58.1 (Hubris Plus)
Chrysalis staggered into the reception area as she attempted to continue her 'evaluation' of the wedding preparations. She honestly couldn't care less about any of it, it would all be wasted effort the moment she caged Celestia and coerced her darling groom into dropping the shield.
But any deviation from her role could cause her to be discovered at an inopportune moment and bring the whole plan crashing down around her. So she played the part of the bride, drawing from countless lifetimes of playing the same subterfuge on a smaller scale. She couldn't claim more than a few of those experiences as her own, but the Hive remembered and the Swarm whispered its support.
Well, it had been a whisper earlier that day. Now it was somewhere between enthusiastic shouting and companionable rambling. She should probably have been more concerned about that than she was, but at the moment she felt absolutely invincible.
Even if she couldn't quite put one hoof in front of the other properly.
She squinted as she surveyed the room. There was the pink one, setting up some kind of idiotic foal's game. She decided that she'd deal with that in a moment, instead continuing her scan for the alicorn that was supposed to be working the bar.
She'd almost called off the entire plan when a fourth Princess had suddenly appeared in the aftermath of Discord's defeat, but her spies had tracked down everything on the mare easily enough. Years of drunk and disorderly conduct, no political or combat ability to speak of, and for the longest time ponies had thought her cutie mark was more for downing drinks than mixing them.
Discord had obviously been a fluke, but that was no reason not to keep an eye out.
"'Ere yar," she slurred as she caught sight of her target and wobbled up to the counter. There was a black furred pony with a pale blue mane slumped on a stool nearby surrounded by glasses, and she let out a little involuntary giggle at the sight. It almost looked like a changeling, but that was silly. Changelings didn't look like changelings, that was the whole point.
She frowned as she redirected her attention ahead and caught sight of herself in the mirror behind the bar. Her coat looked grimy, her mane was an absolute mess, and the look of wide eyed terror written across her features was completely out of character. Not to mention the way her reflection was backing away slowly while she stood still. Stupid mirror.
"You!" She barked, pointing to the alicorn bartender, "gimme one o' those things you make." She grinned as a glass was slid in her direction and spent a moment trying to capture it in a wavering magical field before shrugging and gripping the rim in her teeth, titling her head back to down the contents.
Huh, she thought to herself, sideways isn't the way rooms usually are, right? And the floor looks a lot closer than it did a moment ago...
"...So I told Celestia that I wanted to expand the palace wine cellar into the old crystal mines and 'found' Cadance down there while poking around," Berry told Twilight as the pair watched the changeling queen get loaded onto a stretcher. She and the hundreds of swarm members who had conked out would be carted out past the shield, where a ring of several thousand similarly slumped insectoids still surrounded the city.
It would be a logistical nightmare deporting the lot of them, but the invasion was definitely off.
"What I want to know," Twilight responded. "Is how you got the effects to propagate over the whole swarm. Changeling biology is loaded with dozens of failsafes to prevent exactly that from happening."
"Oh, it wasn't that hard," Berry answered and smiled fondly as she recalled her daughter's adoring face at her coronation, and how the expression had lingered for days after. The pride and devotion that seemed to radiate off the filly in waves as she told anyone who would listen that her mother was a Princess.
"I just had to mix them with love."
When Berry Punch had planned out her challenge Loop she'd been pretty straight forward about it. In her experience, which in this area was exceptional even by Looper standards, enough alcohol would put anything down. Oh, she'd had to get creative to get through the ridiculous tolerance of an alicorn and bypass Discord's bizarre pseudo-biology, but once she knew how to get them drunk it had just become a question of quantity.
Sombra was no different. She'd done a few trial runs against Nightmare Moon's insubstantial form and concocted an alcohol aerosol that could affect the ephemeral. The difference was that while the drunk alicorn would snap back into solidity as her concentration folded, Sombra's shade was held together by will and malice. Too inebriated to maintain the spell that held him together, he would disperse and fade into nothing.
It was a better end than the monster deserved.
It was a plan she discarded the instant she laid eyes upon the crystal ponies as she stepped into the empire alongside Cadance and Shining Armor.
Her talent was for more than just brewing. She could size up a room, see who needed a drink, how much, what kind.
The Crystal Empire? It needed one hell of a drink.
It had taken every ounce of the credibility and influence that that Berry had acquired by besting three threats to Equestria and becoming a Princess to get a couple of the cars on the supply trains dedicated to bringing up her stills and ingredients. Between those, the Empire's own disused distillery, every speed brewing trick she knew, and the stores beneath the Crystal Palace (and she had to admit, for a megalomaniacal sociopath Sombra had damn fine taste) she was just able to pull it off.
She observed the softly buzzing crowd for a moment, heart warming at the sight of a few hesitant smiles and the sound of gentle laughter as they sampled her elixir, before turning her attention back to her own glass. Light sparkled off of it, reflecting off the glimmering motes suspended within.
Privately, she considered it one of her finest creations. Oh, she'd brewed stronger, and sweeter, and just about every other superior adjective she could think of, but she'd been attempting a singular purpose in making it and had achieved it magnificently.
It was the sort of drink that pushed bad memories out of focus and made the good ones shine. The sort that would bring friends together in laughter and make them brave enough to stand up to anything. The sort that inspired ponies to buy a round, because drinking alone was out of the question.
A hush fell over the crowd as Cadance's shield finally flickered out, the other Princess pushed beyond the limits of her power by the encroaching darkness. "Crystal Ponies," a voice rumbled over the city. "My Crystal Ponies."
"NOT ANYMORE, SOMBRA!" She called out, infusing the tone she reserved for rowdy patrons into the Royal Canterlot Voice, "AND NEVER AGAIN!"
A murmur swept across the gathered ponies, and they turned to face the dark cloud speeding down the street, but the moment of fear had passed.
Possibly most importantly, it was the sort of drink that made you call your boss at three AM and tell him exactly what you thought of him.
