-IceMan-

Mad Science: Chapter 6

Oct 10th, 2016 (edited)
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  1. Mad Science
  2. By IceMan
  3.  
  4. Chapter 6: Uncertainty Principle
  5.  
  6. >Your name is Twilight Sparkle.
  7. >You had never met anyone named Anonymous, and, should someone ask you if you would meet a human from another universe, you would probably give them an odd look and continue on your way.
  8. >That particular series of events would not occur for several more months in the future.
  9. >No, what had just happened was that you had defeated a villain whose return had been predicted in legend 1000 years ago, and it had left you rather tired, despite the fact that the sun was just rising for the first time in 24 hours.
  10. >Fighting Nightmare Moon could be quite an exhausting affair.
  11. >And so, after throwing open the door to your library (you supposed that it was yours now, since you would be living here for the conceivable future), you stumbled upstairs and flopped into bed with a long sigh.
  12. >But, despite your physical weariness, a dizzying array of thoughts buzzed around in your head.
  13. >You had not been certain why Princess Celestia, your mentor, had sent you here to this backwater town on the corner of the realm, but now you were.
  14. >Honesty, Loyalty, Kindness, Generosity, Laughter, Magic.
  15. >Five of those virtues you were happy to let slide into the void at one point.
  16. >All that mattered to you was accruing knowledge about the world.
  17. >So what had changed your mind?
  18. >Well, for one thing, they’d saved your life.
  19. >That tends to leave a feeling of needing to reciprocate the action in some way.
  20. >But that felt somehow incomplete, unsatisfying.
  21. >Why had you come to value these ideals?
  22. >You lay on your bed for a while, staring at the ceiling, watching the dawn come through the curtains.
  23. >You value the Elements of Harmony because you valued your friends.
  24. >It’s symbiotic in some way.
  25. >The values that lead you to have friends in turn lead you to have those values.
  26. >Ponies who would tell you the truth and nothing more, who would stand at your side no matter the danger, who showed mercy and benevolence to all, who shared what they had with everyone they could, who smiled and made everything seem brighter.
  27. >These were things to be valued absolutely.
  28. >Now, it is your job to study the power of those values, to learn what they truly meant.
  29. >A new, red day is dawning, but, for now, you must rest.
  30.  
  31. >This wasn’t how it was supposed to be.
  32. >The hollowness that filled your chest, the futility of each individual step - these were not sensations that were exactly familiar.
  33. >Despair was not something that came to you naturally.
  34. >Your impulse when things went wrong was to reformulate, not to yield, but what options did you have anymore?
  35. >Turning to Twilight’s friends would be futile; she would spread her story to them soon enough.
  36. >Alternatively, they would force you to face her on her terms.
  37. >The other townsfolk of this wretched village lived in fear of you, just as Twilight had warned.
  38. >Thus, despair.
  39. >Twilight had taken your truth and simply ignored it.
  40. >And, of course, why shouldn’t she?
  41. >You weren’t playing fair.
  42. >Significantly, you had overestimated her desire to learn more about you and your universe.
  43. >A mistake was made, and it had cost you everything.
  44. >Your notes and hazard suit were still in the basement of Twilight’s tree.
  45. >Each step takes you farther and farther away from them.
  46. >You wander through the town, a phantom in the fading day, speaking to no one, having no words spoken to you.
  47. >Curious, fearful looks follow you as you make your march to nowhere.
  48. >Passing by Sugarcube Corner, your choler rises, but your mind reminds you of the uselessness of that emotion.
  49. >Everything felt simply useless - action, thought, and emotion all.
  50. >There was only the emptiness of a lone soul on a fruitless journey.
  51. >Cheerful houses pass you by, their residents packing in and locking their doors for the night, a few foals playing outside in the lengthening shadows.
  52. >Shopkeepers close their stalls and hide their wares and gold from thieves in the night.
  53. >You turn a right off the main street to find a few ponies chatting amongst themselves in an alley.
  54. >Picking up no words of their meaningless conversation, you continue through the sodden ground and take another right onto another thoroughfare.
  55. >The town begins to fade behind you, and you find yourself in the fields.
  56. >Crunching along the gravel road, you make your way to a small arched wooden bridge crossing a stream.
  57. >Your rippling, warped reflection stares back at you from the water, the furrows in your brow and lines of your face becoming the size of swells on a rough sea.
  58. >You could find an inn for the night, but you have no money and do not expect the innkeeper to take you in out of the goodness of their heart.
  59. >Though, you suppose you could work for the inn for a time to pay off your debt.
  60. >That could only turn into a series of troubles - paying off debt after debt, begging for a bit of time to work on what you really need to do.
  61. >If returning home was a distant future before, it would only grow more distant with that option.
  62. >You could try to gain an academic position.
  63. >Twilight mentioned large cities to the north and west, reachable by train.
  64. >Hitching a ride on a fast freight could get you there, and you could easily prove yourself by performing some simple experiments that would revolutionize this world’s physics.
