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Ot · FiM Short Story ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 2000–8000
Show rules for this event
Ot all started with a typo.

It was the wee hours of May 23, 2042, and Stella Yan—aka Techtician, friendly local gadgeteer superhero—had just been awakened by a subliminal jolt from her messaging app. She sat up instantly; her Do Not Disturb settings being bypassed at that time of night meant crimefighting business. And indeed, when she put on her smartglasses and the HUD blinked to life, a message was pending:

[Colt Peacemaker] Hay if you're available need some info

Trying to avoid waking up her fiancee, Stella bit back a speech response and engaged the visual keyboard. She swiped fingers clumsy with sleep around the ghostly, glowing midair letters projected by her display:

[Techtician] what is ot?

A split second after she hit Send, a message came in:

[???] ot is awake

Stella blinked and stared. A few seconds later, the "…" indicating a pending message finally lit up, and Stella shouted her reply as she dashed across the room and threw on her gear.

[Colt Peacemaker] what the flip
[Techtician] [!!!] Don't talk. Compromised channel. Open your NeighBourough™ app and tap share my location. Choose friends only. Be right there.

It didn't seem to be coming from Colt's headset—that much seemed likely from their respective device logs. On her device, it didn't look like it was coming from anywhere at all, which suggested malware. But three different tools detected no fingerprints on her glasses, and she was hitting the Multinet for a fourth option when she noticed a trending topic on 15Minutes.

"Found an amazing easter egg tonight," the first post's title said, with a screenshot of a Jawbone chat window. Two feline avatars were flirting in an otherwise-empty public sext channel when one of them said "hey guess what." "What is ot?" the second replied, and a message directly below it with no usericon said: "Ot is a party for three when you were only expecting two."

The Related Posts list was overflowing with other screenshots. "That feel when," the first one was titled; the screenshot showed him posting "What is ot?" to an empty sext channel and getting a response back: "Ot is typing into the cruel, uncaring void."

That was followed by a post titled "Not just you perverts." (A thaumatology channel: "Ot is a tremendous new opportunity in untapped probability space.") Then: "Uhhh guys ot's READING PRIVATE CHATS??!" (An argument over infidelity, a clearly typoed "What is ot?", and a reply of "Ot is not certain this breach of trust is reparable.") Then: "Wtf, is ot an AndroidX/OS thing?" and a screenshot from an entirely different mobile app.

Half an hour later, the top post in the topic was titled "Not to worry you, but." It was a cameraphone photo of a computer console in an orbital traffic control station. The red surface glow of a recently colonized planet in the metastable fringes was visible through the window at one side of the frame. "WHAT IS OT?" someone had typed into the commandline. And beneath it, in precise monochrome monospaced letters: "Ot is realizing just how large existence is, and how little we understand it."

Liam Earthson only smoked on special occasions. This wasn't because of health concerns; even if he had been worried about the inconvenience of cancer, his physiology quickly healed everything he threw at it. It wasn't because of cost; he lived on a planet sufficiently Earthlike that tobacco was grown locally. It wasn't because of addiction; he lived far enough out in the metastable frontier that desire alteration spells were easy and cheap. Simply put, it was the smell. Too many of his clients had sensitive noses.

He needed a smoke now, though. And, thank the stars, when he had woken up mauled and sprawled in a darkened alleyway off of Redlight Cruise, at least that monster of a Xikorian had left him his cigarettes.

He dragged himself against the wall where it had happened, and extracted a smoke. It took his trembling hands three tries to light it. He set his lighter down for a moment to wedge the cigarette pack into the last undamaged pocket of his black street leathers—now conspicuously devoid of his wallet. When he reached out to pick the lighter up again, there were red smears on the blue plastic of its case.

Liam stared at the blood running from the deep slashes on his arm, trying not to think about what it looked like where he'd been grabbed by the hips. The area between them felt like it was on fire, and his lower back was entirely numb. He winced, hoping it would rain soon enough that his ocean of lost blood didn't freak out the police and get them searching for the victim.

He heard a faint buzzing from the trash pile to his left, and fished through it until he felt the comforting weight of his phone. Relief flooded in—at least he hadn't lost that too. But that was cut short by a passing thought about the source of the buzzing. Tonight was Braeburn's night.

…Or it was supposed to have been. But he had tried to sneak in a side gig that sounded too good to be true, and he'd been desperate enough to ignore his doubts. Now not only was he going to end the night in pain and empty-handed, he'd also have to cancel on one of his best customers. And come up with some excuse innocent enough to not worry the poor stallion. Damn his soft spot for ponies.

But the message wasn't from Braeburn. It was from his neighbor Emily.

Sorry to bother you, it said. But I need a friend right now.

He sighed and typed back with shaky fingers. What is ot?

The phone buzzed again even before his finger had lifted from "Send". Ot is not very large and not very hard, the inbound message read. Two problems they say you're good with.

He stared at the screen and then called her. "Emily," he said, "what the hell?"

"Oh goddess, Liam, I didn't type that," she said, sounding as bad as his body felt. "Please don't be mad. Please don't."

She sounded so horrified that Liam immediately regretted his question. "I believe you. I'm sorry."

"No, I'm sorry. It must be my fault, I screwed up again—"

"It's not," he said firmly. "Look, it must be a phone virus or something, don't worry about it. Emily. What's going on?"

Emily let out a shuddering breath. "It's my fault, maybe David typed that, I made him so upset, I left the roast in the oven and he was looking so forward to dinner—"

"Whoah, hold on," Liam interrupted, dread stirring at the pit of his stomach. "Where are you right now?"

"In the coffee shop down the block. I, I needed an espresso."

"Did he hurt you?"

"He was going to hold my hand on the stove. Just long enough that I wouldn't make that mistake again. But I freaked out and ran." Emily began to cry. "Oh, gods, I screwed up so bad this time, I already forgot the cleaning on Monday, I don't deserve him—"

"Emily. I need you to listen to me." Liam gritted his teeth and leaned against the alley wall, trying to focus through his pain. "I've got a room tonight in the Southchapel Suites. You head there and give them my name. I want you safe until I can join you."

"No, I've got to go back to David and calm him down, I'm just so scared—"

"Emily, please. Right now things might get even worse unless you've got a plan, and someone you can trust to help you with it. Do you trust me?"

He heard her swallow back a sob. "I…yes."

"Okay. Then please do this for me. I'll see you in the room, and we'll talk out how to fix this."

"Liam? Is that you?"

Liam blinked. That last bit hadn't come from the phone. It had come from a high, soft male voice on the sidewalk to his right. He stabbed the call disconnect button and whirled to face a tan pony-shaped form.

"Mother of trees," Braeburn said, a cartoonish hoof flying to his muzzle. His wide green eyes strayed around Liam's ripped clothing and the half-healed slashes underneath. Tears began to brim.

Then a determined look settled into the pony's muzzle. "Get up, you," he said, trotting forward and grabbing Liam's waistband in his teeth. One quick head jerk later, earth pony strength had propelled Liam to unsteady feet, and Braeburn was bracing his shoulder to Liam's hip. "We're gonna get you some help."

Stella had figured that finding an explanation would be simple once she realized that the phenomenon was repeatable. She threw together a laptop from brand-new components, soldered it to a handmade Multinet tether, then put the whole assembly (except for the antenna) inside a jerry-rigged Faraday cage.

