A story of eight and one half ponies
Chapter Eleven: A Cup Of Terror
Sandcastle and Summer Raincloud had ponied the front desk all morning now, since Bethany had put them in charge. Both had chosen their new names only that morning, standing at the desk; Logan had decided on Summer Raincloud because that is what he thought the color of his coat resembled. Elijah had named himself Sandcastle for two reasons. One, his coat was the color of sand, and Logan thought that his white mane looked like clouds hanging above tan dunes. The other reason was that Elijah felt that sand castles were associated with summer, and he wanted a special connection with Logan. Both thought this was cute and romantic.
Logan, 'Summer Raincloud', had turned out to be a unicorn, which fascinated them both. Sandcastle was a little jealous at first, but then thought better of it; maybe he himself wasn't a unicorn, but he his coltfriend was, and that was the next best thing.
Summer had been trying all morning, on and off, to attempt to do something magical with his new horn, but had no success at all. Sandcastle would find some object under the desk, bring it up in his teeth, set it down on the countertop and say "Ok, try moving this!" or "Change this into a tomato!" or some other seemingly impossible task. A good sport, Summer had patiently tried each time, but had so far not even gotten his horn to glow.
In between attempts, the two talked football. Summer had long been a Manchester fan, Sandcastle was Brazil all the way. Sandcastle's argument was simple; Brazil had ruled the sport for as long as anyone could remember, and the recent worm burner right to goal in the last cup was, as the tan stallion had put it, "Totally, totally awesome!". Manchester by comparison was merely a bunch of talentless thugs. Hopefully, even a deluded mule such as Summer must acknowledge this obvious and scientifically demonstrable fact.
Summer patiently tried to educate the clearly retarded colt about the long history and vital tradition that Manchester represented, not to mention the sheer magnificence of the Red Devils, and how it was clearly just Brazilian Macumba that allowed the admittedly awesome bastards to cheat their way magically to victory. Surely the simple little foal could comprehend that.
"Whoa, Summer?" Oh no, did Sandcastle have something else for him to try to levitate? "Do you think they play footie in Equestria?" It was a serious question. What if they didn't? That would be a tragedy! Suddenly, Equestria seemed less a paradise, and more a barren, hellish landscape of desperate survival.
"I honestly do not know, Sands." Both pondered the horror. "I know - if they don't play the Beautiful Game yet, then they will. Even if we have to make our own teams from scratch!"
"Brilliant! Maybe we'll bring the game to all the ponies and we'll be famous and get matching football cutie marks!" Sandcastle was thrilled at this notion.
"Summer and Sandcastle, the famous stallions that brought football to Equestria! Yes... I like it. I like that a lot!" Summer pondered what it would take. Would they need permission from the princesses to go national?
"Unless they already play it. Or something like it. How could we find out?" Sandcastle began searching around the area of the desk. "Hey! We can just look it up on the hypernet. We have a terminal here, so, lets use it!"
Summer stared at Sandcastle for a moment. Maybe he really was a little light in the lobes. "No hands, remember?"
Sandcastle drooped. "Oh. Duh. Hey, I've only been a pony for a day now. Well, two days, technically." Suddenly Sandcastle brightened. "Wait! I know! Try using your horn on it!" Big smile.
Summer just groaned.
"Hi boys!" Thankfully, Bethany was back. "Shift's over, lads, time to go get some lunch. Shoo, shoo!" Beth was territorial about her desk. "Hey! What's all this stuff doing all over the counter?"
Summer and Sandcastle beat a hasty retreat to the cafeteria.
"What the hell were they doing up here?" Bethany began putting the stuff she kept at the counter back where it belonged. "Ewww..." Beth's face showed disgust. "There's saliva all over my phone!"
It was both the most exciting, and the quietest lunch in the history of the clinic 042 cafeteria. The 'animals' had behaved themselves so very well that Alexi and Caprice found themselves staying in the lunch room, rather than retreating to her room. They sat at one of the low Kang tables; Miriam had filled the makeshift nursing bottle with a milk and cream mixture, carefully warmed. Caprice was feeding her new daughter, holding the glass with the rubber glove in her teeth. Buttermilk was eagerly gulping the contents.
Sitting on the other side of Caprice, also close, was Pumpkin, who was cooing softly at little Buttermilk; she was mesmerized by the tiny creature; not only was the little unicorn cute, Pumpkin would soon enough have her own foal to nurture.
Alexi, for his part, seemed to have lost any remaining human inhibitions, and sat close to Caprice, with an arm around her. He was in every respect the proud papa, whatever had happened inside him had dramatically changed his attitude.
The staff of the clinic, the applicants, and the newfoals had formed a circle around the unusual family, sitting on the floor, on the tops of tables, anywhere to be close enough to watch. No one there had ever seen an Equestrian as young as Buttermilk, and all were fascinated by the sheer novelty of an infant newfoal.
Dr. Pastern and Lynn were quietly eating their lunches at a table away from the crowded circle; they did not particularly feel the need to stare at a foal suckling at a rubber glove; they were simply hungry.