  65. >But would that really work?
  66. >Would they so easily take in a being from another universe, just on faith that you can perform miracles for them?
  67. >The waters provide no answer to your questions, though it wasn’t like you were expecting them to.
  68. >Slumping against the railing, you continue thinking.
  69. >People had always been around you, though you took that for granted.
  70. >They were puppets on strings playing the roles of the grand act of life, and every once and awhile you could pull the right levers to make them dance to your tune.
  71. >You knew how to be professional and how to keep yourself in line even when you hated their guts.
  72. >It was all a part of the act.
  73. >But look where that had gotten you?
  74. >Now there was quite literally no one to turn to.
  75. >The stage was empty of its players, besides yourself.
  76. >You cross the bridge into the field on the other side.
  77. >A light breeze rustles through the long grass, blowing a few white dandelions into the air.
  78. >A solitary birch tree grows from a patch of bare earth on a small knoll.
  79. >Resting your aching feet, you set yourself against the rough bark.
  80. >You weren’t supposed to care about her, and you did.
  81. >Weren’t supposed to?
  82. >Care about her?
  83. >Were either of those things true?
  84. >What did it really matter?
  85. >It was how you felt.
  86. >This shoved down, crumpled up feeling of....
  87. >Loneliness.
  88. >You weren’t supposed to be lonely.
  89. >No, it wasn’t that you weren’t lonely, it was that you always were.
  90. >Loneliness was a state of normalcy, something that you drove down and forgot about to continue on.
  91. >That’s what you had told her, and she didn’t listen or understand.
  92. >Why didn’t she understand?
  93. >That was not what you expected of her.
  94. >One by one, the stars begin to flicker on overhead, a cloud of pinpricks shining through a black cape.
  95. >Though you can artificially construct a few familiar shapes, the groupings are completely alien to you.
  96. >Even the pale moon, though pockmarked and grey, hovering in place like a spectre, is a little bit different, the craters placed ever so slightly off.
  97. >You had spent your childhood gazing into the heavens and hoping to visit there some day.
  98. >The stars and planets became your closest friends.
  99. >These astral bodies were hostile and alien.
  100. >You truly were trapped here now.
  101. >A crushing sense of doom spreads across your chest like some noxious mold.
  102. >You had no equipment.
  103. >You had no one to help you.
  104. >You had nothing.
  105. >A bottomless void had opened up beneath you and sucked you down, the goal of ever figuring out this universe’s “magical” force growing more distant with each passing second.
  106. >As you keep trying to figure out some way out, a way to reach the top once again, the black hole just siphons you down farther and farther into the depths.
  107. >Errors built on top of errors, possibilities became more and more unlikely, everything was mired in destitution and fear.
  108. >A thousand pupil-less eyes stare down on you.
  109. >You lay in the grass all night, thoughts whirling and tumbling through your head all night, a Mobius strip of dread and despair, ad infinitum.
  110. >Overhead, the stars and planets performed their cruel circular ballet through the heavens, indifferent as always to your plight.
  111.  
  112. >The laboratory was empty besides yourself and Spike for the first time in the past few days.
  113. >You decided that it was time to take some of the equipment and place it in a better storage place, so that it could be organized.
  114. >“Do we really need to take this all apart?” Spike asks, poking at an oscilloscope with a stubby claw. “If Anonymous comes back then -”
  115. “He’s not coming back. Ever.”
  116. >“Twilight, I know how you are with second chances.”
  117. “Yeah, well maybe it’s time to make a change then. Some beings don’t deserve them.”
  118. >Spike looks at you quizzically.
  119. >“I know you’re upset, so I’ll let it go,” he says. “But, as your friend, I think you’re being a bit cruel.”
  120. >You sigh.
  121. “I know,” you say. “I’m sorry. I’ll think about it, but, please. Not right now.”
  122. >He picks up the oscilloscope and takes it to the closet.
  123. >You collect a stack of papers from the desk and look towards the hazard suit in the corner.
  124. >Three options were before you.
  125. >You could send the notes and suit directly to him, somehow.
  126. >Obviously, that was out of the question.
  127. >You suppose for a moment that you could just leave them outside; presumably, at some point he’d just pass by and get them.
  128. >But did he deserve to get them back at all?
  129. >Was even that kindness too much?
  130. >Thirdly, you could keep them.
  131. >It was a horde of advanced alien technology and science that you could commandeer for your own use, whatever that may be.
  132. >But you had no clue how any of it worked, and to even come close to figuring it out you would need him back.
  133. >Perhaps hoping that the solution could be found in them, you flip absentmindedly through sheet after sheet of notes.
  134. >It’s all virtually indecipherable.
  135. >The mathematics makes sense, but there was no meaning to it, the commentary was sparse when present at all, with jumbled phrases and words of no meaning like “skyrmion,” which sounded more like some sort of pegasi war formation than a natural occurrence.
  136. >Then, something caught your eye.
  137. >A sentence in the margin.