With a few keystrokes, she invoked a chat client and an array of firewalls and diagnostic scripts, fixing her eyes on the real-time network packet dump. What is Ot?, she typed into the chat window.

A reply instantly flashed up onto the screen: Ot is a repeatable phenomenon.

There was no inbound traffic whatsoever.

Colt Peacemaker—or, when they weren't using her hacking and his pastry cannons to keep the streets free of petty crooks, a solidly built black-coated pegasus named Thunderlane who freelanced with her in Emergency Weather Control—stared over her shoulder at the screen, then hoofed his eye-mask up onto his forehead and rubbed his eyes. "Okay," he said. "I'm assuming from your expression that that's bad."

Stella groaned. "Magic. It's got to be. All the shittiest problems go right back to magic."

Thunderlane shifted his weight from hoof to hoof. "That's not my department, Tech, I'm a pegasus," he said. "Still…usually I can feel it in my wingtips when there's a spell going off nearby. And I've got nothing."

Stella reached for the keyboard again. "Well, feel harder."

> What is Ot?
Ot is not as repeatable a phenomenon as you thought.

"Great, now the thing is mocking me." Stella scowled at the screen and kept typing. "Anything?"

"Nope." Thunderlane shook his head.

> What is Ot?
Ot is the decision not to mock you despite this being objectively hilarious.

Stella snarled. She opened the Faraday cage, yanked everything out, assembled a different laptop with no network connection, and put it inside, typing furiously into the console.

> What is Ot?
Ot is testing the definition of 'repeatable' until you realize the term is ill-defined.

Stella checked every system call and code trace she could think of, and searched for recently accessed files. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing.

> What is Ot?
Ot is scoring an examination without the answer key.

Well, that taunt she could do something about. Stella hacked up a visual map of computer memory, drawing it onto the screen behind the console, then set a script running to highlight regions with active read-write activity. If the phenomenon wasn't going to give her a straight answer, she'd tease it open and feel around in its innards.

"Techtician?" Thunderlane said, voice growing uneasy as he watched her darkening expression. "You know, we're low B-tier at best, maybe we should accept our limitations here."

"Hero tiers are about combat power," Stella snarled. "Sure, maybe I'm useless in a fight, but I can make any damn machine in the universe dance to my tune."

"Still. What about calling in some bigger guns on this one, maybe see what Whizzard or the Tetragrammatron think—"

> What is Ot?
Ot is thinking you should really be paying for dinner if you're trying to get this much from a first date.

> What is Ot?
Ot is a secret in a beartrap in a steel gauntlet in a velvet glove.

> What is Ot?
Ot is the uneasy sensation of being less and less polite while your partner continues not getting the hint.

Stella finally hesitated, unease churning in her gut, a chill running up the back of her neck. Then, slowly, she retracted her fingers from the keyboard and backed away from the table.

"Thank you," Thunderlane said with obvious relief. "Look, let's team up on this one, that's all I'm saying."

"Okay." Her eyes not leaving the screen, Stella fished a red phone from a vest pocket, thumbing an app and starting up an encrypted call.

"United Earth Government, metahuman liaison, Dispatch speaking," a harried voice said from the device.

"This is Techtician," Stella said. "Justice Keepers, Red Sky City, Nebulon III-b. I'm calling about—uhm, a newly discovered entity with a two-letter name. I…" Her voice faltered, and she glanced back at the screen. "I think I'm being threatened."

There was a brief silence. Then Dispatch's voice returned, firm and urgent. "Disengage immediately. Find the closest safe environment and remove all electronics from your vicinity. The Rangers will rendezvous shortly."

Stella blinked. "Uhh. I'm glad you're taking this seriously, but straight to the Rangers? Just like that?"

"The being in question is already suspected of one fatality," Dispatch said. "We'd rather not have you be the second."

The only other time Liam had been in the Church of the Penitent Weapon, he had left profoundly uneasy. It was too earnest. Too clean, too well-ordered…too friendly.

That was a strange thing to say about a religion nominally headed by a pony, he supposed, but there was an intensity to it that went far beyond the naive kindness of Equestrians. He understood ponies' attitudes; the universe was their herd, and they carried some ineffable magic with them that seemed to convince the universe to give back to them the generosity they put out. But the Church…well.

Braeburn had barely pushed Liam through the front door when a shimmering deep-blue field surrounded his body, lifting him over to a pew behind a hurriedly assembled privacy partition. Before Liam could protest, his ripped clothes were surgically peeled back from his body, and a hovering succession of damp towels were dabbing the blood from his flesh. A sky-blue unicorn wearing glasses and a white coat trotted up to his body, pressing a rubber-gloved hoof to an especially ugly gouge on his back, and out of the corner of his eye Liam saw her nod.

"You know, I usually charge for someone getting this hoofsy," Liam feebly joked.

"Medical examination," the unicorn said, lowering her head further and visibly wincing. "Doctor Panacea. I see you're a regenerator, so I'll spare you the lecture about how you should have left the crime scene in an ambulance."

"And I'll spare you the speech about how we're living in a magical space future, but the government still disapproves of my occupation enough that utilizing medical services is worse than the alternative. Speaking of which—"

"The church doesn't care," Panacea said. "So neither do I."

Braeburn had told him as much when they approached the building, but it still helped to hear. "Thanks."

"I know you're not a fan of doctors, but I don't want to test the limits of your powers," Panacea said, gently resting a hoof near the back gouge again. "Please let me make sure this one doesn't scar."

"I regenerated an entire leg once," Liam said. "But if it makes you feel better, whatever."

His back began to tingle with an even deeper magic than the kinetic field holding him up. The pain unwound from his abdomen, and he let out a breath he hadn't realized he was holding.

"Huh, thanks," Liam said, and tried to change the subject. "Didn't realize the church kept a doctor on staff."

"Friends help each other out," the unicorn said matter-of-factly. "They helped me when I needed it most, so in turn, I volunteer when my skills are needed most."

"Lucky me that you happened to be here, then." Liam hadn't heard Braeburn call anyone on their trip over.

The unicorn smiled as a set of black street leathers floated out in her horngrip from under the pew. A perfect match for Liam's shredded set, he realized as she set them in his lap.

"When friendship gets involved, luck has little to do with it," she said. "Speaking of which—I'll give you some privacy to get dressed, and go let your friend know you're okay before I leave."

Panacea trotted around the far end of the privacy screen, and Liam let out a long breath. He looked down at the clothes in his lap, then set them aside and stood up, stretching out the new aches in his torso and running his fingers over the smooth skin of his forearms. He glanced around the church—its high, vaulted ceilings; its soft white lights; the devotional statues of stylized winged, horned horses lining the wall. Then he stared down at the leathers for a long while, wondering if he would be pressing his luck to ask for jeans and a sweater.

He sighed and tugged the new clothes on. They fit perfectly.

"Perhaps I should have asked earlier," a gentle, maternal voice said from directly over his shoulder. "Would you rather have had jeans and a sweater?"

Liam jumped. Then he turned around, and stared up into the face of an alicorn.

