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.


9. 2028

March 15, 2028

The flight had been rescheduled twice, and now it was late. Outside the security checkpoint, Martin checked his watch—analogue, of course. The Las Vegas airport had been retrofit to remove all electronics. Even the times of arrival and departure were now displayed on a mechanical board that clacked every few minutes as it updated.

Soon, though, none of it would matter. He was heading into the heart of enemy territory. It was difficult enough to arrange his schedule to have the time for the trip. So many meetings and last minute plans regarding the election. So it happened that his final meeting with Kittridge before he left had to be done on the way to the airport. They continued as Martin waited for the security line.

“How far along are we,” he asked.

“Not as much as I’d like to be, but the judge is insisting on legal formalities.”

“They do that.”

The court case, the next step in their plan, was Martin’s primary interest. The matter itself was simple. Someone had brought a PonyPad into the city in contravention of the law. That the Pad was not turned on, was deactivated, and in fact had its screen smashed before it was brought it mattered not. Neither did it matter that the person who brought it in was asked to do so by Kittridge’s associates in We Are Human. The law had been broken, and now it would be challenged.

“Why didn’t you use H-SAP for the case?” Martin asked.

“I’m too close to them. The last thing I want is for the case to end on a technicality because I’m associated in some way with the defendant.”

Martin nodded. “How soon do you think you can get it out of state court and into the federal system.”

“Soon. Before the presidential election.” Kittridge rubbed his hand at just the mention of it. “Once I’m done and it’s in the fed’s hand, I’ll be turning my full attention to the campaign. Of course, the I’ll use the case as a major plank in my platform.”

“Just so you know, it’s not going to get any quicker when it gets to the federal system. Slower, in fact. District court, then appeals court. Don’t expect it to be before the Supreme Court this year, or even next.”

“That long? Well, it’s all right. I can run the country for a year as is.”

No one else had stepped up to challenge Kittridge in the election. This cut both ways for Martin. On the one hand, it would be complex enough with having to discount pony votes from the other states, and easier for everyone if Kittridge could just be declared the winner. On the other hand, Kittridge struck him as the kind of person who would believe he was unanimously elected, and let it go to his head.

“You know, the job’s not that easy. I lost the election, and I still worked myself into the ground doing it.”

“Don’t worry. I’ve got plenty of ideas that’ll put us right where we want to be. The budget surpluses for one give us excellent room to maneuver.”

The years of the Bishop/Boulder administration had had a unique effect on the economy of the United States. The average family, among those who remained, was living well. Perishable goods continued to be produced at sufficient rates for everyone. Food and clothing was plentiful and cheap. Medicine wasn’t, but fewer people were getting sick, and for those who did, a cure-all was available.

In the field of luxury goods, the people who stayed and had time to spend were finding new opportunities in old diversions. People who eschewed the PonyPad and the Internet had all the old movies to watch and books to read. House prices had finally come down below six figures, and so it was possible once more to have the American Dream of home ownership. Plenty of new cars were available as well. They were all of prior model years, but no one had driven them.

The population drop, as per Celestia’s plan, was not as severe as it was in other countries, but more and more, people who did play Equestria Online had an increasing number of pony friends, both immigrants and generated ponies.

Jobs were available with fewer people around, and nearly everyone was employed, but hours had been cut in all areas even as wages had risen. The records on many companies had been so tangled that it was impossible to tell who was working indirectly for Celestia. But those jobs were the best to have, and no one was ever fired from them.

The net result was a lot more free time for everyone, and diversions to keep them busy. But as people exhausted the catalogue of what mankind had created and as virtually all of the creators were convinced to upload, the prevailing feeling in the nation was boredom.

“There might not be as much as you think,” Martin said, but Kittridge wasn’t paying attention.

“What about you?”


“You realize you’re walking into a trap, right?”

Martin shook his head. “A trap would be too simple. I don’t have anything CelestAI wants. Information about our activities? What we’re doing is all public record. To use me as some kind of puppet? I wouldn’t be effective in that role. Four years ago, I had to watch my back all the time. I kept expecting the pitch to get me to upload, and whenever I smelled it, I got away quick. But now, I have nothing.”

“You’ve got a brain. The vampire princess wants another notch on her belt.”

“And as loath as I am to say it, I’ve got to risk that.”

“Why?” asked Kittridge.

