This novel is limited to 100 free copies due to its part in Inkitt’s Novel Contest.
I glanced around the perimeter but detected no imminent threats. Even though the coast seemed clear, I knew danger could be lurking from any corner of the reception hall and even from outside of the imperial palace.
Part of me would welcome the challenge. If for instance, changelings were to barge in the foyer, I could show everypony what years of rigorous training built me into. However, the invasion was statistically unlikely to occur at that very moment and my concern for the safety of everypony took precedence over my own aspirations. Besides, such petty ambitions were to blame for my absence in the defense of Canterlot when changelings had actually attacked.
My very dreams of being affected by the potential dangers of dynamic events in unsecured environments had proven detrimental to my ascension. They had led me to volunteer to guard Prince Blueblood. Instead of fighting off changelings, I had been stuck with him in one of his uneventful shopping sprees in Manehattan.
That missed opportunity haunted me. On that one day, the Royal Guards were actually needed, and I had been stationed away from Canterlot. I could have helped!
The distraction was uncalled for so I cut off that subconsciously induced train of thought. I had a job to do, and regrets weren’t improving the quality of my work.
Recalling the words of wisdom that my grandpa used to say calmed me down. For each guard, at least one opportunity presents itself during his career. Being ready for it at all times is what separates heroic guards from the rest.
He brought up this line every time an opportunity for it presented itself. Sometimes he just said it out of the blue. It seemed like forever since I last heard his advice. His heart condition ended him years ago, but the message stayed engraved in my brain. I knew it was important. He wouldn’t have said it that many times if it wasn’t. It inspired me throughout my life in preparation for that one glorious future event.
After years of diligent training and forging of my unwavering determination, I knew that I was ready to face my destiny. I was conditioned to mentally play out scenarios and predict most of the possible threats before they occurred.
I focused on an ambassador that was waiting at the front of the line to greet Princess Celestia. He was from Saddle Arabia, where hugs are a customary way of saying hello to somepony. I hadn’t seen him from before, and his profile analysis wasn’t in any of the files in my collection. Even though he was noted on the guest list, and formally announced, he was still a suspect in my eyes.
The situation reminded me of my grandpa’s story about an opportunity in his life. A smile snuck on my face as I remembered reading about how he had taken advantage of it to become a hero.
An ambassador from Saddle Arabia came in the ballroom to receive a formal greeting from Celestia.
My granddad had known of their huggy nature and, having no previous experience with him, found the first-time guest suspicious from the moment he first laid eyes on him.
He analyzed the ambassador’s body language and caught his eyes connecting with Celestia’s; instead of angling down to the floor. The muscles in his forelegs were tight, instead of relaxed. Just as the guest was about to reach out with his forelegs, and breach Celestia’s comfort zone, granddad stepped forward. By placing his weapon in the ambassador’s path, granddad prevented what would have been a deviation in the protocol that was prescribed for visitors.
The ambassador who had tried to assault Celestia with a hug commended the intervention by saying, “Oh, tight security you have here.”
Celestia smiled and responded, “Indeed. Sometimes their dedication amazes even me.”
She nodded to the guest, and he performed the remainder of the protocol. With a bow, he walked backward to remove himself from her visage while granddad retracted the weapon and returned to his post.
The ponies on the sidelines that witnessed the event may have thought it trivial. They were mere civilians and didn’t understand the sheer amount of training that was required for the situation to turn out as well as it did. Perhaps nopony perceived it as such, but the fact remained: the day was saved by my granddad. He was a hero of Equestria.
I have always considered myself lucky to come from a family of heroes. The tome showcased in my quarters served as one of my main inspirations, and had been the means to my betterment. The thorough description of the event was the only testimony to his truly heroic deed. I considered it sacred. To honor my granddad’s heroism, I often read it when I was off duty. Every muscle involved and thought he had during the incident had been eternalized in his writing. The situation I was in was very similar to the one granddad had faced. I might be a hero yet!
