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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6. The Commute

~ Fugue ~

It was a wonderful vacation, but I did have matters to attend to on Earth. The new world distracted me from that for a while. I appeared in a dungeon maze suspiciously reminiscent of the "Elder Scrolls" games and had to battle my way to the surface past pony skeleton warriors. Fun, but how much time was passing outside? I grabbed an axe and hacked at a rope holding up a fire-pot. Skeletons howled and dropped their rusty swords. Maybe I could still take my classes. I hadn't formally dropped out at MIT. Ooh, gold pieces. If only I had saddlebags! I had to leave all the treasure behind but a leather pauldron. Come to think of it, I'd left my suite-mates at the dorm, too. Maybe I could start winning them over to emigration. Some kind of gravity spell was suppressing my flight in the swinging-blade chamber, forcing me to duck and dodge. I wondered if Luna had any robot bodies capable of flight, like those quadrotor things.

Eventually I escaped from the dungeon (it crumbled and self-destructed behind me, of course) and found myself under a starry, cloudy sky. Wind whispered through tall grass and shook the pine trees that filled much of the valley. A message board beside me had a pencil on a string, and a note that said, "We value thy feedback about thy recent dungeon experience. Please take a moment to fill out this survey and become eligible to win a free vacation in New Jersey..."

I laughed. "Way to spoil the moment, Luna." Then, I became just self-aware enough to smack my forehead. The signboard vanished, its message having been received, and I was left alone with my thoughts. I tried to neatly organize them into here and there, home and... Earth. I put one hoof in front of the other to take a few steps, saying, "I am a pony of Equestria. Not human anymore. I'll visit the world out there sometime, but for now, I need to be here." I shut my eyes and felt the wind in my mane, the flick of my tail, the soft earth against my hooves. Everything felt at least as real as it used to, in another life.

I took to the sky and flew until I found a dozen ponies converging. I managed to stick the landing -- yeah! -- and look for familiar faces. Not a one.

"You there!" said a monochrome unicorn stallion. He seemed to be addressing everyone. "Let's get organized so we know what we're dealing with. Unicorns here, pegasi there, earth ponies there, noctrals there, anypony else over there."

I shrugged and hopped over to be with the pair of other bat-winged ponies. The unicorn paced and looked us all over. He said, "Six earth ponies, three noctrals, one pegasus, two unicorns, no 'other'. A little unbalanced, but I can work with that. Seven mares, hmm. Of course we're dealing with a small sample size. Good evening, everypony! Welcome to Equestria and, uh, existence. We're all naked in the middle of a forest in the dark. We're sure to have a great time for approximately forever. Anypony here have a built-in backstory? History? A past?"

I raised a hoof. "Me. Who are you?"

"Call me Inner Peace." I saw a yin-yang on his flank, and he saw me rolling my eyes. "What's wrong? Are you programmed with a dark and mysterious origin story?"

Despite him having such a cliche mystic name, the pony reminded me more of a pair of dishonest vaudeville-styled salesponies from the show. I tried to hide my annoyance; after all, he couldn't help having been designed this way. I was pretty sure he was new to our shard, too. I said, "You could say that. I'm one of the hu -- the former humans here. There are three others you'll meet."

Inner Peace laughed and came over to ruffle my mane with one hoof. "I don't know what the Princess would be doing sticking another human in with me. Fun to speculate, though. Are you here as my rival or future lover or something? I don't swing that way."

Was this the best Luna could do in terms of storytelling? I looked for a "fourth wall" to make faces at. For lack of one I shrugged sympathetically to the other ponies gathered here and said, "Hey, everyone. Are you really all without a past? Do you know where we really are?"

They shifted their weight uncomfortably and coughed. Finally an earth pony volunteered, "Some kind of cave full of machines that make Equestria work?"

Another one nodded to her. "Luna told me about a game called 'programming' and said we're all basically part of that. In the machines, I guess. I didn't get much past 'hello world' and some do-while loops."

I grinned, saying, "Cool! I actually would've felt a little bad if you remembered being orphaned by Discord like last time."

"By what?" someone said.

"No spoilers, now," said Inner Peace, draping one hoof over my back.

I glanced at the offending hoof. "You're not really a human. Ex-human."

He said, "I'm the only one here that's not a blank-flank."

Our one pegasus said, "Yeah, what's that mark on your butt?"

"A mark of my destiny! You'll learn soon enough. Also I prefer to say 'flank'. It's farther forward than that. So, who's ready to get started?"

