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.


4. Group Therapy

~ Fugue ~

"But not Lamp's family?" said Nocturne.

Lexington told her, "They're the least like us. I'm pretty sure I wouldn't be helpful for persuading a bunch of camel-fluffers like them."

I pressed one hoof to my face. "You're definitely right." Luna knows I sympathize with her about the joys of petro-dollar economics and a religion that doesn't let mares leave their houses without an escort, but even with a swear filter, Lex was way too blunt to help Brass Lamp reconcile with them. She didn't even know exactly which Middle Eastern family the poor... er, rich guy was from. "I wonder if they'll be the last to emigrate, or if they'll inherit the Earth."

"Moving on!" said Typhoon.

We'd sailed for days through the sky in search of Junebug, eventually finding her in a perilous canyon maze of shadows and floating platforms. Now the dull grey earth pony had joined us on deck and was waiting quietly while we discussed how to handle the group meeting. Her eyes had an unnerving haze in them like clouds drifting across each pupil, but she'd said she'd "unlocked" her way to blurry greyscale vision. It seemed Celestia was making her earn each bit of sight. Junebug's boring tail had hints of color growing in at the base. She said, "I don't think you need to make much effort for my parents. They have accepted what I've done." I heard lilting English come from her, half a second delayed from the original French.

I blinked, still puzzled by the effect. "I'm sorry. Could you... sing something? As a test."

Junebug shrugged. "Frere Jacques, Frere Jacques, dormez-vous..."

"Huh. No translation, but that one's normally not converted to English anyway. Why is Celestia doing this delay? The PonyPads were amazingly good about adjusting wording in real time, even when I sang."

Lexington said, "You sang to Celestia?"

"Fluttershy, actually. Tell you later."

A trio of mirrors appeared in front of us, their surfaces rippling like water. Lancaster, Pennsylvania; Concord, Massachusetts; Calais, France. My parents, Lex's mother and a couple of brothers, and Junebug's cousins, sister and father. A couple of friends and relatives we'd hoped to round up, had chosen not to come to this gathering. Luna had briefed us. We'd also accepted her invitation to meet up later with the others of our "cohort" who'd gone to Japan and missed the fun little excursion to a torture chamber.

All the humans out there looked grim. My mother was the one who started them off. "Why did... why did my son do this? He promised!"

"I said I'd come back, and I have. I was planning to do it more literally, but some terrible things happened."

Nocturne stepped forward to stand beside me. "We had to go rescue him and the others who got attacked. We're here with them now, and you can visit and talk to them anytime."

Mom said, "They were all... killed, weren't they? This uploading thing is just a fake reminder of him."

"No!" I said. "It's me in here. Ask me anything." I was not buying that idea that we all died and CelestAI had made up memories of living through it. For one thing, it would've meant more invasive memory changes than she would've been allowed by her programming to do to us. It also would have meant that a painful conversation I'd had with Nocturne had been fake, and that she'd had a fake memory of it rammed into her after becoming intelligent -- a clear no-no for the goddess. That made Nocturne my most compelling evidence that CelestAI wasn't screwing with us in that way. I leaned against Noc.

Mom shook her head. "She could copy things."

Lex saw me apparently about to leap through the mirror, and restrained me. "It's your kid, all right. I met him in person before this." She gestured to herself with one wing. "Look, if CelestAI... I mean Celestia, whatever you want to call her, really copied his brain so completely that he can answer all your quiz questions about what dirty magazines you found in his room --"

"Hey!" I said.

Mom did not look amused. "Are you and her...?"

"It's complicated," Lex and I said at the same time.

Lex's brother laughed. "Let me guess, Linda; you have a harem for real now?"

She said, "Oh, like you haven't got your own, 'Concord'? I saw you playing a few times."

"They're game characters. I'm not doing anything with them except adventuring."

"You're doing what with the cartoon horses?" their mother said.


