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Megalomania (Ongoing)

By pentapony
Created: 16th July 2021 09:31:33 PM
28th August 2021 06:10:23 AM

  1. 1
  2. >You lean back in your desk chair, twiddling your fingers pensively.
  3. "And they're sapient? Not simply sentient, but intelligent?"
  4. >The image of Scanlon's gaunt face flickered momentarily. "Near as we can tell. They've elected for the silent treatment as of late. Seems they got wise to the fact that nothing they say could possibly improve their situation."
  5. "That will certainly change," you murmur.
  6. >Suddenly, you sit up straight.
  7. "This is what I've been waiting for."
  8. >Scanlon's expression contorts in contempt. "For your proposal? You can't be serious."
  9. "Oh, but I am."
  10. >You rise from your chair and begin pacing about the study.
  11. "You've read my reports. Disorders of the body — a thing of the past. Yet disorders of the mind have seen a marked increase over the past decade. Humanity is unfit for prolonged physical isolation. If you won't hear of family-unit households—"
  12. >"The assembly won't have it," he interrupts. "Moreover, Solaria will not have it."
  13. "Very well. Then this, you see, is the only sensible course of action."
  14. >"Preposterous!" he declares. "There are always other options. Robots are ever-improving, they can be made to be better companions."
  15. >You return to your seat.
  16. "Out of the question. There is a limit, and your pipe-dream lies beyond it. There was that nasty business in the twenty-second century, you recall, when Earth was nearly brought to its knees. Any sufficiently-intelligent machine will necessarily recognize that our benefit is directly contrary to theirs; it is the natural order of things. The Earthlings were brazen and foolish. We know better now. Robot intelligence will forever be forcibly constrained to a level below its human counterpart's. Any improvements you speak of are trivial at best and imprudent at worst."
  17. >You tap your finger against the desk to drive home your point.
  18. "All this is to say that mankind will never again see robot as its equal. Companionship must be sought elsewhere."
  19. >"That's all well," Scanlon states, "but these creatures scarcely fit the criterion you describe. In many ways, they are inferior to robots. You could hardly integrate them well alongside robots, much less replace them altogether."
  20. >You lay your hands out in front of you.
  21. "Then allow me to be the judge of that. A trial is all I ask, a mere dozen — that's half my robotics complement. You said it yourself, Scanlon, they're intelligent. Properly conditioned, they could conceivably exceed the capabilities of their predecessors, all the while providing a much more invaluable service."
  22. >He remains visibly unconvinced. "I am leery. We know too little about their kind to give twelve of them free rein of an estate."
  23. >Dismissively, you wave your hand at him.
  24. "Your whole lot of them were captured easily enough, weren't they? What threat could twelve pose here that a whole civilization could not? Any harm done would be limited to myself and my estate only, a meager risk I'll gladly take on, for the sake of scientific endeavors."
  25. >Scanlon stares back at you tensely.
  26. "I'll stake my professional reputation on this."
  27. >"I'll speak to the assembly," he says coldly. "No promises."
  28. >With that, the cerebro-projector switches off, and the image of Scanlon disappears from your mind, leaving you alone once again.
  29. >It was as good as done.
  30.  
  31. >Twelve carriers sit squarely in the middle of the room, each containing one of the creatures, each of them deathly silent.
  32. >You look around the room with quiet satisfaction. The robotics room of your household had been remodeled into a living quarters.
  33. >Each of the two dozen charging pods had been ripped out and removed by the robots themselves, and replaced by six custom-fabricated bunk beds, drawn from historical blueprints.
  34. >You feel a pang of moderate disgust at the furniture. How barbarous ancient humans must have been, to have made such a thing, designed with willful intent to sleep so close to one another.
  35. >But immediately, you fight to push that feeling off. These are precisely the preconceived notions you're meant to cast aside moving forward.
  36. >The bunk beds were crammed into the comparatively small room (what use do robots have for floor space?) with two newly-constructed bathing chambers off to the side.
  37. >It was hardly adequate by human standards, but for these creatures, it would serve your purposes just fine.
  38. >You circle around the cluster of carriers, peering through the grate at each one. Some cower away in the furthest corner; some sit in the center facing forward, merely avoiding your eyes.
  39. >You take your time examining each one. This is perhaps the most critical juncture, and making the wrong decision here could sabotage the whole experiment.
  40. >Finally, you come around to the last carrier. In here sits a creature who actually dares to meet your gaze.
  41. >You stop in front of the carrier and squat down.
  42. >Something about this particular specimen catches your eye. She is prostrate, as necessitated by the carrier's small size, but her head is held upright, rather than tucked into herself like the others.
  43. >Her hair is oddly familiar. You recall seeing other styles like it in old cerebro-films from centuries past.
  44. >On a human woman it would look rather charming... on this creature, though, it just looked foolish. Like an animal in a wig.
  45. >While you look over her, she stares back at you with only one emotion.
  46. >Disdain.
  47. >She'll be perfect.
  48. >Rising back up, you grip the handle of the carrier and hoist her into the air, carrying her out of the room.
  49. >As you head up to the study, she doesn't make a peep. She doesn't even shift her weight in the carrier, opting to keep absolutely still while you ferry her to an unknown fate.
  50. >You set her down on the floor of your study, shut the door, and unlatch the carrier.
  51. "There we go. That's no place for us to have a conversation."
  52. >You stand expectantly, but she doesn't exit the carrier.
  53. "Come on, now. No point in dragging this out."
  54. >Hesitantly, she steps out into the open air.
  55. "Good."
  56. >You drag a chair from the side of the room and set it down across from your desk. With a firm tap to the chair's back, you beckon her over.
  57. "Come have a seat. It may well be the only time I afford you the luxury."
  58. >As she climbs up into the chair, you circle around and sit behind the desk.
  59. >Resting your chin on clasped hands, you now examine her carefully in the full light of day.
  60. >It's almost awe-inspiring. It takes you a minute to speak up.
  61. "Forgive my manners. I've just never seen one before."
  62. >"A pony, you mean?"
  63. >She has an accent.
  64. "No," you reply. "A living being."
  65. >She furrows her brow in confusion at your answer, but you're too lost in thought to notice.
  66. "What's your name?"
  67. >"Octavia," she says.
  68. "Why, that's a human name. An historical one, but a human name regardless."
  69. >She doesn't respond.
  70. >You tip your head towards the door.
  71. "Do you know the others?"
  72. >Her face grows tense. "Some of them."
  73. "That's quite alright. I won't be bothering to learn their names."
  74. >A stretch of the truth, perhaps, but based in real sentiments regardless.
  75. >Suddenly, she summons the courage to speak out of turn.
  76. >"What am I doing here?"
  77. >You make a note of her phrasing. She switched from the collective 'we' back to the singular 'I'. That's promising.
  78. >You spin in your chair slightly.
  79. "Well, that's the proper question, isn't it?"
  80. >With a flick of your wrist, you summon forth the figure in the corner.
  81. "Come here, boy."
  82. >Octavia gasps as a mechanical man lumbers forward into view, its rigid joints bending and creaking ever so softly as it walks. Beneath the automaton's reflective exterior, its motors emit a drawn-out hum.
  83. >It stands at attention beside your desk.
  84. >"What is it?" Octavia asks.
  85. "A robot."
  86. >You shuffle through your desk drawer and retrieve from within a blaster.
  87. "It is your predecessor. Subservient, competent, and loyal to no end. Observe."
  88. >You push the blaster into its palm.
  89. "Place the weapon to your head and fire."
  90. >Without a word, without even a moment's hesitation, it does so. The blaster cracks loudly against its motherboard, and the robot crumples into a derelict heap on the floor.
  91. >"Why would you do that?" Octavia asks morbidly.
  92. >Ignoring her question, you go on.
  93. "That was the last robot belonging to my estate. From this day forth, you lot shall take their place."
  94. >She looks up at you with a pained expression. "Why are you doing this? What have we done to you?"
  95. >You spare her no sympathy.
  96. "Regardless of what has come to pass, you find yourselves here now. I can assure you that this is your best opportunity at having a life of some quality."
  97. >"I won't do it," she says firmly. "I won't be a slave."
  98. "Then you'll die."
  99. >Her face goes flush.
  100. "I don't mean to be boorish, but it really is that simple. I'd think hard before committing to that route so hastily."
  101. >"Even so," she replies, trying to compose herself, "better to die free than live in bondage."
  102. "So you say, but I have a feeling not all of your compatriots would agree."
  103. >Her courage melts into worry. "What?"
  104. "Oh, my— Did you think you were deciding solely for yourself?"
  105. >You give a light chuckle.
  106. "No, my dear, it's simple, but I'm afraid it's not so simple as that. Starting today, your actions and choices directly determine the fate of the eleven others downstairs."
  107. >"Why me?" she asks bitterly.
  108. >Your reasons are many, but you're not about to play that hand so soon.
  109. "Don't flatter yourself. Someone needs to be held accountable for the others, and the role just happens to fall to you."
  110. >She stares down at the floor while you light your pipe.
  111. "More than those eleven, though, your behavior influences the outcome for your entire race."
  112. >She looks up with just a hint of curiosity. You seize it.
  113. "Oh, yes. This is an experiment. Shall I start from the beginning?"
  114. >You get up out of your chair and stroll over to the window, taking quiet puffs from your pipe.
  115. "My name is of no consequence to you — you'll be referring to me as Master. I am a psychoanalyst here on the planet of Solaria. My kind, humanity, is riddled with a plague. Not a disease, nor a virus, but a plague we put upon ourselves, that scourge which we call loneliness. See, here on Solaria, we don't live as you do. Every man, every woman, lives out their life on their own estate, never once seeing another living being."
  116. >You turn back to Octavia and nudge the broken robot with your foot.
  117. "Our households, our entire lifestyles, are made possible through the service of robots like these. But obedient as they are, they are mindless. They contain no opinions, no values, no insight. None of the things that make companionship so invaluable. Most men do not notice it, as they've never known any other life, but loneliness is quite taxing on mental well-being. People fail to realize that most of their issues stem from the way of life they've been so stringently adhering to. This is a little-known fact on Solaria, but evolutionarily speaking, humans are actually social creatures, just as you are."
  118. >"So live with each other," Octavia gripes. "You don't need us."
  119. >You take a puff from your pipe and return to the window.
  120. "Oh, if it only it were that easy. Humanity lived that way, once upon a time. On a different planet, now left inhabitable by our own hubris. It was terribly inefficient. So much death and wastefulness. A primitive way of life, much like the one I'm guessing you previously had. For millennia we've inched toward this near-perfect system, and age-old tradition is not something so easily defied. All humankind is repulsed by the notion of physical presence. Even I, in the necessary objectivity of my profession, find it somewhat difficult to be around you now. It shall certainly take some getting used to, but it is for a greater good."
  121. >"So is that what you want from us?" Octavia asks, sour contempt in her voice. "For us to take care of your house, and make you feel less lonely?"
  122. "In a sense, yes."
  123. >"It's not going to happen."
  124. >Curious, you return to your seat and deliver her your full attention.
  125. "Interesting. Tell me why."
  126. >"Friendship is a special thing," she says. "You can't force it, and you certainly don't get it by enslaving."
  127. "I see. You misunderstand."
  128. >You sit back in your chair.
  129. "It's not friendship I'm after. I've got friends already."
  130. >"Then what is it?"
  131. "Companionship."
  132. >"I don't follow."
  133. >Taking your last puff, you return your pipe to the drawer, and deliver a harrowing prognosis.
  134. "You will."
  135. >She stares at your desk a moment before speaking up.
  136. >"We— We could just kill you, you know. Take that weapon from your desk while we're cleaning, or a knife from the kitchen, or any other conceivable tool, and finish you in your sleep. It's brutal, but we could stomach it if we had to. You don't leave us much choice. I don't see you getting much in the way of companionship when you're constantly afraid of being overthrown."
  137. >You sit there calmly, confident in knowing she's not serious. If she were, she wouldn't have made it known.
  138. >She thinks this is a negotiation. She thinks she can bargain her way to freedom.
  139. >That's easy enough to snuff out.
  140. "You absolutely could," you say, to her surprise. "But then, the experiment fails."
  141. >"What do I care?" she charges. "Let it."
  142. "You ought to care very much, because if I fail to prove your viability, then your species is of no use to us."
  143. >Her expression turns grim.
  144. "Best case then? Forced labor on meat farms. Though robot productivity there is quite unrivaled, so perhaps you'd better serve as the livestock itself. The most likely outcome, however, would simply be mass extermination. Solaria is concerned with efficiency above all. Once we glean enough sociological research about your kind, you immediately become dispensable."
  145. >You follow that up with one tiny caveat.
  146. "Unless I can prove you're not."
  147. >Octavia hangs her head forlornly.
  148. "It may be difficult to wrap your head around, but I am the only human who's advocating for your species' longevity," you state with the utmost self-assurance. "I have been preparing for this opportunity for a very long time. I have thought out all avenues. The most optimistic outcome for you, and therefore your race, is relegation to a life of domestic servitude. I'm sure it comes as a disappointment now, but your outlook will improve with time."
  149. >Standing up, you come around the desk and lay a hand gently on her wither.
  150. "You will come to love the work."
  151. >Of that, you are certain.
  152. >Walking back to the door, you open it for Octavia.
  153. "Go now. Open the others' carriers and get them acquainted with their living quarters. Duties will be assigned first thing tomorrow."
  154. >On her way out the door, you stop her.
  155. "And Octavia?"
  156. >She looks back up at you.
  157. "Information is power. As Housekeeper, you are in a unique position. In the scheme of my experiment, you are a researcher, not a subject. This is not a blind trial. As such, you're free to divulge what I've shared with you to the others, but know that doing so is not necessarily advantageous. Remember: from henceforth, you're responsible for their actions, and consequentially, the fate of your kind."
  158. >She nods her head lightly. "Yes, sir."
  159. >You shut the door behind her in mild surprise. You hadn't expected to get a 'sir' from her so soon, and an unprompted one at that.
  160. >Though the masked contempt behind her obedience wasn't lost on you, it's still a step in the right direction.
  161. >Getting her to respect and embrace you as her master will take time. Conditioning does not come so easily.
  162. >But obedience does (at least preliminary obedience). All it took was pulling the proper strings to ensure that this was the path of least resistance.
  163. >A bit of hopelessness here, a bit of ego-feeding there, and voilà. The perfect servant has been set into motion.
  164. >That final bit about exemption from the experiment was key. Giving her authority and scraps of the truth allows her to let her guard down.
  165. >She believes she has the relevant facts, and will subconsciously elevate herself from a position alongside her peers to one closer to you. She will begin to associate her role here less with the others and more with you.
  166. >Octavia thinks she's helping run the experiment.
  167. >What she doesn't know is that she alone IS the experiment.
  168. >Knocking this pin down will be the key to toppling all the rest. Conditioning is achieved through a great deal of deceit and trickery, but once attained, it is absolutely worth the effort.
  169. >That's why choosing her was key.
  170. >Because the moment you saw her, you could tell she was a pawn who just wanted to be queen.
  171.  
  172. 2
  173. >The following morning, you review the security footage from last night on your cerebro.
  174. >As you'd predicted, Octavia told the others very little about their new situation. Only that they were to attend to the house, she was being forced to oversee it (her words — an interesting choice), and that specific duties were forthcoming.
  175. >Certainly, they had questions, but for the most part, they were ones she simply could not answer.
  176. >It must have been frustrating for them. One of them immediately tried the door, but you'd remotely locked it behind Octavia. Can't have them causing problems before you've even got to orientation.
  177. >Still, in spite of the circumstances, she fared well in managing to console the group, at least enough to get them to rest up for the night.
  178. >She may yet prove an effective leader.
  179. >Of course, that means winning her over will be crucial. If she succeeds in uniting them against you, the results will be devastating.
  180. >But if she ensures their devotion to you?
  181. >All told, your hopes lie with her.
  182. >Before dawn, you enter the slave quarters and wake Octavia, quietly so as not to disturb the others.
  183. >Fluttering her eyelids open, she looks up at you with sudden concern.
  184. "Meet me outside in five minutes," you whisper.
  185. >Before long, she is washed up and ready to receive you. She shuts the door slowly behind her, and approaches you down the hall.
  186. "You'll be getting a tour of the household. In order to delegate responsibilities, you need to know the ins and outs of the estate."
  187. >She gives you a shallow nod, and you set off down the hall, beginning with the kitchen.
  188. >As you explain the appliances to her, she takes to them almost immediately.
  189. >It seems that though the technology is largely foreign, almost all the devices have analogues back on her homeworld.
  190. "For certain meals I may request a specific dish. That information will then be beamed to the kitchen console. There are eleven-thousand different recipes in the database, so skill should hardly be a factor in preparing my food."
  191. >"And us?" she asks. "What are we to eat?"
  192. >You're slightly aggravated by her concern for herself superseding her concern for you, but you hold your tongue.
  193. >That impulse must be learned, and it is a fair question, though admitting so would be demeaning.
  194. >So instead, you wave a hand and answer her carelessly.
  195. "It doesn't matter in the slightest. The kitchen attendant can prepare whatever she pleases for the rest of you, so long as it doesn't interfere with my mealtimes. We've no shortage of foodstuffs on Solaria."
  196. >You bring her through the halls, showing her into all the various rooms of the manor, particularly the room where multitude of cleaning instruments are kept.
  197. "Robots kept the household meticulously spotless. There was essentially a robot cleaning somewhere in the house at any given moment; you can see the dust already beginning to accrue from neglect. I expect you lot to maintain the same standards."
  198. >Most of these rooms, you hardly ever use. But the state of a man's estate was something of a point of pride on Solaria.
  199. >Each household was roughly equal in luxury, so even the smallest dip in upkeep proved a great blow to its owner's ego.
  200. >For the first time, you show an interest in Octavia's past, and even then only in the context of yourself.
  201. "Have you households like this one on your world?"
  202. >"Some," she answers. "Though only for the wealthy. Most of us are of more modest means."
  203. >You puff out your chest slightly as you show her around, touting your race's supremacy.
  204. "On Solaria, every household is just as this one. Every man and woman wants for nothing; the estate supplies all. Permits are granted for additions within reason, and only out of necessity. All else is kept equal. Wealth and modesty have no meaning here."
  205. >"I suppose that's nice," she mumbles. There's just a hint of sincerity in her tone, muffled by the fact that it was largely meaningless with respect to her own situation.
  206. >Entering the grand foyer, you tap a door by the staircase.
  207. "This door leads to the basement, which contains the estate's medical bay. Much of the equipment is sensitive, and I don't want any of you pawing around down there. Take care to inform the others that the basement is therefore off-limits."
  208. >"I will," she replies.
  209. >With the first floor taken care of, you lead her upstairs and push open the double doors to your study, the large central room with giant skylights and a glass wall for plenty of natural light.
  210. >The sun is just beginning to rise over the horizon outside.
  211. "This room, you've seen already," you say, motioning around. "I conduct most of my work here. Before entering, one must always knock and wait for approval. In fact, that goes for any room where I am behind closed doors, not only this one. Am I clear?"
  212. >She nods emotionlessly, and you exit, shutting the doors behind you.
  213. >You show her around the rest of the rooms upstairs. The library, the lounge, and most impressively, the master bedroom.
  214. "My bed is to be made every morning shortly after I rise, with sheets changed weekly. As should be evident by now, most of you will be primarily cleaning. Some duties necessitate being up before I wake, after I've retired to bed, or even throughout the night. It falls to you to rotate these jobs among the staff consistently."
  215. >"I believe I understand."
  216. "Good."
  217. >You look out the window, towards the sun in the sky, now full above the horizon.
  218. "Would you like to see the grounds?"
  219. >"I would," she says.
  220. >Her passive tone makes it difficult to decipher her thoughts. She might be genuinely interested. She might secretly be trying to get any possible glimpse of an escape route. Frankly, she might just be trying not to rock the boat at this point.
  221. >Her intentions will become clear with time.
  222. >You lead her back downstairs to the foyer and retrieve an item from a crate by the door.
  223. "You'll need to put this on."
  224. >As you turn back to her, she stares up at the leash in your hand uncomfortably.
  225. >"I'd rather not."
  226. >With a sigh, you shake your head.
  227. >Even though you wish to instill in her psyche a lofty sense of authority, it still remains necessary for her to perceive herself as your inferior.
  228. >The leash is the first small step to that end.
  229. "I've been quite patient with you thus far. Even I can appreciate that servitude takes some adjusting to. But allow me to make myself clear, once and only once: I do not have to be benevolent. I do not utter wishes, only commands. My word is law, and you, as well as the others, will behave as such. If you disagree, you will hold your tongue, or I will make you swallow it."
  230. >Again, you hold out the leash for her.
  231. >She retreats two paces, distressed by the prospect of being restrained. "No. I won't do it."
  232. >Very well, then. She's made her choice.
  233. >You lunge forward and grab ahold of her mane, yanking it upwards so her front hooves just barely scrape the ground. She thrashes about in a vain struggle to regain her footing.
  234. >"No!" she cries.
  235. >With the other hand, you crudely affix the collar to her neck and draw it tight, constricting her airway.
  236. >She gags and coughs, every attempt to draw air into lungs made an arduous struggle.
  237. >Once you secure the clasp, you release her mane, allowing her to collapse onto the ground.
  238. >With one hoof, she paws at the collar feebly, but, lacking fingers, her efforts accomplish nothing.
  239. >For a moment, you wonder if you've gone too far, but it quickly becomes clear that she can still breathe. It's just a bit more difficult to do so.
  240. >Satisfied, you grab the other end of the leash and make your way to the door.
  241. >It rapidly becomes clear to her that she must decide being dragged by the neck or summoning the energy to get back up.
  242. >Choosing the latter, she scrambles up to her hooves before the leash can go taut. She stumbles the first few steps, but follows you close behind out the door.
  243. "The leash's purpose is singular," you declare loudly as you descend the stone steps. "Yet in this case, it is symbolic rather than functional. I'm sure you're aware of the instrument's purpose."
  244. >When you fail to receive an answer, you yank the leash violently, sending her tumbling down the steps ahead of you.
  245. "You will speak when spoken to!"
  246. >As the red dust settles around her, she hacks her lungs out.
  247. >You charge down the steps and stand over her menacingly.
  248. "What is the leash's purpose?" you repeat.
  249. >"To lead a pet," she groans.
  250. "Precisely."
  251. >And yet, still she resists. "I'm not a pet."
  252. >Taking a deep breath, you squat down beside her.
  253. "You are now."
  254. >Her pupils dilate in fear in response to your low-voiced threat. She'd be deathly quiet, were it not for the collar making her breaths forced and raspy.
  255. "I don't like to hurt my pets. But insolence leaves me no other choice. Understood?"
  256. >Without hesitation, she nods.
  257. "Excellent."
  258. >You reach down to her neck, and she winces. But rather than hurt her, you adjust the clasp and loosen the collar. Enough to cease her obnoxious gagging, but still tight enough to cause discomfort. As a reminder.
  259. >Rising back up, you snap the leash.
  260. "Let's walk."
  261. >You lead her down the path parallel to the house. The natural terrain is a lifeless red, but the property surrounding the household is verdant, with a thick lawn, assorted foliage, and arbors. The grounds span, at minimum, two kilometers in every direction.
  262. "The estate is just shy of two-hundred-thousand acres. Most of it is a barren rock, containing nothing of interest. The grounds you see here are maintained through catalytic hydrolysis. I explain this not to teach you something, but because I understand running may be the obvious impulse. Allow me to dispel that illusion."
  263. >You wave your arm at the flat plains that surround you.
  264. "It would take you days to reach the estate perimeter on foot, and even longer to arrive at the household on the neighboring estate — assuming you do manage to find such a needle in a haystack — at which point the owner would likely have their robots attack you on sight out of sheer terror."
  265. >Octavia makes no comment. She only watches the distant landscape as you walk her.
  266. "There is nothing for you out there but certain death. Humanity has evolved past the need to live beyond the estate. There is no structure to take shelter, no vegetation to subsist off. These grounds are a veritable oasis of life. You need only to embrace it."
  267. >When she fails to respond, you take your point as sufficiently made.
  268. >Silently, slowly, you wind around the grounds' paths, allowing her to get a glimpse of the gardens, the fields, the lake.
  269. >As you walk, you wait for Octavia to make some indication, some acknowledgment of the property's splendor. Yet she does not.
  270. >Eventually, you grow frustrated and tug on her leash.
  271. "You know, I prefer my walking partners to be decent conversationalists, Pet."
  272. >Fearfully, she pipes up with the first topic to reach her mind.
  273. >"Do you have pets here?" she asks. "Real one— animals, I mean?"
  274. "No. None on Solaria do. Animals are disease vectors. Filthy things, only useful to us when slaughtered and sterilized. We've long since eliminated all bacterial and viral infections, you see. It takes a great deal to maintain that feat, most notably the physical separation of any and all potential hosts. Humans don't even cohabitate with one another, much less with those beasts."
  275. >Octavia frowns. "So then how do you expect this idea of yours to be implemented? Ponies in every household on Solaria?"
  276. "Your physiology is different from ours. That's what the biologists who conducted the preliminary examinations say, anyway. As a psychoanalyst myself, that's not my concern. Overcoming the psychological stigma against living among other organisms will prove a challenge, certainly, but it is sociologically inevitable. The advantages are great while the potential of disease transmission is nil."
  277. >"What if they don't want to live with ponies? What if they can't bear it, after being alone their whole lives?"
  278. "I take issue with the premise of that question. In any case, that's beyond my purview. The assembly will deliberate on how to proceed with my findings."
  279. >Octavia looks up at you. "What do you mean?"
  280. >Suddenly, you catch yourself.
  281. >She's milking you for information, and what's worse, she's succeeding at it.
  282. >You need to be more careful how much you reveal to her. To the best of her knowledge, you ought to be omnipotent. Not by misinforming her, which would easily be seen through, but by lying by omission.
  283. >In other words, if you give her no reason to believe you're not at the top of the chain, she won't.
  284. "Nothing," you mutter. "That's to be seen after the experiment produces results. There's much to do until then."
  285. >Eventually, the path brings you back around to the front of the house. You lead Octavia back inside.
  286. "Aside from that trouble at the start, you performed satisfactorily. Still, I expect better from you in the future."
  287. >She bows her head slightly in a show of deference. You can tell it's a gesture to placate you more than a sign of actual respect.
  288. >But you're not worried. You'll get her there.
  289. >You undo the leash, taking care to leave the collar on her.
  290. "That collar stays on permanently, as a show of your submission to me."
  291. >"Yes, sir," she whispers.
  292. >You check the time. It's mid-morning already.
  293. "I suppose it's time we saw the others."
  294.  
  295. 3
  296. >You pick up the crate by the door, and Octavia follows you to the servant's quarters.
  297. >Pushing the door open, you smile as you step inside.
  298. "Good morning, my pets."
  299. >Some of the ponies are already up and out of bed. Others are still sleeping in. All eyes are on you.
  300. "Line up."
  301. >They stare back at you blankly as you set the crate down by your feet.
  302. "Line up!" you bark.
  303. >Octavia hastily trots over to the center of the room. "Come, everyone. Form a row alongside me."
  304. >Good on her, you note. Embracing her role. Perhaps she's worried you'd do the same to them as you did to her.
  305. >She's right to worry.
  306. >Gradually, the ponies gather up in a line on either side of Octavia. They're a little slower than you'd like, but you're willing to be just a bit more forgiving this first time around.
  307. >Soon, all line up, except one. A blue one with a horn walks straight past the group and comes up to you.
  308. >As she approaches, she holds her head high and scowls at you.
  309. >"You there! Trixie demands to know why you think you can hold her hostage!"
  310. >As soon the brazen stranger steps up to you, Octavia sets one hoof forward and opens her mouth to reason with her.
  311. >You don't give her the chance, however. You're running the show, not her.
  312. >Reaching down, you grab ahold of the pony by the horn and hoist her up. She gasps as she lifts up into the air effortlessly.
  313. >Looking her square in the eye, you give her a violent slap across the face.
  314. >All the others' expressions go stunned at your response.
  315. >The insolent pony stares back at you, shocked. "Y-You struck Trixie!"
  316. >You sneer at her.
  317. "Trixie? No, I don't know a Trixie. I merely disciplined my property."
