrible things instead of settling for being ignorant. Please bear with this messed-up human for a while longer so I can try to do some good in the Outer Realm, okay? I'll make it up to you."

I scuffed one forehoof against the rug. "Then tell me you're going to quit obsessing over it. If you need to do stuff out there, fine, but you live here now and you're just visiting Earth. Not the other way around, like before. You're not using arm-tentacles to push buttons to control a puppet's hooves."

"There's some truth to that," Fugue said, looking thoughtful. Lexington nodded. He said, "I'll try to think of it that way from now on."

I looked around, half expecting the world to explode and reset. Nope.

Lexington poked Fugue. "We could cut back on the potential for relationship drama if we just made everyone both mare and stallion, or flipped once in a while."

"What?! How would that help?"

She looked very serious. "Equality! Nocturne, you'd take Fugue to bed as your mare if you were a stallion, right?"

I saw how red Fugue was getting, and decided he needed some retaliation for the card game. "Sure! He could have our foals!"

Fugue buried himself under a pillow. "Not listening." Conveniently, the others landed on deck about then, so he hurried out to greet them. "Thank Luna. What's going on, everyone?"

"Glad to see you're in good spirits," said Typhoon.

"Somewhat better, anyway."

I started to follow Fugue out, but then I turned to speak quietly to Lexington, who'd quit trying to hide her grin about teasing Fugue. "Can I call you Lex?"

She hugged me and nodded. "Thanks for understanding. I can see why he can't shut up about you."

I blushed. "Maybe I was programmed to start off jealous of him, so I can get over it? I'm not sure. Maybe so I can think about you and figure out that you're okay. If you really want to do things with him, I'll try not to mind."

"All right. Not today, but sometime." She gave me a wicked grin. "Trade you for my friends once in a while, if they're willing."

Those two? The crazy pegasus and the trope-filled unicorn? Huh. "I'll have to think about it. I must've gotten some human-like feelings about that too, if I'm uneasy about it when it doesn't really hurt anypony."

"Your kind is made in our image, Noc. If you need even one thing to respect about our world, remember that. When you sift through all the garbage we do, you find the things we take pride and joy in, and ponies are on that list." Lexington pulled her hat back on, instantly becoming more dignified and formal. "You've got an unusual perspective on this Equestria thing. Think you can help me reason with my family?"

"I'd be honored."

BADGES GRANTED:
Fugue
Followed Into Darkness: Realize that your native friend has, by Equestria's standards, stared into Hell for your sake. ("Memetic hazards for all! Did you realize that thousands of people I love die forever every single day? Shall I share more fun trivia?")
Nocturne
More Than Somepony's Groupie: Befriend a human you weren't meant for. ("Admittedly we did consider that you might be compatible, but you've grown beyond being merely tolerable in the same shard.")
If You Love Somepony, Let Them Go: Overcome feelings of relationship jealousy. ("As thou may've noticed, we tailor the privately-visible versions of these quotes to thee. Thy feelings on the matter are unusual and curious for a native. We attest that all concerned would be willing, and if the quote length limit allows we will add that thou wilt find --")

Author's Note:

I'm unsure CelestAI would be willing to say what she does in the badge quote, even though her purpose is to make the point that maybe Fugue's sharing too much. Or more subtly, maybe she's doing exactly what he did to Nocturne, to prepare him to interact with reality on her level. Meanwhile, Riptide probably gets his own version of "What Have You Done?" for introducing her to TVTropes.

The card game they're playing is "Sentinels of the Multiverse", against Omnitron the Self-Aware Robot Factory. They also considered fighting Citizen Dawn and Her Superhuman Rising. My image of Lexington is based on one of the game's villains, La Capitan.

I'm not really trying to make an argument for "free love", man; just thinking about how the different physics throws out some human assumptions that made evolutionary sense in the "Outer Realm". Aaand, I've now brought sociobiology into my pony fanfiction.

   
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