A story of eight and one half ponies
Chapter Three: A Cup Of Cheer
Alexi Venäläinen loved the clinic 042 microphone. He had supplied it, when the announcement system for the ancient building had failed. He had acquired an archaic Shure Model 55A Unidyne “Fatboy”, which back in the days of employment and currency would have been worth a fortune. Now, of course, nothing was worth more than barter value -the only 'collectors' were the unseen corporate elite.
Alexi had solved clinic 042's no-loudspeaker problem with a very basic amp and a set of speakers. It was trivial, really, the only problem was locating the components, and he was very good at that. Dr. Pastern had supplied him with some Noetinol and Panocane; there was always someone willing to trade for even the most basic of pseudonarcotics. Less suffering out in the ruins, and a decent loudspeaker for the clinic. This was Bureau business done right!
Two o'clock would be rolling around soon, so Alexi began trying to think of something clever to say. He had an admiration for the old days of radio, movie and television announcing, back before holos and hypermedia took over everything. Alexi loved making a show of it when he made announcements. He would pretend he was announcing the daily poop in a warzone, or that he was an old time radio jock. Sometimes he would do his 'old 2D movie voice' and boom action phrases with tremendous severity. Other times he went for cartoon voices or comedic routines.
The midday Conversion was to be Tyler Derichs. Alexi tried to think of anything about the applicant that he could recall. He'd briefly met Tyler in the cafeteria a few times over the last week; nervous guy, a bit opinionated, liked... trucks. Tyler liked old, pre-electric trucks. He claimed he had restored a few, though that seemed pointless - without hydrocarbon fuels, there was little point in restoring a machine that used them. Then again, people did the strangest things to pass the time out in the favela.
Trucks, trucks... Ah! Old truck rallies. Truck shows! The advertisements for those things had the coolest voices. Alexi holoed up some old clips to brush up on that style. That would give the animals some laughs. "M-M-MONSTER TRUUUK!" he grinned - this was going to be fun!
Dr. Pastern carefully removed two fleshstrips from the biokeeper. Each fleshstrip was a long, thin rectangle, surrounded by a nanostructured frame which supplied the living strip with nutrients and chemistry to keep it alive. Inside the biokeeper the strips of living human skin could survive for a human lifespan, outside, the frames that supported them could support the tissue for only a few hours.
She placed her fleshstrips in a petri dish, careful to handle them only by the support frame. One side of the living flesh was normal skin, the other side was wet, yellowish, glistening fat. Fleshstrips were usually unpigmented, so that changes in them could be more easily seen; the skin was like chalk, for the veins in it were not filled with blood, but with a proprietary nanofluid.
Pastern left the infirmary, turned and entered the Conversion Room. She placed the petri dish on the counter, and moved to the red case. Inside was the Erlenmeyer, with 24 ounces of ponification serum remaining.
Pastern's assistant Lynn entered, and began searching the cabinets "Did we get more blankets yet?"
Roselyn thought for a moment, while she removed the Erlenmeyer from its case. "Um... try the third cabinet... no, that one. Yes. There!"
"Thanks." Lynn watched as Roselyn set the flask down, and reached for a fleshstrip. The fleshstrip was carefully placed over the belly of the Erlenmeyer, the underside of wet fat sticking to the flask, the support frame bending to match the curvature. Next, Pastern started a timer on her holoterminal. "Ros... whatcha up to? Problem with the 'potion'?"
"I'm still bothered by Carmine." Dr. Pastern scratched her head "I just can't accept the things she said - maybe she had some kind of psychotic reaction, maybe this is a bad batch. If it is, I want to know before two."
"You know there's never been a recorded bad reaction." Lynn took out a blanket and set it on the other counter. "Pony syrup works like maaaagiiiic."
"We've seen hundreds of conversions, and all of them were perfect. But Carmine..."
"Doc, Roselyn..." Lynn came over and put a hand on Pastern's arm "...maybe she really was what she claimed. We get all kinds of people in here. All kinds."
"I suppose you're right. Three to four percent of the population are going to be born with sociopathic tendencies, we've seen hundreds of applicants... it is inevitable we'd get our share. But she was so nice."
"So, high-functioning sociopath. It happens." Lynn looked more closely at the fleshstrip sticking to the flask. "Whoa... doc, take a look."
The pale white fleshstrip had become covered in dark yellow spots. The spots were already beginning to turn black as the cells perished and withered. As the two watched, one of the larger spots developed a tiny hole in the middle, the dead, shrinking tissues separating from each other.
"What's the time?" Pastern checked the holodisplay "thirty-eight seconds. Damn. This juice is hot. Really hot."
There was no way to detect thaumatic radiation, except by the effect it had on primate, and only primate cells. The cultured human skinstrips were the standard way to check thaumatic levels in general; the more rapidly necrosis set in, the higher the thaumatic rating. The standard rating for ponification serum was 1:46, one minute and forty-six seconds until the first sign of necrosis.