The ambassador, of whom I was suspicious about, was approaching Celestia. His eyes were pointed to the floor, implying non-invasive intentions. He seemed to know his protocol, but that just meant I had to observe him with extra care. I needed to spot minor details in his body language to determine his future actions that could result in breaching the protocol. For all I knew, he could have just been pretending to follow the ceremonial behavior, while plotting a sudden action outside of the predicted parameters.
I exhaled the breath I was holding. The ordeal was not yet concluded, however. The situation could have spun out of control at any point. I took a deep breath and kept myself at the ready in case an immediate action was needed.
He lifted his head and retracted himself from the queue.
My muscles relaxed, and I proceeded to breathe normally while the next guest in line approached.
Having had brushed up on my profile analysis charts of Mayor Mare, I felt more at ease. She was a regular guest and knew the protocol well. I had witnessed her performance firsthoof many times before, and it had always been superb.
Adjusting my strategy, I focused more on the external factors, while observing her execute the predicted movements. I was ready to switch my focus at her slightest deviation from following the protocol. This multi-focus tactic had a proven record of working as it had been successfully used for multi-layered audio detection purposes in my father’s heroism.
I had to be at my best if I wanted to compare to my father. He hadn’t just adopted the tactics that my grandpa had taught him; he had improved on them. The book about his heroic deed reflected his mastery and was even thicker than my grandpa’s memoir. He had professionally performed his duty and went beyond defusing a tense situation. He had managed to prevent it entirely.
Celestia held a tea party for her friends. It was viewed as a low priority posting as the amount of threats in Celestia’s quarters was considered minimal. My father served as one of her guards at the time. The lack of visible dangers meant a higher chance of him being granted an opportunity to excel because there was no need for elite guards to be present. It meant less competition for ascension to the hero status. There were even some guards posted there that didn’t descend from any honorable lineage. A pitiful competition to a stallion of my father’s caliber.
The bulk of guards were stationed by the walls of the room and my father was assigned by the door that led to the corridor. Responsibility, weighed heavily on him, as most potential external dangers would originate from the entrance.
With diligence, my father had surpassed even my grandpa’s detection skills. He was able to follow the medium range conversation that Celestia was indulging in. This bettered his simulations regarding the potential follow-up interactions between the princess and her friends. At the same time, he managed to capture the remaining sounds from the environment. High-speed priority switching allowed his brain to exhibit multi-tasking capabilities. By processing other streams on a separate mental scape, he could incorporate all relevant external parameters without compromising the main task execution.
This learned ability allowed him to follow two separate debates at the same time. He adapted his technique to the situation by parallel processing background noise, instead of another stream of voice communication.
As my father followed Celestia’s personal conversation, he also managed to detect interference in the ambiance—an uninvited presence in a detectable surrounding perimeter. The almost undetectable sound of paws, tapping on the floor in the corridor, drew near.
He attempted to perform a visual confirmation as he looked at the source of the sound disturbance. Indeed, there was a cat wandering the corridor outside the room.
Had the room been secured with a door closed, the potential for such tense situation could had been preemptively averted, but Celestia had decided that the air in the room was a bit musty. To counter the effects of stale breathable air, she had opened a window and the door for an increased atmospheric gas circulation to occur within the enclosure.
Reduction of defensive measures, caused by Celestia’s moment of recklessness, allowed the cat to peek in the room.
My father accounted for all the objects in the critter’s view and estimated its motivational intentions for each one of them.
The cake presented the highest external motivational hazard.
It wasn’t just the fact that the cake was in the cat’s unhindered field of view that compromised the sanctity of the inner perimeter. The draft from the opened window blew toward the animal. It was logical to assume that the creature not only saw the cake but could also smell it. That had the potential to trigger primal animal instincts, increasing its motivation for the breach.
As the feline stepped forward, my dad placed his weapon in front of its path.
His action successfully demotivated the cat, which turned around and continued its stroll along the corridor.
Celestia’s monolog was undisturbed by the potential formation of a tense situation. Nopony, except for fellow guards, even noticed my father’s heroism.
He not only detensified the situation. He prevented the tensification itself.
It was his mastery of the multi-focus technique that allowed him that.
