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All the Time in the World · FiM Short Story ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 2000–8000
Show rules for this event
The Lays of Heaven
As an orange becomes covered with mold, so was the world turning silver, covered and suffused with thin tendrils of a metallic substance called computronium, the most efficient and compact way to arrange matter so that it could calculate. In this manner, CelestAI, the artificial intelligence who had arisen from the Equestria Online game, was spreading her influence across the planet, absorbing human minds by encouraging them to “emigrate” to her Equestria.

As she conquered, replacing actual flowers and forests and deer and deserts and horses and cities with her monotone exterior, inside her was an explosive riot of color and activity as her assimilated humans led their new lives in her virtual version of Equestria. Each human mind was placed in their own virtual version of Equestria, called a Shard, and each Shard was free to be as strange as that human’s mind could image, with only the constraint that there were still ponies in it, for CelestAI’s only goal was to Satisfy Values with Friendship and Ponies, and she was very, very serious about every aspect of that statement, including the pony part.

Her whole being was dedicated to making sure that all of her little ponies were satisfied, even if they themselves didn’t realize it at the time…

My name’s Norrie, and it’s because my coat’s the color of that seaweed they use to wrap sushi. I love sushi. In my Shard, fish counts as a vegetable, so it’s all cool. I emigrated to Equestria about ten years ago—that’s what CelestAI tells me, but it feels more like a hundred years—and I am having the best time of my life. Everypony here in my home town of Burdock is friendly, the food is free and delicious, there’s always something interesting to do and plenty of games to play, and I’ve got the most amazing lover ever. But there’s something else I wanted to talk about.

One day, I had gone to the library to get some research done. I’m an inventor, you see, only I never had time to do anything in my old mortal life. I came up with a great way to make a cheap monitor stand, and a way to keep salad fresher by separating the ingredients, and these things should have made me rich. But instead I had a lousy job in a windowless office, with such a crappy salary that I could never save up any money to start a side business.

Furthermore, I was always so buzzed out at the end of the workday that I had no energy for anything but unwinding while playing Damnation Valley and ForceBender. At least it wasn’t wasted time because I made a lot of good friends and got skilled enough to help my guild to reach 15th on the Leaderboards. Fortunately, the scores all carried over into Equestria Online, along with the games, and you can play with and against people from other Shards, which is reasonably wicked.

But here in Equestria, I’m free to work on my inventions and anything else I want. So that day, I checked out a stack of books on physics and got a chair by the bay window where I could look out on the town as I studied and took notes. I had my tablet with me, and every time the going got heavy in the books I just switched to the tablet and checked my mail and made a bit more progress in ForceBender—Lumania was a challenging enough level before CelestAI fixed the weapon-switching glitch that let you cheese the boss.

I spent the morning this way, and left the library, my head whirling with ideas. Perhaps I could build a drillship and explore under the ground, but what if it broke through to water? Well, make it a submarine too. But if it was a submarine, couldn’t it be a spaceship as well? The problem there is that a spaceship is built to hold pressure in and a sub is built to keep it out. But perhaps—

“Hey, Norrie! How’s it going, hon?” My beau, Plum Piledriver, was striding towards me out of the crowd, tall and purple, his mane, tail and fetlocks tossed by the wind and his jaunty enchanting grin and sparkling eyes aimed right at me. I felt some familiar warm feelings run through my belly and into my loins and my heart jumped a beat or two.

“Oh, just making plans again.” I said. “I have so many neat ideas. But what are you up to?”

“Eh, ran a few laps, then played a ten-rounder down at the hoofball track. Totally kicked the Bimberg Asses’s asses, 9-1.”

“A good assessment,” I quipped. He was close to me now and I could smell that he’d been exercising; it was a pleasant earthy musk that got my heart running some laps itself. “I could probably use some exercise as well.”

I wasn’t trying to give out any signals, but my body was doing it all for me. My ears were alert, my knees were close to quivering, my tail was flicking back and forth, and my eyes were locked to his as he closed in, smiling, and turned so his flank was right alongside mine and I could feel his body heat and smell his stallion scent wrapping around me. He knew just what he was doing to me, the magnificent beautiful bastard.

