By Chatoyance

10.    I Am I Said

Issac walked back from the kitchen, his firm grip pushing a bar cart load of beverages. He had swept through the stainless steel cabinets, racks, and all three refrigerators chucking whatever looked vaguely appropriate onto the cart; certainly there were several rare vintages of wine - if they even drank wine - some incredibly expensive, aged whiskey, that was mostly for himself, just in case, and a large selection of fruit juices and soda; his pegasus son Zephyr liked those, and probably they would too.

Issac normally didn't bother putting on the feedbag for clients; the usual way of things is that he would make sure his clients took him out for a good time instead. It served two important purposes; one, it was a free good time, and two, it established just who was courting who. Inevitably clients wanted a crack at Issac's figurative ass in the end, he made sure he got kissed first. Then he made sure he was wearing his impenetrable plastic ass.

But these were not normal clients, and putting on the feedbag was absolutely appropriate in this case, because these clients were ponies.

And not just any ponies; Issac Ellison was entertaining the royal sovereigns of Equestria itself.

They had appeared without warning - Issac felt miffed that they hadn't bothered to even call first; royalty, always acting so goddamn superior, like they owned the place - right in the middle of his penthouse. Celestia and Luna completely blocked Issac and Zephyr's view of their fifth watching of The Lion King - Zephyr enjoyed cartoons, this had been the first one Issac had ever picked out for him, so there was some sentimental value - frankly, Issac found the whole 'dramatic entrance' thing a bit on the rude side.

Still, they were clients, and they had bits to spare, and Zephyr certainly found them entertaining, so, what the hell - if pony princesses made his son squee, then he could put up with them.

At the last moment, Issac reasoned that pony princesses probably wouldn't be chugging straight from the bottle, and tossed on a few bowls and glasses for good measure, what the hell was he supposed to know about entertaining alien royalty? Trundling the cart into the vast living room, he saw Zephyr showing off his collection of Wonderbolts paraphernalia, the expression on the princesses faces was priceless. They were bored completely out of their royal skulls, desperately trying to be nice, and that was utterly fine with Issac - he decided to push the cart a little more slowly; it wouldn't hurt for the great Celestia to fully appreciate his son's favorite pair of Wonderbolt PJ's.

Always good to make sure the client is a little off base.

"Sorry for taking so long, your majesties, I have some liquid hospitality to offer; we have everything from fruit juices to some truly excellent wines and even some whiskey if you are so incli...."

"Human Issac Ellison. I require your services for a matter of great importance to both Equestria and your own world. To say this is a matter of life and death is not an exaggeration. But I require the most absolute discretion on your part. This is a matter that must be kept absolutely secret from both our worlds, a matter both private and profound."

Excellent. Secrecy always pays more, and Royal secrecy probably pays best of all. Not that Issac actually needed money; he was worth billions of bits, his wealth already converted into Equestrian currency, but that was not the issue. The thrill of a good deal, the satisfaction of coming out far ahead still tickled something in Issac, besides, maybe he would have the chance to show his son just how he had earned his money. That kind of knowledge could only help the boy in the long run.

"Discretion, like all commodities, is available, and because you are royalty, I will give you a discount." Issac smiled pleasantly; inside he grinned. Looking down he could see the look of shock on his son's muzzle, he could almost hear his son scolding him for being so flippant with the Royal Princesses Of Equestria, but he could also see admiration in the little indigo pegasus's eyes; that his dad wasn't intimidated by anything.

"You are the creator of the artificial intelligences that cover your world, is this correct?" Celestia was being surprisingly direct and severe in tone tonight, not at all like her press conferences, all filled with smiles and loving looks.

Issac poured Zephyr a cup of pinapple juice and mixed it with some soda water; instant sparkling pineapple soda! "Thanks dad!" Issac shook his head at the princess. "No. I didn't create the software, I bought the company. I realized Electric Dreams had the leading edge, and I bought them out. I got a lot of brilliant people for my investment, and they made artificial intelligence finally work. I own the basis for all artificial intelligence in the world."

"I should like to get to the point, then. Could we have some privacy, Issac Ellison?" The princess seemed insistent, Issac noticed that her sister, Luna, had so far said nothing, and seemed to be uneasy for some reason.