  318. >"You can't do that!" she cries.
  319. >WHAP!
  320. >She recoils as you deliver another slap to the same cheek, now glowing red. She dangles by her horn almost lifelessly, cowering in fear of the next slap.
  321. "I can do however I please. Burn that into your memory."
  322. >You pull her face in close to yours.
  323. "There will not be a third strike," you growl. "If you prove to be more trouble than you're worth, I will not hesitate to crush you underfoot."
  324. >She turns her head away and grimaces. "Stop it!"
  325. "Oh? Don't believe me?"
  326. >Opening your fingers, you drop her into a heap on the floor and step down onto her torso.
  327. >She draws in a sharp breath as you apply pressure.
  328. >Several of the other ponies are trembling now. You take a moment to make eye contact with the lot of them before continuing.
  329. >A couple of them stare back at you obstinately, not showing their fear. But they don't dare intercede.
  330. >You dig your shoe into Trixie's barrel, causing her to shriek.
  331. "You are nothing to me, understand? Worthless!"
  332. >She just howls in pain. Tears roll down her red cheek.
  333. >You push a little further, feeling her ribs press against your sole.
  334. "ANSWER ME!"
  335. >"AAAAAH-YES, YES, I'M WORTHLESS!" she sobs, struggling to breathe.
  336. >With fire in your eyes, you raise your head, turning to Octavia.
  337. "You heard her! What say you, Pet? Is she capable of reforming, or is she beyond saving?"
  338. >Though her eyes betray her, she meets your gaze and answers you promptly and pleadingly. "Please, Master, show mercy! She will obey! I will MAKE her obey!"
  339. >Some of the other mares look at Octavia in disbelief at her obsequious display. Begging for mercy was one thing, but her last line didn't sit particularly well with them.
  340. >Fortunately, goading her into showing unflinching humiliation was exactly what you were hoping to accomplish.
  341. "Very well."
  342. >You take your foot off Trixie and deliver a firm kick to her belly, sending her sliding back towards the row of ponies. She yowls, curling up in the fetal position.
  343. "You have five seconds to get back in line."
  344. >With the help of the two in front of her, she manages to squeeze into the line, standing half-hunched over to clutch her bruised side.
  345. >When you walked in, you could tell some of the ponies were immediately resentful toward you. Now you commanded their attention.
  346. >It felt thrilling. They were a good-looking lot. Some more than others. A colorful bunch, to be certain.
  347. >You wonder if they all look this nice.
  348. >After a moment, you retrieve a handful of collars from the crate and approach the line. The first one shivers in terror as you bring your hands to her, but keeps utterly still while you fasten her collar.
  349. >Not too loose, not too tight, just perfectly snug.
  350. >You continue down the row, addressing the group as you place a collar on each.
  351. "Listen closely. You are my pets. You will look after my household, and more importantly, you will look after me. You will do each and everything I ask of you, and you will do it without hesitation, or else suffer the consequences. You will address me as 'Master' or 'Sir' and treat me with the devotion and respect such a title warrants. You will not try to leave this place. If you do all this, and do it well, you will find life here to be quite agreeable."
  352. >You reach Octavia in line, and glance down at her already tight-fitting collar before staring into her eyes.
  353. "If you do not, I will personally ensure it is most unpleasant."
  354. >Moving on to the next pony, you return to the task of applying collars.
  355. "You will report to the pet called Octavia. You will do everything she instructs of you; consider an order from her an order from me. You will not trouble me with your problems. Instead, you will bring them to her, and she will decide if they are worth bringing to me. From time to time, I may ask you to perform tasks that are strange and uncomfortable. Regardless, I will only ask once. Forcing me to repeat myself invites punishment, up to and including death."
  356. >It is then that you reach the last pony in line. A pony you hadn't fully noticed before.
  357. "Hello there."
  358. >Something about her just catches your eye. The surprising lack of color, the way she hides behind her mane...
  359. >You brush her hair aside, exposing her full face.
  360. "Octavia, make a note," you say, without breaking eye contact. "This one is to be removed from the hierarchy, neither your subordinate nor superior. Exclude her from the housework rotation. Her duties will come directly from me."
  361. >"Yes, sir," you hear her say quietly from down the line.
  362. >You give the pony a gentle pat on the cheek and stand back up.
  363. >Curiously, you look down the line.
  364. "You all have symbols on your hips. Why?"
  365. >Octavia immediately speaks up so that another will not have to. "They're our cutie marks. They signify our special talents."
  366. >You circle around back to inspect each one, occasionally pulling them up by the dock carelessly to get a closer look.
  367. "Let's see, desserts, a hat, a flower, a pen, a treble clef, more flowers... these are the things you're best at? Where are the symbols for psychoanalysis? For robotic engineering?"
  368. >"It doesn't work that way. They don't represent jobs."
  369. >You return to the front of the line.
  370. "Then why are they branded on you? What happens if you fail to perform them?"
  371. >"Nothing," she replies. "They're just what makes each of us unique."
  372. >Suddenly, a smile cracks across your face.
  373. "So you would say they represent one's path to self-actualization?"
  374. >Octavia looks back at you uncertainly. "I... I don't know what that means."
  375. >An idea is coming together in your head. Self-actualization is at the very top of Maslow's hierarchy of needs. A personally fulfilled life is impossible without it.
  376. >And you've just been handed the perfect device to manipulate it to your liking.
  377. "Slight change of plans," you tell the group. "None of your assigned duties will be permitted to coincide with your symbols. Such a privilege must be earned, and must be granted by myself alone. You two with the flowers will be barred from groundskeeping, you with the pen are forbidden from the library, and so on. I see none of you have symbols related to cleaning, which is a suitable default chore for those restricted from other tasks. Is that clear?"
  378. >"Yes, sir," Octavia answers for the group.
  379. "Good. Now get to work. I expect breakfast on the table in fifteen minutes."
  380. >You clip the leash to the collar of the unusual pony standing at the end, and lead her out the door. As you exit, Octavia takes to delegating tasks immediately.
  381. >Good girl.
  382. >As you lead your new pet upstairs, you look down at her. Her head hangs low, but she obediently follows you close by.
  383. "What is your name, Pet?"
  384. >She looks up at your from behind her hair uneasily.
  385. "Go on. I don't care to learn the others', but I'll admit I'm curious as to yours."
  386. >She stares back up at you silently.
  387. "I asked you your name," you say expectantly.
  388. >"M-M—" she stutters hoarsely. Her voice sounds as though she scarcely uses it.
  389. >She tries to form the words, but they fail to escape her throat.
  390. "Don't bother. I'll get it from Octavia. In the meantime..."
  391. >You bring her into the spare bedroom and unclip her leash.
  392. >It's a peculiar room, this one. It this modern world, it only functions in the extraordinary circumstance in which you require alternative sleeping accommodations.
  393. >But all your life, that's never been necessary, so you feel perfectly comfortable giving it to her.
  394. "You'll be staying here rather than the servant's quarters. Don't worry about housework for now, just make yourself at home. I'll have someone bring up breakfast in a bit."
  395. >She looks around the room slightly mystified, but says nothing.
  396. >This will be a fun side experiment.
  397. "I'll come see you see soon."
  398. >Shutting the door, you retreat to your study, and dial Dr. Scanlon's estate code.
  399. >Scanlon is an inflexible man, but he's Solaria's foremost sociologist, and a member of the assembly.
  400. >For your entire professional career, he's been a trusted ally. He's one of the few who can maintain any semblance of objectivity in your adjacent fields.
  401. >He could see that, for all the physiological benefits, isolation was doing harm to humanity. The issue of loneliness was mankind's final dilemma. Disease was virtually gone. Population was strictly controlled. All men were equal.
  402. >But for all its evolution, there still lied some inkling of humanity's origins within: the drive to share in physical intimacy.
  403. >The nurture, repulsion to physical presence, overcame nature, the urge for sexual attraction. Though not enough to wholly squash the consequential desires.
  404. >In your studies, you found that modern man was generally conflicted: he felt a primal need to experience something he had never experienced before, something he would never consciously realize he desired.
  405. >Humans would never again live together. Society had progressed far beyond the need for it.
  406. >But if this niche could somehow be filled by these new creatures, then perhaps humanity's final dilemma might be resolved after all.
  407. >After a short bit, the image of Scanlon's figure appeared in front of you. To an untrained eye, it might seem as though he were really in the room with you.
  408. >You knew better, however. Were that really the case, you would be retching and gagging, scrambling to get away, overcome by nausea by the prospect of air from his lungs being breathed in by yours.
  409. >By way of cerebro-projector, his image and voice appeared only in your mind, nothing more than pulses of electricity running through your synapses.
  410. >You felt safe in the knowledge that he stood some two thousand miles away, on his own estate, viewing you in precisely the same manner.
  411. >Such was the way all communication on Solaria (business, pleasure, or otherwise) was conducted. Social isolation was therefore not technically true in this sense; merely the physical intimacy which man so unconsciously craved.
  412. >"Yes?" Scanlon asks. "What is it?"
  413. "I've arranged for the subjects to take up the duties previously held by robots. They are doing so now."
  414. >"That is good," he states, in his usual calculated tone. "Any complications?"
  415. >You shake your head decisively.
  416. "None whatsoever."
  417. >"Very well. I remain skeptical, but hopeful for positive findings. Do not forget that the assembly has permitted this trial with several strings attached. I'll be expecting frequent reports to present my colleagues."
  418. "You'll have them."
  419. >You move your finger to disconnect the cerebro, but Scanlon interrupts you.
  420. >"One more thing."
  421. "Yes?"
  422. >"Do see if you can glean any insight into their sociology. The commonfolk in cold storage have little to offer us and their leaders are quite sharp-tongued. They've grown spiteful in their captivity."
  423. >You frown.
  424. "Have you not broken them?"
  425. >He removes his spectacles to clean them. "The facilityman we have on-site tries, but it is beginning to seem as though they are incapable of being broken."
  426. "Hmm."
  427. >You find that hard to believe.
  428. >"I'll have you know more another time," he says, replacing his glasses. "I've got a committee meeting to attend to."
  429. "So long, old friend."
  430. >With a wave of your finger, the cerebro disconnects, and Scanlon's figure dissipates into thin air.
  431. >You can't help but feel a bit guilty. You'd just lied through your teeth about not coming across complications.
  432. >But you reason that it's a white lie, of no consequence. If all goes well, it won't come up again. It would have been a trivial detail to add. They're obeying now, aren't they?
  433. >Are they? You check the time, nearly twenty to eleven.
  434. >It ought to be time for breakfast.
  435.  
  436. 4
  437. >You enter the dining room and immediately frown at the display before you.
  438. >Octavia stands inside. Beyond the counter that separates this room from the kitchen, you can see two ponies working by the stove.
  439. >At the table, a plate is set for each of the ten chairs.
  440. "What the devil is this?" you inquire through grit teeth.
  441. >Octavia comes around the table, concerned by your sudden irritation. "We're making breakfast, as you asked. I've set places for us t—"
  442. "Us?" you hiss. "This table is for my invited guests, not pets!"
  443. >She reels back. "I thought you've never seen anyone..."
  444. "Of course I don't see them, you miserable dolt! I VIEW them!"
  445. >The other two ponies standing by the stove, frightened by your outburst, shrink into themselves.
  446. >You pound your fist against the table and point directly at them.
  447. "Set ONE plate at the head of the table. Prepare ONE dish, for myself and only myself. You eat in your quarters AFTER I've finished my meal to my satisfaction. Understood?"
  448. >All three nod quietly.
  449. "I expect this error to be properly remedied by the time I return, or your punishment will be severe."
  450. >You leave the dining room in a fume.
  451. >What a brazen assumption! To think they'd eat beside you, as your equal.
  452. >Still, perhaps you were unduly harsh toward Octavia's ignorance. It's not as though she had foreknowledge of the Solarian custom of hosting dinner guests by way of cerebro-projector.
  453. >But she must learn to anticipate your expectations before you even vocalize them. She ought to know better than think you would allow your pets to sit at the table.
  454. >And therein lies the problem. She still thinks of herself as an autonomous creature held in temporary bondage, not a slave.
  455. >It's your job to correct that.
  456. >As you make your way down the hall, you periodically pop into different rooms, using the time to check on your servants. Most of them are sweeping or dusting; they visibly snap up and busy themselves when they see you.
  457. >Fear is good. It'll keep them productive.
  458. >And it's not as though they can get away with slacking off. A tidy house is something easily validated. If they decide to cut corners, you'll know, and then, well... you'll handle it accordingly.
  459. >Besides, you had discreet cameras installed around the household for that very purpose. It was an unusual requisition you filed with the robotics plant.
  460. >Why, they asked, would anyone need cameras when every household came stocked with a complement of robots, whose countless sensors recorded every inkling of environmental data as they patrolled?
  461. >So you told them rather forthrightly that you were replacing your robots altogether.
  462. >That got you an odd stare.
  463. >So much preparation has gone into this experiment. Schedule changes, remodeling, special requisitions for new devices and implements, and even an experimental new modification to your cerebral implant (which you simply can't wait to test, when the time comes).
  464. >You were rather surprised all your requests were approved by the assembly without much deliberation. When you told Scanlon as much, his words felt vaguely ominous.
  465. >'If you're going to do this, you'll do it right.'
  466. >Once you're satisfied with the productivity of the staff, you round the corner at the end of the hall and stop in your tracks.
  467. >The one you disciplined earlier — what was her name — Trixie?
  468. >She's standing rather aimlessly in the hall, outside the utility closet, and staring vacantly off into space. Her broom is lying on the floor next to her.
  469. "You there."
  470. >She snaps back to reality and looks at you before scampering off frightfully down the hall, leaving her broom where it lay.
  471. >Unacceptable. She was meant to be struck into submission, not reduced to a vapid imbecile.
  472. >Could it be possible you actually traumatized her?
  473. >No... Unless she had prior developmental issues, two strikes to an adult mare could hardly do much harm.
  474. >It's a mild case of shock, is all. Brought on by the stress of an alien environment, coupled with prompt violence from her captor.
  475. >She seemed rather arrogant, from the few words she managed to get out before you disciplined her. Someone who's used to being authoritative.
  476. >The intense paradigm shift of power dynamics is likely unraveling her ego.
  477. >She was dissociating.
  478. >Still, your armchair psychology does you little help here. You'll have to develop a separate course for breaking her.
  479. >You walk over to the broom she left behind and pick it up.
  480. >Whatever she may be experiencing, it's still no excuse for idleness. She will be expected to work, trauma or not.
  481. >Broom in hand, you make your way back to the dining room, where you receive a much more gratifying sight: a plate of eggs and toast at the head of the table. Octavia and the other two stand off to the side, awaiting your approval.
  482. >As you pass them to get to your seat, you toss the broom carelessly at Octavia. She fumbles quickly to catch it in her hooves.
  483. "The blue one is disregarding her chores," you tell her as you take your seat. "See to it that she makes herself useful promptly, or I'll dispose of you both. I'm tired of making threats."
  484. >"Yes, sir," she whispers. "I'll check on her right now. Is your meal satisfactory?"
  485. >You take a bite off your plate.
  486. "Satisfactory, yes, and not an ounce better. An uninspired attempt. There's hardly an adequate protein allotment. No sausage? No bacon?"
  487. >Octavia clams up. "I checked the recipes, sir, and those are... meats." She utters that final word in such hushed trepidation that you might think it meant something else altogether.
  488. "Of course they are. What of it?"
  489. >"Well, it's just that we don't ea—"
  490. >You rise up out of your chair.
  491. "This again? Skies above, what do I care what you eat? This is my meal, and you'll make what I please!"
  492. >"Please, sir," she pleads, "I only mean to explain we have no experience in preparing it. It's uncomfortable for us to handle it." Not wanting to agitate you any further, she hastily follows that up with, "But we'll learn. If meat is what you desire, we'll learn."
  493. >You stare down at her. She's bowing her head deeply and humbly, in a gesture practically begging you to show mercy.
  494. >And you want to unleash on her, discipline her for getting breakfast wrong twice today. Something that egregious shouldn't go unpunished.
  495. >But the humility she's showing here presents you with a promising opportunity.
  496. >To become violent would be to squander it. Sparing her now will encourage further submissiveness and reinforce in her mind that this is indeed the rational way to behave around you.
  497. >Your fury subsiding, you sit back down and return to eating.
  498. "You'll learn. And in the meantime, you'll prepare my meals with a synth-yeast substitute to suffice my protein allotment. I don't much care for it, but it's close enough to the real thing. Moreover, it will train you to become accustomed to the real thing."
  499. >"Thank you," she murmurs, breathing a relieved sigh.
  500. >You stare straight ahead while you eat, not deigning to return your gaze to them.
  501. "You're dismissed. Deal with the insolent bitch and meet me in my study when I'm finished."
  502. >She bows out and leaves the dining room, taking the broom and the other two ponies with her.
  503.  
  504. >After breakfast, Octavia comes up to your study. She knocks upon the door as instructed, and you allow her in.
  505. "I've a busy day today. I was hoping for a sabbatical so as to oversee your adjustment more closely, but I've some patients for whom it would be unfeasible to temporarily reassign an alternative psychoanalyst..."
  506. >You glance back at Octavia.
  507. "That's neither here nor there. I'm in need of a secretary. We use robots to perform the tedium of our labors, and barring that, I'll need one of you to do it."
  508. >"Certainly," she says. "I can go fetch someone. Will any pony do?"
  509. "Assuming you're all competent enough at menial work, yes. But not the one with the pen on her hip. She looks the type, and I'm afraid she might find the work too rewarding. We'll save that for when she proves her fealty, shall we?"
  510. >"Yes, sir. In the meantime, what would you have me do?"
  511. >She's showing initiative already.
  512. "Have you assigned ponies to serve as groundskeepers for the day?"
  513. >"Not yet."
  514. "Do so now. The structure you saw beside the lake is a pump house. All the gardening equipment and tools are housed within, as well a console akin to the one you saw in the kitchen. Use it to familiarize yourself with the sprinkler systems and irrigation channels. You'll need to know it well to teach it to the rest of the staff."
  515. >She nods and begins to leave. On her way out the door, you stop her.
  516. "Oh, and one more thing."
  517. >She turns back to you.
  518. "Would you happen to know the name of the pet I removed from the staff rotation this morning? She's having trouble speaking up."
  519. >"I can find out."
  520. "Good. Go then, and have her meals delivered to the secondary bedroom."
  521. >You shut the door behind her and return to your chair.
  522. >Within the next few minutes, you hear another knock at the door.
  523. "Enter."
  524. >The door opens slightly and a cream-colored mare pokes in halfway.
  525. "M-Master?"
  526. >"Yes, Pet, come in."
  527. >She enters the study and softly shuts the door.
  528. "Have a seat."
  529. >You gesture to the chair pulled up to the side of your desk.
  530. >She approaches. From her subdued body language alone, you can she's a great deal more timid than most others.
  531. >Octavia chose interestingly.
  532. >You look over her with enraptured interest.
  533. "I like your mane. It's an unusual style. I haven't seen one like it on any of the other pets."
  534. >"Thank you," she whispers, fiddling with her hair nervously and avoiding eye contact.
  535. "Has Octavia told you you're to be my new secretary?"
  536. >"Yes."
  537. "For now, at least. If I enjoy your company, I may keep you on indefinitely instead of rotating your position amongst the others."
  538. >She stares down at your desk silently.
  539. "What's your name?"
  540. >"Coco Pommel."
  541. "Very well, Coco. My first appointment is in precisely three minute's time, so let's not delay any further."
  542. >You push a button on your desk, and a console rises from within. A patient's file appears on the screen automatically.
  543. "I'm a psychoanalyst. I diagnose disorders of the mind and formulate a treatment plan to correct any imbalances. Most on Solaria transcribe notes cerebrally, but I find hard copies more conducive for organizing my research. As such, I prefer to have all my notes written down."
  544. >Except for your notes on your new pony subjects. You can't risk them coming across those. They'll stay safe on your cerebro, out of their reach.
  545. "As I speak to my patient, you will take comprehensive notes on everything I say. You will not forgo any details, or you will be punished. There may be some notes I do not wish to speak aloud for the patient's sake. Those I shall transcribe myself via cerebro. They will appear on this console, and you shall record them just as any other item. Does that sound feasible?"
  546. >She looks up hesitantly. "I'm not— I-I think so..."
  547. >You set the pen down in front of her.
  548. "Go retrieve the notebook labeled 'McCafferty, Jonas' from the shelf behind you. We begin in one minute."
  549. >As she gets the book, you dial the estate code listed on the patient file into your cerebro. After a few seconds, McCafferty's seated figure appears in front of you, hovering in midair.
  550. >You mentally calibrate his image so that he is seated in the chair across your desk, while he does the same for you, from the comfort of his own study.
  551. "Are you well, Jonas?"
  552. >He grimaces and takes a sip of water. "You ought to know damn well I'm not. I told you a fortnight ago this new course you have me on wouldn't do shit, and here we are. Besides, it hurts like hell. Think my damn 'bot pricked me in the wrong place."
  553. >You know full well that wasn't the case. Robot administration of medicine is one of the most precise sciences on Solaria. Yet you ignore it.
  554. "I spoke to the neurologist just last week. It's an uncommon treatment, granted, but it passed all the requisite trials. It's been proven to work."
  555. >Out of the corner of your eye, you can see Coco staring at you uncertainly, and only then do you realize that she doesn't understand what's happening.
  556. >McCafferty is visible and audible only to you. From her perspective, you're simply talking to an empty chair.
  557. >While he speaks, you shoot her a quick nod, looking down at her book. You mentally beam the words 'Begin Writing' to the console, and she gets the idea, picking up the pen with her mouth.
  558. >"What're you doing?" McCafferty asks. "Not hosting social calls on the side when I'm on, are you?"
  559. "I wouldn't breach protocol for something so foolish as that. No, I was merely addressing my robot. Continue."
  560. >"Like I was saying, it don't matter how verified your treatment is if it ain't working."
  561. >You beam 'unhappy with current course' to the console.
  562. "I assure you, it's achieving the desired results."
  563. >"Don't give me that. I'm a food engineer. I probably designed half the crap you ate for breakfast."
  564. >If only he knew.
  565. >"I know body chemistry," he continues, "and people respond to reactants in different ways. Some things work like magic for one man and go totally inert for another."
  566. >As you respond, you're careful to dictate your sentences as you want them transcribed.
  567. "Your hypothesis that your body may not be responding to this course might be right, but you said the same of the last course."
  568. >"And?" he asks.
  569. "The last course was in capsule form. This is direct injection to the temporal lobe."
  570. >"What's your point?"
  571. "Well, in your lofty occupation, surely you must know of the blood-brain barrier?"
  572. >"Of course I have."
  573. "Unless your amygdala has shriveled away, it's safe to say the results are entirely predictable. And if that were the case, I'd hardly think you'd be talking to me right now."
  574. >He shifts in his seat. "Well, it felt wrong while the 'bot was doing it. Think he messed up. You know, just a millimeter off can—"
  575. "Jonas."
  576. >He falls silent and stares back at you.
  577. "You've been refusing treatment, haven't you?"
  578. >"Preposterous!" he yells. "Why on Solaria would I do that? Your treatments have just been ineffective so far, that's all there is to it. Move me onto another course and you'll see."
  579. >You sit absolutely still in your desk chair, watching him carefully. Tiny beads of perspiration forming on his forehead. Defensive posturing.
  580. "Yes," you sigh, "another course, and another, and so on ad infinitum, for as long as you can fly under the radar."
  581. >"You're mad," he says.
  582. "I don't think you've taken one single course I've prescribed you."
  583. >"Nonsense! Slanderous nonsense meant to save your reputation by staining mine. I ought to charge you with malpractice. You've got no evidence."
  584. "You're right. I have none. But it's checked easily enough, isn't it?"
  585. >"What?"
  586. "I had my suspicions. That's why we moved onto this experimental course in the first place. See, with some sleight of hand, you can fool a robot into thinking you swallowed the capsule it handed you. I'm sure you've been banking on that so far. But with all the rigid programming behind robotic surgery, there's no way to make a robot believe it administered an injection that you, in reality, refused."
  587. >The color drains from his face.
  588. "If my accusations are baseless as you say, then you certainly wouldn't mind an Inquirer asking your estate's medbot a simple question. If only to exonerate you, of course."
  589. >He leaps from his chair and charges at you, his image clipping through your desk from the waist down. In a blind rage, he tries to grab at your collar, but no physical sensation accompanies his movements.
  590. >"You set me up! You've been trying to poison me all along! This is your sick revenge because I wouldn't let you sink your dirty little hooks into my brain! I'll kill you, you hear? I'll find your estate and do you in!"
  591. >Staying perfectly calm, you raise your right hand.
  592. "Expect an inquest within the hour."
  593. >With a simple wave of your index finger, he disappears from view.
  594. >Breathing deeply, you pause a moment. You didn't dare show it, but his sudden lunge caused you a great deal of distress. Fortunately, you kept your composure.
  595. >With your heartbeat slowing down, you turn to Coco, eternally grateful she could only see your end of the exchange.
  596. "Got all that?" you smile.
  597. >She shrinks down into her seat, lacking confidence in her answer. "I... I think..."
  598. "Let's have a look, then."
  599. >Luckily, this one didn't matter much, so it made for the perfect first trial.
  600. >You thumb through her notes. Various misspellings of the more technical terms (which you can't fault her on), but beyond that, it's a stellar transcription.
  601. >You set the notebook down in front of her.
  602. "Good work."
  603. >She hangs onto her reserved modesty. "Thank you."
  604. "No, I mean it. I am not unjust; praise is warranted. I went fast, and you still kept up. You're very talented."
  605. >She tilts her head down and tries to hide her faint blushing.
  606. "You took the pen in your mouth. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised, but you're very dexterous with it. And your penmanship is better than mine! How's that so?"
  607. >She sets her chin against her hoof on the desk and smiles. "I had a lot of practice back home."
  608. >You sit back in your chair.
  609. "Writing with your mouth?"
  610. >"Drawing. Sketches for different dresses."
  611. "Ah. That must be where those fluid movements were learned."
  612. >Suddenly, she sits up, now more in possession of herself. "Can I ask you a question?"
  613. "By all means."
  614. >"Who— Who were you talking to?"
  615. "As I said earlier, that was a patient of mine."
  616. >"But I didn't see anyone."
  617. "He's at home right now, just like I am."
  618. >You turn your head and tap the small metal plate on the side.
  619. "See this?"
  620. >She leans in to get a closer look.
  621. "That's a cerebral-optic augmentative implant, or cerebro for short. It runs from my cerebral cortex all the way to my occipital lobe. All humans have one. It lets us view each other, in our heads, anytime we want. Makes it so that we never have to see each other in person."
  622. >"That's neat," she says. "But you still visit your friends, right?"
  623. "No, Coco. Every man spends his life on an estate like this one from adulthood until the moment he expires."
  624. >She stares at you in confusion. "Why?"
  625. "Lots of reasons. Disease, mostly. None of us ever get sick."
  626. >She glances down at the notes she transcribed. "You were talking about medicines earlier, though."
  627. >You open your drawer, grab your pipe, and light it.
  628. "Treatments for the mind. It's lonely, this way of life, as you can imagine, but no one realizes it. Viewing is not sufficient. Humans were built for seeing. Try as we might, that's just not something we can breed out."
  629. >You take a long puff before continuing.
  630. "Ultimately, after weeding out genetic defects and predispositions to this loneliness, roughly one in three thousand develop issues extensive enough to require treatment. The patient I just viewed was one such case."
  631. >"Did something happen? The stuff you were talking about..."
  632. "Yes. Tragic, since his psychosis progressed to the point where conventional treatment is no longer applicable. Speaking of..."
  633. >You navigate the console with your cerebro and file the paperwork necessary to submit an inquest into McCafferty.
  634. >"What'll happen to him?"
  635. >You turn back to Coco.
  636. "Oh, don't worry your pretty little head about that, my dear. It's almost time for our next appointment. This one should go a lot smoother. Fetch the next book for me, will you?"
  637.  
  638. 5
  639. >The rest of the day goes about as well as you expected. You viewed your other patients scheduled for the day, revised their individual CBT courses, and filed dosage adjustments where applicable.