  138. >An actual sentence.
  139. >In fact, it was a grouping of sentences.
  140. >Written in Anonymous’s tiny, narrow, nearly-illegible scrawl were a few phrases, reading:
  141. >“Premise: We value honesty in friendship.”
  142. >“Contradiction: But sometimes we need to lie to maintain friendships.”
  143. >“Conclusion: We must value friendship more than honesty.”
  144. >“Counter: We value a different type of honesty in friendship, something deeper than just “telling the truth.”
  145. >“Revision:”
  146. >That line was left blank.
  147. >But, there were lines following:
  148. >“Premise 1: To know the good in one’s life, one must have a reflection of it.”
  149. >“Premise 2: One can deceive themselves into thinking there life is better than it is.”
  150. >“Conclusion: One must have friends in order to determine whether one’s life is good.”
  151. >“Perhaps this is the ‘deeper honesty in friendship?’”
  152. >The next line was scratched out with ink, and you could barely make out:
  153. >“Counter: There are objective measures by which -”
  154. >Written above the line was “Self-deception. Can’t know without ‘peer review.’”
  155. >“Come back to this later.”
  156. >That was all that was written.
  157. >You begin to frantically search through the pages.
  158. >He was trying.
  159. >Finally, you find what you seek.
  160. >Again, scribbled in a margin are the words:
  161. >“Premise: We value friendship only for tangible benefits.”
  162. >“Conclusion: Thus, friendships are fungible.”
  163. >“Counter: Friendships are generally not treated as fungible. We develop deeper relationships that cannot be replaced because of shared history, shared values, etc.”
  164. >“Revision:”
  165. >The line was again blank.
  166. >“Counter: person’s virtues (values, personality, etc.) could change.”
  167. >“Question of identity - are you ‘the same person’ if your values change? Justification to end a friendship, but does not restore fungibility. Plus it doesn’t bring it back to friendship only for utility. Not relevant.”
  168. >The last line read:
  169. >“To be continued.”
  170. >Except “continued” was slashed out, and replaced with “concluded.”
  171. >The arrogant little fool.
  172. >He was trying to defend his worldview; he just wasn’t going to report it until it was finished.
  173. >Why should the great, genius Anonymous reveal that he couldn’t defeat the value of friendship in theory, when it was so clear that he already had in practice?
  174. >But how much thought had he actually done?
  175. >Was there more, just not written down?
  176. >You had to find out.
  177. >You had to know.
  178. >He couldn’t possibly make it that far from here.
  179. >In fact, you were willing to bet he would come back of his own volition to take back his notes and hazard suit.
  180. >So, you’d wait for him.
  181. >Wait for him, and wait for his answers.
  182. >You take a look at the clock, reading it at about half-past six.
  183. >That left you just enough time to get over for dinner with your friends.
  184. >Putting down the stack of notes, with a mark for where to return to later, you head back upstairs and out the door into the cool of the evening.
  185. >With the daily traffic gone, you quickly trot down the main thoroughfare to the cafe.
  186. >The six of you had decided on an old Cavallerian place for tonight, filled with loud patrons and red and white checked tablecloths.
  187. >Aromas of oregano, basil, and tomatoes greet you as you sit yourself down at a table with your friends.
  188. >You share your hellos, a waiter takes your orders, and then Rainbow Dash begins the conversation.
  189. >“Do any of you guys know when the Running of the Leaves will be this year?” she asks.
  190. >“No clue,” Applejack says. “Twi? You’re usually on top of that sort of thing.”
  191. “I would be. I think they posted the announcement a few days ago, but I’ve been caught up in other things. Sorry.”
  192. >Rarity takes a sip of her water.
  193. >“So, darling, how are things going with Anonymous?” she asks. “I know Applejack and I just saw him today, but I’m just dying to hear the latest developments. Is his little science experiment going well?”
  194. >You and Pinkie exchange looks, and you find yourself staring at the tablecloth for a moment.
  195. >“Is everything alright? Did I say something wrong?” Rarity inquires, frowning a bit.
  196. “No, it’s fine,” you say. “It... it would have come out eventually. I had to ask Anonymous to leave today.”
  197. >“What happened?” Rainbow Dash asks.
  198. “Pinkie Pie decided to surprise him with a welcome party. I guess I should have warned him that might happen, but he was really upset by it and his reaction to it was really mean to her, especially because she was just trying to be nice. Then, it turned out he was just sort of ignoring my attempts to teach him to be nicer, because he thought that, no matter what he did, I was still more interested in trying to figure him out. So I decided not to play along anymore, and told him to leave.”
  199. >The table is silent for a moment.
  200. >“That’s awful,” Fluttershy says. “I’m sorry that happened.”
  201. “It’s okay. It’s not your fault.”
  202. >“Tell me where to find him,” Dash says, fuming, “I want to knock some sense into this guy.”
  203. >“No! Don’t do that,” Pinkie interjects. “Anonymous might be a big meanie, but -”
  204. >“But what? You saw how he was when we first met him. I say we teach him a real lesson, because it doesn’t seem like words are cutting it.”