Roselyn put the flask carefully back in the case. She removed her hands and studied them. "No sign of injury on me, but then I'm a complete organism, and not a fragile fleshstrip. Still... this is easily the hottest jar of pony we have ever had. Don't they check these things?"
"Maybe they don't." Lynn went to the door. "After all, there's nineteen billion people that need converting. I bet they're having a hard time just chugging this goop out to meet demand at all."
Roselyn Pastern unconsciously stood a little further away from the red case. Maybe things were so desperate that checking levels just took too much time. But could the higher level of thaumatic flux really be responsible for Carmine's strange reaction. It didn't seem likely at all. Sighing, Roselyn had to admit to herself that Lynn was probably right. Underneath that sweet girl had likely lurked a monster all along.
One thing comforted Dr. Pastern: if Carmine had been a monster, ponification would make sure she could never be such again. Equestrians could be shallow, rude, neurotic, angry, sad, even fairly bitchy and obnoxious. But the one thing they could not do was to be truly cruel. They were innately prohibited from arbitrary violence. Ponification removed all the destructive tendencies that were so vital to survival in raw, terrestrial Nature. Equestrian nature was the opposite of 'red in tooth and claw', or so it seemed. Conversion inculcated this peaceable alien nature into the newfoals.
Two o'clock was coming up. Second conversion of the day. Let's see... Roselyn checked her schedule; Tyler Derichs, age 32, male, favela dweller, allergen group 'C', three obvious implants, one permatech, two standard. Pastern reached for one of the two remaining plastic cups. No... it had been a weird day. She'd wait to pour out the anesthetic agent.
Instead, she went to her holoterminal and began researching 'sociopathology, percentage in population, current'.
Bethany had been having a weird day. It had started easily enough, the usual delivery of the case, Dr. Pastern trying to get her to go pony, bad tasting coffee, all normal for a Tuesday. But her tumors had been itching like crazy, and when her tumors itched like that, usually things were off. Back when Silverbell hit that kid -what was his name..., oh well, it ended up being 'Midsummer Night', she remembered that. Ponies had the craziest names. Whatever. Anyway, that day her tumors had itched too. They always itched on the off days.
The animals -the applicants- were restless today as well. 2:00 conversion wasn't as interesting as morning, because nobody could make a fuss over First Meal As A Pony; lunch being over and all. But today, the applicants that weren't in the study rooms watching holos about 'Life In Equestria: What You Need To Know As A Newfoal Citizen' seemed to be hanging about in the doorways to their rooms. It was like they were expecting something. Maybe it was just a boring tuesday for them. Still, Beth's tumors itched.
She saw one applicant - Nathan, she thought his name was - jump slightly when Alexi boomed over the loudspeaker.
"TUESDAY...TUESDAY...TUESDAY!!! LIVE AT THE BUREAU! TYLER -LER-ler-ler DERICHS -ICHS-ichs-ichs! THE BIG TRUCK FULL OF PONY IS COMING RIGHT AT YOOOOUUU!!! Report to the Conversion Room, Tyler, because IT'S POOOONNNYYYY TIIIIIIME!!!!" The speakers made several thudding sounds and Alexi could be heard saying 'damn' - he must have knocked over his mic, probably while waving his arms around. Alexi had way too much fun announcing the conversions.
Bethany wondered if this sort of thing happened at other bureaus. She set about updating the clinic inventory requisition. Lynn had asked her for more of something or another... blankets. Not enough blankets. Beth was sure she'd already taken care of -
The door burst open. In bounced a new face, a girl in her twenties. Her raven hair was naturally curly, and cut short. She wore a highly patched blue jumper, the lower leg on the right side had been lost -torn off, or just nothing left to patch. Her blouse, under the jumper, had once been white, now it was the color of anything that spent much time in the ruins. Her shoes didn't match, one black, the other red. She had a massive tumor on her right knee. Maybe the missing jumper leg was to accommodate that.
The girl had implants, two goggle-like structures, one over each eye, grafted into her forehead. Probably nightscanners, maybe even wideband. An alternate set of eyes. Somewhere in her past, there had been money.
Two not entirely clean hands, covered in fingerless gloves slammed down on Beth's reception desk. "HELLLOOO THERE!"
"Um, hello, miss..." Beth waited. "I'm Bethany, welcome to.."
"THE CONVERSION BUREAU! HOOPLA!" The girl spun in place, arms upstretched, a vast grin on her smudged face. "I am SOOOO ready to be a PONY!" The girl grinned even bigger, her hands back on the counter, her face leaning in much too close for Beth.
"Ou...our.. the basic orientation is two weeks, during which all applicants have the opportunity to learn about their new lives, receive training on basic tasks, and learn about the new bodies which they...
"yeah, yeah, just do me." The girl looked serious now. "do me. Do me, you know you want to."
"I beg your pardon!" Bethany was uncertain about exactly what the girl meant.
