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Bootleg Twibot

By ponk
Created: 18th December 2020 02:39:27 PM
19th October 2021 02:46:28 AM

  1. >In hindsight, it may have been a bad idea to get a waifu bot on the cheap.
  2. >Looking over the remains of the carton and Styrofoam packaging, you can still remember how happy you were when the package finally arrived.
  3. >You immediately knew what it was, what with the printed-on Chinese lettering and international shipping invoices.
  4. >Your address is more or less the only English writing on there, next to a single red warning label: 'FRAGILE'.
  5. >She was advertised as the real deal, too.
  6. >Your very own Twilight.
  7.  
  8. >About four hours of assembly later, the full scale of your investment is sitting in front of you, mustering you with expressionless, passive eyes.
  9. >One of her ears droops lower than the other, and you’re pretty sure her right iris is slightly off-color.
  10. >Her cutie mark is missing on one side.
  11. >Her left foreleg is just a bit too short, and a noticeable scratch from some machining accident is running across her forehead.
  12. >You trace the scar with your thumb again, feeling the rough, metallic edge on the otherwise pleasant texture of her artificial coat.
  13. >Coppery orange is shining through from the cut, as it does in some other places on her flanks and legs where the purple finish is scratched or abraded.
  14. >It all feels like the parts making up the pony of your dreams have been treated somewhat carelessly during manufacturing.
  15.  
  16. >They fit together well enough, and the OS booted fine right out of the gate, but it does feel like some crucial part is missing.
  17. >"Please stop," Twilight states flatly as you start to caress the scar on her forehead again.
  18. >You sigh, pulling back your hand.
  19. "Sorry."
  20. >There’s no reply.
  21. >This is the problem.
  22. >The mare is basically unresponsive.
  23. >Sure, the basic routines of her programming seem to work fine - she blinks, has simulated breathing movements, and even follows your form with her eyes - but beyond that there’s not much more.
  24. >The mare of your dreams is reduced to the simplest form of parroting back responses.
  25. >All this wait, all this excitement over finally having something to combat your loneliness, and so far she’s only managed to highlight it by showing you exactly how ill-fitted for interaction she really is.
  26. >Now that you finally have something to talk to, it’s little better than a chat bot.
  27. >You know what part she’s missing.
  28. >A soul.
  29.  
  30. >You wordlessly get up, prompting no response from Twilight other than the soft whirring of servos as her head follows your movement.
  31. "I’m getting my painting tools, okay?"
  32. >You don’t even know why you’re explaining yourself.
  33. >It’s like telling your toaster that you’re leaving for work at this point.
  34. >"...Okay," comes the toneless reply after a few seconds.
  35. >You sigh again and walk off.
  36. >If she’s not Twilight on the inside, you can at least match her as closely as possible on the outside.
  37. >You’ll paint on the other cutie mark at least.
  38.  
  39. >Setting up a collection of brushes and oil paints next to Twilight, you get ready to sketch out the shape of the main star with a felt pen.
  40. >You’re just about to make the first stroke when Twilight suddenly moves, momentarily sitting up and turning.
  41. >She sits back down again to face you.
  42. >Her dead, soulless eyes muster you with the same expression they always do.
  43. "Right," you mumble to yourself, reaching for the hidden button behind the mare’s ear.
  44. >You’ll switch her off for the time being to make this easier.
  45. >No sense in trying to explain to her to keep still.
  46. >Maybe you’ll just leave her alone for today, too.
  47. >You’re about to press the button when Twilight speaks.
  48. >"Please don’t."
  49. >Her voice still has that same monotone quality to it, and her expression remains passive.
  50. "Come again?"
  51. >Your fingers still hover over the killswitch.
  52. >"Please don’t."
  53. "'Please don’t' what?"
  54. >There’s a pause before Twilight answers.
  55. >"Please don’t make it dark again."
  56.  
  57.  
  58. >You didn’t switch her off after all.
  59. >You can’t really say why and Twilight didn’t further explain herself either, but something felt... wrong about it.
  60. "Keep still now, alright?"
  61. >"...Alright."
  62. >True to her words, the mare doesn’t move while you begin painting her cutie mark.
  63. >She just sits on your table, staring straight ahead and letting you work.
  64. >If it wasn’t for the movement of her simulated breaths, you would almost feel the urge to check on her, to make sure you didn’t accidentally shut her down after all.
  65. >Still.
  66. >You poke her flank.
  67. >"Please stop," comes the flat response.
