A story of eight and one half ponies
Chapter Five: The First Night
Dr. Roselyn Pastern put the sealed, Erlenmeyer flask carefully into the armored red case. The flask, containing 18 ounces of purple, nanotechnomagical plasm, fit neatly into a hollow in the dark gray foam that lined the case. Pastern then lifted the red armored cover, and laid it over the front of the case, making sure that the locking mechanisms were properly aligned.
At the top of the case, near the handle, was an active surface; this she touched to initiate case lockdown. The red case politely locked itself, an artificial voice indicating that lockdown had been successful. The entire clinic could now be destroyed, and the contents of the red case would survive, untouched. Such a comfort, thought Dr. Pastern.
It was late. Dr. Pastern placed the case on the shelf, and went to the door. Lynn had already tidied the Conversion Room for tomorrow, so there was nothing left to do. The reports were completed, all conversions for the day had been accomplished, and three more human beings had been changed into the strange, beautiful creatures of Equestria.
Exiting the chamber, Roselyn sealed the Conversion Room door with the swipe of a finger on the active surface built into the Maxium Security doorframe. It had been a strange day, and things had not gone as smoothly as they should have. Roselyn reached out to the right to close the 'boo-boo' room door, the infirmary, which had been left open. She liked things tidy.
Her first conversion had been a woman named Carmine, who had turned out to apparently be a sociopath. Conversion hadn't agreed with her. For two weeks she had lived among the staff and applicants, seemingly the most kindly and gentle soul among them. Upon conversion, she had screamed of her unworthiness, filled with guilt and shame, for the first time able to feel both. She had run out of the building, along with an older man, Tyler, who had been scheduled for the second conversion of the day.
The second conversion had been a walk-in, and Pastern had allowed herself to be swayed by the funny, eccentric woman who had bounced in from the ruins outside. After conversion, she had become the most elegant and peaceful of creatures, Caprice, who had in mere hours established herself as the darling of Bureau clinic 042.
The last conversion of the day had taken forever, with a pregnant teen named Sharon unable to decide, exactly at the end of her two-week orientation period. That had been the kind of unpleasantness that Roselyn disliked the most; sticky relationship drama of the basest sort. Roselyn loathed histrionics; they got in the way of effective solutions. Roselyn loved effective solutions.
Fortunately, her second conversion had saved the situation; Caprice had somehow convinced the young mother to undergo conversion at last, though very late in the day, saving Pastern a lot of forms, explanations, and trouble with the Bureau.
Roselyn was very grateful for that; now she wouldn't be up all night, and could get some rest. She could also have some time for her own personal need. It was something she did not want anyone to know about, something she was deeply embarrassed that any other person should ever see.
Inside her private room within the clinic, Roselyn carefully locked the door. She moved to the chest by her cot. Sitting on the floor, she told the chest who she was, and gave her security phrase. It was a quote from Aldous Huxley. She spoke in a steady, quiet voice: "Maybe this world is another planet's Hell." The chest considered for a moment, then unlocked itself.
Roselyn reached into the chest and lifted from it a worn stack of thin, ancient books. They had been written for children, long, long ago, and had been printed on actual paper made from the last of the trees. To a wealthy worldcorp elite, they would be the find of a lifetime, to a Pastern, they were a family treasure, passed down generation to generation. But to Roselyn, personally, they were her only peace.
They had been called 'Little Golden Books' and Roselyn's favorite was an ancient tome, faded and yellow, called 'The Pokey Little Puppy'. She didn't know why it held such power over her, but it did, and when she opened it, her heart sang and cried at the same time. Somehow, little childlike things answered some grief in her; she had wondered if she was mourning her own lost innocence. In any case, it was not something a respectable professional should be obsessed with.
That said, Roselyn desperately needed her little books about sweet little puppies, and kind animal friends. Even as the faded images nourished some deep, lost part of her, they also caused hurt, somehow. It was just that some days, her small collection was the only way she could calm her mind, the only way that she could sleep.
Today had been a trying day. Tears, as usual, ran down her cheeks as she began, in a soft, quiet voice; "Five little puppies dug a hole under a fence, and went for a walk in the wide, wide world."
Bethany had removed the cots from what had been Sharon and Tyler's room. Originally Nathan and Tyler had been assigned there, but Tyler had immediately and quietly swapped things around so that he could have a love nest with Sharon. There, he had kept her isolated for his own benefit, enjoying the hospitality of the Bureau. He had planned to run in any case, once the two weeks were up; Sharon's pregnancy was simply last call to him.