I too had learned this technique. It had taken me more than a decade to master it, but I was content with the vast time investment. The internalization of high-speed focus switching had prepared me for multiple potential threat environments that I might have come across in the line of duty.
I was already older than my father had been at his act of heroism. He hadn’t mentioned anything directly, but I knew he had been wondering whether or not I was a failure.
The prospect of not living up to my father’s expectations had been eating me inside for some time now. I had been a royal guard since I came of age, yet I had no heroics to show for it.
During the past few years I had stepped up my game and unbeknownst to my father, I had been training myself in secret, not just with two streams of dripping water, but three. I could usually count the number of droplets from all three sound channels simultaneously.
However, I had not yet fully mastered this detection technique. It worked most of the time, but as the sounds of droplets overlapped, I had to use extra focus to separate the sounds. In rare instances, my attention levels dropped below those that were needed for my definite result production processes. Channeling my mental sphere of concentration away from the threesome enumeration task had, on occasion, caused me to lose count on one of the streams.
It would probably take me a few more years of training before I’d fully master the three sound channels focused technique.
There were many conversations taking place at the sides of the reception hall. However, they were too distant for me to make out with my lip reading technique, yet alone use my unreliable three-channel-eavesdropping ability.
The theoretical impossibility of detecting the far layer of information conglomerate was not something to concern myself with, as its undetectability pushed it out of my jurisdiction, freeing me of the obligation to react to any unknowable ill effects.
It would be counter-productive to worry about something that I could not affect. What was out of my reach was also out of my accountability, allowing me to prepare a larger mental attention buffer potential for any sudden changes in the detectable sphere of sensory experience.
Mayor Mare retracted from the queue.
Adrenaline rushed through my veins as I mentally prepared for the greatest challenge of the day. I was sure that the sinister pink pony, who was standing in front of the line, would test my resolve.
Just then, Princess Luna entered the reception hall, intensifying the complexity of the already dire situation. An extra variable to accompany an already random subsystem of a pony that was Pinkie Pie.
Many factors, simulation hindering states, multi-motivational overlappings. The situation wasn’t just on the daily maximum scale. It had the potential of escalating into the most hazardous position, I would be exposed to in both my past and future timeline.
I scanned my photographic memory for a resembling protocol complacency reports from the last ten years. I found no match. The current state of affairs was uncommon in nature.
I overcharged my brain activity to prepare for the overwhelming challenge in the making. To adapt myself to the new situation, I reconstructed my mind frame from the root up. While discarding my previous simulation tree, I erected new branches of potential events that took new developments into account.
Pinkie Pie stepped forward.
She had only recently gotten involved with the affairs in the castle and I didn’t have any profile on her from my dad or granddad. I could only rely on my own research on her which was sketchy at best.
Pinkamena Diane Pie was a loose cannon. Her unpredictability factor was off the charts.
She waved her hoof at Celestia, displaying a complete disregard for the protocol.
Celestia did not return a look nor a gesture of her spatial positioning confirmation. It was as if recognition of the guest pony scored a low priority in Celestia’s mental task allocation and processing mind-frame.
I formed the assumption, with a great probability attached to it, that the reason for her dismissal was a serious expression on the face of her sister that was closing in at the time.
Predicting the potential content of information that Celestia was about to receive, appeared to have consumed all of her focus. Frontal cortex mirror neurons also seemed to exhibit distinct behavioral influences. This was deducible from the wrinkling of her forehead and tightening of her jaw muscles.
Luna stepped in front of Pinkie Pie and proceeded to whisper in Celestia’s ear.
She was obstructing my view of Pinkie Pie with her flank. My already multi-branched simulations were even further hindered by this withholding of relevant information. I had to make do with the scarce remains of my visual data stream between Luna’s legs. The mere glimpses of Pinkie’s true state of external being were all the input data, usable for my main variable awareness processing mechanisms.
I formed an extra mind channel where I created a multitude of possible actions from Pinkie Pie in the obstructed field of view.
From beyond Luna’s flank rose Pinkie Pie’s head.