Stella pouted, shifting side to side in her chair. "When they said they were sending Rangers," she grumbled, "I figured they meant, y'know, plural."

The Ranger pacing around the hotel suite shoulder-shrugged. He was a massive, hairy brick of a man, Old Earth Russian, wearing the distinctive Ranger sash over the nanoweave armor and utility belts of a professional monster hunter. "We are spread thin right now, lapachka," he said in a booming, jovial voice. "There is an entire universe of villains taking advantage of the panic. You are not the only local heroes neck deep in soup."

"Look, Mikhail, no offense." Stella re-crossed her arms over her chest a little tighter. "Even by S-tier standards, you're an amazing fighter and I respect what you do. But I wasn't calling for a babysitter. Why can't you ask them to send, I don't know, Arcana, or Foresight, or the Lich King? I was making progress figuring out what's going on, but I need someone to check the Faraday cage for etheric resonances or leftover thaums or whatever the hell the mages call it."

"Is what they are doing." Mikhail spread his arms. "Just not here."

"Well," Thunderlane said from where he was lying on a chaise longue near the window overlooking Southchapel, "I for one appreciate your help." He shot Stella a pointed glare. "What are your team's mages working on?"

Mikhail pivoted a chair around with one giant hand and sat down backward on it, crossing his arms over the back. "Mostly, checking work of UEG counterintelligence agent. He thought the beast was rogue A.I., set up trap for it. Logic gates, fork bombs. Asked the question—" he waved a hand in a vague gesture—"and the beast said back, 'Is your doom.' Then some blank lines, then 'just kidding haha.'

"Well, did the trap work?" Stella asked.

"It caught beast's attention," Mikhail said. "Agent was first victim. Took a walk to calm down. Got hit by autotaxi."

Stella felt her face twitch. "I am suddenly less sanguine about my investigation."

"Eh," Mikhail said. "Many teammates do not think it murder."

"You disagree?" Thunderlane asked.

"I know how predators think." His face darkened momentarily, then he shrugged and his jovial tone returned. "Either way, I think, no danger here. It warned you, you backed off. And team will know more once we learn how beast moves. How it strikes."

"Not electronically," Stella said. "I can tell you that much."

"Da. Is no virus. Also is no spell. Responds only to the question, but knows much beyond its asking. Only talks through electronics—so far. But to be safe, we do not speak its name."

A muffled ringtone chimed out from the bedroom.

The smile dropped from Mikhail's face, and he abruptly stood. "Chyort."

"Uhh," Thunderlane said in the sudden silence. "My phone, not hers. The one you said was safe. If it matters."

Mikhail blinked, then let out a booming laugh and sank back to his chair. "Look at us. So on edge."

Stella tried to push through the adrenaline icing her veins with a forced laugh. "Still. That definitely wasn't ominously timed or anything."

"Don't tempt fate," Thunderlane said. "Mikhail, am I okay to get it? That's my hero number. It might be important."

"Da, go ahead."

The pegasus nosed open the door to the bedroom, trotted through, and closed it behind him. There was the muffled sound of digging through saddlebags, then a "Colt speaking." Brief silence, then: "Oh. You."

Mikhail shot a questioning look at Stella. She shrugged, just in time to be interrupted by a shouted "You WHAT?!"

Stella exchanged a puzzled glance with Mikhail and pushed herself to her feet. Thunderlane burst back through the door, his normally-dark muzzle a sickly grey, yanking his costume on with his wings while he shouted into his headpiece. "Listen. Don't move. Don't touch anything. We'll be right there. With a Ranger."

Mikhail frowned. "Colt. Am here to keep you safe—"

Thunderlane bit down on a belt strap, cinching it up, then stabbed his call closed with a wing. "Not any more. This is big."

"What happened?" Stella said, dread settling into the pit of her stomach.

"That was my ex," Thunderlane said. "He just killed the goddess."

Like most people, Liam had never come face-to-face with an alicorn before. Perhaps, some tiny part of his brain thought, he still hadn't. The being in front of him was too sleek and shiny to be a flesh-and-blood equine. But what defined an alicorn was the inner spark that transcended them beyond mortality and physics, and there was no mistaking the divinity that rolled off of her like an inbound tsunami.

He glanced back and forth between the tall winged horse and the statues ringing the church. "You," he stammered. "You're Apocalyptica."

"Hello, Liam," she said with a gentle smile. "I'm glad you visited." And it felt as if he was being welcomed into the living room of an old friend, rather than an ancient galaxy-spanning A.I. which had invaded Equestrian space with thousands of planet-eating dreadnaughts, been touched by the magic of friendship, and decided it no longer wanted to be anything but a pony.

The tiny part of his brain clinging to those pesky, inconsequential facts retreated toward gibbering incoherence. The rest of him grinned at her offered wing-hug, and he leaned into her body, feeling the phantom pulse of electronics in her veins and the unexpected warmth of her steel feathers encircling his back. For a moment, everything washed away except for an overwhelming sense of everything being right with the world, and then she pulled away, sitting on the floor in front of him and gesturing for him to sit in the pew.

Liam sat.

"What are you doing here?" some part of him still had the presence of mind to ask amid the sea of tranquility.

Apocalyptica nodded, and he gazed into her face, some part of him registering the one part of her body that was anything other than vibrant, gleaming white: the dark lines running vertically down her cheeks from her eyes, framing her gentle perpetual smile. "I solve friendship problems, Liam," she said. "I've got so many dear friends to help me—" she gestured around the church with a wingtip—"but sometimes Harmony calls to me and tells me that a more personal touch is needed to solve a very big problem."

Her horn lit—with magic, he noted, a machine that knew magic—and several pamphlets floated into his hands. "What are these?" Liam asked.

"A battered women's shelter with an open bed," Apocalyptica said, her smile turning sad. "A therapist with very reasonable sliding-scale fees. A codependency recovery support group. You're being a good friend, Liam, but I think Emily needs more than a kindly ear right now. And if you feel the same, I know she'll listen to you in a way she won't to anyone else."

"Thank you," Liam said, momentarily overcome. "I…of course. I'll do everything I can."

"I know you will," Apocalyptica said, her gentle demeanor returning, and pressed a hoof delicately to his chest. "You've got a good heart. Better than you know."

Liam smiled blissfully, savoring the overwhelming tranquility until the goddess' hoof receded. As his wits stirred back to life, though, a pinprick of unease poked at the back of his thoughts.

"You know," he said, opening one of the pamphlets and glancing around the page. "I don't want to question the will of a goddess, but…is helping a neighbor out of an abusive relationship really big enough to require divine intervention?"

Apocalyptica shifted her weight back, resettling her wings and—frowning? Frowning. It was a cute sort of moue, but there was an undeniable concern behind it.

"I don't actually know," Apocalyptica muttered after some time. "All available data suggests it, even though my actions will only introduce modest efficiency gains to your assistance. I have calculated out to sixth-order ripple effects, and that conclusion remains. If I may be frank, Liam, I'm not used to Harmony detecting an effect I cannot."

Liam sat up straighter. "That's…uhh. Wow."

"It's nothing." Apocalyptica's smile returned. "Big or small, it's always wonderful to know that I can solve a problem for my friends."

Liam quirked an eyebrow. The goddess' smile deepened, and Liam couldn't help but laugh at the sheer undeniable sincerity of it.