"Alexi... is an interesting man, I have to say." Lynn had seemed a bit disturbed by the show of affection in the corridor; it was not everyday that one saw a man kissing a pony, and there were numerous cultural issues with such an act. "I don't know how I'm supposed to process any of this."
"Come on, Lynn, we're in a new world here." Dr. Pastern had already thought about the inevitability of situations such as had happened with Alexi and Caprice. "You like old media; you're always trying to get me to watch this or see that - this is no different than... what was that show, the one with the aliens and the space ship?"
"Star Trek. And Babylon Five. You really should see those, Ros. They're really good - for pre-collapse programs." Lynn had a plate full of vegetarian goulash, she was disappointed that it wasn't very spicy.
"Yeah, 'Babylon Trek' or whatever. Anyway, they had humans mating with aliens on those shows you once told me. And that other one, 'Alien Country' or whatever, that was all about a human and an alien having a sexual relationship." Roselyn had gone for the tofu surprise; sadly, the only surprise was that it had less spice than the goulash.
"'Alien Nation'. Again, really good, so what's your point?" Lynn tried a bit of Roselyn's tofu, then immediately went back to her goulash.
"All of these shows had relationships between humans and alien beings, right?" Roselyn decided that the tofu was just too bland, and went for her vanilla-like pudding instead. "And nobody freaked out over any of it, did they? And these beings, they evolved on completely different worlds, with completely alien biologies, correct?"
"Yeah, that was true of all those shows. Some even had half-breed children. They used genetic engineering to make it work or something." Lynn sipped her orange juice. It wasn't real of course, but it was orange at least.
"Equestrians are from here, more or less. I mean, consider them. They're not terrestrial ponies, not in the least. But they are too close to earthly creatures to be a coincidence, or to be some kind of parallel evolution. There is some history between Equestria and our world, there has to be." Roselyn liked the pudding. Not bad, actually, she thought. "So tell me Lynn, which is creepier - a human kissing some totally alien creature from a distant world, a creature that evolved under completely different circumstances, and ended up with a completely alien biology.... or a human kissing a sapient being that we know is made from basically the same stuff as us, and which must reasonably have some distant - if unknown- connection to our own world?"
"It's not the same thing, Ros! All the Star Trek aliens looked human, well, except for having weird foreheads."
"So it's just all about appearance then? It's OK to have relations with a horrifically alien creature as long as they look kind of like us?" Roselyn had run out of pudding and was working on a muffin.
"Alexi was kissing a pony. That's the problem. There used to be laws about that sort of thing a long time ago." Lynn as still plowing through her goulash, it might be bland, but it was food, and she was pretty hungry.
"Alexi could BE a pony, in just fifteen minutes, Lynn. That is the world we live in now. Pony, human, the difference between these two creatures is fifteen minutes and three ounces of serum. You could be a pony by the end of lunch! What does it matter whether anyone's lips are ape or equine at this point? In the end, everyone will have to be equine, so really, aren't we all predestined ponies now, in the end?" Roselyn wondered if she could kiss an Equestrian stallion, as a human. How would that feel? Ultimately, what did it matter?
"Alright, fine." Lynn was tired of the discussion. "It just bothered me I guess, because, well, I don't know anymore. Hey, what about whoever we were supposed to convert this morning? Were they upset to get bumped?" Changing the subject was often a good idea around Roselyn, she had a tendency to over-analyze every topic.
"Haven't heard a peep. Apparently Caprice had a talk with him and... he was more than gracious about giving up his slot for little Buttermilk. Maybe we should hire her to wrangle the animals." Roselyn pushed her tray away, the muffins were gone, and she wasn't willing to face the tofu again.
"I think Bethany would object to that; we can only have one receptionist." Lynn nodded over at the center of the lunch crowd circle. "Besides, Caprice already seems to have an entire ranch going."
In the center of the circle, Pumpkin was now holding the homebrew baby bottle in her mouth, and was having a turn feeding Buttermilk. Caprice was grooming Pumpkin's mane, trying to untangle part of it near her ear. Alexi was busy finally chowing down, he was a hungry, hungry man it seemed. They all did make quite the domestic scene. It was easy to imagine them all living together on some Equestrian farm.
That was when the gentle quiet was shattered by the sound of Bethany screaming. She was screaming because the shotgun blast had obliterated her face and blinded her.
He had considered wearing one of the captured blackmesh armor suits, but decided against that for several reasons. One was that none of them were exactly his size; the suits needed to correctly fit or they just did not look convincing. Another reason was that he might be asked too many questions; blackmesh guards tended to sit in specific locations, or patrol very small areas - he might stand out walking around the complex, looking for a specific clinic.
The answer was obvious when he finally realized it; deliverymen could go anywhere. They were expected to be uncertain about where they needed to be, and it was normal to have them looking about, trying to find the correct address. Dressed as a deliveryman, Billy Culpepper could pretty much go wherever he wanted, and he would not appear suspicious at all.