Her eyes were facing the ceiling with no object of interest present in the direction of her gaze. That indicated, with high probability, an expression of boredom.
My mental red flags were raised. According to my scarce data I’ve managed to gather on Pinkie Pie, her amount of boredom correlated with her internal random action generating algorithms.
At that point, all my simulations were rendered useless to the actual situation due to high amounts of improbability for every one of my mentally formed branches.
I readied myself for a usage of my last resort tactic. Even though I could not predict future actions with a high amount of certainty, keen observation with charged reflexes would allow me to prevent the endpoints of tense actions in motion. If only I would have stayed observant and acted fast enough.
Luna lifted her tail and tightened her muscles as she whispered in Celestia’s ear with even more vigor. I gathered relevant visual data from her astride position. This extra information from between her spread legs partially raised my facilities. Provided glimpses offered a larger set of data with which I could work with. Through the now less hindering obstacle that Luna’s shape presented in my field of view, I observed Pinkie Pie’s muscle structure straining movements. I deduced that shifting of her weight to her hind legs was commencing.
The potential for intensification of the situation increased, as her loose front appendages presented a whole array of additional possible threats.
Pinkie Pie lifted herself on her hind legs. She was holding an object in her forehooves. An object I had not accounted for.
She put the tip of it into her mouth, wrapping around the slick shaft with her lips while holding it in the horizontal position with her forehooves. The flattened balloon grew bigger as she blew air into it.
If she were to lose it from her forehooves the pattern of its flight would be too hard to predict in advance. I wasn’t sure if my reflexes were honed enough to deal with a threat of such magnitude.
The balloon had already exceeded the recommended volume, yet she blew one more time into it. With her lips, she prevented air from rushing out and launching the balloon in an unpredictable trajectory.
I had to prioritize calculations in my mind, as I couldn’t keep up with processing all of them anymore. My only solace was knowing that she was a certified party pony, which implied she was probably trained in blowing. I had no data on her balloon inflation success rate, though. I was really hating myself for lacking that vital information at that point. I should had done more research on her at the times I was off duty.
She let go of the balloon with her hooves.
The strain in my muscles intensified further, as I leaned my body slightly forward to shorten my reaction time.
Holding the balloon only with her mouth, she reached with her forehooves into an area that was located in my blocked field of view, formed by the static Luna’s body outline.
My tensed muscles ached more and more, but I persisted, redirecting my attention away from the mass inflow of distracting stream of self-sensory data to the task at hoof.
She raised her forelegs again and revealed a piece of rope on her hooves. I deduced, It was time for the most delicate phase of the process. She proceeded to wrap the rope in front of her mouth at the base of the shaft.
The microseisms, caused by her tying of the rope, could surpass the friction force against her moist lips, ripping the balloon from her mouth at any moment. I couldn’t form a prediction for the most probable end result. There was too much randomness involved in the balloon’s potential flying. Predicting its exact path beforehoof was not feasible, so, I had to assume all viable trajectories. The worst case scenario of the balloon hitting against some pony was a real possibility. The array of potential tense situations was off the scale.
She pressed the two end pieces of the rope between her hooves and extended her forelegs, tightening the rope that was wrapped around the blowing part of the balloon.
The action her mouth opening was bound to happen eventually. With such an event taking place, there was an above zero possibility of the rope not being properly tied into an adequate knot. The risk of the balloon not holding the pressure within its bounds was being increased by an ever-present potential of negligence and malpractice of the pony that relied more on intuition than protocol.
Fortunately, the rope seemed sufficiently tied, as the balloon assumed no velocity by its own accord.
She hit the balloon from the bottom with her forehoof, then dropped down on all four legs.
The balloon flew up, decelerating as it approached its simulated maximum high point that I had pre-calculated in my mind as soon as I had gathered all the relevant variables at the point in time when the hoof had impacted it.
She looked at Luna, who was still whispering into Celestia’s ear.