  205. >“Rainbow, no,” Applejack says. “If Twilight sent him away, that’s the end of it. He can figure out his own way in the world without us.”
  206. >“I don’t know,” says Fluttershy. “If I was told to leave and then left alone out in the cold, I might end up meaner than I already am. To get someone to be kind, you have to show them kindness.”
  207. >“I concur,” Rarity says. “I think you ought to give him a second chance.”
  208. “I don’t know...” you say. “Pinkie, what do you think?”
  209. >You turn and face the pink pony.
  210. >“Well, I was going to say, before Dash interrupted me -”
  211. >She shoots an acidic, but clearly facetious, look towards the cyan mare.
  212. >“- that even though Anonymous was mean to me, I don’t think punishing him for it would help. Two wrongs don’t make a right, and he and I were both sort of in the wrong. He was wrong to get so angry with me, but what I was doing wasn’t exactly right either. I just wanted him to have fun, but I never asked him what he thought was fun. That’s something I need to work on. You guys have all been annoyed by some gag I’ve pulled on you at one point or another."
  213. >Slight, shared nods go around the table.
  214. "Sure, you didn’t explode like Anonymous did, but, I don’t know. How’re you supposed to make someone laugh if you don’t know what they think is funny?”
  215. >Nobody says anything for a while.
  216. >“And what about you, Twilight?” Pinkie asks. “Anonymous was fooling you. That’s way worse than just getting overly mad at someone. What do you think you should do?”
  217. >You think for a moment.
  218. “I don’t know,” you say. “I really don’t know yet. It was just... he actually seemed to be trying to be a little better. Just a little. And then all this happened.”
  219. >“So maybe he does want to learn how to be friendly,” Fluttershy says. “You should at least ask him.”
  220. “Well, of course he’d answer yes to that. He needs the equipment and notes in the basement of my library, and I’m willing to bet he’d do almost anything to get them back.”
  221. >Fluttershy frowns.
  222. “I’m sorry. I’m ruining the evening with my problems,” you say. “Let’s... let’s just talk about something else.”
  223. >Fortunately, the food arrived soon after, and your conversation skills were somewhat stifled by a large plate of fettucini alfredo.
  224.  
  225. >When the dawn finally came and the moon had slipped below the horizon, a figure suddenly appeared before you in giant explosion of crimson sparks and confetti that nearly lit the grass and tree on fire, until a troupe of white mice dressed as firefighters popped out of nowhere and began extinguishing the smoldering flames, except then they themselves also ignited.
  226. >The figure snapped his fingers, and all of the smoke and embers were swept up by a small dustpan and broom.
  227. >For a moment, you couldn’t tell if you were hallucinating, but, given your previous experience with writing off displeasing observations as hallucinations, you decided to trust your senses this time.
  228. >The creature’s form was long and serpentine starting with the head of a misshapen buckskin black-maned stallion, transitioning abruptly to a thick coat of brown fur, and ending in a red-scaled reptilian tail.
  229. >A pair of mismatched horns, one that of a stag and the other of a ram, sprouted from his forehead, and a duo of asymmetrical wings, one leathery and veined and the other feathered, sprung from his neck.
  230. >Completing the chimera’s form was a lion’s paw on the right arm, an eagle talon on the left, a goat hoof for the left leg, and a three-clawed lizard foot for the right.
  231. >He pulls an old bullhorn - again, from nowhere - and shouts directly into your face, spittle flying everywhere, “Good morning, Anonymous! It’s time for another wonderful day in Ponyville, Equestria. I hope you’ve had a wonderful sleep.”
  232. >The bullhorn moves away for a moment, and the creature whispers into your ear, “Or maybe not.”
  233. >Returning the bullhorn to his lips, he shouts, “But wakey-wakey eggs and bakey!”
  234. >The sonic force of the final cry sends you rolling pell-mell down the hill, landing at the foot with a mouthful of grass.
  235. >You carefully stand up and brush yourself off, before taking a deep breath to stop your trembling hands and turning around to face him.
  236. “Who,” you ask, trying to maintain a semblance of calm, “or what - I suppose - are you?”
  237. >He smiles a toothy grin, a long fang protruding from his upper lip.
  238. >“Twilight Sparkle didn’t bother to mention what I look like, did she? How cruel of her. She always claims that she is so kind to her friends, and yet she always seems to forget about me. A shame, considering I have enough power in my left nostril to turn her into a pile of confetti. For your information, you are Anonymous the Human, and I am Discord, Lord of Chaos, Prince of Anarchy, King of Madness -”
  239. “That’s enough,” you say.
  240. >“Are you sure? There are at least twenty other titles I can think of that have been given to me, and I’m sure you’re just dying to hear them.”
  241. “I assure you, I’m not. What I am interested in hearing is why you’re here and what you want.”
  242. >Discord looks around the empty field.
  243. >“What I want?”
