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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7. Long-Distance Relationship

~ Fugue ~

I rolled out of the lab and into the familiar world of MIT, seen from a dwarf's perspective. "This is the least impressive robot invasion ever," I groused. I was waiting at 77 Massachusetts Avenue, to cross the street outside the campus' famous marble entryway. All the colors here were muted from both the fact that it was February, and from my having video cameras instead of my snazzy four-color-receptor eyes. I even missed the smell of exhaust.

The reactions I got were what I'd expected. I did an interview with a student reporter from The Tech, asking me about uploading and my new life and how I was getting along with my family. The versatile campus acronym "IHTFP" appeared in grafitti as "It's Hard To Fondle Ponies". My clunky wheeled body gave me new sympathy for disabled students, leading to a new friendship. There was a classmate named Garrett who'd lost his legs as a kid, and who'd just now gotten some replacements more functional than a wheelchair or peglegs. "I'm lucky," he told me, as we rode a handicap-access elevator. "You know what a flashy cyberpunk future means to me? Being able to stand up."

"We can do better than that."

"Sure, but I want to see what I can do with two legs before I think about four. Haven't got a fortune to spend on a one-way trip to Equestria, either; I'd rather spend money on a pet project of mine in ocean engineering. Are you one of the ones getting mental upgrades in that game? I saw something on Slashdot about that, but it's almost all speculation."

What I liked about this copper-haired student -- his last name was Fox, appropriately -- was that he was sitting beside me in the back of a lecture hall, chatting as though I weren't effectively a magical talking pony visiting from another universe. I said, "Same answer. I'm just now getting used to being a brain in a jar. There'll be time for letting our benevolent AI overlord mess with my thought process. Don't see why she couldn't do it though, for some upgrade like adding to my memory."

"There's surprisingly little news about this pony thing. There was more coverage last month about the latest 
'God of War' game than 'Equestria Online' despite the big announcement. It's like everyone thinks the upload centers are a hoax, or a gimmick for the rich folks people want gone from Earth anyway."

Lex and I had talked that concept over. Yeah, great idea; cheer the departure of the nerds that make your civilization work! Lex's phrase for it was "Tesla Shrugged".

Other students were gathering for the lecture. Apparently neither I nor the man whose legs whirred inside his jeans whenever he moved were all that strange here. I said, "Did you read my article for The Tech, or Lexington's in the Harvard Crimson?"

"That's why I'm not more startled," said Garrett. We'd both written about our harrowing experience while touring Japan, and our much more pleasant experience in the Equestria Experience Center, laying out our reasons. The articles came out little more than a day ago, Earth time. Tough to believe, given that I'd had several times longer on my end.

Professor Lermontov finally arrived, avoiding looking at me. He was known as the sort of teacher who'd kick your tail but make you learn, and was voted "most likely to start a robot uprising". Arguably correctly. He launched into a tough lecture that sprawled across six blackboards arranged in mobile tiers. He sketched moving boxes and spinning gears with slashes of thick chalk and rivers of equations. "I'm so enthused about dynamics and the rest of mechanical engineering," he told us all, "because before long you will be the keepers of the flame. The ones making your towns' generators and refineries and mills work. Or, you won't be here at all, and everyone else will be living in caves."

Looking back on this trip, I recall that he wasn't speaking of building great cities, or inspiring us with talk of space colonies. Understand, in those days, that our country had once gone to the moon, but that the landings didn't end because of Equestria. We just... found lesser dreams. For Lermontov the "flame" meant village blacksmiths' forges and maybe an aluminum smelter. My conversations with Garrett later helped me understand that our teacher was so quick and forceful because he was running scared. At the time, our classmates still seemed to think they'd be building tanks and bridges to maintain the status quo. What fools we were.

"The Campus Crusade For Celestia recognizes Fugue, delegate from Equestria!"

"Thank you." They'd made me a cape with the CCC logo of a rearing pony, draped it across the back of my PonyPad, and had Luna conjure up a copy of it for me to wear in the cockpit. I reluctantly admitted I was enough of a fanboy of the show to appreciate that. This whole meeting made me a little uncomfortable, what with the way it'd started.

"What do you think of our pledge?" said Alice, the now-hardcore member who'd been learning computer science with amazing alacrity ever since buying a PonyPad. She thought she was going to start the next Facebook, which was like planning to become the next great dodo hunter. The thing was, she probably could have, if her new favorite teacher had never existed.

I scratched my fuzzy ears. "I was bothered by the part where you directed it to Celestia like --" Like a prayer, I was about to say.

"Ah, right, you're a Lunatic. Doesn't really matter though, does it? It's like Shiva and Ganesh."

"I don't think that's quite right."

Josh, a younger club member, hopped right up to my screen to say, "How about instead of 'We pledge ourselves to helping everypony become the best pony they can be', we say 'everyone'? Not everypony gets the slang yet."