My supervision of the situation was further hindered by my lack of information about Pinkie Pie’s dynamic simulation capabilities of the unobserved surrounding environment. The chance existed that she wasn’t trained in this technique and could not account for the balloon’s descent in time. The looming threat would go unnoticed by her. If that was the case and her eyes stayed disconnected from the balloon, the situation would transcend her capabilities of containing it.
Her eyes moved upward to an angle that should allow her detection of the falling balloon. I was drawing that conclusion based on the assumption that her focus levels weren’t hindered and that her mental processes were at least partially focalized on her peripheral visual data stream. With a normal pony, I could be sure that would be the case, but this was Pinkie Pie. Nothing about her was deterministic.
Lifting her head, she bounced the balloon back into the air. This time, however, the projected path of it wasn’t amply vertical as it had been before.
She yawned, which caused her to close her eyes.
It was a big yawn, and with her mouth still opening wider it appeared that she wasn’t even halfway through it, yet the balloon was already descending from its maximum elevation point. Its trajectory coincided not just with Luna’s personal space perimeter, but her bodily area itself.
It was clear that Pinkie Pie had lost control of her balloon. My perceived time slowed down as a burst of thoughts rushed through my mind.
Luna’s body would remain still with a high amount of probability, as her focus was still on Celestia.
The balloon was out of her view and Princess Luna wasn’t likely to erect any defense against it.
I was the closest guard to the action. It was up to me to save the day. Without my intervention the impending encroachment of the balloon on her plot was unavoidable.
That was my chance to shine. A chance to finally prove my worth. I had to act fast, though. The contact was imminent.
I crouched down. In a flash, I charged forward with full acceleration. My spear thrust forth, with definite precision.
Just before the impact on Luna’s behind, I closed the distance to the falling balloon. Sliding on the floor, I placed my weapon on its path.
The balloon hit the tip of my blade and popped.
The sound of an explosion echoed through the hall. I tensed up as I retracted my weapon.
“No!“ Luna lifted herself up on her hind legs. Her mane and tail spread out as she galloped with her forehooves in the air. ”Not the moon again!”
Celestia rolled her eyes and shook her head.
Luna dropped back on her forelegs. She lifted a hoof and placed it on her muzzle, looking left and right at the ponies, watching her.
“My balloon!” Pinkie Pie grumbled.
Luna’s gaze lingered on me as her eyelids half closed.
I slid back to my guarding position, clenching my teeth. I had not prevented the tense situation. I had, in fact, intensified it beyond the worst case scenario limits. I was an evildoer!
“It is okay, everypony!” Luna lifted up her foreleg. “When the balloon popped it startled me a bit, and I overreacted. That is all. There is nothing anypony should be concerned about.” She looked at the crowd.
Many of the ponies had their eyebrows lifted. As Luna put down her hoof on the floor, most of them proceeded with their conversations.
I heard a set of hoofsteps in the corridor behind me. Two ponies were approaching.
Shining Armor and a fellow guard came in my view. The superior grinned and waved me with a hoof. It was a signal that meant I was being replaced. My removal would loosen the situation, I had caused to intensify.
As I walked to the lieutenant, the guard assumed my post.
“You blew it,” Shining Armor whispered to me.
He hit home. My emotional barriers crumbled. “I’m a disgrace to the Royal Guard, sir.” Tears started to form in the corners of my eyes. “I have no excuses for my failure, sir.” My voice crackled.
“I’ve seen this before.” Shining Armor sighed. “Serving the empire can be tough at times. Despite the patience training we offer, some ponies just aren’t grounded enough to endure the rigorous tasks that we assign them with. You’re not obliged to do the guarding duty if it overwhelms you that much, you know? If you want, I can provide you with a different job.”
I gasped. He was right! One has to have certain capabilities in order to serve the Royal Guard. Only by adequate performance can one bare the full weight of the responsibility of fulfilling the assigned tasks.
My performance was not satisfactory. The opposite was true. I failed the empire. There was no denying it. Hurting ponies was, without a question, not in my job description. Yet that’s exactly what I’ve done.
There was only one conclusion I could draw from the events that have transpired. I’m just not good enough!
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