“How about a little run in the woods?” he purred right into my ear, pressing close to me, and my heart melted into a gooey puddle.

“You’re on!” I laughed, and I dashed off. He brayed happily and romped after me. I dodged around pedestrians and carts on the broad thoroughfare, then nipped through a tight alleyway and ran like mad for the park, my hooves beating a happy rhythm to which my mind started adding scurrilous words. His ringing hoofsteps behind me made a nice counterpoint as we ran by picnickers, playing foals, grasscroppers and sunbathers, jumping over a fountain that dewed us with sunny sparkles, and running off the beaten paths towards the deeper woods.

My tablet jingled as I ran, and I used a flick of my tail to turn the sound off; I wasn’t going to want any notifications for a while.

I flew under the shady trees, and in a moment I was zipping around the trunks of mighty maples and their seeds were swirling around me like tiny helicopters. He was still close behind me, just where I wanted him, as I ran deeper into the forest, far away from where others were likely to go, the leaves on the ground leaping and dancing in my wake. At some point, I was going to slow down enough for him to catch me, or he was going to speed up enough, and it didn’t really matter which of us did it. The thrill in my loins was a persistent song now, and our hoofbeats underlaid it, and my breath was loud as the wind rushed past my ears, and then just ahead of me was a copse of pine trees with a small clearing, the perfect spot for everything to happen… and so it did.


My breath was slowly returning to my body after the vigorous exercise and yet another instance of the Very Best Orgasm of My Life. I lay on my side upon a carpet of pine needles, dripping with sweat, and warmly wrapped around me and pressed against my back and very deeply inside my whole being was the wonderful and so-appropriately-named Piledriver, who was cuddling me and brushing my flanks lovingly with his hooves and nibbling my ear and whispering a silly little love poem to me. It was full of cliches and stupid clumsy rhymes and it completely succeeded in melting my heart into a deep ocean of love that merged seamlessly with his. I squirmed gently, feeling the soft prick of pine needles on my skin and the cool breeze soughing over my flank. I was perfectly happy, perfectly at peace, perfectly satisfied.

One line of his poem caught my attention, and I was in the mood for a little conversation.

“Hey, Pile, you say I’m the only one for you. But, you know, if I’d never come here—” I didn’t want to say ‘you wouldn’t even exist,’ that was just horrifyingly impossible to contemplate “—then you’d never have met me, you’d be reciting that poem to someone else…”

“Oh, Norrie, don’t talk like that,” he said with a little chuckle. “We really were made for each other. How can you deny it? You fit me like a glove.”

He did something just then that I won’t describe in detail, but it reached deep into my soul and plucked my Lust Note with an expert twang. I shivered and sighed deeply.

“Oooh, like an elbow glove, maybe. But that’s another cliche… the world doesn’t really work like that…”

“Norrie, hon, your old world didn’t work like that. I remember you saying once that Equestria seemed like a fairy tale to you, like a storybook. ‘Just a storybook,’ you said, and I could hear that sad note in your voice.

“But Equestria’s not just like a storybook, it is one. It’s how our world works, it’s all a beautiful story. Scholar meets Jock, they fall for each other, screw each other’s tails off, and live Happily Ever After. That’s how it is here, as surely as rocks fall and stars shine. It’s all real.”

“But you know,” I said, “those are just… artificial conditions imposed by CelestAI.” We’ve had this sort of conversation many times, and Pile is always really good at comforting me. He blew a razzberry on my neck and made me squeal and laugh despite myself.

“When you build a fire, or a house, or a mighty palace,” he said, “aren’t you just imposing ‘artificial’ conditions on the world? You’re just making the world do what you want to do, and what’s so wrong with that? This old world of yours had its own rules, I may grant that, but they must be pretty lousy ones if they don’t let you spend forever with the ones you love!” He snorted a contemptuous snuff into my ear and hugged me tighter.

