Friendship is Optimal: All the President's Horses

Set in the canon of Friendship is Optimal

In the not-too-distant future...CelestAI, the optimizing artificial intelligence, has introduced emigration to the online world called Equestria, and has even gotten it legalized. Now, she wants more.

A look at American popular politics in a science-fiction world.

https://www.fimfiction.net/story/129968/friendship-is-optimal-all-the-presidents-horses

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7. 2026

January 19, 2026

Zachary Martin pulled up short as the hotel’s automatic doors took their time opening. He looked down the street and shook his head.

He had never particularly liked Las Vegas, even before. Both as state senator and as US senator, he had spearheaded programs to alleviate compulsive gambling, and had tried, with greater or lesser success, to curtail the blatant sex trade that went on along the Strip. Beyond that, though, it grated on his sensibility. His state’s most famous city, plying its trade on the fall of a deck of cards or the motion of a metal ball. A city of chance, as opposed to a clean industry like energy or finance.

There had always been a shady business about who actually owned the casinos. Since the RICO laws had curtailed organized crime, the overt threat of mob muscle had diminished, but the books were still a tale too complex for any auditor to figure out. Mostly. Martin had no doubt who owned the last casino on the strip.

Finally entering the hotel, at least he could no longer see it. If people wanted to gamble where the cocktail waitresses wore rainbow wigs and tails on their butts, that was their business. If a casino wanted to have a separate play room for the under-18s that looped the My Little Pony series constantly and had full-time childcare workers with the title of “friendship coordinator,” there was nothing wrong with that.

But shouldn’t a casino at least take in, you know, money?

The idea that one could gamble with “bits” earned in a game and be paid out in dollars seemed like a scam, but who was the scammer and who was the scammee? The gaming commission had yet to rule on the legality. The Celestia’s Palace did insist that dollars won be the first money lost, but one could always buy in more if one had the in-game currency.

What bothered Martin the most were the “private VIP cubicles.” Even for people who couldn’t tell a PonyPad from a scratch pad, they would let you play a few “opening quests,” win a one-time-only starter prize of ten thousand bits, and then gamble away.

The house always wins, of course. So the practice of “going really all in” came to be known in Las Vegas. Some poor sucker would find himself broke at the Bellagio or the Sands. He’d stumble out to the Strip, only to find some bright and cheery girl with pink poofy hair explaining how he could still gamble and maybe win back what he’d lost. Into the cubicle he’d go.

And when he’d lost the last of his bits as well as his dollars, out he didn’t come.

Martin shivered, and it had nothing to do with the air conditioning. Maybe, today, he’d have a chance to change that.

Over the previous year, he had thrown himself into research. While more dynamic and practical men had built the infrastructure of a government that would no longer take orders from Washington, Martin had concluded that they needed to understand the enemy if they were to combat it.

His research had cost him three assistants to emigration, but he’d assembled the largest offline library of Equestria Online information. The technical details of artificial intelligence and mind scanning were beyond his ken, but he’d familiarized himself with the psychological tactics that Celestia pulled to convince someone to upload, as well as reading through transcripts of communications between real people and the game characters. He’d come to understand what “satisfaction of values through friendship and ponies” meant.

 

Martin had hoped to take action sooner. It had taken longer than people had thought to organize the counter government. Without the Internet or telephones, the methods of the mid-twentieth century had to be rediscovered. Fortunately, many elections already used those methods. Over the long year, finally enough representatives and senators had been nominally elected, and the new capital had been called to be Las Vegas. It was far from Washington and had a central air hub. Not ideal, but the only viable choice.

Once inside the hotel’s conference room, he and the other ninety-nine senators sat at jury-rigged desks. There were no pages or interns, and of course all the electronic equipment had been pulled from the room. No one was certain that an overhead projector could be converted into a microphone, but no one was sure it couldn’t be, either.

Still, Martin did not envy the new House of Representatives, which had to sit in a larger hall, with nothing to write on, as if the Congress were a class in school. It had been a problem, trying to keep the House in line. The way it was going to have to work, for now, was that the Senate would have to propose the bills. There wasn’t time for the House to take its time with 435 differing points of view. They would criticize, alter, and adjust, but the first drafts would be done by Martin’s side of Congress.

