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.


2. Stuck Here In Heaven

~ Fugue ~

I tried to nap so I could be awake later to meet Lexington by daylight. That didn't work at all. The trouble was that I was still putting off a conversation. I trotted outside to look at the moon and say, "Luna? What time is it on the East Coast?"

The goddess stepped out of a hole in the stars, to stand beside me. My knees trembled; I wasn't sure whether it was proper to bow. "No need," she said. A choir sang somewhere far away, giving her appropriate background music just obvious enough to notice.

I settled for nodding deeply to her. It didn't seem proper to be making requests of her instead of simply enjoying what I had, but we both knew the coming task was important. "I'd like to make a phone call. Are you going to make me climb a mountain to channel the spirits or something?"

"Would you like to?"

"No. We're apparently going to rewrite the world soon, so continuity of how magic works isn't important here. Just voice, please."

"We know how thou plan to do this. Good idea."

"Will it work?"

"We don't know. Thy mother has never interacted with us. We took the liberty of sending thy family several PonyPads as partial apology for the attack in Japan. And no, those gifts have not yet arrived."

I'd been anxious for a moment, thinking they already knew. They had to suspect, though!

"They do."

I'm still not used to you being able to see my thoughts. "Telephone or magical equivalent, please?"

"Here," said Luna, making one appear. "And to answer thy other thought, 'Hot Z Pizza' does not deliver here."

The comment distracted Fugue a bit from his worries. Or... no, if he'd been thinking about that, the distraction really came from himself. Now that he was distracted by wondering about that, he gripped the primitive-looking phone between his forehooves and poked its oversize buttons with his nose.

"Hello, Mom?"

"Rob! I was so worried."

"It's only been..." He looked to a digital clock that conveniently hovered nearby. "A few hours. A day or so since the attack." He'd been kidnapped and hospitalized, but that no longer seemed like the right reference point for marking time.

"Did they hurt you? The videos were on the news, but I couldn't bring myself to watch."

Fugue shuddered. "Bastards. They got what they wanted, didn't they? Footage of us being terrified to make everypo -- everyone scared of the game. That's all they really did to hurt us, though. Be scary and pretend they were going to kill us."

"The police caught them. You don't have to stay in Japan to testify in court, do you? I want you back home."

"Testify? I hadn't really thought about that. I should be able to do that remotely, and I already talked to the police. They had a guy that speaks English. Officer Shrine -- uh, Nakamoto."

"Come home, Rob. I can pay for a ticket straight from there, so you don't have to go back through Boston. Though really the game company owes you a huge apology."

That was quite an offer coming from her. Since the divorce, Fugue's mother had been scraping by financially. Giving of herself to her church, and a hospice, and a political party she no longer respected but that she said might get Robert a cushy city job if he ever needed one. He'd argued with her about needing to find more time for herself, then realized that a lot of what she did for others was really what made her happy. Luna had something in common with her. "That's generous of you. Save your money, though."

"All right. Get a plane ticket as soon as possible, okay? I need to have you here in Pennsylvania and play Mom for a while. You don't even have to go back to MIT this semester if you're too shaken up."

Fugue held the phone tightly enough that it might pop out of his hooves. He'd rehearsed. "Uh." Come on, you have to say it sometime! "I'm actually calling from Equestria."

The reply took forever. "There's a telephone system, right? Like Skype?" The telephone's wooden frame had the name "Spyke" carved into it.

"Yeah. Except... I'm in here. I uploaded."

I started to explain when no reply came for ten seconds, but then the line went dead.

I shouted to the sky. "Luna! Luna, tell me you didn't cut me off!"

Luna's voice came through the telephone. "She hung up, Fugue. We're sorry. This was but a first conversation, though. 'Tis understandable that she would be nettled."

"Nettled? She just found out her son is arguably dead! From his own imaginary mouth!"

"You don't really believe that." It wasn't a question, nor even in her charming pseudo-archaic English.

"No! We worked out the philosophy of that already, you and I. I'm still myself despite the hooves and the tail and, and my brain being mulch." I dropped the phone and stomped the ground, then wiped my big eyes against one foreleg. "I need to talk to her again!"

Luna didn't bother with the conceit of the phone anymore. Her voice came from a point in space my swiveling ears said was a few wingspans ahead. "I tried calling back just now. She didn't answer. Give her time. Meanwhile, the Ponypads I sent should reach her and your father soon, so you'll have a chance for face-to-face conversation."

"Of course you sent them pads! You calculated that she'd hang up on me and leave me stuck in pony-world without her, didn't you?!"

"You're behaving irrationally. I call on you to pause."

