Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Stumbling Toward Redemption -- Chapter 2 (Equestria Girls)

[Chapter 1 of this story is here.]
[Originally posted at Fimficiton.]
[I'm using "~ ~ ~" to indicate changing perspectives without changing scenes.]

When awareness first returned to her, Sunset felt pretty good, all things considered.  That changed very fast when she realized the ground beneath her was moving and deforming under her weight.

She resisted the urge to bolt upright, and instead started to take an inventory of her body while pretending to still be asleep.

Her fingers and toes were still intact, though her toes protested a bit because she was still wearing her boots.  She had various aches and pains, but nothing unexpected.  Actually, considering she'd been blasted by one of the most powerful magical artifacts in the history of Equestria, she would have expected to have rather more discomfort than usual.

It wasn't hard to figure out why the ground was so disturbingly not-solid.  She was in a bed of some sort.  Not just any bed either. A warm bed with actual sheets on it.  If she had come here, wherever here was, to go to sleep, all of that would be great.  When it came to waking up, though, it was concerning.  Why would she be in a bed?

She didn't exactly have an overabundance of people who would let her crash at their places.  Also, if some mysterious bed-giver had appeared out of nowhere, Sunset would have taken off her boots before going to sleep.

It wasn't that she was unaccustomed to sleeping in them, it was just that --since she rarely had the opportunity to take them off-- taking them off would have been almost immediate if she'd been given a warm place to stay.

The alternative to a mysterious benefactor, however, didn't make sense any either.  If someone with ill intent had taken her, they'd have dumped her on the floor.  Probably inside a closet.  Likely with the door locked.

People did not, so far as Sunset knew, keep beds in closets.

Since this was going nowhere, Sunset opened her eyes.  She was alone for the moment.  No reason not to take a look at her surroundings.

There was nothing familiar, but also nothing that stood out as threatening.  As she allowed herself to examine the room more, she actually found it to be incredibly generic.

After getting out of the bed as quietly as she could, Sunset looked for anything she could use to defend herself.

Soon after, she was walking down a hallway while armed only with a lamp.  The hallway had more character --it was painted sky blue with accents in every color-- but it didn't tell her much.  Anyone who liked clear skies and rainbows, which was sort of an odd combination when you thought about it, could live here.

The hall ended in an open plan kitchen/dining room/living room.  At first she thought this area was empty too, but a closer look revealed familiar rainbow hair peaking over the back of the couch in the living room section.

“Rainbow Dash?” Sunset asked in confusion as she let her arms drop to her sides.

~ ~ ~

Rainbow Dash gave a startled yelp, and her whole body jolted involuntarily.  It wasn't the best introduction ever, so she took a moment to compose herself and make sure she'd look cool and calm before she greeted Sunset.

In a single smooth and, she hoped, casual-seeming motion she transitioned from the jumble she'd been in to a sort of kneeling position, with her left arm draped over the back of the couch, that allowed to look in Sunset's direction. As she did that, she said,

“Hey you're--” and the rest of the sentence was forgotten, because now that she could see Sunset, she had an entirely unrelated topic on her mind, “Why're you holding a lamp?”

“I woke up in a strange place,” Sunset said as though that explained everything; “I didn't know where I was or who I might be facing.”

“And your first thought was to pick up a desk lamp?” Rainbow asked.

“Yes, because your guest room is absolutely brimming with defensive weapons,” Sunset said.  If her tone hadn't conveyed her extreme annoyance, the exasperated gesture she made with her non-lamp hand would have gotten the point across on its own.

Rainbow attempted not to laugh.  She utterly failed.  What ended up coming out started with a snort and ended with a snicker.  It wasn't the smoothest transition in the history of laughter, and neither was it quick.

“Are you finished?” Sunset asked.

“Not sure,” Rainbow said.

In a quick movement that was part flip and part roll, she deposited herself behind the couch, so that she was standing facing Sunset with nothing between them.

In other circumstances she probably would have made a bigger deal out of what went into that roll-flip.  Right now, however, there was a lamp-wielding Sunset Shimmer asking her whether or not she was done laughing, and that took precedence.

Rainbow said, “I'll have to check what's on the agenda,” and instantly regretted it.  If there had been a laughter-related agenda, that comment wouldn't be on it.

Sunset seemed to agree. “Truly, you are a comedic genius.”

Rainbow said, “Thank you,” as though Sunset had been sincere, because she didn't know what else to do.

After that, it seemed that Sunset didn't have anything to say.  Rainbow didn't either.  Well, that wasn't quite true.  She had questions, but they weren't things you started a conversation with.

A few seconds passed in silence.  Maybe having the couch hiding most of her body had been a good thing.  Rainbow was in danger of becoming fidgety, and that was most definitely not awesome.

Sunset seemed to have taken up an interest in ceiling tiles.  Possibly the number or arrangement of ceiling tiles rather than the tiles themselves.  Definitely something ceiling-related.  Given that that wasn't an ordinary thing for Sunset to do, Rainbow figured that she wasn't the only one finding this whole thing awkward.

The silence had to be broken somehow, so Rainbow asked, “If you weren't expecting to see me when you woke up . ? .” and realized that it probably would have helped if she had actually had a before asking.  With that in mind, Rainbow settled on, “Well, what do you remember?”

~ ~ ~

Figuring it was best to just get it over with, Sunset said, “You mouthed off when I was about to surrender, I decided that I'd get the crown just to spite you, it turns out that twisting an Element of Harmony to your whims when you're pissed off is a bad idea, things went pear shaped, there were rainbows, I was reduced to tears, Rarity wants an apology for the Spring Fling, Pinkie Pie apparently thinks that running face first into solid stone is a good idea, and I took up bricklaying as a hobby.”

“And after that?” Rainbow asked.

Sunset closed her eyes and attempted to call up any additional memories.  None came.  She was laying bricks, then . . .

