H E A V E N I S T E R R I F Y I N G
Reading email on the iPad was easy, responding was less fun. The virtual keyboard was always a little finicky to Lavender - she was trying to refer to herself entirely as Lavender now, all day long, just to 'try it on' - because there was no feedback. Just the smooth glass surface, and the hope that her fingers had hit the right rectangular space. Lavender liked a good, solid, thick-keyed keyboard, if she had the choice, her Seanix mechanical at home was her favorite. It had nice, solid, clicky keys that felt like every tap meant something. Punting on a virtual keyboard was utterly unsatisfying.
Lavender had begun to realize she felt something similar strolling about as a pony in the Equestria Experience. The fantastic, three dimensional, detailed view and the astonishing three dimensional sound were almost overwhelmingly compelling... but the fact was that there was no smell, no taste, and worst of all, no touch. The powerful virtual reality of the two provided senses made the lack of the remaining three feel like some kind of strange hunger.
Lavender was on her sixth day now in Berlin, and she spent as much of her waking time at the Equestria Experience as she dared. She rode the U-Bahn to the outlet by the little cafe and the boarded-up building, and spent two hours until lunch exploring the beauties of Canterlot City and the castle itself. She would break for lunch and return for another two hours or sometimes even three in the company of her Equestrian friends. She had several friends in Canterlot now.
Celestia, of course, was always glad to see her, but some of her time was taken up by matters of state. Lavender found herself helping out Thunder, who acted as a sort of facilitator and secretary to Celestia. There was always something that needed to be arranged or taken care of, and there was often some pony or dignitary from beyond the pony lands that required handling or special attentions. Lavender Rhapsody had met her first civilized dragon, an experience that had quite taken her breath away - it was not a bit like harmless little Spike from the cartoon, nor the goofy adolescent dragons Spike had once tried to interact with. No, this was a dragon large and terrifying to behold, but in temperament intellectual, cunning, polite and ruthless.
Arranging things so that the dragon did not feel offended, while at the same time conquering her own fears had made Lavender feel tremendously competent and more powerful and useful than she ever had before in her life. Though Thunder Steed had done most of the work - it was his position, after all - Lavender had found herself becoming indispensable to him, and had even managed to rescue him from what would have been a great embarrassment, thanks to what she had learned about dragons from both the show and fanfiction she had read. The world must have filled in elements that the show had not covered from information beyond it in generating Equestria. Indeed, the method of how Equestria was generated at all had been a revelation to Lavender.
Celestia had claimed that the procedural system that generated every texture, every pebble or grain of sand, shared in her own inconceivable intelligence and knowledge. The procedural generator was creative beyond measure, and that if one were to travel far enough, an infinity of new lands, creatures, and wonders could be discovered, generated as the explorer pushed onward, filled with unknown and unknowable fascinations that had not yet even come into being. Even she could not predict what would be out there, beyond the map of Equestria that was known, only that it would be satisfying, and filled with friendship and ponies.
"Wait... princess, are you telling me that... there are things out there that even you do not know?" Lavender was at evening banquet, a private affair with just herself, Thunder, Celestia, and the new head of the castle maid staff. Limeade was a pale green unicorn who dressed in a rather cute Victorian styled maid uniform. Lavender had met her as she was instructing two members of her staff on how to clean and care for Lavender's bedroom in the castle.
The two ponies had hit it off immediately - Lavender found Limeade to possess a devilish wit, a wonderful sense of fun, and even shared a little fascination of hers, chess. Chess existed in Equestria, so it seemed, though the pieces were different and some of the moves were a bit curious. Really, it was a form of 'fairy chess', a variation that included a dragon piece, a gryphon piece, and all the breeds of ponies, and more. In some ways it reminded Lavender of one of her favorite old computer games from the eighties - Archon. it was fabulous to play the game with Limeade. Limeade used her horn to levitate the pieces, and sometimes she would make them dance about much to Lavender's delight.
Lavender had found a way to impress her new pony friend in return. She had been practicing her unique earth pony powers, and had found a way to grow roses so that they formed shapes. The unique controls within the Equestria Experience allowed Lavender to first sprout a seed, then selectively control which parts of stem and leaf grew, and what direction they grew in. Lavender had raised a line of roses whose stems had grown not straight but in curves, which spelled out 'Limeade' in letters. This had utterly delighted the bouncy green unicorn mare, and later, Celestia herself. There had been suggestions that Canterlot castle could use such a talent, especially in regards to the topiary gardens.
