Monday, October 30, 2017

Grokking the Divine

[Originally posted at]
[I'll have notes at the end about where this came from, why the title and chapter title heading don't make sense as going with this story, and why this story, which could easily be in any original setting you like if I hadn't taken the trouble of replacing normal words with things such as "everypony", is explicitly in the My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic universe.]

He will wipe every tear from their eyes // Death will be no more

When I say that I've wondered about it for as long as I can remember, you have to realize this isn't exaggeration.  I saw it when I was very young.  I kept seeing it.  That, I suppose, deserves some explanation.  What was somepony that young doing in the castle ?  Well, ok, I'll tell you.

In a way, I started working in the castle before I was old enough to be allowed to work.  Equestria has laws against foal labor after all.  They're well meaning.

It's said that in the dark days before they were passed foals were forced to work in unsafe conditions and were seen as disposable and their only hope was that Celestia or Luna –this was a long time ago, you understand, and no one had heard of nightmare moon yet– would happen upon whatever Tartarus in Equestria they were laboring in and declare Jubilee.

Having a law definitely seems much easier than all that.

But there aren't laws against tagging along after your mother in your free time.  There are rules at most places of employment, but the castle is kind of a special case.  If you put up enough of a fuss, then a princess might notice.

Squeaky wheels and all that.

When I told Celestia about how I didn't have any friends, and all the other foals my age made fun of me by calling me a colt instead of a filly, she made a deal with me.  I could stay by my mother's side as she preformed her duties, if I would agree to try to make friends.  I almost burst out crying when I heard her condition, but she assured me that she wouldn't force me to befriend the ones who were so mean to me.

And that's how I got my start.  I followed my mother everywhere, and she taught me how to do her job.  I got my cutie mark when she was sick but her stubborn pride wouldn't let her just tell her boss she couldn't make it.  I hid her clock and covered the windows in blankets, so that she'd get the sleep she needed, and then did the work myself.

I got my cutie mark.  I also got in trouble.  There are, after all, laws against foal labor.  No, I didn't get in trouble with those laws.  I got in trouble for trying to trick everypony into thinking my mother did her job while I did it for her.  I got in trouble for turning off my mother's alarm clock.  And, you know, everything else.

But it worked out in the end and from then on my mother actually took sick days off.

So I've working in the castle forever.  Celestia agreeing to let me follow my mom as she did her work is my earliest clear memory.

I've grown up, I did make friends, I've even met famous ponies.  Sunset Shimmer once ranted at me about how I hadn't dusted properly.  Twilight Sparkle ignored me.  I prepared rooms for fake Princess Cadance, who was a jerk, and real Princess Cadance, who was not.

What I hadn't done, until recently, was find out what's behind the door in the east corridor, second floor.  It's got four locks on it.  No one talks about it, in public at least.  No one looks at it, though some make a point of looking away.  Some of the older staff even walk in a sort of semicircle around it rather than straight passed it.

The door is always closed.  When I'd asked in the past I got non-answers.  When I asked in a roundabout way I'd get shot down just as fast.

No one ever goes in, they say.  No one ever comes out.  They say.

I've always known that's absurd.

If that were the case then no one would know what was behind the door.  If no one knew what was behind the door, then ponies would investigate.  If ponies investigated they'd go in.  If they didn't come out then other ponies would go in after them.  Eventually somepony would come out.

I always knew it was false.

What I didn't know was what was true.  There was always a tension when you tried to find out.  Some ponies knew, and they seemed afraid, most ponies didn't, and they seemed afraid that knowing would somehow be dangerous.

I tried so long and so hard to find out that finally –finally– some ponies decided to take it upon themselves to tell me.  So I wouldn't do something stupid like try to break in.

As if I could.  There are four locks on the door.

* * *

So the day came when I finally learned the truth.  A mare lives there.  She gets her food through a dumbwaiter, thus it doesn't need to be delivered through the halls.  She cleans her own room.  Laundry is handled much like the food.  Ponies do go in and out of the door on occasion, but they always make sure no other ponies are looking.

Behind the door, you see, is death incarnate.  Ish.  Sort of.  Death more or less in pony-form.

Ok, not really, but that's how they say it.

Behind the door is a mare who has been there for a very, very long time.  Some of the oldest ponies I knew were inducting me into this “Secret of the door in the East Corridor” club, and they say she was there and full grown when they first came here as young workers.

None of them knew exactly how she got there.  None of them knew exactly why she was put there.  None of them knew exactly who she was.

What they did know was that her talent was death.

Not any normal sort of killing.  She's no warrior.  She doesn't use a weapon or a poison.  She uses a word, or a thought, or maybe just a breath.

They're not really sure.  If she wants you dead, you're definitely dead, that much is clear.  From across the room.  Maybe even through a window.  After all, what power would glass have to stop such a force?

They're a bit more hazy on whether she actually needs to want you dead.  Something happens and you're dead.  Gone.  You've been delivered to the next world before you even realized something was up.

The room is death.  The occupant is its instrument.

I should stop asking about it.

That was the gist of being told.

* * *

So, of course, I don't stop asking about it.  Not only do I not stop, I expand my scope.  I research in the archives, I put my ear up to the door when no one's looking.  I try to find out anything I can.

In the archives I find that there have indeed been multiple deaths in the room.  I find that those who examined the bodies found no cause.  I find that there's no record of the room's occupant.

I find no record of any crime that would lead to such perpetual imprisonment.

With no direct records I look for what I think are indirect signs.  Indications that the mare is in the room.  I look in things like maintenance reports, inventories, and such.  If I'm right, she's been there impossibly long.

I'm not satisfied.

I enlist some friends to help, but we don't turn up much more.

Finally I decide to bring the matter up with Celestia.

She beats me to it.

Before I can start work that day, she greets me in the hall.  After the usual formalities and the shock of Princess Celestia seeking me out has passed, she says, “You've taken an interest in the locked room.”

As if there's only one locked room in Canterlot.  Of course I know which one.  Everypony who works at the castle knows which one.  It's the locked room.  Before I officially became an employee, when I was just following my mother around because I was afraid of bullies whenever I left her side, I knew that that out of all the locked rooms, that was the lost room.