  244. “Yes, that’s what I said. Why you’re here and what you want.”
  245. >“Why you’re here and what you want?”
  246. “I’m not playing this game. If you’re going to play word games, then there’s no point in this.”
  247. >“Very well, Mr. Straight Man Anon. Can I call you Anon?”
  248. “No.”
  249. >“Anon it is then. So much easier to pronounce, anyways. Mr. Anon, I’m here because a man down on his luck like you really could use a friend. We’re both a bit... well, we’re both a bit of odd sorts for this town, in both our appearance and our demeanor. I think that -”
  250. “Why are you here?”
  251. >“Don’t interrupt me,” Discord says, putting a clawed, golden-furred finger to your lips, which you bat aside.
  252. >The Lord of Chaos pouts, but then returns to his semi-cheerful, easy smile.
  253. >“Fine, I’m not here to just be friends. Why I’m here will be made clear in good time,” he says. “But, I’ll tell you what I want. What I want is.... Well, what could you ever give me?”
  254. >He snaps the fingers of his talon.
  255. >The river and grasses melt away, running like oils in turpentine, replaced with an interior room of a gilded palace.
  256. >A crystal chandelier hangs above a red table on which sits a banquet of fresh fruit, a stuffed suckling hog, a towering cake, a dozen roast chickens, great tureens of soups and stews, and dozens of other dishes.
  257. >At the head of the table, Discord takes his seat in a grand velvet winged armchair, an overwrought golden crown placed upon his head and a cloak of ermine around his shoulders.
  258. >From somewhere far away, a string quartet croons out the first movement of some dissonant piece, more of a screeching, bouncing romp than an actual melody, though you can still sense an underlying structure of some kind.
  259. “Impressive,” you say, from the opposite end. “So, if you have nothing you want from me, why did you come?”
  260. >The feast disappears in an instant, replaced with pure blankness.
  261. >An endless field of white, except for the Lord of Chaos and yourself.
  262. >He presses his long face very close to yours and says one word.
  263. >“Nothing.”
  264. >You blink.
  265. “Nothing?”
  266. >“I don’t want anything from you. You’re right. What could you possibly give me that I couldn’t simply take for myself?”
  267. “If I answered that question, it would answer both of ours. If I thought of something, and you couldn’t take it, then that’s what you would want.”
  268. >“Precisely,” Discord says with a smile. “But why not simply tell me?”
  269. “Because I don’t particularly like to make deals with people I don’t trust to hold up the end of the bargain. Chaos generally doesn’t keep to rules that only exist on paper.”
  270. >“I assure you, I am reformed!” Discord says, a shower of saintly light appearing over him, along with a halo and robes. “Gone to the side of goodness, righteousness, and friendship. My word is my bond.”
  271. “I don’t believe you.”
  272. >“Good. Very good,” Discord says, throwing the angelic garb away, the metal ring landing with a clatter before disappearing into nothing. “Trust is a difficult thing to earn, isn’t it? And so difficult to get back once you’ve lost it. I can’t give you the assurance to trust me. But I can give you everything else you want and need.”
  273. >He snaps the fingers of his talon and, with a bright flash of white, the two of you reappear in a small room, the the simplicity of its linoleum floor and flat paint job only marred by a black desk with a computer monitor sitting atop it.
  274. >“I’ve usually known natural philosophers to need quite a bit more for their work. Flasks and flagons, kegs of ale, mysterious minerals from far off mines worked by the backs of slaves.... But you only need this enigmatic little box of secrets?” Discord says, leaning on the table and patting the computer.
  275. >You smoothly walk over and press in the power button, watching as the boot sequence flashes familiarly on the screen.
  276. >“I can give you so much more than this,” the Lord of Chaos whispers in your ear.
  277. >It’s too convenient.
  278. “And what price would that come with?” you ask, turning to him. “What price does this meager display come with?”
  279. >“Just a token of friendship. A means to earn your trust.”
  280. “Nothing is ‘just a token of friendship,’ particularly among scheming demigods. What game are you really playing with me?”
  281. >“That’s for me to know and you to find out. Unless you’ve already figured it out, in which case, why don’t you just -”
  282. “I have told you why I’m not answering that question.”
  283. >“Urgh! Why must you be so difficult,” he growls.
  284. >Discord snakes his body around you, a lion’s claw resting on your chin.
  285. >“We could do so much more together. It’s like I said. Every comic act needs a straight man. You provide the schemes, I provide the magical power.”
  286. >His balled talon flares with scarlet stars.
  287. >“We could do such great mischief together, create such perfect anarchy. It would be... delicious.”
  288. >You force him off of you.
  289. “I don’t particularly have any interest in creating anarchy. If you want a comic partner, then find someone else. I’m afraid I will have to decline your offer.”
  290. >The office suddenly disappears with a snap, whether of fingers or the very space it filled suddenly collapsing in on itself (or possibly both) you cannot tell.