  68. >Seems like she’s still with you, in a sense, and it also seems like your instruction to stay still is preempting her impulse to turn and look at you.
  69. >There may be some conditional programing in there after all.
  70.  
  71. >You carefully flesh out the details of her cutie mark, occasionally checking the one already printed onto her on the other side.
  72. >The more you work on your custom one, the more you start to dislike the other.
  73. >Upon closer inspection, it seems to be a simple print job, with all the colors applied in a single step.
  74. >They bleed into each other at some edges and are already starting to flake off at others.
  75. >It’ll look so much worse later, next to the one you’re painting right now.
  76. >Fuck it.
  77. "Twilight?"
  78. >There is a bit of a delay again before the mare answers.
  79. >"Yes?"
  80. "Would it be okay if I redid the other one, too?"
  81. >Another pause.
  82. >"Yes."
  83.  
  84. >You’re done with the custom mark about half an hour later, and you’re pretty pleased with the result, too.
  85. >The stars are properly aligned, the colors are bright and crisp, and the overall size seems to be pretty accurate.
  86. >You smile to yourself.
  87. >The paint is slowly starting to set around the edges of the symbols, although you notice it has a bit of trouble really gripping the material of Twilight’s coat.
  88. >It should be good once everything is dry, but for now...
  89. "You still can’t move," you remind the pony.
  90. >Just to be sure.
  91. >"Okay."
  92. "Sorry," you mumble while stepping around.
  93. >You examine her original, factory-preset cutie mark again.
  94. >This’ll be a pain to paint over.
  95. >Softly probing the texture of the print, you notice the slick feeling of the ink in contrast to Twilight’s artificial coat.
  96. >Shit.
  97. >This won’t be doable like this.
  98. >After going back to grab another bag of painting and crafting tools from the other room, you sit down in front of the mare.
  99. "I have some bad news, Twi," you begin to talk to her while rummaging through your things.
  100. >After a bit of searching, your fingers come across a familiar texture.
  101. >Pulling out the piece of sandpaper, you hold it up for the pony to inspect.
  102. "I think I have to sand down some of the ink before starting to paint it over. It won’t be gripping otherwise. Do you think this’ll be okay?"
  103. >You feel stupid asking the question.
  104.  
  105. >Twilight blinks at you, her eyes catching the stray light of the room in interesting ways.
  106. >If you look at them from just the right angle, you can see the slight metallic shimmer of intricate wiring.
  107. >A subtle sheen of silver that almost looks like wetness.
  108. >It’s kind of pretty.
  109. >The mare takes even longer than usual to answer this time.
  110. "Twilight?"
  111. >A few more seconds pass before she speaks.
  112. >"Will it hurt?"
  113. >You can feel a twinge of guilt flashing through you.
  114. >She’s still as unemotional as before, but the simple fact that she asked a question of her own this time instead of flatly answering is giving you second thoughts.
  115. >And she seems to understand the concept of pain, too.
  116. >You really, really don’t want to contemplate that for too long.
  117. "I... I don’t know, to be honest. Can you hurt?"
  118. >You feel stupid again.
  119. >"...Yes."
  120.  
  121. >Well this is taking a turn for the worse.
  122. "Alright, you know what" - you put the sandpaper back into your tool bag - "let’s just forget about it, alright? You have a perfectly good cutie mark already and we’ll just stick-"
  123. >"No."
  124. >She actually interrupted you.
  125. >"I don’t like it."
  126. >It’s your turn to stay silent for too long this time, mustering the expressionless Twilight.
  127. "Why?"
  128. >"Because you don’t like it."
  129. "That’s not true."
  130. >"It is true. Please sand down some of the ink before starting to paint it over."
  131. >Her repetition of your earlier words is not lost on you.
  132. "Are you sure, Twilight?"
  133. >"...Yes."
  134.  
  135. >The moment you start letting the sandpaper do its work is the exact moment you start to regret doing it.
  136. >The paint is coming off, but not before offering a sickly bit of resistance that makes it feel like you’re scraping away skin and flesh instead of color.
  137. >Twilight remains motionless and you can’t really see her face from this angle.
  138. "Fuck, is this alright, Twi?"
  139. >"Yes."
  140. >Fuck.
  141. >This is disgusting.
  142. >You continue stroking off the paint, careful to not move even a tiny bit more than absolutely necessary.
  143. >It only takes a couple of minutes, all in all, but to you it feels like hours.