"DO MEEE! Make me a pony. Better yet, make me INTO a pony. I wanna be a pony." The girl slid around the desk, and finally lay her head sideways on it. She blinked, a remarkably endearing thing considering the implants above her eyes -or maybe because of them. "I've always wanted to be a pony. Make my dreams come true. You can do it. Pleeeeease?"
Beth felt flustered for a few seconds, unable to respond. "T-that's what we're here for. First, let's get you signed in. Name?"
"Name?" repeated the girl.
"Your name, sweety. We need your name." Beth liked the strange applicant, even if she was a little... unconventional.
"Why?" she asked. The girl blinked again, and blew an errant lock of curl away from her face.
"Well, first we sign you in, and then you begin your two-week.."
"No." The girl stood up, looking slightly cross "I asked why my name was needed. Why do you need anyponies name?"
"Any..pony?" Only newfoals used that term. Well, seriously anyway. Beth went on "It's part of the procedure, see it's.."
"After you turn me into a pony, I'll probably pick a new name, right? Earth names suck for a pony." The girl pouted.
"Well, yes, I suppose that is the common..."
"After that, I will be a citizen of Equestria. I will owe my allegiance to the great Princesses Celestia and Luna. I won't even be human anymore. I will be an alien with spooooky powers. But I personally won't count to the world corporation any more. As far as records go, I won't exist anymore. You should just ask me what my pony name is going to be."
Beth couldn't help but smile despite feeling flustered. The way this girl said things was just...cute. And she had a point. It was kind of silly to keep such detailed records about people with the world ending and everything. The world corporation was basically funding the evacuation of the entire planet to Equestria. Records were...pointless. It was like keeping records of who got on the lifeboats as the Titanic was sinking.
"Alright." Beth knew when she had been beaten. "So, tell me then, what is your pony name going to be?"
The girl stood straight and tall "Robert Jacob Jingleheimer Patchowsky. The Third!" she said gravely, and saluted.
"You're a kind of a goofy goober, aren't you?" Beth grinned.
"I'm more of the Pretty Prancing Pony type. Or I will be, if you just let me in there." The girl pouted again.
"The Conversion Room. Three ounces of nanotechnomagical plasm, also known as Ponification Transmogrification Serum, or 'Potion'; it consists of terrestrial nanotechnology fused with Equestrian thaumatic radiation - now make me a pony. Right now! Hup to, soldier!" The girl pretended she was marching.
"You certainly seem to have studied up on Conversion." Beth was impressed - many applicants knew that there was something to do about ponies, and that this was the place to be, but all too often not much more than that.
The girl slumped down on the counter in front of Beth. Her head was on the countertop, her arms splayed out. She looked up at Beth. "Did I tell you that I always wanted to have a pony?"
"I thought you said you wanted to be a pony."
"That too. Then I can do both. Now, you just tell whoever is back there that a nice girl with great hair is coming, and that she is reeeealy thirsty for pony juice." Her face was the very image of angelic innocence.
Beth couldn't help but chuckle. Suddenly the loudspeaker sounded again.
"Tyler Derichs? HELLOOOOO!!! Tyler? Everybody's waiting on you! Get on back there, Tyler! The T-man, the Tiger of truck-town, come on bro, it's go time! If anybody knows where Tyler is, send him back, OK?"
The girl was wandering now, arms occasionally outstretched, looking at the holopics pinned to the walls of past applicants and the ponies they became. No one bothered with such shots anymore, but in the first few months, when applicants were fewer, it had been the thing to do. "Looks like you gots you an o-pen-ing!" the girl sang over her shoulder.
Dr. Pastern paced to the front desk. "Beth, do you know what happened to our next conversion? I'm ready for him, but so far, it's a no-show."
One of the applicants, the one that had jumped, Nathan, overheard and came to the desk. "Tyler kind of left."
"What do you mean, left?" Beth didn't seem happy, she hadn't seen him leave, and she'd been there all day.
"Remember when that sorta-red pony ran out the door, and everybody was like all 'security! security!' and stuff? Tyler sort of took the express out of here then." Nathan was a little shy, so he shuffled his feet a bit "Should I have said something sooner?"
"I'm sorry Roselyn." Bethany was never happy when anything slipped past her. "I honestly didn't see him leave, I had no idea."
"That's alright, Ms. Receptionist Lady." The girl was behind Beth now, patting her shoulder. She gave Beth, and her chair, a big hug. "It's really all for the best, this was meant to be." Now the girl was in front of Dr. Pastern. "Hello, Roselyn, my name is Caprice, or possibly Whimsy, I haven't decided yet. I'm your two o'clock. Just lead the way, and let's get me properly ponified. Pronto."
"Beth?" Dr. Pastern was confused. "Who...what?"
"She just strolled in. She's been talking up a storm, she's pretty eager for conversion. Come on...Caprice, let the doctor get back to her work, and let's get you registered." Beth began entering 'Caprice' into her holoterminal.
