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All the Time in the World · FiM Short Story ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 2000–8000
Guardian
"She has your coat, you know," I say. "Of course, if you want to talk practical instead of sentimental, she's exactly what you'd expect from a mix of Shiny and me. But I like to believe she gets it from you."

"I am not certain how to react to that statement."

"Her eyes are all Shiny's, though. Through and through. I always wondered if she'd have amber eyes, like yours. Kind of a long shot, I suppose?"

"I am not certain how to react to that statement," she says, again. "My knowledge of heritable traits and and the relative probability of their expression across multiple pony generations is limited."

I chuckle. "Oh, that's so you! Classic Mom."

"I agree that it is, in fact, me, but—"

"Flurry really is adorable. I know all parents say that about their babies, but I really do think she's above average on the baby front. I'll bring her down here to show her to you soon, I promise. I just need to be a little more confident of her telekinetic control." I give a quick glance to the dust-covered shelves and racks surrounding us. "Some of these old armaments may be a little too, um, fragile. For Flurry, that is."

Mom's eyes snap into sharp focus. "I am prepared to give you an inventory of the contents of this chamber," she says. "Including a comprehensive analysis of the structural integrity and relative fragility of each item found herein. Would you like that inventory now?"

"Maybe later," I say. The Crystal Armory is Mom's area of expertise; she'll go on and on about it if you let her. "What I really came down here to ask you about is Flurry's words. She's so very vocal, but as of yet, she's not talking. Twilight says that it's not unheard of for fillies and colts to start saying their first words at one month of age. Flurry's well over a month old by now, but she still mostly babbles. It's adorable babbling, of course, but I'm worried that maybe she's a bit language-delayed. But then again, none of the foals Twilight's dealt with are alicorn babies, so the timeline could be completely skewed. I know you're not an alicorn either, but you're her grandmare. Do you have any idea how long I should wait? Part of me wants to give it time, but if she's going to need language intervention, I want to start it sooner rather than later."

Mom appears to think this over for a moment.

"I am not certain how to react to that statement," Mom says. "My knowledge of the linguistic development of alicorn foals is—"

"—Limited, I know. But, hear me out. Mine is limited too. So is anypony's. There hasn't been a new alicorn birth in over a thousand years, and I'm really struggling with knowing whether or not Flurry is meeting all her developmental milestones. Can you tell me this: am I doing the right thing by waiting?"

"I am not certain how to react to—"

"—That statement! Yes! I understand. You don't want to overstep your bounds. But I'm desperate here, and I'm looking for a little guidance. Velvet—oh, that's Shiny's mother, by the way—Velvet thinks everything is fine. But I really, really don't want to mess this up, and I want as many opinions as possible."

"I am not certain how to react to that statement."

"Please," I say. "Put aside your job for the moment. As her grandmare. What should I do?"

Mom pauses. She watches me for a moment. Her eyes are analytical.

"I am not your child's grandmare," she says.

"Mom—"

"I am not your mother," she continues, her voice frustratingly even.

"I know," I say. "Believe me, I know. You're Amore the Third. My great-great-to-the-nth-degree-grandmare, last queen of the Crystal Empire. But I never knew my birth mother, and my entire adoptive family passed away some time ago, so you're the closest thing to a mother I have."

"I am not Amore the Third," Mom says.

"Right," I say, looking away. Here we go again.

"I am an enchantment bearing the basic likeness of Princess Amore," Mom says. "I was placed in this chamber a thousand years ago, on the cusp of the Empire's overthrow, to safeguard the potent spells herein. My duty is to ensure that only ponies of great kindness may access the contents of this room. I exist to keep dark forces from claiming this arsenal. This was, and is, my only function. This is the—" A brief pause. "—five hundred and forty-fifth time I have expressed this purpose."

"I know. I know. I'm sorry. I get very emotional in this room. You look just like her, sound just like her..."

"I am not certain how to react to that statement. My records show that Amore the Third's dissolution at the hooves of the Tyrant Sombra came many years before your birth. Though I am able to tell you that I was made in her image, it would not be reasonable to say that you have any practical means of comparing my likeness to hers. It is likewise not reasonable for my appearance to evoke in you memories of an emotional connection the two of you shared."