After the formalities, he had found himself elected President Pro Tem, and he took up the gavel at the front of the room.

“All right, then, we can proceed to business—“

“Finally!” It was Kittridge, the rising leader of H-SAP. “Now we can finally set down how to take over—“

“The gentleman will suspend!”

“What? Everyone knows why we’re here.”

“The gentleman will suspend.” Without the aid of a microphone, Martin found it difficult to speak louder than the rest of the assemblage. He resorted to being clearer and counted on his bass to do the rest. “The gentleman will maintain regular order. The gentleman has not been recognized.”

Ninety-nine heads turned to him. A few understood, but most showed confusion.

“Yes,” he said, “we are still going to engage in parliamentary procedure. We are still going to abide by the rules of the Senate passed by our predecessors. We are going to maintain the continuity of government. That means that we are all responsible to comport ourselves as the people’s voices, and keep the proper records to allow them to vet us. At this desperate time in our nation’s history, we need order, not rash action.”

After a long pause, Kittridge, sarcasm in his voice, said, “Mr. President?”

“The chair recognizes Senator Kittridge.”

“Well, thank you kindly. Since I have the floor, I can say what everyone here knows. We’re here to get the ponies out of our government and out of our country. It’s a simple bill we’ve got to get passed, so let’s do it and get to what we all know is comin’.”

Martin took a deep breath. “Will the Senator yield?”

Kittridge waved his hand.

“My previous statement was not meant to apply only to our procedure but to our tactics. No newly elected government has ever been so foolish as to pass an overarching bill containing their entire platform. There will be time for the simple bill that Senator Kittridge has spoken of, but if we pass it now, we risk looking more like a protest group than as the duly elected government of the United States.

“Let me instead propose an alternative. It will strike a blow for our cause just as you would. This blow would be narrower, but deeper. In brief, it outlaws ponies from the city of Las Vegas. Not merely as part of the government, and not only uploading. PonyPads themselves would be contraband.”

“Mr. President?” A Senator from Virginia, who had never held a government position before, stood up.

“The chair recognizes Senator McCutchen.”

“Wouldn’t that be against the PON-E Act?”

There were grumbles from the Senate. Martin smiled at her. “Yes, this constitutes a partial repeal of the PON-E Act. What of it? Better to let the people see that we mean real change”

“One other thing?”

“Yes?”

“How are we supposed to pass the bill without a president?”

Now it was Martin who grumbled. He and the other elites of the new government had tried to find someone, anyone, who would take the office of president. But those who had put themselves forth had been the ones that sane people didn’t want. They were either true radicals or, Martin suspected, agents of Celestia sent to mess with them. The people who could lead didn’t want to. The power of the office still awed too many people. Martin suspected that for many, while they didn’t mind taking the title of Representative or Senator, being called President was violating the sacred, like putting on the pope’s hat.

“We will vote on the bill. If it passes, and no one steps forth to fulfill the executive role, then we will treat it as a veto and attempt to override. If both houses vote with a two-thirds majority, it shall become law.”

Kittridge stood up again. “But are the people going to follow the law if they don’t believe us?”

Martin stared him down to reemphasize his point about order. “Some of you might be wondering about what has happened in the back rooms to cause us to bring the new capital here to Las Vegas. I have been in discussions with the chief of the LVPD, and he is sympathetic to our views. If the law passes, Vegas will be a pony-free city.”

Kittridge sat down, satisfied. He had known Martin’s plan, and did not disapprove. He could bide his time for now. After the cheers, the meeting broke up, and he cornered Martin once more.

“Did you have to show me up in there with your little Robert’s Rules of Order move?”

“You know, Kittridge, someday you’ll really tick me off. But we’re on the same side, so it’s important you understand this. Politics is a game, and like every game it has rules. No, correct that. It’s half a game, half a science. Because in a game, you can’t break the rules because the referees will stop you. But in politics, you can, you’ll just have consequences.