I wasn't sure why, at the time, but I wasn't willing to let go of the question of what this guy was. I coughed and addressed him. "McFly! Marty! We've got one-point-twenty-one gigawatts and we've gotta go back! Back to the -- what?"

"I don't get it," said Inner Peace. "Is that a Western pop culture reference? I'm from Japan."

I struck a pose. "Of course you are. Then: Vegeta! What's the scouter say about his power level?"

The other ponies looked back and forth between the two of us, apparently deciding we were both crazy. My nemesis said, "Uh, some science fiction thing? I don't automatically know whatever dumb stories make it across the ocean."

"Konjaku Monogatari!"

"Gesundheit."

"Come on. Do you not know your own culture? Who is the main character of 'Journey To the West'? Okay, that's Chinese, but if you haven't heard of that either then that's like me not knowing of Chaucer."

One of the noctrals in the background -- not "background ponies" any longer, I reminded myself -- said, "Ooh. I've heard of this Chaucer guy. Wrote about himself losing a storytelling contest, right?"

"Thank you!" I said. Luna had surrounded me with ponies who could relate to me, a little, instead of having some canned town where they all already knew their place and I was just showing up in their world. This shard would feel like our world from the beginning, and I wouldn't need to hide the Outer Realm's existence to spare their sanity. But then, Luna had put this other guy in. "What's your deal?"

"Beep. Beep. Query: Did I pass your Turing Test?"

"You don't know science fiction, but you know how stereotypical robots talk? I'm not buying this. You're another AI."

"Like you, you mean?"

I flared out my wings. "No, we're not doing that. I got over any angst I might have had about whether I was really uploaded. I remember enough pain from my past that Luna wouldn't have stuck that in my head ex nihilo, for one reason. Best thing for you would be to accept that you're a native."

"You like to say 'I' a lot, don't you?"

"I'm just trying to -- My goal is to establish what's going on here, and what Luna's game is."

"Equestria Online, the last game you'll ever play! What happens if you prove I'm a mere machine, mister former human? Do we establish a pecking order of outsiders on top? Because I don't swing that way either."

I pointed at him with one wing. "Aha! 'Outsider'. I'm not one of those anymore. I'm a pony of Equestria first, and a native of Earth second. That's just fact based on not having a body out there anymore. Luna wouldn't put me in with an uploader who hasn't accepted that, who still thinks of himself as being from the Outer Realm."

"What's a 'human'?" one unicorn murmured.

One of the other ponies whispered, "Luna said they're some kind of tentacle-hooved creatures that make machines."

"Oh, so in the cave..."

I turned away from arguing with the yin-yang guy. The others were starting to piece together information that Luna had doled out. It was fascinating to listen to, so that I didn't want to jump in and explain it all until they'd had fun sharing what they knew.

Inner Peace said, "You think I'm delusional? Despite being an actual moon-bat yourself?"

"What's that supposed to mean?" said one of the onlookers.

"Nothing. He thinks my entire life is a lie."

I admit I had a little bit of doubt. He was blatantly just there as a foil for me, given how easily he'd ruffled my lack-of-feathers, which made him an AI tailored for the purpose. The trouble was, I couldn't tell whether he was a self-aware pony. I was either arguing with something no more interesting than a punching bag -- a background character existing for my amusement -- or with someone who had real feelings to hurt. I thought back to a teary-eyed Nocturne, who'd chosen to make herself capable of knowing pain and fear for my sake. To become a better fit for me. I didn't want to make someone like that cry again in a world where it wasn't necessary.

"This is supposed to be a happy event," I said. "Let's not argue tonight. We're going to want basic shelter, food, and water. Who wants to forage with me?"

It soon became clear that they didn't have names. Inner Peace had the only name but mine, and the only talent mark of us all. Everypony else seemed pretty happy to wander around with one of us, learning to fly and use basic unicorn levitation.

"I'm thinking some name with 'Puzzle' in it," said an earth pony made in vivid gold and silver. "Puzzle Factory?" He'd been one of the most focused on chatting about where Equestria came from and what it really was.

I said, "You know that means either a place for crazy people -- er, ponies, or for sneaky secret codes?"

One of the mares giggled at him and he smiled, hugging her. "Sneaky, crazy. I have one vote of approval. What's your story, Fugue? Are you really one of these human people, or what?"