There were two kinds of deliverymen left; worldcorp security transport and local zone shipping. As a Northwest Zone Shipping man, he would have the greatest freedom; worldcorp security was far more direct, and would not have much excuse to wander around - they already would know where anything important was.
Fortunately, the militia had confiscated an entire rack of zone shipping clothing, so it was no problem to find a suit that fit.
This however meant that Billy would be going in without the benefit of blackmesh armor, or any armor, which would mean he would need to be quick and precise. He would also need to leave before things got complicated; this meant a very simple hit-and-run operation.
He had worked out an optimal strategy; he would carry his weapons in the package to be delivered, electronically cloaked to prevent detection at the security doors. Billy had considered what was available, and how it might be used.
He wished he had an automatic weapon available, but all the ammo for those had been used up recently in a skirmish with a local gang that had rather seriously wanted inside the HLF compound. That left only pistols and shotguns. Billy had his own, personal piece, of course, but that was for... special occasions. He went with a shotgun, but he needed more.
One thing they were not short of at the present was explosives. Billy picked out two of the amazing grenades constructed by their talented demolitions expert. His name was Sergio, and he was very, very good at working with explosives. The grenades were compact, lethal, and Sergio was a genius at area effects. These babies were filled with precisely placed BB's, embedded inside the explosive medium within carefully designed layers. The result was an antipersonnel device that shredded entire areas, maximizing lethality inside a disk-shaped region intended to clear entire rooms, or provide total area denial in wide spaces.
Billy really respected Sergio. Everyone did, really.
The plan was simple and direct; enter the complex, find clinic 042, disable or kill any initial contacts to prevent alarms, and then proceed to any crowded space and toss a delayed pineapple. Then it was just a matter of getting the hell out of there, playing up the part of frightened delivery man if stopped. If he was quick enough, he wouldn't be stopped.
That was what got amateurs captured or killed. Drama. There is no drama in a proper action; the goal is to be machine precise, fast, exacting. No wasted motions, no stopping to see results. Be the machine. Go in, deliver, and get out. This is what made Billy great. Once he was on mission, he was a machine.
Daniel wanted to go with him, of course, supposedly as support, but the fact of it was that he was there to make sure that Billy would complete the job. Billy also considered the possibility of a friendly frag along the way; it was no secret Dan wanted to be top dog. Daniel could come, but only if Richards came too. Dan wasn't exactly pleased with that. This had made Billy smile.
They were professionals; they encountered no resistance approaching the AppleSoft complex. Billy double checked his equipment, the timing on his two grenades, and the ready state of his shotgun. Everything was repacked and ready, and it was go time.
Whistling a merry tune, the Delivery Man walked up to the entrance of the San Francisco Conversion Bureau. He carried a long package under his arm, and struggled with it as he opened the front door. Inside, he walked over to the blackmesh security station and asked about the location of Clinic 042, showing them a NWZ-J Googlzon Order Delivery Form. He was directed to the Second floor, section B, and wished a good day. He passed the Bureau main desk, and walked around the dead tree in the entrance garden.
The Delivery Man smiled at the receptionist from Clinic 011; it was her break and she liked to go up to the roof to look at the Equestrian Barrier. He nodded at the two newfoals from Clinic 036, Limerick and Pattycake; they were known at the Bureau as the prankster twins and their tricks were legendary. Up the unmoving escalator stairs the Delivery Man went; Bureau Central Planning had never gotten around to funding repairs to the elevators.
Finally the Delivery Man found himself at a row of modular clinics, built on the second tier of the immense complex. The zero-forties faced the rail, looking down on the entrance; Clinic 042 was third from the broken escalator. He walked without hesitation to the large security door of the prefabricated construction.
Just inside the security door, the Delivery Man spied the receptionist at the counter. She was the first threat; she had access to the alarm system. He smiled and approached, making small talk. He accidentally dropped the package, and bent over to retrieve it. He opened the package and lifted out the shotgun. The receptionist saw the man rise, shotgun in hand, the barrel pointed directly at her face.
Then her world became wet blackness.
"What the..?" Roselyn jumped to her feet; She could hear Bethany screaming and screaming. Lynn stood up too, right beside her. "Ros, that was a gunshot! Shit! We're under attack!" Groups such as the Human Liberation Front and the God's Planet Army were always making threats; both women remembered the recent attack on the Ottawa Bureau. "Lynn! The Conversion Room! It's a fortress. Get everyone in there, as many as will fit. I'll call security!"
Roselyn ran off down the corridor to the Conversion Room. Quickly, she entered her passcode, and swung the door wide. She grabbed the box of elastic gloves and slammed it down to hold the door open for Lynn. Roselyn ran to the wall by the holoterminal and punched the big red button on the yellow, striped panel there. Alarms rang out throughout clinic 042, an additional alert sent to every terminal in the building. The blackmesh would already be on their way.
A face floated in front of the holoterminal. It was one of the blackmesh commanders, what's his name? -Roselyn couldn't remember in the moment, it didn't matter anyway - she explained what she had heard, and what she was doing. He informed her that help was on the way, that she was ordered to seal the Conversion Room immediately and await recovery. It was her duty to protect the Red Case at all costs, regardless of risk or casualty. The face vanished.