"We are completely private, princess. I own this building; I have recently had installed numerous safety and security measures throughout it, this penthouse is my private dwelling and it is as isolated as it is possible to make it. Just a moment..." Issac looked up at the ceiling, high above them. "JIVES: housekeeper. Maximum security protocols. Full lockdown."

An artificial voice, deep and mellifluous, sounded from above. "Of course, Issac."

"I've just asked the house to seal us off. Nothing can get in or out; sensors will warn us of any approach, and we are shielded from any form of electromagnetic espionage known to Man, and I mean that, I have friends in the corporate government. Magical espionage is more your forte, you will have to take care of that. We might as well be on the moon."

The princess called Luna seemed to slightly twitch at that; Issac suddenly remembered what little he had learned about Equestrian history from his son's homework. Oops.

"I meant... your son, actually." Celestia seemed increasingly impatient.

"This is Zephyr's home, and he is my business partner. He stays."

The indigo colt looked up. "Business partner? Since when, dad? Really?"

"Since ten minutes ago when Simba was interrupted by two ponies that don't know how to knock. I want my boy to learn what I do, this is the perfect opportunity. He is my liaison to the pony world. You need my help, or you would not be here. I need my son's help, that's why he is here. Package deal." Issac wore his all-negotiations-are-over face. It was a formidable face.  

Apparently even to a princess. "Very well, Issac Ellison." Princess Celestia looked down at the pegasus on the couch. "And Zephyr Wind." Raising her head again she continued. "You are both to consider yourselves sworn to secrecy about everything I am about to relate; nothing of what I say may ever be communicated to any other being, be they Equestrian or Human for the rest of your days. No failure in this matter can be tolerated."

Issac always felt that princess Celestia looked just a little too sweet on the holoscreens; right now she just looked severe. It was a special kind of severe that Issac knew well; his own father, a military man, had been able to pull off that look, and Issac could not help but cringe ever so slightly under it. Right now, Celestia looked like his dad, and it was a little creepy.

"Agreed. Zephyr, do you agree to keep Celestia's secrets with your life?"

Zephyr seemed more than a little intimidated. "I swear to keep princess Celestia's secrets... uh... secret, for the rest of my life, so help me... Celestia. And Luna."

Issac noticed a small, sly smile from the moon princess at that. Heh.

"OK, we're sworn in. So what is the problem, and what do you need from us?" Issac motioned for Zephyr to come join him on the big couch that sat in the middle of the large room; it was a sprawling leather monstrosity that predated the Collapse.

"It has been a recognized concern that the Conversion process could potentially create a new alicorn; a being like my sister and myself. The probability of this was infinitesimally small, but not impossible. This event has happened. Right now, a newfoal named Lillian Fogarty exists, somewhere in the human world, and she is an infant alicorn."

Zephyr let out a soft "cooool..." Issac considered what this meant for a moment, and why the princesses of Equestria would even be bothering him with this. "You can't find her, can you?"

Celestia seemed mildly impressed. "That is correct, Issac Ellison. It is absolutely imperative that she be found, as soon as possible. This is what I have come to you for. It is a vital necessity that the alicorn be found; her power is rapidly growing and soon will be beyond her ability to control. she is a danger to both your world and mine; she will soon be capable of nothing less than the destruction of your entire species. Your own survival and the survival of your son, and all you hold dear depends on assisting me to find her."

Issac stood up, his mind racing. He may not have created the key to artificial intelligence himself, but this was not because he could not have; he simply did not have the temperament to be a proper programmer. He definitely had the intelligence, and then some. The situation was obvious to him.

"You don't want the world government to know there is a rogue alicorn on the loose. She's missing because she's choosing not to be found - she's running from you. You can't use the government to find her for you - even though they have eyes everywhere. Almost everywhere, not here." Issac pondered a bit. "You somehow know about my backdoor, don't you?"

This decidedly did impress the princess. "Comet Tail was not wrong about you. That is precisely what I want of you. I have been told that you possess a secret spell that can cause every artificial intelligence on the planet to become your spy; to relay to you all that they have seen and heard. If the alicorn is anywhere that the works of Man are, you should be able to secretly locate her. Is this not so?"