"Seriously, Doctor Roselyn, may I just call you 'Ros'? Seriously Ros, I am completely ready for Conversion, right now." Caprice had taken Dr. Pastern by the arm, and was leading her away from the front desk, vaguely towards the back, where the Conversion Room must somewhere be located. "I honestly do not need two weeks of orientation wearing human skin. Orientation would be so much better in my proper form. I have studied ponification, I know everything available about Equestria, Equestrian diet, manners, society, I can even write in Equestrian pictogrammatic script. Check this!" Caprice spoke the strange, melodic tones of the native Equestrian language, managing to do a remarkable simulation of the sounds that only the ponies could make, but which gave humans such trouble. "I just said 'you have such pretty red hair', and you really do, Ros, just gorgeous. If I was human, I'd sooo want your hair."
Only now did Dr. Pastern realize she was halfway to the Conversion Room. Beth was running up, not a bit happy. "Caprice! Leave Dr. Pastern alone. I am so sorry, DOCTOR Pastern. Now come along with me, you little scamp." Beth tried to take Caprice's arm.
"Ooohh... 'Scamp!' I like that." Caprice giggled and spun in place when Beth tried to pull her away, Beth did a neat circle around the girl. "You!"
"Wait." Dr. Pastern had a hand on Beth's shoulder. "It's OK. I think we can forgo the usual rigamarole this time."
"But... Dr. Pastern..." Beth sounded like someone had stolen her toy.
"It's OK. The world is ending, after all, right?" Pastern looked strangely sad. Beth let go of Caprice. "Oh, I LIKE her!" bubbled Caprice.
Roselyn showed Caprice to the corridor past the cafeteria, and had her enter the infirmary. Caprice had thought they were going directly to the Conversion Room, and stumbled when the direction suddenly changed. She pawed in the air like a kitten after a ball of yarn, making little animal noises at the door, before she giggled her way into the 'Boo-Boo Room'.
"I need to check a few things first, Caprice, was it?" Roselyn opened a drawer and took out the portable allergenotype scanner.
"Yes, I think so. I really like that name. Although 'Whimsy' is kind of sweet, too. What do you think?" Caprice was quite quiet now, and she spoke more softly than before.
"I'd go with 'Caprice'. I like that better. It has a kind of elegance to it." Roselyn indicated that Caprice should hold out her bare arm, wrist up. The girl complied, and the scanner was placed on her forearm. "Allergenotype... A. You're in the largest group in terms of allergenic response. That makes things especially simple. Now, let me take a look at those implants."
Caprice lowered her head so that the doctor could touch and examine the goggle-like machines implanted in her forehead. "I have to say I like 'Caprice' best too. Ok, Caprice it is. Hello, I'm Caprice, Dr. Roselyn Pastern, how do you do?"
"My day has not gone that well so far, but..." Pastern gave a slight tug to the left implant "...maybe it will get better. Do you have any other implants other than these? Nice permatech by the way, Nightwanders, aren't they?"
"Yup! Only the best for my daddy's little girl. I can see in any illumination, read by the heat of my own body, they even do ultraviolet and radio frequencies. I can spot an EM source like a candle in the dark. By the way, somebody left something on over there." Caprice motioned towards a cabinet. Sure enough, inside there was a small bloodwork scanner, batteries draining.
"You know, ponies can't have implants. All those augmented senses go away the minute you become a pony." Dr. Pastern switched off the scanner and closed the cabinet.
"I know, doctor. But all the extra senses can't begin to equal a world of flowers and kindness." Caprice, for the first time, showed some deep sadness inside her. "I have never liked being human, Roselyn." Caprice looked directly at Pastern's eyes, her gaze intense. "Getting augmented was one way I tried to escape humanity. But playing Singularity doesn't change the important part. I could be entirely machine, but even then, my program would still be emulating human thoughts."
Roselyn understood. Ponies didn't think like humans. They couldn't be... like Carmine had described herself. Real evil, human evil, was impossible in Equestria, at least with regard to the Equestrians. Roselyn remembered a certain room, in her past, and five helpless men, and the general and his lieutenant. That would never have happened on the Equestrian side of the Barrier.
"Ros? Doctor? Are you OK?" Caprice was worried.
"Sorry. Excuse me, Caprice." Roselyn ran a hand through her hair. "Just remembering something. I completely understand why you want to be a pony. I feel the same way. I understand."
"Six EM sensors. In my hands. In answer to your implant question." Caprice looked thoughtful "Oh! And a small processing adjunct in my cerebellum. Shouldn't be a problem, from what I've read... ponification just melts those away, right?" Doctor Pastern nodded. "Hey! Why don't you take a sip yourself! We can be pony sisters!"
"I'd like to, I really would. I'm afraid I've got some stuff to do while I'm still human. But one day. One day I will." Pastern looked just a little sad.
