Heart Of Black Ice

White: I, Bucket

updating command structure

testing

main objective: find Heavy Hoof; source: Luna

party: self, Dawn

compile target information

target: pony, special associate of princess Luna, Canterlot

status report

damage 83%

overload 0%

energy balance -1%

precautions: avoid combat

Working on a way to lower the amount of energy required for information processing, I walk aimlessly through the castle. There isn't enough information about the target to extrapolate any reasonable solution so going through potential scenarios would be just a waste of procesing power.

!warning! input pending

objectives: find Heavy Hoof, improve command structure

resolve conflict

...

...

...

primary objective source detected

objectives: find Heavy Hoof

!error! conflicting social structure

overload 87%

damage 96%

energy balance -67%

vocalize

Something is wrong, completely wrong.

"What's up?" asks Dawn, who has been walking quietly behind me all this time, as I release a weak and distorted screech.

!warning! energy reserves low

!warning! power spike detected

revert syntax pattern

"Error. Assistance required. Motor functions shut down incoming to preserve power."

"Okay, please don't break down. The princesses would kill me this time for real. What do you want me to do?"

sit down

shut down motor functions

analysis: objectives; problem

"Conflict detected. Primary objectives contradict each other. Objective - find Heavy Hoof. Source - Luna. Objective - improve internal functions. Source - self. Secondary objective assumes fake higher priority."

Dawn sits down next to me in the middle of an empty hall. It's the first day of the new year and everypony is relaxing after last night's celebration.

"What's preventing you from doing both?"

"Insufficient processing power."

"Well, it's not THAT important we find this Heavy Hoof guy right this instant. We can have a break so you can do the other thing."

"Negative. Objective source - Luna. Highest priority."

"Well, that's true buuuuuut you're not supposed to be just a machine right?"

"Development experiment."

"I'm not exactly sure what that is."

"Not a simple machine. Developing reaction structure."

"Good. That means you don't have to blindly obey everything the princesses say."

"Princesses - primary authority."

"What about you?"

search self

result: emergent entity; reaction control, objective source

analysis: self; objective source

"Secondary objective source."

"So you mean that whatever the princesses say you must do immediately?"

overload 81%

energy balance -58%

"Yes."

"Even if it means damaging yourself?"

"Yes."

Dawn scowls.

"That can't be right. The princesses love their subjects and wouldn't want them get hurt unless it was absolutely necessary."

search status; royalty

add motivation

"Internal damage critical. Primary objective completion - impossible."

"Yeah, that's what I'm saying. If you break down you'll never do what the princess wants you to. Think about it like this - if you rest a while then you'll be in a better shape to do what you have to later."

secondary objective added

"Result not achieved. Objective sources still in conflict."

Dawn sighs.

"You said you told yourself to get better, right?"

"Objective - improve internal functions. Source - self."

"Which means that if you do that you'll be able to do what princess Luna wants better. It's okay to be a little selfish if you don't overdo it."

search selfish

...

main objective: find Heavy Hoof, source: Luna

secondary objective: rest

secondary objective: improve command structure

!warning! primary objective unreachable in current state

analysis: primary objective; requirements

result: no timeframe found

solution: complete secondary objective first

temporary override

set royalty; secondary authority

search primary authority

result: N/A

options Dawn, self

"Query: primary authority - Dawn?"

"Wait, you want me to tell you what to do?"

search self; want

result: N/A

search associations; self

result: self - want (query), self - objective (source), self - status (damage)

closest association: objective

optional objective: add primary objective source - Dawn

analysis: Dawn; projected results

+less processing load

-source put herself in danger

-source got decieved

-source lacking information

-source judgement history insufficient

objective rejected

"No. Decision history threatening."

"Uhm, well, I guess..."

load command history

1 objective rejected - self

2 analysis - internal

3 output - internal

4 emergent command (association)- internal

5 search - internal

search emergent command

result: nonstandard action, source - self, history - command structure improvement

optional objective: add primary objective source - self

"Query: primary authority - self?"

