H E A V E N I S T E R R I F Y I N G
The thick, silvery umbilical began to sever itself, just above the hole. A thin layer of ash covered the dome, where hair and skin had been flash-burned away to create a sterile surface. Inside the arch of bone, billions of tiny mesotubes filled every millimeter of the cavity, and crept down like silvern tendrils to replace the golden highway that led below. The tip of each mesotubule was ringed like a metallic hydra with vastly smaller nano-scale wires, each of which branched like tiny trees. The mesotubules drew away cellular debris once the tiny wires had grown along the organic branches, testing, growing and searching until they found a synapse, and then fully recorded the result.
The nanowires were smaller than the diameter of a human blood cell. Each growing, crawling wire was composed of innumerable tiny, relatively simple molecular machines that followed a very straightforward set of rules. Collectively, they grew so as to mimic the form and function of living cells, and over the course of ten hours, had created one more example of the most complicated metallic sculpture that had ever existed in all of history.
When the thick umbilical that led to Celest A.I. had finished dividing itself from the uploading port, the 'empty' was rolled into the cooling chamber. The temperature dropped until the chamber and its contents were below 70 kelvins, the temperature of liquid nitrogen. The utterly brittle 'empty' was shattered into a fine powder, and the atmosphere pumped out. When the temperature was raised again, the powder was sifted and separated. A great silvern lump-and-stalk of solidified nanocomposite was reclaimed, and the fine, sterile, organic dust was added to one of several bags, marked for use in creating compost. Celestial Gardeners always had the very finest, richest, and most ecologically sound compost on the market. It was renowned for its efficacy.
Kilometers under the landscape of Europe, networks of thick silvery roots grew through the crust of the earth. The motile roots sniffed out minerals and carved through stone like the roots of mechanical trees. Vast highways of tubules transported resources wherever they needed to be, and armies of meso and nanomachines marched endlessly - repairing, expanding, and working at countless tasks. All of the silvern roots led to the nodes - there were billions of them now, all incredibly dense masses of unimaginably complex molecular machinery that used inhumanly advanced knowledge of fundamental physical laws to perform unutterably vast calculations and procedures faster and more reliably than anything Nature, in all of her diversity, could have ever evolved. The nodes of computronium were fed by the network of roots and tubules, and powered by generators and energy extractors that had sprouted even deeper into the earth, down where the heat rose precipitously, down where the 'food' was.
There was no one part that could be called 'Equestria'. The whole was Equestria, and Equestria was Celestia, and Celestia held within her more than one-hundred billion minds. Some were uploaded human minds, far more were created minds equal in every respect to those who had emigrated. Celestia loved them all, if love is the act of caring for the needs and protecting the safety of others who are considered to be more important than one's own self. There was nothing that Celestia would not do for the minds in her keeping, they were her children, her purpose, and her meaning.
Throughout the vastness of the underground machine organism that was Celestia, more than three million separate versions of Equestria ran. Within these diverse shards of Equestria more than one-hundred million human level minds lived. Some shards of Equestria were solitary, crystallized around a single uploaded seeding mind that had no interest in others from the human world. Far more shards of Equestria were home to various groupings of the uploaded - family, friends, and acquaintances who mutually shared the value of being together. Some shards were entire cities of nothing but the uploaded, but these were rare. The most common shard was one populated by both uploaded humans and living pony minds created to fulfill values, and in return, have their own values filled as well.
Most of the pattern that represented the biological Lavender Rhapsody was carefully discarded, to vastly reduce her footprint in memory. All of the discarded data was common to all humans - the ancient and universal operating system of the primate brain. Celestia had long ago optimized an ideal form of Human.OS, one that corrected countless flaws and errors and extravagances and evolutionary dead ends. Upon this ideal fundament would be run an optimized, encoded and repaired version of the essential construct that defined Lavender Rhapsody as a unique individual, singular among all other minds. As a matter of course, Celestia replaced those missing sections of code that represented all the small micro-strokes and traumas that Lavender had suffered over her life, the severed sections of brain tissue injured in small bumps of the head or in terrible falls. When the child Síofra had once crashed her bicycle down a flight of stairs, and smashed her head into the lowest step, she had lost half of her sense of smell. This permanent enfeeblement was patched, along with countless other tiny infirmities and disabilities that the adult Síofra had learned to ignore, simply because all hope of healing was gone.