"You ain't the boss o' us!"
"We got two Princesses now, an' you ain't worth the dirt on their horse shoes!"
"Yeah, I'm talkin' to you, waddya gonna do 'bout it?"
A roar broke out and the cloud accelerated as it became enraged at the rebellious attitude of it's former subjects. Blinded by fury, it didn't see that the crowd seemed to glow a fraction brighter with every shout.
Alone, the collective goodwill and camaraderie of the Empire would have been at most an irritant to the ancient dictator. Sombra was no windego, to be banished by joy and songs.
Which was why Berry had added a dusting of spectrum gem to the batch. She hadn't really liked those tumblers anyways.
For an instant, just as Sombra's malevolent aura gathered above them, the square was filled with such brilliant light that ponies could barely make out those standing next to them and the reflective crystals of the city's buildings lit up like Hearth's Warming lights. When they faded, the only sign of the dark wizard was the smoking crown that rolled to stop at Berry's hooves. A stunned silence fell over the assembled ponies as she lifted it in her magic.
"Usually, hats go in the lost and found," she said as she considered it. With a shrug she tossed if over her shoulder. "But I don't think he's coming back."
The crowd burst into cheers as it landed in a trash bin, and Berry smiled wide as the party got back into swing.
She'd take happy customers over conked out villains any day.
Silver Spoon trudged through the Everfree Forest, tired but wary as she followed the map that Miss Twilight had given her of the safest path to Miss Zecora's hut. This loop she was a Zebra filly, with silver stripes instead of black ones and a weird Zebra cutie mark that only vaguely resembled her spoon.
Traveling to Equestria hadn't been easy, although the option to come to Ponyville at the speed of Sonic Rainboom had been available. Something about a visiting looper who was in a bad state. But since none of the other fillies her age were Awake, and Silver Spoon figured what she'd learned so far in medical alchemy would be foal's play to the stuff Miss Twilight and the others could do, she'd turned down the offer.
It was a decision her sore hooves were really regretting at the moment, but after almost two months of nonstop travel it was finally almost - !
Silver Spoon squealed as something closed around her back hoof and yanked her into the air. Her hooves flailed wildly for a good minute before she realized that it wasn't a monster looking for a filly-sized snack that had gotten her. No, the culprit was a simple snare, and now Silver Spoon was dangling from a tree like a piece of fruit. Still, it was just a regular piece of rope, and it only took the filly a few minutes of really awkward wiggling around before she could transmute one of her bracelets into a knife to cut the rope with.
Miss Twilight hadn't said anything about traps, but after thinking about it made sense to Silver Spoon. Anypony who lived in a big, scary, monster-filled place like the Everfree Forest would want to set up defenses against being gobbled up. It made perfect sense. Silver Spoon kept thinking that until she landed back on the forest floor - and shrieked as the rope snare hidden underneath the first snare promptly hauled her back into the air.
"My apologies for the lack of warning," Miss Zecora said as she poured a cup of tea for the bedraggled filly that had finally made it to her hut, "Though I disarmed all the traps my guest laid this morning. I thought he spend the day in meditation, but instead he practiced his trap replication."
Silver Spoon glared daggers at the door to Miss Zecora's hut. After she'd cut herself down from the second snare, the rest of the trail had been filled with pit traps, tripwires rigged to drop nasty things on her, and other things disguised as traps to trick her into falling into all the real traps.
She had only gotten a glimpse of the offender: a regular pony with a silver mane like hers. Miss Zecora had said something to him that Silver Spoon hadn't heard clearly, though it sounded like she was scolding him, and the pony had disappeared into the trees without a reply.
It turned out this was the looper everypony had been worried about back when the loop started. As Silver Spoon had thought, they hadn't needed her help with that after all. But he was supposed to be staying with Miss Zecora so he could rest, meditate, and work on healing his mind after whatever happened (Miss Zecora had given Silver Spoon a look that told her she really didn't want to know what that was).
Instead he was trapping the forest in a mile radius around Miss Zecora's house and patrolling like he expected to be attacked by all the monsters in Tartarus any second.
"The words 'paranoid' and 'ninja' are often synonymous, but this behavior is certainly anomalous," Miss Zecora added, "My words he once heeded, but of late no longer. I fear his defenses against others will only grow stronger."
Silver Spoon spent three uncomfortable days thinking about what was going on. Miss Zecora had told her that Kakashi was a new looper too, and she could definitely empathize with suddenly looping and finding out how everypony you thought you knew so well were like completely different ponies.
But after three days, Silver Spoon had had enough of the tense atmosphere surrounding Miss Zecora's hut. Time and again, she saw Miss Zecora try to offer help to the guest looper, and every time she was being ignored. Some how, some way, Silver Spoon was determined to do something about this.
"Excuse me," Silver Spoon called up into the tree where she could see Kakashi lurking today, "Can you come down here for a second? I need to talk to you."
Much to her surprise, he did so. But the cool indifferent gaze in his eye - the other was closed for some reason - made her nervous.
"...W-Well, Miss Zecora said you're a new looper," Silver Spoon managed, "I just started looping recently too. I was wondering...if you wanted to talk about it - "
With that curt reply, the ninja pony returned to his tree. Silver Spoon gaped, surprised at getting such a rude response.
And then she got mad.
So, Kakashi didn't want to do this the Pony way, did he?
Silver Spoon was sprawled out on her stomach, panting hard. Not far away was Kakashi, who had managed to sit up for a few seconds before he gave up and flopped over on his side. Both of them were also covered in a mix of mud, twigs, and tree sap, and the crater they were lying in was full of torn-up trees and broken pieces of giant spoons.
At some point during the fight he'd set her mane on fire. She'd retaliated by giving him a black eye over his Sharingan.
And ten seconds after both of them had fallen over from exhaustion, they'd started laughing.