“Not a thing,” she said.

“I think that Luna was making you stay and work so that she could keep an eye on you,” Rainbow said.  “It's not a bad idea in theory but she's only one person and I saw kids holing up in places she wouldn't notice them.”

That was just silly.  Sunset said as much.  She didn't actually say those words, but she did say, “Kids were holing up?  Is there a war or natural disaster, of which I was unaware, presently ongoing?” which meant the same thing.

“They were waiting for you,” Rainbow said.  “You didn't think everyone would be satisfied with just a tearful apology, did you?”

“Of course not,” Sunset said, then walked in a small semicircle so she was looking at the wall instead of Rainbow.  Things weren't going to go well, that much was obvious.

Sunset sighed.  “That doesn't explain why I'm at your house.”

“Escort duty.”

“Assigned by whom?”

“Kinda gave myself the job.”

Ok, that was definitely believable, except for one thing.  “I would have said, 'No.'”

“I uh,” Rainbow started, “I didn't give you a choice.”

That got Sunset's attention.  The idea was so absurd that she nearly laughed as she turned around to face Rainbow again.  When she was looking the other girl in the eyes, Sunset asked, “You kidnapped me?” in disbelief.

“No,” Rainbow said.  “I threatened to kidnap you, then we hammered out an arrangement whereby you'd let me take you to your home if I bought you dinner.”

That brought things back to not making sense.  It wasn't that what Rainbow was saying seemed unreasonable, but, much like before, there was one tiny detail that threw the whole thing into doubt.

“This is not where I live.”

“Good,” Rainbow cracked smile, an impish little thing, before continuing with, “because if you'd been living here all this time, and I never noticed, I would be very disturbed.”

“So . . .” Sunset said.  That was all she said, because it should have been enough. It wasn't.

“So what?” Rainbow asked with the kind of 'innocent' look that is only ever employed by people who know exactly what they're guilty of and are proud of it.

“How did I get here?” Sunset asked.  She had to make an effort not to growl.  Apparently, not being an asshole was more difficult than it appeared from the outside.

“When we were stopped at a red light, you ran off through the woods. so you could eat pizza out of a dumpster.”

Sunset nodded.  That made sense, especially because, “That does sound like me.”

There was a beat of silence, then Rainbow asked, “What do you have against pepperoni?” as though it were the most serious and important topic in the world.

How Sunset answered really depended on what Rainbow already knew, so she asked, “Did Twilight Sparkle tell you where we come from?”

“Pony Princess land?” Rainbow said in a way that was clearly more question than answer.

That made things easier.  If Rainbow knew 'pony' instead of 'human', then she was probably ready to accept that things might be vastly different on the other side.

“Equestria has animals that look like the ones you have here,” Sunset explained, “but when it comes to cognition they couldn't be more different.”

Sunset took a breath, decided to massively oversimplify things --Rainbow was asking about pepperoni not neuroscience, after all-- and said, “Short version: you might as well be eating people if you eat meat other than fish.”

What followed was the first time Sunset had ever seen Rainbow utterly horrified. Her 'we're all gonna die' face actually looked serene in comparison.

That was not what Sunset wanted to do.  It wasn't just that Rainbow had been reasonably nice so far, in spite of having so very many reasons not to be.  It was also . . . everything.  It was warmth.  It was a bed.  It was how they weren't talking about what Sunset had done, and tried to do, before the bricklaying last night.

Because of all those things and more, breaking Rainbow Dash's brain was not on the agenda for the day.

Rainbow started to ask, “But here they're not--”

“No, they're not,” Sunset answered, “but that doesn't mean I suddenly want to eat things I spent my entire childhood thinking of as . . . that.”

“Ok,” Rainbow said quickly. “Good.”

Rainbow nodded to herself.  When she said, “I was worried there for a second,” it looked and sounded like she had completely recovered from her Soylent Green moment.

That was good.  Now Sunset could leave without anything new to feel guilty about, and leaving sounded really good right now.  There hadn't been all that much to say, they' said most of it, and she was still holding a damned lamp.  There was, she was pretty sure, only one question left to ask, “What happened after the peperoni?”

“You started to give an impromptu lecture on magic,” Rainbow said, “and then you fell asleep.”

Sunset tilted her head to the side as she said, “Oh.”

A few moments later she added, “That does explain why I'm here, I guess.”

Sunset was reasonably sure that that covered everything.  She looked around, though she wasn't entirely sure why she did.  She didn't think of anything else.

She lifted the lamp a bit and looked it over.

“Thanks for not leaving me in the parking lot,” she said to Rainbow.  “I'll . . . put this lamp back, now.”

Sunset turned around and headed back to the guest room.

~ ~ ~

Rainbow hadn't realized she'd been expecting anything, and still didn't know what she'd been expecting, but she must have been expecting something, because she was absolutely sure that this was so very much not the unknown thing that she'd been expecting.

As she started to follow Sunset, Rainbow said the first thing that came to mind, “That's it?”

Sunset kept walking down the hall, she didn't look back or break her stride when she answered with, “All of my questions are answered, everything makes sense,” she reached the guest room door and went in, “so yeah: that's it.”

When Rainbow entered the guest room the lamp was already in place and Sunset was performing the contortions necessary to actually plug it in.  Rainbow wasn't sure whether it was the outlet or the desk, but something was placed in just the wrong way, which is why the outlet in question was generally considered a lost cause.

That wasn't important at the moment, though.  It was just easier to think about than the fact that Sunset, who had seemed pretty normal, lamp notwithstanding, earlier was now acting in way that screamed, 'Abnormal!'

Rainbow didn't know how to approach that, and she fell back on some questions she wanted answered, “How about why you were eating out of a dumpster--”

“It's where the food is,” Sunset said.