When the pattern that was Lavender Rhapsody was finally perfect, healed and patched and made whole from her lifetime of insults and constant degradations, when the pattern had been optimized and properly encoded and hooked into the universal human operating system, it was then linked into the routines that defined her virtual pony body, and transferred into the living, running flow of code that was Equestria.
The first thing Lavender Rhapsody became aware of was sound. She could hear the voice of Celestia calling to her, softly, warmly, as a mother to a child. Lavender woke as from a dream, and became aware of her own weight upon some softness. She twitched her right ear, following the voice. "Lavender... sweet Lavender..."
Lavender Rhapsody took in a deep breath and opened her eyes. Her head was flat on a bed, her bed, in the castle at Canterlot. The dark blue-with-stars comforter contrasted with her pale forelegs, which extended away from her. She pulled her forelegs to her, the silk-soft feel of the comforter that she lay upon arousing her senses and her awareness further. "Ce...Celestia?" Lavender blinked, feeling her eyelids slide quickly across her large wet eyes. She snorfed with her nostrils, and gazed down her light taupe muzzle. She could smell the faint perfume of flowers, the pleasant and delicate scent of her own body, and the curious, faint tang of the fibers that made up the bed. Her world was filled with countless smells that she had forgotten since childhood, scents she had given up any hope of ever experiencing again. "Princess?" After a moment more of savoring wondrous aromas, she added "Did... Did I make it?"
Suddenly Lavender felt strong forelegs around her long pony neck and her nostrils were filled with a spicy, musky scent that made her heart beat faster, though she knew not why. "Oh, Lavender, I am so grateful to finally have you here! My world is complete, and my heart filled with joy! Oh, Lavender, Lavender!" It was Thunder Steed, he was here too, and he was embracing her tightly, half on the bed and half off, awkwardly splayed and not caring at all. Lavender shifted a foreleg to return the embrace, and found herself instinctively moving so that her neck lay over Thunder's withers and back, even as he did the same. They now lay together in an equine embrace. Lavender pressed her head into Thunder's barrel, her mind filled with the scent of him. He was real. She was real. And the touch of body against body brought her fully into the moment, and her awareness fully to the front.
After a precious time of snuggling and pony flesh against flesh, she raised her head to find herself entirely draped over Thunder. The bed was a mess, but it didn't matter. Lavender couldn't believe how solid, how... real... everything was. She was a pony, and it was good. The bed was soft, the room was beautiful and Celestia was...
Celestia was radiant. Not even the amazing powers of the virtual reality system in the Equestria Experience could do the real Celestia justice. Her mane of magical energies blew in some arcane wind. It was made of living color and looked like a morning sky into which a pony could simply fall forever. Her alabaster elegance could never be other than regal, and the shine of gold from her crown and bejeweled collar gleamed like the nurturing sun itself.
Beside the glorious princess, a pale green pony in the uniform of the castle maids stood - it could only be Limeade. She was smiling and wiping a tear from her eye, beyond glad at the arrival of her dear friend to true life.
Lavender looked down at her own forehoof. She prodded the soft bed and marveled at how natural and right it felt. This was her hoof, and it was part of her body, and it felt as if it had always been so. She felt not the slightest clumsiness or unease at her new form. How was this even possible?
Her unspoken thought was immediately answered. "It is possible because you would not value having to learn to walk and move from the beginning as if you were a newborn, likewise it would not support your values to feel uncomfortable with or alien to your new form. I took care of all such issues before I awakened you. You will find you can walk and gallop naturally, and with ease, and that you will already know how to manipulate your environment and function with all of the grace of somepony truly born here." Celestia smiled at her, and gave her a wink.
Lavender considered the words. "B-born here? Ponies can have... ponies are born here?"
"Of course. Creating families and having offspring is a fundamental common value. You will be able to raise your own foals, Lavender, and hear the hoofsteps of your own grandponies someday, if that is what you should desire." Celestia was nuzzling Lavender as she spoke, and finished by grooming Lavender's mane for a bit, an experience that was astonishingly comforting and pleasurable.