Instead of cots, two thick, fabric-covered foam slabs had been placed on the floor, each with a comforter and a pillow. Ponies did much better sleeping on a low, flat surface, than struggling with a cot made for humans. The foam rectangles were too small for a human to entirely fit upon, but the smaller Equestrian form was perfectly suited to them.
Beth explained to Sharon and Caprice the basics of sleeping in their new bodies. "As newfoals, you have basically three ways to sleep. What I mean is that there are three positions that most new ponies find comfortable."
"Three ways to sleep?" Sharon thought this sounded very exotic.
"Sort of. You can lay on your side, that's pretty common. You can lay on your belly, like Caprice is doing right now." Beth indicated Caprice, who had folded her back legs so that her rear hooves met her belly, and her forelegs so that her front hooves curled up and nearly met her rear hooves. "You can also sleep standing up."
"Standing...up?" This was new to Sharon.
"There are many differences between terrestrial horses and Equestrian ponies. But there are also many similarities, and one of those is that you can lock your legs." Beth tried to show the motion of joints locking with her hands and arms.
"Our legs can lock? Like stick in place?"
"Basically, yes. I can't tell you how to do it, you'll have to try it out. But apparently it's pretty easy to do." Bethany leaned against the wall to rest her back. "Once your legs are locked, ponies can just go to sleep like that."
"Won't we fall over?"
"No, you won't. That's what the leg locking is for. You can just stay that way, and you won't fall over."
"Cool!" Sharon began trying to get her legs to lock. It wasn't as easy as Beth seemed to say.
"There's a catch, though, according to Dr. Pastern. She says that you won't sleep as well standing, as you would if you lie down, because if you sleep standing, you won't dream. Apparently dreaming is important, somehow." Beth straightened up, intending to leave.
"What about lying on our backs?" Sharon had given up on trying to lock her legs, and was now squirming on her foam mattress, belly up.
"If you like. If it works for you, great. But most ponies can't seem to stay comfortable long on their backs. Something to do with the way their legs are, or their spine or something. You'll figure it out. Now, be good girls, and I'll see you in the morning." Beth stepped out into the main room. "We've gone over how to use the toilet, how to get water, and now bed. Tomorrow there's a basic class on personal grooming; it would be a good idea to go to it. Oh! One more thing!"
Sharon and Caprice looked up expectantly.
"You should give Dr. Pastern a big thank you, Sharon. She's authorized you one more week at the clinic so you can have a chance to catch up on what you missed before. She's really sticking her head out for you on this one, so don't let her down, OK?" Dr. Pastern was a big softy, Beth thought, deep down.
"I won't mess up this time, I promise!" Sharon meant it. She wanted to be the best pony she could be.. for her foal.
Beth smiled. "Good night you two. Oh, and welcome to Clinic 042, Caprice."
"Thank you very much, Bethany." Caprice smiled up at the receptionist. "I'm sorry I gave you such trouble, earlier."
"Feh. You made Doc Pastern smile, that's good enough for me. G'night!" Beth shut the door behind her as she left.
Caprice swung her long neck, and moved her pillow with her teeth, adjusting it just so in front of her. She tried lowering her face into the pillow, but that didn't quite work. She moved the pillow closer, so that her nose and mouth were clear. Better. She tried laying her head sideways on the pillow. Hmmm. That kind of worked, but she worried she might wake up with a kink in her neck.
This was going to take some experimentation, apparently. Then again, it was an entirely new existence.
"Caprice?" Sharon was on her side now, realizing too late that her pillow was opposite her head.
"Yes, little angel?" Caprice decided to try laying on her back, just to see. Her legs hung over her. She tried to lay them flat, as a human might rest, but they didn't seem to lay flat, and it hurt to try to strain them that way. So that was the problem. Or part of it, anyway. If she had a much softer bed, then maybe...
"I wanted to thank you for helping me. I wouldn't be here now if you hadn't come over." Sharon's eyes looked wet; she felt like crying although she didn't understand all of the reasons why. She couldn't help a little sob.
Caprice rolled over and stood up. She tugged at her mattress with her teeth, and kicked at it with her hooves, moving it up flush with Sharon's bed. Caprice carefully lowered herself to the mattress, and moved her pillow again. Now she was lying on her side, facing Sharon. "Come here, little angel."