"Ok, doc. I understand." Caprice suddenly gave Dr. Pastern a hug. "Cheer up! Your time will come! Equestria is only a cup away!"
Dr. Pastern entered her pass in the active surface plate, and opened the now unlocked Conversion Room door. The huge metal door was covered in warnings; Danger Thaumatic Hazard, Biohazard, Authorized Personnel Only, and a plaque with a stylized image of the Equestrian form, just like the same symbol on the Erlenmeyer flask that held the 'pony juice'.
Lynn was there, playing a game on the hypernet terminal "Uh...HI! Um... sorry, just... you know.." the physician's assistant looked a little sheepish.
"It's fine, Lynn. Sorry for taking so long." Dr. Pastern noted that it was now 2:46, she was a little behind schedule for second conversion. "Change of applicant. This is Caprice." Caprice did a little curtsy complete with finger to chin. "She's stepping in to fill the slot of our runaway mister Derichs."
"Derichs went rabbit?" Lynn finished shutting down her game.
"Apparently, going pony wasn't good enough for the aristocratic Mr. Derichs." Lynn could tell that Roselyn was in a better mood than before. "But Caprice here, is quite eager for ponification, apparently."
"Hello, Lynn! I'm not only eager, but so very willing!" Caprice did her best sultry voice.
Lynn laughed. "Glad to meet you, Caprice. I'm Dr. Pastern's PA - Physician's Assistant. I'll be assisting today - I need to take your blood pressure and ask you a few questions." Lynn went to get her autocuff.
"Yes, Yes, and Absolutely! -and why so formal? Her name is Roselyn! If she calls you Lynn, you should be able to call her Roselyn! Right Roselyn?" Caprice already had her arm out so Lynn could wrap the autocuff around it.
Dr. Pastern chuckled. " I guess she has a point. Again. There's no use arguing with this one, Lynn, take note."
"Her BP is normal, everything checks out. OK, Caprice, first I have to ask you three questions..."
"I already answered them, remember? YES, I know what the procedure does, YES, I am fully committed to the procedure, and I ABSOLUTELY understand how ABSOLUTELY permanent it ABSOLUTELY is. Absolutely!" Caprice had a very happy grin, the kind Lynn couldn't help but return.
"You been to a Bureau before?" Lynn was curious about how the girl knew what she was going to ask.
Caprice tapped her forehead implants "I've had other work done in the past, it's always the same questions, everywhere. Don't worry, I won't sue. I can't sue; what lawyer would take a barnyard animal as a client?"
"If there was money to be had, ANY." Answered Dr. Pastern. "Alright my soon-to-be filly, ditch the duds and hop up on the table. I'll get your anesthesia ready. Group A, as I recall."
"Roselyn?" Caprice already had her jumper half off; she was having a little trouble with one of the side buttons "Is there any way for me to experience the transformation - I mean, can I do this without being knocked out?"
Dr. Pastern stiffened and froze for a moment. She turned slowly, the look on her face pained. "You... don't want to go there, Caprice. It's not fun. Really, it is not fun at all."
"But wow, I mean, it has got the be the most amazing experience a pony can ever have. It's like experiencing your own birth into the world, your own creation!" Caprice seemed rather excited by the prospect. "I mean, shapeshifting, your entire body turning into a new body, like a werewolf or something! Come on Ros, isn't there some way you can kind of half sedate me or something?"
Dr. Pastern put both of her hands squarely on Caprice's shoulders and looked her squarely in the eye. "No. Trust me on this. There is No. Other. Way." The utter finality of her expression and voice made it clear to Caprice that if she wanted her ponification, she would be doing it Pastern's way.
"No problem!" Caprice instantly turned bubbly again. "You're the doctor!" Pastern removed her hands, and turned away, somewhat chagrined.
"Ok now, hop up on the table, Caprice." Lynn took the girl's pile of clothing and put it in a plastic bag. "It goes easier if you lay on your side. Less chance of falling off, and more room for... things to grow."
Caprice, naked now, sat on the table devoid of any modesty. "Darn, I wanted to do this standing on my head!"
"Feet up, funny girl. That's it, on your side." Dr. Pastern had a white cup in her hand. "This is the stuff, the elixir of ponydom. Down this entirely, and don't delay to savor the taste, which isn't all that good, or so I am told. Artificial grape, so they say."
Caprice held the cup "Woah... I'm getting some weird stuff from this!" She tapped her implants "It's not EM, but it's definitely screwing with the sensors. Also... damn. I swear I can hear singing. Sort of." Caprice stared into the purple goo.
"That's probably a reaction to thaumatic radiation. It affects the perceptions. You're wired up more than most people, so you might be having a stronger reaction. Just a guess." Dr. Pastern waited a moment "Second thoughts?"
Caprice was shaken from her reverie. "Sweet Celestia, NO!" With that, Caprice downed the cup in a single swallow. "Eww... it is crappy grape! Yuck." She made a few funny faces and then dropped the cup as she fell over.