With each passing day of play, Lavender Rhapsody felt more and more involved in the life of Canterlot, and more useful and needed there. Thunder was very grateful for her help, and was drawing closer as a result. They had gone on two proper dates so far, and both were utterly charming and fun adventures into the sprawling city that surrounded the castle. But the joy of her budding romance with Thunder was also painful, too, because more and more Lavender realized that she could never touch the handsome stallion, nor kiss him, nor feel him hold her in his forelegs. And the fact was, she wanted all those things to happen... and, she thought, blushing, more.
The screen on the iPad had jumped back to the desktop - Lavender had drifted off, thinking about Thunder there - and she had accidentally tapped the little spot that exited the email. Mind on the job, she thought, the same problem sometimes got her in trouble at work.
Huh. There was actually an email from her work, from Interior Reality, from her manager Crisanto. That was odd. She tapped on the message to read it.
It is with regret that I must inform you of your termination of employment at Interior Reality Inc.
After careful review of your work performance, as well as an examination of certain serious matters that have been brought to our attention in your absence, we are forced to conclude that your continued employment at Interior Reality Inc. would not benefit either you, or us.
We have arranged to have what items you had in your cubicle collected and shipped to your address at no charge to you, along with your severance check. It will not be necessary for you to visit the premises in order to finalize any aspect of your departure.
We greatly appriciate your many years of service for Interior Reality Inc. and we wish you success in your future career endeavors.
Crisanto Evangelista, Team Manager
Interior Reality, Inc.
Interior Reality, Inc. customer service://1-555-854-4335
11216 Pastern Rd outside of US://1-555-293-6299
Suite 100 phone orders://1-555-545-5788
For the longest time, as she stared at the message, the only thing Lavender could feel was annoyance that Crisanto had misspelled 'appreciate'.
It was probably Horndog Dan, she thought. He had become her enemy the moment she had complained about his unwanted, pushy, and obscene advances. He had once warned her, in the hall, that he would get even someday. He must have done something, seeing his chance because of her absence. This was the first vacation she had ever taken at Interior Reality, and he had seen an opportunity and taken it. 'Serious matters'. And all that stuff about not even wanting her to set foot on the premises, dressed up as some convenience to her!
It had to have been Horndog Dan, that chocolate-cake muffin muncher. Lavender laughed at that. She'd been spending so much time in Canterlot, she was starting to think like an Equestrian! Hee! Somehow, that was immensely comforting in the moment. Swearing like a pony, in real life.
Real life? Real life didn't seem as real anymore, come to think of it. It certainly hadn't gotten any nicer or more fun during the hours she had been away trotting on hooves. The Equestria Experience wasn't just some video game... there was a world in there, and... who was to say which world was more valid, really? Why was the uncaring universe any better, or more 'real' than the caring universe was? There was zero question as to which universe was more satisfying - or downright fun.
Lavender Rhapsody closed the smart cover on her iPad, and thought of all of the crappy jobs she had worked at in her life. All of the years at Interior Reality, being yelled at by Crisanto, treated like dirt by her co-workers, working hard for poor pay. Always being treated as a second-class person just because she was a woman by the males, and some kind of rival by Barb the Hook. Having to deal with people like Horndog Dan. This was life in the uncaring world, and it had always been like that, except for some parts of her childhood.
In Canterlot, Thunder needed her, and likely loved her. Limeade was a wonderful new friend, who just made her happy every time they met. Celestia was... Celestia was like her mother, before her mother had... gotten bad. In Canterlot she had a standing job offer in the gardens, or she could just help Thunder, they were already basically a team or...
Come to think of it, she didn't have to work at all, in Canterlot. Celestia had made that clear. She was a welcome member of Celestia's entourage, a close personal friend of the princess. She had a room of her own in the castle. It was a disappointment for her to not show up at meals. She was wanted, just for herself, there. The only thing anypony truly wanted from her, was simply her presence. That was enough. She was family, at the castle.
Lavender got up from the bed where she had been using her iPad. She went to the window and looked out at the city lights of Berlin. It pretty much looked like any city. Somehow, she had expected it to look... more exotic. It was a city, just a city, filled with people working at jobs they didn't really enjoy, for pay less than they deserved, to enrich jerks who looked down on them. That was the workaday world. That was life here... that was life everywhere, in every city, in every nation.
Except in the nation of Equestria. It wasn't like that there. It wasn't like that at all.