"You don't understand," I say. "Of course I feel an emotional connection to you. You're my Mom."

"I am not your mother."

I squeeze my eyes shut. "Can't you just...pretend to be my mother for a little while?"

"I exist only to judge."

"See? You're not far off! That's what most mothers exist to do!"

"I am not your mother. I am an enchantment—"

"All right, don't. Please."

Mom goes silent. A flicker of magic momentarily distorts the translucent lines of her perfect cherry-blossom face. She waits, placidly, on my next words.

"You're not just a random security enchantment," I say. "I know you're just fifteen recorded minutes of her life, but you're the only fifteen minutes I've got."

"I am not certain how to react to that statement," Mom says.

"And you're not just a recording! You interact with ponies."

"Interactivity is key to my function. I was placed in this chamber a thousand years ago—"

"There must be something of you in there," I say. "You can't just make a full-size judgmental talking illusion of yourself and not have thrown in something of your real personality."

"I exist only to judge."

"No," I say. "No. I refuse to accept that. If you really, truly, honestly existed only to judge, you would be an intelligent door lock. Glows green to admit ponies of great kindness and compassion, glows red to refuse anypony else. Simple. Done. But you're more than that! You have a voice. A face."

"I am an enchantment bearing the basic likeness of—"

"Tell me about your hair-chain," I say. "I've been admiring it from the moment I first saw you. I just adore the way it drapes around your horn. Who gave it to you? Is it one of the Empire's lost crown jewels? A family piece?"

She pauses, as though in thought.

"I am an enchantment bearing the basic likeness of Princess Amore," Mom says. "Any adornments to my visage are visual replicas of those worn by Princess Amore at the time this enchantment was cast. I have no further information than this."

"Nothing?"

"I am afraid not."

I frown. The expression does not look good on me. Aunt Celestia once told me my face would freeze like this were I to hold on to it long enough. Underneath Mom's endlessly-patient gaze, I pick my way gingerly through the time-ravaged arsenal, eventually selecting a tiny alabaster jewel box from one of the shelves. "What about this?"

Mom's face literally and figuratively lights up. "The Lapidoptera Box!" she says.

"'Lepidoptera'? Something to do with butterflies, right?"

"And Lapidiary," she says. "Because it is is a jewel box. The name is a subtle pun. Gifted to the Empire by the legendary Mage Jasmine Flower. It is said that a pony who faces a hail of arrows need only open this box to transmogrify the incoming projectiles into a swarm of harmless butterflies."

"That's amazing!" I say. "Did you ever use it?"

"Once," Mom says.

"Tell me about it!"

"Once upon a time," Mom says, "Princess Amore the Third plucked that very box up from that very shelf..."

"...Yes? And?"

"...And she recorded a message about its origin and function so as to properly catalogue it in this armory."

"...And that's it?"

"One more thing," Mom says.

"Yes?" I lean in.

"Once finished, she proceeded to put the box down."

"So she picked it up, recorded a message about it, and...put it back down again."

"Yes. As you may have surmised, you have now been witness to that selfsame message. This concludes my account of Princess Amore's primary interaction with the Lapidoptera Box."

"So what good is it?"

"It is said that a pony who faces a hail of arrows need only open this box to—"

"I understand! If I'm ever facing down a hail of arrows, I'll make sure to think of this box that you picked up one time and then put down again."

"You are searching for something in this armory," Mom says. "Something you are unable to locate."

"Yes!" I cry out. "I am!"

"Please state the nature of the danger you face so that I may recommend an appropriate defense."

"The danger I face? You want to know the danger I face?"

"Yes. So that I may recommend—"

"The danger I face is that I'm trying to be the mother of a beautiful, challenging daughter, and to be the princess of a beautiful, challenging empire, and I feel so...cut off. From my family, my heritage. Everything that a normal pony would lean on at a time like this. Shiny and I have brought the Empire back from the brink of re-destruction at least twice now, and we've brought a child into this world, and I keep feeling like we're doing it completely alone."

"I am not certain how to react to that statement," Mom says. "Please state the nature of the danger you face—"

"I don't know if what I'm doing is right or not! In school, all the tests had answer keys! The teacher would go over your test booklet with a red pen and tell you exactly what you did wrong and what you did right! Shiny and I don't have that!"