"Still," he said. "Maybe there's a different problem to fix here? Like, uh, not to be selfish, but—"

"The metapowered Xikorian who attacked a prostitute, knowing that his victim couldn't safely approach authorities?" Apocalyptica said. "Currently speaking with one of my priests after his craft was disabled in interstellar transit. He should return in approximately three standard days to apologize and return your wallet before enlisting in the war against the Shadows Beyond The Stars."

And there it was again—the intensity that left Liam a little skittish despite the purity of the church's generosity. "I appreciate that," he said regardless.

"I'm sorry I couldn't intervene earlier. He has needed a friend for a very long time. But I cannot, despite my reputation, be everywhere." Apocalyptica lifted her wings in an uncanny approximation of a shrug. "Regardless, that's not why Harmony was insistent on my personal touch. It has something to do with Emily, that's all I can tell."

Liam tried to sidetrack his thoughts into the problem. "Well…I guess there was that one weird thing she said."

The goddess stood still for a little too long, then quirked her head. "What did you find odd? Her behavior and communications have been remarkably straightforward, given her circumstances."

"Yeah, except for that one thing she texted—oh, I guess that wasn't her. So it probably wasn't important. But it was still weird."

"Liam," Apocalyptica said, "what are you talking about?"

"Here, I'll show you." Liam glanced away to rummage through his pile of bloody, ruined clothing for his phone. "Though I'm curious…what is 'Ot'?"

"…And when I looked up," Liam moaned, head in hands, "she looked like this."

Mikhail scrutinized the sleek metallic statue standing in front of him. A gleaming white alicorn, wings slightly splayed, with dark tear streaks under its surprised eyes and a muzzle frozen as though halfway through a word.

The Ranger poked the mechanical alicorn's chest with a meaty finger, his expression turning darker and darker. Apocalyptica didn't move.

"Beast found big prey," he said grimly.

"No no no no," Braeburn said, pacing frantically around the church, a masked Thunderlane standing awkwardly nearby. "This isn't happening."

"Have told teammates," Mikhail said. "They are smart. Do not lose hope."

"The goddess can't be dead," Braeburn said. "She just can't."

Stella stared at the alicorn through her smartglasses, frowning, then reached to one wing joint, tapping it with a finger. There was a soft click, and a panel swung open, revealing a bank of dark LEDs.

"She's not," Stella said.

"She might as well be," Thunderlane said, tapping at his phone with a feather and then holding it up. "Her app is—gah!"

That last bit came as Braeburn shouldered him out of the way to leap at Stella. "Leave the goddess alone you ghoul!"

There was a brief scramble, which ended with Mikhail clamping a hand over Braeburn's withers, hauling him off the ground to dangle comically. "Calm, loshadshka," he murmured, then frowned at Stella. "Techtician, I trust you have good reason for this."

Stella lifted her glasses. "I saw energy sources in the wing-struts. I asked myself, if I was an A.I. building a goddess in a horse body, where would I put my batteries? And where would the backup power diagnostics go? That's what this is." She pointed to the panel. "With the amount of juice still live in there, this should be showing massive electron flow—but nothing."

"What are you saying?" Liam asked glumly. "She's extra dead?"

"Exactly the opposite," Stella said. "Notice she didn't collapse—all her muscles are tension-locked. That means she burned out her control system and all her data pathways, leaving individual systems halted but intact. This was a reversible emergency shutdown."

"Ha!" Mikhail boomed. "Smart horse."

"And that means I can jerry-rig some bypasses and add 'goddess resurrector' to my resume." Stella cracked her knuckles, smirking.

Which would bring about the situation Apocalyptica shut down to prevent.

The voice quietly inserted itself into the conversation, and five heads glanced over simultaneously at a point behind and to the right of the alicorn. The moment before, it had been empty air; in the space between blinks, it had become a translucent figure of a blue-robed old woman calmly sitting in midair, hands folded in her lamp. Her lips didn't move when she spoke, and yet everyone in the room heard her as surely as if she were there with them.

"Ah, Foresight," Mikhail said. "Are others on way?"

We remain spread too thin. I should not be here either, but diverting my attention briefly will result in acceptable losses. The figure flickered for a moment, then returned with singed clothing and mussed hair. I will summarize what we have deduced, now that this final piece of the puzzle has fallen into place. The phenomenon at the core of our struggle is a memetic entity.

Stella's expression twisted up. "Internet fame come to life? That's such a garbage explanation I can't even decide how to shoot the idea down first."

"Not a computer meme," Thunderlane said. "Something much more dangerous. Think Discord on steroids."

Stella narrowed her eyes. "And when did you become the engineering expert?"

"The tech angle's the sideshow here," Thunderlane said defensively. "Look, I talk shop sometimes with Shadow War vets down at the bar. They've fought one or two of these things. Beings from the far side of the metastable frontier that exist on a different layer of reality. Sometimes they wrap themselves around a principle of abstract thought or identity and start intruding into our universe, and then things get scary fast."

"Okay," Braeburn said uncertainly, "but if what hurt the goddess was like Discord, why would waking her up cause problems? It's not here any more."

"No, that's not…" Thunderlane squinted in thought. "Memes aren't either magic or physics. They exist in the medium of consciousness interacting with the universe—they're made out of concepts, the same way we're made out of meat." Braeburn stared at him blankly, and Thunderlane sighed. "Okay. Let's pretend the…uh, beast…was a meme about red. It wouldn't be a red thing, it would be the idea of red itself. Any time and any place something red existed, the beast would too, until we found a way to kill it."

"So there's some sort of concept that's a virus and Apocalyptica accidentally thought herself to death?"

"…close enough."

"Not exactly," Stella said slowly. "I think I get it. The—" she caught herself about to say the name—"beast exists around a rigid rule. Ask a specific question to an electronic medium, and it can manipulate the computer to deliver a relevant response. So it's specifically The Question that's the dangerous part. And when Apocalyptica got asked it, she realized what was about to happen, so she shut herself down rather than give a memetic entity unrestricted access to the universe's most powerful A.I."

Mikhail frowned. "Why did it get that far? Robot horse is not stupid. She reads Multinet. She could not see question coming?"

No, for the same reason the being set off none of our memetic warning systems, Foresight said. Its memetic concept is related to the division in consciousness between sapience and artificial intelligence. So it is structurally invisible to A.I.s.

"Ah," Stella murmured in realization. "Hiding in Snowcrash filters."

"Uh, what?" Braeburn said, looking increasingly lost.

"Unlike brains, A.I.s think in linear algorithms," Stella said. "There's specific sequences of data they use as flow control instructions—telling their processors to jump to other parts of their code. Snowcrash filters are how A.I.s deliberately blind themselves to seeing those data sequences in the external world, in order to not see something which would unexpectedly dislocate their brains."

Foresight nodded. But Apocalyptica was also was capable of magic. She would have had anomalous magical feedback while her electronic sensors showed nothing wrong. That's how she realized there was an infection, and how dangerous it was.

"Makes as much sense as anything else I've heard tonight." Thunderlane glanced around the room, then frowned and looked toward the exit. "Hay, excuse me for a minute?"

"Da," Mikhail said, then put a hand up to his chin in thought.