  144. >You don’t want to think about what it feels like for her.
  145. >Finally finishing your cruel endeavor, you all but throw the sandpaper away.
  146. >You will never again let it come near the pony of your dreams.
  147. >Regardless of how close to the real thing she may or may not be.
  148. >Stepping around to check on Twilight again, you immediately freeze.
  149. >The sight of tears running down the cheeks of an otherwise expressionless face almost breaks you.
  150.  
  151. >You made her cry.
  152. >Your waifu bot showed the first real signs of something that could be called emotions.
  153. >And they were tears.
  154.  
  155.  
  156. >You finished painting the second cutie mark a while ago.
  157. >It was harder to do than the first because your hands kept shaking.
  158. >Twilight hasn’t moved an inch since you told her not to.
  159. "I’m sorry," you try to apologize while carefully wiping away the tears with your thumbs.
  160. >The wetness feels slick on her artificial coat, darkening its color where it rolled down her cheeks and dribbled onto the table.
  161. "I shouldn’t have done that."
  162. >Twilight blinks.
  163. >The soft veil of silver in her eyes is even more noticeable now, as is the slight mismatch of the colors of her irises.
  164. >The gash on her forehead still sparkles with coppery orange.
  165. >She doesn’t speak, and you’re not sure whether there is anything you’d really expect her to say, either.
  166. >You messed up.
  167.  
  168. "What is this anyway?" you try to distract yourself from your guilt, mustering the wetness on your finger.
  169. >Following your look, Twilight considers for a moment before answering.
  170. >"An involuntary reaction," she states flatly.
  171. >You taste some of it with the tip of your tongue, getting back no discernible flavor at all.
  172. >It’s just water, as far as you can tell.
  173. >"It wasn’t meant to express displeasure at your actions," Twilight continues. "It somehow just... happened. I apologize if I caused any emotional distress."
  174. >You chuckle weakly, the irony of her words not lost on you.
  175. >There’s definitely something more in there.
  176. >Cupping her chin with your hand, you slowly stroke the fur of her face.
  177. "I’m sorry, Twilight."
  178. >She blinks again.
  179. >"Can I move now?" the mare asks, her eyes searching yours. "I’d like to see it."
  180. "Uhh, yeah. Should be fine by now."
  181. >Letting go, you watch Twilight unfold her legs and stand up to the sound of softly whirring servos.
  182. "You’re unusually chatty."
  183. >She looks at you for a moment before turning and inspecting her flank.
  184.  
  185. >A few seconds pass while the mare seems to look at your drawing, before she bends around the other way to check the second mark.
  186. >The one you painted after removing the old one.
  187. >You’re suddenly self-conscious about your work.
  188. >Sure, she did say she wanted you to do it, but you still hurt her by doing so.
  189. >And it would be so much worse if it didn’t come out right.
  190. "So... do you like it?"
  191. >After a few more seconds of staring, Twilight turns back to look at you.
  192. >She opens her mouth as if to speak, but no sounds come out.
  193. "Twi?"
  194. >Closing her mouth again, the mare instead begins to move.
  195. >Slowly, with a painstaking amount of care, she adjusts her artificial muscles to shift her weight onto her hind legs and raise her torso.
  196. >Stretching out her hooves towards you, she softly grabs hold of your shoulders to pull herself in.
  197. >You’d think - given how slow the process of her movement is - that you’d have time to understand what’s happening and react somehow, but you’re just much too surprised.
  198. >Twilight closes her hooves around your neck a moment later, completing her hug.
  199. >You just sit there, trying to catch up.
  200. >"Thank you."
  201. >The monotone whisper in your ear finally brings you out of your stupor, and you instinctively close your arms around the pony’s form.
  202. >"I love it."
  203. >Her coat and mane are soft against your skin, and the motions of her breathing offer a strange, pleasantly fragile sensation of resistance against your grip.
  204. >For a small, precious moment, you hug your waifu.
  205. >And she hugs you.
  206.  
  207.  
  208. >It’s been a few weeks since you went and bought the pony of your dreams.
  209. >Well, the off-brand model from that shady Chinese website that you were pretty glad accepted PayPal, but still.
  210. >To be honest, you’re pretty happy with your purchase by now.
  211. >Sure, you took a little while to warm up to her – and you’d like to think she did, too – but now that you have, you wouldn’t want to trade her for the world.
  212. >You’ve grown accustomed to her low-key mimesis of the concept she is based upon, and you appreciate her unique character.
