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And at the End, You Shall Remain Alone · FiM Minific ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 400–750
Twilight, By Herself, On A Holiday Afternoon
Time-clone TS11608 uploads your final assignment to your inbox, and for the sixty-third time that morning, you pick up a quill in your horngrip and set it to parchment:

Dear — you glance at the bottom of the uploaded letter — Bytecode Quine,

Thank you so much for your lovely letter. I am always thrilled to hear from my fellow ponies — and while my schedule doesn't usually allow personal responses, your request deserves a reply.

No — you deserve a reply.

You underline that with a flourish, for the same reason you're hornwriting this instead of copying and pasting into an e-mail.

Next to you, TS9177 rolls her neck to stretch a kink out, then stands to arch her back. "Done," she says into her mic, then glances at the number on your collar and gives you a sympathetic look. (The 9000s are covering the brief thank-yous to the Holiday Well-Wishes, comma, Not Otherwise Classified. She probably finished her quota of 500 an hour ago, then picked up some slack from other queues.)

You nod to her as she heads back to Staging for debrief and decommission, then return your focus to the scroll. That said, you write, I hope this explanation of why I am declining your offer of a Hearts and Hooves Day date will help bring some comfort.

You let out a long breath, closing your eyes and feeling your wings fluff out. You can never write that without picturing the way their face will fall as they read. You've stabbed 63 ponies straight in the heart today, and felt each one.

Simply put, you write, I spend the day alone by choice. Part of it is that this isn't my holiday; this is Cadance's time to shine.

With the soft whuff of displaced air, TS11608 teleports Bytecode's gift-box of Scharffen Pferdger chocolates to your desk. You pause to sample a few. They're marvelous.

But more importantly — you continue — there are some ponies who don't find romance necessary for a healthy, fulfilling life. A generation ago, I realized I was among them.

"Another year down," TS2326 says as she walks past you to Staging. You understand her look of relief — she's in your group.

That doesn't mean I'm incapable of feeling love, you write. It doesn't mean that I can't enjoy intimate time with ponies. But it does mean I don't get the same kind of fulfillment from the experience that my friends do, and dating has repeatedly led to me creating hurt feelings over unreciprocated passion, which I'd rather not put you through.

If you'd like to learn more — you add hopefully — I've enclosed search codes you can use on the Equinet to learn more about aromanticism and asexuality. That's my path, not yours, but understanding other ponies better makes it easier to be good friends with them.

You take a deep breath, fire up MapTable.exe, and scrutinze Bytecode's letter while you wait. This is where the script ends and the delicate work begins. The work of being a good friend to somepony who wrote an awkward proposition to a princess they've never met.

Your terminal pings. Preliminary compatibility analysis complete, it says atop ranked lists of names: potential local and online friends based on social media analysis, and a third column of gender-preference-appropriate singles imported from GemHeartDB. You focus your vision into the middle distance and page through the matches' profiles, looking-not-looking at the magical resonance, until you're satisfied.

I can tell you try hard to be a good friend, you write, because the chocolates you sent were a generous — and delicious! — touch. And I know you're lonely right now, despite the beauty of your generosity. When you give and give and get nothing in return, it's the worst feeling in the world.

I can't be everyone's best friend, but I do care, Bytecode. That's why I hope you drop a line to some of the ponies in the attached list. They could use a good heart like yours, and I think you'll be pleasantly surprised by how much they bring into your life in return. Please write back next year and let me know how it goes!

All my best,

Twilight

And with that, you're done. You reread the scroll, slide it onto the dragonfire-ready pile, then lean back and allow yourself a smile.

Only one pony alive could tease out the threads of harmony from such thin context. Good thing she scales.
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#1 · 3
· · >>TitaniumDragon
So, that's, uhh... a really weird setting for something that basically boils down to Twilight telling someone "I'm asexual. Let me educate you on the subject". Like, what was the point of this whole sci-fi stuff, aside from boosting the word count?
#2 ·
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I'm with >>Samey90 ; while the idea of Twilight creating time clones of herself to do a ton of things at once, it doesn't really seem to add much to the story. Is the point to show that, despite Twilight seeming to be personal about it, what is going on is actually deeply impersonal? Because that seems to be what is going on here; despite Twilight trying to put on the "personal" touch, this is a very impersonal way to response, what with the time clones and the "I'm asexual" thing and the list of predetermined names from some database.

It is all meant to be helpful, but it is terribly impersonal, but it doesn't really feel like it is called out at all.
#3 · 1
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I'm gonna have to be the dissenting opinion, here, and say that I actually liked the time-clone thing, mostly because it was a great excuse to make the 2nd person narration really work. And I really like the 2nd person narration. I'm not sure why, honestly—it might very well be the novelty factor—but I had a blast with it.

But, I will have to agree that Twilight telling Bytecode to basically go Google it, feels oddly cold. You spent a lot of time impressing upon us that Twilight takes this kind of letter-writing very seriously and it has a big emotional impact on her, but the way she words her letter feels unsatisfying, in that regard. And part of it, of course, is the ever-present tentacles of the 750-word limit worming their way into all things in these minific rounds. But still, I can't help but think that her response feels curt.

So, while I enjoyed the story overall, I really wished that Twilight's letter felt a little more special than it did to me.
#4 ·
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After reading this one:

I had to go back and check the "Guessing" list to make sure GaPJaxie didn't have an entry this round. My only question has to do with the phrase "time clone". It's very evocative, as they say, but it's not quite explanatory enough for me to figure out what's going on logistically with the operation Twilight's set up here. Just give me a few more hints as to where they come from and where they go when they're done with their shifts, and I'll be happy.

Mike
#5 ·
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Immediately, I find the atmosphere of this one intriguing, but then it starts to drag, and I'm not sure how many of the first dozen paragraphs you actually need. Of course, the Big Issue is second-person, the usual criticism of which is that the author is telling me that I'm doing things I almost certainly wouldn't do. Given the premise, I could actually see taking that and using it, in the sense that our perspective character wasn't doing all this voluntarily. But that's not the direction you went.

Frankly, I don't understand the last line. I suspect it's a parting joke, but if I don't get it, then the story ends on an awkward note.

In the end, I still like the mood of the story, but ultimately, it seems like a lot of dressing up a simple concept unnecessarily. Plus why is Twilight such a hot commodity? She doesn't mention any of the other princesses needing to do something like this. That puts me of a mixed mind about things like the protagonist's interactions with her coworkers. Ultimately, they lead nowhere, but they do add a spark of realism. In a story this short, readers are going to be looking for significance in everything, so in this case, it can lead to an effect of a plot point that got dropped instead of a little touch of lifelike authenticity.

But back to feeling like the story is overdressed—this huge organization, the decision to render it in second person... again, readers are looking for significance when a story's length doesn't permit extraneous things, yet I don't see how either one is really necessary. It does create a vague sense of scale to know Twilight has made duplicates to manage this, and to know how many of them she uses, but we see a small slice of that without knowing what the rest of the organization is for. Is the entire thing just to handle date requests? Or for all her correspondence? Or generalized personal assistant duties? There's at least something there, but I don't understand the decision to go second person, because it doesn't add anything. I don't know enough about the character I've inhabited to have a rooting interest in her or care what happens to her, for instance. I don't identify with her. Are some or all of these clones facing the end of their existence once Hearts and Hooves is over?

Nice atmosphere, cute character interactions, but on the superficial side.