“--why you were undernourished enough to pass out--”

“That wasn't about nutrition, it was about the magic,” Sunset said.  She had said as much last night, but Rainbow was pretty sure that wasn't the whole truth.

“--and where you live?”

“Wherever I want to,” Sunset said.  A moment later she gave a grunt, then announced, “And it's in.”

As Sunset slid out from under the desk, Rainbow said, “Sunset . . .” in a way that she hoped would be gentle and friendly enough to turn the suddenly snippy back and forth into a conversation again.

Unfortunately, Rainbow's attempt at 'gentle and friendly' happened to coincide with 'slow', which allowed to Sunset to interrupt with, “Rainbow . . .” said in the same way Rainbow had spoken her name.

Rainbow pinched the bridge of her nose and tried to remember if she was stocked up on headache medicine.  She said, “. . . if you're from another world--”

“Then I'm here illegally, yes,” Sunset said as she got back on her feet.

Rainbow hadn't thought about that at all, and didn't plan to start now.  She tried to get things back on track, “That's not--”

Sunset cut Rainbow off again; it was annoying, “After everything else you've learned about me,” Sunset checked that the lamp turned the lamp on and off, which it did, “I fail to see how that would be surprising.”

At this point Rainbow wasn't sure if Sunset was actively trying to be aggravating, or if that just came naturally to her.  Regardless, Rainbow finally got to the question she'd been trying to ask, “--where do you live?”

“Already answered that one,” Sunset said as she headed toward the hall.

Rainbow considered pointing out that Sunset's answer had answered nothing, but decided to drop that point and move on.  She asked, “Who do you live with?”

This time Sunset did actually stop walking to answer.  More than that, she actually turned and made eye contact.

“Rainbow, you've known me for years,” she said.  “Do you honestly think I could cohabitate with someone for any length of time without one of us killing the other?”

Then she turned right back around and walked out of the room. Rainbow followed.

Because it was the most straightforward way to approach things, Rainbow responded the way she would have if Sunset had said the same thing in a normal conversation, “This isn't a joke.”

“I don't know,” Sunset said, “after last night I'm kind of feeling like a punchline.”

Rainbow thought that statement over for a moment, just to check, then said, “I'm not convinced that makes sense.”

“A demon unicorn redeemed by weaponized rainbows walks into a bar . . .” Sunset said.

“That's a premise, not a punchline.”

“. . . and she gets kicked right back out because the bouncer thinks she's a human . . .”

“And that definitely doesn't make sense,” Rainbow said.

“No,” Sunset said, as she reached the front door.  “And humans aren't allowed to drink until a ridiculous age.”

While largely beside the point, Rainbow felt obligated to tell Sunset exactly what she thought of the alleged 'joke', “If there's such thing as the opposite of funny--”

“Goodbye, Rainbow Dash,” Sunset said as she left.

Rainbow followed her out the door then picked up where she'd left off, “--that's it. It's not even a bad joke, it's just . . . nothing.”

Sunset stopped and turned around, which left her standing in the middle of the street.  Rainbow was still on the sidewalk.

“That's not the joke,” Sunset said.

Rainbow couldn't tell what it was --it could have been her voice, her expression, her body language, or something else entirely-- but something about Sunset was different. It was not different in a good way.

Whatever it was, it was disturbing.  It was like looking at an injured limb hanging at an unnatural angle.  It was deeply, unnervingly wrong.

“The joke is that I'm standing here,” Sunset said, her volume just below a shout.  “A unicorn in a world with no magic.  An adult in a world that thinks adults are children because how the fuck can you people not realize that teenagers are old enough to look out for themselves?  The personal apprentice of a very real, and very powerful, god-Princess in a world where gods are naught but legends and princesses are impotent figureheads.”

Rainbow thought that Sunset's eyes were on the brink of tears, though she wasn't completely sure.  Sunset kept going, “The joke is that everything I am is made for another world and nothing about me belongs in this place.  I'm the non-sequitur.  I'm the thing that doesn't fit and makes no sense that you stick at the end of the joke to get a cheap laugh.”

Apparently to prove that point, Sunset started quoting a commercial their class had been shown when they covered non-sequiturs and other calculated forms of randomness, “'Anything is possible when your man smells like Old Spice and not a lady,'” Sunset said in a very non-Sunset way.  It wasn't hard to see where this was going.

I'm a horse!” Sunset shouted so loudly that Rainbow was sure it must have hurt.

Rainbow said the word, “So,” slowly, drawing it out while she tried to think of how to respond.

Part of her wanted to say that teenagers shouldn't have to take care of themselves.  Rainbow's life, for instance, was only possible because someone else paid the bills. That allowed her concentrate on things like sports.

Part of her wanted to tell Sunset that everything would be all right, though she had no idea if it were true.

Part of her wanted to apologize, though she didn't know what she would be apologizing for.

Part of her wanted to avoid weighty topics entirely and instead mention that she'd completely forgotten about that silly commercial until Sunset quoted it.

There were doubtless other parts that wanted other things, but there was only so much one could think in the span of a single 'so'.

She ended up finishing the sentence with, “. . . you're not taking this well at all,” which was pretty weak and had become painfully obvious.

“I got hit by a magical light show and left in a hole in the ground,” Sunset shouted, “not six months of therapy!”

And they'd gone in a circle, because the only thing Rainbow could think of in response to that was, “I'm not even sure that sentence makes sense.”

“I want,” Sunset said. “To be. Alone.”

Sunset paused.

“Please leave me alone.” She was definitely blinking back tears now.

It wasn't that Rainbow was against that, but she was worried.  She took a moment to clear her head.  Then she asked, “If I do, am I gonna see you again?”

“Are you being morbid,” Sunset asked in return, “or do you think I'm a flight risk?”

Honestly, Rainbow wasn't sure.  She said, “Just . . .” and then gestured as though that would somehow get the point across.  It came as no surprise when it didn't. She tried again, “Just tell me.”