  291. >“And what will you do instead?” Discord asks as the two of you float in the void. “Go crying home to that one-horned purple pony eater who once tried to call you friend? Or did you forget she said, and I quote...”
  292. >His head suddenly morphs into a near-perfect facsimile of Twilight’s, though it maintains his patchwork of fur.
  293. >“You’re just a selfish, manipulating, cruel little human,” Twilight’s voice emits from his maw, reverberating and echoing off unseen walls. “I have no place for anyone like that in my life, and so, until you can learn how to be kind, you’ll have no place here.”
  294. “There are other ways that I can achieve what I want that don’t involve you.”
  295. >“Ah, but those ways are so fraught with uncertainty. Will the Mages’ Guild of Canterlot or the Royal College of Magic or the Royal Society of Natural Philosophy really take a being from another universe in, based on his wild claims that he can tell them why they can’t observe the aether and why metals glow when heated? Especially when that being has just snubbed their royal patron’s favorite student?”
  296. “More difficult, but still achievable.”
  297. >Discord frowns.
  298. >“Fine. Be that way. Turn down a perfectly good opportunity. But know this, Anonymous the Human. Some day, you will find that things are just a little too difficult for you to wiggle out with brains alone, and, when that day comes, all you have to do is call.”
  299. >With that, the Lord of Chaos snaps his fingers, and you crumple onto the dirt at the base of a large oak tree, lit with the flickering lights of candles.
  300. >Of course this is where the Lord of Chaos would put you.
  301. >Collapsing to your knees in a mix of grim melancholy and sleep deprivation, you turn over and plant your back against the hard oak.
  302. >The option was obviously in front of you.
  303. >Apologize.
  304. >Talk to her.
  305. >See what she says.
  306. >There had to be some way to earn her trust again.
  307. >If you didn’t, then you would remain paralyzed and without purpose.
  308. >But would she really be so willing to forgive?
  309. >You would never forgive someone so easily for betraying you.
  310. >That’s why you had quickly eliminated this option in the first place.
  311. >But now, things seemed so uncertain.
  312. >But the only way to acquire certainty was to experiment.
  313. >You would find her and see what she had to say.
  314. >For the first time in a long while, you close your eyes and drift into sleep.
  315.  
  316. >You couldn’t focus on your book that night.
  317. >Sure, you could take a few sentences at a time, but somehow your own thoughts kept interjecting into the lines.
  318. >In a different time, you would have let Anonymous go without a second thought.
  319. >He deceived you and was cruel to your friends, and that would be the end of it.
  320. >But you had learned much in the past months.
  321. >You had learned that friendship sometimes requires giving people second chances.
  322. >Did Anonymous deserve a second chance?
  323. >Some of your friends seemed to think as much.
  324. >Pinkie and Fluttershy had both made compelling cases.
  325. >You would never know to what degree Anonymous was committed to becoming a better person unless you asked him.
  326. >What if he lied?
  327. >What benefit would he gain from lying?
  328. >If he tried to trick you again, then he would never be allowed back.
  329. >Or did he really think you were that weak?
  330. >It was just too uncertain.
  331. >Somehow, it still felt like every action you did was something he wanted you to do, any move you could make would play directly into his hands.
  332. >If you took him back in, then it would seem like your desire to learn more about him really did trump his deviousness.
  333. >If you didn’t, then it would show that you didn’t think he could be changed.
  334. >He had said as much when you threw him out.
  335. >But the first option didn’t matter as much anymore.
  336. >You weren’t taking him back because you had something to gain from him.
  337. >You wanted him back because that was how friends treated one another.
  338. >If he took advantage of that again, then he didn’t deserve your friendship, for certain.
  339. >You try to empty your mind to return to your reading.
  340. >Had he really been trying to learn what it meant to have friends?
  341. >Why would he get into arguments with your friends if he didn’t want to?
  342. >Except he was working to counter those arguments.
  343. >He hadn’t been lying about that, at least.
  344. >But, more than that what had he said?
  345. >After you had solved those problems he had given you and figured out that the speed of light was constant in all reference frames, and that from this time would stop as you approached the speed of light.
  346. >He’d said you “exceeded his expectations.”
  347. >He’d complimented you.
  348. >When he was leaving, he said you reminded him of himself, because you had his particular gift of intellect.
  349. >So, maybe, in his own way, he was trying.
  350. >But was that just part of the act too?
  351. >Everything seems to just bring in more uncertainty.
  352. >The only way to know was to talk to him again.
  353. >Who Anonymous was and what his intentions truly were may be dubious, but you knew what was.
  354. >Mistakes need to be forgiven.
  355. >Spike was right.
  356. >Your friends were right.
  357. >You need to offer him a second chance.
  358.  
  359. >In the formless of void of thought, structure begins to emerge.
  360. >Steel walls, lined with black cracks, endlessly stretch along a narrow hallway filled with haze.
  361. >Gradually, the haze begins to collect itself into an equine figure.
  362. >Her coat was midnight blue, her mane a shimmering field of white stars on an indigo field.