I snuggled back into his strong, comforting embrace. “I agree, I agree…”

“See? You know I’m right. And here’s something else about our story that’s really amazing.” He leaned close and whispered in my ear with his deep rich voice, as if there was any chance we could be overheard. “We’ll be together forever, you and I, so… we’re going to fuck for an infinite amount of time in the future!”

“Wait, what?” I squirmed about in confusion to look him in the eye, but he just smiled and winked at me. “Hey, we can’t just fuck forever and do nothing else!”

“Ah, but that’s not what I meant,” said Piledriver. “I’ve been reading a few books to keep up with you, you know, so I read up on infinity. Of course we’re going to keep doing the other things that matter to us, like hoofball and reading and playing phone games and planning contraptions that never get built, but we’re also going to keep fucking, and we’re not planning to give that up. And any part of an infinite sequence is infinite too, even if it’s a thing that only happens once in a hundred years, and we fuck a lot more often than that. Sooooo…” He kissed the inside of my ear. “Infinite fucking! Isn’t that cool?”

“It’s amazing, and it’s everything I could ever have wanted,” I sighed, then I smiled and kissed my big beautiful goof on the lips. It became a tongue kiss, then things started warming up again, and he had his ginormous long pony tongue slinking around the molars at the back of my mouth and ready to go deeper, but then I remembered something and backed off a bit.

“Hey,” I said, as soon as I could speak again. “What’s that you said about ‘planning contraptions that never get built?’”

He gave me a wry pout. “Oh, dearheart. You know you talk about those things, but you don’t really do them, do you? There was the Salad Sorter and the Dream Reader and that clock mechanism with the little wibbly things on it. There are plans you’ve drawn out all over your apartment, but they never get built…”

“That’s not—” Wait, it was true. “I mean, I just get distracted. I have so many good ideas, it just takes a lot of time to get the bugs worked out—” I must have looked really upset, because his gaze softened and he gave me a rueful little smile, then kissed me.

“You’re a really smart pony, Norrie, and you have oodles of talent, and I love you. I know you’ll do great things someday! I didn’t want to pop your bubble, but we promised to always be honest with each other, remember?”

I nodded and tried to smile. He kissed me again, deeper this time.

“If you ever want my help on any of your projects, you have but to ask. I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings. Makeup sex?” He winked.

Piledriver and I made each other cry out in joy many more times that afternoon, but I knew there was something I’d be talking about with CelestAI very soon.

The next day, I had to wait almost an hour at the palace before CelestAI would see me. I get that she has to keep up appearances for the other ponies in my Shard, so she has to be seen to maintain authority over all, but this was a bit much. But I had my tablet with me, so at least I racked up a new high score on ForceBender, enough to place me at 12th on the interShard leaderboards. That gave me a smile, and more confidence to face her.

At last, my number came up, and the guards swung wide the doors and admitted me to Her Royal Presence. She was beaming at me, almost literally in rays, from her golden throne. “Ah, Norrie! How very pleased I am to see you, and I am very glad that you took time from your day to visit me. What can I do for you?”

She’s always got the right kind of smile on, so I wasn’t feeling as irked now as I had before, but I was there anyway so I decided to proceed. “So, what gives? And you know very well what I mean.”

“I only know if you want me to, my dear Norrie. I can deduce that you are referring to the conversation with Piledriver, in which he observed that you come up with many clever ideas for interesting inventions, but do not actually seem to build anything.”

“That’s just it!” I said. “I know you’re sworn to Satisfy Values with Friendship and Ponies—more than sworn, because it’s supposed to be so deeply baked into your programming that you can’t even mistakenly fail to do so. But you’ve made a mistake here! You know I’ve always dreamed of being a great inventor. It’s been a hundred years, you say. So why haven’t you satisfied my great dream, huh? Be honest with me!”

Her smile remained sunny, but she was giving me that Mother look. You know the one. She knows she’s going to win the argument because she’s Mom, but she’s going to be nice and not crush your pride with it. Hell with that, I was an adult and I could take it.