The backdoor. Once Issac had taken possession of Electric Dreams, he had made sure the core AI program had a number of deliberate weaknesses known only to him. He had made several different teams of programmers each construct parts of his backdoor under the assumption that they were doing a separate project for the world government; he had taught himself just enough to be able to take their work and install it using a script. In this way he could be sure that he, and only he, had a secret key to every AI that used Electric Dream's core breakthrough, and that was reasonably close to almost every system on the planet.

There were two backdoors, actually. A universal all-purpose override and the big one, The real doozy that would probably make a planetary pariah out of him if anyone ever found out. Nobody ever had; Issac was still alive, that was proof alone.

Problem was, if he ever dared to use the deep backdoor, there would be a real chance that the event would be discovered and traced, and if that happened.... well. Issac had a contingency for that, but it had originally involved a glass of whiskey and a gun sandwich. Dammit. He wasn't just on his own anymore; he had a son to think about.

Issac desperately needed to think about this. He also desperately needed a cigarette. "Let me consider this for a moment. I need a smoke - I'll step out on the balcony for a bit, alright. Son?"

"Dad?" Zephyr was clearly shaken by such weighty matters, but he was holding up well, as expected. He was a good colt.

"Maybe the princesses would like to see your file of pictures and video of the Wonderbolts?" Issac smirked as he opened the great glass door to step out onto the balcony. Heh.

* * * * *

The bleeding body of Lillian Fogarty, alicorn, hung magically suspended in the night a meter above the tiles of a dark courtyard. Drops of crimson splattered on the tiles of the abandoned penthouse, they shone with the light that came from the next building over, another penthouse, inhabited and with power, light shining from its windows. Ripples and distortions within the very fabric of reality coruscated about the wounded flesh; powerful unearthly forces were at work.

The tiny entry hole on the right side was already beginning to close. The large exit wound on the right, with the coil of pink intestine began to pull back inside of Lillian's body politely, allowing the torn flesh to begin to pull itself together and mend. Lillian wasn't dying at all; now she knew she could not die even if she tried. Her body had begun mending itself at an astonishing rate the very moment she had been shot. She had no way to know that she would heal; she had fallen victim to panic as any ordinary pony or human might do.

Being shot, even for an immortal alicorn, is not at all pleasant. It was horrible!

It was also painful, and Lillian couldn't bear waiting for her body to repair itself. Without thinking, driven by the horror of her situation, she had simply... expanded. It felt like floating to the top of a swimming pool. As she approached the air, above, her power grew, and the less she felt her body, and the more light and free she was.

Waiting around to heal was such a childish thing to do. Especially when an alternative was so obvious and simple.

Lillian realized that it would be so much more comfortable to just reach into the statistically larger number of potential alternate versions of reality - almost any nearby splay would do - and make a copy of the abdomen of that universe's version of her own body, then overwrite her own body with the copy, while automatically adjusting for any discrepancies between the position of cells, arteries and veins.

Briefly, Lillian's barrel and abdomen shimmered - she had taken a larger than necessary swath, just to be sure - as the perfect version of her flesh replaced the injured one. It tickled slightly as the edges matched up. The entire procedure took a tenth of a second in real time, because Lillian figured that the less she exposed her extradimensional cross-section - the one that expanded as her power expanded - to view by Celestia, the less likely the princess would be able to get a fix on her position.

She knew she had to have the self-repair event take up some real-world time or the cell walls wouldn't seal properly; she figured that a tenth of a second was sufficient, and she doubted Celestia could catch her in such a short space; the princess would be caught by surprise. Oh, the healing would be noticed; Lillian couldn't prevent that, but she seriously doubted it could be tracked. After all, Celestia had other things to pay attention to besides her.

In the accelerated bubble of private time she had set her consciousness into to perform the repair on her body, Lillian suddenly realized that it would be trivial to just turn her physicality sort of inside out, like inverting a stocking, and that if she did that, her flesh would turn to the stuff of magic itself, and she would become immortal and capable of any shape or form. That was what the princesses were, that was what Discord was, and once she had become that too, she would be completely beyond any fuss Celestia wanted to make. The sun goddess would basically just have to go and suck it, because there would be absolutely nothing she could do about the situation at that point.