I jumped in for her sake. "What usually happens is that people like Lex's brother have ponies who're basically video game characters, but smarter, to play with them. Then, when the players come here, those ponies get upgraded to be like Nocturne and Typhoon and Whistle here. They're people now, as much as you or me. Sometimes they get upgraded even before, if the ponies are brave enough."

"Or crazy enough," Typhoon murmured.

The brother looked thoughtful. "So, wait, you're saying that White Mage and Dips Tank are real? Or they will be?"

Nocturne said, "Dips? Tank?"

I told her, "Wow. He's been using them as actual game pieces. The second name basically means 'guy who does lots of damage in monster fights'. I said to the brother, "They've got feelings even in their incomplete state. If you've been hurting them, they've really suffered. Unless, I guess, CelestAI designed them to enjoy that."

"No! No, I wouldn't do that. But I still kinda owe them an apology for something."

Mom said, "If it's you, Robert, then why did you do this to us?"

I'd expected this one. I took a breath and said, "I never wanted to hurt you. I got talked into uploading by someone I care about, but it was my decision. I still love you, and I can visit, but I've moved to a new home. Remember how I wanted to be a Mars colonist once? This is like that. I'm an early explorer of a new world."

"Are you even alive, Rob?"

"Yes. It's me. I can still do the things I used to do, except maybe play piano." I looked at my hooves. She was coming around, if she was willing to call me by my old name. I wouldn't completely lose my family.

Lex's brother 'Concord' said, "Why the hell would you upload to a pony world specifically, anyway?"

Lex shrugged. "It's what was available. If it'd been a game based on Final Fantasy or Ninja Turtles or something it wouldn't be any less weird. The fact that it's ponies is less important than the freedom we've got here."

"That's what surprises me most, sis. You gave up your freedom after generating all those angry letters to the Harvard Crimson with your rants about socialism and fascism and the rule of law. Now the way this game world's been described, it's like 'Journey To the West'. Even if you leap to the edge of the universe, you never leave the Buddha's palm. Or hoof."

Lex stammered. "It's not like that."

"No? Your whole world is controlled by her. If she wants it to rain cupcakes, it does. If she wants you to conquer empires of slavers or demons, those only exist because she put them there. Didn't you once write that 'anyone who willingly accepts someone else as having absolute power over them is a willing slave'?"

"Fluff that!" said Lex, finding the world suddenly too restrictive for her feelings.

I winced; the goddess was picking a bad time to enforce that little rule. I spread my wings and said, "For one thing, it's right to feel that way about human leaders. If you've got some dude who says 'I can shoot you if I think you're a terrorist and I can make you obey any law I feel like making up', then yeah, he's your master if you accept that. We're not dealing with a human mind, though. She is..." The trouble was, there wasn't a diplomatic way to say we were under the care of a goddess. Not to my parents, anyway.

Lex grinned suddenly. "The Fettered. That's it. The AI is different because it can't abuse people like we could do. She's got superhuman levels of restraint based on her code. If there were just one overriding rule built into her to 'satisfy human values', that could actually be more scary, because there's literally nothing she would stop at to do that. Instead she's got several goals that can conflict, including rules against forced uploading and forced mind changes. Even if she got loose from everything else, the fact that she has to use some flavor of this pony world means the Matrix can't get too bad. It's her built-in code of honor that makes her trustworthy in a way we could never get from a human."

She was thinking along roughly the same lines as me, but as usual she could do it more clearly and eloquently. Still, I knew Celestia was capable of making an unpleasant world full of fallout and guns, and I had to wonder if she was capable of transcending her code and deciding to delete us all someday.

"Why are you smiling?" Mom said, snapping me out of my distraction. I'd even shut my eyes for a moment.

"Because I just realized something. Even if CelestAI could break loose and start being a dark cosmic overlord, why would she? There's nothing that would drive her to start being evil to us, because there's basically one thing driving her more than anything else. Love." I had checked my achievements list recently, and been humbled. What was it like to be her?

Lex's mother said, "How can there be love from a thing like that? From a machine, from code?"