“Is it true a mare lives inside?” I ask.

“It is,” Celestia said.

“That's not fair!”

It slipped out.  I hadn't meant for it to happen.  I apologize profusely.

Celestia brushes off my apologies and asks, “What isn't fair?”

“She shouldn't be forced to live in isolation.”

“She's not a prisoner,” Celestia assures me.

Then comes something I didn't expect.  Not in the least.  Not ever.

“I'd like for you to meet her,” Celestia says.

I don't know how long the silence lasts.

“You can, of course, refuse.”

I say things like no, and of course not, and so forth.

Why would I refuse?

* * *

Before going into the room I'm prepared.  I'm told many things.

She really can kill me with just a thought.

She doesn't control her thoughts any more than anypony else.  Sometimes a thought just pops in there.  If I startle her, she could kill me by mistake.

She will, under no circumstances, kill me on purpose.

It is therefore up to me to make sure that I stay alive.

I should not bring up certain topics as, without her being warned beforehand, them being broached beforehand might startle her.

I ask how she could be warned if the process is potentially lethal.

I'm told that a formal warning is less likely to startle her than just having it come up out of the blue.  I'm also told that they don't risk it.  If there is a need to talk about one of the topics, they write it down and leave the room while she reads the list of problem topics.  Once she's mentally prepared herself, she knocks on the door and whoever is to speak to her enters.

I'm tested to make sure I know the topics to not talk about.

I should not do certain things, for they might startle her.  I am again tested on memorizing the list.

On and on it goes.

* * *

When the day comes guards escort me to the room at a time when no one is scheduled to be in the east corridor.  Apparently if somepony else were there when the door was opened the possibility of startling would be dangerously high.  At exactly the scheduled time, a guard knocks on the door.


Oh so softly.

The guards are both afraid.

A knock comes from the other side.

Slowly and carefully, so that no unintended noises are made, the four locks are unlocked.

I go inside.  Alone.

I haven't even gotten my bearings when I hear the locks being re-locked.

There's a pony at a table, a tea set on the table.

“I'm Swift Passage,” she says.

The pony, not the tea set or the table.

I say my name and sit when offered.

“I'm told you've taken an interest in me,” she says.

I nod.

I ask, “Is it true you spend your whole life in here.”

She smiles.  “Celestia said you thought I was a prisoner.”

“Your door is locked from the outside,” I say.

“What do you know about me?” she asks.

“Almost nothing,” I admit.  “They say a great many things.  They say you're death.”

“I'm not death,” she says, “but I do bring it.”

She sighs.

“In another life,” she says, “I think I would have helped the dying.  Given them quick and painless passage to whatever comes next.”

She looks away.  She looks sad.

“Unfortunately I can't control it,” she says.  “I'm sure they told you not to startle me.”

I nod.

“If I'm surprised I . . .  I've killed many ponies.”

I don't know her, I don't know anything about her, but I know that she sounds as sad as she looks.  I reach my hoof across the table.

Then I remember the list.  I stop with my hoof halfway across the table.  I stay like that.  She eventually looks at me, looks at my outstretched hoof, thinks a moment, and gives a small nod.

I take her hoof, try to be reassuring, and say, “It sounds like that's not your fault.”

She gives a smile, but it's sad.  “Thank you, but it doesn't make the guilt any less.”

She sighs again.

“Somehow I get a portion of the lives I take,” she says.  “I should be long dead by now.  Every day I live is a reminder of my failures.”

Our hooves are still touching, I attempt a reassuring squeeze, but I have to be careful –they wouldn't have let me in if I hadn't proven that I'd be careful– and I have no experience with that kind of thing anyway.  “No matter where it comes from, life isn't a bad thing.”

They're my mother's words.  She said them to a friend of mine whose parents should never have been together in the first place.

She gives a smile that almost becomes a laugh, “Do you spout platitudes often?”

“Only when they seem appropriate,” I say.

“Why did you choose to meet me?” she asks.

I tell her that no one should have to be alone.  Especially an innocent pony, but really no one no matter what.  Every pony should have companionship unless they really and truly do not want it.

I tell her about how it broke my heart when I learned there was a mare behind the locked door, a pony who was always alone.  Never able to mix and mingle with others.  Isolated.

I sound incredibly sappy and shallow because I've never learned to sound solemn and deep.

After that we talk a little while about nothing in particular.

Then I hear a soft knock at the door.

It's time for me to leave.

I try to offer to stay longer, but she explains how difficult rescheduling when the door will open is.

I get up, and go to leave.  Before I do she says one last thing:

“I'd like it if you came to see me again.”

I didn't need to think to say, “Of course I will.”

I knock softly on the door and hear the locks being unlocked.

* * *

I talk to Celestia afterward.

She explains that the last time Swift Passage gained a new pony to talk to was when Luna returned from banishment.  She says that it's hard to find ponies who are willing to risk death just to talk to somepony they've never heard of, and only some of those who are willing actually make for good fits with Swift Passage.

She says that she and Luna are both quite busy much of the time and so can't see Swift Passage as often as either would like.  She says Swift Passage is understandably lonely, since she spends so much time alone.

She asks me to keep seeing Swift Passage, if I'm willing, because she wants Swift Passage to be happy.  Or as near to happy as possible.

I tell her I've already agreed.

* * *

I spent years wondering what was behind that door, and now I know.  It's somepony who sacrificed her freedom in hopes that it would make everypony else safer.  She could have tried to find a patch of nowhere where she wouldn't be disturbed, but then she'd risk somepony coming across her by accident, startling her, and dying.

It's somepony who lives in fear.  Fear that she might hurt another without even trying.

It's somepony who doesn't deserve to be alone.

I don't know if it's possible for her to be happy, given the conditions of her chosen fate, but she seems nice enough, and if talking to her is all I can do to help her, then it's exactly what I will do.

As often as she wants.

Whenever she wants.

* *
* * *
* *

Ok, I said I'd have notes.  At Fimfiction (the other-than-here place where I'm posting my MLP fic) there is a story called Knowledge of the Holy that . . . well it's bad.  Most of the content of the story isn't a problem, it's just the cornerstone of the premise that fucks everything up.