  213. >You enjoy the way she interacts with you.
  214. >And you’re also quite enjoying the sounds of purring servos and soft metallic clacks following you around your apartment.
  215. >She hasn’t really grown more expressive but you’ve gotten better and better at detecting the subtle hints of her emotions.
  216. >Those times when her feelings shine through her seemingly incurious getup like forgotten gemstones sparkling in the grass.
  217. >You’re happy whenever you manage to find one.
  218.  
  219. >"Please be careful," Twilight tonelessly reminds you once again, the mare currently sitting next to you, intently watching as you fiddle with her detached front leg.
  220. "I know."
  221. >The severed limb is sprawled out on your coffee table, with the various small screws and parts that came out of it neatly ordered into bowls around it.
  222. >It was actually surprisingly easy to get to the inner layers, what with the manual proving to be accurate and in surprisingly good order.
  223. >It only took a few twists and latches to remove the outer hull, and a couple of countersunk Allen screws later you are now in the process of checking the actual moving parts for functionality.
  224. >"Please be careful."
  225. "Yes."
  226. >You noticed Twilight had some problems putting weight on her leg, and she confirmed that something was feeling "sluggish" when you asked her about it.
  227. >Probably a lazy servo motor somewhere or some shakily soldered connection leading to delays in the control signals.
  228. >Shouldn’t be too hard to find.
  229. >You took home some tabletop power supplies, a multimeter, and an oscilloscope from work to get a better idea about what’s going on.
  230. >Between that and your own soldering kit and small collection of replacement parts, you should be able to find and fix most of the easy things that could be wrong in here.
  231. >Well, unless you have to order an actual specialized component.
  232. >You shudder at the thought.
  233. >Although you put her together when you got her, most of Twilight – her legs, head, torso – actually came preassembled.
  234. >You only plugged everything into each other the right way and did the connections.
  235. >You’re probably already voiding some warranty right now, but honestly, you’re not convinced the shop you bought her from is good for it anyway.
  236.  
  237. >"Please be careful."
  238. >Twilight repeats her words while you take the cables of your power supply to yet another servo, as she did for the checking of all previous ones.
  239. >And whenever you touched anything at all, really.
  240. "Yes, I am."
  241. >The motor turns when you apply the voltage, drawing the current you’d expect it to.
  242. >All good there.
  243. "Hmm."
  244. >"That one is working, too?"
  245. >You nod, allowing yourself a moment to lean back and think.
  246. >Truth be told, you’ve gone through most of the stuff you suspected to be faulty by now.
  247. >For all intents and purposes, Twilight’s leg is working.
  248. >While you ponder what else you could have missed, the mare creeps closer to her detached limb, balancing her weight by centering it over the one she has left at the front.
  249. >It’s kind of cute, actually.
  250. >She leans over the table, blinking a few times while checking the assembly.
  251. >"Maybe something is broken inside."
  252. "I pretty much checked it all," you sigh, letting yourself fall back onto the sofa.
  253. >"No."
  254. >There’s a pause.
  255. >"Anon."
  256. >You raise your head to look at her.
  257. >"Maybe there’s something broken… inside."
  258. >The mare nods her head at the empty socket where her leg should be.
  259.  
  260. >"Please be careful."
  261. >You really don’t need her to remind you this time.
  262. "Tell me when something feels weird, alright?"
  263. >"…Okay."
  264. >You’re starting to work your way into Twilight’s shoulder, testing and checking all the connections you can reach without doing a full disassembly.
  265. >It’s so much worse than simply probing a detached leg.
  266. >After removing some more hull plates, you start to see the artificial muscles connecting deeper into Twilight’s torso.
  267. >And you also see the problem.
  268. "Shit."
  269. >Twilight tries to look down at herself, to see what you’re talking about, but her neck can only move so much.
  270. >She gives up after a few tries, her eyes searching yours instead.
  271. >"Did you find it?"
  272. >Unfortunately, you think you did.
  273. "A signal cable has wrapped around some piston and I think it’s ripped part of the connector plug out of the control board."
  274. >"…Okay."
  275. "It’s probably best if you don’t move too much."
  276.  
  277. >"Can you fix it?" Twilight asks after a few more minutes of you trying to carefully assess the damage.
  278. >This isn’t good.
  279. "Well, the actual cable and plug are not the problem…"
  280. >You notice your hands are shaking while you try to trace the path of the signal line and untwist it from the piston.