Lynn and Roselyn moved quickly to push the unconscious girl closer to the center of the table, for safety. Caprice's already fruit-soft flesh squirmed around their hands; they had the uncomfortable feeling of pushing a skin bag full of snakes.
Roselyn returned her hand to Caprice's shoulder. Under her fingers, Roselyn could feel waves, as if on an ocean, rippling just under the skin. Soon the skin itself began to move. Then she felt Caprice's humerus deform and begin to migrate, under writhing muscle. Dr. Pastern pulled her hand back. She had presided over hundreds of conversions, but this was the first time she had ever palpitated a patient in mid-transformation.
Roselyn looked at her hand. It was unaffected, but she noticed that a part of her wished that what was happening to Caprice would have taken her over as well. She felt envy this time more keenly than ever. Not yet. Her time would come. Just not until she had done enough.
Pastern looked up to see Lynn looking strangely at her, almost with sympathy. She gave her PA a reassuring smile. "So, any bets on what kind of pony our wild child will become?" Sometimes they liked to try to guess, based on the personality of the subject, before the final stage.
"Well... she's really bright, that's obvious. Quick witted as they come. She knows her stuff, too. I'll say unicorn." Lynn considered for a few seconds "Definitely a unicorn."
"Oh, come on now!" Roselyn spoke with exaggerated scorn. "That breezy personality, that light heart - where's your sense of romance! This pony's going to fly. Pegasus, one hundred percent!"
As the human shape on the table gradually flowed into a more equinoid form, Pastern was glad to see the implants in Caprice's forehead detach, rejected by her changing flesh. The gelatinous mass excreted out long strands of artificial neural conduit and assorted sensors and nodes. As these augmentations were pushed out of the rippling body, Lynn, wearing gloves, removed them from the table and placed them in a biohazard unit.
Caprice now looked like a pony, her shape was fully formed, her eyes freshly unsealed. Lynn and Pastern waited for her coat to grow in, both enjoyed that part best. Lynn had once remarked that "It may be the same as 'watching the grass grow', but who sees grass anymore?" It was true. Grass, like every other plant, had become a luxury for the elite.
"Look!" Lynn pointed to Caprice's flank. Tiny hairs began pushing through the pale skin. At first it was hard to make out the color. As the awn hairs gave way to guard hairs, Caprice's coat color became obvious. Peach. Caprice had a light peach coat, soft and shiny, almost silken.
When the mane and tail grew out, they were even silkier, a stronger, much more intense peach color, with a slight wave to it. Her mane shimmered as it extended, long and luxurious. "She's... really pretty." Lynn couldn't help but touch the shining mane. "Wow. You gotta feel this."
It was true. Dr. Roselyn Pastern had seen more than a hundred people become universally comely ponies, but this one could just be the prettiest of them all.
Both, however, were surprised, and a little disappointed, when they realized that neither wings nor horn had appeared. Caprice was an earth pony, a curious result for a young woman who had chosen so many transhuman extra body parts.
Caprice awakened very gradually. She tried to move, several times, but found herself dozing off again. At one point, she could tell she wasn't alone. In and out she slipped, consciousness playing tag in her mind. Finally, she won.
Caprice found herself in a large room, lying on several blankets. Scattered around were several dozen folding chairs, as well as two stacks of large pillows. Her new eyes worked to focus on the large holoscreen that took up most of one wall, and on a speaking podium currently resting in one corner. As she became more aware she understood that the warm shape sitting on a pillow to the left of her was the receptionist. Bethany was her name. That was it. Beth. Someone else was there too, a young man. Blond. She didn't know him.
"Hello, minun pikku ponini. Welcome to your brand new life." The voice was familiar, somehow. Caprice thought she may have heard it on the loudspeaker, when she first arrived.
Oh. Yes. YES! Caprice raised her head and looked down at her front legs, stretched in front of her. Soft peach legs, with delicate hooves. She made her hooves gently clop together by rotating her legs slightly. She giggled with delight. Clop! Clop! She could feel the impact through the hoof, each really a gigantic, thick fingernail.
"How do you feel, sweety?" It was Bethany. Beth gave her a light pat on the flank. She vaguely remembered being stroked and patted while she was unconscious. It had made her feel safe.
"I'm... peachy!" Caprice giggled again, she couldn't help it. She felt happy, almost giddy. She tried out her voice again, testing it. "Peachy. Peachy. I'm a little peachy pony. My name is Caprice!" Her voice was different. It was more melodic, gentler than her human voice. She tried singing "La, la, la, laaaaaa." Caprice broke out in a huge grin. "Hey, I can sing now!"
"You couldn't before?" It was the blond man.
"No, I couldn't. I never liked my voice. Now... I really like my voice. La la laaaaaaaa!"
"I think you sing beautifully."
Caprice looked up at the blond man. "Do I know you?"