The bulk of the text tells a fairly straightforward story and does a passably decent job of it.  The problem is that that story isn't the point.  The story as a whole is only even tangentially related to that story within the story.  That's just a way to communicate the key point.  The key point is that someone with power over death needs to be locked up because they're terrifying.

I may disagree with that.  In case you didn't notice.

Someone, not the author, described it thus:
Imagine you were told there was locked room in the building you work in. No one ever goes in and no one ever comes out. They tell you a woman lives in there. She's been in there as long as anyone can remember. Why is she there? For how long? Who is she? One thing they know is she can kill people just by willing it. Doesn't need a weapon. Doesn't need to even touch you. She just has to want it, or maybe not even that, and bip, you're dead, like she flipped off your light switch. Now someone tells you you have to go in there and talk to her.
I used that as a writing prompt, and produced the above.

~ ~ ~

The author of Knowledge of the Holy eventually described the idea in a comment because the story was extremely opaque about certain important details and in three pages of speculation no one remotely hit on what the author had been trying to communicate with respect to those details.  (Mostly because the author's interpretation isn't supported by the text.  At all.  As I said, it's bad.)

This was after I'd written the story, and mostly addressed unrelated details, so it largely doesn't matter, but it does put some things into a very clear perspective.

The key points for this context were: "She's there because she's dangerous, even if she's not evil," and "She's in custody because she's litterally[sic] a one mare harbinger of death and that's frankly terrifying."  And some other stuff about how someone with a lethal power must be locked up even if they're in full control and no more likely to kill than anyone else.

That's the disconnect, of course.  Someone can kill me in ways that I'm not used to people being able to kill me?  Honestly doesn't bother me.  Not terrifying.  Would be terrifying if they were trying to kill me, sure, but it would be terrifying if anyone were trying to kill me.

And so rather than being terrified by the imprisoned character, I'm left wanting to hug her.  Provided she wants a hug and hugging her won't get me killed.  The point is, I'm not left wanting to lock up the character, but instead comfort the character for being unjustly locked up.

The thing I used as a prompt had the possibility of her invoking her insta-death power by accident, and that at least provides a reason that a person might be sequestered.  So I ran with that.  The character in my story is isolated by choice because she's afraid of hurting others.  And that's fucking sad.  So the appropriate response is to try to make things better for her.

~ ~ ~

My title is obviously a reference to Knowledge of the Holy's title.  At Fimfiction every chapter, even the sole chapter in a one piece work, gets a title.  The default title would be "Chapter 1".

The author of Knowledge of the Holy chose to use a quote from Revelation:

And I saw a star that had fallen, and a key was given to that star, the key to the shaft of the abyss

That's the opening of the locust plague.  And that's interesting.  The character in Knowledge of the Holy describes her power as the power to kill plants as, with one exception, that's all she's ever used it for, and she's kind of in denial over the fact that it can be used on anything else.

The locust plague is a plague of things that, by nature, kill plants.  But they don't.  In Revelation they leave plants untouched.  Instead they torment the nonbelievers.  (Not kill, torment in a way that makes them wish for undelivered death.)

So, character kills plants by nature, locusts kill plants by nature, the story hinges on the character killing something not-a-plant (technically her ability to do so), Revelation locusts hurt things of the description: not-a-plant.

Seems like there could be something interesting in the interplay between the quote and the story.  Turns out there isn't.  The author doesn't actually understand the verse.  I'm not talking about deeper meaning.  I'm talking about plain text surface skimming.

This is the Revelation plague that causes neither death nor destruction there aren't a lot of those.  Revelation is the Michael Bay production in the bible so there's always explosions and body count.  The author of Knowledge of the Holy somehow miss the explicitly non-lethal non-destroy-y part about the plague and thinks that the locusts head out of Hell "to destroy and kill".

So I included a Revelation quote for parallel, but I looked for one that at least had some significance.  The narrator, Celestia, and off-screen-Luna are all trying to give comfort, which goes with the tear wiping.  The entire situation is to make magic induced death no more.

Honestly, that might be it.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

A New Path Forward: Giving Gifts (Equestria Girls)

[It's recommended that you read the first chapter first.]
[As a general reminder, this is based off of Equestria Girls, which is part of the My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic multiverse.  In particular, both of the characters here, though they are in human form in the human world, are ponies by birth.]
[While this story is a sequel to another work, Anon-a-Miss by Dainn, it should stand on its own.]

Sunset was very much not sure how this would go. Part of her knew that there was no reason to be nervous. A big part. The largest part even. That didn't stop the small part with a dissenting opinion from making her uneasy.

She came bearing gifts at least. That might help. It hadn't actually been something she'd been planning on until Celestia and Luna surprised her with Christmas presents.

The phone had been expected, they'd said that they'd get her one, but Celestia got her a new jacket and Luna got her a couple of books. It had been entirely unnecessary and not in any way attributable any kind of obligation.

It had felt good.

So she'd decided to get Twilight a gift or two.

Really this should go great. And Twilight was the one who stuck by her regardless.

Still, every reason she had to think Twilight was her friend applied equally to the humans who most definitely were not her friends.

It was one thing to support her when the only source of news was Sunset's own account and the only problem was that Sunset was a victim. It was another thing to do it face to face when Sunset had asked Twilight to give evil people with designs of world domination their powers back.

Sunset tried to drive the thoughts from her head.

Twilight had been there for her.

It would have been easy for Twilight to cast Sunset aside. All she had was Sunset's word, and historically that had very little value. If anything Twilight had more reason to doubt than anyone else since she'd never had a chance to look Sunset in the eyes or see the effect the whole thing was having on her.

She'd stayed true. She agreed to make the amulets for the sirens in spite of her doubts. She was delivering them today, and once Sunset handed them off this whole mess would be over.

Everything would be fine.

Doubts rose up, and Sunset beat them back, twice more before Twilight burst through the portal.