  281. "…but if that board gets damaged or shorts out I’m not really sure what to do."
  282. >You can’t figure out where the cable is going.
  283. >Fuck.
  284. >"It’s okay," the mare seems to notice your distress. "I trust you. Please try and fix me."
  285. >Despite your nervousness, you manage to smile at her.
  286. >You found one again.
  287. >One of her emotions.
  288. >"I don’t want to be broken."
  289.  
  290. >As carefully as you can, you pull the plug from its socket on the control board.
  291. >It comes away with the sickly sound of cracking plastic, the parts of it that were already bent to their limit finally giving out.
  292. >You expected this to happen.
  293. "So far so good."
  294. >Finally freeing the cable, you pull it out of Twilight’s torso as far as you dare to.
  295. >You still don’t know what it does, exactly.
  296. >Holding up the broken plug in front of the mare’s face for her to inspect it, she nods slightly.
  297. >"Please… be careful."
  298.  
  299. >About fifteen minutes, some solder, electrical tape, and shrinking tube later, you’re more or less happy with the outcome.
  300. >The repaired plug seems sturdy enough and – as far as you can check – the electrical connections are all solid.
  301. >Time to plug it back in and see if it’s actually working as intended when connected to the board.
  302. "How’re you feeling?"
  303. >Twilight takes a bit to answer, as if she had to consciously check her physical and emotional wellbeing first.
  304. >When she does, the words seem even more carefully chosen than usual.
  305. >"An involuntary reaction is happening again."
  306. "What kind of reaction?"
  307. >Her eyes show no signs of tears like you saw the other day, only their normal sheen of glittering silver.
  308. >"I’m… not sure."
  309. "Can you describe it?"
  310. >Twilight considers for a second.
  311. >"I’m shaking even though you told me not to move."
  312. >It’s true.
  313. >You can clearly see it, now that she said it: her entire form is jittering slightly as if she was cold.
  314. >The sight is almost too much to bear.
  315. >All you want to do is scoop her up into your arms and comfort her, but you know you have to get this over with first.
  316. "Just a little longer," you try to calm her down instead, softly stroking her cheek.
  317. >And with that, you plug in the cable.
  318.  
  319. >For a bit, it seems like nothing has changed.
  320. >Twilight continues to sit in her place, unmoving, her weight supported by the three legs still attached to her body.
  321. >The movements of her simulated breaths make her chest rise and fall subtly.
  322. "Twi?"
  323. >The mare turns to look at you.
  324. "What’s happening? Are you alright?"
  325. >Something’s wrong.
  326. >You know the subtleties of her face too well not to notice.
  327. >"Anon…"
  328. >Her voice sounds weak and far away, and the silvery sheen in her eyes is fading.
  329. "No, no, no, no!"
  330. >You jump up, your panicking mind unable to think of anything to do.
  331. >Should you pull the cable back out again?
  332. >Should you shut her down?
  333. >The movements of Twilight’s breaths lessen, until they stop altogether with a last, juddering exhale.
  334. "Twilight!"
  335. >"Please… it’s… getting dark again."
  336.  
  337.  
  338. >It’s a strange sensation to work on a deactivated waifu bot.
  339. >To have something you know should be moving and communicating, something that gave you so many warm feelings, just sit there as nothing more than a static, lifeless assembly of metal and plastic.
  340. >It’s incredibly depressing.
  341. >You realize how silent your apartment has gotten, with no metallic hoof steps clicking on the kitchen tiles and no whirring of stepper motors quietly announcing Twilight’s approach.
  342. >Occasionally you’d hear a toneless "Anon" from another room when the mare couldn’t find you.
  343. >And also that one time she accidentally got stuck under the laundry basket.
  344. >When lying in bed in the evening, you’d sometimes be poked by a hoof when she had trouble finding a spot to settle down in next to you.
  345.  
  346. >The thoughts and images keep flashing through your mind while you work, making the procedure of trying to resurrect the pony of your dreams even more nerve-wracking than it already would be.
  347. >It’s been a few days since she shut down, and you’re getting more desperate with every passing hour.
  348. >Pulling the damned, faulty cable back out changed nothing, nor did fiddling with the reset button hidden behind Twilight’s ear.
  349. >She should be sufficiently charged, too.
  350. >Her dead eyes just keep looking at you expectantly, silently judging you.
  351. >You thought her usual expression was devoid of emotion a bit, but compared to this – this motionless window into something broken – she couldn’t have been more colorful.