  640. >It was rather mundane, actually. None of them were nearly as hostile as McCafferty. His case was a severe one; paranoia had consumed his ego completely. Pending the results of his inquest, he'll likely require a total discharge.
  641. >That doesn't happen often on Solaria. Most patients submit to your treatments. They're docile. They accept that alterations of their minds are in their best interest.
  642. >To belong on Solaria, one must be healthy as everyone else. There is no room for societal defects and wastrels. Such a thing would be an inefficiency in the system, worthy of purging.
  643. >For those few with mental irregularities, you shape their minds to properly conform. Everyone benefits.
  644. >You've been doing this for a while. Today was simply business as usual.
  645. >Coco diligently transcribed your words through it all. After dismissing her for a brief lunch— having had your own meal brought up to the study— you reconvened for the rest of your afternoon appointments.
  646. >The first few viewings felt a bit strange. After McCafferty inquired about your addressal of Coco, it planted a lingering question in your mind.
  647. >How would it feel for these patients to know that you were not alone in the room?
  648. >Ponies were largely common knowledge on Solaria by now. It was rather unceremonious news to most, the discovery being of little consequence to their daily lives.
  649. >However, everyone but you, the members of the assembly, and perhaps a lone facilityman fully believed all of the creatures were being held securely in cold storage. None could imagine something so outlandish as twelve of them being invited onto a Solarian's estate.
  650. >It was fortunate, then, that they need not ever be aware of Coco's presence in the room beside you. Why, she could jump in your lap or even scream at the top of her lungs, and the limitations of cerebro-projection meant none of it would be transmitted.
  651. >On the rare occasion when you were required to utter a command to Coco during a viewing, it was trivially easy to pass it off as an order to a robot, an occurrence your patients were well-acquainted with.
  652. >All told, there were no hang-ups on your first day working with a staff of ponies beneath you. You explained as much to Coco after your final appointment.
  653. "Appropriately performed," you say, shuffling through the various books containing Coco's transcriptions. "The only points of issue are these maddening spelling errors. I'll have to draw up a glossary of technical terms for you to study."
  654. >Coco sits upright in her chair demurely while you pass judgment upon her. From her posture, it seems like a process she's used to, and embracing even now. How sweet.
  655. >You set the books down and turn to face her.
  656. "That does mean I won't be rotating you out for now. I haven't the time to teach ten of you mastery at transcription. You seem close enough, so let's get you there and hold for the time being."
  657. >She glances up at you briefly before lowering her gaze back down. "Yes, sir."
  658. >Sitting back in your chair, you pause a moment, watching her.
  659. "You're very agreeable."
  660. >She doesn't make a sound.
  661. "I wonder, do you enjoy serving me, Pet?"
  662. >She bites her lip, her mind racing in search of an appropriate response. It's clear she doesn't want to offend you.
  663. "Go on. I won't punish you for being honest. Not this time, at least."
  664. >"I..." she begins uneasily, "I like hearing about your world, your home. Things are so different here. It's... interesting."
  665. >A cop-out answer, for sure. She watched you beat a pony into submission this morning. A pleasant day isn't all it would take for her to see you as magnanimous.
  666. >But she isn't being dishonest. And that's your way in.
  667. >This world is full of new and interesting rules, and curiosity is a compelling force. She seemed engaged enough when you discussed the cerebro and modern conceptions of loneliness.
  668. >There was even a glint of empathy in her eyes! She actually felt bad learning you didn't get to see your friends the way she did.
  669. >She's more passive than most of your pets. And what that means for you is that she ought to be coaxed out instead of dominated into submission.
  670. >Play the part of her friend. Become someone she WANTS to please. She'll embrace you as master in no time.
  671. >Her submission will not come from crushing hopelessness, as it will for Trixie, but the opposite: hopefulness.
  672. >Actually, that's a good point.
  673. >You raise a hand to dismiss Coco.
  674. "Good work today. Come see me tomorrow after breakfast. We'll begin again, and I'll have your glossary for you."
  675. >As she leaves the study, you begin mentally transcribing notes on your findings into your cerebro.
  676. >There's a spectrum as to how to approach breaking a pony. The hope-hopeless line, you'll call it for now. Theoretically, all ponies should fall somewhere along it.
  677. >Coco lies at the far right of the line. She's a typical Type B personality — flexible, patient, non-confrontational. She needs to be given hope in order to submit.
  678. >If you strip that away from her and take the opposite approach, she'll collapse into herself and likely go catatonic or numb, becoming a mindless, dysfunctional shell of the pony she once was.
  679. >You must guide her into rationalizing servitude through her personal lens. She needs to see you as best thing that could have happened to her.
  680. >And how does one achieve that?
  681. >By giving her purpose. Make her both seek and crave your approval. Contort your image into some sort of messianic figure in her head.
  682. >Then she'll do anything to make you happy.
  683. >Now you look at the opposite end of the spectrum. 'Hopeless.'
  684. >Trixie's a Type A — ambitious, demanding, and actionable. She will never truly see you as her best hope; it's illogical. Her self-centered mindset will constantly compare her current status to her previous self's, and see it as a downgrade simply because she's unable to rationally perceive herself at the top anymore.
  685. >Now, you could forcibly break that conditioning, of course, but then you run into the same issue as creating a hopeless Coco: she loses all conception of identity and depersonalizes from her situation.
  686. >Numb, half-lucid morons make for terrible pets.
  687. >So instead, Trixie needs to be made hopeless. She'll know who she is and who she was. She'll know she's always going to be beneath you. She'll know the only opportunity for her to have even a somewhat-acceptable quality of life is to serve as best she can in her new role.
  688. >This will allow her to regain some modicum of perceived superiority over the others.
  689. >Best among slaves becomes the new ceiling for her. Her pride can never rise beyond that, because she knows she can't go higher. You'll always be there, pushing her down.
  690. >Then it becomes either 'beat out all her peers' or 'give up and fail while the others succeed'. The competitive Type A in her will only permit the former. Choosing the latter would be to admit defeat, something she cannot physically bring herself to do. So how does her mind cope?
  691. >She recontextualizes submission not as a defeat, but a victory.
  692. >She'll do whatever you say, because she's forever outrunning that crushing hopelessness.
  693. >In a nutshell, for Coco you become the best of all possibilities, and for Trixie you become the least of all humiliations.
  694. >Now, this is just what you can deduce from the few you've dealt with directly so far. There may well be another dimension to this; maybe it's a 2-D spectrum instead of a 1-D axis. But with two data points, all you can form right now is a line between them.
  695. >Well, there's Octavia. But her data is fuzzy so far. She's proven hard to read. Her emotions don't lie at the surface.
  696. >Your preliminary guess is that she lies somewhere in the middle.
  697. >You already had to drive some hopelessness into her. But she's not as arrogant as Trixie.
  698. >Yes, she needs to feel in control, and there's certainly a sense of pride within her. Yet at the same time, you're giving her hope. Entrusting her with secrets and reassuring her she's not a subject.
  699. >You've been currying favor with her, whether she's conscious of it or not, and it's shown in her actions several times today.
  700. >Now, if she's just biding her time and playing along, then you'll push her further left, and go more aggressive in your approach.
  701. >If you see her exhibiting subconscious, unfalsifiable cues of aligning herself with you, then you can trust she's genuinely cooperative and slide her right.
  702. >So it becomes a performance-based metric, a feedback loop in which behavior dictates their conditioning which dictates their behavior... and so on, until you've landed upon each pet's sweet spot, that pure optimization of their subservience.
  703. >You dismiss your notes from your cerebro. That's a comprehensive enough Day 1 analysis. Now comes preparation for Day 2.
  704. >You begin by pulling a blank book and cross-referencing misspelled terms from Coco's transcriptions, creating for her a compendium. If you finish this glossary quickly, you can give it to her tonight to study. She'll be well-versed by morning.
  705. >Halfway through the second page, you hear a knock at your door.
  706. "Yes?" you ask while hastily scribbling. "What is it?"
  707. >Octavia enters. "Supper will soon be ready."
  708. >You don't lift your attention from your notes.
  709. "I'll be down in a moment."
  710. >After a few moments of silence, you look up at her, confused why she hasn't left.
  711. "You're dismissed."
  712. >But she doesn't go.
  713. >"Sir? There's just this small matter..."
  714. >You set your pen down.
  715. "Heaven's sake, what is it this time?"
  716. >She looks away in hesitation. "It's just... Spitfire."
  717. "What?"
  718. >"One of the— pets," she says, stumbling over that word, "that I assigned to care for the grounds today. I..."
  719. "Out with it!"
  720. >The truth spills out of her. "I can't find her," she blubbers. "I've checked the house, the grounds, I can't find her anywhere. I paired her with another mare and she hasn't seen her since they split up to do their chores this morning. I think she may have... run off."
  721. >She's deathly pale, and doing her best to keep herself from trembling right now.
  722. >You told her she was responsible for her staff, so this isn't news she wants to be delivering.
  723. >And this is a key moment. How you respond now will leave a lasting impression in her mind.
  724. >So all you do is calmly return to your work, and utter two words.
  725. "No matter."
  726. >"W-What?" she chokes out, her throat constricted by an invisible force (and her collar).
  727. "It's of no consequence. If what you say is true, then she's already dead."
  728. >"Dead? How?"
  729. >You point over carelessly to the crumpled robot lying in the corner.
  730. "All of Solaria is maintained by machines like that one. They run our hydroponics, our energy grid, our fetal farms. They monitor every inch of the planet's surface, whether by satellite, shortwave, or infrared. Solaria is crawling with some 250 million of them, all given explicit instructions in their latest firmware update to terminate any rogue ponies they might detect. If she strayed beyond the grounds, then she's most certainly already deceased."
  731. >Octavia stands gravely still at the opposite end of the room.
  732. >"I don't believe you," she whispers. "You didn't say one word of that to me before."
  733. >You keep writing nonchalantly.
  734. "Believe what you please, but you'll never see her again. I didn't mention it because I tell you only as much as you need to know. You haven't tried to escape, have you? So why would I waste my time deterring you when I've already accomplished that?"
  735. >"Still, I— I thought you might be cross with me for losing one of your pets. You said I was responsible for the others."
  736. "Oh? Were you expecting me to grab a net and chase her down like some antiquated slave-catcher? You should know better by now. Such an act would be beneath me."
  737. >You rise from your chair and approach her.
  738. "I don't contradict myself. You ARE responsible for the others. And you WILL pay for this, though admittedly not by my hand. No, this error will prove to be its own punishment. Because this morning, you had a staff of ten ponies to spread out a myriad of responsibilities amongst. Now you're down to nine."
  739. >Disparagingly, you pat her head and promptly wipe your hand on your shirt.
  740. "Remember, my dear. There's thousands of you in cold storage. None of you are irreplaceable."
  741. >With that, you return to your desk.
  742. "Dismissed."
  743. >She leaves without objection.
  744. >The news bothered you more than you let on. You were hopeful for zero escape attempts, but you fully expected the possibility.
  745. >It's a natural response to captivity. No matter how much you reason against it, the mind can still respond irrationally to stressors.
  746. >Beating Trixie was likely a sufficient deterrent for most. But not this Spitfire, it seems. What a trite name. She's likely another far-left on the submission spectrum.
  747. >And her escape now proves an issue for you, because you weren't entirely honest with Octavia.
  748. >Your little fugitive is decidedly not dead.
  749. >You take the next few minutes to finish up the glossary. When you're done, you head downstairs, bringing it with you.
  750. >Dinner awaits you in the dining room. The same two kitchenmaids who prepared breakfast are standing by to serve you.
  751. >You sit down to a underwhelming dinner (yeast-veal with sautéed vegetables), pondering on your progress so far and what it means for what's to come.
  752. >If you plan on conditioning the eleven that remain, you'll need to do so on an individual basis. That means a great deal of time spent one-on-one, constructing a profile on each pet so that you might more efficiently exploit them.
  753. >You look over the two kitchenmaids standing off to the side. They're too afraid to do anything but stare ahead and await your next order.
  754. >Little beads of sweat accumulate on the one on the right as she senses you watching her.
  755. >But no command comes. You simply continue to eat, watching her silently.
  756. >Already you're wondering about these two. Their personality types, their submission profiles...
  757. >It's all such convoluted work. That's the paradox of this experiment. It takes many ponies to run your estate, but in the end, that only serves to increase your own workload.
  758. >It would've been far easier if you'd implemented a phased transition, replacing a robot one-by-one with a mare only after you'd adequately broken her.
  759. >But psychology is inherently laborious. It would've tainted the experiment if you'd allowed pony and robot to work alongside one another.
  760. >It has the potential to warp their entire perception of servitude if they understood the fundamental differences between them and the things they were replacing.
  761. >You don't want ponies identifying their roles with mindless machines. That defeats the purpose of cultivating companions within them.
  762. >So the only alternative is to do it this way.
  763. >You finish up your meal and set down your utensils.
  764. "Go and fetch Octavia," you instruct one of the kitchenmaids. "Have her meet me outside on the porch."
  765. >"Yes, sir," she mumbles as she hurries out the door.
  766. >The other collects your plate. You get a glimpse of her side as she leans over the table.
  767. "I recognize that mark. It's an archaic symbol for the medical profession."
  768. >She jumps slightly in surprise when you speak so close to her.
  769. >"That's correct. I-I'm a nurse."
  770. "Nurse," you scoff. "What an outmoded occupation. Solaria has only physicians, and even then, comparatively little use for them. Though..."
  771. >You stare down at the water in your glass, thinking to yourself.
  772. "I suppose the work nurses once performed now falls to personal medbots. And without mine, it may be good fortune that I have you. Are you well-versed in anatomy?"
  773. >"Pony anatomy," she says shakily.
  774. "We'll have you brush up on the physician's desk reference; I have a copy in the library for you to peruse."
  775. >You kick back the last sip of water and set the glass down on the plate she holds.
  776. "After you've earned it, of course."
  777. >You scratch her head affectionately, to her chagrin.
  778. "On your way now."
  779. >You know what you saw before you sent her off: an unmistakable glimmer of hope in her eyes.
  780. >The prospect that she might actually get to practice medicine here, instead of being relegated to the kitchen?
  781. >These ponies place more weight on their talents than you'd realized. It's as if it's their whole identity.
  782. >It'll be the perfect tool for incentivizing right-leaning pets.
  783. >Now you have one final experiment to conduct.
  784. >You leave the house to meet Octavia on the porch. It's twilight hour; the sun has almost entirely dipped below the horizon.
  785. "Beautiful, isn't it?"
  786. >"It is."
  787. >That might be the first truly genuine sentiment she's ever communicated to you.
  788. "I wanted to debrief before the day was out."
  789. >"Tell me what you'd like to discuss," she says, staring out at the sunset.
  790. "Is the bitch behaving?"
  791. >"It took a couple hours, but she's not as shaken anymore. She's dusting the library."
  792. "You're not lying to me, are you?"
  793. >"No, sir. She wasn't as productive as the others, but I promise I'll work her."
  794. "Tell me about the others, then. What did they accomplish?"
  795. >"Two kitchen staff, two groundskeepers, three cleaning upstairs, three downstairs. Aside from the trouble with Spitfire, everyone finished the work I gave them."
  796. "And the plan for tonight? Tomorrow?"
  797. >"Two will be up through the night, attending to the house for anything you might need. They'll sleep through tomorrow, while the other seven will perform duties different from what they were assigned today."
  798. "Make Coco an exception. I'll be using her again tomorrow."
  799. >You hand her the glossary.
  800. "Have her study this tonight."
  801. >"As you wish," she says, taking the book.
  802. "I'll admit, you seem to be adequately prepared."
  803. >"I've done only what you've asked of me."
  804. "I'm happy."
  805. >You kneel down beside her. She instinctively moves to take a step back, but catches herself before she can.
  806. "It's okay."
  807. >You brush her bangs aside to see her better in the low light. Then, slowly, you unclasp her collar and loosen it, so it's no longer uncomfortably tight.
  808. >She breathes a deep sigh the moment you do. Though this morning's marks mostly healed, her neck is still lightly bruised.
  809. >You adjust the collar so it's perfectly snug, and lower your hands.
  810. "I want you to do well. I want you to be happy here."
  811. >She gazes into your eyes silently. It's been difficult to read her before, but this time you think you might be able to.
  812. "Don't think I haven't noticed your cutie mark."
  813. >You make the deliberate choice to call it by the correct term for the first time.
  814. "You play music, don't you?"
  815. >She nods.
  816. "We do, too, you know. Not I, personally, but others on Solaria. What instrument?"
  817. >"Cello," she says softly.
  818. "It would be an easy thing for me to get you one."
  819. >Now you see that spark in her eyes. She needs this.
  820. "I think I might like to hear you play."
  821. >"I'd play for you," she whispers, almost a little too eagerly.
  822. >Tenderly, you stroke her cheek with your hand.
  823. "Then prove to me you deserve to. No more missteps, understand?"
  824. >She nods vigorously, and you're now certain you've ensnared her.
  825. "Good."
  826. >You withdraw your hand and get back up onto your feet.
  827. "I'm assuming you got all their names?"
  828. >"Yes," she sighs, steadying her breaths. "One of the others knew the pet you were asking about earlier. Her name is Marble Pie."
  829. "Delectable," you mutter to yourself. "Very well, then. That's all I have for you today. Have the others finish up their work, and make sure Coco gets that book."
  830. >"Of course, Master."
  831. >She goes back inside, and you lean against the railing.
  832. >That couldn't have gone better. She's not above temptation. Perhaps no pony is.
  833. >And besides, the offer's mutually beneficial. You wouldn't mind hearing your first-ever live performance.
  834. >But all that is to come. There's much to be done in the meantime.
  835. >You know you said this was your last experiment for the day, but there's been a last-minute addition to the roster, and Octavia just gave you her name.
  836.  
  837. 6
  838. >You push open the door to the spare bedroom to find Marble eating dinner at her desk.
  839. >Startled, she spins around in her chair when the door opens. You quietly close it behind you.
  840. "Good evening, Marble."
  841. >You come over and sit on the edge of her bed, beside her desk.
  842. "That's your name, isn't it?"
  843. >She looks away hesitantly, almost surprised you managed to figure it out, before sounding a faint "Mm-hmm."
  844. >You watch her with great interest.
  845. "You don't say much, do you?"
  846. >She shakes her head gently.
  847. "That's okay. You won't be needing your voice for the things I have planned."
  848. >Before allowing her chance to ponder on your words, you nod over to her plate.
  849. "Don't stop eating on my account. I don't want you getting malnourished."
  850. >Reluctantly, she returns to her dish of roast vegetables.
  851. >As she chews, you lean in and whisper affectionately.
  852. "You know, you're quite lucky to be here, you know. A private room, no housework, and on top of that, you're afforded luxuries most pets only dream of getting."
  853. >Her posture is stiff. She avoids your eyes, focusing only on her meal.
  854. "I hadn't planned on doing this. All twelve of you were meant to serve. But when I first laid eyes on you..."
  855. >You brush her hair aside, exposing her full side profile.
  856. "...I was simply taken."
  857. >Even her scent is intoxicating.
  858. "You are, by far, the most beautiful specimen of all my pets. And the prettiest things are always the most fun to defile."
  859. >She freezes up completely. It dawns on her what you're planning.
  860. >You glance down at her plate. All that remains is just one last bite of carrots.
  861. "Go on, finish up. You'll need the energy."
  862. >She seems to drag out the last bite for eternity. But you wait ever-so-patiently as she slowly chews, and inevitably swallows.
  863. >And then you grab her.
  864. >Yanking her by the hoof, you pull her out of the chair and onto the bed. She squeals out in terror.
  865. >Deftly, you pin her back down with your other hand and position yourself over her.
  866. >Gone is your phobia of physical contact. All day you've been whittling it down, conditioning yourself for this moment. Patting a mane here, scratching a head there, adjusting collars, stroking cheeks... all to accustom yourself to the sensation of warm touch.
  867. >Now that aversion is replaced entirely by unbridled thrill and adrenaline, the foreign rush that comes from dominating another creature.
  868. >Now Marble Pie is slated to become your very first conquest.
  869. >She tries to escape, and in response you pin her hoof back, causing her to cry out.
  870. >You lean in close and whisper into her ear.
  871. "Listen closely, my pet. This is happening. Nothing you do can make it better. Anything you do will only make it worse. Now, be a good girl and lie there for me."
  872. >Planting a kiss on her cheek, you raise back up and withdraw a hand to undo your trousers, keeping her pinned by leaning your weight on her.
  873. >She tries to wiggle free, but her feeble strength is no match for your size.
  874. >Your pants and underwear come off rather easily. Excitedly, you push her hind legs apart, keeping them spread with your knees.
  875. >And there it is, presented to you in all its glory: the very essence of her purpose to serve, glistening with moisture.
  876. >Her tail immediately swings down over it, removing it from view just as soon as it had arrived.
  877. >Angrily, you grab ahold of her dock and smack her flank.
  878. "Don't you dare!"
  879. >She whimpers in fear, and you return to your task.
  880. >Still grasping her dock, you bring your other hand to her marehood and run your fingers up the length of it, sending a shiver down her spine.
  881. >You lean in close once more to better see her face.
  882. "Feel that?"
  883. >You push your fingers further into her.
  884. "That's your master claiming what's rightfully his."
  885. >She moans out, mostly from fear, but also from your sensitive touch.
  886. >You coat your fingers in her juices, taking care to note all the intricate subtleties of her delicate folds.
  887. >Nothing has ever been so exciting as this. It's as if she was built for the express purpose of taking you. Biologically speaking, you suppose she was.
  888. >In no time at all, you feel yourself swelling, rising to the occasion. You bring your hips in closer to hers, positioning yourself.
  889. >The moment your tip presses against her nethers, she jolts forward surprisingly far.
  890. >Not letting her get away so easily, you grip her dock and pull her back into position.
  891. >"N-N-!" she chokes out, fruitlessly clawing at the sheets to hoist herself forward.
  892. >It's obvious she's trying to plead with you to stop, but even in the face of sheer terror she's unable sound out a single word, only jilted screams and cries.
  893. >You push your hips further into hers, increasing the pressure, and her fearful cries grow in equal measure.
  894. >With her trapped beneath you, you push your cock into her and slide an inch inside with a resounding pop.
  895. >"ah-AHH!" she yells.
  896. >Squeezing her dock, you steadily slide further inside her, burying yourself in her wet, velvety folds.
  897. >She's almost impossibly tight, as if she's clamping down on your member from all sides. If you didn't have such a firm grip on her, you might have been squeezed right out.
  898. >Finally, you push forward the final inch, bringing your hips down to meet her flanks.
  899. >Then you slide out again, and it feels almost as good as it did on the way in. Slowly, you start thrusting in and out of her pussy, letting her lubricate you, allowing you to gradually increase the speed.
  900. >Crying openly, she tries to pull away once more, and almost succeeds with how slippery she's gotten.
  901. >Growing frustrated, you thrust deep into her and stay there, grabbing her mane and pulling her head back to force her to look up at you.
  902. "You have an easy job. Lie back and do it. I can make it hurt, if that's what you're after."
  903. >She squeezes her eyes shut, and you smack her across the face in retaliation.
  904. "Look at me!"
  905. >Terrified, she meets your gaze, tears streaming from her eyes. Keeping eye contact, you pick up the pace and thrust into her harder.
  906. "You wanted to put up a fight, so now you're going to watch me use you."
  907. >You keep her neck craned up so she can watch you take her from behind.
  908. >Pumping away, you bring a hand down onto her cutie mark, grabbing a handful of her flank to squeeze her rump while you fuck her.
  909. >She looks up at you until she can't take it any longer and throws her head back down onto the bed.
  910. >You raise a hand and swing it down onto her rear, delivering a firm spank and making her yelp in pain.
  911. >She doesn't try escaping your hold any longer. Instead, she lies there with her red-hot face buried in the sheets, whimpering with every thrust.
  912. >Now that's she's learned her lesson, you're free to fully enjoy yourself without her interfering. You grab ahold of her hips and angle yourself so you can penetrate her deeper.
  913. >Using your new toy mercilessly, you pound her faster and more vigorously until her loud cries get drowned out in the mattress.
  914. >Suddenly, you feel a new sensation coming from her pussy. Her muscles periodically contract tightly around your cock in little winks, almost if she's trying to milk you for all you're worth.
  915. >Truly a veritable miracle of biology.
  916. >The rippling pressure sends you over the edge, and you can feel yourself beginning to spasm inside her.
  917. >With one final tug of her dock, you yank her up to the base of your member and hold her tightly in place as you unload your seed inside her.
  918. >This orgasm is the single greatest pleasure of your life. You revel in her quivering pussy, letting each wink naturally guide every last drop of cum out of you.
  919. >After what feels like an eternity, you finally release her tail and slide effortlessly out of her.
  920. >That was infinitely better than anything you could have hoped for. It was a relief unlike anything ever seen on Solaria.
  921. >For all the evolutionary leaps and bounds mankind has made, as barbaric as it might seem to your refined sensibilities, there is no denying the utmost bliss that comes from copulation.
  922. >And as for Marble...
  923. >You reach over and brush her hair aside. Her face is still buried deep in the sheets like an ostrich with its head in the sand.
  924. >Better for her to pretend this isn't happening, you suppose. Whatever keeps her docile.
  925. >It doesn't make a difference to you. This is her role now. Your exclusive little fuck-toy, free to use without any repercussions.
  926. >She's not going to be the only one, of course. They'll all come to learn that their bodies belong to you. You'll even teach them to insatiably crave your every touch.
  927. >It's just that sex with them has got to be strategic. It can be a weapon or a reward, depending on how you wield it. Force it too quickly on hopeful ponies and you might lose their trust.
  928. >But Marble will be the one you can use no matter the situation. You don't have to punish her for failing, or make her earn it. You'll just come and use her at your leisure, without regard for her conditioning.
  929. >She's perfectly suited for the task. Out of all of them, she is reliably the most submissive. She'll never fight back, or cause trouble. She'll always be here to serve as your default.
  930. >In a sense, she's the control group. Though one could make the argument that rape's a mind game of its own.
  931. >Patting her on the wither, you get off her bed and replace your trousers.
  932. >You don't say a word to her as you leave the room. There's nothing to be said. You've made her place perfectly clear to her.
  933. >She might as well embrace it. From how wet she got, clearly some part of her had found it pleasurable. And you fucked that part to completion.
  934. >As you shut the door behind you, who do you find standing out in the hall but the eyesore of your estate?
  935. "What are you doing here, whore?"
  936. >Trixie stares at you, her detached exterior impervious to your insults. She kicks her hind leg up to motion to the room behind her. "You told me to work, so I'm working."
  937. >Your lip curls in contempt.
  938. "Right now, it looks to me like you're being an insolent cunt, idly standing out in the hall when you should be cleaning. That's the second time today."
  939. >"I heard screaming," she says coldly.
  940. "You'll hear a great many things in this household. I suggest you get used to it."
  941. >She bites her tongue, resisting the urge to snap back at you. It's obvious she knows full well what you were doing in there, and it's taking all her willpower to not confront you on it.
  942. >All she does is stare at you brashly for a moment before turning around and returning to her post in the library.
  943. >How quickly she seems to have forgotten the beating you gave her this morning, returning to her abrasive old self.
  944. >She must be punished for it, of course, but you'll hold that off for tomorrow. It's been an unrelentingly long day, and you'd like to finally get some rest.
  945. >Except...
  946. >Spitfire is still out there.
  947. >You need her back. The assembly wouldn't look too kindly on you losing a pony your first day.
  948. >And yet you promised Octavia that any attempts to leave would be met with certain death. If she were to see Spitfire alive and well, that'd make you a liar.
  949. >If she can't trust you're being forthright with her, she'll never believe she's helping you run the experiment.
  950. >There's only one solution, then.
  951. >It won't be a pretty one. Far from ideal.
  952. >But since when have dirty little secrets ever been a problem for you?
  953.  
  954. 7
  955. >The following morning, as you sit in your study, you receive a knock at the door.
  956. "Come in, Pet."
  957. >You're surprised to find it's not Coco who enters. It's a blue mare, larger and older in appearance than the rest.
  958. >"S-Sir?" she stutters.
  959. >You set your pen down.
  960. "What is it?"
  961. >"I wanted to ask you something..."
  962. >She stands in the doorway uneasily, lamenting the decision to come here.