"My name is Alexi. I do the electronics, fix the plumbing, and help in the kitchen. But my best job is getting to be the announcer! MONSTER TRUCK PONY! I hear you were in the building at two. Maybe you heard me?"
"Yes! I remember. For that guy who ran away. You were awesome." Caprice smiled up at him. She found herself wishing he was a stallion. "You should get ponified. Seriously." She tried to use her sultry voice on the last word, but she wasn't sure entirely how it sounded.
"You're quite the enticement, I have to say." Caprice found herself blushing, something new to her.
The peach pony looked around "Where is Roselyn and Lynn? How long have I been out?"
Bethany shifted on her pillow. "They're both with the four o'clock conversion. There's been a bit of a complication, it's nearly six. Patient's still undecided. Anyway, the star in this room right now is you. Want to try to stand up?"
Caprice looked around herself, as best she could, and tried her back legs. It was cool how they folded, and how her rear hooves were right beside her belly. She wondered if she could touch them with her mouth. She could! Wow, she could taste her own back hoof. Awesome! As she brought her head forward she delighted in her wavy, bright peach mane. She whipped her tail around, and tried to hit Beth and Alexi with it. Hee! Even more awesome fun - she made Alexi duck!
"Alright, peach delight, enough playing." Alexi joined Beth, standing up. "Time now to try out those big beautiful gams of yours."
"Gams?" Caprice looked up, her eyes like oceans, green and warm.
"It's an old word for legs. From old media, old 2D movies. Try to stand up. We're right here to help you". Alexi gave her a warm smile.
Caprice wasn't sure where to begin. Then she thought, maybe the body knows what it is doing. Terrestrial horses are born knowing how to walk, and while Equestrians are not terrestrial horses at all, maybe some things are similar. She cleared her mind and relaxed. Then she just let herself stand up.
"Whoo! That was really good. I've never seen a newfoal just get up on the first try like that. How'd you do that?" Beth was clearly impressed.
"I kinda just let my body do what it needed to do." The peach mare looked at Beth with bright, stunning, sea-green eyes "I guess I got out of the way of it." Caprice was standing now, but that opened up the issue of walking. Maybe the same trick would work twice.
It didn't. But that was OK. Alexi was there to catch her, and feeling his hands around her belly wasn't a bad thing at all. She decided to not learn how to walk too quickly. There were all kinds of things to feel and learn. For the first time in both of her lives, Caprice found each moment a joy. She had never felt so fully alive within each moment.
When Caprice finally left Classroom A, she found the dinner crowd beginning to assemble. Miriam and her team had everything ready, so hungry humans and newfoals began to queue up and take trays. Caprice found she was starving.
Caprice strolled with unintended sultriness into the cafeteria; she couldn't help it, her new body felt like her every dream. Her senses, while no longer registering EM bands and magnetic fields, were instead simply satisfying; the rich smells of dinner and of the other ponies and humans filling her mind with a strange, animal joy. The gentle sensations from her hooves as they clopped softly on the floor somehow delighted her.
She stopped, the cafeteria suddenly silent, every eye on her. She hardly noticed, though. She stood, tail held high, eyes wide and ears tall, her peach coat shining in the light. But inside her, in that moment, all she knew was her own feeling. She was happy. No, not just happy. Content. The word was like a newly born foal in her mind, one she wished with all of her heart to nurture. Content. It felt warm, and soft, and quiet and wonderful.
The clapping and whistles from the diners, both human and equestrian, brought her out of her moment of realization. Feeling shy, she smiled a soft, embarrassed smile, peering out through a shimmering sweep of deep peach with gentle eyes. She had never felt so vulnerable, and yet so powerful, in her life. She moved on, following Alexi, no longer able to figure out all the different things she felt; but whatever was overwhelming her, it was... delightful.
Caprice sat on a pillow at a low table; these had been brought in by Alexi early on. He had felt that forcing newfoals to deal with tables designed for human use was rude, and he was good at procurement. Alexi could find things that others could not, and he was good at making friends, and deals, and thus it was that several low, Kang-styled tables uniquely graced the Bureau 042 cafeteria. It had been a brilliant notion; newfoals found it vastly easier to eat at a table that comfortably matched their size and range of motion.
She had gone to take a tray, but had been a little unsure of how to carry it in her mouth. Alexi would have none of that, she would have time to learn, two weeks to practice basic tasks as a pony. This was her first meal as a pony, and she should enjoy it.
Alexi returned with her tray, filled with all manner of assorted foods. There was the staple that was hay, of course, and alfalfa, mixed into a salad with carrot and celery strips and little slivers of apple. He had added a side of oatmeal muffins with raisins inside, a slice of apple pie, a single, imported Equestrian apple (so very coveted in the Bureaus), and a bowl of rice pudding.