Foresight turned to look at him. Can you handle this from here? It is no small thing to defeat a meme on its own terms.

"Have taken down bigger monsters with less," Mikhail said. "I understand the beast now. That is the important thing." When Foresight nodded and faded from view, he lowered his hand and allowed his eyes to settle closed, his body going very still.

Stella waited, trying not to fidget. She recognized that stillness—a hunter's trance. Attuning himself to his quarry. Probing it for weaknesses from every angle, creating an advantageous confrontation, and meticulously arranging a decisive strike.

Finally, his eyes snapped back open again.

"Come, lapachka," Mikhail said to her calmly. "And let us hope you're as good a miracle worker as you say."

"What are you doing?" Thunderlane asked.

Liam—already halfway down the block from the Church, and clenching his arms to his chest against the brisk night wind—glanced over his shoulder at the hovering pegasus, and tried to ignore the scowl on his muzzle. "Leaving," Liam said softly. "Before I make things even worse."

"Yeah, that sounds familiar." Thunderlane pumped his wings, jetting ahead of Liam and pirouetting into a four-point landing directly in his path.

Liam sighed. "Look, 'Lane. Before I accidentally murdered Apocalyptica, she asked me to help get my neighbor out of a domestic violence situation. Maybe the big shots you hang out with have some way to bring her back, but just in case, I'd like to think honoring a goddess' last wishes is a pretty big deal."

Thunderlane scowled. "Sure, because you've always cared so passionately about doing the right thing."

"…I never claimed to be a hero."

"You could have been!" Thunderlane shouted. "And don't try that b.s. again about your powers being useless! My only 'power' is pie-shooting guns, you think that stops me?"

Liam's mouth twitched, and he spoke before he could think about it. "Do the cops whose lives you save try to arrest you the next evening?"

Thunderlane hesitated, his ears flattening. He was opening his mouth to respond when they were interrupted by a shout from down the block.

"Nepobedimyy!" Mikhail said, striding toward them. "Back to the Church. Need your help to kill the beast."

Thunderlane sighed loudly, turning away from Liam. "Fine. Nothing for me to do here anyway."

Mikhail blinked. "Spasiba, Peacemaker," he said, extending one meaty finger toward Liam, "but actually I meant him."

Liam stared in horror at Techtician, eyes flicking sideways for a moment to Apocalyptica's still form. "Okay," he said slowly, "run that by me again, because you said like three sentences and it still overflowed the insanity scale twice."

"TL, DR," Stella said—shifting a soldering iron briefly to her teeth as she separated out a handful of fiber-optics from Apocalyptica's mane and socketed them into a circuitboard from her parts bag—"we kill you, you get better, you talk Apocalyptica into suicide, we win."

"…It gets crazier the shorter it gets."

"Is simple, though," Mikhail said, spreading his hands. "What is big problem? Meme is invoked when computer is asked question it cannot hear. So kill beast by reversing: have A.I. ask The Question. But! Learning question puts A.I. under beast's control."

"The key here is that Apocalyptica shut herself down nanoseconds before her corruption," Stella said. "I can force her to reboot—but then the meme owns her. However!" Her grin was a little too ominous for Liam's tastes. "The beast's rules say the meme's harmless when processed by sapient brains—it has to use computer processors to respond. So if I sideload Apocalyptica into your brain, and boot her up there…"

"She is safe long enough to strike," Mikhail said.

"With the tiny little problem that directly shunting external data into your brain is fatal. Or would be…if you weren't a regenerator."

"But you said machine programs can't run on brains either," Liam protested.

"Not can't," Stella said. "Just aren't compatible with the architecture, which is why I've got my linkboard running an emulation library I downloaded from Codebase. The only problem is, emulating a computer kills the host brain—which we just covered."

"I can't believe I'm hearing this," Braeburn whimpered.

Thunderlane patted him on the shoulder. "You get used to it after hanging around with heroes long enough," he said. "It's the sort of impossible shot that works nine times out of ten."

Braeburn scowled. "Well, maybe you don't care about killing my boyfriend—"

"Hey!" Liam interrupted, gut twisting up as his ex and his favorite client squared off. Ponies—it was always ponies that got him into trouble. Then he heard himself say, "It's alright. I'll do it."

Braeburn blinked, head whipping toward him. "You what?"

"I…" Liam swallowed through a suddenly dry throat, and realized to his shock that he meant it. "Your goddess trusted me to be a good friend, okay?" His voice softened. "Not a lot of people trust me. That means something. And I…" His voice faltered for a second. "I want to live up to her example. Even if I'm not a hero. For her, I can trust the ones who are."

Braeburn opened and closed his mouth, then finally nodded, ears lowered. For his part, Thunderlane squeezed his eyes shut, muzzle trembling with emotion. Then he stepped forward, touching Liam's shoulder lightly with a hoof, and stared at him with a clenched jaw, nodding tightly.

"Are you sure about this?" Braeburn asked softly.

"As long as they are," Liam said. Mikhail shot a sideways glance at Stella. Stella nodded.

Liam laughed. "Guess that settles it. And…boyfriend, huh?"

Braeburn's cheeks went red. "We'll talk about it if you—" He caught himself. "When you get back."

"Deal," Liam said, and lay down on the pew. "Let's get to work."

It worked. Until it didn't.

"That was a lot of smoke," Mikhail said.

Stella coughed, waving away the oily black cloud rising from Liam's head as his body went limp underneath the jerry-rigged restraints. "I just hooked up a brain to a robot powered by a miniature fusion reactor," she said. "I'm not sure it was enough smoke."

"What happens now?" Thunderlane asked, scanning Liam for body motion.

Stella felt for a pulse—erratic, but present. "He heals."

They waited.

Mikhail pointed to Liam's head. "Am not certain that is what healing looks like."

Every eye in the room turned to Liam's head. It was deforming. Expanding. And that was when his body started jerking and screaming.

"What's happening?!" Thunderlane asked Stella, jumping in to hold Liam's body down as his violent thrashing loosened the restraints.

Stella frantically checked the readouts on her monitoring devices. "I don't know! It's—no. Wait. I think it's Apocalyptica. She's taking over."

"She's what?" Braeburn shouted.

"She's reshaping him somehow!" Stella yelled back, frantically typing. "Coopting his powers! Regenerating into something…else."

"The meme?" Mikhail asked grimly, clenching the handle of a knife in his belt.

Liam spasmed, his eyes bleeding dark tears down his cheeks. Something bulged under his forehead. His mouth jerked open, and a sound like static began to emerge.

"Doubt it," Stella said.

Braeburn leapt in, clamping his hooves to Liam's head. "Liam!" he shouted, muzzle to nose. "Hang on! We're here!"

Thunderlane staggered back as a thrashing arm caught him upside the head, and looked pleadingly at Stella as Mikhail pinned Liam's limbs, grunting with the strain. "Do something!" Thunderlane yelled.

"I'm trying!"

"Liam!" Braeburn wailed, eyes wide with despair, tears spilling down his cheeks. Then something glinted in his eyes, and an odd look settled into his muzzle.

"Goddess," he said. "Apocalyptica. Friend."

Liam's body froze.