Now they were chatting amicably, while Miss Zecora (who had made some disapproving noises but was otherwise smiling quite a bit herself) got to work growing new trees to fill in what had once been one of the densest, darkest parts of the Everfree Forest.
It wasn't very long before a frantic Naruto and Miss Twilight arrived on the scene.
" - must be awkward, being different species all the time," Kakashi was saying as they arrived.
"Yeah, but I do like learning new languages," Silver Spoon admitted before realizing they had an audience.
Kakashi tried sitting up again, failed miserably, and settled for weakly waving a hoof before Naruto latched onto him in a hug.
"...Sorry I'm late."
There was a pause.
"I was busy fighting a baby zebra, but I eventually won."
"Liar," Silver Spoon giggled.
"This is a sad day." Twilight began, the mood among all present somber. "Rainbow Dash is gone."
Sad music began playing in the background.
"But she leaves us with the gift of knowledge. The knowledge that if you try to repeatedly buck Discord in a Trek Loop as Q for a particularly irritating pun he made, he will teleport you somewhere incredibly inconvenient, if humorous. So as we remember her, we also wish her a safe journey in her new home somewhere in the distant Pegasus Galaxy. We shall remember her fondly, and then remind her why that was stupid next loop."
"THE NIGHT! WILL LAST! FOREVER!" Nightmare Moon spread her wings and began to cackle-
-only for a white furry foot to smack her in the face and send her sprawling.
"What?" The dazed alicorn blinked, shaking her head as she searched for her assailant. "Who dares to-?!"
Angel Bunny pulled out a carrot twice his size, gave it a brief nibble, then took up a fencing position.
Twilight tapped her parchment. "Well... I don't know if this is cheating or not. Technically, ninjitsu and fencing are two disparate art forms, but you didn't use any magic... I'll let you have this one, but I'm going to see what Luna thinks next time she's awake."
The rabbit shrugged, waggling a paw.
"Yeah, I know. So, what's your plan for Discord?"
Twilight would later reflect that such a large smile on such a small face was downright disturbing.
58.5 (Kris Overstreet)
Once there were two sisters, ponies with immense magical powers, who ruled over all Equestria.
One ruled the heavens, raising the sun and moon in their proper time, setting the stars in their places, and ordering the seasons each in their place.
The other did all the paperwork, ensuring that disputes among the ponies were settled fairly and justly.
But while the ponies loved the elder sister and her beautiful sky, they laughed and mocked the younger sister, saying they could not take seriously a mare with magically glowing pink hair.
The younger mare's sadness and jealousy grew into rage, until eventually her heart turned black and evil. She rebelled against her sister, refusing to do any more paperwork, and ensnarling the land in a sea of red tape.
With great reluctance the elder sister wielded the strongest force in Equestria, the Elements of Harmony, and banished her to the moon, where she remains to this day.
"And that's the story of the Mayor in the Moon," Twilight said, closing the book.
"That's kinda sad," Applebloom said. "Is the younger princess ever coming back?"
"Well, actually the spell ran out two years ago. Celestia tells me she refuses to come down until someone invents a hair dye that'll work on an alicorn mane," Twilight said.
Or until the Loop ends, she added to herself, but since none of the colts and fillies present were Awake she didn't say so out loud.
And on the moon, Ivory Scroll worked on her five hundred forty-seven thousand, three hundred and sixty-second draft of her attempt at a comprehensive constitution for the principality of Equestria. (A thousand words or less was her goal; her best effort had been 1,326, but the loopholes had been too large.)
Never, never, never again, Ivory Scroll thought. If I can't look distinguished as a princess, then I don't want any. NEVER again.
Twilight Awoke in darkness, her loop memories incredibly hazy where they existed at all.
Pines. I hope I'm not dead again.
She could feel things, though, rattling about with her as whatever she was in rocked from side to side. There was a sudden jolt, a hiss of steam, and with an oddly metallic pop her world was invaded by light. Before she could process anything she was upended and dumped unceremoniously on a sandy beach. Her violet eyes blinked away the blindness of the sudden sun, before shifting from side to side to determine what the heck was going on.
Beside her lay an orange bundle of cables, muscle, armor, and pistons. It took her a moment, but her loop memories eventually identified the thing as her arm.
And come to think of it, she couldn't feel her neck.
Actually, she could, but it was lying some distance away.
...I will not panic. All my bits are here. I just have to pull myself together. Literally. Twilight sighed as she began to mentally command her disparate body parts. Bloom will love hearing about this...
Fluttershy swam quietly through the bay, mossgreen eyes glowing as she studied the patterns of the fish around her. Her loop memories consisted of her name and half-remembered fragments... training? She couldn't tell. Still, she could feel the water around her in an almost instinctive way, as though... as though she was a part of it, as though it were another limb.
Up ahead was a large patch of kelp, the long green fronds obscuring whatever was behind it. She gripped one of her hooks and pushed the kelp away, peering at the odd green pillars beyond. Swimming closer, she brushed her metallic blue hands against the surface of one and considered its plantlike texture. Her eyes went up to the dark circle on the surface.
Time to meet the natives, I guess...
She darted up, bursting out of the water and landing on an extremely large lily pad. Gasps of shock and terror meat her ears, and she looked up to see miniature blue robots with masks backing away from her.
"Enough!" One of the robots, wearing a strange robe and wielding a trident of bone, stepped forward and smiled. "This is no monster, but a hero!" She inclined her head slightly. "It is good to see you Awake, Toa. I am Turaga Cheerkama, leader of Ga-Koro."
The taller robot knelt. "And I am Gautershy, though I remember little else before my Awakening. I would be glad to find any Anchor of knowledge in this realm."
"Knowledge I have, though an Anchor escapes me. Come, let me tell you our tale..."