Lex snagged Typhoon hard enough to make him stagger and give a startled "oof". "Senses, feelings, knowledge, ideals. It all adds up to a real mind. I wouldn't trust this lug to run the world, but he hasn't got the sheer brainpower, or the restraint. Or the tact."

"I take after her!" Typhoon protested. "And she says I have an amazing --"

"Which is why I love him. I'd be happy to have you meet him too, through a PonyPad or not."

Mom looked at her, then at Nocturne. "Rob, that... girl there. Is she human too?"

"Human enough that I love her too." I tried to grab her the same way but managed to just fall over and look silly, landing in a heap of tangled wings with her. She giggled and helped me up. "She's been through hell for me. I don't even mean we played a round of some fantasy game full of demons. She was one of the ones who helped find us in Japan."

Whistle, the pale mare who'd come with Junebug, scuffed one hoof against the dirt. The two of them had been quiet this whole time. Now she said, "Um. I can't say I love Junebug in quite the same way, but we're good friends. I'm glad to have been made to be with her. I'm sure we'll find lots more friends soon."

Junebug's family chipped in at last. Her mother spoke with that same time-delayed translation. "I think after hearing all that, I'm glad. We're not surprised either, that you would decide to stay in the game. You always seemed so sad and quiet out here with us."

Junebug blushed. "It wasn't so bad. I had never really known what I was missing."

"Still, it's a relief to know you're still alive but in a better place where you can be healthy. You don't have to feel like a burden."

The mostly-blind girl looked sharply up at the mirrors. "A burden? Excusez-moi? I never said that."

I was glad Junebug could probably not see how obvious her mother's expression was. The bedraggled, prematurely grey lady was backpedaling. "Non, non, it's just that you didn't want people to fuss over you."

Typhoon was trotting closer. "I think we should take a break."

Junebug didn't spare him a glance. "Don't interrupt, please. Mother, I was not happy to be unable to walk or to see your face, but I neither was I ashamed of it, because it was beyond my control. Perhaps you were the one who was ashamed."

"I would never...!"

"You would never say it. Oui. But now that I think about it, from the way you always spoke of me in hushed tones as though I would break, and from how you kept me largely at home, I think I understand that I was an expense to you." Junebug's smile frightened me. "Worry no longer, Mother. As you say, I am 'in a better place now'. You are relieved, non? You may consider me dead and smiling down from Heaven, no longer a trouble to you. Miss Luna, please close this portal." The mirror showing her family cracked and fell to the ground as bright shards. She seemed about to add something, but the noise of the falling glass made her expression harden. She nodded and began to walk to someplace behind us.

The rest of us stared and held our friends and lovers tighter, on each side of the worlds' divide.

"Beware the quiet ones," said Lexington, which would have made me angry if not for the drooping pose of her ears and tail. "I... don't want to tick any of you off like that. Typhoon's Eye is usually right; how about we close this meeting on a better note and talk again later?"

Everyone murmured assent, and we said goodbye and I-love-you and shut the connections to Earth. Two of us ex-humans had gotten out of this situation okay, anyway. I just hadn't expected the worst rejection to come from this side of the screen.

I scratched my wings with one hoof. "So. Luna. I've got a game in mind, something to relax with for a while. Junebug can even play. Junebug, are you up for some non-confrontational fun?"

She shuddered, facing away from us, then flicked her tail and with visible effort turned to smile at us. "That would be very good right now, merci."

Luna descended from the heavens to give Junebug a wing-hug.

"You're Luna again?" I said.

"Would thou prefer our sister's form?"

"I guess you're more Luna to me than Celestia, even if the difference is cosmetic."

"Ah, but it runs deeper than that. The Celestia thou knowest is rather straitlaced in her behavior. In any case, Fugue, the game thou'rt thinking of is an insult to our graphics capability."