“I'll be at school on Monday,” Sunset said. She looked at the ground.  “Whether I'll be allowed to attend classes remains to be seen.”

Rainbow believed her, and said, “I'll see you then.”

Sunset didn't look up.

Rainbow wanted to say something else.  She didn't know what, but this wasn't how she wanted the conversation to end.  It felt like there had to be some better way to part ways.

She couldn't come up with anything.

Sunset, for her part, barely moved.  She just kept on looking at the same spot on the ground that she'd been looking at.

Rainbow walked back to her house.  Sunset hadn't moved.  Rainbow went inside, headed back in the direction of the couch, glanced at the window, then stopped.

Through the curtains, Sunset was a vaguely person-shaped blob.  What bothered Rainbow was that Sunset still hadn't moved.

After a few seconds, which felt like an eternity, the Sunset-blob did finally move.  When Sunset was on the opposite sidewalk, Rainbow let out a breath she hadn't realized she'd been holding and looked away.

It still didn't feel right to let Sunset go in the state she was in, but Rainbow didn't know what else to do.  Also, she was well aware that continuing to watch Sunset would definitely cross the line between being concerned and being creepy, assuming she hadn't already, so she tried to turn her attention to other things.

It took a minute to get her mind moving in the right direction, but she eventually started thinking about the day ahead.  She should call her friends and figure out a good time to meet.  They still had a lot of catching up to do. Lost time to make up for too.

Of course, they also needed to discuss Sunset, and right now Rainbow wasn't up for that.

Things had seemed pretty good at first, too.  Though, truthfully, that was the problem.  If it had happened in the opposite order, 'shouty breakdown' first and 'normalish conversation' second, she probably would have had no problem dealing with it.  As it was, everything was a mess.

Rainbow walked over to the couch and let herself collapse onto it.

* *
* * *
* *

So, notes.

I wrote a thing!  Given how I've been lately, that's pretty major for me right now.

This was originally supposed to be part of a chapter with larger scope.  It was going to be three scenes.  This one, the relevant adults (Celestia and Luna) discussing the previous night, and Rainbow and her friends discussing Sunset.

Much of this was already written, the other parts as as stalled out as anything, and I crammed in so much here between the lines of dialogue that it's as long as Chapter 1 anyway, so I figured I'd polish it and post it as a chapter.

That didn't exactly go as planned.  A lot of this was overhauled or rewritten from the ground up, and I'm not sure if I managed to take out everything that no longer applies in the revised version.

If I'm doing this properly, familiarity with Equestria Girls is not required to understand this story.  No idea if I'm pulling this off.

I generally don't like assuming that the setting has the same pop culture as the real world because there are some huge differences.  Naming conventions, skin colors, and hair colors are the big ones.  Given how huge appearance is in the real world's present and past, the world of Equestria Girls can't have the same history or culture as our own.

So, with all of that in mind, I just included Soylent Green and the Old Spice man (and Just the two of me has the Twilight Zone, which is absurdly prominent in Chapter 2.)  I might not be the best at sticking by my convictions on this topic.

For reference, Soylent Green is people and this is the Old Spice commercial:

A cool tidbit about it is that the only CGI is the diamonds and the old spice rising out of them, the rest of it was done in a single take using only practical effects.

Rather less cool are the implicit assumptions it's built upon.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Fractured Friendship, Chapter 1: Schism

[Originally posted on Fimfiction. Based on the Equestria Girls Holiday Special.]
[Prior knowledge of the setting and characters should be unnecessary if I've written this properly.  You won't immediately understand everything, but that's true of any first chapter.  Hopefully what I've done is give enough to carry you through.]
[Contains references to past bullying, neglect, homelessness, and death of family members.]

Sunset walked through the snow and repeated Twilight's final sentence in her mind again and again.

Sometimes all you can do is stay strong . . .

Sunset was the most hated girl in CHS.  Again.  The difference was: this time she didn't have the five most popular girls in school looking out for her.

She couldn't take a step without being reminded that she wasn't wanted in this world.  Every time she took to the halls she was "accidentally" bumped so many times the collisions all bled together into one big aching throbbing pain.  What was being said hurt more.

She'd been left sobbing on the floor of the school twice.

She was still here.

That was staying strong, wasn't it?

. . . be yourself . . .

With everyone already hating her and claiming she'd gone back to her old ways, it would be so easy to actually do it.  No one would dare treat her this way if she really did become the old Sunset Shimmer.

She could blackmail, bribe, and cajole her way to the top.  She could tear down anyone who so much as looked at her the wrong way.  She could make everyone back the fuck off and never be bumped or shoved or tripped again.  She could make other students so afraid they'd lock themselves in lockers instead of facing her.

She could end all of this.

All she'd have to do was become someone else.  Someone she didn't like.  Someone she never wanted to be again.

And that she would not do.

. . . and find your family.

Sunset had been alone her entire life.  She couldn't remember her parents, and her other relatives had only ever acknowledged her because the Princess expected them to.  When Celestia had found Sunset living on the street --begging and stealing her way from day to day; never getting quite enough to keep hunger a bay for long-- she assumed that Sunset's relatives didn't know what had become of her.

Celestia thought that once they were informed they'd naturally shower Sunset in the love and affection she'd been denied.  Sunset had never told Celestia the truth because she'd been afraid of disappointing her.  She had thought that any judgement applied to her family must also apply to her.  If they didn't measure up to Celestia's standards, then neither did she.

If there were one thing Sunset could change about her past it wouldn't be running away to another world, it wouldn't be stealing an Element of Harmony in an act Sunset was reasonably sure was treason, it would be the fact that she never told Celestia the truth: Sunset's surviving blood relatives weren't her family; Celestia was.

She knew that now.  She'd finally learned a lesson that Celestia never set out to teach: family wasn't the people who were stuck with you, it was the people who accepted you and made you feel at home.