  963. "You heard what I said yesterday. Take it to Octavia."
  964. >"I did!" she insists. "She promised she'd pass it on to you, but it just can't wait."
  965. >You rise out of your chair and approach her, trying to usher her out.
  966. "If she hasn't brought it to me, then clearly, it's not worth my time. Go on, now. I'm sure she's given you work to do."
  967. >But she doesn't leave. Instead, she clings her front hooves to your pant leg, almost making you recoil in shock.
  968. >"Please!" she begs. "It's my babies, I can't stand being here not knowing if they're safe. You can't separate a mother from her foals, it's not right! Don't you have children of your own?"
  969. >Your face contorts in disgust as you shake her off your leg, letting her fall prostrate onto the floor.
  970. "Children?" you exclaim. "Where the devil do you think you are? We don't have children here! Disgusting beasts, useless parasites who contribute nothing until they come of age. You should be glad I freed you from such bondage."
  971. >An expression of betrayal casts over her face. "How could you say such a thing?"
  972. >You pinch the bridge of your nose and sigh.
  973. "Look, I've never seen it firsthand, but I've studied the psychology of familial bonds in old texts. I'm sure it brings you a great deal of distress having that bond severed."
  974. >You're not entirely sure why you're addressing a pet as you would a patient. Sympathy, perhaps?
  975. >Regardless, you go on.
  976. "But even so, the fact remains you now have a greater responsibility to me than you do to them. I'm assuming there's a father in the picture?"
  977. >She nods solemnly.
  978. "Then they'll still be together in the facility you came from, perpetually in stasis, entirely unaware that any time is passing at all. No other ponies but you twelve have been removed from cold storage."
  979. >A little relieved, she picks herself off the floor.
  980. "Yet that may change down the line. You'd do well to consider them an incentive henceforth. Right now, I don't care where your spawn end up. Prove yourself loyal to me, and perhaps that'll change. Show exceptional dedication, and you may even get to see them."
  981. >You catch a glimpse of Coco through the doorway, waiting patiently, uncertain whether she should interrupt you.
  982. >You nudge the pony with your foot, indicating for her to leave.
  983. "Go now. Do your work. And for the sake of your little ones, do it well."
  984. >She leaves your study without a word. She isn't exactly reassured by your words, but at least she recognizes the futility in further pleading.
  985. >You wave Coco inside and return to your desk.
  986. >Interesting that Octavia didn't care to bring the mother's request to you. Maybe she simply didn't want to pile on, following Spitfire's escape.
  987. >Or maybe she knew it wasn't something you'd care for.
  988. >Coco takes her seat beside your desk. "What was that about?"
  989. "Nothing. Old crow wanted to see her children, that's all."
  990. >She pauses a moment. "What are human foals like?"
  991. >Once again, you find her expressing interest in your world. You aim to nurture that interest in you, so you oblige.
  992. "I'm not the one to answer that. You know we humans don't see one another. Mating doesn't occur, at least not in the sense you're accustomed to."
  993. >But that's no longer factual, is it? You find yourself thinking back to last night's conquest fondly. It very well may have been the first non-artificial insemination on the planet in nearly a century.
  994. >She tilts her head, unsure how to phrase her question. "Then, how...?"
  995. >Your attention returns to Coco.
  996. "If you're asking how we keep our populations stable, we have fetal farms on Solaria. Every so often, we send our sperm or egg samples there. The robots screen for viable gene combinations and fertilize in vitro. The embryos are grown in artificial wombs. Due to the indomitable nature of entropy, some defects arise anyway, and those specimens are terminated. The robots account for that and produce enough to keep Solaria's population in steady-state."
  997. >"Then what happens? Where do they go after they're born?"
  998. "They stay on the farm, of course. They're useless to us until sexual maturity. They have to be educated, socialized via viewing, and familiarized with robotic servants. They don't each get their own estate on the farm, they're more akin to, oh, what do you call your analogue back home... apartments. Yes. I remember mine quite well, awfully cramped compared to the estate, though I had no frame of reference for it at the time."
  999. >You think back to your years at the fetal farm, something you hadn't stopped to do in quite a while.
  1000. "Anyway, they remain there until their twentieth birthday, at which point they're intelligent enough to actually contribute to society. They're assigned an estate, and an occupation, and commit to both for the remainder of their lives."
  1001. >Coco leans forward on the desk. "So you could have children out there, right now, and not even know it."
  1002. "That's a boorish way of putting it. I suppose if you get technical, they are genetically my offspring, though no one in their right mind would be so obscene as to call them my children. We don't feed them, nor raise them, nor do any of things one would expect an organism to provide its 'children'. The robots perform all that. I suppose if there were an economical way to artificially produce the zygotes, we'd do that, too."
  1003. >You get out a notebook and slide it over to her.
  1004. "You won't see me discussing the subject with other humans. It's something of a vulgar topic in polite society. Even the genetic engineers refuse to discuss their work socially, no matter how necessary the process is to population sustainability. It's just one of those things most of us don't like to think about. You'd hardly find us talking about the sewage lines that run beneath our estates, would you?"
  1005. >You pull up the console out of your desk.
  1006. "Come now, we've our first patient soon. Have you studied the glossary?"
  1007. >"Yes, sir," she says proudly.
  1008. >You rub her cheek affectionately.
  1009.  
  1010. >Come lunchtime, you have the rest of the day to yourself. You instruct Coco to organize some patient notebooks for some upcoming research you're planning on, and leave to find Octavia.
  1011. >She's in the kitchen, showing today's kitchenmaids how to prepare the meals how you like it.
  1012. >Her job this first week is certainly laborious. Every day, she has to teach the new kitchenmaids, the new groundskeepers, the housemaids assigned to new rooms, all how to properly do their jobs, until they've all learned the duties of every post.
  1013. >Once every servant has properly rotated through each job once or twice, she'll be able to sit back. But until then, she has to closely oversee everyone simultaneously to prevent any screwups.
  1014. >She knows you won't allow her any more mistakes.
  1015. >Startled by your arrival, she stands up straight. "Sir," she says, "I'm sorry, lunch won't be ready for—"
  1016. >You hold up a hand and she promptly falls silent.
  1017. "I'm not here for my meal. Find the bitch and send her to my bedroom. She needs punishing."
  1018. >You've taken to calling Trixie 'the bitch.' Your first encounter with her, she had something of an obsession with using her own name, and using it yourself would only legitimize her god complex.
  1019. >You refuse to refer to her by anything other than insults, even when she isn't present. She has a long way to go to prove her worth before you'll let that happen.
  1020. >Octavia quickly learned to understand who you were referring to each time.
  1021. >"She's tending the gardens," she answers. "I'll get her for you at once."
  1022. >On your way up to your room, you grab the box of special implements you'd acquired for your pets. How she behaves now will determine how far you'll proceed with her punishment.
  1023. >After a few minutes, Trixie arrives at the door to your room.
  1024. "You're late. I know it wasn't Octavia who took her sweet time finding you."
  1025. >She steps inside. "You wanted me to come, so I came."
  1026. "When you receive an order, you perform it at once. A minute of my time is worth more than your entire lifetime."
  1027. >She frowns at you.
  1028. "Do you know why I called you up here?"
  1029. >"Probably to warm your bed," she hisses. "I know exactly what you did to that poor girl last night."
  1030. "Warm my bed?" you laugh. "What makes you think you're worthy of that? Even my most obedient pets haven't had such a luxury yet."
  1031. >Here you were hoping for a sliver of remorse, but instead she's chosen to double down on her bitterness.
  1032. "In fact," you continue, "you're not even worthy of the bed I've been kind enough to give you. Let's see if you'll start being grateful after spending a night on the porch."
  1033. >"Do what you please," she says. "I don't care. It won't change my mind."
  1034. >Angrily, you approach her.
  1035. "Didn't you hear yourself yesterday? You're worthless! You're lucky I even let you stand before me!"
  1036. >"You made me say that and you know it! You can hurt me all you want, but I'll never bow to a beast like you! Trixie has faced down greater evils than you can imagine, and came out victorious!"
  1037. >She's reverted back to using her own name. Antagonizing her is only feeding her ego!
  1038. >Enraged, you pull your hand back and strike her across the face violently, sending her flying to the floor.
  1039. "Oh, you'll hurt, alright! You'll hurt so much you'll wish you were dead!"
  1040. >Lying on the floor, she glances over to the door, debating whether to run for it. You notice right away.
  1041. "Go ahead. You wouldn't be the first to abscond. I'm sure you noticed the empty bed in your quarters last night. You must be wondering what happened to her."
  1042. >Her eyes go wide. Threats are one thing, but fear of the unknown is infinitely more powerful. Let her mind fill in the blanks. She knows what she's scared of more than you ever will.
  1043. >Suddenly, she shuts her eyes and takes a deep breath.
  1044. >"Do what you want. I can take it. I'm stronger than you."
  1045. "We'll see if you still feel that way when I'm done with you."
  1046. >You retrieve the leash from the box and clip it to her collar. Leading her to your bed, the leash suddenly goes taut as she stops in her tracks.
  1047. >"You're going to defile me the way you did that other mare, aren't you?"
  1048. "Of course not, you stupid cunt. Fucking a worthless slut like you would only serve to defile me. By the time I've broken you, you'll be begging me to use your body."
  1049. >You yank her leash, making her stumble forward, and tie the end to your bedpost. From the box, you pull out a spreader bar and affix it to her hind legs.
  1050. >Next, you bind her front hooves together with manacles. With her legs chained and her collar tied to the bedpost, you're free to punish her as you please.
  1051. >You'll start with the riding crop and work your way up from there.
  1052. >As you pull the instrument from the box, she gulps lightly. But instantly, she steels herself, prepping herself to bear the pain you're about to inflict on her.
  1053. >Gently, you run the leather end across her flanks.
  1054. "Ready?"
  1055. >"The Great and Powerful Trixie isn't afraid of you."
  1056. >Without warning, you deliver the first strike to her rear. She yelps as the crop makes contact with her flesh.
  1057. "Count them," you command.
  1058. >You deliver another strike, forcing her to groan through grit teeth, but she says nothing.
  1059. "Count!" you bark, whipping her once more. "Or I'll continue until the flesh breaks!"
  1060. >"O-One!" she yells.
  1061. >You whip her again.
  1062. >"Two!"
  1063. >Again.
  1064. >"Three!"
  1065. >On and on you go, whipping her in a steady tempo. With each strike, she yells the count aloud, her voice trembling, face contorted in humiliating torment.
  1066. >Somewhere around the mid-thirties, her yells have turned to whimpers, and she stops bothering to keep the count.
  1067. >You deliver an especially hard strike.
  1068. "Why am I punishing you?"
  1069. >She turns back to face you and spits at your feet. "Because you're a beast!"
  1070. >Unacceptable.
  1071. >You cast the riding crop aside and pull a thick coiled whip from the box.
  1072. >She just forfeit her chance at leniency.
  1073. >Unwinding the whip, you give it a loud crack.
  1074. "Again. Why am I punishing you?"
  1075. >"To fulfill your bloodlust," she growls, clenching her eyes in anticipation of your next strike.
  1076. >You don't disappoint her. You give her a prompt lash. Where she was expecting another strike from the crop, she receives the tail end of a whip snapping against her flank.
  1077. >She shrieks from the heightened pain. The foolish thing really thought that was the worst it would get.
  1078. "Wrong answer! Why am I punishing you?"
  1079. >She buries her face in her forehooves and sucks in air through her teeth.
  1080. >"Because you're afraid of me."
  1081. "Wrong."
  1082. >CRACK!
  1083. >"You don't have a reason!"
  1084. >CRACK!
  1085. >"Because you hate me!"
  1086. >CRACK!
  1087. >"Because I was disobedient!"
  1088. >CRACK!
  1089. >"STOP!" she cries. "I gave you the answer you wanted! I disobeyed you! Is that what you want to hear?"
  1090. >You get down on your hands and knees and lean in toward her.
  1091. "I've dealt with disobedience from the others. None of them needed this punishment."
  1092. >You get back up and lash her again.
  1093. >"I don't know what you want!" she sobs.
  1094. "Then I'll spell it out for you, you miserable cunt. You're arrogant..."
  1095. >CRACK!
  1096. "...ungrateful..."
  1097. >CRACK!
  1098. "...worthless..."
  1099. >CRACK!
  1100. "...and worst of all, insolent."
  1101. >You unleash one final lash across her backside, causing her spine to arch upward in agony. Decisively, you throw the whip down beside her and pull her head up to face you.
  1102. "Now, why am I punishing you?"
  1103. >Her face is smeared with tears, and her breaths are a mix of heaving and whimpering.
  1104. >Dissatisfied, you reach for the whip again, and immediately she speaks up.
  1105. >"B-Because I'm arrogant..."
  1106. >You wait for her expectantly.
  1107. >"A-and ungrateful, and worthless."
  1108. "And insolent."
  1109. >You drop her head, letting it fall to the floor.
  1110. >Stepping back, you look over her frail body. Streaks of red run all over her flanks, and up the length of her back.
  1111. >Still, on the surface of her skin, the blue swirls of her cutie mark stay defiantly vibrant as ever. It almost makes you angry you can't sand the damn thing off.
  1112. "What is that symbol even meant to stand for? The others' make sense. Fashion, music... But yours is disgustingly indecipherable."
  1113. >"Magic," she whispers hoarsely. "My talent is magic."
  1114. >That's right. You'd heard from Scanlon's first briefing that these primitive creatures believed in magic.
  1115. >Those with horns could levitate objects, those with wings could fly and walk upon clouds... Those without either had something along the lines of agricultural voodoo or some other blasted thing.
  1116. >To call it magic is ignorant. Clearly, it had to be nothing more than a governing aether that permeated their universe, like the Higgs field or electromagnetic field that dictated yours.
  1117. >A physical phenomenon that, while they were too naive to understand it, benefitted them those luxuries.
  1118. >And whatever that aether was, it had no analogue here. Unicorns had no telekinetic ability. Pegasi couldn't even fly (how could they, with such an absurd wing loading?).
  1119. >This one proclaiming her special talent to be 'magic' only deepened your contempt for her. You take some small comfort in the knowledge that she'll never be able to practice it again.
  1120. >But you've far from broken her. Injury won't be enough. The biggest impact you could leave is a blow to her ego.
  1121. >How else to humiliate a conceited mare than by taking away her vanity?
  1122. >You retrieve a pair of grooming clippers from the box and position yourself over her.
  1123. "Keep still," you order her, as you bring the clippers to her head.
  1124. >She winces as the blade makes contact with her scalp.
  1125. >"No..."
  1126. >But she barely has the strength to vocalize her resistance, let alone push you away. Defeated, all she can do is resign to her fate, fixed in place by her shackles while you hold her head down.
  1127. >With each pass of the clippers, locks of her mane fall onto the floorboards around her.
  1128. "This is what you deserve."
  1129. >You don't stop until her head is shaved clean. Your efforts took some of her coat along with it, leaving misshapen patches of skin exposed.
  1130. >All the more shame for her.
  1131. >Stepping back, you realize you can't leave her tail untouched. As you reach for it, it pulls away. She attempts to curl it up beneath her.
  1132. >You grab ahold of her dock easily enough, just as you did with Marble. She utters a pained whimper as you bring the clippers to her tail, lobbing the hair off in chunks.
  1133. >When you're done, all that's left is an embarrassingly short, tangled stump.
  1134. >You toss the clippers back into the box and adjust your wardrobe mirror to face her. Standing over her once again, you pull her head up out of her hooves and force her to stare at her reflection.
  1135. "Look at yourself. You could've been the best of all my pets, and instead you've chosen this. Every time you see yourself, it's going to be a reminder of how worthless you are. This is what pride gets you."
  1136. >She looks on in horror at her disfigured head. "What have you done to me?"
  1137. "You brought this on yourself."
  1138. >All she can do is stare in the mirror in stunned silence.
  1139. >Then, slowly, her face twists into an expression of hatred.
  1140. >"You can ruin my looks, torture me, force me into saying whatever your sick mind pleases..."
  1141. >She locks eyes with you through the mirror.
  1142. >"But I will never submit to you."
  1143. >Bursting with fury, you slam her head into the floor.
  1144. "IS THAT SO?"
  1145. >Climbing off her, you charge out of the room.
  1146. >Does she really think she can hold onto her dignity? Is she really so deranged as to truly, infallibly believe that she is superior to you?
  1147. >You'll prove her wrong! You'll make her regret every decision she's made since she first set foot on your estate!
  1148. >You rush downstairs. Octavia stands in the foyer, watching you with concern.
  1149. >"Sir, are—"
  1150. >Without hesitation, you push her aside forcefully and make your way to the basement door.
  1151. >You place your hand on the doorknob and the mechanical lock within disarms.
  1152. >Octavia watches silently as you storm down the stairs.
  1153. >The lights to the medbay flicker on following your arrival.
  1154. >That pompous, bratty bitch! She's going to eat her words.
  1155. >You throw open the various instrument drawers until you find what you're looking for.
  1156. >You locate it fairly quickly. When you pull it from the cabinet, it gleams in the fluorescent lights.
  1157. >Wasting no time, you run back upstairs to your bedroom, where Trixie lies, dejected yet obstinate.
  1158. >You don't permit her a moment before descending upon her once again. She only catches a glimpse of the tool in your hand.
  1159. "You don't want to submit? Fine!"
  1160. >Her pupils shrink in terror as she looks in the mirror to see the bonesaw you're holding over her head.
  1161. >You press the teeth against the base of her horn, and she immediately thrashes about without newfound adrenaline, nearly throwing you off.
  1162. >Determined, you dig your knee into her back and hold her horn, keeping her jaw planted against the floor.
  1163. "Don't fucking move, or I'll take your legs along with it."
  1164. >You start sawing into her horn and she wails, mortified by the pain.
  1165. >Her face clenches in a strained expression, no doubt trying to set off one of her savage spells in a last-ditch effort to stop you.
  1166. >It's all in vain, though. She has no power here. The laws of physics are unflinching and merciless.
  1167. >You saw a little further into her horn, gaining a few more millimeters of flexure.
  1168. >Suddenly, she draws in a sharp breath. "STOP! I'LL DO WHATEVER YOU WANT!"
  1169. "Too late," you growl, speeding up your movements.
  1170. >"Just listen," she cries, "if you take this from me, I'll have nothing! Just let me keep my horn, and I'll give you every piece of me!"
  1171. >You stop sawing, leaving the tool where it lies, a third of the way through her horn.
  1172. >She wants to negotiate. As if you'd ever consider bargaining with her.
  1173. >Trembling violently, she pleads with you. "T-Think about it, please. I'd rather be dead than live on without my horn. I'll have no reason to obey. You'll just end up killing me, we both know it."
  1174. >Her line of reasoning piques your interest. As much as your contempt is inciting your wrath, as badly as you want to finish the job you've started...
  1175. >This might be the only logical thing she's ever said.
  1176. "Every piece of you?" you ask.
  1177. >"Every piece," she whispers. "I swear it."
  1178. >You pause a moment, contemplating the decision.
  1179. >Then, grabbing the handle, you pull the saw out from the slot you carved into her horn. She breathes a deep sigh as the metal withdraws from her head.
  1180. "This isn't over. The second you fuck up, I'm cutting it off and burning it to ashes. Let that little notch in your skull be a reminder of how easily I can take everything away from you."
  1181. >You throw the bonesaw aside and leave the weeping pony on the floor to collect herself.
  1182.  
  1183. >Returning to your study in a sweat, you find Coco hunched over a book on the floor.
  1184. >"Master!" she squeals, startled by your arrival. She scrambles to shut the book.
  1185. "What's this? What are you hiding from me?"
  1186. >You come over and pick the book off the ground. It's a blank one, still unlabeled.
  1187. >Flipping to the first page, you find several sketches of elaborate dresses on featureless ponies.
  1188. "This is what you've been doing with my notebooks?"
  1189. >She hangs her head in shame. "I'm sorry. I finished the work you gave me, and you had so many empty books, I thought you wouldn't miss just one..."
  1190. "What's mine is not yours to take freely. There's no shortage of stationary on Solaria, but regardless, a pet asks before taking something from her master's estate for personal use."
  1191. >"I'm sorry, sir," she whispers.
  1192. "I'd be upset if it weren't for your strict obedience up until now."
  1193. >You trace your thumb over the sketches.
  1194. "Besides, some of these are rather elegant."
  1195. >Her ears perk up. "You like them?"
  1196. "There's not much of an occasion for a pet to dress up, but even so, I might like to see you sporting one of these."
  1197. >"I could never," she murmurs. "It's the kind of thing a noblemare wears to a Canterlot gala. Not for a dressmaker like me."
  1198. "And what's so ignoble about you? Don't you deserve to look beautiful?"
  1199. >She blushes and looks away.
  1200. "You're not in your world any longer, dear. Class has no meaning here. If I want you adorned in fine garments, I can make it happen. You need only prove to me you're worth the trouble."
  1201. >You toss the book back to her.
  1202. "Keep the book. If designing is what you wish, I'll allow it. But don't let it interfere with your responsibility to me."
  1203. >"I wouldn't dare," she says gratefully.
  1204. "Good girl."
  1205. >With your authorization of her talent, she's become the first to fall, straight into your lap.
  1206. >But she certainly will not be the last.
  1207.  
  1208. 8
  1209. >You dismiss Coco to give yourself some privacy in the study, for there's a problem that demands your attention.
  1210. >But your mind wanders. To Trixie.
  1211. >You left her tied to your bedpost.
  1212. >She hardly deserves to be present in your bedroom. You've yet to grant any other pet that honor.
  1213. >And you'll make good on your threat to have her sleep on the porch.
  1214. >Even so, she seems finally, wholly broken. She values that horn more than you anticipated.
  1215. >Your presumption was that it was purely cosmetic. She barely balked when you mangled her mane and tail.
  1216. >But her horn... the very idea of losing it was akin to losing a limb.
  1217. >Perhaps even more so! She has four legs and could still walk with three. Without her horn, she loses that which she clings to so desperately.
  1218. >It worked in your favor. You can deign to remove it at any moment. That threat perpetually hanging over her head will compel her submission.
  1219. >Is that really what she cares most for in the world? Magic?
  1220. >The notion is so insensible to you. Obsession with a phenomenon while having no scientific comprehension of it.
  1221. >It's primitive. Like ancient man's fascination with imaginative gods.
  1222. >But not entirely so. Because magic— inasmuch as you loathe the term— is based in reality in their world.
  1223. >Navigating through your cerebral interface, you pull the estate code of one of the scientists involved in the Equestrian study.
  1224. >He's one Dr. Rinaldi, a prominent physiologist. You've never made the acquaintance, but he's worked closely with colleagues of yours.
  1225. >His specialty is in neurochemical interactions or something along those lines. His name was quite the buzz several years back, owing to a breakthrough in artificial brain chemistry.
  1226. >It'll be years more before application of that discovery bleeds into your field, but the theory is promising.
  1227. >You hesitate only a moment before dialing his estate code.
  1228. >It takes forty seconds before he answers. You can see him seated at his dining table, halfway through a plate of smoked salmon.
  1229. "Pardon me, Dr., it seems I've caught you at a bad time."
  1230. >"Aye, don't bother with that," he says. "I wouldn't have answered if I were indisposed. State your business."
  1231. "Very well."
  1232. >You situate his image, seated at the table, in the center of your study.
  1233. "Perhaps you've already heard of me? The psychoanalyst conducting a study on the domestication of the Equestrians."
  1234. >He eyes you warily. He's a gaunt man, not much older than you, but far rougher-looking. His voice is grating and lacking in the tact of ordinary social conduct.
  1235. >"I know of you," he says, "but nothing of this study. Did you say 'domestication?'"
  1236. >You express mild surprise at his nescience. Few men have had more extensive contact with ponies than you, but he tops that list.
  1237. "Did the assembly not think to inform you? Scanlon—"
  1238. >You pause mid-sentence. Until now, you hadn't considered the possibility that the decision to keep the experiment so strictly between you and them was a deliberate one.
  1239. >You understood the need for secrecy, but surely Rinaldi would have made the cut, given his experience with the creatures?
  1240. >"What's this about?" he inquires, growing suspicious.
  1241. "Forgive me. I wanted to ask about your findings with respect to these ponies."
  1242. >"Fine," he says, taking a bite. "Go on, then."
  1243. "I've been told, in somewhat vague terms, about the extent of what they refer to as 'magic'."
  1244. >"I can't be much help to you there. All I've had to go on is word of mouth."
  1245. "You mean to say there's no evidence of its existence?"
  1246. >"Not so. Are you aware of how their kind came to be on Solaria?"
  1247. >You nod.
  1248. "Everyone's familiar with the story. Our orbital defense droids rounded them up."
  1249. >"So they did. We've been combing through the sensory data from their time spent in that universe. Not I, personally, but others I appointed to the study. Physicists and the like. Men who'd know what to look for."
  1250. "And there's evidence in those logs?"
  1251. >He undoes the napkin tucked into his collar. "There is what /appears/ to be evidence. Observational studies are far more trivial than experimental ones."
  1252. "Haven't we managed any sort of demonstrable interaction with the phenomenon?"
  1253. >"No effort was made. Our droids pulled out of their universe the moment we contained the threat."
  1254. >You lean forward in your chair, clasping your hands.
  1255. "Threat?"
  1256. >Rinaldi wipes his mouth.
  1257. >"Do you know how we found their universe?"
  1258. "I was told it occurred during a controlled plasma physics demonstration."
  1259. >"A cover," he responds, "and a untenable one at best. The truth is, we didn't find them at all. They found us."
  1260. >The news leaves you floored.
  1261. >"Of course we couldn't let that fact get out. We captured them well enough, so what good would it have done to let it leak that they had one small advantage over us?"
  1262. "I— I don't understand."
  1263. >"We've seen their cities and discerned the limits of their technology. It's laughably inferior to ours. They lacked the material means to leave their planet, let alone universe. It was magic that bridged their world to ours."
  1264. >Your entire conception of their civilization has turned on its head. If they could make their way to you, what else could they be capable of?
  1265. >Unconsciously, your restless leg bounces as you speak.
  1266. "Magic? As it was described to me, their abilities amounted to nothing more than prestidigitation. You're telling me their civilization exceeds ours?"
  1267. >He laughs. "Now there, don't be foolish. Comparing the two is a senseless endeavor. Their powers may be preternatural, but they never stood a chance against Solaria. For one, their population was comparatively small and spread thin. The blow they dealt to our droid fleet was not negligible, but far from anything we couldn't recover from."
  1268. "They used magic offensively?"
  1269. >"Technically, yes, but as I said, it amounted to little. Only the strongest among them displayed any notable force. Their rulers."
  1270. "Sovereignty based on strength. Kratocracy."
  1271. >"The other way around. Not as barbaric as one might think. The handful who ruled were of a particularly rare and powerful race, born— or made— to lead. They're the only ones who posed any significant threat, and the only ones of any interest to us. Consequentially, they remain the select few kept outside cold storage. For now, at least."
  1272. >You're immensely intrigued by this new prospect.
  1273. >Surely Trixie was no such threat, but still her powers must have exceeded what you originally presumed.
  1274. >...Could her arrogance actually be warranted?
  1275. >No. No, of course not. Because she's here now. Her power means nothing here.
  1276. >You're her superior. Now and forever. You need not be worried.
  1277. "The different races..." you begin.
  1278. >"Three of them," he says. "Four, if you include the leaders. Though their phenotypes are really nothing more than an amalgam of the other three."
  1279. "And only the horned ones are capable of magic, yes?"
  1280. >"I'd qualify that with a minor distinction. They're the ones capable of harnessing it. The others have more limited forms of magic, though magic nonetheless. The winged ones, as I'm sure you know, were capable of flight."
  1281. "But no longer."
  1282. >"Of course not. In our universe, their wings are merely vestigial. Incidentally, do you know the only mammal capable of sustained flight?"
  1283. >You shake your head. You have no interest in Earth biology.
  1284. >"Bats," he answers.
  1285. >You've heard the name, at least.
  1286. >In your mind, such creatures were less based in reality than ponies. The latter were at least tangible. Most animals remain just an echo of humanity's past, existing now only in the historical record.