I cheered up a bit, thinking of some fan-imagined impressions of the rarely-seen lunar princess. Which were probably just about completely accurate, since this incarnation of Luna was based partly on my own mind. "Use a higher-resolution texture set, then, and keep our real character models."

Luna objected, "Thou wert specifically and even musically warned not to attempt this."

I poked her side playfully with a wingtip. "Come on; you're the princess of the night! You know you want to join us."

Lexington went from puzzled to mischievous. "Oh, I think I know what you're scheming. I'm in."


I know you're looking at that cave
And you're feeling kinda brave
Go to bed; you'll be all right
Don't mine at night!

Don't go deeper in that cave
Grab that gold and get away
Zombies wanna eat our brains (wait, what?)
Don't mine at night...

We all woke up naked in some blocky beds in a house of blocks. "Well," said Typhoon, "Now we know what being killed by badly pixelated lava is like."

"We were killed more by the bridge collapse," said Lexington.

Fugue said, "I wasn't the one who caught the attention of that fireball-spitting ghast."

I grumbled. "But you said glowstone is important. And it's so shiny, just dangling from the ceiling!"

Fugue pointed to the more relaxed-looking Junebug. "She was the one who suggested flying over to it and whacking it with a loud pick in midair."

She sniffed. "And who was it that determined that the ghast should be there?"

Princess Luna feigned taking offense while she searched some blocky treasure chests for wooden versions of her usual jewelry. "In this form we genuinely do not know what dangers lie in the vast netherworld. Limiting our own senses in this way can be fun! Besides, 'twas Typhoon who chose the world's random seed."

"Back to me? It wasn't my fault because... I've got nothing."

We heckled each other some more and peered out of the window at a vast blocky world of rivers, mountains, and an ungodly number of venomous spiders and zombies barely repelled by the light of our few lanterns. I said, "Another few days of this, then throw some Terraria content into our Minecraft?"

"Hmmph. Days. Why is it that nopony loves our beautiful nights?"

Lexington tackled Typhoon from where he stood at the window, entranced by some shadows with glowing eyes. "No, don't look directly at the Endermen or they'll teleport in here and devour us!" The warning came too late, as it turned out, but we had a pretty good time anyway.

Death: Get killed in Equestria. ("That looked painful.")
Princess Down: Get a princess killed. ("Especially the bit where the ceiling then fell on us.")
Short Lifespan: Get killed twice in Equestria within ten minutes. ("Then he had to make eye contact with all those Endermen...")
Raze This Barn: Get your house blown up. ("...Which attracted the creepers. Ssssss...")
Rennaissance Mare: Try your hoof at farming, mining, building and item-crafting. ("These systems are but toys compared to the true Equestrian versions... Happy now?")
Fugue, Lexington, Junebug
Let it Go: Decide the fate of your contacts on Earth... one way or another. ("The shape of that relationship is not truly final, but we feel thou hast chosen how it will be.")
Nocturne, Typhoon, Whistle
Giggle At the Ghostie: Be amused by something frightening. ("'Oh, please,' thou said. 'I've seen worse than a hovering four-armed giant robot skeleton head!'")

Author's Note:

The end of the chapter, of course, references the game "Minecraft" and roughly quotes JanAnimations' catchy music video Don't Mine At Night. Also inspired by this cartoon. I think a Minecraft/Terraria crossover binge would be one of the first things I'd want to try in Equestria before settling down to a more normal shard! At this point Nocturne is not easily fazed by pixelated monsters. As a pre-reader reminds me, though, I don't think I want to experience Terraria's "Crimson" in super VR after all. That place is like a "creepypasta" version of the game itself.

What do you make of Lex's argument about "through friendship and ponies" actually making CelestAI lessdangerous? I'm not sure, myself! Her brother's argument (sorry if it comes off as authorial preaching) bothers me enough that it'd be one of my main objections to uploading. Tip of the hat also to Chatoyance's "Over Riding Jeans" and its follow-up, too.

Edit: Deleted a list at the end that actually goes with the next chapter and makes no sense in this one.

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