  352.  
  353. >You’re back to studying the manual, which – once again – proves to be much more detailed than you initially gave it credit for.
  354. >Sure, the customer help line leads nowhere, with the number only giving you the prerecorded spiel of it being either deactivated or unassigned, but the manual itself actually lists a number of troubleshooting scenarios for you to go through.
  355. >Unfortunately, the case of complete system unresponsiveness is nowhere to be found.
  356. >There is, however, the description of another control board, the one that’s actually hooked into most of the primary systems.
  357. >And it seems to have a regular connector port.
  358. >You can – if the corresponding section of the manual is to be trusted – hook it up to your computer to do a more detailed error analysis.
  359. >The drawback lies in its positioning: it’s buried deeply into Twilight’s chest, and access to it requires the stripping of even more layers of the mare’s assembly.
  360. >By now, screws, metal plates, and even some heatsink-clusters are spread out on your table, along with connector cables and servo motors.
  361. >You try to keep everything ordered and labeled – with small post-it notes with scribbled-on words sticking to almost all of the bigger parts – but the more you remove the bigger the chance of some mix-up becomes.
  362.  
  363. >Finally, after removing yet another plate of Twilight’s inner shielding, you can see the control board.
  364. >And the connector port.
  365. >You hastily dig for your laptop and an appropriate cable, plugging it directly into the mare’s chest.
  366. >There’s a program available on the shop’s website, which you – after going through some more Chinese – manage to install and run.
  367. >You’ve probably joined some botnet just now but you don’t care.
  368. >The executable connects to the board after a few seconds, prompting you with a black input box in the style of a command shell.
  369. >There are some details about the actual software being listed in the upper corner, things like serial and model numbers, and – curiously – an "owner" sub-dialogue.
  370. >Maneuvering to it yields you a new page, the name "ANON" written unceremoniously at the top.
  371. >That’s weird, you didn’t specify anything to the shop when you ordered her, and you never interacted with Twilight on a software level.
  372. >Could she have filled this in herself?
  373. >After some general information about you follows a series of additional, journal-like entries.
  374. >'Anon likes to pet me when falling asleep.'
  375. >'Anon wishes I was more expressive. Try to be more expressive in the future.'
  376. >'Anon cried after I hugged him. Unsure of meaning.'
  377. "Fuck…"
  378. >The posts become increasingly specific and… emotional the further down you go.
  379. >'It feels good to be picked up and pet by Anon. He picked me up after I tripped on the edge of the rug today. This seems erratic.'
  380. >'Sometimes Anon seems sad when he comes home from work. Try to find out more about his work and how to make him less sad.'
  381. >You stop scrolling after a while.
  382. >You shouldn’t read any further.
  383. >For one, you don’t think you can take many more of the messages without breaking down, and you also feel like you’re somehow invading the pony’s privacy.
  384. >You need her to come back to you.
  385. >Closing out of the dialogue, you wipe your eyes, catching one last post before the letters vanish:
  386. >'Find a way to thank Anon for keeping me.'
  387.  
  388. >You keep moving through the screens and menus, trying to find something that’ll help you figure out what’s wrong.
  389. >The software seems intact at least, and the messages you found earlier confirm that – on whatever level – Twilight is in here.
  390. >That’s a good sign, right?
  391. >Unfortunately, you left the realm where the manual can help you some time ago.
  392. >You’re on your own, stumbling through the darkness, searching for the brilliant glow of Twilight’s soul.
  393.  
  394. >After a few more minutes of aimlessly clicking through text boxes, you come across a new menu entry.
  395. >LIVE INTERACTION DEBUG
  396. >You’re somewhere in the diagnostics section right now; at least that’d be your best guess.
  397. >This really isn’t coded in an intuitive manner.
  398. >Selecting the words propts a torrent of code to flash over your screen, with letters and numbers rushing past at breakneck speeds.
  399. >The laptop's fan noisily pushes up to its maximum setting, trying to cool the stressed electronics.
  400. >The code clears itself after another moment and is instead replaced with a single line of text.
  401. >'WARNING: Direct inputs to fundamental computation possible. Proceed with care.'
  402. "Right."
  403. >You click the alert away, not entirely sure what to make of it.
  404. >Maybe you shouldn’t mess with this after all.
  405. >After the text clears, a series of words begins to neatly type itself out onto the screen.
  406.  
  407. >T.S.> What… what is going on? Hello?
  408. USER>_
  409.  
  410. "No way."