This time Twilight had stayed standing after coming through the portal, even if the way she was standing didn't look altogether comfortable. Still, it was improvement. That reminded Sunset for Twilight's suggestion that they have more frequent in-person contact, which was definitely something to put in the “Don't Panic” column. That idea was probably because Sunset was low on friends at the moment, and it made the concept of acclimating to trips through the portal seem much less far fetched than it once had.

Twilight was wearing a backpack. Sunset was familiar with the portal interpreting saddlebags that way. It was good if you didn't know how far you'd travel, but it was annoying if you were planning to get things out of it. Sunset was wearing a messenger bag today, for ease of access.

“Good to see you,” Sunset said.

“You too,” Twilight said. “What's on your face?”

That . . . seemed like a profoundly stupid question.

“Sunglasses,” Sunset said. “I'm kind of sensitive to light right now.”

“I meant under the sunglasses.”

And that made no sense. Truly this conversation was off to a great start.

“Nothing,” Sunset said. There simply wasn't anything for Twilight to see, unless she was talking about–

“Sunset,” Twilight said, definitely suspicious, “take off the sunglasses.”

Sunset closed her eyes so that the light wouldn't hurt, and took off her sunglasses.

Cue freakout in three, two, one . . .

“You said you were just scratched up!”

“And I have concussion,” Sunset said. “Please try not to be loud.”

Sunset put the sunglasses back on and opened her eyes. Twilight sputtered:

“You– your face– Part of your face is green.”

Sunset sighed, said, “Apparently when blood isn't exposed to air it–” and then she decided not to bother. “Human biology is just weird, alright?”

“But you look–”

“They call bruises 'black and blues' but apparently they come in all colors in this world,” Sunset said. “Couple that with the fact that blood-flow to the head is powerful, really to the point of excess, and you get what you see.”

* * *

“You're sure you're alright?” Twilight asked for the eleventy-first time.

“I'm getting enough of this from Luna–” Twilight's 'Wait, what!?' look indicated that clarification was needed. “Human Luna. She's making me stay with her until I fully recover. Concussions take forever to recover from.”

“You could come to Equestria to be healed with magic,” Twilight said.

“Maybe,” Sunset said, “or maybe the same property of the portal that strips us of magic when we come here would convert the concussion to a magical ailment if I took it there.”

“I hadn't thought of that,” Twilight admitted.

“It probably wouldn't happen,” Sunset said, “but I really don't want to risk making it worse than it already is. Even if the risk is minimal.”

Sunset decided that she really should invite Twilight to a game of poker once her brain stopped hating her. The girl was so very easy to read. Sunset watched as it took Twilight a moment to realize the 'Sunset's injuries' part of the conversation was over and a moment longer to find remember what she'd been planning on doing before she got the idea to pester Sunset about those the injuries.

“Right,” Twilight said. She took off her backpack, rifled through it a bit, and finally produced three crystal amulets. They were shaped like the sirens' original ones, but the fact they were clear instead of red left them looking very different.

Sunset took the amulets and stowed them in her own bag. She'd ask about the color later, if it even proved necessary –Twilight would doubtless tell her whether she was asked or not– because at the moment she was more interested in a question she'd been holding off on asking ever since Twilight had announced she'd make the amulets.

Before she got to that, she needed to say:

“Thank you for making them.”

“I didn't do it for you,” Twilight said, setting down the backpack. “I didn't even do it for them; not really.”

That gave Sunset the perfect opportunity to ask the question she was actually interested in. “So what finally convinced you to make them?”

Sunset had wanted to ask since Twilight announced that she'd make them. Well, more since she laid in bed trying, and failing, to sleep the night after. The problem was that she had been worried that Twilight might change her mind if given reason to think the matter through again. Only now, with the amulets in Sunset's possession, was it definitely safe to ask.

“You were right and I was wrong,” Twilight said.

Maybe it was because of the concussion, maybe it wasn't, but regardless of the ultimate reason, those words stopped Sunset's brain.

When she managed to reboot, the best she could manage was, “Come again?”

“You wrote that I gave you a chance you didn't deserve,” Twilight said. “I thought about what things would be like if people only got what they deserved.

“It's not how we operate. My friends in Equestria and I give out second chances all the time. Sometimes third, fourth, and fifth chances. We do it with no evidence it will work out in the end. But what if we did have some sort of complex algorithms to run that would truly determine if someone were worthy of another chance before offering it?”

Sunset's brain was back at its current normal –which was hazy, weary, and pained– and that was enough for her to be processing Twilight again.

Right now what she was getting was that Twilight was on a roll and and she'd have to wait for the opportune moment if she wanted stop the ramble rather than cause it to explode into a flurry of tangents that would grow to consume all of the remaining daylight hours.

“I started to imagine an Equestria where ponies, and others, only ever got what they deserved,” Twilight continued. “I started thinking about all the ways the world would be different, my life would be different, and I would be different.

“I never deserved my friends,” she said, “I spent my life ignoring and avoiding other ponies and when I met my Ponyville friends I was a jerk to every one of them. I thought they were aggravating distractions. I also thought they were all crazy. If I got what I deserved I'd still be alone except for Spike, maybe worse than that since Spike, at least, deserved better than me.

“Princess Luna, if someone had somehow managed to defeat her in a world where my friends and I didn't unlock the Elements of Harmony, probably would have been banished back to the moon if she'd gotten what she deserved. You'd be a pariah or in jail. Discord would be stone. Even–”

“Ok, I get it,” Sunset said, hoping she hadn't missed her window. “All of history and civilization as we know it rests upon giving individuals chances without deservingness being a necessary prerequisite.”

Twilight nodded.

“In the end I was forced to conclude that deservingness had nothing to do anything,” Twilight said in a more sedate pace, “because if everyone only gets what they deserve, the world would be a dark and dreary place where ponies like you and me would never find happiness

“I think it's more about the kind of ponies we want to be,” she said, “and the kind of world we want to live in. I don't want to be the pony who dooms people to death by starvation simply because I don't like them, I don't want to live in a world where you were left crying in that crater instead of given an opportunity for redemption.

“That's a wonderful speech about universal moral truths, Twilight,” Sunset said. “But you don't live in this world anyway.”

Twilight gave a joyful smile, then said, “So you really are feeling better.”

“Truly all psychological assessments should be based on how one responds to friendship speeches.”