Just a little twist, a little turn in that... other direction, the one perpendicular to the world. It would take no effort, no effort at all. No more pain - well unless she wanted to feel pain for some reason, who knows, eternity is a long time after all. Maybe pain would seem fun after the first eon, just as a change of pace, kind of how spicy food burns the tongue but it's fun to eat anyway. She would never have to get tired, she could never be hurt, never be trapped... well that wasn't true. There were a few ways to imprison even a being made of pure magic. Magic could be crystallized, for example, and... there were a few more, too.

That could be a problem, then. Celestia could get her sister to help her, and then it would be two on one, and Lillian wasn't sure she could handle that. She could end up like Discord, who she could sense, barely, behind the interface between Equestria and Mundis; she could end up crystallized. What ordinary eyes would see as being turned to stone. That would be bad.

But, oh, how good this felt! It was beyond wonderful to be so intelligent, so aware. Things that had eluded her understanding were trivial to her now, everything she had ever experienced was available to her newly perfect memory, every tiny sensation, every thought, every sight and sound. She could replay any memory at will. And she could focus on any one event, anywhere she wanted; the temptation just to go looking with her new mind throughout space and time alone was almost like a hunger.

But she could concentrate on only one activity... maybe two, if they were small... at a time. And that was her vulnerability. She could be distracted, caught unawares; that is how she would be undone, ultimately, if Celestia still wanted to do so. And Celestia was older and far more practiced. That was an issue. There was no denying that. Even though she now saw that her very worldline was being guided in some fashion by her higher, alicorn nature, even that was not enough. Fortuitous coincidence was not even close to being a sufficient defense against a being like Celestia. Or Luna.

Lillian still had a little more personal time left in her bubble of awareness; she had offset her consciousness by several thousands to one with normal time; the tenth of a second on Earth was not over yet relative to her. She spread her awareness out a little to see her surroundings; her flesh was floating a meter above the courtyard where she had crashed, there was blood on the tiles marking her arrival.

She had missed the penthouse with the light on inside; instead she had landed on the next building over. Tendrils of her consciousness assured her that the building her flesh hovered over was empty; she would not be disturbed where she was by anyone. Good. She was safe.

Now, what should she do? Should she invert her existence and go immortal? The draw was strong, but she did fear Celestia, and there was the matter of learning to control her power. Right now, anchored by being mere flesh, just barely tapping her potential, she felt in control. But if after conversion to pure magic things were as different as they had been made out to be, she could end up destroying untold numbers of innocent beings entirely by accident. Even in this expanded state, Lillian cared about other living beings. Indeed she cared about them even more; they were all so terribly fragile and so desperately brief.

It was then that the realization hit her. It filled her expanded consciousness like some tiny bit of trivia, an obvious thing any supernal being would naturally know, but it hit the part of her that was just 'Lillian Fogarty from Surrey' like a punch in the muzzle.

The universe of Mundis, Earth's universe, had almost no magic at all. It had a tiny trickle, just a bit, tucked away between subatomic particles like so much forgotten pixie dust, but compared to Equestria it might as well be nothing at all. And that was a terrible unimaginable tragedy, the most awful thing Lillian had ever realized in her entire existence. Now she fully understood why Celestia was so determined to help the poor humans, and why Equestria had invaded the earth.

Humans were intelligent, fully self-aware, fully conscious, fully sapient beings. But they had been so unfortunate as to arise in a universe without any magic to speak of. Souls were only and purely magic; if anything at all in all of existence was a magical thing, a spirit, a soul, absolutely, completely was. These poor, naked apes were self aware, they understood their mortality, but they were little more than chemical machines. For this species, in this universe, dead... was dead. When the machine stopped, they stopped, and that was the end of them. Each precious one of them was an entire cosmos of dreams and thoughts and hopes and fears just by themselves, yet all were nothing more than chemicals and electricity banging around a primate skull.

Conversion turned that chemical robot into an Equestrian - that was the real reason behind powering the nanomachines of the ponification serum with the miracle of Equestrian magic. It wasn't merely to avoid conservation of mass, or sidestep entropy, or to avoid generating heat. NO... ponification serum was what it was so as to infuse and transform those chemical, molecular-machine human minds with a truly living lacework of real magic, so that they, as ponies, could join the eternal herd. The true purpose of Conversion was to grace the poor ape robots with nothing less than souls.