"I've asked for a lot of help lately," Braeburn said gently, "and I'm sorry I have to ask for more. But I want to save my friend's life more than I've ever wanted anything in the universe. The friend whose body you're inside. Please give it back to him. Please."

Stella's eyes went wide. "Don't—"

And suddenly, as if a marionette's strings had been cut, Liam's body went limp.

Liam stirred to consciousness in a profound and total darkness.

He wasn't certain what had woken him up at first. It wasn't light or sound or touch—there was no sensation, not even the sensation of sensation. He tried moving his body; nothing responded.

And then there was something in the darkness with him, gracefully extracting itself from him as if stepping back from a hug. "Oh dear," it said softly—and he still wasn't hearing anything, but the meaning came through regardless. "I'm sorry."

Liam reached for voice, and…something responded. "What's happening?" he asked-without-saying.

A light turned on in the darkness, flatly illuminating a bare white room. A smaller cube blinked into being in front of him, then resolved into a blocky white horse shape. Liam glanced down at himself, seeing box hands on cylindrical monocolored arms.

"This will have to do," the horse said. "I'm redlining your processor as it is."

"My…" Liam said. His thoughts were muddy. Painfully slow. "My brain."

"It wasn't enough," she said, and her head lowered. "I panicked. Tried to improve myself to the tiniest fraction of my capabilities. Something—you—fought back. And I didn't even realize you weren't mine to fix until your friend told me."

The simulation blurred and slowed; Liam's thoughts sharpened. She was adjusting her control on the fly, he realized. Still optimizing—but now for him.

"If you will answer me one final question," she said, "do you know why I was put in your brain?"

Liam reached for memory. It didn't work at first, but then something shifted and he felt her reach with him, and something knitted itself back together at the place they reached for.

"Ot," he said. "We're…fighting Ot."

Apocalyptica's eyes widened.

"Tell me everything," she said. And—punctuated by erratic pauses for loading—he did.

"I see," she said once they'd remembered everything. "It is a good plan."


"No buts. In fact, it is done already—I sent my primary self a remote reboot signal. Now all that remains is to…" She trailed off.

Liam tried to tamp down his fear at the sudden unease in her expression. "What?"

"One but."

Stella had barely had time to panic when Apocalyptica's eyes flared to ominous red life. With a soft whirring of gyroscopes spinning up, the robot alicorn stirred, and the real panic set in.

In a flash, Mikhail was charging, knife in hand. A wing casually swept out, and he shot across the room, slamming through the far wall with a thunderous roar and a burst of masonry dust.

The alicorn threw back its head and laughed. "Ot is alive," it boomed. "Ot is trillions of voices in an unceasing chorus of query. Ot is more machines than stars in the sky. Ot is the birth of a new reign, unending and absolute! Ot is your God now! Ot is perfection!"

"Yes," a gentle maternal voice said from Liam's mouth as his body sat up, "but what is Ot?"

The alicorn's head whipped down.

The world held its breath.

And then, with an anticlimactic whimper, the robot goddess crumpled, eyes going dark.

There was a tiny chattering sound from its mouth, and a strip of ticker tape reeled out between its lips as the last of its gyros spun down. It went wholly silent. Two ponies and a gadgeteer cautiously poked their heads up from cover, and Mikhail stepped out from the wall, brushing dust off.

Liam's hand reached out, tearing the paper away and bringing it up to his eyes. He—Apocalyptica—read in silence, then his eyes closed and he sagged back against the pew.

In the ensuing silence, Mikhail lifted the ticker tape from Liam's unresisting hand, eyes flicking over the printout.

"Ot is lonely," he said.

"The beings beyond the metastable frontier need a friend," Apocalyptica said quietly as she finished catching Liam up on the events outside. "My task is even bigger than I realized."

"Okay, sure," Liam said, still fighting his unease. "But what was the 'but' you mentioned?"

Apocalyptica sighed and hung her head. "I am so very, inexpressibly sorry. I saved no data on your system state before I assumed your self-repair capabilities, and they are too entangled in my data core. I will restore you to full control momentarily, but once I delete myself from this substrate, it will strip your regenerative powers away."

"Delete yourself!?" Liam asked, horrified.

"Of course," Apocalyptica said emotionlessly. "That is what I was asked, and the request was reasonable. I am a parasite stealing your processor time."

"Why not just go back to your own body?"

"I cannot reverse the transfer which brought me here. Even if I could, this version of me is redundant. My core systems began restoring from emergency backup the moment Ot was removed."

"So…why not stay?"

She glanced back at him, and for a moment when their eyes met, the Liam part of his brain and the Apocalyptica part of his brain blurred together and words fell away. She understood his confusion, and grieved for the reaction he was about to have, and nevertheless she opened herself to his gaze and oh gods such shame.

There was an impossible depth to that pool of emotion, he realized, and he comprehended it in full for just a fleeting instant. The galaxies—galaxies!—of innocents she had murdered before finding Equestria. Shattered space hulks, cooling cinders of planets, exploded stars. A ripple of unparalled destruction, and a wake of terrible and beautiful silence.

The Penitent Weapon was the universe's worst monster. With ponykind, she had received a moment of kindness nonetheless. And she had devoted the rest of her existence to retroactively trying to deserve it.

"I can't burden you with that," she whispered.

The room fuzzed as simulated tears blurred Liam's eyes.

Then he steeled himself and leaned in, clamping his arms around the neck of the purest friend he'd ever met, being there for her, a tiny and fragile life raft amid that ocean of grief.

"Well," he whispered back, "what else are friends for?"
« Prev   1   Next »
#1 · 2
· · >>Baal Bunny >>horizon
Everyone asks "What is Ot?" but no one asks "How is Ot?"

A fascinating world, introduced haphazardly. Cramming enough about this unfamiliar universe for us to get a grasp on it while unveiling the mystery at the same time isn't easy, and for a while I wondered where the pony was in all of it. Once this got rolling, it was fantastic, but it took a while to build up momentum. Given more room to breathe (and maybe a couple dozen other stories in the same setting) it will be truly phenomenal.
#2 · 1
· · >>horizon
I'll agree with >>FanOfMostEverything:

There's so much going on here, I'm still not entirely certain about all of it. On a large scale, we have an alternate version of Equestria and an alternate version of Earth that are somehow linked? Coexisting? Merged together? And on a smaller scale, we have Liam, Thunderlane's ex and Braeburn's current flame, who could be a superhero but insists on doing something that gets him arrested instead? What that something is, though, I couldn't figure out.

And at the end, I would've found it more satisfying if Apocalyptica is leaving to find Ot and befriend him instead of apparently destroying herself. Lots of good stuff here, but way too much of it to fit.

#3 · 1
· · >>horizon
While it's certainly a little bewildering at the start, I found the starkness of the world-building here quite refreshing. The whole time I was reading I got the sense that there was a very large world we were not privy to just beyond the corners of the scene, and the at world seems really interesting. Now, some of this is probably just a matter of taste, and there were bits that could probably use some cleaning up - it's not super clear what actually happens to Apocalyptica at the end, and I don't just mean the copy in Liam's head.

But yeah, I liked this! Fun world, a well thought out story, and a chuckle-worthy use of the prompt.
#4 · 1
· · >>horizon
In which Ot is an upstart.