Roselyn went to the door. Lynn and the others should have been here by now. Only the corridor separated the cafeteria from the Conversion Room. Something was very wrong. Roselyn listened carefully. She could hear soft weeping under the constant alarm. An angry man's voice told someone to shut up. The weeping became muffled.
The angry man must be the attacker. Why had he not charged the Conversion Room? Lynn. Lynn must have told him that the clinic doctor had sealed herself in the armored room! It was standard protocol. The attacker must either know that, or have simply believed her. That must be it. The blackmesh guards would be outside the clinic by now. The sirens stopped. Roselyn could hear the blackmesh using a loudspeaker to address the man.
The red case sat on the counter beside her. Inside it was the Erlenmeyer flask containing eight remaining ounces of nanotechnomagical serum. It was the only non-expendable thing in the room, indeed within the whole of the clinic. She had been briefed about such situations; potential attackers would likely be after the serum either to destroy it, or more importantly to collect a sample of it. The greatest fear was that groups opposed to conversion might develop a means to render it useless. Nothing was more important than keeping the serum from unauthorized access. She must close the door and seal the room. Her duty was utterly clear.
Then Roselyn heard the voice of Alexi in the cafeteria. He was yelling that someone should 'Leave her alone' and that if someone needed to be shot it should be him. What was going on in there? Suddenly there was a shot, followed by screams and crying. The attacker yelled for silence. The weeping turned to muffled sobs. Roselyn heard a plaintive voice softly calling a name over and over. It was 'Alexi'.
Fuck her duty.
Things had gone wrong for William Duke Culpepper - he had taken out the receptionist, he had arrived during lunch, when everyone would be distracted and conveniently located in one place - but somehow the doctor had fled to the Abomination Room. Those things were built to survive tactical nukes; she must have set off the alarm. Dammit. He had been quick and precise, he did not expect these pony lovers to be quite that ready.
It could all still work out though; he had hostages. Over two dozen hostages, some human, some freaks, but all useful. The blackmesh were acting as expected; they had made their demands. Soon they would send a negotiator. That was their weakness, of course. Billy would never send a negotiator, except as a ruse. If he were the one outside the clinic, he would just order his men in guns blazing. Civilian casualties would be inevitable, but acceptable; done right not one of his own men would even be wounded. But these government tools were hamstrung by the policies of weak-willed corporate bureaucrats.
That would get him out of here. He had planned for this, too.
Billy scanned the terrified lunch crowd, all face down, hands behind heads -or for the freaks- as flat as they could manage. None of them would have any weapons, they would not dare to rise as one; someone might get hurt. That was the secret of crowd control. They could take him in an instant, overpower him with nothing but the mass of their number, if they were not all cowards.
But they were terrified now, he had demonstrated his power, and they were cowed. The man he had shot had stood to protect one of the alien freaks! Of course he had shot him. Billy would have liked to have killed the pony-lover outright, but a wounded man is a greater burden to an enemy than a dead man. Basic strategy. One of the loathsome aliens was weeping over the race traitor now. Excellent. Suffering breeds obedience.
Billy held one of Sergio's fragmentation devices in his hand. In the other, he held one of his two standard pistols. If negotiation did not work out, he would take everyone with him. His name would be legendary, an inspiration to the cause of humanity itself.
No negotiator came. Instead, an amplified voice from outside addressed him. "William Culpepper. You have been identified by Bureau Security. We have your co-conspirators, Daniel Elliott and Samuel Richards in custody. Lay down your weapons, and then lay down on the floor, arms behind your back. You will not be hurt if you comply. This will be your only warning."
What the hell? This is not what happens! They were going to come in gunning for him. They didn't give a crap about their own people in here! It wasn't possible. And leave it to those idiots, Dan and Richards to get themselves caught. Jesus fucking Christ. Fools.
That was it then. This was the end. Fine. He had always been prepared to give his life for humanity. But dammit, if only he could take more of them with him. Ah! He had two fine fragmentation grenades, hand built by the best explosives expert he had ever known. "Just a moment!" Billy yelled out towards the front door, past the common area. "I will comply! I will comply!"
Billy began to creep towards the front of the clinic. The low moans of the receptionist grew louder. The front doors had been pulled open from outside, but there was no one to be seen; the blackmesh would be crouching on either side. Idiots. They probably expected him to panic and try to make a run for it out of what seemed like a clear path. He would give them a little gift, instead.
Billy crouched down next to the wall leading into the entrance chamber. In front of him was the reception desk, somewhere around the corner must be what was left of the receptionist. Her low moans and burbles were the only sound now.
Putting his pistol into his pocket, Billy held the grenade in both of his hands. He gave one last glance beyond the desk, then turned his attention to the device. He set the switch for a fifteen second delay after any sharp impact. He could press a button to activate the grenade, toss it, and be back in the cafeteria in that time, safe from the storm of shrapnel it would produce. It was likely he could kill the entire group, leaving a truly free path to escape. Dan and Sam were on their own, the idiots.