That's why she was heading to the café.

Twilight knew Sunset didn't have any blood relatives she'd ever want to see again --it was one of the things they'd talked about through the magic journal-- but Twilight also knew that Sunset did have people who mattered to her.  Leaving it open-ended was to remind Sunset that it was up to her who those people were.

Sunset could have found family by walking through the portal and finding Twilight.  Maybe she would at some point.  But the thing about family was: even when they screwed up, they were still worth fighting for.

All of the girls were looking mopey when she came in.

Then they saw her at the door and they were angry.

Rainbow Dash said, "Hey, get out!" while Applejack went with, "Yer not welcome here, Sunset!"

It took some fast talking, but she managed to convince them to at least read the journal.  She knew that logically it shouldn't make a difference, but she wasn't appealing to their logic.

Sure, if they thought she was lying then they didn't have any reason to believe what she'd written the journal would be any more true than what she said, but that was entirely beside the point.

She hoped that by sharing what she had been feeling, as it had been happening, she'd remind the how they had felt about her.  Also, the fact that this was a way to communicate without talking was important.  You didn't get in a shouting match with a book.  You either read it or you didn't.

Yes, one could shout about what they read, but they weren't shouting over the words, and the book didn't have to ignore the shouting or shout back.  The words that had yet to be read were already in it.

It was a huge gamble, but if the girls felt about Sunset the way she felt about them, then all she had to do was bring that to the forefront, make that the thing at the front of their minds instead of the anger, and they'd give her the benefit of the doubt.

Fluttershy had been the one to accept the journal, so she was the one holding it.  The others tried to crowd around and read on their own, but it was awkward and distracting, so finally she decided to read a page out loud.  Based on the timing of the previous entry, it was probably going to be about the sleepover at Rarity's house, which was right before everything went so wrong.

"Dear Twilight ," she read, " I'm at my second slumber party with the girls --I hope you don't mind me not counting the ones when you were here, I didn't feel like I was really part of those-- and I feel so much closer to them."

Fluttershy felt a pang of guilt at Sunset's aside.  Sunset had supported the Rainbooms every step of the way and basically been their personal cheerleader, while they'd done little more than tolerate her existence back then.

But she also felt anger.  They had been right to be hesitant, it told her.  When they let her into their hearts she turned on them the moment she could lash out at them.

Ignoring both feelings, Fluttershy kept reading the journal entry, "I haven't felt so loved in," Fluttershy had to skip over some words that had been written then scribbled out, and the result wasn't really a complete sentence. She said, " ever ," but had paused so long with the scribbles and the grammar that the 'ever' felt all alone.

So she tried again:

"I haven't felt so loved in . . . ever."

It still didn't sound particularly good, but it sounded better than before.

Apparently the difficulty she'd had reading it had stopped her from thinking about it, because once she was done it hit her:

Two sleepovers was all it took for Sunset to feel more loved than she ever had before.  That was it.  That was heartbreaking.

The sleepover at Rarity's had been a lot of fun, sure, but it wasn't all that remarkable.  If people weren't laughing at her for what she did during it, with the silly dress up and the terrible singing, she probably wouldn't remember much about it.  If that was the most loved Sunset had ever felt, then the rest of her life must have been . . .

Fluttershy moved to the next line:

"I feel like I finally have a family again."

And two days later they left her-- they left her crying on floor.

That hurt.  That hurt so much.  Fluttershy wasn't thinking about whether to believe  Sunset any more.  She was just angry with herself and the others.  How could they?  How could they have done that?  And the things she'd said to Sunset . . .

"Without all of you giving me love and support I'd be-- well, you know what I'd be."

And they'd taken that love and support away from her.

Fluttershy had reached her emotional limit. She read the rest mechanically:

"Anyway, I have to get to sleep, but I wanted to let you know how I feel.  If it weren't for you, I wouldn't be here.  You didn't just save me (and stop me); you're the one who encouraged the girls and me to become friends.  I love you all so much, and if it weren't for you, Twilight, I'd never have gotten to know any of you well enough for that.

"Your friend, Sunset Shimmer."

Rainbow was angry enough to punch someone, but the person she was angry with was herself.

How could she have been so stupid.  If the pictures had come from Fluttershy's phone, or Applejack's phone, she wouldn't have believed it.  She had learned that lesson already.

How long had she spent too angry to even try talking to Applejack about something that had come from Applejack's phone?

She was so very pissed off at having made the Exact Same Mistake twice.  Never again.

Fluttershy asked the natural question:

"If . . . if you're not Anon-a-Miss, who is?"

Sunset didn't have an answer.  She held her head in her hands and looked at the table as she said, "That's what I've been trying to figure out."

Whoever it was would pay.  Maybe it wasn't fair to want to punish someone else when she was mostly angry with herself, but she didn't care.  They'd pay.

"AJ," Sunset said, "who knew your nickname?"

"Only you all and my family," Applejack said, "but I know they wouldn't do that and I trust you five--" Applejack stopped short; Rainbow didn't notice.

While Applejack said something else, Rainbow tried to think of how someone could have found out and didn't manage to come up with any answers.  She offered, "Maybe someone overheard it," but she wasn't convinced.  She had to be-- wait.

She finally processed that last thing Applejack had said.  Applejack had corrected herself:

'I trust you five-- --you four.'

That hit Rainbow like a body check.  How could she not see they'd been wrong ?

Sunset moved on to the pictures, and things went downhill further.

"I had my phone with me from the end of the slumber party until well after they were posted," Sunset said.

"And we were the only people at the party!" Rarity said.  She wasn't trying to be helpful.

Diamond Tiara watched with interest as the scene unfolded.  Not the Rainbooms, that was a side show.  (Who cared if Rainbow Dash were defending Sunset Shimmer now?)  No.  The show was the Canterlot Movie Club.