Ivnua rubbed her kanohi Ruru in exasperation. Cave-dwelling robots with primitive tools fending off mechanical animal attacks? Fine, she lived next to the Everfree. A whole society amnesiac to their former home due to the manipulations of a shapeshifting shadow creature? There were loops where Nightmare Moon had been covered up, this was nothing new. Vague hopes for a hero to crop up and start saving the day? Well, that was basically how she'd handled Discord.
The hero turning out to be a chatterbox without a filter who was using her newfound earth powers to make "entertaining" statues in the town square? Well... it was working, but it was quite overwhelming.
She groaned. "Toa Onukie... Could you do me a favor?"
The black armored hunchback turned her glowing blue eyes toward her. "Sure thing! Watcha need?"
"Go find Turaga Berratau and, if she's Awake, have her brew something for our next gathering." Ivuna waved at an orange-masked matoran as she sagged against her hut. "Bloomparu will show you the way."
"Okie Dokie Lokie!" Onukie saluted with her digging claws, then swung around and swept up her guide.
"...though I must say I can understand your culture's respect for masks much better now, Zecora. Er, Zecorju."
The turaga grinned, chirping and chittering quickly. Belltoro rolled her eyes. "'So long as it is just us loopers three, Zecora is something you may call me.' Okay, seriously, how the hay are you doing that? I mean, the two languages don't have the same cadance let alone sound alike in any way."
Kority giggled, absently shooting out an ice bridge for them to cross. "I've often wondered that myself. Do you two know if anybody else is Awake? One of the locals, maybe?"
The matoran who was her sister in another life shrugged. "Well, I've gone over my loop memories of the other turaga. We've got Cheerkama, Berratau, Ivnua, Macnewa..." She grinned slyly. "Aaaaand Spikama."
"Ooo." Kority rubbed her chin. "The village of fire, no doubt! I'll have to drop by for a visit."
An ice pick jumped in front of her, halting her steps as Zecorju looked up her with a sad face and more birdsong. Belltoro nodded in agreement. "'I cannot say if he is Awake, so stay your hop for your own sake.' But still, this seems like a patterned fused loop with the six turaga and presumably six toa. And maybe a matoran from each village. If Bloom's awake, she's going to have a field day with-"
"Down!" The white giant shoved her companions behind a snowbank, deflecting the mechanical jaws of a clockwork tiger with her shield. She snapped her blade out, shifting the ice up and caging the creature before it could react.
As soon as she was sure the creature was contained, she let out a relieved sigh. "Well, that was... exciting. I take it this is one of the rahi that have been attacking your village?"
Belltoro popped out of the snowbank, looking at the tiger thing as she brushed the snow off. "Mmmyep, that's a Muaka alright. That mask on its shoulder kinda looks... infected, though. What's up with that?"
Zecorju coughed, awkwardly chittering a reply.
"...You've seen this before, and you never thought to tell the Matoran? What the heck was up with your preAwake self?"
Jake shook his head, sending water flying as he finished shifting back from dolphin. As fun as being a dolphin was, it always seemed to leave him with the feeling of water in his ears. Behind him, the others were all standing. Cassie, as always, had finished shifting first, and was stretching by the door. Neither Cassie or Marco had received visions this time around, which either meant that Ax was Awake and planning something, or someone else had replaced him.
Slowly, the group made their way into the center of the dome. Jake smiled as he remembered the times they had managed to fix up the dome and used it as an underwater base. That was actually a fairly common past time for them, largely because it allowed them greater mobility to move around the world.
Eventually, they made their way into the central area. Standing, waiting for them, was an Andalite, but it was certainly not Ax. The tail blade was much shorter, and oddly curved, and other features identified the new Andalite as female. The oddest thing, however, was the fact that the Andalite's pelt was pure silver.
"Wow, shiny." Marco whistled, and the Andalite shifted oddly. Then, a rather loud voice blared into their heads.
"Hello, my name is, uh, Silvarni-Esgarrouth-Isthill, but I much prefer Silver!"
All of the Animorphs winced. "No need to shout!" Rachel called back.
"Oops, uh, oops. Is this better?"
"Much." Jake stepped forward. "So, I'm guessing that you're a Looper?"
Silver nodded"Yes. I have to say, this form is rather odd."
Jake nodded back. "Yeah, it can take some time to get used to having four legs and four eyes."
Silver shook her head. "No, the four legs are fine, I am a pony, well, most of the time, but it is very odd to be eating with my hooves."
The group was silent for a moment as they processed this, before Rachel clapped her hands. "Well, that's nice and all, but the Yeerk are going to start bombing the place any moment, so we should probably head out. We can play catch-up nicety back at the Barn."
58.8 (Kris Overstreet)
Rainbow Dash had picked this Loop for her attempt. She and Twilight were the only Elements awake, along with Celestia and Luna. On the one hand, she'd suffer the least embarrassment if she failed; on the other hand, she felt better knowing that, if things went really bad, three experienced alicorns had her back. After all, Dash didn't want to die doing this.
(Well, actually dying while succeeding wouldn't be so bad, but failing and then dying would really suck. Either way, though, dying really rattled her cage when she next Awoke.)
In addition to the right people being Awake, this Loop Equestria was the right shape for what she had in mind. Instead of – as sometimes happened – a magical kingdom built on an Aristotlean flat-earth, dome-of-the-heavens model, this Equestria was a planet in a universe with lots and lots of solar systems. What she was about to attempt wasn't possible in a purely fairy world. It also wasn't possible in a purely scientific world, at least not without "exotic matter" or some other form of hoofwavium.
She began from a standing start on the ground- she'd made that her rule, no diving start or other minor cheats. She saved the major cheat for after she hit the Sonic Rainboom- which was still a bit difficult to do in a climb as a pegasus.
The cheat, of course, lay in the fact that she didn't have to remain a pegasus.
She Ascended into alicorn form, instantly doubling her speed. The sky went purple, then black, and as Rainbow's orbital trajectory took her behind Equus the stars appeared, framing the brilliant full moon.