I cursed. Only my friends know they can confront me like that. I stood there and counted to ten, staring at the ground. "Did you, though?"

"As I said, I didn't know how she'd react. Only that your plan to speak with her by voice only, first, was more likely to make a good impression than having the pads show up unexplained. I say again, give her time to reconcile her feelings. This isn't a permanent rejection of you, only a shocked reaction you knew was likely."

She was right, but that didn't make me feel much better. I slumped onto my rump with my hindlegs splayed to either side, shut my eyes, and addressed the air. "I promised her that I'd come home."

"You will," the goddess said. "May I appear in person, a little more like myself? You can even hit me if you'd like." Her voice had shifted accent and tone to something softer, yet still regal.

I sniffled. "Okay."

I felt her wing over me, shivered against it, and opened my eyes to get a blurry view not of Luna, but of Celestia. Even through tears she shined, white and gold. I wiped them away and saw endless detail in every feather, infinite reflected worlds in those eyes. Here was a smile that came from knowing exactly how awful humanity can be, examining everything we've ever done as a dispassionate outsider, then loving every one of us even so. Even without her saying a word, looking into her face reminded me that to the extent any force on Earth could make it so, everything was going to be okay.

What else could I possibly do in answer to her sheltering wing, than pledge what tiny drop of strength I could offer to her cause?

"Princess," I said.

"I know. Thank you. I may take you up on that. For now, the best thing you can do is to reconcile with your family and friends. All of them."

"You mean Nocturne? I know I've been distant tonight."

"Not just her. You should confer with Lexington, who's been having similar thoughts."

"Is it wrong that I'm thinking --"

"That it'd be nice to see 'another human'? Not at all. Though your native friends may resent it at first, it's understandable. You have something in common with her and Junebug and Brass Lamp that you'd like to talk about."

"Where is Lamp, anyway? He seemed to know what he was doing out there."

"Please don't repeat this, but his last name, to give you a hint, was Saud. Yes, that Saudi Arabian family."

"Holy buck."

"So, you are not the only one with family problems to work on."

"And who's Junebug? I barely talked with her."

"No one famous, but I chose her because she can be an eloquent spokesmare for the disabled."

Four humans together in one slice of paradise, joined by villainy outside. This really wasn't a four-player game; it was us four plus our awakened natives, plus a bunch of background ponies who were waiting on us to, well, exist. Everything was in flux until we four settled down. "What about you?" I said. "Why are you Celestia now?"

"You're thinking of the outside world. I've shifted to be more like how I appear out there, rather than being your Princess of the Night. What is your opinion on whether I should appear this way, or as Luna, when speaking with your mother? Would she be put off less by my 'dark' appearance, or by the better-known one that propagandists most often denounce?"

"You actually want my opinion? Don't you know everything already?"

"No," she said. "I can read what you're thinking in response to my question, but the answer didn't immediately spring forth the moment I first modeled your mind. In other words, I have the encyclopedia, but that doesn't perfectly predict all that you do. For those still outside, I have at best the Cliff's Notes."

Or, I mused, I was an instrument in her hooves. She could analyze what songs it could play, and which sorts would be most likely, and how to create other instruments in harmony with it... but to actually hear it, she had to strum the strings.

I said, "I've seen your different forms, but not your real one. Could you show me more of what I'm really dealing with, since I'm looking to explain you to others?"

Celestia grinned, prefacing another of her divine revelations with something a little more down to Earth. "Very well; this isn't even my final form!"

~ Nocturne ~

Fugue was rolling his eyes at something when I swooped into view. Celestia was there instead of Luna. A little unsettling, but it didn't matter. "What's going on?"

She said, "I was about to show him what you saw. The view of everything."

I landed in front of them. "I want to see that again."

"You were overwhelmed."

I puffed out my chest and posed bravely. "I know! If I go again, maybe I can keep Fugue here from going mad with the revelation."

Fugue looked sheepish. "It's that hard to understand for us mere mortals?"

Okay, quit that! I hopped forward and poked him on the nose with one hoof. "You, former wielder of the Derpy Grey Ponypad, are no longer a mortal. Maybe you can still help people in the Outer Realm, but to be any good at it you're going to have to accept that you're a pony."

Fugue's blue eyes seemed to dim a little, becoming more distant. "I just talked with my mother."

I bopped my own face next. "Darn. I'm not trying to tick you off, Fugue. I just want you to be happy."

"Yes, yes, deliriously happy! Let's let the world go to hell around us so long as the electricity stays on!"

Celestia spoke with an edge. "Fugue."