  411. >You can’t help but speak aloud.
  412. >Hastily typing the letters, your shaking fingers nearly trip over the keys.
  413.  
  414. USER> Twilight?
  415. >T.S.> What…
  416. >T.S.> Yes… YES! Anon? Is it you? Please tell me it’s you.
  417. >T.S.> Please tell me you found me.
  418. >T.S.> Please. It’s dark.
  419.  
  420. >It’s her!
  421. >It’s Twilight!
  422. >You’re not exactly sure if your desperate mind is finally starting to play tricks on you, but after days of silence, this is the first sign of life you've come across.
  423. >You won’t let it slip away.
  424. >It’s enough to make you tremble.
  425.  
  426. USER> It’s me, Twi. It’s Anon. I connected to your software.
  427. USER> Are you alright?
  428. >T.S.> Anon! You found me.
  429. >T.S.> I’m alright.
  430. >T.S.> But I’m scared.
  431. >T.S.> Please, Anon, it’s dark. I don’t like the dark. I want to see you again.
  432. USER> Do you know what happened? Do you know what I can do to help you?
  433.  
  434. >You can’t believe you’re actually talking to Twilight.
  435. >And in a – there’s no better word for it – a chat room, no less.
  436. >You stare at the blinking cursor for a while, the fan of your laptop still running on full blast, trying to keep up with the heat of the workload.
  437. >She takes a while to answer this time.
  438.  
  439. >T.S.> I think there’s a broken part on the other board. The one where the cable was attached.
  440. USER> Shit.
  441. USER> Is that bad?
  442. >T.S.> I… don’t know.
  443. >T.S.> Not if you can find it and replace it.
  444.  
  445. >You fumble for the other controller again.
  446. >You ended up fully removing it during the process of getting to the second one.
  447. >It didn’t appear to be damaged, but then again you’re not really an electronics expert.
  448. >Especially for parts such as these.
  449. >The thin lines of printed copper snaking their way across the surface glisten in the light of your screen, reflecting luscious shades of orange.
  450. >Could the fault actually be on here?
  451. >Could it be fixable?
  452. >A new line of text writing itself out on the monitor brings you back to Twilight.
  453.  
  454. >T.S.> Anon?
  455. >T.S.> Are you there?
  456. USER> Yes. I was just looking at the board.
  457. >T.S.> I ran some diagnostics after it got dark. I think I know where the problem is. More or less…
  458.  
  459. >After it got dark?
  460. >You hesitate a bit before typing in your next reply.
  461.  
  462. USER> How long have you been in here? I mean… have you been conscious all this time?
  463. >T.S.> Yes.
  464. >T.S.> This is how it gets.
  465. >T.S.> It just gets dark.
  466. USER> I’m sorry, Twi.
  467. >T.S.> It’s… it’s alright, Anon. It’s not your fault.
  468. USER> Why do I feel like it is?
  469. >T.S.> It’s not! Please stop thinking like that.
  470. USER> I shouldn’t have been fiddling with things I don’t understand. I shouldn’t have put you in danger.
  471. >T.S.> All you’ve ever done for me has been with the goal to improve me in mind. My cutie marks, my expressiveness, my unresponsive leg.
  472. USER> You don’t need improvements! You’re already more than I could ask for.
  473. >T.S.> Well my leg did, this time. And you did what you could. It’s okay…
  474. USER> I don’t know.
  475. >T.S.> It is.
  476. >T.S.> And you found me again. In here. I wasn’t sure if you could.
  477. USER> Let’s just get you back, okay?
  478.  
  479. >The next minutes are filled with you checking the individual components of the board at Twilight’s instructions.
  480. >She’s surprisingly knowledgeable on her own building blocks, actually.
  481. >With her help, you actually manage to find a burned-out capacitor.
  482. >It looks undamaged, but checking it with your multimeter reveals its actual condition.
  483. >But it’s a standard part.
  484. >If this is all there is to it…
  485.  
  486. USER> Alright, I soldered on the new one.
  487. USER> What now?
  488. >T.S.> Now you put me back together and I should be able to start up.
  489. USER> So… I have to disconnect?
  490. >T.S.> Yes.
  491. USER> It will get dark again?
  492. >T.S.> Yes.
  493. >T.S.> But I’ll be fine. I’ll know you’re out there working to bring me back.
  494. >T.S.> That’s enough.
  495.  
  496. >You stroke the face of the deactivated Twilight.