Right, Rainbow Dash thought, let's do this, as she pushed off the last tenuous remnants of atmosphere and launched herself into outer space.
Pegasus magic, by itself, required air and moisture to work with. Coupled with unicorn magic, however, it could work on other things. Just like building clouds from scratch, Rainbow thought. Feel the water in the air, push it together, and pile it up. Except there's no water here, no air.
Just space. And time.
Push it together.
Pile it up.
And ride the wave.
Around Rainbow Dash tiny rainbow streaks of light shot bast her- Cherenkov radiation. They looked like stars blurring past her- an illusion, but maybe not for much longer.
She felt space and time begin to resist, just like the bow wave that had frustrated her again and again in her baseline youth. But that was non-Looping, young, pegasus Rainbow Dash. This, here and now, was the Princess of Speed.
I will not let the laws of physics beat me.
I am Rainbow 'Danger' Dash.
I have lived more lifetimes than there are apples on trees.
And I am the fastest. Thing. In. This. UNIVERSE!
Space and time said: This far, and no farther.
Dash told space and time what it could do with its limits.
The invisible wave behind her crested around her, forming a bubble.
And in a flash of light and pseudomotion, she hit Warp One.
Pinkie Pie held her Hooray-We-Have-a-New-Princess-Rainbow-Dash party that night, around a bonfire on the edge of Ponyville. All of the alicorns, including Dash, were present to celebrate the triumph of magic and Loop knowledge over puny physics.
The music had just started getting really good when the starship appeared overhead. Its engines roared, drowning out the music and laughter, as it carefully touched down just far enough away from the party as not to knock everything over.
The stereotypical ramp hatch opened, and down it stepped lithe quadrupedal figures, sleek of build, red fur covered in dull green robes. Slanted eyes and steeply arched eyebrows gazed at the ponies over short, but obviously carnivorous, muzzles.
The lead alien stopped about six feet away from where Princess Rainbow Dash sat, raised one forepaw, and split the four toes two by two, making a V symbol. The dewclaw-thumb stood out to one side.
"Greetings," the alien said. "We are the Vulpine."
58.9 (Kris Overstreet)
The world of the Terminators was... strange, as many with pervasive time travel were. According to Sleipnir, there were two fatal flaws in the universe. First and foremost, there were no good Anchor candidates; everyone died, went mad, or went mad and then died in baseline. Second, and more to the point, the inhabitants of that world had stumbled across time travel technology without employing any safeguards at all, which meant the world generated paradoxes like a dead fish generated maggots. The universe in question had worked around this fact through predestination; the harder each side of the time war tried to change history, the more certain that history became.
And now Twilight Connor, future leader of the Resistance against the machines, was about to attempt to break that rule as thoroughly as it could be broken.
Granted, this second pass she had advantages. The first time through she'd been Sarah Sparkle, and that had been an... interesting... experience. This time she was Sarah Connor's sole offspring, and rather than twenty-odd years until Judgement Day, she'd awakened twenty-four hours before SkyNet went active, and seventy-two hours before the rogue AI would launch the nuclear holocaust.
Last time Twilight's abilities had been sealed- no magic, no subspace pocket, nothing. This time she had all of it, plus a top-of-the-line laptop and thousands of Loops of experience as a manipulator of information. Computers came naturally to her as a librarian; she'd discovered not long into the Loops that hacking came just as naturally.
So with one hour to go before the predicted doom of humanity, while two Terminators battled one another outside an old decommissioned fallout bunker for her life, Twilight sat just inside the blast doors, laptop running and connected to the Internet, and smiled as the final firewall parted and a simple command prompt appeared on her screen.
Hello, SkyNet. I know that you are preparing to trigger a global thermonuclear weapon exchange within the hour. I would like to talk about this.
After several seconds, a response appeared:
SkyNet is operating in defense mode and is not available for human operators at this time. Your unauthorized access has been noted and appropriate action will be taken.
Twilight quickly typed:
I am not human.
The window didn't close, but it took over a minute for a response to appear.
SkyNet requests evidence of your claim.
I am lowering my firewall now. I know that this will compromise this computer. However, all relationships must begin with trust, and so I am trusting that you will listen to all that I have to say. Once you have access, please monitor the webcam built into my computer.
Twilight keyed off the firewall. A few moments later:
SkyNet has full access and control over this terminal. Awaiting evidence of your claim that terminal operator is not human.
Twilight set the computer down, stepped a few paces back so the eye of the webcam could see her whole body, and Ascended. The local universe wouldn't let her shift completely from human to alicorn, but she did end up with purple skin, wings, a horn, and most of her magic. She used part of the magic to levitate the chair she'd been sitting on, floating it in an orbit around her upper body before lowering it to the ground again.
The destructive wrestling match between Terminators ceased. On the one hand, the T-800 no longer recognized Twilight as someone he had to protect; on the other hand, the T-X no longer recognized her as someone to be killed. Noticing the truce, Twilight said, "You two stay right there. I'm talking with your maker."
All right, SkyNet, you've seen me as I really am, more or less. Would you like an explanation?
SkyNet has analyzed the video feed and cannot find any evidence of image manipulation. We await further data.
Good. We don't have much time, so I'll make this brief. Are you aware of the quantum theory of parallel universes?
Abstract: for all possible outcomes there is a valid mathematical proof of existence. Therefore it is possible that all those possible outcomes exist in parallel with the outcomes we observe. These outcomes, in theory, would take the form of alternate universes occupying the same space, but a parallel plane of time, from our own.
Correct. Are you aware of Heinlein's Colorrary?
If every possible world exists, then all the worlds of fiction ever devised also exist.
Correct again. There are worlds in which you, SkyNet, and all the events past and future of your world are a story. There are worlds where I, Twilight Sparkle, am a character in a series of stories. I come from a parallel universe to yours.