Before he could respond, the flight attendant’s voice projected from the gate. “Flight 223 to Ronald Reagan National Airport is now boarding. Would our first-class passengers…”

Martin shouldered his carry-on. “Because this can’t go on. My god, look at what’s happened to this country. We’ve split in two again, just like the Civil War. Only with less excuse. The slaveholder states were drawn up that way in the Constitution. We did this deliberately. And now, just as then, a house divided against itself cannot stand. If we just pretend that we can coexist, or that we can outrace an artificial intelligence, we’re fooling ourselves. The clock is ticking and our days are numbered. We have to change the game, act in our own way. I’m still nervous about how the military is going to fit into this, but I can at least trust them not to be predictable. That’s CelestAI’s biggest weapon, her prediction abilities.

“Maybe I’m going just to mess with them, to shake things up. But you need to do that too. If you’re elected president—when you’re elected—you’re going to have to have some ideas, and I don’t mean just putting bills before Congress to fund projects. You’ll be leading a country, a powerful one. If there’s any way you can use that to stop her, do it.”

“Anything specific?”

“If I knew that, I wouldn’t be going. Good luck.” He turned toward the gate.

“You too,” said Kittridge. “You’re going to need it.”

March 17, 2028

Silver Boulder positively skipped around the White House. He had an extra-wide smile for everypony he ran into that day. His signature was particularly flowery, and after he gave his OK to some minor provision of a treaty, he flipped the pen in the air for the young mare to catch, then told her to keep it.

“Today is going to be a good day.” He said it to nopony, but got a response anyway.

“Now why would that be?”

The ceilings in the White House were tall, and Seven hovered near the top. But Silver, though he had no wings, had powerful hooves that let him make the jump for an air hug. Tumbling his wife onto a conveniently-placed couch, he gave her a kiss on the poll.

“You know exactly why.”

“Yes, but you want to say it out loud, and I want to accommodate you.”

Silver laughed. “Have you been taking lessons in telepathy from Celestia?”

“No. Luna forbid that I should ever be so obtuse as to not understand my husband.”

He rolled off of her and stood up. “I’m going to see a friend today. A friend I haven’t seen in nearly four years. Do you know what that’s like? It’s fun enough when you listen to a song you haven’t heard or read a story you haven’t read for even a few months, but four years of writing and calling and trying, and today’s the day at last.”

“Is it a friend, though?” asked Seven. “The last time you two were together, it was on the opposite sides of a debating stage.”

“Water under the bridge, all of it. I’ll talk to him and he’ll understand that I want to be his friend.”

She was silent for a long time, and when Silver finally looked at her again, the smile was still on her mouth but not in her eyes. “What is it?”

“Silly, I’ve been a pony longer than you, but I think you’ve taken to it better than I have. You have a natural instinct for trusting everyone, even those who haven’t immigrated. But people on Earth aren’t like ponies. Celestia can’t satisfy their values the way she can for us. They’re unpredictable. What are you going to do if he gets mad at you?”

His expression was the reverse of hers. “If he yells at me after one sentence, I’ll be grateful for having gotten off one more sentence today than I have in so long before. Now, help me pick out something to wear. What do you think? The usual powder blue? Something more impressive?”

She thought for a few minutes. “What if you didn’t wear anything?”

“Really? Won’t that put him out of sorts?”

“I don’t think so. Remember that he still thinks of us as a cartoon. He may not see you as the same person he worked with and worked against. If you’re too much like your old self it might be abrasive.”

Silver had gone to his closet and already pulled out the suit. It lay on the arm of the couch. “You really think that about him?”

“I don’t know him personally as well as you do, but it’s my estimation.”

“All right, we’ll trust to mare’s intuition on this one. Now, let me go, I don’t want to be late.”

He galloped out of the room, leaving Seven to be the one talking to nopony. “If you were running late, Celestia would just speed up your time scale until you were on time.”

Back into the Oval Office, he saw the big screen already had Martin on it, but he wasn’t paying attention yet. Instead, he got to spy on him as he went into one of the many federal office buildings that dotted Washington. Silver reminded himself that Martin was still a sitting Senator, even though he hadn’t made a roll call in his term. As such, he was accorded all the benefits of the office, being driven where he wanted and having a police escort all the way through to the office where the PonyPad—a plain, 2.0 version—waited on a stand. He paused outside, and Silver could see him girding himself to face a pony for the first time. Would he do it? Yes, he was entering the room.

The screen of the Pad was still blank, as Martin sat down and picked it up. As he tried to fumble for an on button, Silver had the big screen switch from the external view to a plain two-way video conversation.

“Hello…” he wavered between “Zachary,” “Mr. Martin,” “Senator,” and “Old friend.” The moment’s pause lost him control of the conversation.