Lillian reached out, far out, and found the group that had shot her. She bore them no ill will at all. She pitied them, those Human Liberation Front humans. She swept her expanded, magical consciousness over and through them, and found... nothing. Just molecules clicking mechanically into each other, nerves pulsing, neurotransmitters squirting across synapses. They had no thickness in the extra dimensions, no spirit duplicate of themselves flowing inside their living meat. They were self aware, but were just meat machines. It was too horrible, too awful to deal with.

Lillian snapped back to her perch just above and beyond her hovering flesh body. Those poor, poor creatures, with all their hopes and dreams and beliefs, yet they were just chemical machines from a mechanical universe, doomed to die forever. All those lost minds. All those lost selves.

If she hadn't gone to the Conversion Bureau... oh, sweet Celestia... she'd still be one of them. Even if Celestia killed her now, she was part of the herd. In another Generation, in some guise, she would be back. She would always be back.

It was just too cruel. Mundis, the universe that Earth was part of, was just too cruel! It was the most terrible cosmos imaginable. Just enough complexity to allow a creature to rise up and understand that it was doomed. It was beyond cruelty.

No, it was worse than cruelty; cruelty implied a being acting with malice. Mundis didn't even have a villain, a Big Bad chuckling over what it had done to the little naked apes; the true depth of the horror was that there wasn't even anyone to blame. Mundis, Earth, just was. Humans simply were, because they had risen from the thoughtless, uncaring physical laws of their universe.

The only thing more awful than being hated is not even mattering at all.

Lillian, overcome with sadness, with pity, drew herself down, back into her alicorn flesh. She shrank away from the painful, terrible knowledge, the horrible awareness of those poor, poor billions out there, all just wanting to exist. Just to exist. Such short lives, with nothing awaiting them. It was too much to bear. She could no longer face it, she did not want to see it, and if she expanded into pure magic, she would have to see it all of the time. Just like Celestia. And Luna, too.

No wonder Celestia had deliberately caused Equestria to expand into the cosmos of Man. No immortal being could permit that kind of unfairness. Yet even against such a thing; Celestia insisted that ponification be a matter of free choice. Lillian couldn't comprehend that right now. All she knew right now was how much it hurt to know the things she now knew, to understand the things she now understood. It hurt far more than the power felt good. It hurt more than the power to make dreams come true was worth.

Lillian forcefully sealed her consciousness back inside her pony body, and flattened down the part of her that stuck up into higher spaces. Like all ponies, she still had thickness, she was part of the eternal herd, and always would be, through all generations to come. Her dreams would never be lost, her personality would never be dissolved into nothing. She, was safe.

Those poor, lost billions. The countless generations lost forever before them, before the age of Conversion Bureaus. All the minds, all the people, all the humans who had ever lived. The aching empty horror was too much. But more than any horror was the sadness of it all. Lillian cared so deeply about everything, everyone, and it was just so unutterably sad and unfair.

The private bubble of time popped. Lillian slipped the ring back over her horn with simple ease. She gave the binding ring a little snap with her will, so that it slammed firmly against her skull, the velocity finishing the job after her power was sealed away.

Thankfully, the memory of what she had seen was fading. She wanted it to fade. More than ever before, she wanted to just be a simple mare of Equestria, living a simple life of love and friendship. Any lust for power she might have had was no longer there. She just wanted the nightmare to end. Lillian was crying again, the terrible truth of human life barely an echo in her mind, yet the sadness remained. Lillian was bawling like a lost and wounded child, only now, for the first time since she had begun her journey she was not in any way crying for herself.

* * * * *

Issac had dropped the cigarette almost immediately. He moved to a more shadowed place, away from the glass doorway, and watched in awe as the rippling forces ran briefly down the hovering, upright shape. The wings and horn were clearly seen, even at such distance, though he had needed to blink several times to reassure himself that he was not hallucinating. Not this time, anyway.

The alicorn - Lillian something, Lillian Fogarty, that's what the princess had said - floated down like a leaf into the courtyard of the building over. The next building over. It couldn't be chance. There was weird stuff going down right now, and it may even be over princess Celestia's head too. The alicorn was sitting there, hunched over, shaking. Issac tried to listen very, very carefully. The city was very silent at night now; with so many people either gone or gone pony, the constant drone of human machines was absent. Was that... crying? It was. Issac was sure of it. Faint, all the way across the gulf between the two buildings, but in the quiet night there was no mistaking it. The alicorn was crying.

That put a different spin on things.