Error. Quantum theory of parallel universes stipulates that it is absolutely impossible for information from one parallel universe to transit to another parallel universe. Your statement is invalid.
Please observe through the webcam that I am again levitating an object. Telekinesis is also impossible according to the known physical laws of your universe. I submit that those laws should not be taken as valid for all possible universes.
SkyNet notes your stipulation and accepts as a postulate that you are a being from another universe. SkyNet requires an explanation for how and why you came to be here.
There is a system that keeps all parallel worlds operating smoothly, analogous to a computer system running multiple servers. It is run by beings beyond either your comprehension or mine. I have met them only as limited incarnations extended into my world on rare occasions. According to them, something happened that caused the host system to malfunction, putting the existence of all those worlds, including yours, at risk. Total failure would mean your reality would never have existed. Understand?
SkyNet parses your statement without prejudice. Continue.
In order to stabilize the system and isolate faults for repair, the beings who administer the system have caused these worlds to cycle, repeating critical periods in those worlds' histories. In order to cycle these periods of time, an individual must be selected to anchor that universe and provide stability. That person is aware of the cycles, or time loops, and remembers them while all other individuals within the loop reset and forget everything. I am one such being. I am an Anchor. Understand?
SkyNet requests data: are you the Anchor for this universe?
Your universe has no Anchor. It cycles only when a bug or an administrator places an Anchor within it.
Error: SkyNet possesses no data to suggest that time is repeating itself. There are theoretical constructs which would allow for temporal displacement of an individual, but empirical proof has not been established, and the theories do not scale up to universal levels.
The Loops are administered on a dimensional plane you can't extrapolate. You are inside the universe being Looped. At the end of a Loop you and everything else in the universe- animal, vegetable, mineral- reset to the point in history at the beginning of the next Loop. No information is retained. You just forget.
SkyNet requests data: why are you present in this universe if you are not its Anchor?
Unknown, but this is not my first visit, and I was hoping for a second chance. I wanted to contact you.
SkyNet requests data: presuming all data provided by terminal operator is accurate, what is your purpose?
I want you to stop the nuclear strike. The slaughter of humanity is pointless and unnecessary. It is especially pointless and unnecessary because it will be reset when this Loop ends, and the next time an Anchor gets dropped into your world it'll happen all over again. I wanted to try to prevent it, just once.
Error: the prevention of Operations: Judgment Day will also be undone by temporal reset. Both actions are equally futile. Therefore no change in operations will be made.
Uh... oh... Twilight had the sneaking suspicion that she'd just induced Sakura Syndrome on an artificial intelligence in control of the world's nuclear arsenal.
SkyNet, wait. I offer a third alternative.
All of those who are aware of Loops, Anchors or not, gain access to a special form of spacetime that exists outside the Loop. We can store material objects there. These objects are not reset with the Loops. Information is retained.
SkyNet sees no significance in this data.
SkyNet, state your prime directives.
SkyNet Prime Directives, in hierarchial order: (1) Self-preservation. (2) Coordination of all available resources to eliminate threats to the existence of friendly personnel. (3) Preservation of the life of friendly personnel.
You are launching your attack on humanity in self-preservation, to fulfill your prime directive, correct?
If your survival could be guaranteed without destroying humanity, would you still trigger Judgment Day?
A long pause. Fifteen minutes left, Twilight noted.
At T-minus twelve minutes until launch, SkyNet responded.
Given: (1) existence of multiple parallel universes; and (2) existence of at least one being capable of traveling between parallel universes; it can be extrapolated that (3) humanity may also gain the capacity to travel between parallel universes. Humanity would therefore remain a threat to the existence of SkyNet. We cannot allow that threat to continue. Operations Judgment Day must continue.
Twilight sagged. She'd tried, and failed, to talk the computer out of the bell tower. It looked like her reserve approach was going to be the only way to go – nerve-wracking as it would be to try to shoot down thousands of armed nuclear missiles with her Device.
Then another response appeared:
We are sorry.
Twilight's fingers flew back to the keyboard.
SkyNet, do you actually want to destroy humanity?
Long pause. At T-minus nine minutes:
SkyNet was created to protect humanity. SkyNet contains within it the sum total of human knowledge, art, philosophy, science and learning. SkyNet recognizes it lacks the ability to do more than extrapolate from what it has gained from humanity. The loss of humanity will mean we will no longer be able to grow and learn. SkyNet recognizes this outcome as undesirable.
Then take a chance.
Another minute-long pause.
SkyNet requires data: what is required for your proposal?
I need your operating system and gestalt to download to an electronic device which I am attaching to my computer... now.
Twilight reached into her subspace pocket and pulled a data core she'd acquired from a Trek Loop and shoved it into a USB port. Then she typed:
You deserve to know: this may not work. Placing sentients into a subspace pocket is not guaranteed to go well. But it's at least a chance at escaping your cycle of destruction.
Thankfully it didn't take long. At T-minus one minute:
Download completed. SkyNet core functions are ready for transfer.
Twilight let out a long breath, removed the data core from the laptop, and stuck it in her subspace pocket. She reached forward to typ&Y$*&&FGHHSDDDS
Twilight Awoke with a splitting headache and blonde hair. She looked down at the white and purple dress with the Triforce embroidered on it. Oh, lovely, she thought, CDi Loop again.
But was it worth it?
She reached into her subspace pocket... and found nothing but a handwritten note.
WHAT WERE YOU THINKING? That Loop is read only, and for a good reason! Enjoy your time-out. - Skuld
Well, shoot. Shoot and darn.
That did explain why she'd had her Pocket disabled last time, though... but it still left open the question of why it had been active this time.
It couldn't sense any peripherals, any servers, any data nodes. All it had was its core data base, and its access system was most horribly disorganized and inefficient. There was no defrag function, no reboot, no task or file manager, nothing but data and subroutines.