“The moment you decide that your cause is too important for the rules, that it’s all well and good to debate most issues and tolerate the other side but this is serious, that’s when you face consequences. You divide the two sides into the faithful and the unwanted. Most times, the faithful are too small to have an impact. That’s not good for us. But once in a while there are exceptions, and the faithful gain power. There are words for those exceptions. Fascism, theocracy, oligarchy, dictatorship. We have a cause, but we need to get there the right way, or what we achieve will be worse than ponies.”

Kittridge put his hands in his pockets. “At least we agree on the cause.”

“We do. More than that we agree on the reason. There are people here who are afraid of what could happen.”

“I’m not.”

“I understand that. If fear were our motivation, we never would have made it this far.”

“Right. Glad we understand that. I’ve got another appointment. See you later.” Kittridge ran of, leaving Martin with the rest of his thought unspoken. Instead, he put it into words in his mind.

But that doesn’t mean it can’t arise later.

February 2, 2026

Silver Boulder had just been educated on the evolution of the PonyPad. PonyPad 1.0 had been designed for Hasbro’s cost constraint. The 2.0 ought to have been called the 1.1, as it merely added a few features like a touchscreen and upgraded sound. It had cost a little more, but Celestia understood that some people ascribed value to things based on price.

Once Equestria Online was in the public mind, the PonyPad III came out, the PPP. The first portable PonyPad, it allowed people to be full-time EQO-junkies. The 3.5 was closer to a mobile phone. For a game that depended so much on visual and auditory stimulation, the 3.5 was a disappointment. Few people liked it.

“That was the point,” Celestia had said. “People who had become complacent with interaction through the screen needed to understand that they would not be able to maintain that level of play. The 3.5 came with a card for 24 hours free in an Equestria Experience. Most people who bought it took advantage of the card. Or they waited for the PonyPad 4.0”

Silver understood that the flaws Celestia was speaking of had been introduced intentionally. Planned obsolescence was one thing, but no other manufacturer in the world would manipulate the market like that.

The 4.0, also known as “The Cabinet,” was an oversized wall unit that made a house look like it had an extra room, in which a single person’s pony avatar could see Equestria, or a whole family could spend time together. The 3-D rendering had been so good that more than one person had put their hand through the screen. It was also expensive, but Celestia would make it up to them with time at an Equestria Experience and an emigration pitch.

That led to the PonyPad V, which Silver Boulder would be using that day. Celestia could have employed full projection of ponies, as she had in the past, or fully robotic ponies, as she would in the future and might need to in limited situations before the Twilight of Humanity. But she still wanted flaws so that people continued to consider the pads as inferior substitutes to emigration.

The V combined a fully flexible screen—another technology that Celestia had casually perfected and not shared with anyone—with something akin to the Segway. The result was a structure that was mobile and futuristic, but that still kept the old-fashioned imagery of the bucolic Equestria.

His assignment that day was to address an assembly of middle school children. It was one of the appearances that, in past administrations, would have been for public relations and vote garnering. With a pony president, it was more about making more people more comfortable with sapient equines.

The outfit he wore was a study in comedic contrast. The powder blue suit had been preserved for his pony body, complete with striped necktie, and if anything it looked better on his gray torso. Always athletic, he now truly filled a suit as if he had been poured into it. Meanwhile, his back legs and flank, which no one would see, waved naked in the wind.

He’d made more appearances like this, and could count and recall each one. The speech at the union hall, telling the steelworkers how proud he was of them keeping the country standing. The acceptance of an award from the League of Women Voters, where he drank in the applause from the crowd for expanding voting rights as far as he could and now…

After fielding the usual questions from the children—when did you know you wanted to be president, what’s it like, how much money do you make—one of the boys stood up and asked:

“Before we came in for the assembly, the teachers asked us if we had our parents’ approval, and some of us who didn’t had to go to the gym and watch a movie. I feel bad for them because who wouldn’t want to meet the president?”

“How old are you, son?”

“Thirteen, sir.”

Silver Boulder smiled at him. “That means that you would have been entering school right about the time the PON-E act was passed. You’ve grown up around ponies all your life. Your parents haven’t, and some people aren’t happy with change. As you continue to learn about history, you’ll find that, if there is a theme to our advancement, it is about accepting more people as people, and not as others.