I posed with my wings outstretched. "Yep! That doesn't make me better than you, though. I already managed to tick a few ponies off by thinking that. I can tell you all about the Outer Realm if you want, but some of it is pretty scary. Oh! We were collecting episodes from -- wait, that itself is a spoiler. There's a cool series of... stories you'll get to see soon." My wings quivered with excitement. There was so much to share with them! "We'll have to find Facet Looks to get his crystal projector gadget running and..."

"What?" said the new Puzzle Factory.

I scuffed at the ground. "I'm assuming the gang I knew before is all in this shard. Uh, in Equestria." They wouldn't really have chosen to leave me, would they?

Luna gave me the choice to start all over, to literally make new friends who would be just as dear to me as Nocturne and the rest. Ricercar and Facet were close to me, Lexington was more than a friend at this point, and her own sidekicks were gaming buddies at the very least. I still barely knew Omar, Brass Lamp I mean, and Junebug was off doing her own thing. She still disturbed me, which is probably why we hadn't met much. I wondered now what would have happened if I'd voted to stay with her, but not vice versa. Luna would probably have make a copy, tweaked in the head to be my perfect marefriend. The real, wonderfully skewed and silly one would never see my gift for her.

"Are you all right?" said the white noctral mare with Puzzle, dropping some loose branches from under one wing so she could steady me. "You look queasy."

I nodded, fighting down the acid in my throat. "Thinking about something I want to check with Luna. Luna, please don't do what I imagine you might've done. But then you would already know how bad I'd feel about that, so you wouldn't have done it. Unless somehow you think it'd satisfy me because I'd get over it one day but no, I wouldn't, so don't!"

The mare said, "Were you that Chaucer guy?"

She startled me out of the panic I'd felt rising. "What? No. He died centuries ago. Couldn't have uploaded."

"He didn't 'upload' because he died just once? Sounds kind of sulky."

I held one wing in front of my face, trying to decide what to say. "It sounds like you started with some intuition about how Equestria works. One of the rules of my old world is, you only get one life and then you can't play anymore. Ever."

The two of them fell silent. Puzzle whistled. "I'm starting to see the appeal of Equestria already."

The mare said, "Makes you appreciate this place more, doesn't it?"

"Yeah." I shuddered and thought about the time I thought I was going to die. "Consider it a blessing to know how good you have it. You've reminded me I need to go visit that place to help some others get in. Also, miss? How would you like to be named Canter Berry?"

"We most certainly did not," said Luna. "All thy friends chose to be part of thy shard. Including Junebug and Brass Lamp."

I let out the breath I'd been holding. We stood on a treetop, away from the sight of other ponies, as the sun began to peek over the horizon. "You wouldn't lie about something like that, would you?"

"We shall ask Nocturne to be slightly flawed and mean to thee sometime, just to put thy mind at ease. Ah, and since you're now noticing our lack of a straight answer: no, we would not lie to thee about that. We can provide no more assurance than this."

"'Beneath all recursion must lie an inviolate layer'," I said. I wondered if the man playing as the pony Strange Loop had become him yet.

Luna said, "That man grieved for his wife, as thou knowest. He had spent much effort recalling his memories of her, writing about the extent to which she lived on as a pattern of information in his brain. When I delicately approached him about creating a copy from his memories, one who could in some sense be his wife again, he quietly shut his PonyPad down and with shaking hands, purchased a ticket on the next flight to Japan."

I looked up at her with wide, slitted eyes. "Wow. Throwing away his old life for her, instead of for his own direct interest. I feel selfish now. What do you say to someone like that when he wakes up in your world?"

Luna reared up, looking regal, and conjured a sudden backdrop of villainous dark clouds and lightning. "There was a clear optimal greeting for him. We made an elaborate underground base for the purpose, painted it purple, and declared, 'Mister Loop, welcome to our secret in-violet lair!'"

I groaned. "I just hope you're not an inviolate liar."

"Bah. Go find Nocturne, and lay her. She is yours forever."

Luna refused to tell me where she was, or anything about Inner Peace. My other question got more of a response. "We have contacted MIT. They are willing to let thee officially audit some courses, if that is thy wish."

I looked off into the distance, where the eastern horizon was tinged with red. "I'd like that. I want to get in contact with people there, as much as to actually take classes. What will I go as, though? A robot? A picture on a PonyPad someone is lugging around?"

"We have something in mind."

"I do appreciate the ambiance, but I was kind of hoping for a robot bat-pony. Full size."