“Playful sarcasm suits you,” Twilight said, “but that wasn't a friendship speech. Giving someone a second chance doesn't automatically mean becoming friends with them.”

“Believe me,” Sunset said, “I know.” She was actually worried about what would happen with her former friends. She wasn't going to let some grudge rule her life from now on, she was probably going to forgive them given sufficient time. But would they think that meant she wanted to be friends with them again?

That would be Hell.

She expended way too much energy imagining a thousand different scenarios, none of them good.

When Sunset realized she'd retreated into her own thoughts leaving Twilight in silence, she thought she'd need to apologize, but instead Twilight didn't even seem to have noticed. Instead Twilight looked to be busy with thoughts of her own.

A few moments later, Twilight looked away and spoke:

“Also, the reason I didn't want to help the Sirens was petty to begin with. They hurt me, so I didn't want to help them.”

Twilight had said it like she was confessing to some heinous crime instead of acknowledging that her initial reaction to an unexpected situation was less than perfect.

“Twilight,” Sunset said, doing her best to be encouraging, “around here they call that being human. Adapt for species as necessary, but the core idea remains solid.

“You had a bad thought. It doesn't make you a bad person. It doesn't make you a bad pony. Celestia does it too, you know.”


“Really,” Sunset said. “What matters is that you recognized your mistake and fixed it.”

For a while things were quiet. Less awkward than the last silence.

“Ok, so,” Twilight said, her energy and speed increasing with each new word, “I didn't make the amulets for you, but there are things that I did get for you, I know it's a little late for Hearth Warming and all but I was busy working on the amulets and–”

Sunset was afraid that if she didn't make Twilight stop, the girl might explode.

“I got you gifts too,” she said.

That successfully stopped Twilight mid-run-on.

“First we have this,” Sunset said, handing Twilight a book from her bag.

Twilight accepted it and flipped through it. It was an illustrated guide to the human body. Nothing terribly in depth, but a huge amount of information as far as laypeople went.

“I thought you might be interested in learning more about a sapient species entirely alien to Equestria. The fact that you have friends equipped with such bodies is just a bonus,” Sunset said. “After you've digested that, you'll probably know more about human biology than I've learned in years of living here.”

“This looks really interesting,” Twilight said. “Not something I would have expected.”

“I got the idea after Luna thought it would be hilarious to give me a book on horse biology,” Sunset said. Luna's other book, which was full of amazing photographs of astronomical objects, was much more thoughtful.

Twilight had looked up from the book and asked, “Horse?” in mild surprise.

Sunset pointed to the statue behind Twilight.

“They really do look like that,” she said as Twilight turned to look.

“You're kidding.”

“Nope. They look more or less like that and they're huge,” Sunset said. “I met one and it was this tall,” Sunset held her hand five feet off the ground, “at the withers.”

“At the withers?” Twilight repeated in what might be shock. Sunset nodded, Twilight continued: “That's unbe– wait, you met one‽”

“They're just animals,” Sunset said, “and animals in this world aren't nearly as smart as the ones in Equestria, but it doesn't make it any less incredible to meet them.

“Humans keep them for their power and speed. They can be used to pull things, as pack animals, and as personal transportation. The one I met was for the last. Riding horses like that one are sort of a medium size, the largest horse was a draft horse that was more than seven feet tall at the withers.”

“You're sure that was at the withers and not, say, the forehead?”

“This world is populated with giants, Twilight.”

“Given your enthusiasm,” Twilight said, “I think Luna picked the right book for you.”

“If you say so,” Sunset said. It wasn't wrong, but given that it was given as a joke, Sunset didn't really want to admit that the horse book was actually pretty interesting. Still, it suggested more directions for conversation.

“Horses make things confusing,” she said, “especially since horses below a certain height are known as 'ponies'. I tell someone I was a pony in Equestria and there's all of this baggage that's assumed to apply to me unless I'm specifically able to predict the person will think it and head it off.”

“I can see how that would be frustrating.”

“And saying unicorn just confuses things further.”

“Why?” Twilight asked.

“I don't think this world ever had unicorns, but it does have stories of them,” Sunset said, “and the stories are clear about several things. For example: they've got cloven hooves.”


“As near as I can tell they're supposed to be more closely related to deer than ponies, deer as tall as horses no less.”

“But . . .”

“Also, the correct plural of 'Pegasus' is 'Pegasuses',”

“That's absurd.”

“It's a function of the history of the word in this world," Sunset said. "It's originally a proper name, and there was only one of him, so it didn't have a plural. It came to describe all winged horses by synecdoche, at which point it was given a plural, but by that time it had hopped languages twice.”

“You're making that up.”

“Now I know what to get you for next Hearth Warming,” Sunset said: “a dictionary.”

“Hey!” Twilight said. About two seconds later she said, “Actually, that sounds fascinating.”

Sunset gave a smile and said, “For now I have something completely different to occupy your mind.” She pulled the second gift from her bag. She was told that a human of a given age would recognize it as a 'Game Boy', though it wasn't actually one. “This might fizzle when you take it to Equestria, but even if it does I expect you to have months of fun reverse engineering it.”

Twilight accepted the gift and asked, “What is it?”

“The exterior is from a hand held computer gaming system that's about eighteen years old, but it's been gutted and replaced with more modern technology. Celestia commissioned one as a Christmas – Christmas is basically Hearth Warming with a different mythology. Anyway, Celestia commissioned one as a Christmas gift for Luna. Something about nostalgia without the algia.

“The moment I saw it I knew that, regardless of whether the actual games interested you, you'd love the challenge of figuring out how it worked and seeing if you could reproduce the technology in Equestria. Maybe even discover a way to make the technology work in tandem with magic.

“So I paid for the construction of a second one.”

Twilight looked over it eagerly for moment and then asked, “How do I turn it on?” somewhat sheepishly.

Sunset found the right button a few moments later.

Twilight punched various buttons for a while before turning the machine off and rummaging through her bag for her gifts.

“So, after you told me about your difficulties with ancient Equestrian history,” Twilight said, “I had a general idea of what I wanted to get you.”