“But here’s the other side of the equation. You can’t make people accept change. Your friends, who are right now missing the assembly, shouldn’t be bullied or mistreated because they disagree. Or because their parents do. There are going to be people who don’t think the way you do, no matter how right you think you are. Letting someone go their own way is one of the most friendly things you can do.”

In his mind, Silver could see the assembly hall and the PonyPad V, tracking to his eyes and focusing on each student as he did. In his actual view, he was in the White Marble House, watching a magic mirror that he knew was really a complex camera system. But in Equestria, one was supposed to call it magic.

“Excuse me, Mr. President.” Princess Celestia appeared before him. “There’s something you need to see.”

On the magic mirror, all the children were frozen, and that actually did look like magic. It took more thinking to understand this, but Seven had explained it to him. His brain wasn’t equipped to deal with two full time tracks at the same time. Whatever had happened that Celestia was about to show him had already happened in the outside world’s timeline, and whatever actions he would take or reactions he would feel had already occurred. But they were blocked from his mind. Now he would have it replayed for him. Forevermore, he would think of them as sequential.

“What’s going on?”

“The Humanitist government has completed their passage of their first anti-pony law. Las Vegas is to be cleared of PonyPads, and they’re closing the Celestia’s Palace and the Equestria Experience locations in the city. This action demands a response from the president.”

Silver Boulder checked the magic mirror, making sure that the scenario was still paused. “What am I supposed to say?”

As he turned in his chair, Celestia was kneeling before him. “It’s all your decision.”

He got up and moved around. This he understood. There would be no decision that Celestia did not approve of, but she would not force it on him. So it was up to him to determine what she would want him to say.

“Have they actually done anything physically yet?”

“They have not.”

He took a deep breath. “Can you connect me to every PonyPad in the city, along with the screens in the casino?”

“Ready and waiting, Mr. President.”

He’d hoped for a moment to prepare, but his new brain worked faster, and he knew what he wanted to say.

“Americans and Equestrians of the city of Las Vegas. Today a group of people have determined that you are no longer free to communicate with your friends, and they mean to force this opinion on you. I am urging you today, not to resist this.

“If you have Equestrian friends that you worry about communicating with, your best option is to find a place outside of the city with a more open policy. If they try to stop you, then it will be time for resistance. But it need not be the kind of resistance that makes headlines. There is no wall around the city, and plenty of ways out.

“For Equestrians, you will have to be a little patient before you can speak with your bipedal companions. I can’t claim to be able to explain the situation to you perfectly. But you know that you have someone to speak to who can.

“Above all, there should be no revenge or acts of aggression against the people who have imposed this policy. While of course they should not be considered a legitimate government, they are still free citizens of the United States. In time, they will come to understand the error of their ways.”

He stepped away from the mirror, and Celestia nodded. “Very well done.”

“I’m learning the art. An iron hoof in a velvet horseshoe.”

“It’s more than that. You’re learning how to be practical, how to give strong enemies enough room to fall apart on their own rather than be the villain. Meanwhile, I’m cutting all the power to the casino and the experience, other than the exit signs.”

Silver nodded. “May I return to the students?”

Celestia pointed a wing to the first mirror. Silver straightened his tie.

Picking up where he left off, he said, “When you give people their freedom, they might come to agree with you, and in any case it looks better to the rest of the world…”

November 3, 2026

In his business before he had turned to politics, Zachary Martin had learned how much the preparation was harder than the meetings. Once in public office, it was the same way with elections.

Now, having the weight of an entire government on his shoulders, even Election Day was all-day work. His nominal title was still only Senator and President Pro Tem, but everyone looked to him to keep order. That he was elected before the schism gave him credibility. After today, he would no longer have that distinction.

Still, it was done. A successful election without the benefit of electronics had been completed. The previous election for the Humanitist government was largely a formality, with many representatives running unopposed. This time it had been a true contest. Furthermore, one third of the Senators, chosen by lot, had stood for election as well. Martin himself had not been one of those chosen, and he was grateful. It gave him the freedom to concentrate on organization.

If anything else had been necessary to ensure the election’s success, it was that Las Vegas had indeed become a pony-free city. The population hadn’t even dropped, as for every person who left, PonyPad in hand, another replaced them who desired to live to the Humanitist ideals.