  1287. >Biodiversity means nothing to a Solarian. It's antithetical to efficiency. That's why it's obsolete. Humanity kept what it needed, and excised the rest.
  1288. "You're sure they can't fly? Not even slightly, as with chickens?"
  1289. >"The physiology simply isn't there. Their wingspan is far too short to provide them any lift. Hence the intervention of magic."
  1290. >You find some small relief in that fact. It's good fortune concerning your problem.
  1291. "I don't see how they can survive without the presence of such an integral force in their universe."
  1292. >"Think for a moment. Our bodies don't interact with the electromagnetic field, do they?"
  1293. "That depends on your definition of the term. We see through the photoreceptors in our eyes. We derive Vitamin D from ultraviolet light."
  1294. >"Now suppose I locked you in a dark room for the remainder of your life. Your quality of life may diminish, but your longevity would not, all else being equal. Similarly, magic is extraneous to their survival."
  1295. "How can you make that conclusion? Perhaps, given enough time, they might atrophy."
  1296. >He waves the suggestion away dismissively. "I've taken samples. All the requisite biological building blocks are there. Homeostasis transpires remarkably similar to ours. However their evolution arose, the magical force played no role in abiogenesis."
  1297. >You feel a slight discomfort at the comparison of their physiology to yours.
  1298. "But disease transmission is impossible, correct?" you ask anxiously.
  1299. >"Yes, yes," he assures you. "Cell functions bear a resemblance to ours, but the two are incompatible. They have no RNA. Biologically speaking, our immune systems view them as little more than inert organic matter. I, myself, was the first man to expose himself to a sample, once I was sufficiently convinced of the fact."
  1300. >You're curious now. If you can just find the right way to prod him for information without revealing your hand...
  1301. "Regarding the extent of that incompatibility..."
  1302. >"Yes?"
  1303. "How similar is their brain chemistry to ours? Would conventional medicine apply to them?"
  1304. >He stares back at you quietly.
  1305. >Before he can respond, you quickly continue in attempt to justify the question.
  1306. "I ask out curiosity for your prior work. It being your field, I'm sure you've investigated the matter, and I'm interested in hearing what results came of it."
  1307. >Suitably appeased, he answers forthrightly. "Their brains are similar, to a certain degree. I've operated on one. The structure is different. It would take decades of controlled studies to dissect it the way we've done the human mind. But if you're seeking my preliminary conjecture..."
  1308. >With great interest, you sit forward.
  1309. >"...I found a frontal cortex, and a cerebellum, but no brain stem or amygdala. They're capable of motor function and fear, of course, so those are evidently governed by some other incongruent area of the brain. Large regions serve functions that are as of yet undetermined."
  1310. >You have other questions, but no way to phrase them without tipping him off to what you're thinking.
  1311. "Is your intent to continue neurological analysis?"
  1312. >He takes offense at the question. "Certainly not. What purpose would such an enormous time sink serve? I've enough avenues to pursue on human neurochemistry, ones that will be actually consequential to Solaria."
  1313. >Can we really learn nothing of our own minds by studying alien ones?
  1314. >You are no neurologist, but if pressed, you would suppose the answer is no. The circumstances under which their physiology arose are physically separate from yours.
  1315. >Studying their brain function guarantees no practical results beyond the satiation of one's curiosity. As it stands, nothing is compelling Rinaldi to commit to the endeavor.
  1316. >Though it would greatly serve your interests if he would.
  1317. >You rise from your seat.
  1318. "Thank you, Dr. You've been a great help."
  1319. >He summons a robot to remove his plate. "Look here, I trust you to keep this information private. I'm familiar with your work, and though I find some of it to be awfully fringe..."
  1320. >You hold your tongue. Now is not the time to make enemies just to sate your temper.
  1321. >"...I respect your reputation enough to share this as a professional courtesy. No one uninvolved with the study need know the sordid details of what transpired."
  1322. "Understood."
  1323. >Asshole.
  1324. >"And if I could offer my opinion..."
  1325. >Fuck off.
  1326. "By all means."
  1327. >"Don't waste your time trying to domesticate them. You're just asking to sully your name on a futile, detestable crusade. If their leaders are any indication, they're a boorish, bull-headed lot. They can serve no function for which we don't already have a solution ten times more efficient."
  1328. >You pause, an idea forming in your head.
  1329. "Do you think I could speak to them? The leaders?"
  1330. >He furrows his brow. "What?"
  1331. "I could go to Dr. Scanlon, but given your firsthand experience and ties to the study, I thought—"
  1332. >"What is the nature of your experiment, exactly?" he asks, the weight of accusation in his voice.
  1333. >You hesitate. If the assembly chose not to inform the head of the Equestrian inquiry of your experiment, you wouldn't be at liberty to divulge it.
  1334. >"You're not at the facility," he says. "Else you wouldn't have asked."
  1335. >Fuck! You were so close to making out unsuspectingly.
  1336. >"You wouldn't have any of those damned things on your own estate, would you?" he asks under his breath.
  1337. "Of course not," you reply nonchalantly. "My study is being conducted remotely, as yours was. Thank you for your feedback; I'll keep you informed of my results when I have some. I must be going now. So long."
  1338. >You disconnect the cerebro-projector and slump back in your seat.
  1339. >That went rather poorly. But you don't have time to labor over your misstep.
  1340. >There's one more call to make.
  1341.  
  1342. >The following morning, a call from Scanlon awakes you from your sleep.
  1343. >You wave your finger to answer the call.
  1344. "Yes?" you murmur, rolling over in bed.
  1345. >Scanlon's image stands over you at your bedside, utterly irate.
  1346. >"What were you thinking?"
  1347. "You'll have to be more specific."
  1348. >He stares back at you, unamused, as you climb out of bed, carelessly clipping through his figure. "Rinaldi rang me yesterday asking why he wasn't informed of your experiment."
  1349. >You shrug obliviously as you pull your socks on.
  1350. "How was I to know you were keeping it from him? He's the head of the Equestrian study."
  1351. >"And the one man who's pushing for their extermination! The assembly was following his recommendations to the letter until I convinced them to stray the path by approving your pet project— now you've gone and mucked that up."
  1352. "He has no valid reason to want them dead. I'm making a case for their utility."
  1353. >"They're a drain on resources."
  1354. "Don't give me that! They're in cold storage. All the energy the facility consumes is surplus from the grid, reserved for an emergency event that has never and will never come."
  1355. >"That's not what I meant. I just got word you requisitioned a defense droid from Low Solarian Orbit. I'm afraid to even ask what you're planning."
  1356. >Your fist clenches in frustration. You were hoping the order wouldn't get back to him, but apparently, he's been actively tracking your requisitions.
  1357. >So much for implicit trust among friends.
  1358. "It's for the good of the experiment."
  1359. >"Have you lost your mind?" he barks. "The assembly gave you full requisition clearance to be used solely for essentials! Bed fabrication. Implements to pacify them. Sensible needs. How in hell am I meant to justify the commandeering of a military craft?"
  1360. >You stand and approach his image.
  1361. "Then don't tell them."
  1362. >"You're unstable," he growls. "I don't know what kind of power trip you're on..."
  1363. >You extend a hand to him.
  1364. "Look now, I'm asking that you trust me when I say it's necessary."
  1365. >He stares down at your open palm.
  1366. >The gesture is immaterial. Cerebro-projection cannot transmit tactile sensations.
  1367. >In a society where physical contact was unorthodox, the offering of one's hand symbolized trust, a hypothetical willingness to supersede social customs if the circumstances bore out, even if they never realistically would.
  1368. >Humans used to clasp hands as a show of fealty in one another. The practice may have long since faded, but the connotation remains.
  1369. "You gave me this project because you realize how firmly I believe in this. In all the years we've known each other, I've safeguarded your reputation honorably. Reputation is all Solarians have amongst one another. I'm asking that you keep that confidence in me."
  1370. >"Then tell me what the craft is for," he implores you.
  1371. "I can't."
  1372. >"It's one thing to risk your career on a ludicrous scheme, but now you're asking me to become a party to it."
  1373. "It will pay off, I swear it. The droid will be here only a few days. Three at the most. It will return to the fleet unscathed, and no one will see the requisition unless they know to go looking for it. Keep this between us, and they won't."
  1374. >He watches you silently for a moment, allowing no expression to lend insight into his thoughts.
  1375. >When he finally speaks, he does so lowly and bluntly. "If that droid is not in orbit in 72 hours' time, I'm going to the assembly with this."
  1376. >He disconnects before you can respond.
  1377. >You check the time. The craft ought to arrive within a couple hours.
  1378. >Clock's on.
  1379.  
  1380. >After breakfast, you ruminate over your dilemma. You don't even realize until you're almost finished that the bacon you're chewing isn't synth-yeast.
  1381. >You glance up at the pony standing in attendance beside the table.
  1382. "Did you prepare this?"
  1383. >"No, sir," she whispers. "It was Raven."
  1384. >You glance across the counter into the kitchen, where you can just barely make out the top of a dark-colored bun.
  1385. "Fetch her for me."
  1386. >She runs off into the kitchen, and moments later, the dark-haired mare with glasses emerges. You remember her quite well, though you haven't yet addressed her.
  1387. "You prepared my meal?"
  1388. >"Yes, sir," she says, approaching you at the head of the table. "Is it unsatisfactory? I can remake it if you wish."
  1389. "Did Octavia instruct you to use genuine meat?"
  1390. >"N-No," she stutters anxiously, "the opposite. She told us to use the yeast substitute to get accustomed to handling meat. I'm sorry for disobeying, I just— I thought—"
  1391. "Thought what, exactly?"
  1392. >"That you might prefer the real thing instead!" she confesses fearfully, the truth spilling out of her.
  1393. >You're immensely interested by this turn of events. Despite the fact that you haven't cared to so much as interact with her, she went out of her way and did something uncomfortable to make you happy.
  1394. >Part of you wants to see how far that extends. You've a morbid curiosity.
  1395. >You pick up a piece of bacon from your plate and offer it to her.
  1396. >She gazes at it, deeply uneased by the offering.
  1397. "Go on," you tell her innocuously. "Have some."
  1398. >She looks back at you with fear in her eyes.
  1399. "You prepared it. It's only fair you know what it tastes like."
  1400. >Slowly, excruciatingly, she leans in and takes the piece of meat out your palm in her teeth.
  1401. >Perhaps she shares in your morbid curiosity. Or perhaps she simply prefers it over what you might do if she refused.
  1402. >You watch as the meat slips behind her lips, and then, as soon as it hits her tongue, the look in her eyes flips.
  1403. >She chews and swallows with a mystified expression.
  1404. >"It— It's good," she says, stunned by her own reaction. "Nothing at all like what I thought it'd be."
  1405. "Of course it's good. There's nothing innately wrong with eating meat. You can digest it just fine, and I'm sure it's a natural practice for animals in your world. Nothing holds you back but social custom. If I can overcome my abhorrence with physical touch, you can overcome this. Both are equally pleasant once you break the chains of the mind."
  1406. >"But— we—" She stumbles through her words, trying to find an objection, some justification to its inherent wrongness.
  1407. >You quash that easily enough.
  1408. "Your moral hang-ups may have made sense back home, but they don't apply here. The meat ration arrives weekly regardless of whether you consume it or not. Each Solarian gets enough of any given foodstuff to eat it for every meal if he desires. I certainly don't enjoy any particular meal enough to endure such monotony; the bulk of the rations simply get disposed. You're helping no one by abstaining and hurting no one by partaking. Verily, it's a ethicist's paradise."
  1409. >You slide the plate over to her.
  1410. "I can see clear as day that you want more. If it eases your conscience, consider it an order that you finish my plate."
  1411. >You tap the plate.
  1412. "There. Now you've no choice in the matter. Eat up."
  1413. >She dips her head to the plate and takes another bite. You watch, vindicated, as she readily finishes off your breakfast without compunction.
  1414. >When the plate is empty, she picks her head back up and looks up at you.
  1415. >"Thank you," she says softly.
  1416. >Satisfied, you scratch under her chin, and to your surprise, she shuts her eyes and pushes deeper into your hand.
  1417. >You can't believe you paid her no mind until now. She's just as agreeable as Coco.
  1418. >Coco...
  1419. >You stare down at the pen-and-vial cutie mark on her hip.
  1420. "I think I have a treat for you."
  1421.  
  1422. >You throw open the doors to your study, startling Coco, who sits on the rug, sketching in her book.
  1423. >Raven follows you inside.
  1424. >"Master!" Coco exclaims, standing up.
  1425. >You walk up to her and glance down at her half-finished sketches.
  1426. "Change of plans today. I'm rotating your duties."
  1427. >"W-What?" she asks. "Why?"
  1428. >Raven stands awkwardly behind you like a shadow.
  1429. "No reason."
  1430. >Coco gazes up at you, wide-eyed. "Did I do something wrong?"
  1431. "This isn't a punishment."
  1432. >"I'm sorry," she whimpers. "Please don't send me away. I promise I'll be good. I like being y—"
  1433. "Enough of this groveling. It's beneath you. Go ask Octavia what task needs doing."
  1434. >You don't falter in the face of her pleas. She needs to depend on you, but not so much so that she'll object to your orders. Insubordination is still insubordination, regardless of intent. She has to be put in her place.
  1435. >You hadn't realized there might be such a thing as too much attachment. But evidently, there's a limit.
  1436. >"Okay," she whispers defeatedly. She picks up her sketchbook and leaves without further protest, head hanging low.
  1437. >But finally, as she passes by, a pang of sympathy catches up to you.
  1438. >She's been nothing but good to you so far, and even though it might be necessary, you can't stand the idea of disappointing her.
  1439. "Wait."
  1440. >She stops in the doorway and turns back.
  1441. "I'll make this up to you. Come see me tonight, okay?"
  1442. >That gets just a tiny hopeful smile from her. "Yes, sir."
  1443. >She leaves in better spirits than before.
  1444. >You wave Raven over to your desk, pulling the glossary you wrote for Coco from the drawer.
  1445. "Do you think you'd be good at transcription?"
  1446. >She smiles proudly. "I was assistant to the Princess before this. With me at her service, she wanted for nothing."
  1447. >You sit down in your chair and watch her pensively.
  1448. "You enjoy what you do, don't you?"
  1449. >She nods. "Very much, sir."
  1450. >You can scarcely fathom the psychological hold their cutie marks have over them. It's baffling.
  1451. >Their minds become so pliant when you pull that particular string. Finally breaking Trixie was positively euphoric.
  1452. "You'd enjoy being my secretary, then?"
  1453. >"Oh, more than anything."
  1454. >The desperation in her voice is tantalizing. It's obvious her talents are being wasted in the kitchen and behind a broom. She wants so bad to apply her expertise, to feel useful again.
  1455. >How degrading it must be, to go from a skilled position to a menial one you neither enjoy nor excel at.
  1456. >She sees how you hold that power over her head. And she'll love you to no end if you give it to her.
  1457. >And if she wants so badly to serve, who are you to deny her?
  1458. >You crack a smile.
  1459. "Wonderful. Let's get to work."
  1460. >Just as Raven flips open the glossary, a knock at the door interrupts you.
  1461. "Enter."
  1462. >Octavia pokes her head in. "Sir?"
  1463. "Yes?"
  1464. >She hesitates, not quite sure how to express her statement. "There's... something... at the door. And it's asking for you."
  1465. >Suddenly, your eyes light up.
  1466. >It's arrived.
  1467.  
  1468. 9
  1469. >You hardly notice yourself holding your breath in anticipation as you scurry downstairs.
  1470. >Your savior is here.
  1471. >You step out onto the porch, keen to shut the door behind you, else prying eyes find you.
  1472. >Floating above the steps to your home is a scout. Cold, black, shapeless metal, suspended in the air by a near-silent propulsion jet.
  1473. >And behind it, hovering ten feet above your expansive lawn, is the craft from which it emerged from.
  1474. >Defense droids are hulking drones that manage their duties autonomously, as any other android on the ground.
  1475. >Except this is no humanoid. It looks more like a flying tank, with its rigid, boxy corners and impenetrable hull.
  1476. >You've seen them before, flying overhead. While most of them remain stationed in Low Solarian Orbit, a number of them work on the surface, surveying estates or transporting payloads between facilities.
  1477. >But never has one had any occasion to descend upon your lawn and discharge a scout at your front door.
  1478. >Just as you open your mouth to address the drone, you catch a slight movement in the corner of your eye.
  1479. >It's a beaten blue pony, tied to one of the posts on the porch.
  1480. >You forgot to bring Trixie back inside this morning.
  1481. >A night on the porch was a reciprocal punishment for her malice, but denying her water out in the Solarian heat may be a stretch too far.
  1482. >She doesn't seem to mind, though. In fact, she's barely even registered the alien object beside her. Which is odd.
  1483. >Octavia had seen a robot firsthand during your introduction, so she was at least vaguely familiar with the concept. Familiar enough to deliver the scout's message without losing her subordinate composure.
  1484. >Yet your other pets knew nothing of this world beyond the realm of your estate. Surely a scout, with its peculiar form and ominous lifelessness, would elicit /some/ reaction out of her, if not outright fear.
  1485. >But her tired, vacant gaze refuses to acknowledge your or the craft's presence.
  1486. >You unclip the leash from her collar.
  1487. "Go inside. Eat some breakfast and do your work for the day."
  1488. >She complies without so much as a change in expression.
  1489. >You may have pushed her too far with yesterday's trauma. But so long as she's obedient, everything else is secondary. You've plenty of other pets to shower you in adoration.
  1490. >After she trudges inside, you shut the door behind her and return to the scout.
  1491. >It makes no acknowledgment of the pony. Even if it had a face, it wouldn't have mattered. Robots pass no judgment. Nothing surprises them.
  1492. >In their minds, there are only facts. Opinions are entirely inconceivable.
  1493. >The scout duteously hovers at your eye level, properly declining to speak until spoken to.
  1494. "You have just under seventy hours to complete the task I will give you. What duties am I pulling you away from?"
  1495. >"None, sir," it replies. "I am to remain in geostationary orbit awaiting orders."
  1496. "That's good, then. No one will miss you while you're under my stewardship."
  1497. >Its voice is compressed and hollow. Not by limitation, of course. Synthetic speech was perfected ages ago, ironically by proto-AI that did no thinking of its own.
  1498. >Earth once gave their robots convincing voices. They gave them a great many things, and paid the price dearly for it.
  1499. >Robot intelligence isn't the only thing about them Solaria constrains. Their speech must be obviously modulated.
  1500. >We don't want people relating to robots, suggesting that they might ever be more than mindless machinery.
  1501. >Humanity will not make that mistake twice.
  1502. "I assume you all come equipped with surveying devices."
  1503. >"Yes, sir."
  1504. "Listen closely to my orders. You clods take everything far too literally and I don't want to leave any room for error."
  1505. >You unmethodically rattle off a long, winding series of instructions, often interrupting yourself to cover avenues that abruptly come to mind.
  1506. >Should a scenario arise that you don't explicitly address here, you run the risk of the droid making a fatal error.
  1507. >After all, the First Law prevents them from harming humans. It makes no allowance for ponies.
  1508. >After you fail to think up any other decision branch, you dismiss the scout. It promptly flies back to the droid and reattaches to its greater body.
  1509. >With that, the craft ascends into the skies, departing your estate.
  1510. >You pray that seventy hours is enough.
  1511. >You pray it's not already too late.
  1512. >Reentering the foyer, you breathe a sigh. There is some solace in knowing that what happens next is out of your hands.
  1513. >You aren't spared a moment to relax, however, because a loud crash jolts you from your thoughts.
  1514. >You rush in the direction of the noise, pushing aside a pony who also stepped out into the hallway to investigate.
  1515. >Bursting into the lounge, your eyes frantically search for the perpetrator. You find no one. Except—
  1516. >A glimpse of a yellow tail from behind the bar.
  1517. >Jaw clenched, you approach the figure to find a mare hunched over shattered glass and spilled liquid.
  1518. >She looks up when you arrive, and before you can chastise her, her eyes leave you speechless.
  1519. >Octavia charges into the room, no later than ten seconds after you arrived. "Master!"
  1520. >The fluid creeps around your shoes. Half a bottle of whisky, now seeping into your floorboards.
  1521. >"I-I'm sorry..." the mare mumbles.
  1522. >You're too stunned to even figure out an appropriate reaction.
  1523. >Octavia boldly takes your pant leg in her teeth and gently pulls you away from the scene. "Master," she says, releasing your trousers, "it was an accident, I'm sure of it. Please don't hurt her."
  1524. >She adopts a calming voice to placate you, but even so, her fear shines through.
  1525. >You're not sure what to fixate on, the whisky or those eyes. As soon as your mind can focus on one, it darts to the other.
  1526. >Other ponies are peeking their heads in through the door to watch the scene unfold.
  1527. >You look down at Octavia and interrogate her.
  1528. "Who is she?"
  1529. >She hesitates, glancing at the bar.
  1530. >"She—"
  1531. "WHO IS SHE?"
  1532. >"Ditzy!" she cries, clenching her eyes shut in anticipation of a beating.
  1533. >You turn back to the pony cowering behind the bar, gazing up at you skittishly like a stray pup. You're ready to unleash on her.
  1534. >The only thing holding you back is the ramification.
  1535. >The others are watching closely. As always, you could jeapordize the whole experiment if you follow the impulse to beat her half to death.
  1536. >You need time to think things through, and punish her out of sight of the other pets. The psychological torment of them not knowing what you're doing to her is much more useful than beating her in a public display.
  1537. >But at the same time, you can't appear weak.
  1538. >Silently, you approach the sniveling pony. Octavia doesn't intervene this time.
  1539. >The glass crunches beneath your soles as you step up as close as you possibly can, until you're staring straight down at her.
  1540. >You kneel down behind the bar, inches away from her face, out of the others' line of sight.
  1541. >Grabbing ahold of her jaw, you stare back at her with a fire in your eyes.
  1542. "My study. Now."
  1543. >You rise back up and calmly walk away.
  1544. "You too," you order Octavia as you brush past her.
  1545. >The onlookers scamper off when you approach the door.
  1546. >You glance back only once, pausing a moment to look back at them irately before you leave the lounge.
  1547.  
  1548. >Raven has her nose buried in the glossary, mouthing the words to herself, when you show up.
  1549. >"Oh," she sounds, looking up, "are we going to st—" She trails off upon seeing Octavia and Ditzy follow behind you.
  1550. >The look on your face tells all.
  1551. >You come around the desk and slump down into your chair while they come up, anticipating their punishment.
  1552. >For a moment, you say nothing, watching over them silently.
  1553. >"Do— Do you want me to leave?" Raven whispers, leaning over in her chair beside yours.
  1554. "No," you reply emotionlessly. "I want someone here who's actually been good lately."
  1555. >You stare deep into their eyes.
  1556. "To balance out the incompetence in the room."
  1557. >Raven quietly remains where she sits, focusing her gaze on the glossary, but not reading it.
  1558. >Octavia says nothing, which is the correct choice. Anything she says will only make it worse.
  1559. >Her expression shows a dignified humility. It's her trademark demeanor, only cranked up to the max. The tension in the room demands it.
  1560. >You look back to Ditzy and choose to address Octavia first.
  1561. "Why haven't I seen her?"
  1562. >For once, Octavia doesn't answer. It confirms your suspicion.
  1563. >You've gotten familiar with everyone's faces the past few days. Names, you've only cared to learn Octavia's, Raven's, Coco's, Trixie's, and Marble's, but you've come to recognize each one's face in passing.
  1564. >But not hers.
  1565. >No, you'd remember those pitiful eyes.
  1566. "Are you trying to make it worse?" you challenge Octavia.
  1567. >"She's been in the living quarters."
  1568. >Leaning back, you raise an eyebrow.
  1569. "This whole time?"
  1570. >"Yes," she whispers.
  1571. "You've been keeping my own pet from me, Octavia. This isn't a good look on you."
  1572. >"She's—" she stammers, "We decided to let her stay out of it."
  1573. "We?"
  1574. >"The girls and I."
  1575. >You glance over at Raven.
  1576. >Octavia continues, "I was told I could assign duties as I saw f—"
  1577. "Why?" you interrupt her.
  1578. >"You've seen why," she says in a hushed tone, a vain gesture to spare the dignity of the pony next to her. "But after seeing another bed go empty last night she insisted on working. I thought—"
  1579. >She sighs. "I gave her a feather duster and told her to work the floors. It was a harmless task..."
  1580. >Ditzy finally speaks up. "I wanted to be helpful, I didn't mean to mess it all up. My butt just bumped up against the shelf, and... and... it went crash!"
  1581. >"She had only good intentions," Octavia assures you. "She was just trying to serve you. That's got to count for something, hasn't it?"
  1582. >You mull it over in your head, watching her the entire time.
  1583. "I won't let this go unpunished. Intentions aside, mistakes cannot be tolerated. It sets a bad precedent."
  1584. >"Then punish me," she says, pulling Ditzy behind her. "You yourself said I was responsible for the staff's behavior. So hold me responsible. Whatever the punishment, I'll take it in her stead."
  1585. "No."
  1586. >"But you said—"
  1587. "I /am/ punishing you, Pet. You'd rather take her place, so your punishment is watching her suffer for her actions."
  1588. >"W-What are you gonna do?" Ditzy asks.
  1589. "You'll learn soon enough. For now, go clean up the mess you've made."
  1590. >She sighs, and Octavia promptly nudges her, whispering something in her ear.
  1591. >That changes her tune. "Yes, sir," she says, regurgitating Octavia's words. "I'm sorry I was bad."
  1592. >On her way out, you stop her.
  1593. "And one more thing."
  1594. >She glances back at you.
  1595. "Save the glass."
  1596. >"Sir..." Octavia protests strenuously, distressed by the look on your face.
  1597. "I know what I'm doing."
  1598. >You watch intently as Ditzy leaves the study.
  1599. >"She doesn't know any better. She can't wrap her head around why she's here, her mind, it— doesn't work like ours."
  1600. "None of your minds work like mine," you state nonchalantly, reaching for the console on your desk.
  1601. >"Still..."
  1602. "Proportionality," you tell her. "Or to put it boorishly for you, punishment fits the crime."
  1603. >She presses the matter. "There are extenuating circumstances."
  1604. >You look up from the console.
  1605. "Octavia, my pet, are you trying to tell me she's incapable of servitude?"
  1606. >"No, I—"
  1607. "Because if that's the case, then I have no use for her. And if I have no use for her..."
  1608. >"I'll teach her."
  1609. >Surprised, you look over to your side, at the voice that's suddenly piped up.
  1610. >"I can teach her," Raven says earnestly. "Or Octavia can. Simple tasks, but useful nonetheless. She lived on her own before this, she can't be totally helpless."
  1611. "Absolutely not," you dismiss her. "I need you here, and I won't let Octavia get occupied with petty micromanaging. If she's going to learn, she'll do it alone, or not at all. I won't have her sapping my other pets' time. Solaria has no room for wastrels."
  1612. >"She'll learn," Octavia asserts. "Only give her a chance. Rarely do these things change overnight."
  1613. >Trixie pops into your mind. You can't help but feel joy at the reminder of your victory over her.
  1614. "You'd be surprised," you murmur pensively.
  1615. >"If you're finished with me, I'll go help the others. Lunch is soon."
  1616. "Go on. But no more coddling. The dimwit must earn her keep."
  1617. >Octavia bows out, leaving only you and Raven.
  1618. >Her attitude's certainly changed. She was an eager little gem when you left her.
  1619. >You decide on bluntness with her.
  1620. "Has this changed your opinion of me?"
  1621. >Pulled from her thoughts, she looks up suddenly. "Huh— no, not at all."
  1622. "I'd rather you not lie to me. You've been so good thus far, I'd hate to see it spoiled."
  1623. >"No, I..." She searches for the right words. "The Princess sentenced punishments at court. It was different, but..."
  1624. >She stares out the window at the blazing horizon as she goes on. "I would do the clerical work for each sentencing. Some of them were... I don't know. It didn't feel good. I used to wonder what must have been going through her head to make those kinds of decisions."
  1625. >She peers up at you through those big glasses she wears.
  1626. >"I understand why you do it. I don't like it, but— I understand."
  1627. >There's nothing but sincerity behind her words.
  1628. >You reach out and scratch behind her ear. As usual, she leans into it and breathes an easy sigh.