As Rainbow Dash and Applejack yelled in each other's faces, the developments between Scootaloo and Apple Bloom were too precious to miss.  Of course she was recording it for posterity too.

She wasn't recording it to send to Anon-a-Miss, there was nothing to expose here, she just wanted to be able to relive this in the future.  Cell phone video was no substitute for the real thing, though, and so while it was going on she opened up her senses and drank in every detail.

Sunset was being meek again, like she had between the Fall Formal and the Battle of the Bands. It wasn't right. It wasn't the real Sunset Shimmer. That just made Rainbow Dash more angry with three of her best friends.

Applejack was stubbornly insisting that Sunset was obviously to blame and Rainbow was being stupid for believing her.  Rarity was arguing for Sunset's guilt with dramatic flare.  Pinkie didn't say a single word.

Fluttershy was being timid, which was to be expected, but she was on the right side.

Rainbow gave it one last try:

"It doesn't mean anything that it came from her phone; this is just like the texts!"

"Yeah," Applejack said, "it is. Because she's splitting us up again and yer falling' for it again!  The difference is: Ah Ain't!"

"This is going nowhere," Rainbow said.  Applejack had a response, but Rainbow didn't bother to listen.  She said to Sunset and Fluttershy, "Let's get out of here."

The other two got up, and Rainbow turned to leave.

Then Pinkie said her name.  It was the first time she'd spoken since Sunset came in.  Rainbow didn't bother to turn around.

"We all made a mistake, Pinks," she said. "I'm done with that."

Then she left with Sunset and Fluttershy.

⁂   ⁂

So, notes:

If you're not familiar with Equestria Girls I just threw out a lot of names, things, and, to a lesser extent, events that you don't know the background for.  I'd like to think that I've created something no more confusing than any other in medias res first chapter.  I have no idea if that's actually true.

My feelings keep bouncing around between, "Basically no one explains everything at the outset" and "Oh my God, no one is going to understand anything and because of that they won't give the story a chance, and everything is terrible."

The Equestria Girls Holiday Special gets a lot of fanfiction and has an even larger body of work when one also considers proposed ideas in addition to actual stories.  There are a variety of reasons for that, but right now that's not what I'm interested in talking about.

Vague bits and pieces that would go into this story had been floating around in my head for ages, but what brought it all together was talking about how, for the sheer volume of fanfic related to that particular source material, there's surprisingly little variation.

Almost everyone takes their point of major departure from the source material at the exact same place.  That place, basically, is right about here:
Rainbow Dash said, "Hey, get out!" while Applejack went with, "Yer not welcome here, Sunset!"
In the original story (a comic) immediately after those words Sunset convinces them to read the magical journal she uses for communication with the pony princes.  In the vast majority of fanfics, she doesn't.  One way or another, she's driven out of the building, and then things go off the rails.

This only pushes things back a little further.  About a page.  That makes everything different.

It isn't just about "Hey, not everything needs to be the same", though.

Another huge thing was that while Applejack is doing the "you five-- you four" thing, Rainbow Dash is trying to come up with explanations of a "not Sunset's fault" variety.

For much of the story, Sunset's friends act as a monolithic anti-Sunset whole.  This is the only place where they end up taking different sides.  It isn't explored because one panel later someone says a certain word for the eleventy billionth time and things finally click for Sunset.

Then everything wraps up at absurd speeds.  Sunset figures out who's framing her, but doesn't have time to say, because the guilty party steals her thunder by coming in and confessing, two apologies are said (when twelve are called for) and then we cut to the epilogue.

This story owes a major debt to keroko, who was the one to really made me think about this scene in general and the role the journal plays in the story in particular.

Quick computer update

[Added after the rest, but before posting:]

First, shortest version:
There is, somehow, a serial number mismatch.  As such, primary computer isn't getting fixed.  This fucking sucks.

I'll have a longer post at some point because the story is long, complex, absurd, and terrible.

For right now, the short(er) version.

A long time ago, primary computer got sick of waiting for me to take it in for internal repairs and broke in half entirely.  I'm not sure when that was.  Many months.  Apparently I didn't mention that at the time, as the earliest post I can find related to it (October) is from a while after it broke.

For a very long time, it's been sitting there like a symbol of my inability to complete basic tasks.  A few days ago, I finally finished backing it up so that I could have it repaired.

It's not getting repaired.

It took them an hour to get their system to admit the warranty even existed.  This in spite of the fact that they could look at the record of the sale and admit that, yes, a three year warranty purchased less than three years ago would still be in effect.

That was only the start of the process, so I left the computer with them with the expectation they'd send it out for repairs once they fixed their computer problems.  (This was their idea, by the way.)

They say the serial number doesn't match.  It's the same computer.  The only way for the serial number to not match is if they replaced the part that has the serial number on it the last time it was in for repairs.  You'd think there would be a record of something like that.

So: wrong serial number means no warranty.  No warranty means no repairs.  No repairs means I'm fucked.

I can't buy a new one.  Having money to buy the one was a one time thing.  The plan was to keep track of every little problem and get them all repaired shortly before the warranty ran out in late September, in hopes that going into no-warranty period with a clean bill of health would allow it to last as long as possible.

The problems I have now are not little.  The broken in half thing I can actually fix fairly easily; hinges aren't complicated.  It's the stuff that I was planning to bring it in for before the hinges broke that are more vexing.

I don't know what to do.  I don't think I can do anything.

Friday, March 29, 2019

Actually, guitars can go with bows OR Finding a friend in the band room (Equestria Girls)

I have fiction!  I have one, long, scene of three characters (Silver Spoon, Sunset Shimmer, and Octavia Melody) having a wide ranging conversation in their school's band room.  Not the most interesting thing in the world, but it is fiction that I actually got written.

Background and meta stuff to go with the post that actually has new fic in it.