I flinched from more than the close contact. "Look, everyone --"

"Everypony!" said Alice with a grin.

"I volunteered to transform into a freaking pony living in a magical fantasy world and I think you're overdoing it." I stomped the floor and snorted. "Your pledge sounds like it's going to get Celestia mislabeled as a cult leader, which is not what she wants and hopefully not what you want."

Oh, Luna, they were giving me big hurt eyes. I shook my head. We living cartoon characters can do that expression way better. I said, "I do think people should emigrate. But this..." I pointed to a digital copy of one of their fliers. "This is just making you look creepy."

The flier said, "What kind of pony will YOU be? Join us to bring emigration to the States! Live Equestrian Embassy meetings at..."

I pointed to another one they'd shown off, starring a silhouette of a pegasus. "GET HIGH In Equestria! Join us to LEGALIZE IT and discover our SPECIAL BLEND of friendship, magic and FRAGRANT CLOUDS." I gave them a somewhat more sympathetic expression and softened the blow. "Like, wow, man. It's funny, but it makes you look like you have, let's say, a loose grip. Says the guy with hooves." I suppose drugs exist in Equestria for those that want them.

Alice stood with her fists pressed, white-knuckled, against a desk. "We've been consulting with Celestia and she said you'd help us."

"To do what?"

"To get everyone emigrated! To get the tech legalized!"

I said, "It'll happen. She's got plans. Remember that the exclusive deal with Japan is for a year only, and there'll be centers elsewhere at a lower price after that."

"It's still being held back by the laws, though. Can't she build us a center in secret? We could build one for her."

"You haven't got the tech."

"Do you know how insulting that is for us?" said Josh. "We can do it, if the Princess gives us a chance."

I sighed. "Let's go over this again. If you want to emigrate, you can fly to Japan and pay. She can cut you a deal if you're in urgent need. There's a line, though. It's best if you wait a year or so, when you can go to Germany -- that's the most likely second location -- instead of Japan. The price will be lower, too."

"How much lower?" someone asked.

I smiled, able to deliver one of the secrets I'd been authorized to reveal here first. "She'd prefer if you didn't attribute this to me or her, until the official announcement, but you can say a little pony told you the price would soon be... zero."

I heard a collective gasp. Josh was the first to recover. "I can go in a year, without saving up?"

"You'll need the cost of a plane ticket. There might be a long wait, too. I don't know if she's going to zero on the first day, or phasing the price out to manage the crowds, but figure within another month or three it'll be free."

The young man said, "Why am I still going to class?" A couple of the others murmured, for or against him.

Alice's tension had if anything only increased. She leaned closer to my robot body. "Free? So by the time we get upload centers in the US, anypony who walks in will be able to just go? Even if they're poor or whatever?"

"After that first year or so, starting around two months ago, yes. Take care of yourselves until then."

She darted forward to hug me. I felt the impact as a force that shook the cockpit, throwing me around like a red-shirted starship guy.

Maybe I could do some good with this student group, to keep them behaving sensibly while we waited for the goddess' plan to unfold.

Nocturne poked my shoulder a few days later, while I was in class. "Are you done yet?"

I glanced backward, though my ears swiveled to keep listening to a talk on differential equations. "Sorry, need more time." My main mare stood in a surreal hatchway connecting the cockpit to some kind of waterfall cave.

She squeaked in annoyance and left. She popped back in half an hour later, wearing a hat, when I still wasn't done. Then when the lecture was over, she showed up yawning. Garrett wanted to work on our massive dynamics problem set together, and he was bringing along a fascinating if chatty girl who would've been cute if you didn't mind the big weirdly-placed teats and the flat face. I valued her for the conversation, anyway. Nocturne slipped out while I was daydreaming about comparing them. Nah... At this point I was more into wings and tails.

When I finally did emerge from my chamber of dimensional communing, I found a village. The beginnings of one, at least. The sun was painfully bright and made my pupils narrow to lines. What I could see of the new town of Polaris was a couple of cabins perched around huge waterfalls and the pillar-like islands downstream. I whistled appreciatively.

I decided to walk, waving my tail dismissively at the blue "POLICE" box I'd apparently stepped out of. "Bah, get that cliche out of here, Princess! I've never even seen that show." Obligingly, the gateway to my robot body transformed into a horseshoe-shaped mirror. I stared at it, then walked away shaking my head and suppressing a grin. "...Fine."

There was nopony in sight. I was a little worried until I spotted someone flying in the distance, pushing a cloud. I should have been watching the ground.