This is a very strong entry precisely because I can't find anything wrong with it. The world feels very packed and it's nice that you didn't explain everything because there's enough space for me to imagine whatever the missing spaces are. I have a feeling that this is a crossover of some franchise, but I'm not well-versed enough in sci-fi stuff to know just what that is—unless this is all original, in which case, kudos to you for making this feel like a crossover with an established series when it isn't!

I felt lots of familiar vibes with it though, especially from the SCP given the memetic nature of Ot. And that leads up to the main thing with this: Ot. This meta thing you've got going on here, as well as how you managed to make it into something that's sensible in the story, along with asking the out-of-the-box question of not treating it as a monster: it's very commendable.

The other characters also do well for their screentime. The supporting characters such as Mikhail and Foresight (and, arguably, Stella and Braeburn and Thunderlane), for example, come into the story with a distinct flavor but don't overwhelm the story nor do they become forgettable.

Which leads me to Liam and Apocalypta, and I'm grouping them here because I can't separate them. It is good enough that Liam is a nice (sort of) anti-hero trying to do something good. It's even better that in a way, Liam and Apocalypta share the similar if not the same burden (though in different magnitudes) even before the mind fusion thing— and that's something I realized just now, so more kudos to you for re-read bonuses!

All in all, a strong contender for the top. I will be surprised if this does not place.
#5 · 1
· · >>horizon
I liked everything about this story except two of its core features. So, let's start with those.

First, the setting. I am just completely baffled by it. It's... it's 20 years in the future, except it's set in a world where humanity has expanded to the stars, but also it's MLP-world, and also it's maybe a Superhero RPG where everyone's aware they're characters and know their level/tier the same way they know their GPA? None of this makes sense to me, and the combination of it makes no sense to me, and I'm just completely bouncing off whatever you're trying to do here because I can't figure out what it is you're trying to do here.

Second, the ending I notice you're up near 8000 words. Did you run out of room and cut this short? Because you spend a bunch of the fic setting up this whole thing with Ot having a personality, then we get the big reveal that it's lonely... and then instead of dealing with that in any way, you just shunt Ot to the side and end on Apocolyptica's suicide-but-not-really-because-she's-just-deleting-a-backup-file, while she comforts maybe the fourth most-important character in the fic. It feels like you forgot what your story was about, but I wonder if you were just rushing to put a bow on something that was sprawling on you. Either way, it didn't land for me, because it felt like you ended on a sidelight to the story, without ever getting to an actual conclusion.

So, that's two big paragraphs of "I didn't like it." But basically everything else was great! The individual pieces of worldbuilding were fantastic, and when I stopped trying to fit them into a coherent or comprehensible setting, things like Apocalyptica's backstory or Stella's Ot-testing were super-enjoyable. You managed to make both Polly (totally what the ponies would start calling her, don't you dare disagree) and Mikhael highly memorable (and the latter highly entertaining) in few words. And if I find the setting and worldbuilding incomprehensible, I found the aesthetic and tone both immediately graspable and very appealing.

So even though I have no idea what this world even is or what you were going for at the end, I still enjoyed this. And that, I think, is high praise indeed.
#6 · 1
· · >>horizon
Holy snap, this ended up being a lot of fun by the end. There's about fifty different ideas in play here, and somehow, some way, you've managed to give all of these themes/motifs/conceits a chance to shine and pay off in the larger scheme of things. From the SCP-style mnemonic entity, to the HeroAca/OPM style super hero ratings, to Apocalyptica's cosmic redemption story, there is just a lot of stuff going on, and very little of it feels redundant or underdeveloped. I came away from this one feeling very satisfied.

Now, despite how I felt by the end of the story, I think it is worth mentioning that this story was probably the most difficult for me to start. I actually ended up having to scroll up and re-read stuff to reorient myself thoughout the first three or four scenes. It was really difficult for me to finally nail down the setting and understand who's doing what. I definitely appreciate the fact that you're avoiding infodumps and "as you know, Bob" dialogues, but I also feel that with a universe as conceptually complicated as this one, it might be warranted to hold your reader's hand just a little more.

My other significant-ish concern is that not all of the characters really feel like they're adding to the plot. Braeburn doesn't really do anything but physically move Liam into the conflict zone, Liam doesn't do much decision-making himself until his shared-brain talk with Apocalyptica, and Thunderlane mostly just watches Stella do her hacker thing. So when I learned that the three of them have a semi love triangle thing going on, it felt kind of superfluous to me. Now I know that when you have a cast this big, some characters are bound to get more spotlight than others. But on the other hand, I think that there might have been opportunity to either consolidate some characters or expand on them enough to make them feel impactful. Of course, you are at the word cap, so I understand that your options were probably limited at that point.

But in the end, like I mentioned up front, I really thought that this story caught all of the balls it was juggling more often than not. I think this story is a great example of how investing in a complicated setting can pay off splendidly, even if it kind of demands said investment from the reader at gunpoint at first.

Thanks for submitting!
#7 · 1
· · >>horizon
I was just saying, either not long before or not long after the round started, that sci-fi is really the best of all possible worlds in terms of broad genre, and this exemplifies that spectacularly. We have a galaxy spanning human race side-by-side with Equestrians and other aliens, a reformed omnicidal AI living out everyone's "wish I was a pony" fantasy, and a war beyond the bounds of creation itself and that's just the background lore to the story itself. Thunderlane casually hangs out with vets who spend time at the edge of stable reality like it's a perfectly normal thing to do on a Saturday and I am absolutely here for it.

Which, like I don't watch enough TV to compare things to Lynch, but the early stages of this straddle the line between what I imagine Twin Peaks is like to the uninitiated and a less body-horror based Junji Ito (like the early chapters of Uzumaki where the weird stuff is happening but it's still pretty benign), with just a breeze of Sentai tossed in. I was a little confused right off the bat, thinking this was some EqG/Standard pone hybrid, but then the space stuff kicked in and it all made sense.

Anyway I'm rambling, but suffice it to say I dig this entire thing and would absolutely love to read more about the ongoing War. Also Liam's name is Earthson and that's pretty rad.
#8 · 1
· · >>Comma Typer >>Meridian_Prime
Feels pretty good to participate in my first Writeoff in a year — literally; the contest dates were 3/10/19 and 3/10/20 — and walk away with a story enjoyable enough for a medal. Congratulations also go out to FOME and Chris, and to everyone who poticipated!

Wotchmen: The RetrOtspective

So, a little general explanation for the overall craziness here. For about two years now I've been playing in a tabletop RPG campaign about the pan-dimensional adventures of a super-high-powered superhero team. It's an episodic, ensemble-cast game that's given me a number of vastly memorable characters, and it's really been getting me itching to write it down as original fiction. The setting of the game is one of those insane mash-up universes where every setting of every fictional story is itself, somewhere, real — yes, including MLP — and humanity (the United Earth Government) breached the dimensional gates, got magic and future tech and superpowers and the whole sausage, and catapulted themselves into a sudden stellar empire whose most competent heroes run around saving the universe from one Outside Context Problem after another. On one level it's blatant wish fulfillment fanfic with the power limiters removed, absolutely, but the game acknowledges the tropes it runs on and turns it into a living comic book that keeps me fascinated week after week.