  363. >An inky black tiara sat on her head, and she wore a chest piece emblazoned with a white crescent moon on onyx.
  364. >Most curiously, she had both a pair of pegasus wings and a unicorn horn.
  365. For the second time today, you find yourself asking, “Who are you?”
  366. >“I am the Lady of the Night, Princess Luna,” she says. “Your dream summoned me here. I’ve been meaning to meet you for some time now.”
  367. “And how did you even know I was here?” you ask.
  368. >“Your friend Twilight -”
  369. “She isn’t my friend. Certainly not anymore,” you interrupt.
  370. >Luna frowns.
  371. >“Very well. Twilight Sparkle sent a letter to my sister regarding your arrival in Equestria. Obviously, I can’t visit you if you are awake, and you clearly do not take sleep quite often. It is fortunate that you did so tonight.”
  372. “Why?”
  373. >“Because I sense great torment in you.”
  374. “Get out of my head.”
  375. >“And hostility,” she says with a chuckle.
  376. >“If you really wish me to leave so badly, then I will, but I only wish to help you.”
  377. “You can’t help me,” you say. “You don’t know anything about me. No one can help me.”
  378. >“I too was once filled with darkness, Anonymous, but the night is darkest before the dawn. So, tell me. What causes your pain?”
  379. >You remain silent for a moment.
  380. “Twilight asked me why I am who I am, and, when I gave her my answer, she didn’t believe me.”
  381. >“And why do you think that is?”
  382. “She believed I was trying to manipulate her.”
  383. >“Were you?”
  384. “Is manipulating someone by telling them the truth still manipulation?”
  385. >“I think in some sense, yes, in some sense, no. You told the truth because you believed it would get you what you wanted. The fact that it was the truth is not as much relevant as much as the outcome was to try to achieve your goals. Do you agree?”
  386. “No. If I give you the correct information to make a decision, then I am not deceiving you. The problem is achieving the goal through deceit, not just trying to achieve the goal.”
  387. >“But if lying would have achieved the goal, you would have done it, yes?”
  388. “Maybe, maybe not. It’s hard to argue a counterfactual. If I thought the lie would have been effective, I would have. Good lies are hard to come up with. The truth seemed more effective at the time.”
  389. >“Mm.”
  390. “Twilight already didn’t trust me. She believed I would say anything just to get her to leave me alone about my interpersonal issues. So, as true as my story may have been, and as much as she may have been in the same position at some time, she could not believe it.”
  391. >“Twilight may also have not believed one of your intelligence could not have come to the same conclusion as she had: that friendship is valuable.”
  392. “And why has she come to that conclusion?”
  393. >“Maybe you should ask her.”
  394. “I don’t particularly believe she wishes to see me again.”
  395. >“Perhaps so, perhaps not. Whatever she may have said to you, Twilight Sparkle is, at heart, a kind soul. She will give you a second chance, if she feels you deserve it.”
  396. “How do you know that?”
  397. >“Because she gave me one.”
  398. >The iron bulwarks seem to become fuzzy and faded.
  399. >“You will wake soon,” Princess Luna says. “I must leave you.”
  400. “Very well. I advise you to stay out of my mind in the future. My thoughts are the one thing I consider sacred.”
  401. >“Then hopefully we can meet in the waking world, so I will not be so intrusive. Farewell, Anonymous.”
  402. >She flies away into the encroaching black void, which soon replaces itself with the shining lines of early morning sunlight.
  403.  
  404. >Twilight finds you on the steps of her library in the early morning mist.
  405. >You turn your head around to face her, a subtle grimace upon your face and your eyes hard.
  406. “You don’t need to speak with me if you do not wish to. I will leave.”
  407. >You begin to get up.
  408. >“No. Stop. I... I want to talk to you,” Twilight says.
  409. “Why?” you say, your eyes narrowing.
  410. >She hands you a page of notes.
  411. >You look them over for a brief moment, until you find something of interest.
  412. >Oh, yes.
  413. >You did have proof.
  414. >“Why didn’t you tell me?” Twilight asks.
  415. “It... It wasn’t finished. You didn’t give me enough time to work out the problem,” you say.
  416. >“You didn’t have any other thoughts, then.”
  417. “I did. I just didn’t write them down -”
  418. >“I’m supposed to believe that?”
  419. “You don’t have to, but let me finish. I didn’t write them down because they were not giving strength to your friends’ arguments. There is no purpose in tearing down a strawman. Do you really think I just had nothing?”
  420. >“I don’t know what to believe about you.”
  421. >You think for a moment.
  422. “Do you have a truth-detecting spell?”
  423. >“That’s -”
  424. “Do you want the truth or not?”
  425. >“I don’t cast spells on people to make them do what I want. There could be complications.”
  426. “A risk I’m willing to take.”
  427. >“You don’t understand. Spells to control another’s mind are incredibly dangerous. If something were to go wrong, then....”
  428. “Then what?”