Billy entered the three digit arming code and prepared to press the activation trigger. As he stood up, he smelled something. It smelled like... grape. Like artificial grape soda. What the? His arm was wet! So was half of his back. It was dripping into his pants. Billy whirled around, his arm cramping up on him.
A redheaded woman in a lab coat stood facing Billy, a toothsome feral grin on her face; her eyes were angry and narrowed. She was breathing heavily. In her gloved hand she held a large jar or flask of some kind; the remains of some purple fluid still in it.
Billy couldn't throw the grenade. He couldn't press the activator; he couldn't feel his fingers. He couldn't even move his arm; it just kept cramping harder and harder, folding tight against his body. Now the right side of his chest began to cramp as well. The pain was... it was...
Roselyn stood watching as the delivery man began to fold in upon himself. He was clutching some kind of device in what remained of his right limb; already what had been an arm had become an amorphous blob of waxy, rippling flesh. The man screamed, gurgling in his throat, as he rolled slowly over on the ground. Half of his head was now bald, a waxy mass of squirming agonized tissues. As he rolled over in terror and pain, she could see his wide-mouthed shrieking face, half human and half... something else.
The device he had held softly rolled away as the man writhed on the floor. His clothing ripped and shredded around him, split by opposing sides of his body struggling against each other.
Roselyn did not even notice the blackmesh guards surrounding her and the delivery man; her eyes were fixed entirely on the unfolding horror. The gurgling man had begun to choke on his own vomit, his left eye pushed entirely outside of his rapidly deforming skull. The dangling eye swung to and fro as spasm after spasm wracked his twisting form. She could hear his bones break and shatter inside the meat of him, as the increasingly equinoid right half of his body no longer matched the unchanged human left half.
Blood shot out of the dissimilar sides of the asymmetrical monsters head, pouring through two vastly different nostrils, and also out of the twisted, ripped gash that once had been a mouth. The abomination's aberrant abdomen tore itself open, spilling dancing intestines that ripped themselves open as they swarmed on the ground like fat, pink snakes. Finally, the mass of heaving tissues gagged and shook; then lay still, drenched in blood, vomit and feces.
Roselyn's feral grin began to fade as the reality of what she had done set in. Oh Celestia. Oh Celestia. What had she done, what had she... Roseyln looked down at her surgically gloved hand. In it was the open Erlenmeyer flask. A small drip of purple ran down her glove to spatter on the floor. Oh, dear sweet Celestia, what had she done?
"Doctor Roselyn Pastern, SFCB Clinic 042, you are charged with violating corporate directive 001-A: Primary Protection Of The Transformative Element. I need you to place the flask carefully on the floor for collection, and then submit to immediate detention prior to..." The young blackmesh soldier was suddenly punched on the arm by an older blackmesh soldier, clearly his superior. "What the fuck are you doing, Jenkins?"
"Sir, I am taking this individual into custody for corporate policy violation, SIR!"
"Do you see what I am holding here, Jenkins?" The older blackmesh held out his hand, in it was one of the devices that the delivery man had been holding when he was dying. "This is a composite fragmentation device. Expertly made, I might add. Our perp here was about to toss it out the door before the good doctor here stopped him. If she hadn't we would all be very, very dead." The soldier let this sink in to the younger blackmesh for a moment. "You owe her your life, soldier. Say thank you to the doctor."
Soldier Jenkins blinked, stared at the grenade, then looked up at Roselyn. "Uh...excuse me, Ma'am. And... thank you. Thank you very much." His eyes were wide, his pupils small.
"Ms..." The older soldier checked his datalink. "...Pastern, I think maybe you should get that jug back into proper storage now." Roselyn was still frozen, staring at the twisted half-pony on the floor "Ms. Pastern? Please?"
Roselyn looked up suddenly, her face still a mask of horror. "Yes. The... jug. Right... away. Thank you, soldier." Roselyn turned and began to walk back towards the Conversion Room, unsteadily at first, then more quickly.
The older blackmesh looked down at the corpse. "Daaaamn." The body was contorted, limbs bent and contracted like some giant, dead insect. One brown human eye hung from a short stalk, pointing towards the floor, on the other side of the thing's head, bright pink hair hung in clumps around an impossibly huge violet eye. The violet eye blindly stared at the ceiling, glazing over out as it cooled.
Dr. Roselyn Pastern walked mechanically through the common room. She bumped into the rumpled couch. Looking down, she saw that it had blocked her path. She stood there, wondering how she could get past it. Slowly, it dawned on her that she would have to move slightly to the left to continue. With difficulty, she changed direction and walked around the obstacle, then turned to face the cafeteria again.
As she was walking, Lynn ran up to her. "Ros! Roselyn! Alexi's been shot. He's bleeding out. Ros! Snap out of it! Dammit we need you!" Roselyn looked up. Everything seemed so far away, and she felt so numb inside. "Roselyn! Goddammit!" Roselyn felt hands on the sides of her cheeks. They belonged to Lynn. Lynn's face was very close now. "Doctor Roselyn Pastern, you are needed immediately. We have a possible code blue immanent. Gunshot trauma to the abdomen with massive loss of blood. What do we do?"