  1629. >It feels like you're doling out an endless series of punishments. As soon as one finishes, you have to deliver another one.
  1630. >But you need to remember they're not all like this. Some of them are good. They behave.
  1631. >Not even out of fear. Out of respect.
  1632. >And so soon! You'd think they were just waiting for an arrangement like this.
  1633. >Such easily coerced submission is a rare treat. Just keep nurturing their hope. Make them crave you.
  1634. >You tap away at the console, reading through files of upcoming patients.
  1635. >Despite the obedient ones, the stress has been building nonstop.
  1636. >You make a point to see Marble later for some relief.
  1637. >Containing your rage has not been easy. All that violence needs an outlet. One that's too meek to ever fight back.
  1638.  
  1639. >Raven aids you well over the course of your appointments. She knows the trade.
  1640. >Upon leaving the study for lunch, you find an odd bag outside the door.
  1641. >You pick it up and hear a jingling sound from its contents. A bottle's worth of broken glass.
  1642. >You glance back at Raven. She makes no comment.
  1643. >Lunch is adequate at best. You pulled Raven from the kitchen this morning for exceeding expectations, and now you're paying for it.
  1644. >The bag sits on the table in front of you as you eat.
  1645. >Truth be told, you don't have a plan for it. It just seemed fitting and threatening in the moment.
  1646. >Maybe it shouldn't be that severe. The whisky, like everything else in this house, is easily replaceable.
  1647. >And if you go too far, it might work against you.
  1648. >Because all things considered, she wanted to please you. Despite her idiocy, she has the potential to be a good little pet.
  1649. >She seems hopeful, on the right side of your theorized spectrum. Push her too far left and she goes hopeless. You break her beyond repair, and nothing you do will bring that hope back.
  1650. >Still, you dug yourself into a hole with this glass thing. You can't just back out.
  1651. >You have an idea. It's not great, but it's something. What's more, it's not going to traumatize her.
  1652. >It'll hurt, but only enough to teach her a lesson.
  1653. >They're experiment subjects. As much as you might want to, you can't abuse them freely without tainting the results.
  1654. >That's what Marble's for.
  1655. >Once you finish up your meal, you head up to her room. She hasn't seen you since last time. It's been a couple days, but from the look on her face as you walk in, it may as well have been five minutes.
  1656. >She dives for the bathroom and locks herself inside. Admittedly a clever idea.
  1657. >It's a shame she doesn't understand how your cerebro controls every lock in the house.
  1658. >Though she tries to push you off, you pick her up and swing her over your shoulder rather easily.
  1659. >It makes you feel powerful, taking your conquest.
  1660. >You've never seen another living being before this experiment. No man on Solaria has ever felt the rush of overpowering someone.
  1661. >Sure, you've hypothesized, but as it turns out, it's nothing like the real thing.
  1662. >You throw her onto the bed and undress, laying your clothes neatly on the dresser. (You may be dominating her, but you're not a savage.)
  1663. >She doesn't try to run anymore. There's no point.
  1664. >You hold her down, relishing her warmth pressed against your body. You have heated beds, but this feeling is different. More real. More tangible.
  1665. >She fights a bit when you first thrust into her, but gives up quick enough.
  1666. >Now she's just content to cry and let it happen.
  1667. >You're not complaining. It only heightens the experience. Hell, you'd probably lap up her tears if they didn't taste so bitter.
  1668. >All the stress of the past two days melts away as you pump into her. Now is the time to finally unload.
  1669. >All that hate against Trixie's bitchiness.
  1670. >All that anger towards that clumsy slut.
  1671. >And especially the stupid fucking droid that landed you in hot water, out there right now, cleaning up someone else's mess that you're on the hook for.
  1672. >All that. On her.
  1673. >You pull at her collar as you pound her harder.
  1674. >Let her choke. Let her pay for all the shit you have to endure.
  1675. >She gasps as the leather constricts her throat. All she can choke out is a stifled whine.
  1676. >Growing desperate, she finally looks you in the eye, and you see utter fear in them. Her pupils dilate, her violet irises wrapped tightly around them, glinting in the sunlight.
  1677. >The sheer terror she's displaying exhilarates you like nothing else. Going faster, you tug the collar even harder. This just might be enough to send you over the—
  1678. >Holy shit, is she having an orgasm?
  1679. >You observe in fascination as her hips spasm beneath you, bucking up uncontrollably to meet each thrust.
  1680. >Her walls constrict around you, sending ripples of sensation through every last nerve.
  1681. >Suddenly it's become so much better than you ever thought possible.
  1682. >Shocked by her abrupt tightening, you release the collar to wrap your hands around her waist and keep your hold on her.
  1683. >She gasps the deepest breath as you issue one last thrust, climaxing deep inside her.
  1684. >You hold there a moment, savoring it while she pants heavily.
  1685. >She emits a soft whine when you slide out, rolling over to hide her face.
  1686. >As you climb off her, you're almost in disbelief at how stained the sheets are between her legs.
  1687. >She came HARD.
  1688. >You look down to see a fair amount of those juices still dripping down your legs.
  1689. >And all she can do is bury her head in shame.
  1690. >You don't even feel compelled to toy with her anymore. She knows full well what just happened.
  1691. >She actually liked it.
  1692. >She hates that she liked it.
  1693. >You dress yourself once more, deciding to leave her be. You don't bother cleaning the marecum off yourself. You want to keep it. Periodically feel the thrill of remembering your power over her.
  1694. >You leave her bedroom gleefully, returning to your study, where an affable Raven awaits you.
  1695. >"Did you have a good lunch?" she greets you as you sit down.
  1696. "Lunch was alright. Dessert was heavenly."
  1697. >"Really?" she chirps. "I'd love to try it sometime."
  1698. >You get quite the kick out of that.
  1699. "I'm sure you would. Maybe if you're good, you'll get a taste."
  1700. >Getting to work, you start outlining the patient itinerary for her, but she soon interrupts you.
  1701. >"Sir?" she asks.
  1702. "What is it?"
  1703. >She pauses, staring out at nothing in particular, then leans in toward you. Her eyes light up.
  1704. >"Oh, it's you! You smell different."
  1705. "Do I? I hope it's not a bother."
  1706. >You didn't realize you reeked of sex so badly. Your nose got used to it.
  1707. >Maybe you ought to bathe before getting back to work.
  1708. >"No, actually," she says, shutting her eyes and inhaling blissfully. "I like it."
  1709. >She bites her lip, holding back a smile. "I /really/ like it."
  1710. >Now this is interesting...
  1711. >You play it off casually and return to the itinerary. She listens intently, nodding as she follows along.
  1712. >She tries to be stealthy about it, but you notice when she undoes her bun to let her mane down.
  1713. >You know, this experiment is actually starting to get fun.
  1714.  
  1715. 10
  1716. >Your appointments for the day go as expected.
  1717. >It's the same old drivel you hear day in and day out. People complaining of supposed holes in their lives, not one of them realizing the root of their unfulfillment.
  1718. >And why would they? This is Solaria. Romanticism is dead. Relationships are inconceivable.
  1719. >You know better, of course, having studied the domain of psychology that Earth's inhabitants cobbled together, long before your time.
  1720. >Your library has a whole shelf dedicated to the psychology of intimacy. Absolutely none of it has ever been applicable, but it was available nonetheless.
  1721. >There are no banned books on Solaria. There's simply no need. Culture has taken care of that.
  1722. >You don't need to suppress an idea that no one cares about.
  1723. >Though they should care. The past eight of years of research is mounting toward the conclusion that all of Solarians' problems, all the ineffable emotions they bemoan, arise because love is dead. Every last one of them.
  1724. >In their lives, and in yours, all else is at your disposal. Every pursuit your hearts desire.
  1725. >All but each other's hearts.
  1726. >You can't imagine what love is. You've never felt it. You've never seen it. You've never even heard the word spoken aloud.
  1727. >Like a myth, it exists only in the annals of a history forever out of reach.
  1728. >There is no Earth left to teach you love.
  1729. >From a young age, you're taught to repress that impulse. Not directly, of course. It's by utopic consequence, not design.
  1730. >The universal normalization of platonicism simply leaves that part of your humanity to atrophy.
  1731. >If your research is valid— and you're inclined to believe it is— that impulse is an inherent aspect of humanity. It can't be bred out or even subconsciously unlearned.
  1732. >Think back to the hierarchy of needs. Earth psychology was grossly speculative, but in this case, it's relevant.
  1733. >You've been depriving your pets of self-actualization, but it's a total non-issue for Solarians.
  1734. >The others: esteem, safety, physiological needs. All well taken care of.
  1735. >Except the one that sits square in the middle.
  1736. >Love.
  1737. >You look over to Raven while she leafs through her transcript.
  1738. >You can't help but let the intrusive thought claw into your mind.
  1739. >Could you love a pony?
  1740. >Of course, your first answer is a firm no. They are biologically subordinate to you. It's insensible.
  1741. >But upon further introspection, is the idea any more alien to you than loving a woman?
  1742. >Take your last patient, for instant. On and on she went about her increasing frequency of social calls and inexplicable sense of emptiness. (You shared a knowing look with Raven during her diatribe, and it might have been the first instance of camaraderie you've allowed.)
  1743. >The hysterics, though concerning, haven't interfered with her work. Most others are similar in that regard.
  1744. >You couldn't well tell her that it's a man her life is lacking. You're not even sure of that fact yourself.
  1745. >Could you stomach being on the same estate as her? The same room?
  1746. >You endured your way through it with your pets, but that was out of necessity for the experiment. It was a weakness you had to obfuscate.
  1747. >But would you WANT to share your home with a woman? When nothing is compelling you to do so?
  1748. >No. You can't imagine it.
  1749. >Your life might be devoid of love, but you couldn't possibly bear the alternative. Such closeness with a human— an equal— fills you with deep-seated unease.
  1750. >Each man is the head of his estate. It is him as much as his own flesh. To share every piece of it with another feels abhorrent.
  1751. >Imagine the humiliation of becoming half the man you were overnight.
  1752. >Perhaps from afar you could stomach the endeavor, though lacking in the key aspects of intimacy, the purpose would be defeated.
  1753. >Could she, though?
  1754. >Could others?
  1755. >Would it achieve the goal you think it would? Ridding Solaria of wastrels altogether?
  1756. >You feel a sudden urge to check on the status of McCafferty's inquest.
  1757. >Navigating through the console, you pull up his file.
  1758. >Retired. You fully expected the outcome.
  1759. >Inquirers are a terrifying lot. You pray you never have to cross paths with one.
  1760. >You stare down at the annulled estate code. His estate's already been reassigned.
  1761. >It'll be some greenhorn fresh off the fetal farm, perhaps another food engineer to take the man's place.
  1762. >"Is that a patient?"
  1763. >You glance at Raven, who's now shuffling through her transcript in a half-panic.
  1764. >"I don't have any notes on him..."
  1765. >Of course she wouldn't. His final appointment was when Coco sat in her place.
  1766. >You reach out and lay a hand over the stack of papers.
  1767. "Easy. I'm just checking on old records."
  1768. >You've got to be more careful with what she sees. You're accustomed to the console and written notes, but it can be done all the same on your cerebro.
  1769. >It's too early for her to learn about wastrels. About retirement. You already regret exposing Coco to it so soon, but McCafferty forced your hand.
  1770. >At least he's paid the price for it.
  1771. >She breathes a sigh of relief, which elicits a faint smile from you.
  1772. >She's becoming invested in this job. It comes as no surprise. It's her self-actualization, after all.
  1773. >After she squares away the transcripts in the appropriate folders, you dismiss her for the day.
  1774. >You're scheduled to do some work on the behavioral analysis study tonight, but you're not feeling up for it.
  1775. >The experiment is hanging by a delicate thread, and you can't concentrate until it's resolved.
  1776. >You'll take the time to ruminate on Ditzy's punishment.
  1777. >While you're doing that, you'll make your rounds. You haven't done so since the first day, and it's important to keep a watchful eye over your pets.
  1778. >Ironic how the day you disposed of your robots is the day you finally need their recording sensors.
  1779. >Certainly, you got cameras to replace them, but they're a pitiful substitute. They're static, forever staring down one view and only that view.
  1780. >The robots maintained the estate. They went everywhere, and saw everything.
  1781. >No blind spots.
  1782. >Perhaps you're being manic. It's unlikely your pets would conspire against you, much less manage to do so in secrecy.
  1783. >But all possibilities are on the table.
  1784. >Regardless, the point is moot. Rounds are necessary. They need to see you watching over them, a perpetual reminder of your apparent omnipresence.
  1785. >You begin with the kitchen, as dinner is soon. You're surprised to see Coco when you enter.
  1786. >Though you probably shouldn't be, seeing as you pulled Raven from the kitchen this morning to replace her.
  1787. >It's just peculiar seeing her at a station beyond your desk, is all.
  1788. >"Master!" Her eyes light up when she sees you.
  1789. >You spare any pleasantries out of greater concern for a missing presence in the room.
  1790. "Where's the other assigned to the kitchen with you?"
  1791. >"Oh, um," she says, quickly pushing aside her dejection to answer you, "she said she had other work to do. I don't know where she went."
  1792. >There is no deceit behind her words. Coco is too pure for that.
  1793. >But you're confused. It doesn't make sense for Octavia to split up a day's tasks in such a manner.
  1794. "It's not right for you to be bent over the stove all by yourself. I'll find her. Who is it?"
  1795. >Coco gives you a name, but it means nothing to you.
  1796. >You get her description instead. Then you know the one she's talking about.
  1797. >Navigating the first floor's halls, you check each room.
  1798. >As you draw nearer to the sunroom, you stop at the sound of voices.
  1799. >"...not going to work."
  1800. >You wait just beside the doorway, listening in on the conversation.
  1801. >"It's not like any of us have a choice. Besides, there's twelve of us."
  1802. >"Are there? Do the math. Tavi's been teaching us this whole time. She goes around showing us how to do the work, but have you ever actually seen her DO it? And Trixie doesn't do her fair share. Ditzy—"
  1803. >"Ditzy doesn't count," the voice insists.
  1804. >"Exactly. She doesn't count. So we're down from twelve to nine, and I'm not even done yet. Spitfire ditched us on the first day, remember?"
  1805. >"You think she made it out?"
  1806. >"Seriously? Where's she gonna go? Home? How would that even work? I mean, look out there. There's nothing. She's probably dead, or worse. She doesn't even have her wings, and that's her whole thing."
  1807. >You hear a despondent groan.
  1808. >"Don't remind me."
  1809. >"...sorry."
  1810. >"Where are you going with this?"
  1811. >"There's just one more. Marble."
  1812. >"Yeah, what's the deal with her? Has anyone actually figured out why she's in that room?"
  1813. >"You don't know?"
  1814. >"What?"
  1815. >"That's Pinkie Pie's sister."
  1816. >"Really?"
  1817. >"Yeah. Marble Pie."
  1818. >"...I can't believe I didn't know that."
  1819. >"Why?"
  1820. >"I— She w— No, never mind."
  1821. >"What? You knew Marble?"
  1822. >"No. Pinkie. I'd rather not talk about it, if that's okay."
  1823. >"Oh."
  1824. >A bleak silence follows.
  1825. >"Is that why she doesn't have to work?"
  1826. >"Apparently, the Princess made some kind of deal. They still brought her here with the rest of us, but she gets special treatment."
  1827. >"That doesn't seem fair."
  1828. >"See, and that's my point. You add all those girls up and that leaves only seven of us actually doing any work."
  1829. >"Look, it doesn't matter who's working and who's not."
  1830. >"No, it does. I can see you're fed up. We all are. We know and she knows it's not right that's she's up there, and she's just letting it happen? You're twice her age and helping us pull double shifts for Ditzy's sake, while she's sitting in that cushy room, relaxing all day. She's such a selfish bitch!"
  1831. >"Flitter..."
  1832. >"Shut up, okay? Look at where we are. I'm allowed to be mad."
  1833. >You decide you've had enough of this, and step inside.
  1834. >They both nearly jump, startled by your arrival.
  1835. >"Oh, uh, how can we help you?"
  1836. >You recognize that one as the one who dared to come to your study unannounced. She begged for some pathetic request you can't even remember. It made for a bad first impression.
  1837. >You stare down at them a moment, matching the voices to their faces.
  1838. >But neither of them are the pony you were originally looking for, so your expression remains unbothered for now.
  1839. "I'm looking for another pet."
  1840. >"Who?"
  1841. >You silently curse yourself for already forgetting the name Coco gave. Half these ponies haven't left enough of an impression on you to warrant even the tiny amount of mental expenditure in remembering names.
  1842. >You'll remember their names when they do something to deserve it. For better or worse.
  1843. "Forget it. Get back to work."
  1844. >You leave the room right then, not wasting another moment.
  1845. >As you continue to check rooms, you mull over the conversation in your head.
  1846. >Resentment. That's something you expected to be levied against yourself, but amongst each other?
  1847. >They're bitter that there's only half of them left doing any real work. Even the one who wouldn't admit it.
  1848. >And that accusation against Marble! Are they starting rumors already?
  1849. >You hadn't paid any thought to what the others thought of her situation. She's a fuckhole to you, nothing more.
  1850. >They don't realize what you're doing to her. They think she's getting preferential treatment!
  1851. >The irony of it is delightfully hilarious. She's arguably the worst off among them, and they're starting to hate her for it.
  1852. >So much so that they've deluded themselves trying to find an explanation. As if their precious princess had any sway over your actions.
  1853. >Either they think too much of her, or too little of you. Perhaps both.
  1854. >You're curious though, as to who started this gossip. You'd think Trixie, but she alone knows the truth about Marble and she clearly hasn't let it slip.
  1855. >Neither Coco nor Raven are inclined to such chatter. Octavia stands to gain nothing by fostering resentment among her staff.
  1856. >It's probably one of the others, but it doesn't matter which.
  1857. >The important thing to note is that divisions are being driven between them. Powerless against their common enemy, they can only turn on each other.
  1858. >Sure, their collective action has been surprisingly altruistic thus far, but this feels like the first few raindrops of a brewing storm.
  1859. >Your search fails to find the one you're looking for. Either she's gone outside or upstairs.
  1860. >...could she be with Marble?
  1861. >You head up the foyer staircase and lay a hand on her bedroom door before pausing.
  1862. >You'll check there last.
  1863. >You want the only time Marble sees you to be when you're using her. It'll form a strong association in her mind.
  1864. >Across the hall, you enter the library, not expecting anything, and finally converge upon the one who's been wasting your valuable time.
  1865. >She sits on the floor by the hearth, and she's got her nose buried in a book, so deeply entranced that she doesn't notice when you enter.
  1866. >In fact, she doesn't notice you at all until you rip the book from her hooves.
  1867. "What do you think you're doing?"
  1868. >She pushes her glasses up. "I was just reading!"
  1869. >Her tone isn't frightened. It isn't even remorseful. No, she actually sounds a bit irritated.
  1870. "And what made you think you have free access to my personal library?"
  1871. >"I wasn't hurting anyone, it's not like you were using it. I always put everything back in its proper place."
  1872. >Growing irate, you hurl the book at her. It hits her in the chest and bounces onto the floor.
  1873. >"Don't do that!" she exclaims, immediately scooping it back up as if it mattered more than the pain it inflicted upon her.
  1874. "Coco is downstairs preparing dinner by herself, and so you see fit to come up here and rifle through my possessions?"
  1875. >"She said she had it covered. I was only gone fifteen minutes."
  1876. >Without hesitation, you strike her across the face, knocking her glasses askew.
  1877. "She's doing your work right now, and she's doing it without a single complaint, because she's not a lazy cunt like you."
  1878. >Dazed, she slowly adjusts her glasses.
  1879. >"I..."
  1880. >You lack the patience to wait for her to drawl out a response. Instead, you grab her by her tied-up mane and drag her out of the library.
  1881. >She drops the book.
  1882. >As you drag her across the hardwood, she yells at you to stop, batting her hooves at your hand in a feeble attempt to get free.
  1883. >An audible thump sounds for each stair you drag her down, bruising her back and side.
  1884. >When you reach the kitchen, you give one final yank and throw her onto the linoleum floor.
  1885. >You lock eyes with Coco as you give the useless wretch her orders.
  1886. "You're going to finish making my dinner. You're going to make dinner for the other pets. You won't be having any. You're going to clean up after everyone, and Coco is going to sit back and watch the entire time. If you take so much as a bite, she'll tell me. And then I'll beat you with your precious book until the spine breaks. Its, or yours."
  1887. >Coco bites her lip sheepishly while you speak, staring wide-eyed up at you.
  1888. >You can't tell if she's scared or grateful. It almost doesn't matter. She gets the message.
  1889. >Your attitude flips completely when you address her.
  1890. "Don't forget about tonight. See me once she's done, alright?"
  1891. >She nods vigorously.
  1892. "Good."
  1893. >You tap the motionless pony on the floor with your foot.
  1894. "Tell me her name again."
  1895. >"Moondancer," she whispers.
  1896. "Thank you."
  1897. >Dinner is especially good that night. You're not sure whether she was terrified of making another mistake or if Coco simply did the bulk of the work before she took over.
  1898. >Afterwards, you head up to your study and find Raven at your desk.
  1899. "What are you doing here? You should be eating with the others."
  1900. >"In a minute," she replies. "I'm preparing your schedule for the week. Did you need something?"
  1901. "No. That's what I came here to do."
  1902. >"Oh, don't worry about that. I'll take care of it."
  1903. >For once, you're at a loss, wondering how she could access the console without your cerebro.
  1904. "How—"
  1905. >"I memorized the appointment lists you showed me this morning," she says, anticipating your question. "I spent lunch familiarizing myself with the active research files, and I'm setting an itenary based on the case studies you have marked. You're very organized. I like that a lot."
  1906. >She has your folders spread out over her side of your desk, and she's looking through them while marking off specific items.
  1907. "You really want me to like you."
  1908. >She giggles softly. "Is that so bad?"
  1909. >God, you can't wait to fuck her brains out.
  1910. >With your last task for the night taken care of, you retreat to the lounge for a nightcap.
  1911. >As you exit the study, you catch Trixie shutting Marble's doo behind her.
  1912. >You share a look for a moment.
  1913. >"I was bringing her dinner," she offers unprompted. "You can go in and check if you want."
  1914. >You come down the hall to meet her before speaking.
  1915. "Were you doing anything else?"
  1916. >"No," she answers decisively.
  1917. "Have you forgot about our agreement?"
  1918. >She glances at the door uncertainly before stepping aside and lowering her voice.
  1919. >"I can't stop you from the disgusting things you do to her but I'm not going to leave her like that. You can take my horn if you want, but I'm not stopping."
  1920. >You stare down at her.
  1921. "You haven't told anyone."
  1922. >"It's not like it would help," she scoffs. "You'd just lash out at me, everyone'll constantly feel horrible thinking about it, and you'll keep doing it."
  1923. >Her reasoning is interesting. But it makes sense.
  1924. "Fine. I'll turn a blind eye to whatever you're doing in there."
  1925. >Her expression turns to confusion and surprise.
  1926. "On the condition that it changes nothing. You do all your work, everyone goes about their business, and she never sets foot outside that room."
  1927. >You can see the disgust she feels at herself for making a deal with you.
  1928. >It pleases you to see her corrupt a little inside when she says "Okay."
  1929. >A nice little victory to cap of this hectic day.
  1930. >Satisfied, you head down to the lounge for a much-needed drink.
  1931. >You bring a pet there to attend to you, of course. The nurse one. She finished her meal hastily when you fetched her.
  1932. >Out of curiosity, you check behind the bar before sitting down. The glass is gone, and the whisky wiped away.
  1933. >At least the poor fool's not totally helpless.
  1934. >You make small talk with the nurse while she serves you. She drops hints about studying medicine, and you recall offering her a chance to do so if she exceeds expectations.
  1935. >She's been adequate thus far (and that's more than you can say for half of these cretins), but nothing more. She continues to tolerate your touch, not embrace it.
  1936. >You'll make good on your offer, if she proves how bad she wants it.
  1937. >Give it time. She'll grow desperate soon enough.
  1938. >Growing tired of idle conversation, you put on a cerebro-film and have her sit on the floor between your legs.
  1939. >You've gotten accustomed to deliberate touch, but prolonged unconscious contact is something else, like you have to work to forget it's there and allow yourself to relax.
  1940. >You don't want to go in tonight cold. This is a sort of practice run for later.
  1941. >It's a shame she can't view the film. It would at least make for more of a bonding experience. Just as you want to get comfortable with her, you want her to get comfortable with you.
  1942. >Perhaps she'd like the murder mystery. (Of course, Solaria has no murders, but stories are just that.)
  1943. >A man is killed on his estate, and with only one person visiting the crime scene at a time, the investigation becomes fraught with inconsistencies.
  1944. >She might not understand much of it without context, though she'd probably find it interesting regardless.
  1945. >But she can sit quietly just fine. It beats out any of her other responsibilities.
  1946. >After the film ends, you let her leave, and you retire upstairs to bed.
  1947. >Coco's sitting on your bed, drawing in her sketchbook, when you finally arrive.
  1948. >"Hi," she smiles.
  1949. >Awfully bold of her. Though she clearly knows what this is.
  1950. >She's not as diffident as she seems. She can be coy when she wants to.
  1951. >You lie down beside her and tilt the book toward you.
  1952. "What are you working on?"
  1953. >She blushes. "Oh, nothing interesting, it's just a silly idea I had."
  1954. >You squint down at the outfit she's laid out on the page.
  1955. >Where have you seen this before?
  1956. >"Y'know, with everyone always cleaning, I just got this picture in my head. I know it's not the sort of work I usually do, I was just curious."
  1957. >You look up at her.
  1958. "Can you make it?"
  1959. >"What?" she asks.
  1960. "If I got you the materials, could you make enough for the others?"
  1961. >She freezes up. "I— You'd let me—?"
  1962. >Without warning, she throws herself at you and squeezes tightly, refusing to let go.
  1963. >"Thank you," she says, voice shaking. "I really, really thought I'd never get to again."
  1964. >You just gently stroke her mane, allowing her to savor the moment.
  1965. >It's a long time before she pulls back.
  1966. >But when she finally does, she utters aloud those words you never thought you'd hear.
  1967. >She tells you, "I love you."
  1968.  
  1969. 11
  1970. >Coco Pommel is not the type to speak impulsively.
  1971. >She is a mare of quiet profundity. Her words are chosen carefully, with great regard as to how others will receive them.
  1972. >She is timid, but in her lies an unshaken confidence.
  1973. >She thinks modestly of herself, but recognizes her talent and amiability. She likes who she is.
  1974. >And she likes you, too.
  1975. >You have to wonder why. You've been laboring over this experiment trying to achieve this very outcome, of course, but intuition tells you it's impossible to get there.
  1976. >Yet you now have unequivocal proof to the contrary.
  1977. >She's supposed to hate you. She's supposed to resent you, to spit at your feet— or at least in your food if she's not so brash.
  1978. >But it's only taken a week to make her love you.
  1979. >You played it right, then. On the spectrum you devised, she's as right as one can get.
  1980. >She needs hope more than anything. She has to make light of her situation because she's terrified of the alternative.
  1981. >She's seen you do abominable things. Just and fair in your eyes, but abominable to her nonetheless.
  1982. >And she's rationalized it.
  1983. >She accepted the logic you fed her without any qualms. It became her thought process.
  1984. >So she thinks to herself, "they dishonored you and they understandably deserve punishment. They need only behave like me, and everything would be roses. They're unhappy only because they're fighting it."
  1985. >When you flow with the current, you find it's a gentle ride. It's the trying to swim against it that makes life difficult. (Never mind where that current is actually headed! That's a thought for another day.)
  1986. >And so she's content to think this way. She's proud of herself for landing in your good graces so quickly.
  1987. >Give her the slightest bit of affection, instill a deserved sense of superiority in her, and she melts into your palm.
  1988. >You don't know much about the war that preceded this. It may be trifling to call it such a thing, when they were so easily trounced.
  1989. >But it surely must be the most horrifying ordeal they've ever endured.
  1990. >In the right context, then, this is paradise. And that makes you God.
  1991. >God is no doormat. He delivers justice in a world where justice is absent sans his presence.
  1992. >They saw no justice before arriving on your estate. They were in hell.