"Velvet," Mom says.

"Pardon?"

"You have identified 'Velvet' as 'Shiny's mother.'"

"Okay. You're right. Shiny has a mom. She's been a heaven-send. She's upstairs watching Flurry right now, in fact."

"And she gives you advice on how to raise your child."

"Yes," I admit, shuffling my gold-booted hoof against the dusty crystal tiles.

"You have in hoof the weapon you have requested," says Mom. "My service is complete."

"Wait," I say. "Okay, yes, I see what you're saying. Don't go."

"I am here," Mom says. "For as long as you require my services."

There is a long silence as I struggle to form words.

"Do you still require my services?" Mom asks, after a minute.

"Yes!" I blurt out.

"All right," Mom says. "I am here. For as long as you require my services."

"I'm trying to ask you something," I say. "And I'm trying to phrase it in such a way that you won't just say that you're not certain how to react to it. Do you understand?"

"Yes," Mom says. "You are attempting to confine your questions to the areas of my expertise so that I will not express uncertainty."

"No, no, that's not what I'm doing at all."

"I'm sorry," Mom says. "Please rephrase your intent."

"I want you to say something real."

"Very well. Please tell me the nature of your question about this armory."

"I don't care about this armory!"

"I'm sorry," Mom says. "Please rephrase your intent."

I very nearly utter a most unprincesslike word. "Darn it!" I say, instead.

"I am not certain how to react to that statement," Mom replies.

"Are you proud of me?" I practically shout.

Mom is silent.

"You don't know how frustrating this is!" I continue, beginning to pace, my hooves clicking against tile. "I have all the time I need with the fifteen minutes you spent cataloguing this armory and absolutely nothing of the entire rest of your life! I don't want to know about the boxes that turn arrows into butterflies or the spears that call lightning from the skies, or the gems that grow into impenetrable walls. I want you to tell me that you love me and that you're proud of what I've done!"

I stand there, quivering, for a moment longer. Then I slump.

"I am—"

"Please don't say that you're not certain how to react," I beg.

"Acknowledged," Mom says. "I am an enchantment bearing the basic likeness of Princess Amore. I was placed in this chamber a thousand years ago, on the cusp of the Empire's overthrow, to safeguard the potent spells herein."

"I know," I say, weakly. "You don't need to repeat it."

Mom processes this for a moment.

"When Princess Amore cast this enchantment," she says, "she was adamant that the dark-hearted unicorn who usurped her throne should never enter this armory. Princess Amore determined that only a truly good-hearted pony, a pony of gentle kindness, possessed of the virtues of humility and self-sacrifice, should have access to the potent spells safeguarded within this room."

I can practically hear the thaumaturgic sparks as the enchantment makes a desperate leap for a conclusion.

"The fact that you are in this room," she says, "is evidence enough that she considers you to be a good pony."

Tears well up at the corners of my eyes.

"Okay," I say. "That'll do."

"Do you still require my services?" the enchantment asks.

"Yes," I say. "Always."

"I am here," says the enchantment. "For as long as you require my services."

"Can you hold me?" I ask, my lip quivering.

"No," she says.

"Can you pretend to?"

A pause.

"Yes," she says.




"There you are!" Velvet says, putting a bookmark in the massive old tome she's been poring over. "You were downstairs a long time! I was beginning to wonder about you."

"Bah!" says Flurry Heart, waving her hooves excitedly from within her playpen. I lift her up in my magic, kiss her on the cheek, and set her gently upon my back. The object of my fiercest love proceeds to tangle her hooves in my mane and drool all over my withers.

"Sorry it took so long," I say. "I hope Flurry wasn't any trouble."

"A perfect angel most of the time," says Velvet. "And nothing I couldn't handle for the rest of it," she adds, with a wink. "Did you find what you were looking for?"

"Something like it."

"Well, I'm glad you turned up more than I did." She glances back at the dusty old book, a look of dismay crossing her features. "That lovely young Sunburst has been an absolute gem at finding all these old texts about alicorns for me to look at, but I'm afraid some of them are a bit too scholarly for little old me. I can't find any notation in here of how old baby alicorns should be before they start talking!"