This originally started out as some meta stuff and context that might be interesting to someone somewhere but didn't belong in the same post as the story fragment.  I'm not sure if any of that survives.  It's a lot of rambling.  Not much else.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

I'm having incredible difficulty coping with being alive right now (depression) (venting)

Emergency back up computer is reminding me why it's emergency back up computer.  I just got done yelling profanity at it and crying in its general direction.

It stopped working, I know not why, and after trying the usual things it became clear that the only hope of preserving the things I had opened was to run the battery down because the auto power off when that happens (accompanied by the system resume when you start it afterward) is actually pretty decent at fixing things.

The battery has never lasted anywhere near as long as it did.  Finally I gave up, apparently there was only four percent left to go.

If the power cord is in certain positions (which are basically impossible to predict or keep track of) it'll power down instantaneously killing everything.  It threw that at me several times when I tried to get it to start up.

None of that is the problem.

It's just easy to shout and cry at.

~ ⁂ ~

I want to have kids.  I don't know if I ever mentioned that here before.  I suspect that I haven't.

So, have that snippet of information.  I want to have kids.  Biological ones, not adopted.  For reasons I don't think I'd ever be able to articulate, it's important to me.  Has been for what certainly feels like forever.

I'm no closer to being the sort of person who could actually support a child (at all) than I was in high school.  What I am is older.  I'm not quite there yet, but high school was almost half a lifetime ago.

Actually, in the not-quite (but close to) half my life I've lived since leaving high school, I've done surprisingly little.  It's not for lack of trying so much as lack of succeeding.  At anything.

Outside of my education, the only thing I've really accomplished is transitioning.  That's certainly not nothing (I'm sure things would be worse if I were in the closet and pretending to be male) but it's not a lot.  And it's not enough.

I'm not living any more, not really.  I'm just . . . here.  Surrounded by the detritus of a lifetime worth of broken dreams and false hopes.

Usually the best I can hope for is distraction.  It used to be that stories made me feel alive and helped reinvigorate my own creativity, these days I read this fanfiction or play that game in hopes of momentarily being distracted from the bleak and disheartening thing that is my life.

When it works, that can be as bad as when it doesn't.  It becomes compulsive, takes over everything, and suddenly I'm ignoring basic bodily needs in order to continue something that brings me no pleasure.

I'm sad all the time.

(Except for the times when I can't feel anything at all.)

It feels like I deserve it.

Whenever I do manage to do something I can be proud of (usually some bit of writing), it seems like it's only lifting me up so that I'll crash all the harder.

~ ⁂ ~

I know that it's probably not the best time to try to put my life in perspective when I'm two years and counting into "Markedly worse than normal" and nine months to a year (I've honestly lost track) into "Even worse than that", but at the same time, there's nothing particularly unreasonable or illogical that goes into how I'm seeing things right now.

If anything it's the other way around.  I spent so long keeping myself going by lying to myself.  I knew they were lies, but it worked to keep me busy, to keep me from being stuck alone with myself and my failures the way I am right now.

I got myself to try to do a lot of things I wanted to do anyway by telling myself the monetary and "Save the Farm" equivalent of "Today Gotham, tomorrow the world!"

I didn't succeed in a single one of the things I did because of that, but I tried them, and they were things I wanted to try anyway.

The truth is, looking at things in terms of success or failure is too rosy of a view.  What typically happened is I'd get one or two steps in, and then completely fall apart.

My writing is like that.  It's why I have so very few finished stories.  Even when I somehow capture a spark of inspiration, I can't keep it alive.

Stepping back from writing for a bit, I was able to keep myself going through some of the worst times (and a lot of the "still horrible but not exceptionally so" times) by lying to myself and saying that if I tried [whatever] it wouldn't just be for myself, but a step toward saving the farm.

The farm is gone.  The house and greenhouse have been demolished.  I don't have any new lies to tell myself.

From a "Lies = Bad; Truth = Good" perspective, that might not seem like a bad thing, but I can't get by on the truth alone.  I've tried.  It doesn't work.

The truth is that there are about a million things I'd like to do, and I could probably be happy doing any given handful of them, but I never manage to do a single one.

I end up a crying mess.

I end up an apathetic lump.

I find myself in a place where I can't even make myself stand up

I get so fucking sad.

I scream profanity at inanimate objects.

I loose all hope that I'll ever actually finish anything.

I loose all hope that I'll ever actually start most things.

I look around me and see all of the evidence of things I've tried to do in the past --good ideas that could have blossomed into wonderful things in the care of someone less broken than me-- and I remember the one constant of my life:

The world around me changes, it grows, it wilts, it gets brighter or darker, it progresses and regresses, it brings forth new and different thing, it can be terrible, or wonderful, or mundane, but it's always in motion and always alive.

I'm not.  I stagnate.

Other than getting older, I don't change, I don't grow, I don't live.

I just exist.  Like a rock that's somehow managed to develop clinical depression.

~ ⁂ ~

And then, when I somehow manage to get ahold of something worthwhile in spite of all that, I fuck it up.

I had some good inspiration for a story not long before I started writing this.  I still remember the gist, but I'd already had the gist.  The good was in the details.  I lost them because I was too busy crying about my computer.

~ ⁂ ~

I don't think there's anything anyone can really do to help, but if you want to try (and you have the resources), I need money as much as always.

While I've been fucked up, speaking in terms of mental health, I've done a shit job of keeping up on my bills.  The fact that I was burning through heating oil way faster than I should have been (there's a story there involving a cat that turned out to be non-magical) didn't help.  Neither do the late fees.

I don't think, emotionally, I can handle looking up the exact numbers right now, but --off the top of my head-- I think I'm in the vicinity of $2,000 dollars behind on the "keep the house" expenses, caught up (after months of delinquency) on utilities, and . . . actually more than capable of covering other expenses.

That's slightly less bad than I thought it would be.