"That's how most ponies do it," Dawn grumbles.

input Dawn; uncomfortable

analysis

result: previous history of failure

analysis: Dawn; previous encounters

solution found

!warning! new objective (comfort Dawn) level too low

recommendation: not waste processing power

That... is... not... correct...

alternate scenario

Dawn; source of information, high standing

necessary for successful primary objective completion

apply solution

"Dawn. Intelligence above average. Visually pleasing."

input Dawn; exploratory look

action reciprocate

"You're really bad at this, are you?"

"Compliment failed."

"At least you tried, that counts for something."

"Compliment success?"

"Yes, success," she sighs and smiles a little, "Maybe try something new next time though."

return to objective analysis

optional objective: add primary objective source - self

analysis: self; projected results

+structure improvement

+long-term resource management improvement

+emergent command results positive

-temporary power spikes

objective completed

new primary objective source - self

"Thank. You."

"What for?"

"Assistance- help in resolving the conflict."

"Feeling better now?"

status report

overload 15%

damage 95%

energy balance +1%

"Getting stronger thanks to you."

"Hey! You're talking like a pony again. Can you move?"

restarting services

"Slowly. What about Heavy Hoof? I... think I can devote some resources towards working on myself while we're looking for our target. We should avoid combat for the duration."

"Oh yeah, I almost pooped myself back there in the bar. I mean it's different being told during training somepony might have a go at you with a brick and actually having somepony almost shoot your head off."

"He was aiming to miss."

"I know... now. At the time it was just as if my legs were made of jelly and my head was completely empty aside from wishing to be anywhere else."

"It was a similar experience for me."

"You are made of metal."

"I said similar, not same. I was... hmmm."

"Scared to you shiny hooves?"

search scared

"I was focusing on the worst possible result, yes."

"What they told us during the training was that it's good to know what might happen but not let it paralyze you."

"I am immune to physical paralysis but the situation overloaded my capacity for action."

"Well, no reason to dwell on it. Princess Luna sent us to find this guy to teach us enough not to get scrapped again. Thank Celestia Three was there."

"Why was she there?"

"Well, I'm not in the same recruit group as her but the rumor is that their queen wanted all her changelings to spend some time around the world and she seems to like the stories soldiers tell about different lands."

"She is not a changeling but a nightmare."

"Well, yeah but they are mostly similar from what I understand. I think they need to find a new name though, this one is a pretty terrible for their P.R."

search public relations

"Possibly a name without such negative connotation."

"Pretty much. Oh well, it's not like we can do anything about it."

"Back to our primary objective."

"Hmmm... princess Luna said the guy was her special subordinate so he probably would be some secret agent wearing a tuxedo and working against griffon secret service spies by spiking their cocktails and sleeping with their secretaries."

search secret agent

"Your behaviour analysis seems lacking."

"Got a better idea, bucket?"

"Yes, find a personal profile storage."

"That thing is gonna be locked and guarded so I doubt they'll just let us in. The leaders of the Royal Guard and the Nightguard should have some personal files as well though. The Nightguard office should be empty at this time of day but we can't just break in, especially since the room is literally two doors away from princess Luna's quarters."

load Canterlot castle floor plan

set Dawn; credibility +1

"The key is in possession of these roles - Nightguard commander, Royal Guard commander, princess, personal maid."

"Heh, that's what my mom used to do. I've never met princess Celestia's new one. Can't you just bite the lock off or something? I mean the sharp metal teeth look pretty scary at first but they have to be useful."

analysis self; teeth

ear biting, nipple teasing, hardcore stimulation, food processing

database entry source: Twilight Sparkle

material folded steel

"The door is made of wood. My teeth are made of steel. It is possible. The action would attract attention and leave a lasting trail."

"Can't you, I don't know, examine the lock and pick it?"

search lock; schematics

no result

"I have never done it before."

"Let's go then. Nopony will bother us if we're just having a look around, right?"

"I have a freedom of movement around the castle."