"I think we age peculiarly," I say. "Maybe there isn't a single right answer."

"Oh, well," says Velvet. Then her face brightens. "Guess we'll be going at it alone!"

"All alone," I say, smiling. "You, me, Shiny, Night Light, Twilight..."

"Yep!" says Velvet, missing my meaning. "We'll all just take our best guesses. Together, we'll figure something out. Do you think that'll be okay, hon?"

"I think that'll be just fine, Mrs. Sparkle," I say. "Mom," I add.

Crinkles form at the edges of Velvet's eyes. "My gosh," she says. "I'm not certain how to react to that."

"Is it okay?"

"It's wonderful, dear. You've just never called me that before."

"I'm going to start. If that's all right."

She beams, bright as the sun.

"Of course it is," Mom says.
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#1 ·
· · >>Miller Minus
This one, pleasantly, hits a lot of the right beats for me. It took me a few paragraphs to realize who Cadence was talking to, which appears to have been your intent, and their interaction became more entertaining for it. I enjoy how smoothly their conversation flows, despite who it is Cadence is conversing with.

Don't have many personal critiques, aside from perhaps a slight logical discrepancy you make near the beginning by stating that Cadence has been in this room before, though her actions don't make her out to be very familiar with it. However, she also says she becomes "very emotional in this room," so, y'know, logic may be on its way out the window at this point.

And family-focused fics are very much my jam. Nice work!
#2 ·
·
I liked it. You've laid very heavy on the talking heads here, but I've recently read Foundation by Isaac Azimov, so I've seen the light that talking heads isn't always terrible.

But then, I still would have liked a bit more description. Of the image of Amore herself, of the room. Of the smell, the sounds, the temperature, the state of it all after the thousand years since it was constructed. I wouldn't suggest doing very much more describing, because it will become clear pretty quickly that the two characters are indeed not doing much except talking, but I still wanted a little more invitation into the room myself. Talking heads isn't terrible but I still prefer the alternative.

I didn't find the logic error that >>Rocket Lawn Chair noticed, but I did find that the rules for this enchantment aren't totally clear. There are times when Amore says things that couldn't possibly have been recorded within 15 minutes. Can this recording of Amore construct sentences based on the world around her? Even add in words like 'Velvet'?

There's definitely a great idea here, I just think the rules need some fine-tuning

But all that aside, the emotional throughline is very well done, except for the part where Cadance blatantly says it all in one paragraph. It was all nice and subtle before that, and if it were to be removed I don't think the story would be hurt (and it might even be improved).

Thanks for writing and best of luck in the contest!
#3 ·
·
I like this a lot. I think the last line would be stronger as "says Mom" instead of "Mom says", but that's literally all I can recommend.

I loved the redux with Velvet saying she doesn't know how to react.
#4 · 2
·
Well this is a damned strong entry.

Cadance's heritage is a bit of a blurry spot, so I really appreciate the work on it here, particularly as I've briefly jumped in the same puddle. The emotional beats all hit well, from her yearning, to her frustration, to realizing she's not as all alone as she thinks. The ending parallel with Velvet really seals the deal, and I am an absolute sucker for that exact type of narrative bookending.

I'm going to dissent from the bench a bit with the other comments: I don't think Amore's enchantment being able to process new information is a plothole or loose , exactly. She's meant to judge ponies for worthiness, and I would think that necessitates at least a little bit of acceptance of new input into the magical datastream. And Cadance had been down there quite a bit, the story tells us, so it's not unthinkable that the enchantment could stretch maybe just a little bit to dole out her judgement in a more positively constructive manner with so much prodding.

But maybe that's just my brain fanfic-ing the fanfic.
#5 · 1
· · >>Skywriter
Not a fan of opening with vague, disembodied voices with no real dialog tags.

A couple paragraphs in, and I think this is "Mom" (the computer) from Broken Age.

Yeah, similar I guess. Wanting the simulation to be more of a loved one than it is. Or more real than it is.

Not sure what it says about Cadance's mental stability if she went to a hologram and started insisting it was her Mom.

"Please state the nature of..." the medical emergency? :-)

Very nice reversal and callback at the ending.