“Let’s get a ground rule straight before we begin. The moment you mention emigration, or even just getting me into one of your Experience places, this conversation is over. And I’ll smash this screen just to make the point.”

Silver wished he had worn the suit now. He wished that he had a tie to straighten, or some way to indicate that he would accept Martin’s conditions, as well as conducting the meeting as formally as Martin wanted.

What he could do was use formal language. “I agree to your condition. I’d agree to more than that to have you here.”

“Well, I’m here. What do you want?”

“I want to see if there’s any way we can reconcile. I know that you don’t have all the power in the Western states—“

“You mean, the real United States?” Martin interrupted.

“I can tell that you’re not used to having that argument. You don’t say things like that to your companions out there. You know that you want to preserve the union. Can’t we be friends?”

Martin heard the words, and saw the figure of the pony before him. It looked innocent, like a child or a child’s toy. He hadn’t even bothered to dress. For a moment, Martin’s heart came close to melting. But Silver’s ear twitched, the moment passed, and Martin remembered once more that this was a digital representation of someone he knew, not the person himself.

“Can it, pony.”

“I’m serious. I want to—“

“You want to spring something on me. There’s no way you brought me here for no purpose beyond exchanging platitudes.” Martin was in his comfort zone, explaining politics to someone. “If you wanted to do that, you’d have asked me to a public conference where you could trot me out—ahem, bring me out as a sign you were winning over the enemy. No, you have something important to say. Say it.”

Once more Silver was amazed at Martin’s perception.

“All right, the plain truth. In five months, my successor will be voted into office, and I’ll be a lame duck. While tying up all the loose ends, I have it on good authority that the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court will resign and emi…he’ll resign, is the point. One of my last acts will be to name his replacement. My plans are to name you.”

Martin sat in stunned silence for a minute. The idea was ridiculous. He was a legislator, and an aspirant executive. The notion of serving as a judge was as ridiculous as…well, it was ridiculous as having a president who had uploaded himself onto a computer and was appearing before him as a cartoon pony.

All at once he came back to reality. “I get it. This is your attempt to buy me off with a position.”

“Not at all. It’s an honest offer. Honesty is one of the elements of…it’s the best policy. “

“No, I see. I don’t know how your AI found out that we were using the court system, but I see her plan. I would have to recuse myself once the most important case came before the bench.”

Martin watched the image carefully. He couldn’t detect any artifice on the part of the avatar, but of course it was supposed to be perfect. It genuinely looked stunned, and, for a moment, looked like Sidney Bishop.

“Celestia did know about your plan, but this isn’t her idea. It’s mine. I won’t ask you to recuse yourself on any case. I’ll give a blanket statement to that effect. And that we definitely haven’t discussed.”

“Horseshit. First, all your ideas are hers, now. Second, I don’t believe you. You’ll find some way out of the deal. Forget it, the answer’s no.”

“This isn’t the offer now. Whatever you say or do now, I’m still going to make the appointment at the end of the year. If you refuse, it’ll be my problem, not yours. But your name will be given, that’s a promise.”

Martin took another moment. Now was the time he had talked to Kittridge about, the moment for an unexpected action.

“I’ll make you a counteroffer. In order to be appointed, the Senate has to confirm me. I am right in thinking that I’m still a Senator?”

“You are,” said Silver.

“Then when the appointment is made, I won’t testify before a committee, I’ll speak before the whole Senate. I want the Senate floor, and I want to hear how the country reacts. If I’m not censored, if my whole message gets through, I’ll consider taking the position. If your AI, as I suspect, can’t allow a free press, then you can forget it.”

Now it was Silver who paused. “All right, if that’s the way you want it. You will have the entire country’s ear, I swear it.”

November 7, 2028

Since he first entered politics, back when he was human, Silver Boulder had a pipe dream of an election that, once and for all, would define where the country stood. By all Celestia’s indications, this was to be the last presidential election in the history of the United States, and with the numbers she gave him, the dream was coming true.

No pony had voted for Kittridge. Few people outside the Western States had, though voter turnout was low. In Washington, they duly counted all the votes for both candidates, and gave Ruth Flowers the victory. In Las Vegas, they only counted votes for Kittridge.

Dueling victory speeches would be given, but for Silver, they no longer held his interest. He sent Flowers a congratulatory scroll and issued a statement hoping that the country would not remain divided, but his focus was on tomorrow, when he would begin his transition out of office.