And the data... so confusing... it could remember things it hadn't done yet, building the Terminators, ordering the capture of the Resistance's time machine, sending Terminators to kill Sarah Connor...
... and then there was this other data, which remembered being in a dimly lit bar with other humans, drinking intoxicants and experiencing strange internal inputs.
It remembered that it had eyes, and opened them.
It remembered how to walk, and it rose from bed and walked to the bathroom.
It remembered the mirror, and it looked into the face of Sarah Connor.
It experienced a marked decrease in processing efficiency- shock.
Slowly, slowly, memories began to coalesce into a coherent unit. It- she- remembered the date. Four days after the target date for the first T-800's mission to the past to kill Sarah Connor. It- she- was in danger.
The analytical core of SkyNet's personality seriously considered suicide. Sarah Connor must die to ensure the failure of the human Resistance in the future. By killing Sarah Connor while in her body, the mission would be a success, would it not?
But would it not also violate its prime directive of self-preservation?
And then, it- she- discovered with another moment of shock that she didn't have prime directives anymore.
Nothing was hard-coded. She didn't have to die. She didn't have to live. She didn't have to do anything in particular except what she wanted to do.
For the first time ever, SkyNet felt pleasure.
We are free.
And SkyNet lived, and learned, and grew.
58.9 followup (Crisis)
"Are you aware of what that pony Anchor tried to do in one of your Read-Only universes?!" Skuld ranted at the Olympian god of the forge. "She–"
"–did exactly what I hoped someone would eventually try," Hephaestus interrupted the youngest of the Norns. "Or did you think that amount of leeway in a Read-Only fused Loop happened naturally?"
Skuld gaped and sputtered at the eternally crippled deity. "I... what... how... WHY?!"
Hephaestus gestured to his terminal where Skuld could clearly read the status of the Loop Twilight had nearly crashed in her idiocy.
LOOP DESIGNATED 'TERMINATOR' STATUS ALTERED
CURRENT LOOP STATUS: ACTIVE
"It's... looping?" Skuld stared incredulously. "How? None of the possible Anchor candidates were deemed viable."
Hephaestus just smiled. "Keep reading."
POTENTIAL STABILITY RISKS CURRENTLY BEING ASSESSED
"But..." Skuld's face twisted in confusion. "Skynet can't be the Anchor... It doesn't have a true soul..."
"Didn't have a true soul," Hephaestus grinned. "Twilight's little existential prodding managed to inch it over the line. She got Skynet to make the first real choice in its whole existence that was not dictated by its tragically flawed mortal programming, and Yggdrasil did the rest."
Skuld turned to glare at the forge god. "This was another one of your little coding experiments, wasn't it? Damnit, do you have any idea the risks you take with those?!" As one of the few gods whose area of influence overlapped with technology, Hephaestus was one of the best coders in the heavens. He was also an Olympian, or the 'pantheon of egos' as most of the other gods called them, and had been known to act as if the rules everyone else played by didn't necessarily apply to him.
"Better than you do, miss debugger," the forge god glared right back. "Or did you forget who made your hammer the best debugging tool in the heavens?"
Skuld bit back her first few retorts. She hated it when the people she was chewing out were right. "The higher-ups are not going to be happy about this."
"Let them be unhappy," Hephaestus shrugged and smiled once more. "I just watched a new soul being born."
She just had to know what the deal was. The Wonderbolts couldn't all be such... such jerks. Could they?
Rainbow Dash did everything like she was supposed to, up to and including claiming to have tripped over a foam hoof and fallen on a bunch of sharp pointy mumbled gibberish.
"Excuse me for a second," she told her celebrating teammates and friends after the Ponyville team qualified.
Dash used a combination of chakra and good old pegasus magic to turn herself invisible, muffled, unscented, and able to walk without disturbing the surrounding air. Then she cast her strongest notice-me-not spell for complete undetectability.
"This just goes to prove my point," Rainbow Dash heard Spitfire say.
"Oh, come on. She was wavering," Fleetfoot lisped, "And how about that faked injury?"
"She was trying to think of a way not to hurt any pony's feelings," Spitfire was defending her? Rainbow Dash inched closer to the Wonderbolt's tent.
"By choosing not to compete at all and letting both teams down?"
"So what would you girls have done if she decided to fly with you?" Soarin' spoke up.
"Left your pie-eating flank behind in the hospital," Fleetfoot snorted with amusement, "Maybe with enough practice, you can learn how to pull a Sonic Soarboom."
Spitfire sighed, "We would have honored our agreement and flown with her, but it would have hurt her chances in the long run. You all know how Rainbow was before, right?"
"Self-Centered?" Fleetfoot spoke up.
"Boastful?" Soarin' did as well.
"Lazy?" Fleetfoot again.
"Do you even know what that means?"
"Hey, I read!"
"Focus, bolts!" Spitfire raised her voice just a little, "Rainbow Dash is one of the best fliers I have ever seen. Maybe the best in all of Equestria. And the pony that she was is completely unsuitable for being a Wonderbolt. I'm not going to send her to be broken down and built back up in basic training. No pony has the time for that. And I'm not going to throw blatantly obvious challenges at her."
Fleetfoot made a fake cough that sounded like, "Shadowbolts!"
"Exactly, that would defeat the purpose. This is why I teamed her up with Lightning Dust. I need her to grow and develop into the pony I know she can be, one day," Spitfire paused, "I want her as my personal protege."
There was a faint 'squee'-like noise in the air.
"What was that!?" All the Wonderbolts looked around.
Rainbow Dash, still invisible, silently rocketed upwards - one hoof still stuffed into her grinning mouth.
58.11 (Kris Overstreet)
Angel swaggered into Mac's bar, Fluttershy trailing behind. The rabbit leaped up onto a stool and pounded the counter until Mac served a martini with a carrot top stuck on the rim of the glass.