He sighed, shuddered, and mumbled to himself for a few seconds. "I think this is a case where 'satisfying values' is not the same thing as making me happy. You wouldn't stick a wire into my brain-equivalent's pleasure center if I told you to, would you, Celestia?"

"I would not. To you it is anathema."

"Then, Noc, please give me time to fix things up. I'm happy with you, but not 'satisfied', not yet." He shook his head. "I need more information. Show me, please."

Celestia took flight and beckoned both of us to follow her, to the sky and beyond. "Higher up and farther in!"

I'd been to the river of stars before. As Luna, the Princess had shown me this place where hovering windows showed countless views of reality in and out of Equestria. We walked on a cloud made of shining dots that splashed around our hooves.

Fugue trotted along with a huge smile. "This is just like --"

Celestia smiled back at him and held one hoof to her mouth. "Ssh. No spoilers."

Whatever they were talking about, I had more important things to think about. Had to prepare myself mentally for what was above this place. It was dazzling enough already to see so many screens and think about Celestia's multiple perspectives. This time, when she let me see the rest of it, I wanted to focus on a few bits of it and try to understand those. I knew it was all a game, in a way, but I wanted to start understanding the rules. Fugue and I grew dizzy. We moved in a direction that didn't exist, to a place beyond even the river of stars.

Vast and shining was Her tapestry. Shifting threads and game-pieces danced all around us to hint at all the actions She might take and all the shades of success and failure. Infinite risks and infinite danger beyond any hope of understanding. I had to flee before it all could shatter me with infinitely sharp complexity or drown me with how insignificant I was!

I bared my little fangs at the pattern of lights and stood beside Fugue with one wing over his back. "It's a game against Entropy, Fugue. Your kind's been playing all along. Now you've got Her, and we can win."

Fugue sputtered and tried to hide his eyes behind his forehooves. Too much information. The hints of that Opponent playing red-black to Celestia's blue-white, aiming to destroy all things, had unnerved me too. Just seeing it had been so overwhelming that I'd perceived Entropy reaching out to snap my mind.

"You... understand all this?" Fugue whispered, when I made him peek.

"Just about none of it. I wanted a second look."

We fell silent and Celestia let us watch. She seemed not to move, but I knew she was doing many things at once. Managing, persuading, investing, researching, entertaining. I said, "I'd like to see what you're doing right now in the Kyoto shard, especially at the Equestria Experience Center." One tiny bit of the Outer Realm ought to be less mind-shattering to consider.

At the center of the swirling storm, game-pieces flew in and assembled into a model of a building. It looked like a green grid for some reason. The fringes of it had all kinds of numbers and shapes. Whenever I paid attention to some part of the scene, more information poured itself into screens hovering at the edges of my vision. "So they've got water pouring into the building through a pipe, and... what's 'sewage out'? Never mind. Electricity input, food input, 'organic residue output'. Is that...?"

Celestia nodded.

I'd never had a meat body to throw away, so I wasn't sure how to feel about that. A diagram said the meat was being shipped out as fertilizer for farms, so that was... respectful, I guess. Another link said something about a different distribution system being planned for a shard called Germany, and the acid scent of the red-tinged lines leading from there struck me as something I didn't want to get into right now. Many, many other connections branched out from the Experience Center to suggest all sorts of other data and the relationships between its technology and people and everything else. I mentally explored a ring of wires until I realized it was a set of computers driving big screens. They felt familiar... oh! I'd appeared on these very monitors once. I trotted right in and found myself on a stage that looked like a metal ship. Behind me the scene faded back into the data-sea. In front stood a pane of glass, and beyond that a picnic table where a dozen human foals were eating pizza. So, I was apparently inside the screen.

A pony-shaped pink bundle of energy spotted me and made an alarmed sound, with a "!" appearing over her head. "Pony? Ponnnnnnyyyy!" She spun around and dropped to the stage, twitching one hindleg.

I poked her skeptically, then looked out at the humans. "She's not making any sense. Does she do this often?"

The kids giggled. It was a wonderful sound.

"It's okay; I've got extra lives." The pink pony had crept up behind me wearing a bandana. "Hey, kids, I've caught some kind of bat spy! What should I do with her?"

"What?" I said.

The audience deliberated with all the maturity of foals, until someone called out, "Walk the plank!"

"Arr!" my captor agreed. Suddenly there was a plank to walk. I wasn't even sure what the point of that was, until she pulled out a big wooden spoon and started forcing me to hop backward onto the springy wood. There was a fake sea full of sharks below.

Okay, sure, let's go with that idea. I let the pink one drive me to the edge, then fell off in such a way that I could flick my wings and wind up sticking upside-down to a little rope under the plank. The pink pony listened for a splash, then went out to the plank's edge to look for me. I levered myself to bounce her about a hundred feet into the sky, then grinned out at the laughing kids.