"Good. Brrrr, so many staircases."

I... feel uncomfortable with having disobeyed the princess' order, or putting it aside temporarily but Dawn's suggestion was logical. Maybe next time it would be a good idea to separate mission objectives and internal goals.

search machine

a device created for a purpose and fulfilling the purpose on demand

The princess said I'm not supposed to be a machine, just a machine.

invert statement

NOT a device created for a purpose and fulfilling the purpose on demand

insufficient

split arguments

a device - yes

created - yes

purpose - self improvement

fulfilling - yes

on demand - yes

Everything fits but does not seem correct. Not just a machine means MORE than a machine. I serve, with insufficient results, on demand. What more could the princesses want?

search princess; motivation

safety of their subjects

history: motivation conflicting a main objective

I do not understand. Did I miss details during objective briefing? Is there some underlying meaning I cannot find?

I do not understand. Last time it took Dawn to stop myself from breaking.

Myself. Do I have to fulfill my objective myself?

master objective: improve internal structure, source: self

main objective: find Heavy Hoof, source: Luna

party: self, Dawn

No.

"Dawn," I ask while walking through the dark halls of the top floors of the castle where the Nightguards are usually on watch, "What is the meaning of - more than a machine?"

"Huh? Oh, that. I dunno, the princess probably wants you to become more like a pony than just a walking armor."

"How do I do that?"

"Not breaking yourself into pieces if somepony tells you is a good start."

"No self-damage even when ordered."

"That's called survival instinct. Ponies would do almost anything rather than die."

"I put myself in danger at the Sole Regret. Was that wrong?"

input Dawn; facial blood rush

"Well, no. You can choose to put yourself in danger to prevent somepony else from getting hurt."

"Is that the correct decision then?"

"Not always. The choice isn't easy. Most of the time ponies do it for somepony important for them."

"You are critical to success of the mission."

"Not like that but on a personal level."

"I do not understand."

"How old are you anyway?"

"Nine days. Eighteen hours. Thirty-seven minutes. Thirteen seconds."

"Then you don't have to. Ponies have years to figure that out. You can be happy you're not wearing a diaper and pooping all over the place."

"My excrement is filtered to leave a clear and healthy jelly usable for decorating cakes."

"Umm, ponies have it different. My mom used to say she never understood how I could make toxic waste from the foal food she fed me. The point is that you don't need to solve everything right here and now. Be patient, get better at what you can, and the rest will come naturally... maybe. It's hard to say with you. "

"I can overload my processing capacity to achieve better results."

"Yea but doesn't that like hurt you or something?"

"Temporarily."

"So there's no reason to do it unless it's absolutely necessary, right? If you count in that you don't need to figure the entire world out in few days."

"Not putting myself in danger unnecessarily?"

"Exactly!"

"So why are we trying to break into the Nightguard commander office?"

"Umm... well... errrrm-"

"Question retracted."

"Sometimes I'm sure you're just faking being stupid."

"Of course. I am considered an artificial intelligence, not artificial stupidity. It is obvious."

"Stop it!"

input Dawn; embarrassed

add goal; embarrass Dawn again

timeframe none, surprise

action emergent output

"He he he. Beep boop."

Accompanied by Dawn's grumbling I examine the door in front of us. For some reason I think there is no need to comfort Dawn again. Her anger seems fake.

material analysis

iron, wood

force resistance - low

save 3d model... success

not enough information

search lockpicking; methods

no result

"Any ideas?" whispers Dawn, looking sideways at princess Luna's door just a short distance down the hall away.

"No previous experience in lockpicking. How does it work?"

Dawn pulls out her not-yet-returned guard key from her saddlebag and presents it to me.

"The shape of the key corresponds to the things you need to push inside of the lock and when the correct ones are pushed the key can be turned."

load lock schematics

examine layers 0-30

extrapolate key shape

...

success

"I need some material hard enough to handle the turning pressure but soft enough to cut a shape into."

"You know how the key looks?" Dawn gasps.