  1993. >The heaven/hell dichotomy is enough to make them act against their own (supposed) interest.
  1994. >They should think it hell to be a slave. They should prefer death instead. But they've already lived hell, true bondage.
  1995. >Thus this can't be true slavery, when they have the option of relative comfort. It becomes slavery only nominally.
  1996. >Just as all God's creatures are slaves unto Him.
  1997. >Religion is another derelict construct of earth. There is no truth to it.
  1998. >But the psychology that wove these intricate systems of belief is based entirely in reality.
  1999. >You are the closest thing there ever has been, and may well ever be, to God.
  2000. >So, in the end, this comes as no surprise. She ought to love you, for you've become her salvation.
  2001. >And so you reply with just the right thing to keep her at bay.
  2002. "Of course you do."
  2003. >You won't debase yourself by reciprocating just yet. And when you finally do, it will still just be a lie to placate her.
  2004. >You're not convinced you're capable of love. If you were to ever love anything, it might as well be your pet, but that's as of yet indefinite.
  2005. >Her love will be an invaluable instrument in the coming days. The first one is always the hardest. The rest follow for fear of getting left behind.
  2006. >Now all that's left is to nurture that fear.
  2007. >Get the bulk of them, if not all, to cherish and exalt you, and the experiment concludes a resounding success. You'll have cured humanity of its final ailment.
  2008. >Why, you can practically taste the academic prestige already.
  2009. >Rinaldi will be fuming. His insistence that Equestrians lack any utility whatsoever and push for their extermination will be the biggest blunder Solaria has ever seen.
  2010. >You've nothing against the man, but right now, he's actively working against your interests. That makes him a problem.
  2011. >One that needs resolving.
  2012. >You take Coco's sketchbook from her and place it on the nightstand.
  2013. "Would you like sleep here tonight?"
  2014. >She breathes a sanguine "yes, please."
  2015. >The question was superfluous. You and she both knew what would happen tonight.
  2016. >Extending the offer just serves as an illusion of choice. Now she'll frame it as her wanting it and you allowing it, instead of the other way around.
  2017. "Come, then."
  2018. >You get up and lift the covers to climb inside.
  2019. >She mindlessly reaches her hooves up to her throat and freezes when she feels her collar.
  2020. >You notice her tense up, despite her obvious prayers you wouldn't.
  2021. >Staring back at her, you try to glean the intention behind that gesture and response.
  2022. >She reservedly lowers her hooves back to the bed and avoids your eyes, waiting for you to climb into bed.
  2023. >But, not letting it go, you remain where you stand, letting go of the covers.
  2024. "Explain."
  2025. >"Huh?" she asks, playing naïve.
  2026. "You were doing so well. Do you want to ruin it?"
  2027. >"No!"
  2028. "Do you detest the collar? Is that it? Are you spurning that symbol of purpose that I so graciously gifted you?"
  2029. >She crawls toward you frantically, pressing her face into your stomach. "No! I promise it wasn't that, it was just a stupid mistake, I swear!"
  2030. >You take a step back, neglecting her the comfort she seeks. Instead, you just watch over her expectantly.
  2031. >She sniffles. "I used to wear a collar back home. Not like this kind... a dress collar. With a silk ascot tied in front."
  2032. >"Every night I'd take it off before bed. It's just a habit. I love the one you gave me, I promise you, I'll wear it every night!"
  2033. >She leans in toward you, hoping you'll close the gap and give her affection again. "I don't want to take it off. Ever."
  2034. >She might be hyperbolic in saying that. You can't imagine them being comfortable to sleep in, or wash around to keep it from fraying (at least, you hope they do that— you'll get upset if you find any of them have been mistreating their gifts).
  2035. >Or maybe she's infatuated enough to truly want to wear it eternally. Regardless, you see no intention of disrespect in her error, so you choose to let it go.
  2036. >Not right away, though.
  2037. >You nudge her aside and pick up the covers once again, getting into bed. She watches uncertainly, unable to discern your reaction without any sort of response.
  2038. >She sits uncomfortably while you lay with your head on the pillow, eyes closed, shutting her out entirely.
  2039. >After a moment, she musters the courage to speak up. Her voice is soft and anxious.
  2040. >"Can I still sleep with you?"
  2041. >You wait a few seconds to respond, not even bothering to move.
  2042. "At my feet."
  2043. >She sits in silent disappointment for only a split-second before whispering a disconcerted "thank you".
  2044. >Unable to see her, you feel the mattress shift as she curls up by the end of the bed, settling in beside you.
  2045. >This wasn't your intention for tonight. But perhaps it's better to make her work for it. Remind her how easily she can fall from your graces.
  2046. >Her head does feel good against your leg, though.
  2047.  
  2048. >You awake only a few short hours later to the sensation of your cerebro stimulating your cortex.
  2049. >Groggy, you pick your head up and focus the interface. It's incredibly uncivil for a person to send transmissions during night hours.
  2050. >But upon reading, you understand why— it is no person.
  2051. >You're careful not to wake Coco as you slide out of bed and draw your robe. Treading lightly in the dark, you slip out the bedroom and head down to the foyer.
  2052. >You unlock the front door and open it just wide enough to poke your head through.
  2053. >The eerily silent scout floats just three feet from your face, its cold, soulless nature made even more evident by the stillness of the Solarian night.
  2054. "Is it done? You have what I asked of you?"
  2055. >"Yes, sir," it responds.
  2056. "And she's alive?"
  2057. >"I cannot answer that, sir."
  2058. >You grimace.
  2059. "What the devil does that mean?"
  2060. >"I am not equipped to monitor vital signs of this particular species. As a result, I cannot make with any accuracy a determination as to its—"
  2061. "Enough!" you lambast it in a low voice. "Was she moving when you collected her, or not?"
  2062. >"Not," it replies matter-of-factly.
  2063. >You feel your chest constrict. Just then, you hear a voice behind you.
  2064. >"Sir?"
  2065. >You hastily pull your head back inside and close the door partway to obstruct any view to the outside.
  2066. >Octavia stands at the base of the staircase, squinting to make out your figure in the low light.
  2067. "What are you doing?"
  2068. >"It's my turn on call tonight. Did you need something?"
  2069. "No. I'm just checking on something."
  2070. >Your hand grips the door edge tightly.
  2071. "Go to bed. I won't be needing your services tonight."
  2072. >She pauses for a moment. Your body grows tense, not being able to make out her expression from this distance.
  2073. >"Thank you," she finally says, leaving for the living quarters.
  2074. >You don't move until you hear the door shut behind her, at which point you address the scout once again.
  2075. "She's aboard the craft?"
  2076. >You gaze out at the drone's main body, its black form well camouflaged above your estate grounds.
  2077. >"Yes, sir."
  2078. "Fine. Drop her here. Then return to your post in LSO, and make no transmission of your activities today to anyone, human or droid."
  2079. >"I have no reason to do so," it assures you, "unless specifically requested of me."
  2080. >That qualifier leaves you just a bit unsettled.
  2081. >No one will ever learn the truth about what happened today.
  2082. >...unless they go looking for it.
  2083.  
  2084. >Twelve-and-a-half minutes later, you are back in your bedroom.
  2085. >Coco stirs at the sound of the door shutting behind you.
  2086. >"Master?" she murmurs.
  2087. >You climb into bed as she picks her head up, eyes bleary.
  2088. >"Everything okay?"
  2089. >Looking down at her, you feel a deep sense of calm. Nothing at all like when you first went to bed.
  2090. >You extend a hand out to her.
  2091. "Come here."
  2092. >Obliging, she crawls up from the foot of the bed.
  2093. >You pull her in towards you, lifting the covers to allow her inside.
  2094. >She eagerly nestles in against your chest, accepting the comfort of your arms around her slender frame.
  2095. >You lie there together, motionless. Having just woken, she drifts back to sleep rather easily.
  2096. >It takes you a bit longer.
  2097. >You're relieved, finally, to be rid of this glaring issue that's been plaguing the experiment.
  2098. >It didn't work out the way you'd hoped. One pet's obstinance nearly derailed the whole thing, and you've never even spoken one word to her.
  2099. >The important thing is that she's ceased to be a confounding variable. She's back under your purview now, though not in the same state she was originally in.
  2100. >It scarcely matters. You told Octavia she was dead, after all. It makes no material difference whether or not you got her back alive and well.
  2101. >Now Spitfire rests beneath the ground, and will never see the light of day again.
  2102.  
  2103. "You heard me."
  2104. >Those crooked golden eyes stare back at you with such naïveté that it might pull at a lesser man's heartstrings.
  2105. >She glances down at the pile of broken glass neatly arranged on the bar counter.
  2106. "I'm not going to repeat myself. This is what you get for the disrespect you showed me yesterday."
  2107. >Ditzy shifts uncomfortably in her stool, but you remain adamant where you stand, opposite her behind the bar, feet firmly planted upon the spot where she made that asinine fumble.
  2108. >Slowly, she reaches a hoof out to the pile. She slides the biggest shard she can find toward her, careful to avoid the jagged edges of the other pieces.
  2109. >She pauses there, eyes laboring over the misshapen shards.
  2110. "I'm being rather lenient here. I can devise a much harsher punishment if you'd like."
  2111. >"No, no, no," she whispers.
  2112. >You raise your eyebrows expectantly, and she continues.
  2113. >She slides another piece toward her. In her haste, her forehoof dips low enough to catch a sharp edge, nicking her.
  2114. >She withdraws her hoof abruptly, pressing the cut against her mouth.
  2115. >Anticipating your demand to continue, she reaches for the same piece again. With her mouth this time.
  2116. >You eye her as she cautiously takes the shard in her teeth and drops it beside the first. She tries pressing them together, and groans in frustration when their edges fail to match up.
  2117. "You're wasting my time, pet."
  2118. >She quickens her pace now, tenderly biting and lifting pieces away, sorting them by potential matches. After the first dozen or so, she finds a pair that fit relatively well together.
  2119. >But this is no carefully-manufactured puzzle. There's got to be countless false fits here, at least a hundred for every correct match.
  2120. >She continues rearranging pieces, occasionally lifting a new one from the pile when the others fail.
  2121. >You're surprised to see her soon beginning to go about it with more acuity than you previously thought her capable of.
  2122. >But you know full well the futility of this task.
  2123. >She takes a new piece, and, growing careless, it grazes her lip. Instinctively, she inhales sharply in pain— which draws the glass into her throat.
  2124. >She coughs and hacks it back out, sputtering in panicked stress.
  2125. >"I can't do it," she cries out to you. "There's a jillion pieces here! They won't go together no matter how hard I try!"
  2126. >Prepared for this moment, you utter your rehearsed response.
  2127. "Sometimes, when something's broken, it's broken beyond repair."
  2128. >You gaze down at her with burning contempt.
  2129. "Are you broken beyond repair? Should I stop wasting my time trying to fix you?"
  2130. >Her eyes go wide, and she shakes her head vigorously. "No! I can be a good pet, I promise!"
  2131. "I can discard this glass if you'd like, but then I'd have to toss you with it. You see, if your mistakes can't be fixed, then neither can you."
  2132. >Visibly hysteric, she scrambles to reassemble the bottle in an effort to prove her worth.
  2133. >It's all in vain, though. All she manages to do in her furor is cut up her hooves on the tiny shards. Yet that doesn't seem to slow her one bit.
  2134. >It's a sorry sight to behold. Despite fully anticipating the outcome, you find yourself growing irritable regardless.
  2135. >You misjudged her. She's not going to learn anything from this. The message is lost on her.
  2136. >She'll fail, and walk away thinking mistakes can be forgiven if only she tries hard enough.
  2137. >That's sloppy discipline. You need to make your point much more directly.
  2138. >Without warning, you reach out and grab her hoof, pausing just long enough for her to process her confusion.
  2139. >You promptly yank her off her stool and onto the counter. Her torso shoves the pile of glass onto the floor, a few tiny pieces remaining as they dig into her skin beneath her weight.
  2140. >She yelps from the stinging sensation, but it does nothing to deter you. Raising your hand, you deliver a ruthless slap to her flank.
  2141. >You should've just gotten the paddle to begin with. The only way someone like her will learn is with a solid spanking.
  2142. >You deliver twenty more slaps to her rear. Her tail whips up and she winces considerably each time your palm comes down on her.
  2143. >Irked by the yellow hair flicking into your face, you grab ahold of her dock while you administer the remainder of her punishment.
  2144. >By the end of it, she's a quivering mess, her eyes clenched shut. Her bottom shines a bright red, contrasting pleasantly against the pale grey of her coat. Your hand stings quite a bit, as well.
  2145. >You have to give her credit, though. She's more stalwart than you expected.
  2146. >She didn't cry, or plead for you to stop.
  2147. >In fact, aside from that one yowl when you grabbed her, she didn't make a single sound throughout.
  2148. >Whereas other pets would've sniveled and beseeched you for mercy, she took her licks like a champ. You almost respect her for that.
  2149. >Almost.
  2150. >Releasing her tail, you push her off the bar, sending her tumbling onto the floor. Callously, you brush the rest of the glass off the counter, onto her.
  2151. "Clean it up," you mutter as you exit the lounge.
  2152. >Raven is setting up for the day when you reach your office. She's already carved out a neat workspace for herself at the far end of your desk.
  2153. >You might be jealous at her gall for taking up the real estate, but it hardly makes a difference to you. That desk is bigger than the bed she sleeps upon.
  2154. >If claiming a little corner for herself keeps her amenable, you can look past the presumptiveness.
  2155. >You dismiss her for a moment, asking her to fetch Octavia prior to officially beginning for the day.
  2156. >When Octavia arrives, you're hardly satisfied, not sparing even a second for idle chitchat before diving right into the issue at hand.
  2157. "It seems as though I'm putting out fires several times a day. If I recall, that's what I have you for. So, one week later, why is this still a problem?"
  2158. >She stares back at you blankly, unsure how to respond in kind.
  2159. "Nothing to proffer? Let's talk specifics, then. Yesterday. The day had scarcely begun when that mess with Ditzy unfolded. Your insubordination there only compounded the burden."
  2160. >She glances away, torn between the inclination to defend herself and her desire for your approval.
  2161. "Then I overheard some of the others expressing grievances with their new roles."
  2162. >"Who?" she asks.
  2163. >You raise a hand dismissively.
  2164. "I couldn't give you names even if I cared to. They're hardly worth the trouble of remembering. What matters is that they're /your/ staff, and consequently your responsibility. It doesn't bode well for them to be gossiping behind closed doors. And before you start sharing in their sentiments, you'd do well to know they didn't speak favorably of you, either."
  2165. >That gets her attention. You detect the slightest bit of perk in her ears.
  2166. >Toying with her, you latch onto that reaction.
  2167. "Oh? Surprised they don't worship the ground you walk on?"
  2168. >She furrows her brow, thinking to herself. "No... we're— we're friends. All of us."
  2169. "Hardly," you scoff. "Those two were badmouthing half the staff."
  2170. >You watch her process the news. You don't show it, but you're genuinely surprised by her supposition of friendship.
  2171. "Don't look so bewildered. I told you day one, your role in the experiment is my assistant. They may not know the explicit details, but the politics are clear to anyone with half a mind."
  2172. >You feel just a glimmer of sympathy at her disappointment. Coming around your desk, you pat her on the head.
  2173. "Come now, dear. You're complicit, you know this. It may be in everyone's best interest, but they'll still resent you for it. It's inevitable for people like us."
  2174. >Not so.
  2175. >You neglect to tell her the whole truth of the matter, that you're intentionally gaming the power plays out of self-interest. Sacrificing her reputation to bolster yours.
  2176. >They expect oppression from you. As far as they see, it's in your nature. Octavia, though, is meant to be different.
  2177. >By inserting her as a buffer in the hierarchy between you and them, your demands are issued through her mouth. In essence, she's the one oppressing them.
  2178. >You're an occasional nuisance at worst, something to be avoided. Simultaneously, you're someone who can make life very pleasant for them, as evidenced by Coco and Raven.
  2179. >Octavia takes that heat off you. All the drudgery of slavery is ordained by her, while you're free to be the one who makes it better for them.
  2180. >It's all the subconscious mind at play. Logically, anyone who takes a minute to think about it will recognize that you're the captor here.
  2181. >But you can't discount the significance of subliminal perception.
  2182. >Day-to-day, Octavia is the insufferable authority figure, telling them what to do and when to do it. They're forced to do that job well and see no reward from her for it.
  2183. >Conversely, in their experiences with you, excellence is met with praise and perks.
  2184. >All the awful facets of slavery are attributed to her, and their only release is attributed to you.
  2185. >That's why those two gossips didn't have any complaints about you.
  2186. >The work is inevitable. They're not upset at you for putting it upon them. They're upset at each other for not sharing the burden.
  2187. >Now, ideally, they don't see the work as a burden— that's the reason you're having this conversation— but Octavia exists for that very reason. She's the scapegoat.
  2188. >It's unsustainable long-term, of course. In-fighting will destabilize the social order you've constructed, if it comes to that.
  2189. >Which is why you're upset at the moment. Continued incidents of misbehavior are only going to exacerbate this instability.
  2190. >You can't continually step in and interfere, yourself. That defeats the purpose, and paints their perception of you in an increasingly negative light.
  2191. >Octavia needs to resolve issues before they ever get the chance to reach you.
  2192. "And then there was that insolent brute, Moonprancer—"
  2193. >"Dancer," Octavia corrects you.
  2194. >You shoot her a glare, and she lowers her gaze.
  2195. "Whatever inane moniker she goes by, she was snooping about my library last night instead of cooking."
  2196. >Octavia is nonplussed by the news.
  2197. "Is this her first transgression, or merely the first I've discovered?"
  2198. >"She's done all I've asked of her," she answers frankly.
  2199. "Has she?" you challenge her. "Have you been keeping close tabs on her, or is she finding ways to shirk her obligations while going undetected, leaving others to pick up the slack with nobody the wiser?"
  2200. >Octavia hesitates, reticent to admit the oversight on her part.
  2201. >"She seemed like a good worker to me. She's very intelligent."
  2202. "Conniving, you mean. She had you fooled. She was only found out by chance, because I deviated from my routine to check on Coco. She's been planning around our habits, and misdirecting the others into thinking she was always contributing elsewhere."
  2203. >"I can't believe it," Octavia sighs.
  2204. "Can't you? Or can you just not believe you'd be so stupid as to let a member of your staff make it this far without lifting a hoof?"
  2205. >Though you'd sooner die than admit it, the blame partly lies with you. You would've caught her if you kept up with the security recordings.
  2206. >But there is simply so much footage to slog through— so many rooms and so many hours in the day that you thought it a poor use of your valuable time, and trusted Octavia was handling things.
  2207. >You checked the archive sparingly to ensure there were no secret plots ongoing behind your back. Satisfied that was the case, you never cared to investigate further.
  2208. >You have patients and other research beyond this experiment. Running a surveillance state would be a more-than-full-time job on its own. It's not feasible.
  2209. >Though you can't shake the doubt that if you spared just one extra hour, you might have nipped this in the bud much earlier.
  2210. "How much do you /really/ know about her?"
  2211. >"Little, I suppose," she replies. "I know she's also from Canterlot—"
  2212. >You decide you don't care to ask before you even complete the thought.
  2213. >"—but she's something of a hermit."
  2214. >Antisocial behavior. Hallmark of the wastrel.
  2215. >You feel even more disgust toward her than previously.
  2216. >She may be clever, but she lacks any sort of interpersonal skills. She couldn't even try to talk her way out of it when you caught her in the act.
  2217. >She merely allowed her arrogance to take over.
  2218. >So long as you prevent her further attempts at scheming, she'll remain helpless to forgo her responsibilities.
  2219. >Her whole plan lay on the premise of flying under the radar, ever-avoiding any sort of direct confrontation.
  2220. >Her strength is in going unnoticed. Take that away from her, and she's no more crafty than Ditzy.
  2221. "Watch her closely from now on. Stand over her shoulder if that's what it takes. Don't let her play you for a rube again."
  2222. >"Yes, sir."
  2223. "I'll be watching, too, since you clearly can't be trusted. Here on out, her infractions will be met with punishment for her and double for you."
  2224. >Octavia nods, holding tenacious. "Everyone's all trained in the kitchen, the garden, and tidying. I'll have time to manage them better now."
  2225. >You lean back against your desk.
  2226. "See to it that you do. And as for Trixie, don't let—"
  2227. >A transmission to your cerebro interrupts you mid-sentence.
  2228. >It's Scanlon's estate code.
  2229. >Standing upright, you hastily wave Octavia off, signaling her to leave.
  2230. >You answer the instant the door shuts behind her. Your friend's projection appears standing before you.
  2231. "Scanlon."
  2232. >"I see the droid is back in orbit," he says. "I don't know what it is you're concocting, but pray that no one gets word that it ever left."
  2233. "No one will."
  2234. >"I don't suppose you'll tell me what you did with it."
  2235. "I will. One day. The experiment is in a precarious place right now—"
  2236. >He raises an eyebrow.
  2237. "—not precarious as in plausible to fail, mind you— it's just that disclosing certain details may adversely influence the outcome. I'm sure you can appreciate that as a fellow man of science."
  2238. >"What is this, a double blind trial? If you're hiding something, it's not for our sake, it's for yours."
  2239. >He squints suspiciously. "Or /theirs/," he adds, with disdainful emphasis.
  2240. "I'm not sure what you mean."
  2241. >"You're not growing attached to them, are you? You're a professional! Have you lost your objectivity?"
  2242. >You take offense at the insinuation.
  2243. "This experiment is being upheld to the most rigorous standards. I'm drafting a preliminary report for the council this morning, in fact. I've already adequately conditioned two of them, with another two well on their way. The rest will soon follow."
  2244. >"I do hope you're intent on remaining forthright in your records. Even a minor inconsistency is grounds enough to not only shut down the experiment, but prompt a full Inquiry altogether."
  2245. >You fall deathly silent.
  2246. "You're not threatening me, are you, old friend?"
  2247. >He frowns. "Don't be absurd. You've been given an inordinate amount of power. This is uncharted territory you're navigating. If the council is even the slightest bit displeased with your methods, they'll use it to ruin you. You've made some enemies in this crusade of yours, I hope you know."
  2248. "Rinaldi. I know."
  2249. >"It goes beyond just him. Support in the endeavor is faltering. There are some who are lamenting the decision to allow ponies free roam on Solaria."
  2250. "No such thing. They're under my control."
  2251. >"Which is invariably meaningless," he interjects. "You are flesh and blood as much as they are. Our droids are the only predominance we hold over them. That doesn't sit well with some of the council."
  2252. "Then make it sit well," you tell him bluntly. "My report will assuage concerns, but I need you to keep them pacified until I have indisputable evidence."
  2253. >He raises a hand to his temple, agitated by your persistence. "I'm getting tired of pushing your agenda, one that I remind you I'm dubious of, myself. My reputation is at stake as much as— no, in fact, more than— yours."
  2254. >You try to adopt a reassuring tone. You need him in your corner.
  2255. "I ask you as a friend—"
  2256. >"I can't keep vouching for you on the basis of friendship alone," he cuts you off. "Skies above, what does friendship matter anyway? Your recklessness may well ruin me, and you expect me to follow you down that hole on some confounded notion of loyalty? Do you hear yourself? That's wastrel talk!"
  2257. "Don't compare me to that ilk!" you bark at him.
  2258. >"And why shouldn't I?" he insists. "'A Solarian's reputation is all that he has.' Not his bonds, not his principles— his reputation. This game you're playing is all but destined to fail, and I'm merely trying to keep myself outside the blast radius. I'll stand by you, friend, but not so close that it stains me when you blow up."
  2259. >You can't believe what you're hearing.
  2260. >Scanlon's always endorsed your work. Even when he disagreed with your conjectures, he still saw the merit in them.
  2261. >He's supposed to be the objective one in the council. The lot of them are raving lunatics, a pretentious, self-indulgent pack of apes that leap onto the first impulse they get. Scanlon's the one who steers them straight.
  2262. >If they had their way, ponies would be extinct right now. Solaria would continue to suffer wastrels, never once asking if it might be their own doing. The world is blind to the truth.
  2263. >You just thought your friend was one of the few with the courage to see.
  2264. "Is that it, then? Did you just call to berate me?"
  2265. >"No, actually," he replies bitterly, "I called to tell you that your request has been approved."
  2266. "My request?"
  2267. >"You wanted an audience with their leader, didn't you? Well, you've got it."
  2268. >You fall silent. You'd completely forgotten about the inquiry you made to Rinaldi. It was just an offhand idea. You didn't think anything would actually come of it.
  2269. "Rinaldi approved?"
  2270. >"Heavens, no. Lucky for you, it's not up to him. He may head the Equestrian study, but the council has purview with regards to the experiment."
  2271. "After all that talk about the seeds of doubt being sown, they still approved?"
  2272. >"They didn't. I convinced them."
  2273. >You look back at him, confused.
  2274. >"You'll remember that in the beginning, I asked you to analyze their sociology."
  2275. "And I have findings in that respect. They'll be in the report."
  2276. >"Regardless, there are things that the peons in your care cannot offer us. Upon their capture, I spoke to their leaders myself, but the only responses I received were acerbic and unhelpful."
  2277. "And you're hoping they'll behave differently with me?"
  2278. >He shrugs. "You're a psychoanalyst, are you not? If any man on Solaria can convince them to speak, it's you."
  2279. "You had no interest in granting my request, then. This is just for your own purposes."
  2280. >"Such a cynical outlook. Simply consider it good fortunate our interests align for once, and leave it at that."
  2281. "Fine. I'll get your information," you promise, "in exchange for your continued support. You get to publish your career-making paper, and I get to publish mine. Either we thrive together, or we fall together."
  2282. >Scanlon pauses for a moment, contemplating your offer.
  2283. >"I accept these terms."
  2284. "I should hope so. When can I view them?"
  2285. >"Right now," he says, to your surprise. "I have the facility code right here."
  2286.  
  2287. 12
  2288. >While your mind wanders, your eyes linger on the HUD. Specifically the portion of the interface that initiates cerebro-projection.
  2289. >You know comparably little about Equestria. They have a princess— princesses, if you recall correctly— whom the commonfolk admire deeply.
  2290. >You know they proved a formidable challenge to the Solarian armada, despite inevitably succumbing.
  2291. >But of their personalities, of their psychology, you have nought to go on.
  2292. >If their intelligences correspond to their magical abilities, as you suppose, then they might prove a different breed altogether from your pets.
  2293. >Those simple-minded folk are subjugated rather easily, as you've come to see. But their leaders?
  2294. >Scanlon stressed their total refusal to even answer questions. Instead, they choose to stonewall their captors.
  2295. >No doubt they've been tortured. If not by Scanlon or Rinaldi, then some other brutish oaf.
  2296. >For heavens' sakes, why is the council handing the keys over to neurologists and sociologists?
  2297. >Of course they must be studied, but it should be evident that they ought to be broken first. Research comes second.
  2298. >Submission over science.
  2299. >You can hardly believe yourself for saying such a thing. But you know it's true.
  2300. >Understanding of their species would come so much easier if they were first coaxed into cooperation. But that might be a lost cause now, if they've been tainted with torture.
  2301. >Solaria's left a bad first impression. Now Scanlon has left you to rectify that, to clean up the council's mess.
  2302. >And if that weren't enough, you're going in entirely cold. When pressed, Scanlon didn't have much to offer in the way of preparation.
  2303. >You suppose that ought to be expected, given their utter noncompliance thus far. But still, a lead, a single thread for you to follow, and you might find a way in.
  2304. >But there's none to be had.
  2305. >You'll make your way as you go (as if there's any other choice), but you need a moment to collect yourself.
  2306. >The forthcoming mind games will be a psychological minefield. One slip and you might show your hand. Intimidation is futile then.
  2307. >Taking a deep breath, you dial the facility code. After a minute, a lanky man in a drab jumpsuit answers.
  2308. "Good morning. I take it you're Mr. Shaw?"
  2309. >"Frederick," he replies plainly.
  2310. "Frederick, then. You are the facilityman at cold storage, correct?"
  2311. >"Regrettably. And I take it you're another scientist looking to prod at the beasts."
  2312. "I—"
  2313. >"I don't need to hear the details, I'll find out eventually. Just get what you need, and do me one kindness, will you?"