  429. >“I don’t even want to think about it.”
  430. “What? My brains leaking from my ears? My intellect completely shattered? Again, risks I’m willing to take. I... I have to prove you can trust me.”
  431. >Twilight’s horn charges.
  432. >An orb of white light appears in front of her, ringed in indigo and purple.
  433. >“This my sting a bit,” she says, as the ball of energy floats towards the center of your chest.
  434. >Sparks of plasma tingle at the surface of your skin.
  435. >Then, all at once, white heat fills your heart, rushing up your spine to your brain.
  436. >You try to root around in your head for something that just isn’t there.
  437. >Where there was once something, there is suddenly nothing, and you can’t think of what that something was.
  438. “I think it worked,” you say.
  439. >“Let’s start simple then. Who are you?” Twilight asks.
  440. “My name is Anonymous Unknown,” you say effortlessly. “I am a Professor of Physics and Primary Investigator at the Institute of -”
  441. >“Good. Onward. Did you have other things that you could have written down about my friends’ arguments?” Twilight asks.
  442. >You root around in your mind for a while, searching again for things that aren’t there.
  443. >There’s only one thing that actually is there, and even, though you don’t like it, it’s the only answer you can give.
  444. “I did,” you say.
  445. >The unicorn seems to tremble slightly at the knees.
  446. >“I’m going to decrease the strength of the spell,” Twilight says, a bit shakily at first. “I want you to be truthful for the next part, but I can’t have you unable to use your mental faculties or create memories.”
  447. >The blocks in your mind seem to soften, becoming pliant and malleable.
  448. “I’m surprised you haven’t used that before,” you say. “That seems like a useful tool to use on someone like me.”
  449. >“Usually I’m able to put more trust in people. Now, I want you to tell me: why didn’t you think friendship was valuable?”
  450. “And who is to say that I think it’s valuable now?”
  451. >“Answer the question, or I’ll strengthen the spell again.”
  452. >You sigh.
  453. “I’ve told you why,” you say. “But you wouldn’t listen.”
  454. >With that, the walls disappear entirely, your head feeling somewhat looser to those ideas.
  455. >You remember what they are now - lies - but, right now, you had no use for them.
  456. “In my life, I never needed anyone. I had my intellect to help me. Other people became just tools to me. I could keep a facade with them, make them do as I wish, but be friends with them? No, that could never be. I thought that some of them might be doing the same. I was a valuable asset to anyone who might wish to use me, and so there were plenty who came looking for me. People needed me. I did not need them. Until, finally, there was someone who needed me for a purpose I wasn’t able to provide. You.”
  457. >Twilight stares directly into your eyes.
  458. >“I made a terrible mistake.”
  459. “We both made choices. I made the wrong choice. Not you. Do not blame yourself for my sins.”
  460. >You scrape a foot across the dirt.
  461. “The first wrong choice was so many years ago that I can’t even remember his name, let alone picture his face. All I know is that one day this boy came to me with a ball, and asked me to play. And I refused, and I told him he was bothering me. That was what it began with. All these people just got in the way and bothered me. Why would anyone want to be with some who so clearly had nothing in common with them?”
  462. >“I was the same,” Twilight murmurs.
  463. “Now, do you understand, Twilight Sparkle? We come from the same place.”
  464. >“Maybe we both come from the same place, but that doesn’t explain why you became this way, and why I didn’t.”
  465. “Then let us examine where our states diverged. What happened when you left Canterlot for Ponyville?”
  466. >“I met my - well, they weren’t my friends at the time, but they are now.”
  467. “And then?”
  468. >“We fought off Nightmare Moon and learned about our connection to the Elements of Harmony.”
  469. “That’s a pretty big divergence point, considering I have had no such experience.”
  470. >Twilight nods.
  471. “While the path of attaining new knowledge about the universe could be described as an epic journey, fraught with perils and dangers, those dangers usually remain metaphorical. And, presumably, during your non-metaphorical journey, you had an epiphany, a point where you learned that what you previously thought was wrong. So, I am now on my own non-metaphorical journey, and I’m fairly certain this is my own epiphanic moment.”
  472. >You pause.
  473. “I was wondering why it hurt so much when you sent me away. Because it did hurt. I didn’t know why it did though, so I did what I usually did. I thought about it. I came to the conclusion that for the first time in my life, I finally had someone I could view as an equal, and, given that opportunity, I chose to throw it away. The only conclusion I can draw from that is that… I am a fool. I can only hope for your forgiveness for my behavior and hope that I might be able to change myself.”
  474. >“I’ve wanted to help you, Anonymous,” Twilight says, after a moment. “I’ve always just wanted to help you. It’s a terrible thing to be alone. I believe you can change. Intellect is not a prerequisite for friendship, and I think it will come very easy to you.”
  475. >She extends a hoof to you.
  476. >“I was going out to the bookshop to see if there might be anything good to add to the collection. Would you like to come?”
  477. >You take the appendage in your hand.
  478. “I would,” you say.
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