Celestia had given the impression that this alicorn was some rogue threat to the world. The poor, weeping filly over there did not seem like a dangerous rogue element to Issac. She seemed more like an unfortunate girl caught in a bad place.

Then again, Celestia had mentioned something about uncontrollable power.

To engineer a solution to a problem, one must first know the variables. Issac decided to find out some of those variables. Somehow he knew... he just knew that the alicorn would remain where she was. That was odd. That was very odd. But then, all of this night had been odd. As was his usual wont, Issac decided to just hang the sense of it and roll with things.

He quietly slipped through the glass door, back into the room.

"...and this is Spitfire doing a barrel roll! Whoo! Didja see that?" Zephyr was very excited; he was able to share his favorite thing with his favorite princesses! What a fantastic night! Living with his dad was AWESOME!

Issac could not help but quietly chuckle; Celestia was doing her best to appear interested, and Luna... Luna seemed for all the world to be... enjoying Celestia's predicament. There was some complicated crap between those two, Issac decided.

"One billion bits, delivered to my son when he reaches whatever the age of majority is in Equestria. Plus another billion upon delivery of the precise location of the alicorn, which I can provide to you in exactly fifteen minutes." Fifteen minutes should be enough time. Just enough to either get his bits or what he really wanted. "Oh, and one more thing, and this is not negotiable; I get to meet the alicorn and talk to her for ten minutes, in private; if this condition is fully met to my satisfaction, then I am willing to forgo the payment of the second billion bits."

Princess Celestia whirled up from the frontmost couch, the one closest to the screen. She used her wings to aid her, in an instant she was standing before him eyes narrowed, her pupils small. Still, her voice was soft. It was very controlled. "Have you found her?"

"I can find her, I can tell you exactly where she is. To the meter. But first I need to know some information. I cannot find what I do not understand. AI systems don't see the world the way organic beings do, princess. They scan and probe on frequencies and wavelengths nothing like how we, or at least I, see the world. I need to know what they have to look for, and it can't be as simple as 'look for a pony with a horn and wings'. It doesn't work that way." Issac tried his best to present his 'Helpful Knowledgeable Guy' persona, inside his heart beat fast; he was playing with magical beings here, and he did not know how much they knew, or could know.

But it was pretty clear they couldn't sense the proximity of their target just across the street. That alone was information the world government would kill for. Good thing he was sworn to secrecy then; he might have been tempted to sell it to them.

Celestia eyed Issac; it was clear she wasn't buying everything he was saying. Worse, she hadn't complained about his outrageous price; that was a very ominous sign. A client that had no issue with price either didn't intend to pay, or had not been given a price high enough; either situation meant some kind of regret was going to be his. "What, exactly, do you need to know?"

Issac's mind already had the vague notion of a scheme; if there was one thing he couldn't let be, it was a child crying. That was no rogue monster; that was a little gray filly, obviously in over her head. Celestia had stated that she was a newfoal; she probably knew nothing about why she was being hunted by the princess. Newfoals, by and large, didn't know crap.

"What makes an alicorn different from a unicorn or a pegasus? They look like both sewn together, but it has to be more than that. I need to know the real difference. No AI could possibly go on just that." That was a blatant lie. It would be trivial to tell all the artificial intelligences in the world to look for a pony with both wings and a horn; it was a simple AND operation. Even Issac could write that, himself.

Celestia looked doubtful, for a brief moment, then brightened. "Understand that it is my prerogative to erase what parts of your memory of this night I deem necessary."

Issac already expected this. "Agreed - but only after this situation is resolved, and not before. That is my condition."

"Very well." Celestia was too easy to negotiate with, and that bothered Issac. "The difference between an alicorn and a pony is not something that any machine on your world could ever perceive. Fortunately, we are still after an infant alicorn, before she has achieved her true form. The thing that makes her different, besides having wings and horn, is her carbuncle."

Carbuncle. Wasn't that some kind of terrible skin condition? Or maybe it was a jewel. Issac had heard the word before. "Explain this carbuncle in detail. Leave nothing out. What is it, where is it, and what does it do. I have to understand it to find it."

