2040 - Side Quest (1)Pete the coyote trotted out of Kinky's Brothel on four paws, grinning. His free trip there had been horribly embarrassing; he'd fled. But then he made himself return and treat the visit as a prank, showing the proprietor the most convoluted and obscene request he could come up with. Then he'd flipped around the paper in his mouth to show his real request: "Scritches/ear rubs?"
There were a lot of ways to have a good time in this digital world.
Pete, humanoid and wearing a suit, leaned over his bench and glared at the minotaur on the witness stand. "If you didn't hear the elevator crash, then why did you turn and stare?"
Diagrams and symbols flashed across Pete's vision. He'd requested a social upgrade for his mind, but was still running through the tutorial. The prosecution's bovine witness didn't look impressed. His breathing was normal, his pupil contraction showed only annoyance, and the body-language indicators gave little away despite his exaggerated features. Pete muttered a co
2040 - A Matter of Taste (5/5)5. Behind the Curtain
"Good start!" said Knoll, over a restaurant meal of apple pasta and something called "hay fries" that tasted like string beans.
Kai seemed especially interested in the food, buying some of everything with the obligatory loot they'd collected on the way down Mount Improbable. "Thanks for coming, Knoll. Or Noctis."
Alma said, "I guess everyone in town... ah, finally. Everyone knows what we did."
Knoll seemed to enjoy the French bread and apples as much as someone with only one body. He ate delicately with the levitation power of his horn, while the others stuffed themselves with their hooves and muzzles. "Just us, not the NPC villagers. I don't want you to get the wrong idea, miss Ratatosk. We weren't trying to snare you in this world the way the queen was trying to do."
"What was with that?" asked Kai. "You said she only just started the high-pressure recruitment? Seems like she's trying to build up her ego by having as many minds as possible on her server."
2040 - A Matter of Taste (4/5)4. Heart of the Pegasus
Onyx wasn't available, so reluctantly, Alma walked up to the nearest unicorn and invited him. The stallion blinked and said, "Mount Improbable is a dangerous place. It's no place for me!" He trotted away.
Right. There were filler NPC ponies in this town too. Alma looked around for unicorns who were showing some initiative, and found a green one gardening in druid getup. "Noctis?"
"Greetings, fair filly. Do you need assistance?"
Alma's eyes narrowed. "I can't tell what you are. Come on; are you part of the town and do you want to go adventuring to Mount Improbable?"
"Yes, ma'am, to both. Give me an hour to prepare."
She found Kai again, now missing his wings but tougher and stronger looking. She found a shop in town and bought some leather barding that wouldn't hinder her flying. The druid waited for her at the entrance to a long, hilly trail. She looked over his eager expression, his bulging saddlebags of mystical doodads and potions, and said, "Noctis, why?"
2039 - Selling Purgatory (4/4)# 4. Selling Purgatory #
Pete stood up from a VR pod within Talespace, studded with controls that had let him steer the drone. The abandoned little robot bobbed back to a charging station. An anime catgirl ran the stark white room of pods, where people were going to and fro between worlds. He told her, "I've got a question for the boss."
Ludo walked in as an Asian woman with a fox's ears, two tails, and around half a kimono. "Yes?"
Pete blushed, but didn't flinch. "What sort of advertising is running lately for Thousand Tales? Having me interview individuals is too slow."
"For what market?" asked the kitsune Ludo.
The question tripped Pete up. He'd assumed a global ad campaign, but that was a sign of his narrow vision. Of course there'd be different approaches. There were also different products: uploading, the Fun Zones, the game, movies, charities, robotics and so on. Pete said, "The Fun Zones. US market."
Ludo smiled, and handed him a computer tablet. "There's no single ad, s
2039 - Selling Purgatory (3)# 3. Lava and Legislation #
Pete woke in a comfortable bed atop a pillar surrounded by a lava lake. He stared over his tiny platform's edge and shuddered. His fear of heights wasn't completely gone. The landscape looked ordinary for Talespace: peaceful grassland and hills, with a giant stone nose streaming lava into the lake. He called out for help. He still had his backpack, which contained a leather book labeled "Quest Journal". One entry read:
"VISIT LUMINA: It was nice meeting you, though we won't remember. You make a decent robot pilot for a human. If you ever visit the Warren in Ethiopia, ask about 'new cities'. -Lumina"
The next page had another "quest" signed by Ludo: "BRAINS!: Lobby the US to have prisoners uploaded. Do that, and we not only help people who aren't having fun, but open the door to wider legalization there." (2)
It seemed like a reasonable goal, though he didn't recall agreeing to it.
Finally that phoenix-kid walked by and spotted him, saying, "You
2040 - A Matter of Taste (2/5 and 3/5)2. Valhalla and Midgard
Alma's wings shot out to either side as though ready to bolt into the sky. That one word meant far too much. "Ratatosk, the inexplicable Norse-religion squirrel who runs up and down the World Tree connecting the nine worlds, carrying rumors."
"A good name," said Queen Harvest Moon, hovering there with lazy flaps of her own ghostly wings. "You seem to have an affinity for it."
"How do you know my background?"
"Have you forgotten where you live?" the queen teased. "I have time magic to make each audience last as long as necessary, and mind magic for easy awareness of public information about anypony I meet."
The new pegasus watched her warily. "Subjective time compression and mental upgrades."
"Why not call those magic? Dedicated ponies use filter spells to swap the words automatically."
"So if you'd normally say 'anyone can learn science'..."
"Anypony can learn magic," said Harvest Moon. "However, I am a true pony. My very thoughts tend toward such words."
2039 - Selling Purgatory (1-2)# 1. Coyote Cordial #
"You're giving those kids beer?" coyote Pete asked the centaur. "How does that even work?"
The burly equine barkeeper watched the four young guests giggling and throwing peanuts around their booth. He said, "They got their brains converted to the new data format, and we know how addiction works. So where's the harm in simulated alcohol with an EULA authorizing addiction-circuit suppression?"
Pete watched the bartender trot over to them with another tray of foaming beer. Brain manipulation wasn't black-and-white, it seemed, since even sugar or chocolate did things to people's chemistry. His ears flicked backward with unease. "They are kids, right?" he said, when the centaur returned.
"Three of them. The dragon-girl is a native."
It was hard to tell what anyone in the Thousand Ales restaurant was. Pete was a coyote-man as of a few weeks ago; the few other patrons here tonight looked human but could be fellow uploaders of any age or nationality, or AIs, or people see