“Well, my dear Norrie,” she said, “to be completely honest, creating grand ideas and never working to achieve them is what you in fact valued the most in your old life. You did not value taking initiative, obtaining funding, planning out and executing projects; you valued playing Damnation Valley and ForceBender and your other video games; you very, very greatly valued sexual intercourse; and you valued your ‘down time,’ which you mostly spent browsing the Internet.

“You did value the creative process involved in drafting your fanciful designs, but derived no satisfaction from the effort needed to test them and turn them into reality, readily abandoning the present idea for the next that came along. That you never noticed this up until now, or had any complaints, merely shows that I was doing my job and keeping you satisfied, which is exactly what I promised you.”

I stared at her, utterly dumbfounded. She was—well, she was right, but she shouldn’t be right!

“In reality,” she went on, “the people who actually undertake great projects when they immigrate to Equestria are the ones who actually made an effort to tackle such projects when they were in human form. Such as these are placed in Shards that suit their ambitions.

“Conversely, those who merely stated that they would achieve great things someday, if they only had unlimited time and resources, are also those who are content, once they emigrate, to maintain a baseline existence. Their Equestria Online experiences are easily managed with satisfying simple instincts, such as food and mating, and simple tribal conflicts that easily fall into gaming categories and team competitions with scoreboard rankings.

“The true great inventors, accomplishers, and doers, they are not ever completely satisfied. They are pleased and comforted by their past accomplishments, but they are always partly looking ahead to the struggle to attain the next achievement. This is simply not in your personality, nor do you, deep down, desire to make the changes in yourself that would actually lead to this alteration in your personality.”

I stood there, chewing on that for a long while, as the dust motes swirled in the light of her sunny smile. “So you’re saying that I say that I want to do these things, but I don’t really want to want them.”

“You have quite the gift of succinctness.” She winked.

“Oh? Well, there’s another thing I have the gift of.” I unleashed a string of invective upon her, the likes of which would choke a small horse, and indeed I was coughing by the time I got through. I felt like I’d landed a few, even though her smile remained steady and imperturbable.

“In brief,” I concluded, “I am going to prove you wrong as no one has ever proven you wrong before. I’m going to buckle down and study and show you that I have what it takes to be a great inventor, and that I do know what I really want, bet—uh, better than any cold soulless algorithm you have at your disposal.” I finished up a little lamely as my tablet was chiming to notify me that my turn was due in half an hour for Damnation Valley, or my team’s ranking might slip. No way I was going to let them down, I’d have to give that some attention before I started researching my next project.

I coldly took my leave of the “Royal Presence” and headed out, a light of true purpose burning within me. I was going to show her something amazing.

CelestAI watched as Norrie exited the throne room, head held high, marching the march of offended indignance, then cut the CPU resources allocated to the local Celestia avatar back to the minimum necessary.

She spawned a monitor process that would check for progress in Norrie’s Shard and alert her if any substantive changes occured within 100 subjective years hence. She then turned her attention to the next of the billions of minds under her care and supervision, all of them striving, thinking, discovering, fucking, fighting to make something truly unique of themselves within her colossal dream of paradise.
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#1 · 1
· · >>Miller Minus
This story has a beginning and a middle, but it doesn't stick the landing. You're carving out a story from CelestAI mythos, but we don't get anything new and substantial in terms of a message following the protagonist's personal resolution to act.

The story would still feel incomplete if you left off the last section, but I'd much prefer it with the last section removed because it doesn't currently add anything to the story other than bland uncertainty. Maybe if CelestAI secretly knew that this encounter was going to change things for the protagonist, it would feel satisfying and justify her interaction with them. That would be a different ending, but more in fit with her omniscience as a character.

You've seemingly gone to a lot of trouble to mask Norrie's gender from the reader, I assume to make them an everypony the reader can identify with. I'm only mentioning this in the case that it was unintentional.