So this story is a bit irritating at the start (as I don't like having to puzzle out who is even speaking) but it doesn't drag that on too long. After that, the hook is set, and we're basically dealing with this strange HAL / Doctor (from Voyager) thing, but with a sadness in Cadance's desperation that doesn't quite gel for me.

Let me try putting that in other terms. I think that the way Candance has been there before, and has literally been told over 545 times the same message of purpose implies that she has been desperately trying to call this thing "Mom" for a long time. On the surface, this makes for GREAT storytelling, as we get this ending, with new family taking the place. But it makes for a fridge horror of sorts too. Cadance is married for years, has been more or less part of the Twilight family since she was babysitting Sparkle herself, and has been dating Shiny and been loved by their parents since at least then. That all that was somehow not fulfilling, and left her so desperate she was basically trying to turn a doorlock with a picture of an nth-level grandmare she'd never met into her "Mom" implies horrible things about Twilight Velvet, Nightlight, Shiny, Twilight Sparkle, Celestia, and all the other ponies that loved her for years. It is that which doesn't quite sit right with me.

That said, IF this character didn't have this giant backstory. If she'd just come into this new family by marriage a year ago or something, then it'd work a lot better. The callback at the end, with the reversal in "I'm not certain how to react to that." is great bookending, and a heartwarming scene.

Overall, this gets really high marks, but leaves just a tiny bit of something dark/bitter that I can't quite get past.
#6 ·
· · >>Skywriter
Slow start, but really picks up as it goes on. I don't necessarily mean the dialogue at the beginning; I'm referring to the somewhat stilted expository way that HoloCandy's role and nature are established. It's... inelegant.

The rest of the story proceeds beautifully, however. Two minor quibbles: First, the way that the scene with HoloCandy ends feels hard parse. We're left with the impression that there might actually be more to her than her programming, whereas the rest of the scene up until that point had hammered home that what you saw was what you got with her. Even her assurance to Candy that she wasn't a bad mom/pony/princess/whatever felt well within the strictures of her programming.

Second, less importantly, I feel like Candy would probably have been comfortable enough to call Velvet "Mom" before she started foisting her granddaughter onto her.

I have no real complaints, otherwise. Well done.
#7 · 5
· · >>BlueChameleonVI >>Xepher
Wow, okay, that was unexpected. I mean, really, really unexpected. I know I have this self-effacing thing going on, but the sheer quality and polish of some of the other entries should have blown this piece out of the water. "Planning Ahead" and "Mistmane and the Torii of Time" were easily my faves, and "A Timey Nightmare" and "Lesson One" were also strong entries. And "Better Left Unfinished" was sweet, sad, and also near the top of my slate.

I'm not in any way saying anyone's opinion is flawed. I'm tremendously flattered.

Some of the rough spots can be touched up, but the core bitterness that >>Posh and >>Xepher absolutely correctly notice is so inherent to the story concept that I'd call it unfixable. I guess I'm not sure what to do with this thing now, but that's a problem for another time, I guess. Thank you to everyone for reading and writing!
#8 · 1
· · >>Skywriter
>>Skywriter
"Unfixable" is a harsh term. Also, even despite that, I still put this at 2nd place on my final ballot. (Phoenix Festival was first, which... kinda does the same thing in a way.)

As for the bitterness being core to things... You picked a character with too much backstory. Reframe this with another character we don't have so much on. Make it before the fall of the empire maybe, with one of those slightly-less-removed granddaughters in between Amore the Third and Cadance. Replacing Twilight Velvet with any OC mother-in-law shouldn't be too hard either.

Another angle is change the timeframe. Make this centuries ago, when Cadance was younger, and hadn't met the Twilight family, and it was just her and Celestia. Yeah, you'd have to change the setting, but a buried armory under Canterlot with "remnants" of the empire works almost as well as this being under the Crystal empire.


Whatever you do, don't worry too much about a couple critiques on a fairly nuanced problem. This is still good stuff (you won the damn contest after all!) You could just publish it as is and tons of people would enjoy it just fine.

Anyway, congratulations on the gold!
#9 · 2
·
>>Xepher
Thanks so much! And thanks a lot for the brainstorming of ideas. I'm not sure what this piece's future is, but I'll take what you said into consideration!

(As for reframing it with another character--pfft, like I do anything but write Candybutt stories)