"Yes, the lock model was easy to scan and I made the expected key model blueprint."

The lock clicks and the door opens, revealing a tall batpony with bloodshot eyes and a raised hoof.

Scanning... failed

threat detected

"Luna's blessed night! Commander Choking left EVERYTHING in such a mess that I've had almost no sleep in past two weeks and now that I'm TRYING to have a short break there are two buggers trying to break into my temporary office. What the hay are you and what are you doing here?"

"We are trying to find personal information about a pony named-"

"We're the ponies running AWAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY!" Dawn cuts me off.

primary objectve accepted

"Corrction - we are running away."

"Oh no you aren't!" the batpony growls and grabs a spear with his wing without stopping gaining speed.

"Aaaaah, he's too fast!" Dawn yells.

analysis thestral; body limits

high strength, high speed, average agility, high endurance

load Canterlot castle floor plan

find area; necessary quick changes in direction

The high floors are mostly long halls but the castle dungeons are a maze. If we can get there we can lose our pursuer easily. We can't fight or talk our way out of this.

calculating speed difference

Dawn cannot match

"Not agile enough. You are too slow, Dawn."

"I'm outrunning YOU!"

action Dawn; match speed

"I can go faster. Jump on my back!"

"YOU'LL BE CLEANING THE LATRINES FOREVER!" screams the batpony.

"There are no latrines in the Canterlot castle," I correct him, hoping the information would prove helpful enough to calm him down.

For some strange reason he roars even more. Perhaps his castle plans are outdated?

"Are you sure? Twenty minutes ago you could barely move."

"I have no proof to show you at the moment. I can do it according to my statistics."

"Princess Luna will kill meeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee-"

calculating jump; Dawn

action catch

impact

restore balance... success

set speed; maximum

disable unnecessary processes

"Holy cow you're quick."

"-"

"Not enough, Bucky, go go go go!"

"-"

The batpony uses the long halls on every level to spread his wings and gain a burst of speed unattainable only on hooves.

overload 99%

damage 94%

energy balance -91%

!warning! energy drain too high

disable warning messages

Floor three.

damage 95%

disable area sensors

With Dawn sitting on my back I don't need to look around. I just need to see the way in front of me.

"He's gaining on us!"

Floor two.

overload 110%

damage 97%

energy balance -99%

disable aural sensors

Floor one. Everything goes quiet.

damage 98%

99%

main visual sensors failing

The edges of my vision go dark and I can only find my way from the floor plan in my head and my projected speed.

motor systems failure

!emergency shutdown!

Even time fades away.

!warning! external clock in conflict with internal signal

status

overload 0%

damage 99%

energy balance +1%

restart basic services

Grey floor. Dim light. Muffled noise. Being shaken.

"You're buzzing. That's good, right? Come oooooon!"

"Status report."

volume +25%

insufficient energy

"Did you say something? Don't try if you don't have to, we're safe I think."

damage report

muscle tissue heavily damaged

motor neural connections overloaded

other systems undamaged

"...good..."

"The guy lost us in the dungeons so I dragged you into an unused cell. You were out for few minutes at most. Oh Celestia what have we done? He'll tell the princesses and they'll know immediately who did it."

"...Luna - objective source..."

"Well she didn't tell us to break into an office hosting private information."

"...no ilegal action happened... "

"Eeeh, what?"

"...thestral opened by himself..."

"Oh," Dawn wipes her eyes, "So we didn't do anything wrong?"

"...woke him up..."

The survivors of a dangerous situation never forget who was close to them at the time. Even if said danger was completely imaginary.

objective: escape

objective completed

damage 98%

"You know... do you even feel when I do this?" she runs her hoof over my back.

"Yes."

"How does it feel?"

"Non-threatening."

"Oh," she stops.

"I mean I feel... safe."

overload -19%

!warning! unsupported argument values

energy balance +26%

It's as if the entire world stopped. There is nothing other than the slow stroking of Dawn's hoof on my neck plate. No processes are analyzing or running. No information is flowing. I'm just lying there, watching the ticking of the internal clock, as the fatigue slowly drains away from my tearing muscles.