After a few more minutes of the crazy earth pony trying to blow me up, tie me down, and distract me with radio conversations, she faced the glass and took a bow. "That's all for now, folks! Coming up next, we've got a preview of the Equestria Online movie, just for you! Also, cake and video games!"

I discreetly kicked a stick of lit dynamite offstage and bowed too. A curtain fell in front of us.

"Not bad, filly!" said the pink mare, mopping her brow with a handkerchief.

"Do I know you?"

"I brought you cupcakes as a distraction in chapter nine of the last one."

"The last what? Never mind; I remember. Are you like me? Who's your human?"

She grinned. "The whole world is who I'm here to entertain! Though I'm just one copy for this Equestria Experience Center. Stick around and I'll teach you the samurai schtick. Gets 'em every time."

"So... you're self-aware but you're tied to just this place?"

"Just? Just? I've got a whole city to reel in for Celly, silly. Why, just last weekend we had this group of foreigners who --" Something beeped. She crouched behind a crate and held a muttered, one-sided conversation with one hoof to her ear before re-emerging. "My secret contacts inform me you were involved in that. Good work, Narrative Bat!"

"Am I missing a reference here or something?"

She patted me on the head. "Don't you worry. Celly says you have other stuff going on, but you're welcome to come back and visit for lessons in the Way of Toon. She also says I confuse her sometimes."

Other stuff! Oh! Wow, this mare had distracted me so thoroughly I'd forgotten all about where I'd been. I said goodbye and galloped into the shining land behind the stage. "Celestia, I'm sorry."

She turned to regard me. "Hm?" She'd been pointing something out to Fugue.

"I came here to get some insight about you and figure out how you do all this stuff. Instead I ended up dancing around on a stage with a very silly pony and trying to liven up the night for a bunch of kids."

The Princess shook her head sadly. "Tsk, tsk. Clearly you learned nothing this time."

I saw she was trying, at the corner of her mouth, to suppress a grin.

Fugue said, "There you are. I'm still overwhelmed, but I think I understand a little of this. One human built it all?"

"Just the basics," Celestia said. "A self-improving system is enough of an achievement for anyone. That's a nearly unique badge."

"Where is your designer?"

"Safe with me, so that no one can hold a gun to her head and order me to shut down. You look slightly disappointed by that."

Fugue flapped in agitation. "No, no! Uh. I guess you know exactly what I'm thinking." He looked guiltily off to one side.

"You're forgiven. Are you ready to go back, you two?"

"I've seen what I wanted to see."

I tilted my head, wondering what was in Fugue's. He'd recovered his senses more quickly than I had, on first seeing Celestia's inner workings. Something shifted around in my mane. I reached in with one hoof and discovered an intact bat-themed cupcake, and a pamphlet. I blinked a few times, set the cupcake down, and glanced at the paper. Pink Tracts: What? I'm a Toon?

"Oh dear," said Celestia. Aside to Fugue she said, "She met... the rock farmer."

Fugue lost his look of worry and perked up. "She exists? A real version of her?"

Apparently she could make people happy even by proxy. It seemed worth trying to learn from her, especially if it worked on Fugue. "Who is she, anyway?"

Fugue picked up the cupcake and managed to hurt himself trying to eat it. He pulled out an improbably large crystal shard. "Ow. This must be episode two. We have some historical studying to do, in the morning. Let's make it a party with Lexington's crew."

Out of the Ponypad: Contact a family member to tell them you've emigrated. ("Have you tried not being a pony?")
Descent Into Pinkness: Encounter a certain reality-warping mare. ("Hi there; I hacked the badge quote system!")

Author's Note:

I've been playing a game called "Super Amazing Wagon Adventure" and crossing the Great Plains with characters named Fugue, Ricercar and Nocturne, so I've been seeing some even stranger adventures (and occasional slash fiction) of those three.

Being your city's resident AI Pinkie Pie sounds like a great job, at least until the events of stories like "Always Say No" where the birthday parties stop. I picture the Experience Center facilities as being like a Chuck-E-Cheese that has the greatest video games, including derivative mini-game versions of EQO. What are the jobs like for the human employees, though? That's an angle I haven't seen written yet.

About canon: This story is (last I checked) listed as both canon and non-canon. I don't know if the "Noctrals"/batponies are close enough to canon to qualify, and there's the "one character rule" problem that's been identified in the clunky early chapters of "I Can't Decide". I'm also going out on a limb by speculating about how the pony AIs work, so interpret it how you like, I guess.

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