Wednesday, April 24, 2019


[Probably in my universe with super people.]

Alex Amelia Miller made a sound.  It wasn't the first time, but it was the first time that hearing one of the sounds Alex Amelia Miller made caused Umheylik Kĭnd to think new and different thoughts.  The novel chain of thoughts set off by the noise eventually terminated at a solution to the problem Umheylik Kĭnd had failed to solve for the previous six hours.

Umheylik Kĭnd walked to the broken door separating nir from Alex Amelia Miller, forced it open, ignored the sound it made as it fell from its hinges and clattered on the ground, evaluated the status of Alex Amelia Miller, determined that the collapsed remains of what had once been a ceiling, which were covering her, did not in fact represent an impediment to movement, took hold of Alex Amelia Miller's arm, and pulled her to her feet.

While previous sounds from Alex Amelia Miller had been incoherent expressions of generalized pain and suffering, the sound now produced was quite coherent:

"Ow, ow, ow!  My shoulder!"

"I have need of you," Umheylik Kĭnd told Alex Amelia Miller.

"Ok, that's nice," Alex Amelia Miller said, "but couldn't you have been more gentle?"

"I don't see how that is necessary."

"Um, ok," Alex Amelia Miller said. "Umhey, you're being weird."

"That is not my name, Alex Amelia Miller," Umheylik Kĭnd said in response.

"You're being very weird."

"We have dallied long enough," Umheylik Kĭnd announced.  "We should go now."  Ne took hold of Alex Amelia Miller's arm again, and pulled her into motion.  Once they were both walking in the direction of the most likely possible exit, Ne released Alex Amelia Miller's arm.

"Kĭndy," Alex Amelia Miller said, "what's going on?"

"That is also not my name."

"Which is part of the weirdness," Alex Ameila Miller said.

"That has never been my name."

"That has never been a problem."

"We are in no great hurry, and even if we were, using correct nomenclature does not impede us," Umheylik Kĭnd explained.  "I fail to see the point in using abbreviated forms."

"Did you take any particularly bad blows to the head?"

"None that were particularly bad, no."

"Then what's going on?"

"I have need of you, Alex Amelia Miller.  As I said."

Alex Amelia Miller rolled her eyes.

Umheylik Kĭnd simply kept walking.  No response seemed necessary.

"Fine!" Alex Amelia Miller said loudly.  "What do you need me to do?"

"I require you to tell me what to do."

Alex Amelia Miller stopped walking.  That seemed unnecessary and sub-optimal, but perhaps there was a reason that Umheylik Kĭnd simply failed to grasp.  This was why Alex Amelia Miller was here, after all.

Umheylik Kĭnd stopped walking as well, turned to face Alex Amelia Miller, and asked, "Why have you stopped?"

"Why aren't you making sense?" Alex Amelia Miller asked in response.  That did not make sense.  Umheylik Kĭnd had said nothing but sensible things.

"What do you mean, Alex Amelia Miller?"

"I could bring up how you're talking in monotone--"

Was that true?  Umheylik Kĭnd did not know.

"--or focus on the fact that the way you structure your speech has also changed--"

That was true.

"--or your sudden fixation with using only full proper names--"

It was not a fixation, it merely happened to be simpler if each thing had only one designation, and the most obvious designation was it's full and proper name.

"--but I think I'll go with why the fuck you think that I should be telling you what to do in this situation."

Umheylik Kĭnd blinked.

"Did our adversary tell you what was to become of me?" Umheylik Kĭnd asked Alex Amelia Miller.

"Something about your soul being ripped out."

"That is an accurate description of what transpired."

"What‽" Alex Amelia Miller shouted for no obvious reason.

"In the absence of a soul," Umheylik Kĭnd explained, "I find myself unable to determine a course of action."

Alex Amelia Miller stared at Umheylik Kĭnd.

"My brain still contains my memories and knowledge," Umheylik Kĭnd continued, "but it would appear that, in the absence of a soul to guide me, they are of little use."

"I . . ." Alex Ameila Miller said.  "Um . . . come again?"

Umheylik Kĭnd had thought nir words were quite clear.  Apparently they had not been.  That suggested that a different approach was necessary.  Fortunately, memories of Alex Ameila Miller suggested that one approach was to be favored over others.  As a default was readily available, no true determination would need to be made.

"For example," Umheylik Kĭnd said, "after we were left to our own devices six hours ago, I attempted to continue to act independently, but I could not decide how to go about that."

"It's been six hours?" Alex Amelia Miller asked.