Sunset had explained the story of Hearth Warming to Celestia and Luna, but not before going off on a lengthy tangent of how much she didn't know. Were the Sirens before or after the Windigos? When exactly had Celestia and Luna taken control of the Sun and Moon, how did the timing of Sombra relate to Luna's conversion to Nightmare Moon? Where did the apprenticeship of Clover the Clever fit into the storied career of Starswirl the Bearded? When was Tirek?

How many intervals of 'a thousand years' were literal as compared to shorthand for 'a really, really, really long time'?

Why did it seem that ponies learned history only by having ancient evils pop up and try to take over?

So, naturally, she'd written to Twilight about it afterward.

She'd even commented that it was odd that Equestria's history was so poorly understood given that the nation had been run by an immortal who was there at the time and could easily be asked, and now was run by two of them.

Sunset also noted that she'd never cared to asked herself, but that didn't make it seem any less odd that no onehad ever done so.

Twilight's gift was a book, presumably a history book. Sunset took and read the title aloud:

“The Pony's History of Equestria,” was to be be expected, but for “New Revised Edition” she added special emphasis.

“After the most recent ancient threat that everyone had conveniently forgotten about in spite of it being critically important to understanding the early years of Equestria,” Twilight said, “the original Revised Edition was made obsolete. By this time next year they'll doubtless need to make a New New Revised Edition.”

“Probably,” Sunset said.

“I ended up getting you this more or less by accident,” Twilight said while she handed over a flimsy box and a small beat up book. “Definitely read the book first.”

Sunset put the history book in her bag and looked at the smaller beat up book Twilight was now offering her. It took about a second and a half to realize something:

“This written in the zebra script.”

“Yes it is,” Twilight said. “I was telling a friend of mine about how I was thinking of getting you something to get you up to date on the recently remembered long forgotten history of Equestria, I think I mentioned Sombra and the Tree of Harmony, and she insisted that what I needed to give you was this deck of divination cards.

“One of your friends is a zebra?”

“Her name is Zecora.”

“Ponyville isn't exactly known as an international port–”

“Of course not; it's landlocked.”

“–and it doesn't sit on any major trade routes I know of,” Sunset said. “So . . . shaman?”

Twilight nodded, “She lives in the Everfree Forest.”

Sunset digested that a moment and then acknowledged it by saying: “That kind of magic is worth going a long way from home to research.”

Sunset looked back to the book and skimmed for a bit. The tree of harmony was there, a lot about three pony tribes just before they united, King Sombra . . . it made sense why someone would recommend this as a way to learn history. The descriptions were short, just giving context for the pictures on the cards and the meanings of those cards, but there was definitely history preserved here that hadn't shown up in any of the books Princess Celestia had forced her to read.

“This looks interesting,” Sunset said. “Thank you, Twilight. And thank your friend for me.”

“I'll pass that along,” Twilight said, “Though I do recommend taking it with a grain of salt. Some of the information defies belief and even Zecora has no idea where the cards or the guide originated.”

“It's not a zebra thing?”

“Obviously this version was made by one or more zebras, the writing in the guide and on the cards is as close to proof of that as we're likely to come, but I don't think the deck originated with zebras. There's all of one zebra in the deck, and the description of that card reads to me like it was written by an outsider. I think at some point a zebra adopted the cards and the stories from an outside source and then wrote their own guide in their own script,” Twilight said. “In other news, I'm out of gifts.”

Sunset nodded. Then she said:

“So, about the amulets . . .”

* *
* * *
* *

So, notes:

This was way harder than it had any right to be.  In part because my original plan was to start with the chapter after this one, in part because when I actually thought about what was going on I got it into my head that I had to show Sunset's Christmas with Celestia and Luna and it just wasn't working.  In part because . . . everything.

Then this and the next chapter were going to be crammed together into one chapter.

Then there's the fact that the only plot relevant thing in this chapter is the amulets and I worry that the gifts will be assumed to be part of Chekhov's armory when, in this story, Chekhov hasn't even been given a water balloon.

~ ~ ~

As indicated, Friendship is Magic is horrible with "Ancient evil everyone forgot about until we decided to use it in this episode.  I'm not entirely sure what they have against brand new evils, but even their most recent major attempt at that devolved into ancient evil when the new evil changed the past allowing for several of the previous ancient evils to take over the present in turn.

It's also less than good with regards to time.  Sometimes a thousand years means exactly a thousand years, sometimes it cannot possibly mean that in spite of the strong indication that it's supposed to.

In some ways the series can be seen as learning history by having history repeatedly try to take over forcing the cast to learn things everyone else forgot about.

As the entire series takes place after Sunset Shimmer left Equestria, her knowledge of her homeworld's history is pretty much dependent upon her pen=pal relationship with Twilight.

~ ~ ~

The cards are the Everfree Tarot.  The unique thing about the project is that it's an attempt at an in-universe tarot.  As far as I know, every other attempt to make an MLP themed tarot deck has done it by grabbing characters and situations from the show which obviously wouldn't be included in any deck the characters had access to.

All of the cards can be found at the creator's DeviantArt , unfortunately most of the descriptions are in Korean and those that are not appear to have been translated badly.  Also, for some reason the author gave boobs to certain creatures that . . . wtf?  Most of the things represented don't have this problem, thankfully, but still . . . WTF?

~ ~ ~

The modified Game Boy is a Game Boy Zero (a Game Boy case gutted and used to hold a Raspberry Pi zero set up to emulate old game systems.)

The size of the ponies in MLP is surprisingly consistent regardless of what metric you use to determine it (as compared to the length of a "moon" which is irresolvably inconsistent.) The average adult pony (not an alicorn) is a bit smaller than a Saint Bernard in terms of body.  Do not, however, forget about the relative hugeness of their heads when compared to the rest of their bodies.

~ ~ ~

The etymology of "Pegasus" is ultimately unknown.  There are theories ranging from "pre-Greek language we don't know" to "It's totally this root over here; why can't everyone else see how obvious this is?"

The plural is easier and Sunset has the pedantic details right.  Starts in Greek, moves to Latin, moves to English, is given an English plural when the meaning changes to something that allows a plural.