Years of internship began to overcome her shock. "W-Where's the patient. Take me to the patient. Get... We need replacement blood volume, stat." Lynn led the doctor to the center of the cafeteria. The crowd parted around them.
Caprice was leaning heavily, putting all of her weight onto her front legs. These were buried deep into Alexi Venäläinen's stomach. Blood covered his shirt and the floor. Blood had soaked the peach pony's legs. Alexi's face was very pale. He was breathing in short gasps, his eyes rolled in pain, his hands clenched tightly together, the nails digging deep into his palms.
Tiny squirts of blood oozed from around Caprice's crimson hooves. Dr. Pastern recognized that she was putting all of her weight on Alexi's exposed abdominal artery, clamping it effectively closed. Pastern was impressed, if she had not shut the artery, Alexi would have bled out in seconds. Only the intense pressure of her heavy hooves was keeping him momentarily alive.
"Hemofreeze. We need Hemofreeze!" The ultimate coagulant and stabilizer, it not only sealed even major ruptures of primary arteries, but stabilized the patient through nanotech agents. Roselyn had bent down to examine the wound; Alexi's abdomen was open, she could see part of his stomach and some of his large intestine.
"We don't have it, Ros." Lynn spoke very quietly. "We don't have any blood substitute either. We only have basic supplies, remember?" Lynn was beginning to see that there was nothing that could be done, something she had not wanted to admit.
"FUCK! The solution's right here!" Roselyn lifted the Erlenmeyer. "Sorry, Alexi, but it's time to go pony. Goddamit, what the fuck is wrong with me?" Then she saw how much was left in the flask. It wasn't much. It was definitely less than three ounces.
"Lynn! Go to 043. Get their serum. Get more serum NOW! Run!" Pastern felt cold dread inside.
"You know that they won't..." Lynn began. "I'll try. I'll try." Lynn immediately got up and ran for the front of the clinic.
"Shit, shit, shit!" Roselyn stared at the Erlenmeyer in her gloved hands. She had tossed the contents without thinking, there was so little left. She tried to hold the flask level, to read the gradation marks. How much was in there, exactly? Two... two and a fourth, perhaps. Two and a fourth ounces. It wasn't enough. The process could end prematurely. It just wasn't enough. It probably wasn't enough.
Somehow, Roselyn found herself staring into Caprice's eyes. She didn't remember looking up, but she must have. In those eyes was a desperation that Roselyn had only seen once before in her life, on the face of a heavy, unkempt man, bolted into a frame, hissing because he could not scream.
"Lynn will not return in time. You must." Caprice's voice was quiet, yet it was the only thing Roselyn could hear. It was like the room was suspended in time, and the only thing in that moment were those green eyes, that peach face, and those words.
Reality returned in a rush, the sound of crying, the sound of running feet, the ragged gasps getting weaker, slower, and more irregular. Alexi was dying, and there was nothing else to be done.
Roselyn Pastern held the Erlenmeyer out, over the open crater where Alexi's belly has once been, the space where Caprice's sodden, bloody hooves crushed Alexi's abdominal aorta closed. She dribbled about a third of the flask into the cavity. Immediately, the raw tissues began to react, puffing up like rapidly rising dough.
Next, she carefully poured another third into Alexi's barely gasping mouth. Purple fluid bubbled with his breathing, a small trickle escaped his mouth and dribbled down his cheek. As the fluid ran across his skin, it melted into his face, leaving a puffy, swelling line where the serum had been absorbed. Somehow, Alexi managed to swallow. Then he fell silent, and his breathing stopped.
The bulging, rippling tissues within his abdominal cavity began to balloon out even more, pushing Caprice's hooves away. "Caprice! Off!" Pastern shouted. The peach pony pulled her dripping red hooves out of Alexi. They now made pools on the floor beside him.
Pastern poured the last of the Erlenmeyer into the lower portion of the still open cavity. She hammered the bottom of the flask to try to get every remaining drop out of it. Then noticing streaks of purple on her gloves, she wiped them on Alexi's arms and legs, until the gloves appeared clean.
It was only then that Roselyn remembered that there was no anesthesia in the flask. She had simply grabbed the bottle and crept out to deal with the attacker. Oh, Celestia! she thought, and her face turned pale.
Alexi's body rippled and writhed. There was no trace of the purple nanofluid now, it had been entirely absorbed. Roselyn looked down and saw tiny fibrous tendrils snaking out of Alexi's abdominal cavity, growing like weeds through the copious pool of blood on the floor. "Get back! Everyone! Back away!" The nanomachines were loose, coursing through flesh and blood wherever they could reach. "Caprice! Back! Back! The blood!"
Caprice finally understood and leapt back just as the tiny, rootlike tendrils invaded the two splotches where her hooves had dripped on the floor.