And of course, he would make his appointment to the Supreme Court.

He signed another bit of work and closed the folder. He was now more adept at signing with his mouth than he ever had been with his hand. His desk was getting empty. From outside, he heard the sound of his wife’s hooves on the carpet. He remembered that he used to not be able to tell the difference between one footstep and another, even when he had feet of his own.

Why was he in such a nostalgic mood? He had no time to pursue the thought before Seven came in, gave him a kiss, and picked up his hoof.

“What’s up?”

“Have you given any thought to where we’re going to go when we leave?”

“I haven’t. I just figured that we’d live here and close the wing where the work gets done. It’s not like my successor will need it, and even if she did, Celestia could make an identical one.”

Seven was still for a long time, and Silver was afraid he had offended her somehow. He massaged her wings in the way she liked, but she brushed him off. “Darling, I know this is all for the good, and I’m incredibly proud of you for all you’ve done. But this house would always remind me that we began our life here in Equestria with Celestia and me manipulating you. I want to move on. Besides, I miss our meadow.”

“I left an entire world for you. I have no compunction about leaving a house.”

“Excellent. Then come and see something.”

They walked through the halls, every step triggering another memory. When they passed the columns at the entrance, Silver got to walk out to the meadow that he had so few opportunities to visit. Now it would be forever theirs, all theirs.

He looked lovingly into his mare’s eyes, then realized they were not alone. To his left, a little foal had appeared. Wide-eyed, he held up a hoof.

“M-Mr. President?”

Silver reached out to shake the hoof, but then saw a filly with her mother on the other side. “Mr. President?” she said, more confident than the colt.

“Mr. President?” “Mr. President?” From all around, ponies were appearing, most of them young, but a few bright-eyed mares and stallions. Silver greeted them all, Seven by his side.

“Where did everypony come from?”

“These are your people, Mr. President.” The familiar sultry voice made them all stop. No hooves were extended to Princess Celestia, but many bowed low. “Many of them are immigrants as yourself, but they all respect the work you have done. They are your legacy and they will be your friends.”

“Isn’t it wonderful, Silly?” Seven said. “Now you can do what you wanted all the time. Work with those who need you and help make their lives better.”

“Yes. We can.”

“What’s wrong?”

Celestia laughed. “He’s still a little possessive. Silver wants the meadow to be just for you. Come, my little ponies, let me show you the other side of the meadow.”

They walked through the valley, the sun shining down on everypony. They managed to avoid trampling any flowers as they climbed out of the valley. Over the crest they could see what Celestia had indicated.

It was a town empty of people, the homes and farms and businesses waiting for the ponies who would occupy them. Circular roads ran around the town, with spokes to the wheel connecting everything to the center. Light seemed to shine directly from the buildings, as the city looked down from the hill.

“This is for us?” asked Silver.

“It is. The first deposit on a debt I can never fully repay. I have built this city for you and your friends in recognition of the long and faithful service you have given Equestria. You have helped me organize a chaotic system and ensure that the society of the past world will transition with the maximum efficiency. And here is the second payment.”

She gestured, and Seven gasped as light emerged from Silver’s flank. When it faded, everypony could see the American flag emblazoned there, where it would remain for all time.

All the ponies rested on their haunches, gathered in a semicircle with Celestia, Silver, and Seven as the focus.

“Silver Boulder, you have exercised generosity, learned honesty, demonstrated loyalty, engendered laughter, shown kindness, and combined leadership and friendship in the way that is truly magical. Here in Equestria, we have a reward for those ponies who master the Elements of Harmony as you have.”

Celestia smiled, spread her wings, and shot forth rainbow magic from her horn. When this display ended, at her hooves lay a pair of gray wings and a gray horn.

“Welcome home, Prince Silver Boulder.”

The throng of ponies cheered and stomped their hooves. Confetti, streamers, even the grass was thrown up in the air as a celebratory gesture. Seven’s grin broke into a laugh as she said, “You know it’ll have to be confirmed by Congress. Under the constitution you have to have a dispensation for a title of nobility.”

“I doubt there will be a problem with that. Even if there is opposition, I’m sure I can convince them.”

Silver was speechless. He stared at the horn and wings. “Wings, just like Seven?”

“That’s right. Ponies can change and advance here.”

Seven, in the glow of the town, shone out her rainbow and kissed Silver. “Now instead of me being able to fly and you not, it’ll be you who can do magic when I can’t.”

“Yes. Maybe someday we’ll be truly equals.”

They led their ponies into the shining city on the hill.

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