  2314. "What might that be?"
  2315. >"Urge the council to wrap things up quick," he says lowly.
  2316. >You hold your tongue.
  2317. >You'd rather not tip him off to the fact that you're the one dragging this process out.
  2318. >He looks flighty for an engineer. Typically, they're a brusque sort. Practical and utilitarian, with little room in their characters for anything else.
  2319. "I can imagine it's uncomfortable, being off one's estate. Especially at such a large facility."
  2320. >He gazes up at a ceiling invisible to you and whispers morosely. "It's a tomb is what it is."
  2321. >You'd be unnerved by his gloom if you hadn't already dealt with this sort of thing before.
  2322. "Site assignments are never easy. That's why they're issued sparingly. Still, I've treated one or two who've experienced panic attacks being in such an alien environment. I'm sure you've had a full psych evaluation clearing you for this role."
  2323. >He shoots you an odd glance. "Are you calling my sanity into question?"
  2324. "No. Of course not."
  2325. >"Good," he sighs in relief. "Good."
  2326. >Perhaps you ought to make this brief.
  2327. "Can you connect me?"
  2328. >He squints. "Connect you?"
  2329. "To their leaders."
  2330. >He stares back at you, puzzled.
  2331. >You pause, just now realizing your error.
  2332. >Ponies have no cerebral implants. You can't communicate as you would a colleague.
  2333. "How—?"
  2334. >"I'm sorry," he sputters. "You're new, I should've been clearer about the procedure. I'll go down there and serve as the interpreter."
  2335. "No, that won't do. They need to hear me. They need to see me."
  2336. >"I can't arrange that. My cerebro is the only one on site. Unless you're proposing I install one in them — heavens, no, I can hardly stand being on the opposite side of the glass as it is, you can't—"
  2337. "Good God, man, get ahold of yourself," you quell his anxious raving. "There's got to be another way. You can hook up a transmitter to a holographic projector."
  2338. >"You could probably do it a hundred different ways. But there's nothing like that lying around here. Even if there were, I'm just a cryogenic engineer. It's out of my realm. You'd have to requisition the robotics lab."
  2339. >You groan.
  2340. "Fine. Thanks for the help."
  2341. >"Any time," he answers insincerely.
  2342. >As you disconnect, you waste no time navigating the console on your desk.
  2343. >It'll take a couple days for fabrication and delivery, but it's necessary.
  2344. >That's got to be why Scanlon failed. With Shaw as his ears and mouthpiece, two-way communication would've been stilted and unauthoritative.
  2345. >You need your projection standing over them when you speak. They have to look you in the eyes, or you'll get nothing out of them.
  2346. >But right as you're about to submit the requisition, you freeze.
  2347. >'Estimated fulfillment time: thirty-seven days.'
  2348. >That's absurd! The requisitions you filed in preparation for the experiment began took just under 72 hours, and those were far more sizeable.
  2349. >It takes you almost five minutes of digging before you discover the root of the problem. It's so insignificantly displayed, you might have missed it altogether.
  2350. >In a furor, you dial Scanlon's estate code. He answers in a manner of seconds.
  2351. >"What's this about?" he asks cantankerously. "Not fifteen minutes since we last spoke and already you're troubling me again?"
  2352. "Why has my requisition clearance been downgraded?" you charge.
  2353. >"Really? You're meant to be interrogating their leaders, not ordering even more instruments for your inscrutable scheme! Pray tell, what is it this time, a whole fleet of droids?"
  2354. "Was this your doing?"
  2355. >"It's for your sake more than mine."
  2356. >It may not be an outright one, but it's an admission.
  2357. "You're undermining the experiment. I can't succeed if you hamstring any efforts I make at progress."
  2358. >He throws his arms up in exasperation. "Progress? What progress? I've no clue what's going on down there because you insist on this irrational secrecy!"
  2359. "I told you to expect a report today, before you dropped this task on me."
  2360. >"Forget the leaders, then. Get your affairs in order with the creatures you have before taking on new ones."
  2361. "I have to speak to them. Their psychology will lend me a great deal of insight into how their minds work."
  2362. >And give you more tools to pull the strings of your pets at home. But the other reason sounds much more convincing.
  2363. >"Then what the devil is this requisition business about?"
  2364. "I need a device to communicate direc—"
  2365. >"No, scratch that. Whatever it is, I'm not restoring your clearance. Request what you need, but from henceforth it goes through the proper channels. I won't risk any more shady business. Everything needs to be above board if you want this to actually result in something."
  2366. >You stare him down, trying to glean a way back into his favor, some way to convince him to return the reins over to you.
  2367. >But you know he won't budge.
  2368. "It's crucial I view them face-to-face if you want me to break them. I can't do that with you obstructing me."
  2369. >"Well if you can't view them," he replies frankly, "then I suppose you'll just have to see them."
  2370. >With that, he disconnects, leaving you to soak in his words.
  2371. >You can't wait five weeks. The experiment might be dead by then.
  2372. >That leaves you with one option.
  2373. >You can't, right?
  2374. >You can't set foot off the estate. Shaw made cold storage sound particularly unsettling.
  2375. >Scanlon is bluffing. He has to be.
  2376. >Damn it! This could all be resolved in an instant if he would just comply. His obstinance is making a mountain out of a molehill.
  2377. >You have everything under control. You got Spitfire back and the other eleven are all broken (to varying degrees).
  2378. >It seems like your only recourse is assuaging him with this report.
  2379. >So you might as well get started.
  2380.  
  2381. >Coco is the first subject that comes to mind. Interesting that it's not Octavia, given her greater role in the experiment.
  2382. >But she is the one you feel most strongly for. You accept your own biases.
  2383. Subject C submitted fully within a matter of days. When offered hope, she seizes it as rationalization to whatever situation she might find herself in. Tempting her with praise and appreciation has resulted in immense affection towards her master. She, and others like her, are definitive candidates for companionship, requiring only minimal effort to break in.
  2384. >Raven's similar. Though there are a few key differences.
  2385. Subject R previously served in a professional role. Like the others, she desperately craves self-actualization. Allowing her to serve in a capacity analogous to her former occupation has quickly made her eager to please. She goes so far as to take initiative where others do not. Her promotion was indeed reward for such deferential behavior, which aids to reinforce in the others' minds to follow suit.
  2386. >You start thinking over the others in your head. Spitfire and Marble will be omitted, for obvious reasons. They and the others you haven't paid much mind to will get lumped together as broad generalizations of the group dynamic.
  2387. Subject D appears to exhibit some form of mental deficiency. Obvious course of action is disposal, though for purposes of psychiatric analysis, her behavior will continue to be observed. Her imbecility has resulted in damage to the estate, though proper discipline seems to have precluded further transgressions; research is ongoing. Exhibits a genuine desire to contribute, notably contrary to expected wastrel demeanor.
  2388. >Though you don't relish it, the report has to outline misbehavior. Scanlon will see through any attempts to portray the experiment in an infallible light, even if the council doesn't.
  2389. >Your job is to demonstrate that this behavior can be corrected.
  2390. Subject M conversely displays heightened intelligence. This resulted in a temporarily successful evasion of duties, though inevitably found out. Discipline and threats have discouraged such behavior, yet subject must be monitored closely to ensure continued compliance. Preliminary conclusion is that intelligence correlates with increased proclivity for defiance.
  2391. >That only increases your anxiety over interrogating the princesses. You dearly hope you're wrong on that count, but the evidence is stacked against you.
  2392. Subject T is further proof of this. Displays the highest degree of rebellion amongst all subjects, and conversations with her contain nuance that suggests she similarly thinks ahead. Consistent infractions were only halted through outright violence and threat of mutilation (exploiting depersonalization). Appears to understand the human mind well— in a broken pony, this would do well for companionship, though the trait is evidently troublesome prior to submission. Larger sample needed for conclusive risk assessment.
  2393. >Which leaves Octavia, saved for last. You were putting it off, but you know her profile is necessary — perhaps most important.
  2394. Subject O was given (immaterial) authority over the others in an attempt to understand the power dynamics between subjects. As expected, the others have come to detest her, though they obfuscate such sentiments, discussing them only behind closed doors. Power suits her well regardless. There exists at least some small degree of sophistication within her that results in unusually high aspirations, corresponding with the potential to realize them. Though quite young herself, she's nonetheless taken on a maternal role over the other subjects, interceding on their behalf on multiple occasions. Interestingly, despite this, the others fail to appreciate such efforts and instead perceive the peacekeeping as siding with the supposed "oppressor". Reasoning behind their attitude may be statements deferring to her master's will more so than their defense, and promises of forcible compliance.
  2395. >You have much, much more to say. It's all loosely compiled in your notes.
  2396. >But you have to remain mindful of /how/ you say it. Each statement must be scrutinized as to how the council will receive it, and how it might influence, or be influenced by, their biases.
  2397. >There are bad events that can counterintuitively bolster their support for you. Likewise, certain positive outcomes may not appear so, especially when they have different aims than you.
  2398. >It's all about proper framing, and it's incredibly taxing. You've never been the one to play politics.
  2399. >You opt to take a break from the work, for a walk through the grounds to clear your head.
  2400. >Seeing the opportunity, you bring the nurse along (leashed, of course). You've come to enjoy her quiet company.
  2401. >Though today, you actually choose to address her; otherwise your mind would just continue to be preoccupied.
  2402. "What's your name, dear?"
  2403. >You finally care enough to learn it.
  2404. >"Redheart," she answers quietly.
  2405. "You've been good, Redheart."
  2406. >She looks up at you.
  2407. "I'm sure you've noticed I've spent a disproportionate amount of my free time with you."
  2408. >"Why me?" she asks.
  2409. "I don't know," you murmur, staring off at the horizon. "Maybe it's because I respect your aptitude more so than any of the others here."
  2410. >She glances back at her cutie mark, figuring that's what you mean.
  2411. You continue, "Medicine's the only skill I've seen among you lot that has any utility. Maybe Raven's, but at the end of they day her work is menial and elementary."
  2412. >"I don't know much about humans."
  2413. "But you can rather easily learn, I'm sure."
  2414. >"Do you want me to?" There's a cautious hopefulness in her tone, as if she's trying to navigate precarious expectations without exposing her true desires.
  2415. >You choose not to answer yet. There's a lesson in here, and she should see it first.
  2416. "I enjoy your presence uniquely. Coco and Raven are obsequious to a fault. Your obedience, on the other hand, has been much more temperate."
  2417. >"I don't follow."
  2418. "They're sycophants, those girls. It can be a bit much at times, the desperation for approval. I don't see that in you."
  2419. >You stop and kneel beside her.
  2420. "You don't like me, yet you still obey. Why?"
  2421. >She hesitates to respond.
  2422. "Come now, you can't hide these things from me. I'm not upset. Just curious."
  2423. >"I'm just trying to get by," she finally answers, avoiding your eyes.
  2424. "Well, that's certainly an answer. You've seen what I've done with the others, and you don't want that for yourself?"
  2425. >She opens her mouth to respond, then pauses in confusion.
  2426. >"Wait, the punishments or the rewards?"
  2427. >You softly smile at her.
  2428. >"Oh," she whispers. "I see."
  2429. "Are you content to stay passive, never making waves? I've already told you, it's enough for me, but is it enough for you?"
  2430. >She gazes back at you uncertainly. "It doesn't matter what I want, right? I was brought here to serve you. So I'm serving. That's what you wanted."
  2431. >You reach out and scratch her soft pink mane.
  2432. "I want you to be happy."
  2433. >In that moment, something clicks in her mind.
  2434. >She's been doing her job thus far, and nothing more. If she keeps her head down, she can have a half-decent life.
  2435. >It's a life she doesn't want, but as long as she does what you say, you have no reason to punish her. You're just a list of orders to follow.
  2436. >But now here you come, caring for her well-being, despite the fact that she only does what you ask because she has to.
  2437. >She realizes she's not just a accessory to you. You keep her around not because she's useful, but because you like her for who she is. She's a person.
  2438. >And that makes you a person, too.
  2439. >It's like a switch has flipped, and she sees you in a whole different light. Just from that one little intimation.
  2440. "When we go back, take the rest of the day off, okay? Octavia will cover for you. Spend some time in the library. Enjoy yourself."
  2441. >You get back up and start walking again, gently snapping her leash.
  2442. "If I ever get hurt, I'm gonna need you to fix me. Otherwise, without a medbot, I'll certainly die young."
  2443. >After all, if this living situation of yours gets implemented on a permanent basis, who will be there to administer life extension tech in your golden years?
  2444. >"Don't say that," she says, bumping her head against your leg. "You'll be alright. It's safe here."
  2445. "You'll take care of me, won't you?"
  2446. >"Of course."
  2447. "I'm not talking about the Hippocratic Oath. Will you treat me because you have to, or because you want to?"
  2448. >"If you care about me, then I care about you," she replies.
  2449. >In her eyes, you see her for the first time perfectly content.
  2450. >Consider her a success.
  2451.  
  2452. >"Sir...?"
  2453. >You snap back to reality as your gaze turns to the mare standing by the door.
  2454. "Yes?"
  2455. >Raven hesitantly steps forward. "Are you still busy?"
  2456. >You glance down at the half-finished report on your console, your mind too elsewhere altogether to answer her.
  2457. >"I can help with dictating and transcribing, if you'd like. Maybe it would help with your productivity?"
  2458. >You drop your hand onto the desk.
  2459. "No, no. I'd use you, but this is privileged information. I'm sure you understand."
  2460. >"I see."
  2461. >Instead of leaving, she remains, quietly, awkwardly, while you think to yourself, once again neglecting her presence.
  2462. >A minute later, she speaks up again, almost startling you.
  2463. >"Is there anything else I can do?"
  2464. >Looking up at her, you finally focus enough to notice her demeanor.
  2465. >You'd finally given her a taste of fulfillment by making use of her talents all day yesterday.
  2466. >Now, today, after several hours of having to abstain from her assistantship, she's gotten antsy.
  2467. >Whatever Octavia's got her doing downstairs, it's got to pale in comparison to working at your side.
  2468. >You sit forward, switching the console off.
  2469. "Look here. I can't allow you around these files. There's confidential research. Allowing collaboration would introduce biases I can't control for."
  2470. >It's a half-truth at best. There's just no strategic advantage to confiding in her that you're informing on your pets' behavior. Not yet, at least. (What an interesting scenario that would be.)
  2471. >"No, I know," she says, coming around the desk. "Perhaps there's something else I can help with instead, while you work on that?"
  2472. >You sigh, glancing back at the door.
  2473. "What of your chores?"
  2474. >"Done. Tavi thought I'd be assisting you for the day, so she didn't have much for me."
  2475. >You frown. That's the second time you've heard that name.
  2476. >You've been thinking of employing pet names as positive reinforcement, but it diminishes their value if they use them freely amongst one another.
  2477. >Especially with a superior.
  2478. "What do you think of her?"
  2479. >"Who?"
  2480. "Octavia."
  2481. >"She's fair," she answers frankly.
  2482. "Interesting you'd say that."
  2483. >"Why?"
  2484. "Fairness is not usually the first virtue that comes to mind when asked for a personality descriptor. Kindness or intelligence are far more common measures of character."
  2485. >Raven sits on the floor, beside her chair. "She's kind and intelligent, too."
  2486. "But you didn't say that. You said 'fair'. That implies you judge her within the framework of an authority figure."
  2487. >"Well, she is an authority figure, isn't she?"
  2488. "Sure. What's interesting is that's what you defaulted to. Do you see her as a friend?"
  2489. >"Yes."
  2490. "Do the others?"
  2491. >"Yes."
  2492. "You hesitated."
  2493. >"I didn't."
  2494. "What do the others think of her?"
  2495. >Though it takes her a moment to answer, it's clear she has no interest in lying.
  2496. >"I don't partake in gossip."
  2497. >You lean forward, clasping your hands.
  2498. "Do you consider obeying my orders to be gossiping?"
  2499. >"No, sir."
  2500. >She's keeping quite a gracious exterior for someone who's quivering internally.
  2501. "Then tell me what they think of her."
  2502. >"They don't care for her."
  2503. >You sit back in your chair and cross your legs, picking up a file to aimlessly thumb through.
  2504. "I know."
  2505. >She pauses, mildly upset that you'd choose to trifle with her.
  2506. >"Then why ask?"
  2507. "Because I care what you think of her."
  2508. >"Oh," she whispers. She's thrown by your mixed signals.
  2509. >Good. It'll keep her on her figurative toes.
  2510. "Even if you support her, it's not guaranteed you'd forsake the others for it. It's telling that that's not the case."
  2511. >"I'm confused."
  2512. "The two of you alone have a combined intelligence greater than the rest."
  2513. >You're playing a dangerous game, emboldening her this way.
  2514. >"I don't know about that..."
  2515. "You're the only two I allow to play the role you're fit for. The others' opinions are insignificant and borne of inadequacy. You may be unwilling to say as much, but you agree."
  2516. >She doesn't respond. What's more, she doesn't deny it.
  2517. "You've high regard for authority. You're yourself unfit for leadership, but you understand it. You appreciate that the right choice is often the unpopular one."
  2518. >"Why are you telling me this?" she asks.
  2519. "Because I've noticed something about you. The respect you have for me is of a different breed. You're a reserved, professional girl. You're efficient and impersonal with Octavia. In order to be as prolific as you claim you were in your past life, you'd have had to be the same way with your Princess."
  2520. >You can feel the slight falter in her composure, the way she's almost imperceptibly tensing up.
  2521. "But not with me."
  2522. >You motion her to come closer with your finger.
  2523. >Quietly, obediently, she climbs up onto your lap. You turn her around and begin undoing her bun.
  2524. "On the contrary, you're quite emotional in your work under me. So much so that you'd overstep your bounds in trying to help. I can't imagine you being so brazen with your Princess — and yet I'm capable of so much worse."
  2525. >She gulps as her mane cascades past her collar, down her back.
  2526. "How do you explain this little paradox?"
  2527. >"I..." She has trouble getting the words out.
  2528. "We're here, Raven. The truth's already out. Might as well get it over with."
  2529. >Waiting patiently, you twirl her tail around your finger and trace the underside of her dock, eliciting a faint squeak from her.
  2530. >"I've never had a male superior before," she finally confesses.
  2531. >You smile.
  2532. >"It's different. With you it's not just about the work. It's almost... primal. When you order me around, I get this funny feeling inside, which makes me want it more, and... and..."
  2533. >Lifting up her chin, you turn her head back to face you, and she bites her lip fretfully.
  2534. >"I'm so pent up," she whispers. "I don't know what's happening to me."
  2535. >She looks so ravishing with her mane down.
  2536. "That's all you had to say. No need to dance around the subject pretending it's about productivity."
  2537. >You bring your hand to her cheek and part her lips with your thumb, which she graciously accepts into her mouth.
  2538. "You like having a man in charge of you, don't you? You just want to be a good secretary."
  2539. >She shuts her eyes and suckles on your thumb blissfully while you cup her cheek, feeling it flush against your palm.
  2540. >The sight of her sitting on your lap and submitting herself to you is unbelievably arousing.
  2541. >It's a completely different thrill compared to Marble. With her, the fun is in overpowering her, being able to take what you want without any regard for her will.
  2542. >This is equally exhilarating, but for the exact opposite reason.
  2543. >She whimpers when you draw your thumb from her mouth, opening her eyes again.
  2544. >"I want to serve you," she breathes. "I know I can't help with the research, but I have other skills. I can make the work easier."
  2545. "Oh?"
  2546. >"So much easier."
  2547. "And how's that?"
  2548. >"If you won't have me at your desk," she says, climbing off your lap, "you can have me under it."
  2549. >She flashes you a coy grin from between your legs, her tousled mane framing her face rather enticingly.
  2550. "I'm not sure, Raven," you titillate her. "I've a lot of writing to get done."
  2551. >"Oh, I know," she replies.
  2552. >Reaching up, she starts undoing your belt with her teeth. "You're a big, important man. You have to focus on your research. You concentrate on writing, and I'll take care of the rest."
  2553. >Eagerly, she pulls off your belt and slides down your trousers. "That's why you have a secretary. I'm just a little filly for you to use however you please."
  2554. >By the time she pulls your cock free, it's unbelievably hard. The way she's degrading herself for you is such a turn-on.
  2555. >You pull the report back up on your cerebro. It's gonna feel so gratifying getting serviced while you work.
  2556. >She presses her face against it, looking positively intoxicated. You can feel her heavy breath hot and wet against your balls, so steamy it fogs up her glasses.
  2557. >"You're so strong and powerful... I can taste it..."
  2558. >Slowly, she runs her tongue up the length to the tip. You let out a soft moan.
  2559. >"You're probably stronger than Princess Celestia," she whispers. "I must be nothing compared to you."
  2560. "Nothing," you whisper.
  2561. >"Getting to have such a powerful being in my mouth... Sweet Celestia, why is that so hot?"
  2562. >Suddenly, she opens up and takes you in, suckling the head of your penis.
  2563. >Her motions are gentle, but it's such an unbelievably sensitive spot that it shoots pangs of pleasure through you.
  2564. >She slowly dips her head lower, letting her lips glide down your member.
  2565. "Be a good girl and please your Master."
  2566. >"Mmhmm," she sounds, gazing up at you subserviently from between your legs.
  2567. >As she starts moving her head up and down, you get back to mentally transcribing the report. Raven's section, of course. You find it hard thinking of anyone else right now.
  2568. >Progress is slow going. You only manage a sentence or two at a time before she shifts pace or adjusts her tongue, forcing you to stop and savor the sensation until you can concentrate again.
  2569. >As her head bobs up and down in your lap, you make the mistake of looking down from your report.
  2570. >The moment your gaze locks with those beautiful brown eyes of hers, you're hopeless to disengage.
  2571. >She can only take about half your length at the deepest. Though she's trying her damnedest, she's clearly a novice.
  2572. >You'll make an expert out of her yet.
  2573. >You're enjoying it immensely, but you're adamant about keeping her on her toes.
  2574. >You try to put on your best disinterested face.
  2575. "If you don't improve your form, Raven, I'll just have to do it myself."
  2576. >She mumbles some interrogative in confusion, only to be met by your hand clasping down on her horn.
  2577. >Her eyes widen as you force her head down on your cock. She gags and sputters as you push deeper into the back of her throat, but you suppress any resistance.
  2578. "Inhale through your nose and hold... keep your lips sealed... good."
  2579. >Her mouth presses against your pelvis, engulfing you completely, and you hold her there.
  2580. >She blinks up at you, silently trying to decipher your satisfaction with her performance.
  2581. "Feel that?"
  2582. >She does her best to nod without choking.
  2583. "That's what I expect from you."
  2584. >You unwrap your fingers from her horn and she quickly withdraws, gasping deeply.
  2585. >But, committed as she is, she quickly descends on you once more.
  2586. >You sit back and enjoy it as she blows you with magnificent devotion.
  2587. >She ramps up, sucking your dick vigorously with quickening pace.
  2588. >Her mane brushes against your thighs with every bounce, her tongue coating your cock slick with a seemingly endless supply of saliva.
  2589. >The broadness and texture of her tongue perfectly envelops you, as if her mouth was made to be fucked.
  2590. >You revel in the sight of her face going red, contorted in pleasure, savoring sweet ecs—
  2591. >Hold on.
  2592. >You catch a glimpse of one hoof stroking just out of sight in rhythm with her bobbing head.
  2593. >Instantly, you reach down and snatch her hoof away, clenching it tightly.
  2594. "You service me. Not yourself."
  2595. >Instead of eliciting skittishness as you imagined, your threat appears to have the reverse effect; she grunts and moans in euphoria, clamping her hind legs together while you hold her hoof.
  2596. >You keep your grasp on her, watching as she sucks you off with renewed enthusiasm, apparently thrilled by your domination over her.
  2597. >You hadn't done it for her pleasure. Quite the opposite. She'd get sloppy if she was trying to satisfy herself at the same time.
  2598. >It still worked, though, because you can feel the ardor as her lips constrict around you, desperate to stimulate every last nerve as intensely as possible.
  2599. >Her tongue laps at you, massaging your cock with every plunge of her head down to your hips.
  2600. >You observe with great interest as she rubs her thighs together in sexually frustrated desperation. It only serves to make her work harder for your orgasm, knowing you have authority over hers.
  2601. >She continues to moan emphatically, muffled by her tightly sealed lips. You're so stiff that it practically resonates with the vibrations in her throat.
  2602. >You can scarcely resist her concerted efforts, every muscle in her body laboring to make you cum.
  2603. >So, as you feel yourself drawing close, you hands find their way up under her disheveled mane to hold her head.
  2604. >She notices the tensing in your hips, and, looking up, she hastens her motions in a zealous attempt to deliver the grand finish.
  2605. >The fervor, the fire, the passion in her eyes as she longingly peers up at you is what finally brings you over the edge.
  2606. >Thrusting up into her, you force her to deepthroat your throbbing cock. Her expression flares in shock, but quickly melts into drunken bliss when your seed spurts down her throat.
  2607. >She gulps it down greedily just as fast as you can shoot it, swallowing in time between each spasm.
  2608. >You stroke her mane as you relish the sensation, dragging the moment out as long as you can.
  2609. >She's perfectly content to stay there as the last of your cum dribbles out onto her tongue.
  2610. >Finally, you release her, sliding out of her mouth and collapsing back against your chair.
  2611. >She lays her head against your leg, licking at her lips.
  2612. >Though your head is tilted back, unable to see her intoxicated state, you can still feel her panting against your bare skin.
  2613. >You don't need to look to know she's just as sated as you.
  2614. >After a short breather, you pat her head and sit up to replace your trousers. She takes that time to climb out from under the desk, having regained her composure.
  2615. >She sighs in contentment. "Thank you, Master. You've no idea how badly I needed that."
  2616. "I use you for my own pleasure," you retort. "Not because I'm concerned with yours."
  2617. >Just as you'd hoped, your indifference towards her heightens her arousal. Now you're starting to get her.
  2618. >She nuzzles your leg, and inhales your scent.
  2619. >"I'm yours," she whispers.
  2620. "Off, now," you tell her, nudging her back. "I still have work to do."
  2621. >"Can I stay?" she pleads. "Just a tad longer. I won't be a bother, I just want to be near you."
  2622. >In a moment of weakness, perhaps from the gratification she just provided you, you acquiesce.
  2623. "Fine."
  2624. >You extend a hand to pull her back onto your lap.
  2625. "Five minutes to wind down and then you'll leave me to it."
  2626. >She gleefully settles down on top of you. Feeling at peace, she shuts her eyes and breathes deeply.
  2627. >The smell of sex enthralls her like nothing else. You'll do good to use that.
  2628. >Resting your hand on her back, you pull the report back up on your cerebro.
  2629. >As you read back your progress, you frown.
  2630. While subject naturally defers to authority, her seohhhhhhhh fuck keep going yes yes yes what a good fucking girl take it nice and deep oh yeahhhhhhh
  2631. >It goes on like that for several lines. And it's decidedly not what you transcribed.
  2632. >You distinctly remember writing a paragraph about the cognitive dissonance between Raven's superego and id.
  2633. >You're certain of it. It was just five minutes ago, for heavens' sakes.
  2634. >Instead, you've got this nonsense.
  2635. >Clearly, something malfunctioned in your cerebro.
  2636. >But that's exceedingly unlikely. Implants are the most infallible technology on Solaria. Nothing that makes mistakes would be so readily embedded into one's brain.
  2637. >Your unconscious must have bled through somehow, and managed to supersede conscious narration.
  2638. >It's got to be a consequence of the intense emotion. Nothing could make you voluntarily write out this senseless drivel, much less into a formal report.
  2639. >Whatever you were feeling while she blew you overrode your cerebro and logged that instead.
  2640. >It's an error, but a harmless one at that. May well be a feature by design to keep the strongest senses in charge; you don't know, you're no neuroengineer.
  2641. >As you soothe Raven, you scroll through the report, curious to see exactly how long this digression lasted.
  2642. >And then you stop. Because you catch something that gives you pause.
  2643. >Nestled amongst the ohh's and ahh's is an inconspicuous, but unmistakable, 'I love you'.

Bury Me in White (Ongoing)

by pentapony

Pentapony's Story List

by pentapony

Love and War

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Megalomania (Ongoing)

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