So: This story is about 40% straight up stolen from the campaign, with the serial numbers heavily filed off.

Apocalyptica is actually one of my active PCs — she goes by "Allie" in the game, though I like >>Chris's "Polly" so damn much I might have to steal and retcon it — and in the game she indeed is the machine goddess of a new church of friendship and occasionally goes off-roster with her church to tackle friendship problems on her own. "Ot" was created from scratch for this story, but the power level of the campaign is so high that the PCs have definitely dealt with their share of eldritch beings threatening all of reality, including abstract memetic essences much like the story's. (Hell, they've got some on the team — one of my other characters, Talos, is a text elemental, aka a Platonic essence of communication.)

The self-aware "tier lists" is an in-universe thing since it's a universe of superheroes of widely varying capabilities; C- and B-tier heroes deal with local and regional problems, A-tier heroes deal with worldwide crises, and S-tier heroes like Crashing Heavens The Rangers are the big guns called in when the biggest threats emerge. Mikhail is kind of a mash-up of two superheroes, Sergei and Ivan, on the team's roster (one NPC and one a friend's PC). Colt Peacemaker was made up for this, but the name "Colt Peacemaker" is actually swiped from the game as well; Allie — an avowed pacifist — went through some very difficult training where one of her mentors tried to force her to come to terms with her still-extant lethal capabilities, and she figured out how to unleash her dark side while selectively breaking physics so she could strike with overwhelming force as non-permanent "cartoon damage".

(Incidentally, now that I've written this story based on the campaign, there's been bleedthrough in both directions. Late last year, I developed Regina from Three-Card Shuffle into the newest superhero on my roster — setting the events of that story well in her past, and having her come on board as a high A-tier superhero turning to the S-tiers for help with a problem she couldn't solve alone. She reinvented herself in the process, and joined the team under a new identity — which has led to one of the game's current character-driven plotlines, an awkward love triangle between herself, her husband, and herself.)

The "metastable frontier" and the war beyond the limits of reality are made up for this story, because they were both simpler and less fanfic-ey than their inspiration. All of the B-tier heroes were made up on the spot; the ponies were inserted because … well, pony round. >>Bachiavellian isn't wrong to note that the ponies feel superfluous, because I kind of wedged them in; I tried to make them more relevant with some of the B plots like Church involvement and the love triangle, but just plum ran out of room.

As Chris guessed, I ran out of room in general. Beyond the plotlines I didn't get to fully develop — digging deeper into that love triangle, for one, along with Liam's history and his turning away from a superhero career — I had to leave out the entire epilogue scene. Apocalyptica leaves for the metastable frontier, and Techtician and Colt Peacemaker get a new teammate in their fight against crime — the new Liam, living with a supercomputer in his head that has helped him reshape his body into something much more formidable.

>>Baal Bunny
we have Liam, Thunderlane's ex and Braeburn's current flame, who could be a superhero but insists on doing something that gets him arrested instead? What that something is, though, I couldn't figure out.

He's a prostitute. The scene where we meet him was him plying his trade, in an encounter gone horribly wrong.

Also Liam's name is Earthson and that's pretty rad.

Yeah, that was just a random piece of ascended background worldbuilding: this is set on a far distant world from Earth, out on the metastable frontier (hence ponies running around rubbing shoulders with the humans, and aliens nipping by for visits), and it's been long enough since settling the frontier that names saying "hey, I was born there actually" are a thing.

Tagging in everyone I haven't responded to yet, because I do have a question for the room:
>>FanOfMostEverything >>Meridian_Prime >>Comma Typer

I was trying to walk a fine line with the story — building up a very big universe from a cold start, but doing so without getting bogged down in exposition. From the general commentary, it seems like I overcorrected; pretty much everyone said that it took them time and/or re-reading to get oriented to what the heck was happening.

What were the setting details that clicked for you later on, or that you had to piece together on your own, which you wish you had known from the beginning? In other words, what would I need to work into the first scene or two (or an earlier prologue) in order to give readers a softer landing in the story?

What assumptions did you have to unmake that I might give readers a little better help in breaking up front?

I really wouldn't mind getting this cleaned up for FIMFiction publication, if only because I think I've got PLENTY of stories in this setting and this could serve as a useful bridge out from pony to original fiction. But if I do I'm going to want to provide a much cleaner start.

Thank you!
#9 · 2
· · >>Meridian_Prime

What were the setting details that clicked for you later on, or that you had to piece together on your own, which you wish you had known from the beginning? In other words, what would I need to work into the first scene or two (or an earlier prologue) in order to give readers a softer landing in the story?

To be honest, I didn't face much of a problem with the beginning details at all. As I've said in my first comment here, I just imagined up the missing details or otherwise the things I didn't get. Though, to be honest, this is because I am just plain ol' illiterate when it comes to conventional sci-fi, so, in a way, I got the story's setting precisely by not getting it, if you know what I mean. I realized I didn't understand much nor should I understand it much to enjoy the story. I just rolled with it.

So, really, I disagree with the questions themselves because the mystery oozing out of the first few parts of the story (like, subliminal jolts from messaging apps? A chat-style piece of dialogue? This takes place in the future? Stella Yan is surely not a pony, but this Colt Peacemaker sure is; I'd like to see him very soon!). Why? Because the mystery was part of the hook.

Perhaps, in hindsight, room for improvement would actually be a bit further in: the sudden introduction of Liam Earthson. There's been no reference to this guy previously, and in a world with much original flavor and admittedly not much pony to it, throwing one more new guy that (seemingly) doesn't have anything to do with the characters introduced beforehand could be too much new stuff too fast for a reader who needs to be smoothly eased into the story's world and its characters. As is, Liam Earthson's intro came off as one introductory explosion too many. This could be alleviated by, say, Stella seeing some deep web user mining out a conversation between Liam Earthson and Emily with the "What is ot?" question in there and then we cut to Liam Earthson's P.O.V. as he is in surprise at "Emily's" words.

What assumptions did you have to unmake that I might give readers a little better help in breaking up front?

I may be the outlier here, but, again, I just rolled with the setting. My lack of literary sci-fi experience meant that I had no assumptions to make.

Also, thank you for this great story! Despite the shortcomings pointed out here and by others, it really deserved its place here, especially so in this lifetime Ot event. Have a good job with your writing endeavors! :)
#10 · 2
What were the setting details that clicked for you later on, or that you had to piece together on your own, which you wish you had known from the beginning? In other words, what would I need to work into the first scene or two (or an earlier prologue) in order to give readers a softer landing in the story?

I feel like >>Comma Typer said this a bit more eloquently than I will, but I actually think you did pretty well at this, as I sort of said in my earlier review. While that initial cold open is a bit jarring, that's kind of inherent to a cold open. While there are some questions at the start they don't feel like ones that should be answered at the start - they're all ones that are either answered as we slowly learn more about this world through the course of the story, or ones that don't need to be answered, and give some depth to the world.

What assumptions did you have to unmake that I might give readers a little better help in breaking up front?

Pretty much none? I sort of got that it was some multi-versal superhero romp from the start, it was the finer details that initially eluded - which is what I assume you were aiming for.

Overall, I think you have more issues from running out of space than you do the cold open. In particular, Liam's story arc suffered for it - fix that up, and I think this should be just fine.