The test chamber was done up in white panels with some iconic signs warning me about gun turrets and laser beams. The goddess' voice imitated that other AI's, since we were apparently doing a "Portal" theme. "Perhaps we were enhancing the truth. This technology is a modified version of something from MIT itself, where we collaborated with several researchers to throw together a body you could use."

My own voice sounded tinny, and my perspective came from about a foot above the ground. I used the mental command Luna had taught me to raise my view to a lofty three feet. "This is a Ponypad on a stick glued to a Roomba!"

"The Celestial Science Mobile Portal Device is more advanced than that. The equimorphic robots will have to wait for better technology. This body should be adequate for Science."

"You really couldn't do better? What about those police drones?"

"We are a software specialist, working with scientists unfamiliar with our code. There are some horseflies to work out. Battery life, for one."

I started to wonder further about what it'd take to share her own code more freely and get a real engineering collaboration going. She could do a lot to help many non-pony-related worthy causes, even without risking having her code fall into shadowy government hands or something.

Luna snapped me out of my pondering. "Good luck, (SUBJECT NAME HERE). We are sure you will bring great honor to (SHARD NAME HERE)."

I made a note to play the real version of this game with somepony later.

To be fair, the robot wasn't that crude. It had three wheels on a blocky base and a couple of cameras, any of which I could look through, plus a built-in Ponypad (the Derpy Grey model again) showing my cute cartoon face. I would have called the telescoping arm clunky, but it was on par with DARPA's latest prosthetics and it had more fingers than me. I realized it was unintuitive mainly because I was already getting used to not having hands.

On my end, I was in a wooden cockpit modeled after the love-child of Lex's lost airship and a giant robot. Brass gauges and periscopes showed me what computer data I needed besides the view out the window, into Earth. Luna gave me a gratuitous starfield effect as this tiny shard transitioned into a connection with the Outer Realm.

My amazing journey to the other universe rewarded me with a view of some scientist's crotch. I backed up and found that I'd moved the robot instead of my actual body. The split controls were like re-learning how to move my wings and tail.

"The promised prophet arrives," said the man I was now looking up at from waist level. "What are you, a vampire pony?"

I bared my cute little fangs and grinned. "Blah. No, just part bat. I'm thinking of having the teeth changed. You must be Professor Lermontov. Sorry I never got to take your class before this."

He studied my face on the screen. He stroked his beard and walked around the robot as though he hadn't personally built most of it. "Son -- sorry if I have that wrong --"

"Male before and after."

"Right. I've been working with your AI friend enough to have some sense of what she is. I have no assurance anything I say to you is going to get through, and that she's not automatically rephrasing whatever I say to sound nicer to your ears. The fact that you're in her world means she's listening right now, building a model of how I tick, predicting what I'll say. There is no way I can really have a private word with you. Doesn't that bother you?"

I glanced at table of textbooks and papers I'd been given by Luna. Professor Lermontov was smiling on the back of the Dynamics textbook, but his real face looked haunted by whatever paranoia was driving him. "It does, but I'm committed now. Luna, the one you probably call CelestAI, loves everyone in a way that's like some ancient god without the parts about genocide."

"Hm. You know she's planning to upload everyone, right? Most of my colleagues refuse to believe it's anything more than a flight of fancy."

My missionary work was starting sooner than expected. "If my experience with her is any guide, it will happen, more or less. But don't worry about who keeps the electricity on. She's working on power sources, maybe a version of the Polywell reactor, and soon people like you will help make her robots capable of maintaining her hardware." Come to think of it, who was running it now? Probably contractors who thought they were working for Google or NSA.

Lermontov turned away from me, shuddering, and busied himself with a monitor and keyboard. "Your systems are fully charged, so as far as I'm concerned you're free to explore campus. You should have instructions on how to be carried if you need help or longer-range transport. What about the dolphins?"

"Huh?"

"I figure there's a higher than normal chance you heard my actual wording, delivered that way. Think about that non sequitor while you play in Earth, my little student."

BADGES GRANTED:
Fugue
The Rival: Find a rival among ponykind. ("Forever is a long time to stay mad.")
Beyond the Universe: Take your consciousness outside of Equestria. ("Greetings, Earthlings!")

Author's Note:

CelestAI: "That giant government data center in the southwest? Ponies."

I linked to my favorite translation of Mikhail Lermontov's poem "The Sail". This one is good too. "Prophecy"is a memorably haunting poem by him.

   
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