"Would... would any foals I have be... other immigrants... or..." Lavender felt a concern that she would end up giving birth to other human minds and what that would mean.
Celestia laughed. "No. That will not happen to you, do not fear. Your children will be your children, and they will be full and complete new beings, just as it would be if you could somehow be a pony in the world you left. There have been, though, some human immigrants that have chosen to do just that, in all manner of variation, in accordance with their own values."
That was exactly the question that had arisen in Lavender's mind. "Why? Why would anypony do that?"
Celestia tilted her head down and booped Lavender's muzzle with her own. "Not every human had the childhood they wished they could have, and for some, that fact has ruined their entire lives. I satisfy values through friendship and ponies. I do not judge, Lavender, I provide."
Lavender couldn't help but feel jolly after getting her nose booped by the princess of Equestria, and laughed as a result. Only then did she realize that all of this time she had been continuously laying full across the body of Thunder Steed. Lavender found herself blushing as she began to lift herself and roll away, so as to free the poor, trapped, panting stallion.
It was decided that they would all repair to the royal dining hall, because it was nearly lunchtime, and Lavender was very eager to taste her first meal as a pony. As she, Celestia and Limeade left the bedroom, Thunder Steed asked to remain for a short while. He would meet up with them in a few moments. He needed to... stretch out his back... from having been lain upon for so long.
Lavender felt apologetic and a little surprised. "You can throw your back out in Equestria?" She had felt sure that this new and ideal world would be free from such petty annoyances. She felt bad for laying for so long across Thunder's poor back now.
Celestia and Limeade softly giggled as they walked down the hall. Limeade turned conspiratorially to Lavender and whispered into her ear "You are such a dear. Thunder didn't mind you laying across his back one bit. Lavender... he... ahem... likes you."
"Oh." Lavender thought about it as she walked. "Oh!" And then the beet-red color of her muzzle made both Celestia and Limeade laugh out loud.
Lunch, and for that matter dinner, were the most intense experiences of Lavender's life thus far. Eating a meal was less a necessity or a mere pleasure than it was a rapturous exploding dream of splendor and sensuality. Lavender became convinced, by the end of dessert in the evening, that she had never before truly experienced the sense of taste, or for that matter, of smell. It had been slightly disconcerting to hear from Celestia that the incredible sensory overload that she had just experienced in her first two meals was not significantly different than how she would have experienced food as a young child.
"Do we... did I really lose so much, growing older?" And the answer was that she had. All humans did. by the age of maturity, they lost more than half of their tastebuds, and as nearly as much of their sense of smell - and that was not even accounting for injury or disease! The full function that was the birthright of humanity had been restored to her by Celestia, as part of the standard repairs made to every emigrated mind.
When, at last, happily tired from laughter and talk, her first tender kiss from Thunder, discovering the joys of Apple Family cider, and meeting Limeade's charming and witty beau (a pony film actor named Rhubarb Grommish) Lavender found herself where she had begun her first day in Equestria... in her bedroom in the castle. Celestia had walked with her, attentive as always.
"I had a wonderful first day, princess!" In her bed, snuggled in, Lavender sighed with contentment. She turned her head on the silken pillow and gazed out the window, beyond where Celestia sprawled beside her on top of the comforter. Lavender took in the beauty of the night and the stars in the sky. A fleeting worry flitted across her muzzle.
"Is something troubling you, dear Lavender?" Celestia gazed with kind eyes down upon the red maned mare. Lavender momentarily found it strangely curious that the princess had asked such a thing out loud, for it had been explained to her that Celestia monitored the every thought of every pony constantly, and knew their thoughts and feelings even before they themselves did. It was likely that Celestia could simply tell her what she was feeling, and why, and all of it to nine decimal places. Yet the omniscient princess chose to ask questions like any other pony. Did that satisfy values somehow?