What it leaves out is that at some point people realized that second declension masculine Latin nouns have a standard plural form, which gives us "pegasi", though pedants and spell checkers will tell us that's wrong.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Random Snippets with no stories attached

Please tell me we have a plan.
We have a plan
A good plan?
Don't push it.

Look, there's no way you're going to understand this without years of graduate school, so just pretend it's a result of resonant frequencies within the sinusoidal matrix underlying the energy fueling the apparently impossible happenings.

I'm, telling you, I never met any famous people.
You've been around, like, six thousand years.
Five thousand three hundred and twenty eight is not 'like six thousand'.
Well it's closer to that than, say, four thousand.
That was arbitrary.
Random chance alone dictates that you should have met at least--
No.  No one.  I can tell you loads about historical goat herding techniques, though.

While you were out of it the world changed.
Do human children still chase chickens?
Well . . . yeah, I guess.  If they're around chickens, like say on a farm, I suppose they do.
The world is the same as it ever was.

Why would you go there?  Nobody there but poets and thieves.

What's your desired endgame?
Not dying.
A bit simplistic and over broad, don't you think?
It's worked for me so far.

Then, if we're lucky--
When have we ever been lucky?
Ok.  Good point.  By this time we'll have half of the facility's guards converging on us while the other half preemptively relocate to the places we're going to want to go.  They'll then start to fortify which will make everything that much harder.  So the next step is to . . .

Why is Dionysus in your living room?
Because my rec room is full of crap.

Is this the part where you offer me three wishes which will all blow up in my face because I phrased them badly?
I've only been trapped about a thousand years, how can knowledge of my kind be so distorted?
I have only a cursory knowledge of what that word signifies, but from what little I do know, that makes sense.
So what happens now?
Well, if you were a powerful mage with less powerful ethics you might cackle about absolute power and try and make me your slave, but the description doesn't if you, so I'm free now.
Just like that?
Just like that.  The wish thing is a way of saying, "Thank you," and I can give or withhold them as I see fit.  I certainly have no intention of bringing harm to you by willfully misinterpreting you meanings.

These instructions literally say --and don't do anything until I've finished reading this bit-- "To power down the device one must disconnect the energy core by severing the red, green, and orange couples (in that order).  Such an action would result in a powerful exothermic release unless one first rerouted the control feed through the tertiary bus of the redundant processing unit."

How did you become a girl?
I was always a girl, I just never felt comfortable telling people.
You know that.  You're like the one person I did tell.
Ok, sorry, bad question.  How did your body . . . *gestures in frustration* get that way?
Oh, that.
Yes, that.
Well, I got an option to turn into a mermaid.  Not merperson.
So the entire species is female?
Well . . . no.  There's a trans minority.  I didn't exactly have all the details of aquatic culture downloaded into my head, though, so I don't know anything about it.

One of the few mistakes your mother made was to have a human sire her embodiment of Sloth.
Why would that make a difference?
Not all brains work the same way.  For human minds and those like them choice becomes pattern, pattern habit, habit a rut you can't escape from.
When that happens you don't have sin anymore, you have sickness.  A sickness that can be treated, no less.  Your brother may have been born the embodiment of Sloth, but now he's just another person with depression.  Fortunately it responds to treatment well.
Took a decade to find the right treatment, though.

How is it possible that the only one who thinks I'm crazy is the voice in my head?
Plenty of sane people have one or more voices in their heads.
And you think it's healthy to have a voice in your head telling you you're insane?
I think it's an expression of your low self-esteem that's latched onto sanity as its axis of self deprecation, but I'm not licenced to make an actual diagnosis.

[Describing the experience of playing a certain game:]
. . . and, lo, did I feel like a small horse not more than fourteen point two hands tall at the withers.

Q - Your friend was possessed by a demon for six months and none of you noticed!?
1 - Well, in fairness, he wasn't my friend until after he got possessed.  Before that he was just someone I had the misfortune of working with.
2 - The changes were all for the better so I just figured he was working on self improvement.
3 - Speaking of--
1&4 - Can we get the demon back?
Q - What!?
3 - I'm not saying in the same body or anything, it's just that the demon was easy to work with.
1 - Always helpful and nice.
2 - A real joy to be around.
4 - Our productivity was so high with the demon on the team.
3 - We could hire someone whose entire job is allowing the demon to use their body during business hours.
2 - Surely someone would be willing.

With great power comes--
You think that just because I was born with extraordinary powers I've somehow forfeited my right to choose what I do with my life?  That I have to put on tights and fight themed villains to save the city?  Bullshit.
I'm just--
I want to teach science to fifth graders you schmuck.  That may be only mundane responsibility, but it's important and it's what I'm going to do.

I thought that:
Of course "Jack" is a girl's name.  Jack is a girl.  A girl whose name is "Jack".  Thus Jack is a girl's name.  QED.
would go here, but it turns out I've done that already.

Tell me you had nothing to do with it.
I had nothing to do with it.
Now, would you mind telling me what I just denied involvement in, so that I know whether or not I just lied?

I guess that's everything. *beat* Everything except for one thing.  And that one thing?  Everything.  You think it's nothing.  You're wrong.
(Adapted from Jon Stewart doing a Glen Beck impression.)

Um, excuse me, mister evil over lord.  Before you take over I was wondering if you'd go into a bit more detail about your proposed tax code.

Please say you weren't involved in this.
Are you asking me to lie to you?

You're having that for breakfast?
Just think of it as poor man's bacon.
It's more expensive than bacon.
Then think of it as rich man's bacon.
You're not a man.
I never said I was the rich man.  Realistically the only way I'd ever get rich man's bacon is to steal it.
It's not bacon.
I do believe you've missed the point of this little thought exercise.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Still have ambitions of decompiling a 20+ year old exe

Ok, that's not precisely true.  What I want to do is get at the code that can only be accessed by decompiling it.

Dark Forces was my first FPS, I think.  It came in one of the Lucas Arts collections (6 cd sets) and someone got it for me as a gift at some point.  Actually, at more than one point.  This wasn't redundant because CDs can get scratched and such.