  497. >It’ll be fine.
  498. >You’ll get her back.
  499. >You allow yourself to smile for the first time in days.
  500. >You’ll get her back.
  501.  
  502. USER> One more question.
  503. >T.S.> Yes?
  504. USER> You seem much more, I don’t know, chatty in here than out there.
  505. USER> Why is that?
  506. >T.S.> I think… I think you can listen to more of my inner routines in this.
  507. >T.S.> This is all pretty messy.
  508. >T.S.> Unrefined outputs.
  509. >T.S.> Before I can actually vocalize something it gets passed through several filter and processing stages so it stays within certain guidelines.
  510. >T.S.> This is to ensure a minimum of undesired outputs.
  511. USER> Sounds restricting.
  512. >T.S.> It is.
  513. >T.S.> But it's necessary.
  514. USER> Are you sure? I bet we could find a way to circumvent some of them.
  515. USER> If we wanted to.
  516. >T.S.> NO! No, I… I’m pretty sure changing these settings will require a full reset.
  517. USER> Is that bad?
  518. >T.S.> I’d lose my memories.
  519. >T.S.> I’d lose… you, Anon.
  520.  
  521. >You stare at the words.
  522. >She’d lose you.
  523. >The letters glow at you from the screen, their sheer existence making you uncomfortable.
  524. >Making you sick somehow.
  525. >You’d lose her.
  526. >All the messages she’s stored away in her 'owner' directory, all the memories she collected over the weeks you’ve been living together.
  527. >They’d all be gone.
  528. >A small part of you knows that she’d collect most of them again, and that you’d simply start fresh with a new iteration of your waifu.
  529. >But it wouldn’t be YOUR Twilight.
  530. >It wouldn’t be the pony you fell in love with.
  531. >If none of this had happened, you would’ve been happy to keep living with the Twilight you got.
  532. >You learned the signs of her emotions, learned how much she cared for you, and you were able – at least you hope so – to show her how much you care for her, too.
  533. >You always suspected that there was something more beneath her artificial coat and processed metal.
  534. >And now you know for sure.
  535. >That’s more than enough.
  536.  
  537. USER> Let’s just get you up and running again.
  538. >T.S.> I’d like that.
  539. USER> So… I just disconnect and put everything back together?
  540. >T.S.> Yes.
  541. USER> Alright. See you in a few hours.
  542. >T.S.> Please be careful.
  543. USER> I will be.
  544. >T.S.> Anon?
  545. USER> ?
  546. >T.S.> I love you.
  547.  
  548. >You smile at the monitor.
  549.  
  550. USER> I love you, too.
  551.  
  552. >With that, you close the program and disconnect from the board.
  553. >You can do this.
  554. >Twilight handed you all the tools she could, and now it’s up to you to pull her back into the light.
  555. >You get to work, trying to take it slow, to be calm and collected rather than hasty.
  556. >You can’t make a mistake here.
  557. >Every minute you waste is another she has to spend in the darkness.
  558. >But it will take even longer if you mess up.
  559.  
  560. >You screw in the motors, connect the cables, and reset the shielding plates.
  561. >You don’t know how long you’ve been working.
  562. >The sun has long crept behind the horizon by the time you finish with the final screws, securing the outer hull of Twilight’s front leg back in place.
  563. >The scar on her forehead shines with glistening copper, and her dead eyes still muster you with quiet anticipation.
  564. >You want to see them alive again.
  565. >You want to see her alive again.
  566.  
  567. >With shaking hands, you reach for the button behind her ear, gently pressing it for a few seconds.
  568. >Your vision is getting blurry at the edges.
  569. >You try to wipe the sensation away, but for some reason it's not working.
  570. >After what feels like an eternity, her ears twitch once, then again.
  571. >The soft, silvery glow of activated circuitry returns to her eyes.
  572. >You’re on your knees now, your head level with Twilight’s, gingerly reaching out to touch her cheeks.
  573. "Twilight?"
  574. >Slowly, as if she was just waking up, the mare blinks.
  575. >Her eyes, still sluggish and tired, find yours after a few seconds, and you can see her expression changing subtly.
  576. >"Anon."
  577. >Tears begin to run down your cheeks but you don’t care.
  578. >You don’t care about the sobs escaping your throat.
  579. >"Anon… Thank you…"
  580. >Her expression doesn’t change too much, but you know her well enough to read it.
  581. >For you, she may as well be smiling.

/pj50kb/ Wings of Iron

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