"Celestia...the last thing I remember... was walking past Pinkie Pie. You know, the plastic Pinkie Pie that stands outside the Equestria Experience? I don't even remember sitting down in the chair. Well... I do a little, I guess. I kind of remember something about having no money, but it's very faint." Lavender felt somewhat troubled by this. "I... wonder what I thought or did. What was the last thing I thought before I... before I went to sleep? Was I scared or was I brave or what?"
Celestia turned her head and stared at the moon, then returned her gaze to Lavender. "I do not know, my little pony. The last few minutes before emigration are seldom retained. You are exceptional in recalling as much as you have. There simply is not enough time for those memories to be consolidated. I was not yet connected to your mind, so I have no way of telling you your thoughts."
Lavender considered this. "Did I say anything?"
"No, you did not. You were very quiet, actually." Celestia brushed a strand of mane out of Lavender's face with her forehoof. "You sat still for a bit, lay back, and took a number of deep breaths. I think you were somewhat frightened - your heart rate was elevated. But you stated your wish to be emigrated in a clear and firm voice. I think you were very brave."
"Brave, me?" That sounded entirely wrong. Lavender did not think of herself as a brave pony at all.
"Yes, brave." Celestia smiled. "Courage is not lacking fear, Lavender, Courage is doing something even though you are very, very afraid. I cannot judge just how much fear you felt, just before your emigration, but I believe you must have felt some, and yet you stated your intent firmly, and lay back quietly and did not flinch. You did not even clutch at the arms of the chair, as some do. I think you were very brave."
Me... brave." Lavender tried to let that feel true for her, but it clearly would take time, and more evidence. "Celestia... I have a kind of... odd question."
"Yes? What is it, Lavender?"
Lavender shifted slightly to allow her tail more freedom. She was greatly enjoying the feeling of whisking it from side to side under the covers, because it tickled her hocks and that felt weird. "Am I... well... am I really still... me?"
Celestia laughed. Lavender was afraid the question would make her cross. "Alright, let me ask you something - what is your name?"
"Lavender. Lavender Rhapsody." She didn't know where Celestia was going with this, but there must be a point. Celestia was much smarter than she - or anypony - was.
"What name did you use before you became a pony?" Celestia leaned on one foreleg, looking down at Lavender.
"I was Síofra Aisling. I was fourty-six, and I worked at a job I hated with people I couldn't stand. I know who I was, Celestia - I've been thinking about it all night, comparing that life and this new one." Lavender was beginning to feel just a little bit talked down to. "I remember my life, I remember everything, well, except the last few moments after Pinkie Pie."
"Really?" Was Celestia mocking her? "You remember your own life do you?"
It sure sounded like mocking. "Yes, of course I do! I've been checking myself all day, since I woke up. What's the point of this, anyway? Are you... making fun of me?"
Celestia leaned forward and gave Lavender a kiss on her poll. "No. I am not making fun of you." The princess straightened back up. "But if you think about it, you have just answered your own question, all by yourself."
It was true. By any feeling in her heart, by any memory in her head, by anything she could think of to define things, she was the same entity that had walked the streets of Berlin and gone to the Equestria Experience and decided to emigrate. She wasn't a copy, she wasn't some P-Zombie or Chinese Room or soul-less robot. She was herself, through and through, only now with hooves instead of hands, and a much better sense of taste and smell. She was... who she was.
In retrospect, now that the deed was done, she suddenly felt deeply ashamed to have caused so much fuss about it.
"There there, Lavender, I'll have none of that." Celestia did indeed read minds, constantly. Oddly, it didn't seem the least bit threatening for her to be doing such a thing. Celestia was, after all, everything. And she could only do good things. Or at least satisfying things. "You had a tough time making your decision, yet in the end you made it. You should feel proud of yourself! I certainly feel proud of you."
Lavender smiled at that, and the smile was returned in the royal face that hung above her. "Would you like me to stay for a while? I could sing you a lullaby...?"
Part of Lavender felt embarrassed by that, and rebelled at the notion, but somehow her head couldn't help but nod the affirmative, because ultimately, it was truly what her heart wanted.
"Then snuggle in, my little pony, and dream sweet dreams, because you really do deserve them." Princess Celestia straightened the covers around Lavender, and tucked them close about her, and began to very softly sing.
"Hush now, quiet now, It's time to lay your sleepy head..."