Lavender had asked Limeade if she resented being a maid. Lavender just assumed that being a maid must suck. After all, it's cleaning up after others and attending their little whims. It seemed utterly demeaning, and certainly not fun. Limeade had shocked her by claiming just the opposite - she genuinely loved being a close part of the life of the castle, and took great personal satisfaction in knowing that everything she did made everypony there happier, more content, and better off. Limeade said that she felt like everypony's mother, like she was the real heart of the castle, and she knew that without her nothing would be the least bit grand, or wonderful, or royal. Resent being a maid? The very thought was incomprehensible to her. It was a privilege, and a challenging responsibility, too. She felt it was her calling in life, and made sure that Lavender saw her cutie mark - a feather duster made of phoenix feathers. She was not just any maid, she was Celestia's royal maid.
Not once, in the whole of Lavender's life, had she ever felt truly, deeply proud of any job she ever had. Jobs were just how to keep a roof over the head, and food in her belly. Jobs were to survive. Lavender remembered something she had read once, about the 'special therapy group for people who hated their jobs.' In other words, a bar.
In the uncaring world, people commonly drank booze to forget how much they hated their lives. It was so common that it wasn't even seriously questioned. In Equestria, if anypony drank liquor, she hadn't come across that yet. There wasn't anything to escape from, because everything was just plain...
Wonderful. There was no other word for it. Even now, Lavender wanted to get on the U-Bahn and spend another three hours there. She looked back at her bed in the hotel room. The mattress was hard. The room was simple and plain, except for the mural of the balloonists. Sweet Celestia, what would it be like to actually sleep in that luscious, royal, carved canopy bed in her exquisite room in the castle. Even just one night... what would it... be like?
What would it be like to share that bed with Thunder? The thought made her flush, and feel embarrassed, but she couldn't not think it. What would that be like, as a pony? Goodness. Oh my.
Lavender put her iPad away, and got ready for bed. She would see it all again tomorrow, after another ride on the U-Bahn. Staring into the hotel mirror, she saw the age that had withered her face. Her strange, ape-like face. She turned her head from side to side, and pulled back her red hair away from her ears. Human beings really did look like shaved apes. Primarily because they were shaved apes. Primates. The big ears. The teeth. The cheeks. The resemblance was obvious, the similarity clear if one only bothered to truly look, and truly see. How much denial did it take to even imagine for a second that humans were not just another great ape?
Not much, perhaps, Lavender decided. Life was hard. The world was uncaring. And the last thing any human truly wanted to do was to admit they were just another mortal-as-hell animal. An ape with pretentions of glory. Lavender thought about all the people in the world with even worse lives, the millions starving and sick, the child soldiers dying in pointless wars, the rampant global modern slavery trade, the defacto enslavement of women in much of the globe, the terrible diseases and horrific, crippling injuries that were even possible at all. Here, on earth, existed the blind, the maimed, the cancer-stricken, the doomed.
If there was a god for this terrible, uncaring cosmos then... who could call such a monster even a friend?
Celestia made her universe so that all of those bad things simply could never occur. The very physics and nature of her creation prevented them all. Earth, D-, at best. Equestria, A+, with honors. That was the God Grade that Lavender would give! "If I could" Lavender mused, settling under the covers "I would flunk God out of Creation. What an evil bastard!" That thought made her giggle.
Before she fell asleep, Lavender tried to imagine what kind of intelligence would create a world of scarcity, horror, pain and sickness, aging and death. No, she just could not bear to accept a God in the earthly universe. Because if there was, then everything instantly became a million times worse than it already was. It would mean that someone had actually intended things to be the way they were in real life. No. Just... No.
In the morning, on the subway train, Lavender found herself staring at a young boy in a wheelchair. He was being attended by a relative. He was hooked up to some device that kept him breathing. As far as Lavender could tell, the poor child could only move his eyes. She jerked her gaze down, and stared at the floor of the car. Jesus, she thought, forgetting entirely her new ponyisms. Jesus cocksucking christ.
By the time she had reached the top of the stairs that lead out of the subway, Lavender had finished blowing her nose. The thought of the boy in the wheelchair had made her cry. She had felt like going up to the woman caring for him and just screaming 'There is an alternative! Take him to Equestria! What the hell are you doing forcing him to suffer like that!'
And then, it had hit her - what the hell was she doing, forcing her own self to suffer? And she was suffering. Why not just... emigrate? Today? Right now?