The manticore roared just in time for me to see it. This body had no bowels to void, but I felt a cold shiver run through me despite the heat. I reacted with a panicked turn and double-hindleg kick. The beast caught it in the chest but kept going, crashing down onto me. I collapsed under its bulk. Claws ripped into me and drew my blood, and outrage. Pain, here? The world blurred. This wasn't our Minecraft mini-game anymore. I punched with my forehooves and rolled away, but was caught under hundreds of pounds of muscle. Something tore into my side. I started to scream in earnest, now, but no one came for me.

Everything faded in slowly from pure white. Was I dead? I half expected a stern lecture from a giant bearded white man about having rejected the one true religion of my ancestors. Instead there was only a bruise-colored sky and the taste of... of...

"Yeeech!" I stood up on all fours and spat out whatever foul sour, salty stuff this river was made of. It was sickly green and clung to me like thick oozing lichen. I scrambled to wipe the filth off but only managed to get it all over my wings and feel it sliming along my flanks. The river extended wide as the Mississippi and I saw only suspicious rapids downstream, and a jagged vertical line upstream. A tower, maybe. It occurred to me at last that my wounds had scabbed over and become slime-coated, ugly, painful reminders instead of fatal claw marks. I took a few tentative steps, wading upstream, and found jagged boulders and sickly, thorny plants everywhere. I kept slipping and splashing into deeper sections, getting another mouthful of the muck. The current wouldn't even let me swim crosswise to get out, and my wings were too soggy to fly.

A Zoroastrian would recognize this hideous river as proof that I'd been a bad pony. Phillip K. Dick had gotten this experience cut from the story that became "Blade Runner". I wondered what it said about me that I'd been basically thrown into the personal hell of Rarity.

So that was the explanation. Death in Equestria. I thought about that to distract me from the miserable trudge upstream, fighting the current and its constant stinging cuts and sprays of tainted water. Apparently the rule was that outside our mini-games emulating Earthly ones, being killed meant a timeless period of suffering broken only by a slippery, foul path to salvation that you had to walk alone. Good deal, I told myself, but the knowledge didn't make the trip any more pleasant.

The distant jagged tower proved to be an even more insane version of the one in Pisa, with treacherous footing and a hundred or so monotonous brown levels of stairs. Maybe I could bring some decorations with me if I came back here, or at least mark the floor numbers for self-encouragement. I shuddered. I did not want to ever die again, and anypony out there who was even indifferent to it was nuts!

At the end of this loathsome world I had to shatter some kind of prism and leap through a hole in space. I found myself bruised and filthy under a lean-to of branches.

"You!" said a familiar unicorn. Inner Peace wrinkled his nose and glared at me. "Where have you been?"

"To Hell and back." The good news was the "back" part, for which I will be literally eternally grateful. The bad news was that it was this guy greeting me.

"You look like it. We've been waiting for you for a month!"

I sat up and got rewarded with a jolt of pain in my wings. I looked intact under the hell-goo. "I guess time gets distorted if you're killed. Do you know there's a manticore problem?"

He grabbed a crude wooden bucket and splashed me, making me sputter but at least washing me partway off. "We noticed. You didn't, because you were off having fun in the old world for a week at a time even while Nocturne was trying to get your attention."

"A week? It's been a couple of days. I went to a lecture or a meeting here and there."

"Yes, genius, and the world went on without you. See the cabins out there? Lots and lots of hard work you couldn't be bothered to show up for."

I staggered out from under the lean-to. The horrid day-star stabbed my eyes again, but I could see that the town had grown a little since my last, brief visit. "Where is everypony?" The air sizzled unpleasantly hot against my hide and made the remaining goop bubble and slough away with a last whiff to assault our noses.

"Safe in bed. It's hot outside and the monsters are mostly diurnal. The Princess' way of getting us to all be night creatures, apparently. I'm only dragging your sorry flank out of here because Noccy told me she'd heard you were back from the dead and needed another rescue before you became manticore chow a second time."

Only one word of that got processed. "Noccy?"

Inner Peace grinned. "You couldn't be bothered to be there for her."

My left front hoof connected with his face before I even knew what I was doing. "You stay away from my mare!"

He recoiled, clutching his bruised cheek, and used the smoky-black glow of his magic to brandish a crude staff in front of him. "Do not start with me. This world was made for me and if you're my designated antagonist, I get to send you right back to the Hell you came from. Repeatedly."

I leaped into the air and out of melee range, not that that'd stop an angry unicorn. It let me loom over him, anyway. What was Luna's game? Make a fake ex-human just to tick me off and get me to pay attention to this world? How many levels of mind-screw were we up to? There had to be an "inviolate layer" somewhere such that I could say "this is real or I'm at least going to treat it that way".

Or had I forever surrendered my ability to do that?

Peace waved a hoof and twirled his staff. "Come on down, pinata! Or fly off to be with your monkey friends. I've accepted that I don't belong there anymore; how about you?"