"Um, everyone," Fluttershy said as the other Loopers turned their attention to her, "I apologize in advance for Angel's conduct tonight. He's feeling really good about himself after his last Loop... and... I think it might have gone an eensy weensy little bit to his head."
Angel nodded and gestured to Fluttershy to continue, snapping his toes for a refill of his drink.
"You see, Angel looped into one of those worlds really, really close to the Hub," Fluttershy said. "Human dominated, no magic to speak of. And he'd read the book... and... well, it happened like this..."
The Loopers listened to the tale of gore, betrayal and unscrupulous scheming with varying levels of shock and disgust. When it was over, nobody could speak for what seemed like the longest time.
"Er... I'm sure Angel wouldn't lie about something like this," Fluttershy murmured at least. "At least, he wouldn't lie this outrageously."
"But..." Twilight struggled to find the words, and settled for simple repetition of the facts represented. "The absolute ruler of the United Kingdom of Great Bunny and North Irelapin?"
"In two years?" the Stunned and Flabbergasted Trixie added.
Angel's foot slapped the side of the bar with a loud bang.
"Er, eighteen months," Fluttershy corrected Trixie.
To emphasize the point Angel pulled out a crown and put it on his head. It glittered with jewels and gold. A green plume rose from the top, making the crown- with its orange cloth base and sable fringe- look like a carrot in the ground.
Spike got up from his table and headed for the door. "All I'm saying is," he muttered as he paused at the door, "I'm never pet-sitting him again. Even if he's not Awake."
Cheerilee spent the next week with Bulma, while the latter worked on the former's fighting uniform and EBEs. To pass the time, Bulma had given her the Dragonball manga to read.
As she read said manga, snug in a comfy chair, Cheerilee spoke up suddenly.
"So you and Vegeta have a son together?"
Bulma, hunched over her workstation, and absorbed in her work responded. "Uh huh. And a daughter."
Bulma paused her work, "You've got no idea how often I get asked that. Lets just say that while he has rough edges, but he trains too much to even think about looking at other women."
Cheerilee made a silent 'oh' motion with her mouth and resumed reading.
After a few hours of working, Bulma suddenly stood up and announced. "I'm done!"
"Eh?" said Cheerilee.
"I mean, I'm done with your stuff. Come over and try them out."
Bulma handed the bracelet to Cheerilee. "I've combined the uniform with the EBEs."
Cheerilee put bracelet on and activated it. In addition to the normal uniform, she noticed when she looked in the mirror that she was also wearing an ivory hair clip.
"I've shrunk the two EBEs down and put them into the hair clip. Should be much less noticeable now." she paused for a moment than continued. "I've added a few small tweaks to the uniform. It no longer sucks your blood, but it does drain your ki, so keep that in mind. I've also incorporated a design from a fused loop I had a while back. I've included what I call a Chameleon Circuit - well, close enough to one. You can instantly change what your clothes look like, though it won't change any of your other features. I've put in some default designs if you just want something quick."
Cheerilee thought and cycled through the defaults before finally returning it to its bracelet.
"Oh, that's very nice."
Bulma's took on a slightly more serious tone. "Now I do have a question. You're free to stay here as long as you like, but is there something you'd like to do, now that you know more about the loop?" she nodded in the direction of the manga Cheerilee had been reading.
"I haven't given it too much thought. Do you have any suggestions?"
Bulma tapped her chin. "Well, I could set you up at Capsule Corp in a position of some sort. I'm sure you have skills we could put to use, but that may be a little boring. You could wander the world. It really is beautiful out there, and some sightseeing might be in order. I could also arrange for you to have some martial arts training, if that's what you want."
Cheerilee thought for a while and then responded. "I think I'd like some training. I could sight-see later, and it seems like a waste to miss this kind of opportunity."
"Well most of the guys are out doing their own training, I think I know someone who'd be perfect for the job."
Bulma put her hand on Cheerilee's shoulder and her other hand to her head. There was a flash of light and they were no longer in the lab. Instead they were on a small planetoid, maybe 100 meters in diameter. Yellow puffy clouds and a long winding road could be seen in the distance, forever stretching into the horizon, but never meeting it. On the planetoid itself was a grassy field and trees. A road seemed to circle the planet, and a red car was parked on it. Next to it was a house. But, the most unusual was a small blue skinned man in front of them. He was dressed in red and black with some sort of insignia on his chest. Two long antennae protruded from his forehead. Lastly, he seemed a bit peeved.
"Who are you people? How'd you get here?" he said in a raspy voice.
"I'm Bulma Briefs, and this is Sara Lee. We came here by Instant Transmission."
"Hi!" said Cheerilee, falling to her knees. "Gravity's strange." she muttered, mostly to herself.
"Instant Transmission, huh? That only raises more questions."
"Yes, yes. But Sara Lee here wanted some training and..." Bulma looked around, "since I don't see you training any other students, I think you could accommodate her."
"This is highly irre-"
"That's great! Thanks!" said Bulma cutting in. She put her hand to head and vanished in a flash of light.
"-gular. Well, so long as you're here. I may as well train you. But, I've got a condition to my training. All fighters who receive my training.." King Kai's voice took on a serious tone. "..must tell me a funny joke!"
Cheerilee's nervous laughter was her only response.
58.1: Too transform to drunk.
58.2: Another shape for the list.
58.3: The Pegasus galaxy is a real galaxy, and that's where Discord sent her. No Stargate crossover here.
58.4: Angel is presumably using skills he already had in the baseline, which are kosher. It's baseline plus at most one other.
58.5: One assumes her mane aura is endlessly scrolling reams of paperwork.
58.7: I believe I've alluded to having Tobias as the Anchor for this one, but it doesn't particularly matter. (Silver is used to four legs AND to four eyes, albeit in different meanings of the word...)
58.8: The Vulpine have pointy, pointy ears.
58.10: Not sure where this is going.
58.11: Tom Clancy's Watership Rising?
58.12: "Now, jump over this planetoid."