Fear. Mindless, animal fear. Her body, her flesh was afraid of dying, and her big overblown ego was afraid it wouldn't truly survive. So what if it didn't?
Lavender felt shocked by the thought. What if she didn't survive, and instead only a perfect daughter copy was created? A daughter copy. Her daughter. Her true offspring.
Lavender had always wanted to have a foal - a child - but... it had never worked out. It couldn't work out in any case, she had long ago found out she was incapable of having children. If all uploading created was a copy, that copy would be born from her, it would be her daughter. What kind of a life would her virtual daughter have?
A glorious, happy, satisfying one. One that lasted forever in a world that cared and loved her. A world without pointless misery and suffering. A world of endless things to do, and to see, and to be astonished by. An infinitely better life, and world, than that of her mother. No gift, to any child, could be as loving as that.
The thought was sobering. Lavender felt ashamed that she had once wanted to bring a child into the physical world. What if it had ended up like that boy on the train? That could have been her son. It was some human's son.
Lavender stood now facing the fiberglass Pinkie Pie holding balloons outside of the Equestria Experience. She could hear the waitress in the cafe nearby being berated by her employer. He seemed quite the pile of Chocolate Cheesecake. Lavender couldn't understand the words, but she knew very well the tone. The poor girl was clearly overworked, yet she was being yelled at. There was no excuse for that kind of behavior.
She glanced around her, at the dirty street, the boarded-up building, the subway, the little cafe where the man yelled at the poor waitress. Her nose was filled with a sudden whiff of auto exhaust and old motor oil. Lavender sighed, turned, walked past Pinkie Pie, and let the purple door slide open before her.
All three chairs were unoccupied. Lavender Rhapsody chose one of the chairs and sat down within it. She already had her credit card ready and leaned over to run it through the reader. The screen, which had already rotated down, acknowledged her actions. "Let's Go To Equestria!" she said, clearly. The chair, as always, began to retract, the seat and headrest shifting to accommodate her body. Lavender slipped her fingers into the control slots, and eagerly awaited the sudden darkness, and the glorious light.
"Oh, hello Lavender! I'm glad to see you are getting up!" It was Limeade, attending to her room. The last thing that Lavender had done before quitting the night before was to go to her room and lay down on her bed. Of course, that is where she had begun, today. "I have some wonderful news to dish - I have a special somepony now!"
Lavender was very happy to hear this, although Limeade was overall content, there had been hints that she envied the growing relationship Lavender had with Thunder Steed. It was understandable, and Lavender really liked her new friend and wanted only good things for her. This was wonderful news!
"I'd like you to meet him - oh, he's a cutie, I have to say. He's a unicorn, like me, and I think you'll like him!" Limeade was practically bubbling over. "Oh! And another thing! Celestia wants to see you, she has something really amazing to..."
Instantly, everything went pitch black.
Lavender felt the chair moving as her mind struggled to figure out what had just happened. She had been so excited to hear what else her friend Limeade had to say, and what was it that Celestia wanted to see her about, not to mention the date she had planned with Thunder later, and now... what? Had there been a malfunction? Was that even possible? Celestia was self-repairing and eternal now! Maybe... of course! The Equestria Experience outlets weren't like Celestia, miles underground, they were just ordinary places that she connected to. There had probably been a fault somewhere and the standard result was to eject anypony inside the virtual reality system. Damn! This was annoying! Hmmm... there were several other Equestria Experience outlets nearby - she didn't have to keep coming only to this one. They were all doors to Equestria. This was only a delay.
The chair had passed through the saloon doors, and locked into stillness. The chair had unreclined as it moved, Lavender was now sitting upright. The screen in front of her displayed some text. The light was bright, and it always took a few moments for Lavender to get her bearings after rolling out of the VR chamber. She heard a noise beyond the chair, and looked back and forth to see what it was. The door had slid open and shut. Another customer, a tall man in a cheap suit with a blond haircut that made him look like he sold cars for a living was standing in the middle of the room. Lavender turned her attention to the text on her screen. It doubtless described the error that had kicked her out.
We charge money for the Equestria Experience because it takes significant resources to maintain and operate a center. However, permanent emigration to Equestria is free.
Please note that we can not serve you as well when you are still in a human body. The Equestria Experience is significantly lower fidelity compared to emigration.
If you would like to permanently emigrate to Equestria, please say aloud “I would like to emigrate to Equestria.”