I razzed him from the sky, and dodged a staff-thrust. "I can live in two worlds. I don't even know why you're here, but whatever you are, Luna is messing with you. Maybe you should tell her to make you self-aware so you don't have to be an annoying story character."

"That's a lie!" He leaped surprisingly high to extend his levitation range and swung far enough to swat me out of the sky. "You know nothing about me. I'm more real than you!"

I crashed down, tried to catch my breath, and braced myself to dodge and tackle him. Enough mind games. I'd show him!

~ Nocturne ~

They weren't back yet. I'd heard enough storytelling stuff from Lex and her friends to suspect that "having a bad feeling about this" meant something in this world. So when I got one, I ventured out of my bunk and into the daylight.

Yup, my stallion and the yin-yang guy were beating the heck out of each other. I face-hoofed in midair. Why was I not surprised? I didn't much like Inner Peace either, especially after he tried to get me in the sack without asking Fugue first. Not classy. I turned him down. That memory persuaded me to give Fugue a couple of extra moments to whack Peace before I intervened. And then, I gave Peace a chance to whallop Fugue one more time for ignoring us for a month. Okay, now I'd get involved.

I swooped down, swatted the staff out of the unicorn's glowy grip, and flung it aside. "Boys! Knock it off. 'Rescue him' doesn't mean 'pulverize him'. And you, Fugue! There is no 'Element of Melee' in the harmony thing."

Fugue landed and shot me a nasty look. "Noc! What's going on? He..." He forced his wings to fold and make him look less agitated. "He's trying to mess with me. Lying."

Peace said, "He's the one playing games instead of living here. To him this place is a distraction from taking courses in basket weaving or something."

"Engineering. Not fair, either. I know I live here."

"Oh? How do you think Noccy feels when you leave her to do all the work, to fight monsters, to live through the first days of a new shard all without her?"

"Use that nickname again and I'll --"

I don't have much weather-related magic -- the pegasi seem to be better at that -- but I still managed to do an exaggerated wing-flap that sent a gust of wind across both their faces. "Both of you, quit it. I'm not happy about Fugue's schedule either, but that's no excuse to be mean to him. What are you so bent out of shape over, Fugue?"

He stomped the ground. "He claimed you and he... uh."

"I said no such thing," said Peace. "Your jealous little heart just heard it, because you're still a monkey wearing a pony costume."

"I am not! I belong here with my friends!"

I blinked a few times, understanding at last. I glared at the unicorn. "You jerk. If you're a real ex-human then you know how mean it is to bait a stallion about that kind of thing. Fugue, we didn't do anything and you can ask Luna if you don't believe me. I get that you've still got Outer Realm instinct stuff in your head. So do I. Quit brawling or I'll fetch the others and start taking bets."

Peace ground his teeth and tore up a patch of grass with his magic. "This isn't satisfying. Celestia, please take me someplace else. Somewhere that I'll be welcome."

From our perspective, at least, he vanished. Maybe Luna paused us all and had a conversation with him. I stared at the spot he'd vacated, then turned to Fugue. "Did we just fail at friendship?"

His ears drooped and he stepped toward the patch of damaged grass. "Is that how things work here? You have a disagreement between black and white, Protestant and Catholic, conservative and liberal, and it's resolved by making each side vanish into its own little world so it can seethe in peace?"

"Good riddance, I guess. We weren't the only ones whose nerves he was getting on."

Fugue turned to me, wings spread in agitation again. "I might have befriended him, somehow! Apologized and quit questioning his existence. Maybe even gotten him to be friends with everyone, not just me. I tore someone out of the world he was made for because I was being petty." He quivered. "What happens if I have a fight with you someday? You might vanish!"

I hugged him, trying to scratch the space between his wings like he did for me. "I don't want that to happen, so it won't."

"I did vanish from your life, though. When I was doing lectures and you kept popping in, I assumed it was every half-hour."

I laughed. "Every few days, more like. Guess Luna figured the rest of us would get more total happiness points if time kept going without you."

"So I'm literally threatening to slow down the entire world or be absent for all the things you're doing. What kind of friend does that?"

"A freaky transhuman stallion who hasn't quite figured out that old rules about time and space and borders don't apply the same as before." I bopped him gently on the nose. "How about if I give you a tour of home, and then you give me a tour of your college?"

BADGES GRANTED:
Fugue
You Win This Round: Drive a pony out of your shard. ("Not one of your finer moments.")

Author's Note:

It seems like Equestrians would have underdeveloped social skills, since there's little need to interact with anyone who isn't highly compatible with you.

Here's death from Fugue's perspective. The idea of it being tailored to be temporary yet awful enough that you want to avoid it comes from "Always Say No". Looks like Fugue got an adventure world with deadly monsters in it.

What do you think Inner Peace's deal was?

   
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