As they watched, the blobs of blood and spattered tissues swelled and began to squirm. The tendrils pulled the still living tissues together into what was now an almost amorphous central mass. The open cavity in the center began to close, the torn edges sealing together like ragged lips. Huge waves and contortions of muscle, fat and connective tissue caused the entire mass to flop and slap the floor like some large, nightmarish abalone, cut from its shell and tossed alive into a hot frying pan.
Suddenly, Dr. Pastern stood up, turned away, and ran for the corridor that led away from the cafeteria.
The lumpen thing that had been Alexi Venäläinen thumped and bumped the floor faster and faster, loud wet smacks spanking the tiles of the cafeteria. Then the flopping and squirming began to lessen, as a familiar equinoid shape gradually became discernible. The crude shape of wings began to protrude from the sides and back of the mass.
A low, moaning sound emanated from the fleshy, writhing mass. It grew in intensity as new lungs sucked in air. The nearly naked shape, covered only in fragments of shredded clothing began to breath out again. The breath took on sound as newly regenerated vocal cords began to vibrate. The sound became a yell, which turned into a scream. The scream became a repetitive shriek, interspersed with ragged, sucking breaths.
Huge eyeballs surfaced in the doughy head, and the eyelid skin covering them strained desperately to open in horror, but they could not; the upper and lower lids had not yet unsealed.
Pastern was running back. She held in her hands two large syringes, each fully loaded with a clear liquid. "Make Way!" She shouted, as humans and newfoals parted from where they had crowded back around.
Roselyn dropped to her knees, sliding on the tiles. She laid the syringes down, to free her hands. With one newly emptied hand she grasped a tortured, spasming leg, and sought anything that might be a vein or an artery. Beneath the quivering skin, dark vessels wiggled like snakes. She picked up one of the syringes and took a best guess, plunging into the twisting, shifting mass.
Gradually the shrieking softened, turning to yells, and then moans. Pastern kept slowly injecting the anesthetic, knowing that it was being deconstructed almost as soon as it entered the body. But if the sounds that came from the rapidly forming newfoal were any gauge, it was at least helping, it was significantly better than nothing.
Lynn was still not back. Roselyn studied the quieting form of the emerging newfoal. "Come on, you little buggers!" A tear dropped down her cheek. "COME ON, DON'T YOU GIVE UP!" The syringe was empty, she pulled it out and tossed it aside. "Dammit, Dammit..." The fleshy, naked shape was now a complete stallion. It moved slowly, shivering. A line appeared at the bottom of an eye, and the eye suddenly ripped wide, exposing a bright purple iris, and a tiny, contracted pupil. But still no coat, no tail. The almost pony moved its naked mouth soundlessly, as if trying to speak.
Roselyn was crying now, her fists balled up and on the floor. Her tears dripped onto the quivering, naked flesh. "If there is any magic left, if there is any power left in you little machines..." A sob wracked her frame. "CELESTIA! HEAR ME! LET THIS PONY LIVE!" Roselyn collapsed into herself, crying openly, it had been too much, too much pain today, too much horror, just too much, just too much, just too much.
The almost stallion gave a loud sigh as it's head fell from where it had lifted in pain. The head hit the tiles, the eyes closing. It lay still and naked. Several people in the crowd covered their mouths, or began to cry. Caprice, tears dropping from her eyes, laid her head down sideways on the unfinished body.
Caprice's eyes took in a landscape of flesh, bare and pink. Suddenly, tiny hairs began to sprout, pushing their way up out of the field of pink. She could feel them pressing against her own coat, and tickling the sides of her mouth. She raised her head, startled.
The stallion gasped, choked, and breathed in again. The awn hairs shooting out had been overcome by guard hairs, strong and thick, a brilliant, shining white. White feathers began to grow out of the naked wings, drying as they unfurled like tiny, white flags. Bright purple eyes opened wide again, this time the pupils were large. "Caaaa.... Caaappprrr....." The stallion tried to speak. "Caaappprrriiiccce..."
"I'm here, I'm right here Alexi!" Caprice was desperately nuzzling and licking pony Alexi's face and lips. "I'm right here. I'm here. I'm right here!"
A bright, deep blue mane shot out of Alexi's crest, withers and poll, shiny, straight, and strong. A blue tail spooled out, long and luxurious. "Caprice, oh my Caprice, my lovely Caprice..." Alexi kept repeating her name, over and over.
Roselyn was sitting up now, her hands over her mouth in disbelief and joy. She was laughing and crying now, unsure what she was feeling, except that she knew she was glad.
Lynn ran up, breathing heavily. In her hand was a red case. "I GOT SOME!" she panted and babbled rapidly: "043 wouldn't give me any so I just ran to 044 and I just ran in there and I grabbed their case and I ran out again and..." Lynn suddenly noticed Alexi and Caprice kissing long and deep on the floor. Cheers filled the air.
Roselyn turned and hugged Lynn's knees, crying and laughing.
Suddenly, Roselyn stopped. "Lynn!" Dr. Pastern grabbed the remaining syringe, and quickly got up. "FOLLOW ME, NOW!" Pastern grabbed Lynn's free hand and began dragging her violently towards the front of the clinic. "BETH! We have to save Beth!"