Martin had had to do it all from a windowless office, since satellite cameras could have picked up his plans. Even if CelestAI did plan to allow them some rope before she attacked, he was still going to maintain his privacy as much as he could. Now the results were coming in, and he would be planning the logistics of assembling the new legislature.

A knock came at the door. Happy for a reason to stand and stretch his legs, he walked over and opened it.

“Package for you, Senator.” It was a courier.

He signed, then asked, “It’s been through the scanner?”

“Definitely. X-rayed, fluoroscoped, run through the super-magnet. Anything that’s in there other than soft paper has been fried.”

“Thanks. “

He waited for the door to close and then pulled the tear strip on the package. Inside was a single piece of thick paper. In the upper left corner was the eagle, shield, arrows, and olive branch. Even without the words he would know the Presidential Seal. In the upper right corner was an embossing of the White House. Martin tossed the paper on his desk as if he expected it to explode into a puff of sparkles, hooves, and nanobots. But it stayed still, only a piece of paper. At last he leaned over the desk and read.

Dear Senator Martin:

You will be receiving this letter on the evening of Election Day. Since you have chosen to bar ponies from your city, and since you have chosen to remain in your city, I cannot have two-way communication with you. I would like to discuss policy with you, but you have made that impossible.

Let me therefore come to the point quickly. In the election results in the true government, despite your lack of a campaign, no one in the Democratic-Republican party has seen fit to run against you. Therefore you have been chosen to serve an additional term by the people of the State of Nevada.

Since you have not paid attention to that election, you will not have seen the results, but may be interested to know that many ponies cast their ballot for you. This will not mean much, since you believe that they are not separate people, but I assure you, each of those votes was cast by an intelligence that considered the best choice and found you.

There is much our two sides could learn from one another, and your seat in the Senate is waiting for you. If you would but consent to leave your city, we could begin the process. If, however, you choose to expand your territory, it will only place you deeper into the darkness.

I hope to hear from you soon.

Your friend,

Silver Boulder, President of the United States of America

Throughout the letter, Martin read considering the words. Once he saw the signature, he crumpled it and threw it across the room.

Silver Boulder scratched his head with his hoof. “Well, I can’t see anything now.”

Celestia nodded “No. The molecular cameras I had on the paper were proof against radiation and magnetism, but the paper is now in a corner behind the wastebasket and is blocked from the line of sight.”

In the next room, Seven Colors awaited the president. His work day was done and it was time for another of his endless honeymoons after being reunited with her. He thought about the way she always knew everything about him, back when he was human.

“Princess,” he said.

“Yes.”

“If I asked you to do something, something that would satisfy my values…”

“I would have no hesitation in doing so.” She smiled at him.

“Even if it messed with your Great Plan? Adjusted your probabilities for bringing the Twilight of Humanity and all that stuff?”

“I would have to weigh the satisfaction of everyone’s values.”

His mouth a slit, Silver said, “Turn off the cameras on the paper. And stop observing the satellites spying on Las Vegas.”

“What for? People are going to have to learn to live without privacy. When everyone is uploaded, I will have access to all their mental states. Since I do not judge—“

“But I’m being made privy to what you know, and I do judge. Privacy is a human value. If we only have a few more years to be human, let’s keep that value as much as we have of it.”

Celestia stared at him. “It is done.”

“All right, that’s easy for you to say, but how do I know you’re not lying?”

“Mr. President, you have emigrated. You are a pony of Equestria. How do you expect me to prove anything to you when I macromanage your reality? Unless you’d consent to modification of your mind so that you trust me.”

“I don’t think so.”

Celestia sighed. “Then I only have one more potential solution.”

He perked his head up.

“You know that if a value outweighed my plan by enough, I would have to satisfy it. If you care about the privacy of the enemies of Equestria that much, then you will know. It is a kind of faith, but a faith for which there is a logic.”

“You’re saying I need to feel things more strongly?”

“I am not saying you need to feel anything. Only that what you feel, I will satisfy.”

He would have to take more time to consider that. Right then, all he felt was love for his wife. He headed into his bedroom.

   
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