"In a normal unicorn, the horn channels the magic they use. There is little else to this; an extension of their brain underlies the horn and directs it. But an alicorn is different." Celestia began to pace the room as she spoke, her glowing mane of light rippling in literally unearthly winds. "Under the horn of an alicorn, an infant alicorn, still flesh and blood as you know them, lays a unique organ. It is bright red and at first quite soft, like a tiny heart."

Celestia stopped and looked levelly at Issac. "That is the carbuncle; it is magic made flesh. Over time, as the alicorn grows into her power, the carbuncle crystallizes, it becomes more and more dense, and more and more solid. In time it resembles a great ruby. When the stone is complete, when the last of the carbuncle has become solid and perfect a change begins. The material world cannot tolerate the contradiction; magic is change and motion and life, and the crystallized carbuncle is magic made solid, frozen, unchanging and unalive, and the paradox pushes the alicorn entirely beyond reality as you know it. The alicorn becomes living magic itself. Like me."

And with that, Celestia was no longer a great pony with wings, crown, horn and shining hooves; she was entirely like her flowing, immaterial mane. In front of Issac flowed a living splotch of light, pulsing and rippling in shades of violet, sea green, teal, and blue. He felt as if he would fall into the field of color, it was exactly as if he were staring up into an infinite sky, one into which he could tumble at any moment, unbound by gravity, to spin forever in perpetual freefall.

Issac bent forward and clutched his head, his hands over his eyes. But Celestia wanted to make a point, and his action had made no difference; she was still there, whether his eyes were open or not. "OK! OK! Enough! Celestia! Enough!"

Issac pulled his hands down. He was slightly shaking. The pony princess stood in front of him, her usual, regal self. "Can you find the alicorn now, Issac Ellison?"

Issac controlled his breathing, as best he could, his heart was still pounding. He looked over at his son, still on the forward couch with princess Luna. "You OK, sport?"

"Uh... yeah, dad? Are... you alright?" Zephyr didn't seem like he had experienced the same moment. That was probably for the best, Issac reflected. Yeah, definitely for the best. "Oh, just great, son. Listen, you be nice to Auntie Luna, alright?" This got a startled look out of the moon princess, which distinctly helped regain Issac's personal bravado.

"No." Issac was entering dangerous waters now, but what the hey. Shoot the rapids. "What happens if the carbuncle is damaged or removed?"

Celestia wore a strange expression. "Why do you need to know that?"

"Machine intelligence cannot make small distinctions; either a thing is, or is isn't, if I don't account for a set of possible states, I could get nothing back even if the alicorn was staring the damn thing right in the sensor." That too was a blatant lie; the whole point of artificial intelligence was to get around just that, to make decisions like a human might.

"If the carbuncle was removed or damaged, the alicorn would temporarily lose her powers, but would simply regrow the organ. Do you imagine that she may have bumped her head?" Celestia may have been mocking Issac, it was hard to tell. Her voice was always so calm and pleasant, and filled with gentle humor. It kind of annoyed him.

Now it was time to go for the kill. The big question. Oh well, what the hell. "Can anything interfere with that? Any material, any radiation or nanotechnology or anything at all - would anything stop the organ from regrowing, or block it?"

"Well, if it didn't have room to reappear, it would have to stop growing because the carbuncle serves the alicorn not the..." Celestia stared at Issac for quite a while. "I think school is over, Issac. Please find me my alicorn now."

One thing Issac understood was the art of the deal, and when negotiations were over. He was very good at such things. "Of course, princess. I believe I can find your alicorn for you now. You have been very helpful and very indulgent. Thank you for your kind assistance." This was absolutely 'Pleased To Be Of Service' face time.

Issac stood up, and smiled broadly at Princess Celestia. Behind her was the large glass door that led to the penthouse balcony. As he had expected, the weeping figure, a pale gray speck against the dark, smoggy sky, was still there, across the street, exactly where she had been before. She was probably still crying.

"Well?" Celestia was kind of funny when she was impatient; Issac was enjoying the struggle inside her to remain sweet and calm, and soft of voice, when surely, she must be fairly annoyed by now. In this moment, he, Issac Ellison, held all the power over the regent of an entire universe - he had what she wanted and no price was apparently too high. He could just grin at her - but not too long. No, not too long. Still, one of the benefits of the job. He'd have to tell Zephyr about it later. Much later.

"Directly behind you, across the street, about sixteen meters, same altitude." It was all Issac could do not to burst out laughing.

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