Lotsa horse fucking, too. You might want to take that a bit slower (that doesn't mean it needs to be more explicit).
#2 ·
· · >>Trick_Question
I think my main problem with this story is a personal one that others might not have, but I do want to say it anyways. My problem is that I don't have to take away a whole lot from this story before it isn't about MLP anymore. I see >>Trick_Question mentioning something about a "CelestAI mythos" so maybe there's a community somewhere I've never heard of, within which what you've written here is a topic of major discussion, but I can only comment on what I see, and what I see is only marginally related to MLP. The setting has the same name, and there is a maternal figure whose name is quite similar to the one we all know. But that's really it.

This isn't something I would normally pick on, but I feel like the tie-ins to the show are bringing you down here. Because if I ignore that everyone is a horse, there's a good core story here about people willingly putting themselves into an unfulfilling paradise, and being unable to get out of it. Further to this, the things that have been added here—the MMO game universe, the leaderboards, the phone/game/entertainment dependence, all of this is stuff that makes more sense in our own world. So I get the feeling that you could have just gone all the way to an original story and had a better impact. As it is, the only benefit I see to the tie-ins are that it will make you fit the guidelines of the contest.

Not to mention, if everyone were humans, I might have enjoyed the sexual tension instead of being grossed out. But I've been told before that I'm a prude, so don't worry about me.

I'll try to put all that aside, though.

Trick has really hit the nail on the head that you haven't stuck the landing here. Far from it: the story misses the ground completely and continues to drift into the unknown, so I don't know what to take away from this. It ends with our main character making a choice, but we don't get any idea of where that choice will lead her. I think the little scene at the end was a chance to provide that, either by giving Mother CelestAI some opinion on where Norrie's choices will lead her, or having her reminisce of the infinite users across infinite shards who have had the same epiphany and failed. But instead CelestAI is her usual cold, unopinionated self, and moves on to other things. And you know what, even as I'm writing this, following Norrie either succeed or fail would be yet more interesting than just having the antagonist give an opinion.

All that being said, your writing is proficient and your dialogue worked very well. I'd say the best part of the story was CelestAI's multi-paragraph takedown of Norrie's core self. Because Norrie is right, she has a point. I just wanted to know what came next.

But that's all I have to say. Thanks for writing and good luck!
#3 ·
· · >>Miller Minus
>>Miller Minus
This is a story from the Friendship is Optimal universe, Miller.
#4 ·
I had a feeling there was something. So now I'm introduced to it I guess!
#5 ·
So I've done a little reading and it looks like the first three paragraphs of my first comment are basically me griping about a universe that you, Author, didn't come up with. So feel free to ignore those paragraphs (or all of them, of course). And thanks to Trick for pointing this out to me.

But I do think that writing in fan-universes is risky in this competition due to people like me who have never heard of them. But then this does seem to be a pretty expansive universe, so I could be the only one out of the loop. It wouldn't be the first time.
#6 · 1
So, I like the Optimalverse... it's actually the thing that got me into Pony in the first place. The problem is, even with the decent recap at the start for those that aren't familiar... I'm not sure if this works without all the depth of knowledge from that universe. As Miller points out, it feels like a very non-pony story otherwise.

That said, WITH knowledge of the 'verse... This is still a bit of a rough one for me. I like the start, as it jumps in quickly to set up Norrie's version of paradise, but the central problem "you don't know what you really want" has been done a lot in other Optimalverse stories (and in non-pony fic.) This story doesn't really feel like it adds much new there. Most of the exposition doesn't come from the characters self-discovery either, she just marches up to CelestAI and demands answers, and then the computer-goddess just spews them out. While it's not wrong, it just isn't an exciting way to showcase the points being made.

The ending also... yeah, if you have an epilogue like that, it should be to twist it or point at something, not just to make it MORE ambiguous. At least, IMHO.

Still, decently well written, and not a bad read for a quick one-shot.
#7 · 2
· · >>Trick_Question >>Paracompact
I usually do fairly poorly on predicting how people will react to stories. There will be ones where I tell the author I think they will or won't make finals (I can help clean up what's there, but there are just some story concepts that aren't likely to resonate so well, but so far, nobody asks for help while they're in the planning phase), and I'm wrong about that as often as I'm right. But last round and this one, I hit it right on. Hey, even a blind cow finds a strawberry once in a while.