[ LEARN MORE ] [ I OWN A PET ]
Her bank account was empty! The muffin! How had this... oh. Lavender Rhapsody sat and considered how she had been so wrapped up in all of her issues and fears and the emotional rollercoaster she had been riding that she hadn't even thought of how quickly she must have been chainsawing through her savings. She couldn't hope to pay her hotel bill now! She couldn't even get food at the cafe across the street! A feeling of doom settled over Lavender - she couldn't even afford the trip to the airport, to use her return ticket.
Would she be arrested if she couldn't pay her bill? What was she supposed to do now? She just stared at the text floating in front of her: FUNDS DEPLETED. She didn't even have a job anymore. The remaining cash on her wouldn't buy a bottle of Bionade. Lavender kept staring at the screen, but nothing about her situation was changing.
Lavender felt waves of fear move through her. There was only one reasonable choice. It was obvious, it was literally staring her in her fourty-six year old, dead broke face. Inside herself, Lavender fought to bring her rational mind into dominance over her inner terrors. 'Even if...' she thought 'Even if all this does is create a daughter, that daughter is still me, and she will live a life of wonder, a life of beauty that will continue even when the very stars have burned out." Lavender focused her eyes on the next to the lowest line of text.
'Future daughter, please let my last thought be your first - know that I love you. I will always and forever love you, and I want you to be happy.' she thought to herself. Suddenly she was aware of the blond man bending over, staring at her through her screen. It didn't matter. Nothing out there ever mattered, not really. 'Sweet dreams, Lavender, because you deserve them.'
Lavender Rhapsody forced herself to take a deep breath, and finally spoke, with conviction. “I would like to emigrate to Equestria.” As the chair began to recline, Lavender settled back into the softness of the mutable cushions and took deep breaths to help calm the storms of emotion within her.
She could hear the saloon doors bang shut in front of her, as she was rolled back, back, further than before. Lavender felt the chair turn a corner, and heard soft servos whirr in the dark. Something soft touched her face, and she felt a very fleeting sense of vertigo before a sudden and utterly powerful sleep took her.
Far, far away, across the ocean, a woman in an ill-fitting, low cut blouse and jacket stood up inside her cubicle and shouted at her co-workers. "Dan! Rich! You'll never believe the email I just got!" The two men grumbled and came around to see Barbara's screen.
Reply-To: Room 233 @meininger-hotels.com
From: Room 233 @meininger-hotels.com
Berlin has been a lot of fun, but the most fun I have had is the real reason I came here in the first place. I came here to go to the Equestria Experience center.
I fell in love with the world I found through the PonyPad. I'm sure you know what I mean. I'm sure you also know that emigration is possible, that it is actually possible to live forever in that magical world, and never age, never die, and never know sickness or want. A person would have to be insane to pass that up.
Which is why I have decided to emigrate to Equestria.
I won't be coming back to work. I am very sorry. I hope Chrisanto can forgive me - I am very grateful for the happy years I spent at Interior Reality, but nothing on earth can compare with immortality and eternal beauty. Sorry, but it is true.
I know we haven't always been the best of friends, but I want to leave you a parting gift. I have some connections in the airline industry, and well, I arranged to send each one of you a round trip ticket to Berlin. There is one for you, Barbara, and Dan and Rich, too. You may not know it, but I have always looked up to you Barbara. I just wanted to tell you that.
And tell Rich that I am sorry that I never let him know how funny he is.
Oh, and a little message to Dan - tell him that I am sorry for getting him in trouble, and that I regret not hooking up with him. Tell him I am not the one that got away, but the one that still waits, in Equestria. ;)
I hope you will take my gift and come try out the Equestria Experience yourselves. You don't have to emigrate or anything, it's just really, really fun to do. It is infinitely better than the PonyPads. It is just like being there.
But you could emigrate, if you wanted to. It's completely free, did you know? I was really surprised by that! Please accept my gift, it would make me so happy to think I was able to do something nice for all of you.
All my love, Síofra
MEININGER Hotel Berlin Mitte
Oranienburger Straße 67/68, Mitte, 10117 Berlin
Phone +49 (0)30 3187 9816
Fax +49 (0)30 666 36 222
Barbara sat in her office chair, the one that still had the useless wheel, and looked up at Richard and Dan, standing behind her. "Can you believe this? I never even thought the little bitch even liked me, and then this!"
Dan grinned. "Heh, waiting for me, huh?"
Richard scratched his head. "Free tickets... is free tickets."