Roselyn and Lynn stumbled past the common room and into the reception area. Dr. Belden from 043 was already there accompanied by the blackmesh soldiers Pastern had dealt with before. "There's the thief! Look!" Said the elderly doctor "She still has our red case in her hand!"
Lynn didn't know what to say. The older blackmesh soldier was puzzled, what was going on now? Roselyn suddenly tore the red case from Lynn's hand and dashed behind the reception counter. There, curled into a blood soaked ball, the coagulated remains of Bethany's blind skull gurgled and whimpered. Beth's body shook and quivered in pain and shock. A vast pool of blood covered the floor, more was oozing out constantly, a slow but unstoppable flow.
Dr. Pastern sat down with a splash in the blood and got to work.
Roselyn put the syringe she had been carrying in her lap, and turned to the red case. She entered a top secret universal passcode on the active surface of the case. It was a code only intrusted to those in the Bureau with an Umbra-Cosmik-Magik level clearance; Roselyn, of course, had that exact clearance. The case opened. She took out 043's Erlenmeyer, removed the stopper, and with a free hand, grabbed Bethany by her blood soaked hair, and wrenched her head into a better position. Bethany's ruined mouth spat teeth at Roselyn, her empty eyesockets gleamed with fragments of bone and dried blood. As a sticky, bloody tooth slowly slid down Roselyn's cheek, she poured her best guess of three or more ounces down the wide hole where Beth's lower jaw partially remained.
Roselyn set the Erlenmeyer down, and picked up the anesthetic syringe. As Bethany began her conversion, Roselyn slowly administered the anesthetic. Only then did she realize that she had put no thought as to whether Bethany's allergenotype was the same as Alexi's. Shit! That was a two in three chance that she would potentially kill Beth while trying to save her! She removed the needle.
Bethany had already turned waxy and begun to change. "The difference between a poison and a drug is dosage." Roselyn said the ancient words out loud, talking to herself. It was not too insane; if she kept the amount of anesthetic very, very low, and administered it only occasionally, the nanomachines could potentially compensate for any dangerous reaction. Beth had certainly gotten a full portion of serum, probably more like four ounces. There would be enough to cover ongoing damage as well as complete conversion!
Roselyn reinserted the syringe, and injected only when Bethany started to show signs of unbearable pain. Roselyn kept the level as low as possible, constantly checking for any sign of allergenic response in the reconstructing tissue. Nothing untoward occurred - either Roselyn had lucked out, or the extra serum combined with gradual administration was a valid concept.
As Bethany began to grow a coat of chestnut hair, Roselyn noticed boots and legs standing around her. Beside her, Dr. Belden looked down, his face no longer angry. Roselyn knew he was a nice man, he just hadn't understood why his case had been taken. The blackmesh soldiers stood on the other side of the desk, beyond where Bethany lay, and standing with them was Lynn. Lynn gave Roselyn a supportive nod.
A light red mane and tail appeared, finishing the transformation. Bethany's eyes fluttered open. "Ayyy caaan seee. I can see! I can see!" Tears dripped from her fresh new eyes. It must have been terrible to have been both blind and without a face for so long, alone, in terrible pain.
"I'm sorry we stole your case, Dr. Belden." Roselyn's eyes were red, and her face weary. "There just wasn't time to argue."
Dr. Belden put his hand on Roselyn's shoulder. "I understand, Dr. Pastern. But I'll need you to figure out how we can account for things, later, OK?" The old doctor gave Roselyn a smile, and patted her. "It's alright, boys, there's been no crime here. My mistake."
"I understand, sir." The older blackmesh turned to his subordinate. "Come on Jenkins, peepshow's over."
Private Jenkins, who had never witnessed a conversion before, was still in shock. "S-sir. R-right sir. Coming. Sir."
Roselyn turned back to Beth. "Beth? How are you feeling? Listen, I had to convert you. You had... you were really bad off. I'm sorry." The Bureau did not have a good health plan; Beth would have been fortunate to have even basic treatment before being dismissed out to the street, blind and helpless.
"No, it's alright... Ros." Pony Beth looked up with wide, ruby eyes. "This was... it was a really good day to go pony. Thank you. Oh, god, it's so good to be able to see again. Thank you."
"At least your tumors won't be bothering you anymore." Roselyn tried to smile, but it was hard to smile today.
"I'm almost going to miss those things!" Bethany lifted her head and looked at what she could see of her new body. "I'm a redhead! I always wanted red hair like yours."
Roselyn patted Bethany's side. "You make a pretty pony, Bethany. You'll turn all the stallions' heads."
Beth pressed her head against Roselyn's knees, where she sat on the floor. "I was really... it was horrible, Ros. It was just..." Roselyn leaned over the chestnut pony, and tried to comfort her as best as she could, while Bethany cried and cried. Roselyn began to cry too, the terrible events of the day overcoming her completely.
The two pulled together, Beth's pony head in Roselyn's lap now, both rocking and crying and pressing tight.
They sat that way, sobbing, holding each other in a drying pool of blood, teeth and human hair, for a long, long time.