When he returned with his own tray, piled high with lasagna, he sat down across from Caprice at the low table. Immediately he took his own Equestrian apple and placed it on her tray. "These are the very best. They're from Equestria itself, and there is nothing on the entire planet that tastes as good. You'll see!" and he gave her a smile.
Caprice looked at the extra apple "You...you shouldn't give me that... you should enjoy it. Please..." She tried to take the apple gently in her teeth, to move it back to Alexi's plate, but her teeth broke the skin. Instantly, she was transfixed.
She had grown up in wealth, before her father disowned her; she had known the taste of a real, soil-grown apple, instead of nanosythesized 'apple-like' slices. But this, this was an entirely new experience. The tiny drops of juice that hit her equine tongue spoke strange poetry; her thoughts were filled with endless sun-drenched orchards and gurgling brooks of sparkling water. The flavor was sunshine and dancing leaves, shaded groves of perfect, living trees.
Alexi watched Caprice's eyes half close, her head frozen in mid transfer, the apple still in her mouth. "See? I told you so. Just the best thing ever!" It made his heart glad to see the newfoal so happy. Alexi liked seeing anyone happy. To see such obvious joy, though, giving up even such a special apple was a trivial price. The peach-colored pony gave a shudder of pleasure, her eyes suddenly open.
Caprice put the apple back on her plate. "Sorry. But you can have the other one. I kind of bit that one." She seemed so ashamed! Alexi felt some part of him fairly melt. This was a cute one, no doubt about it. "I really want you to have both. One day, everyone will share these in Equestria itself. Right now, this is your very first meal. It makes me happy to see you glad. Please enjoy." Alexi started to tuck into his lasagna.
Caprice tried a nibble of hay. As she chewed, the sweet taste of lush fields in her mouth, she noticed she was still being watched by most of the room. She gave a happy smile to the diners. Two dozen delighted grins responded. Apparently, happiness was contagious.
Dr. Pastern was troubled. It was the almost the end of Caprice's first day at the clinic, and Roselyn had been following her progress. She felt a certain special responsibility for the newfoal, since she had broken usual protocol to convert her without orientation. Roselyn knew she had let herself be talked into it by the witty, clever girl, and that was the problem.
The witty, clever girl, with her entertaining banter was gone. Pastern had never seen such a complete change of personality - well, other than what had happened with Carmine. This was unique though. Where Carmine had experienced some terrible event, Caprice had changed from fascinatingly funny and abrasive to quiet and mellow. She was not unhappy, quite overwhelmingly the opposite, actually. Both humans and newfoals seemed to gravitate to her, just to share in the strange peace she seemed to possess.
While she no longer spun around spouting clever statements, she did seem to have a new way of being. Caprice's voice calmed the frightened, her singing lulled the sad to happy slumber, and her simple presence made others feel better. Where before she had been like a tornado of energy, now she was a gentle breeze that swept away every dark cloud, and when she smiled, the sun came out, and stayed.
But Pastern missed the wild creature that had first entered the clinic; more, she worried that this might represent some sinister side effect of ponification, one indicative of a loss of personality somehow.
"Lynn? What do you think of Caprice?"
Lynn was setting up for the morning Conversion. "Our peach princess? Everybody loves her. She's happy as can be. One of our most successful newfoals, I'd say." Damn, still not enough blankets. She'd have to have a talk with Beth. Again.
"She just isn't the same. When she came in, she was... funny. I really liked her. I don't dislike who she is now, I don't think that's possible actually. She's really sweet, it's just that..." Roselyn felt a little weird to be talking about this, but it bothered her.
"She isn't as entertaining anymore, right?" Lynn had 'the look', which always meant that Ros had missed something obvious. Roselyn sighed.
"OK, OK, what am I missing?"
"What makes the best comics and comedians funny?" Lynn leaned against a cabinet, arms folded like she was lecturing a slow child.
"Good jokes?" Pastern needed more coffee for this, it was early in the morning.
"No, pain. Pain makes people funny. Think of any comedian you ever really liked - I guarantee that the reason they are willing to get up in front of other people and make an ass of themselves is pain. Something about their life hurt them really badly, and their response is to get attention to fill some deep, dark hole inside." Lynn changed her position, the cabinet was hard against her hip "Caprice isn't in pain anymore. She's happy. She may be the happiest soul I've ever met. I almost feel sad around her, because I get envious. I wish I could be even half as happy inside.." Lynn drifted, reflecting.
Dr. Pastern thought for a moment. "Her comedy worked. It swayed my judgement, and got her Converted, which is what she wanted. Now, she has never been happier, so she no longer needs to be funny." Pastern checked the cups. "Her happiness is my loss, because I miss how funny she seemed. I was worried she'd lost something."
"She has lost something, Doc." Lynn gave Pastern a pat as she left to get more blankets "She lost her pain."
Pastern knew the problem was her own. Caprice was happy, well adjusted, content. nothing else mattered.
But Roselyn would miss the funny girl she had met, just the same. It was selfish of her, but what could she do. She was only human.