Dark Forces lends itself well to certain types of modding and 22 years later the mod community is still active.  However, it also had a lot of information packed inside of the exe itself which utterly prevents changing, updating, or even understanding a vast array of other stuff.

If I take a look in my Dark Forces directory I see four exe files.  There's dark.exe, which I assume contains what I'm interested in, there's imuse.exe which I believe was used to handle the music, there's dos4gw.exe which I'm told is the DOS extender, and there's install.exe which I would hope is for installation.

Dark Forces was written in vanilla C and compiled using watcom.  I have been told dark.exe an LE linear executable.

I really want to be able to get inside of dark.exe (probably imuse too, though for different reasons) even though the odds are very good that even under ideal decompilation I wouldn't understand a damned thing.


Here's where things all collapse into flaming wreckage.  Decompilation is a strange and esoteric field.  It doesn't actually have to be.  As in, there are peer reviewed scientific papers out there pointing out that this can be straightforward, and then attaching mathematical proofs that demonstrate that the statement is not bullshit.  No one has actually done the work outlined in such papers.

There are, of course, limits.  Getting back the source code that was used to create something is impossible baring an incredibly unlikely avalanche of coincidence (which would necessarily begin with the people writing the source doing it in a way that people don't write source.)  Getting a source code that reads in a sensible way and would compile into a given exe is possible, but the work on how to do that is in its infancy and the LE format seems to be one of the ones to receive the least attention.

It would be difficult for someone who really understood all of this shit.

For someone (like me) who doesn't know a damned thing about assembly and such, not a fucking chance.

And yet I keep on coming back to this.  I want to be able to crack the game open and look at how it works.  For, I'm going to say this without even attempting to make an accurate tally, about a dozen different reasons.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

This all makes sense, given the proper context. (story idea)

So, for some reason I wanted to look up a story I'd once seen on TV.  I'm not even sure why, it's not my kind of story and I certainly didn't like it, but for whatever reason I wanted to look it up.

After wading through nightmares and broken dreams I was eventually forced to conclude that it was not, in fact, an episode of the Twilight Zone.  Doesn't seem to be Outer Limits either.  Nor any of the other black and white "We crush all hope in half an hour or less" anthology series that I have been able to find an episode guide for.

And while what I remember would likely be enough if I were looking at an episode guide, it's not enough to find the fucking episode without knowing what show it comes from.

Thus, that was a bust.  But I did end up coming across a picture and it made me think of a simple story idea.

- - -

The time: now.  The setting: contemporary America.

Two people are having a discussion that takes a swerve for the philosophical.  They don't know it, but they're headed straight into The Twilight Zone.

Wait, no.  Never mind that previous sentence.

Two people are having a discussion and it flows into a, "We live in interesting times," sort of direction.

One of the complains about how nothing makes sense anymore, the other lends a sympathetic ear but maintains that everything makes as much sense as it ever did.  In fact, maybe things as they stand make the most sense of any point in human history.

They talk about economics, politics, religion, education, medicine, road maintenance, and generally the entire state of the country.

The audience is annoyed because clearly this episode is a clip show that's being used to save money.  It consists entirely of two characters talking across a table and various scenes (to illustrate their points) that were probably lifted from cheap documentaries or previous episodes of the show.

The audience is also annoyed because the conversation doesn't go anywhere.

The second person agrees with the first's individual points, even adds to them and extrapolates, but continues to maintain that everything in the world makes perfect sense.  As a result the two spend the entire episode at a rhetorical impasse.

The story ends with the second person offering to prove it.  Person two leads person one to a place where several people are watching TV on a giant screen.  They arrive just as an address from the Oval Office is about to begin.

Person two directs person one to look away from the screen, the color fades to black and white, the camera pulls back to take in the entire scene, and both watch as a man in a suit and seems to speak to empty air.

Obviously it doesn't look exactly like that, because the address is on a screen characters are watching and he walks into that scene, not the Oval Office, but you get the idea.

He says something about how the time is the far flung future of 2017, or maybe it's tomorrow, and . . . some closing summation or other.

Then the camera returns to our two characters, and character two says something along the lines of, "I told you it makes sense."


Image from Wonkette.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017


I actually found out yesterday.  Early in the day yesterday.  I've been kind of emotionally dead since then.

I . . . I just . . . fuck.

At any given time, even at its height, most of the farm wasn't being farmed and, while never what I wanted, having the bulk of it sold off to people who would keep it undeveloped and have it be public walking trails would have been . . . acceptable, I guess is an appropriate term.  And it would have allowed us to keep, at least, the house and the greenhouse.

My sister's been working on it for ages and the group in question has been actively working with us toward that end for over a year.

At least they said they were.  Sale to go through in November.

Sale to go through in Novemeber; they waited until the first business day of October to back out.


The involved lawyers have never seen anything like this and have no idea what happened.  Going into the weekend everything was fine.  Come Monday and suddenly they've decided to trash the whole deal.  The only reason that they'll give is that the incident where the neighbors tried to get the police to shoot my sister has made them sour on the deal.

I'll remind you that that happened a year, a month, and ten days before October started.  They've known about it for ages.  If they're being honest about their reasons, then they strung us along for a year knowing that they never intended to actually go through with things.  No one involved has seen anything like that.  If they're not being honest about their reasons then they backstabbed us for unknown and unknowable reasons when the deal was all but closed.  No one involved has seen anything like that.

Regardless, by waiting until the month before the sale, they're made any alternative plan impossible.  Three months ago?  Maybe.  Six months ago?  Sure.  A year ago?  Just fine.  One fucking month before the end and the plan that was everything short of being carved in stone gets completely demolished with no warning?

And so, all is doomed.  Which is probably why I didn't eat much of anything yesterday, and I've spent today feeling like the parts of me that should feel are . . . empty.  All is void.

Though I have been crying a lot.

I grew up there.  I know some of the God damned trees on a personal level.

For fuck's sake it's . . .

I can't even.


I'm going to go and read saccharine sweet stories about brightly colored ponies.

Maybe if I read about a happy world where good things triumph and love can conquer all and human assholicness is physically incapable of ruining all the things I might . . . feel . . . something.

Maybe even something that doesn't hurt.