~ * ~

Given that I'm finally actually making progress on backing up primary computer (so I can get the damned thing fixed) again, there is actually another thing that comes to mind regarding things that might help.

It would be really, indescribably, useful to me to have the ability to store all of my old data in a single place, preferably one with redundancy.  (A constant source of frustration is when I have an idea for story X but all of the relevant data for story X is on another hard drive.)

Shortly before I broke my ankle, someone actually had something that met that description that they weren't using anymore.  It was heavy, my ankle was broken.  Getting it to me was put on hold, and I never followed up.

That was over two years ago, I doubt they still have it, but if one person could have such a thing that's free to good home, perhaps someone else could too.

~ * ~

And something else does come to mind too.

Someone (Brin maybe?) once talked about figuring out how to eat (get sufficient calories, nutrients, so forth) on their budget via the magical power of spreadsheets.

If anyone has spreadsheets, or whatever, like that and is willing to share, I think such things could be very useful to me.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Can't hear myself play

The came across a machine built around a violin, complete with bow.  The machine featured a lot of actuators and a complete lack of any aesthetic sense.  At the moment it wasn't doing anything, but the monitor attached to it featured a continuous scroll of code.

"What's it saying?" the human asked.

"I wouldn't call it language," the android said, "but if I'm correctly interpreting the intent behind sharing these specific outputs, its microphones have all failed, rendering it unable to determine if it is playing in key.

"It seems to be quite distressed by this development, and --if I'm interpreting correctly-- is requesting repairs.  Repeatedly."

The human nodded at this and then took off its backpack.  "Tell it that the new ears I'm giving it, though better than nothing, are pretty crap."

"We have other priorities," the android said.

"Won't take but a minute," the human said while rummaging through the backpack.

"It will take significantly longer than a minute."

"Figure of speech."

"You shall have to educate me, at some point, on the difference between a figure of speech and a baldfaced lie."

"Just make sure it knows to expect low quality replacements," the human said.  "I don't want to get its hopes up and then--"

"I do not think that it has hopes."

"I'd rather act like it does when it doesn't than risk acting like it doesn't when it does," the human said, finally seeming to be satisfied the components and tools it had taken from the backpack.

The android ignored the machine's keyboard and connected itself to a port while the human started to work on the machine.

"I have relayed your message," the android said.  "It is repeatedly indicating that processes are requesting audio input and receiving none.  I note that these processes are discretionary in nature, and there is no reason to run them in the absence of input."

"It wants to hear," the human said.

A few minutes passed in silence.

Finally the human finished working and said, "That should do it, two new ears--"

"Back up communicator microphones are not ears," the android said.

"--and you should be hearing."

The machine responded by playing the violin ensconced within it.  What it played conformed to no existing style of music.  The note lengths followed no pattern, it exhibited no structure, most of the pitches weren't on any scale, and it certainly didn't have any identifiable time signature.

In the human it evoked and abstract and jumbled sense of joy.

"I think it's happy," the human said.

"That conclusion seems reasonable," the android said.

- ~ ∗ ~ -

- ~ ∗ ~ -         - ~ ∗ ~ -

- ~ ∗ ~ -         - ~ * ⁂ * ~ -         - ~ ∗ ~ -

I have no idea why the human and android are going through the kind of place where one might find a violin bot in need of maintenance.  Nor do I know why the android is being snarky.

- ~ ∗ ~ -

I was looking at something, and something led to something else, and the somethings kept on piling up until I came across a robot that plays the violin.  This, in itself, is nothing new.

The 1910 World's Fair had "self playing violins".  In fact it was three violins, each with only one string, that were all played by the machine in which they were mounted.  This obviously leaves one with serious questions.  Questions like "If this method could only play one string per violin, why didn't you install four fucking violins?"

Questions about playing a four stringed instrument with three strings aside, though, its worth noting that it didn't take long to go from "Let's make a piano into a computer, and have it play songs when fed the right program" to "Let's do that with violins too."

The resulting Hupfeld Phonoliszt-Violina naturally looks cool, in that "start of the 20th century" way some things do, but at the same time it looks like someone shoved some violins inside a player piano . . . because someone shoved some violins inside a player piano.

Given that the stock market crash completely killed off the player piano industry (higher quality phonographs as well as radios had already wounded the industry), and that the self playing violin existed only as a luxury feature on certain player pianos, the dream of robots that played violin sort of disappeared.

In 2007 Toyota showed the world a robot that plays violin and . . . it doesn't look like a robot that plays violin.  It looks like the kind of thing you'd see in a cheap sci-fi movie if the unimaginative prop and/or costume depart were told "this scene calls for a robot that plays violin."

In, apparently, 2015 someone (who was not a backed by a billion dollar company) built a robot that plays violin that looks like a robot that plays violin.

That's what I found myself looking at:

Here's a video.  (That links to a portion where it's playing for a bit, if you want an explanation of how it works and such, go back to the beginning.)

And that left me thinking thoughts, some of which led to the above.

Something not featured above was imagining the evolution of player and instrument.

If you want a robot that plays violin, and making it a good violinist is your only concern, there's a lot of ways you can go about that and none of them look particularly humanish.

Imagine that you took that as far as it could go.  Multiple generations of refinements, improvements, and innovation until diminishing returns meant there really wasn't much more room to improve.

Then take away the violin (bow too.)

Then, without a violin in mind, have someone design an instrument that takes full advantage of the form and functioning of the robot.

Already we're probably talking about an instrument unlike anything anyone would ever design for a human being.  But there's no need to stop there.

No matter how well the new instrument is suited to the robot, if you'd started from scratch with the intention of building a robot to play the new instrument, it probably wouldn't end up like the violin bot.  So do that.


What sorts of things do you end up with when the process has been going on for a while?  (Both in terms of robot musicians and in terms of the instruments they play.)

I have no idea whatsoever.  Seems interesting though.