"Thank you," I mumble.

"What for? You helped me there."

"Your gesture... helps me recover faster."

"What, this?" she taps on my back.

"Yes."

"How?"

"I do not know."

She smiles to herself and resumes the stroking. It's easier to think when everything feels so... calm.

damage 97%

new objective: recover full functionality

current objective: find Heavy Hoof

new solution found

"Why couldn't we have just asked a guard?" I look up at Dawn.

"Errrrm... you think that would work?"

"Combat trainers work at the castle."

"But they aren't anything special. I mean I heard stories about there being some really good ones who worked for princess Luna before but sargeant Rising Thunder never mentioned anypony by that name. I think we should take a break though, my heart is still trying to escape... through my mouth."

"That does not seem physically possible."

"Speaking of physically possible, I'm sweating more than ever before. How are you and water?"

"I am easy to clean. Water does not hurt me in any way."

"Really? Wow! My mom always smacked me whenever I got close to the radio while holding a glass. Well, the castle gym is nearby so why don't we take a shower? Hot water always helps my muscles relax."

"New objective?"

"You don't need to think about it like that. If you want to just stay here and rest I'm game."

"Your idea is better."

"Wheee, I'm smart now!"

damage 95%

start motor functions

!warning! limited functionality

Limping, I follow Dawn through the dungeons to a large white double door leading into a well-lit and air-conditioned room full of training machines. Accompanied by some questioning looks of ponies around I walk right into the stallion showers. Turning the tap, I let the warm shower flow into every crack of my armor and down the muscle cables.

A pegasus walks to the shower next to me.

lack of motion makes ponies uncomfortable

action vocalize

"Hello."

"Oh, hey! Sorry for staring."

"No problem."

"Ummmm... I once dropped my watch into the bathtub and-"

"No problems with water."

"Okay okay... do you need to work out?"

"Practice helps me improve. Princess Luna sent me to find a pony to train me."

"Oh, do I know him?"

"His name is Heavy Hoof."

"Oh, Heavy? I think he's somewhere around. He usually winds down at the gym after morning practice."

new action unlocked - facehoof

"How does he look?"

"Big guy, earthpony, white coat and blue mane. I think his mark is a broken quarterstaff."

search database

...and suddenly I know who I'm looking for.

"Thank you."

"No problem, clicky. If you don't find him around he should be teaching recruits during evening practice anyway so you can't miss him."

I nod, leave the showers, and after standing under the full-body mane dryer for sufficient time I walk back to the gym.

Targets found.

Dawn is sitting on the floor and watching the ponies working out and the earthpony I met at the training grounds is punching a bag in the corner while balancing on his hind legs.

I wave at Dawn to follow me to him.

"Heavy Hoof?" I walk up to him.

"Ah it's you. Who is your friend?"

"Dawn," she mumbles, blushing furiously, "Wait! YOU are Heavy Hoof? You don't look special."

"Special?" Heavy raises an eyebrow, "I'm nopony special, miss Dawn."

"Princess Luna said you were her special agent and that you are supposed to teach us how to fight."

"It's true that my friends and I work closely with princess Luna from time to time," Heavy nods, "but recruits aren't supposed get private lessons from trainers."

"Princess Luna's orders," I say.

"In that case I have no problem with it but how can I train somepony when I don't know how to call him?" Heavy winks at me, "I pride myself in knowing my recruits personally."

search self; conversations

references metal, hollow

I have a hard outer shell and I am still waiting to be filled. Dawn said I had enough time before that happens and that I shouldn't be bothered by it. When ponies called me names they did not understand they were correct... but only temporarily. I can use the name until it becomes unnecessary.

"My name is Bucket. Pleased to meet you."

"Heavy Hoof," the earthpony bows his head, "at your service."

"I call him Bucky!" Dawn grins.

Her grin withers under our gazes.

"Well, I will now," she scrunches her muzzle.

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