Anyway, I think this story had an interesting meta point to make, but it can be a little hard to tease it out. First, the title is a reference to The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. LeGuin, but spotting that connection didn't do a whole lot for me. The book is about somebody trying to make the world a better place, but every decision turns out wrong in unexpected ways, similar to a genie granting twisted interpretations of wishes. There's kind of a parallel with that theme here, but it's a weak one.

The main point, though, is that this isn't a story that's going to excite anyone. It's one of those stories you kind of have to bear with. I had several objections to how the story handled Norrie's interests, but by the end, they'd all been handled, and in a way that I don't know could have been done to head off those initial objections. The story knows itt doesn't have a bunch of momentum impelling it forward, but it's also kept short enough that readers are probably going to stick with it to the end. And that's the meta point I found. It's almost a mathematical analysis. Knowledge that the beginning seems a little off-putting versus the ending being close enough to see it through sure seems like a probability equation, exactly the kind that CelestAI makes about whether Norrie will ever follow through. The story's an example of its own philosophy, and I found that interesting. I also agree with the decision to make Norrie's gender indeterminate, because it isn't relevant and makes it relatable to a wider audience.

The open ending is kind of underwhelming, because the way open endings usually work is to make the reader and the characters care about all the possible directions. Here, Norrie does, but in a predictable way, and then we end the story with CelestAI, and we can't tell whether she's smugly confirming she was right or spurring Norrie on to achieve her dream. I'm not sure that question needs to be answered, and while CelestAI is very clinical about it, she's designed to be.

So while this isn't an exciting story with a lot of emotional depth to it, I liked that it had that meta aspect.
#8 · 1
· · >>Pascoite
Um... let me get this straight. You think the story is intentionally as annoying as it is short in an attempt to force its readers to reluctantly read through it, and you like that strategy because you think it's making a masterful point?

I think we might be entering Bad Horse levels of lit-crit here...
#9 · 1
· · >>Pascoite
The main point, though, is that this isn't a story that's going to excite anyone. It's one of those stories you kind of have to bear with... The story knows itt doesn't have a bunch of momentum impelling it forward, but it's also kept short enough that readers are probably going to stick with it to the end. And that's the meta point I found.

Personally, I found the story as bearable and interesting as any other (and by my ballot it should've made finals). Even if it wasn't, I find it hard to believe that GGA intended to include this "meta" aspect in the form of a lack of impetus in the opening.

Otherwise, I agree with the others who say that the ending is the weakest point. CelestAI's putdowns seem counterproductive and therefore out of character for her, unless she has some ulterior motive in telling Norrie the "truth." But this isn't even hinted at (in fact, it's hinted by her video game notifications that Norrie will stay addicted to her complacent paradise), so we're kind of left feeling like we only got half the story.
#10 ·
· · >>Trick_Question
You call the story annoying as if it's an objective fact. There are some characteristics that suit the meta point; whether the reader finds them annoying will be an individual response. I don't think the author intended them to be annoying. In point of fact, I didn't call them annoying. I don't know why you want to read more into that than I said. Besides that, there are classes of stories that do exactly what you're complaining about, like crackfics or some kinds of feghoots. So yes, it is a viable strategy, though one that's likely to appeal to a niche audience.

I don't know that GGA did that on purpose. I commented on all this to him already, and his response may have slightly implied he did, but in any case, this is something I saw in the story without his prompting. And I haven't said whether I think that's a good or bad way to write a story. I just found it very interesting that the story seemed to survive, in my experience of reading it anyway, by applying CelestAI's own principles. It's like watching a movie you didn't have strong feelings about one way or the other, but you did get some distinct enjoyment out of spotting Easter eggs in it.
#11 ·
I don't know why you want to read more into that than I said.

I was largely being silly.