"Yes, Alex Amelia Miller," Umheylik Kĭnd said. "In that time, I could not decide what to do.  I had no preferences or direction.  I was able to winnow the field of possibility somewhat by narrowing the question to what my previous, soul-having, self would want, but it led to a dead end.

"I know that I would have wanted my current, souless, self to do the right thing, morally and ethically speaking, but I was unable to determine what that would be."

"You've lost none of your knowledge and none of your memories, and you can't tell right from wrong?" Alex Amelia Miller asked.

"It is surprisingly difficult to derive an ethical framework from first principles, Alex Amelia Miller."

"You didn't consider, maybe, going into the next room over, checking on your friend," Alex Amelia Miller pointed to herself, "and . . . I don't know, waking her up?"

"It was one of many things I considered," Umheylik Kĭnd said.  "I was unable to find an obvious way to choose between those possibilities."

"So you just left me unconscious on the floor for six hours?"

"That is exactly what I did, Alex Amelia Miller."

"I just . . . I don't . . ." Alex Amelia Miller turned to face away from Umheylik Kĭnd, " I don't even."

"It was trival to determine that inaction was not the best course of action, but with no means of determining which action I should take, I could not choose one."

Alex Amelia Miller turned back to face Umheylik Kĭnd and asked, "You spent six hours navel gazing?  Couldn't you flip a coin or something?"

"I have twenty seven coins on my person.  I could not determine which coin, or combination of coins, it would be appropriate to flip.  Even if I had, it seems highly unlikely that I would have been able to determine which possibilities to assign to which outcomes."

Alex Amelia Miller held her head in her hand.

"So why aren't you navel gazing still?" she asked.

"It was not difficult to conclude that my current indecision stems from my lack of soul," Umheylik Kĭnd said.  "It was, however, quite some time before I realized that there was a readily available soul in close proximity.  The possibilities for just action that include the two of us relatively uninjured and working together all involve us leaving this place, so I collected you and headed for the exit."

"Uh huh," Alex Amelia Miller said.  "Your 'collection' of me involved nearly pulling my arm out of it's socket."

"That is clear exaggeration, Alex Amelia Miller."

"If you want me making decisions for you--" Alex Amelia Miller said.

"I do."

"The absolute first thing is that that we go back to calling each other what we have before."

Umheylik Kĭnd thought this over.  Ne would be 'Umhey' and 'Kĭndy', Alex Amelia Miller would be 'A.A.' and, possibly, 'Mills' on occasion.

"I can do that, A.A." Umhey said.

"Much better," A.A. said.  "Do you know how to get your soul back?"

"I do not, A.A."

"Is it possible to get your soul back?"

"I know of no reason why it would not be."

"Do you know how to go about learning how to get your soul back?"

"I know of several possible avenues for research into that topic."

A.A. started walking in their original direction.  Umhey fell into step beside her.

"Will the apocalypse become irreversible if we put it on the back burner while we focus on your soul?" A.A. asked.

Umhey attempted to find an answer to the question.  It was very complicated.  Ne was well into the process of assigning variables to likely probability distributions when A.A. sighed.

"Never mind," she said.  "Do you know of any obvious reason why the apocalypse would probably --probabilities guesstimated to be greater than four in five count as probable-- become irreversible if it were not our first priority."

Umhey attempted to find an answer to the question.  It was still quite complicated.

"Only addressing situations where it's not irreversible right now," A.A. added.

The question became less complicated.

"And 'guesstimated' here translates to 'the best, no matter how bad, you can come up with if you're only allowed approximately 20 minutes to answer the question'."

The margin of error shot through the roof, but the problem became less complicated.

Umhey thought about it, and they both continued toward the exit.

* *
* * *
* *

When I go looking for a demonic name, I generally hit the ancient Hebrew (because that's where Christianity grabbed its principal mythology from.)  It occurred to me that I fall back on that too much.  That's especially true given that Yiddish is hanging out in the same alphabet and positively begs to be spoken.

So I looked some stuff up.  If I bashed things together right, "umheylik kĭnd" (אומהייליק קינד) means "unholy child".  Transliteration from Yiddish doesn't actually use "ĭ", but when I look at "kind" I can't see it as anything but the English word of the same spelling, and that's not how "קינד" is pronounced.

This was written quickly today after reading a fanfic where a character lost her soul but didn't stop fighting.  I've played with that sort of thing for a long time, and reading that fic made me again think about what it might mean to lose one's essential them-ness while still retaining, you know, their brain.

I think this could be better, but right now I'm just grabbing onto whatever ideas I'm actually able to have and write.

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 them 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.