Sharon squirmed, hooves flailing over to Caprice, and snuggled into the crook of her foreleg. Caprice lowered her other leg over Sharon's body, resting it there. Sharon sobbed gently against Caprice's chest, her muzzle warm against the soft, peach coat.
After a while, Sharon stopped crying. She felt warm and safe next to Caprice. It was like she was a baby again, and was cuddled up next to her mother. Was this what it would be like for her foal, one day? "Caprice?"
Caprice gave Sharon's head a little nuzzle with her own "Yes, little angel?"
"We kinda left the light on."
Caprice raised her head and looked up at the active surface on the wall. It seemed miles away, and she was so tired. "Yes... yes we did." Caprice lowered her head and closed her eyes. It had been the most amazing day. The best day of her life. But it had also been utterly exhausting.
"Caprice?" The peach mare was already asleep. Oh well, maybe ponies sleep with the lights on? Sharon didn't want to move either.
Alexi settled into his large, foam bed. He had the best bed in the clinic, and probably the entire Bureau. It had taken a few unusual trades and barters to get the bed, but he valued a good night's sleep. He worked hard to keep clinic 042 in whatever they needed, there was no reason he shouldn't occasionally improve his own situation. Only fair, really.
Today, he had managed to get carrots at the last minute for Miriam, apparently Dorcas had forgotten to order more from supply. He had needed to agree to arrange for the San Francisco Bureau director to get five Equestrian apples with the next shipment, and he wasn't exactly sure how he was going to accomplish that. Nevertheless, he would find a way. He always seemed to find a way. Heh, he thought, if he were a stallion, that would probably be his Mark.
What would a 'procurement' Mark even look like?
He had also gotten Lynn her blankets, finally. That had been more complicated than he thought, but Sergei in 084 had owed him several pillows for over a month now; he had managed to convert that debt into blankets, after setting up an interim trade with clinic 064 for more toilet paper and the use of a plumbing torch for a week. The 064'ers always had trouble with their plumbing; that part of the old AppleSoft complex had suffered the most damage back during the bombing of San Francisco. Always somebody needs something, and always there is something another has extra.
Two hands shaking in agreement? No, an Equestrian 'cutie' Mark would never have a hand as a symbol, theirs was a world without hands, without humans. Alexi rolled on his side, and tried to imagine if two hooves could shake. Maybe if they pressed them together somehow. Did Equestrians even shake hooves? If he were a stallion, would they need someone like him in Equestria?
Alexi suddenly realized what he was really thinking about. Her. "Easy, there, boy. That's some strange territory, after all." He was surprised that he had said that to himself out loud. He was thinking about a pony, and he was thinking about her that way. She was not even human. Alexi felt a little creepy. Was it still beastial if the other party was a fully sapient being? Did such things even matter anymore? And what if he were a pony too? Did that suddenly make it all right? And if so, why? This was strange territory.
OK. Alexi. Let's think about this. He took a deep breath and rolled on his back again. She was a girl, a human girl, just this morning. Now, she's an Equestrian, a completely different species, but... she's still a person. A sapient, self-aware being. No, that wasn't the issue. He was just deflecting from the real issue.
She. Looked. Hot.
Admit it, boy! Be a man and just admit it. So, she had more legs that the usual girl. Hey, Alexi was known to be a leg man. So she had big ears. Lots of girls have big ears. Besides, they suited her. Because she was a pony. No. No. No. This was getting nowhere. Why couldn't he stop thinking about her walking away to talk to that girl? Stop it, Alexi. Warning. You are entering the weird place, where the weird people live, doing weird things.
Alexi had dealt with hundreds of ponies during the past six months. Half of them were females. Not once in all of that time had he thought this way. Some of the women who came through, sure, some had been really nice. Real 'lookers' as the old detectives used to say. But then they became animals, and pif - that was that. He had no interest in ponies. Why should he? He was a human man.
It was reasonable that... tastes... would change, once a human was Converted. Conversion changed everything, it was only reasonable that attraction would change too. That was just natural. Such a thing would have to happen, or no newfoal would ever be able to find a mate or raise a family. Only reasonable.
But, hyvänen aika! That tail swinging over that big round....NO! Alexi flopped over on his other side. ENOUGH. He willed his brain and body to behave, and began listing what he needed to get done in the morning. He definitely needed to solve the apple deal with the director, and maybe there was a way to help the 064'ers fix their plumbing once and....
Caprice was so kind. She was the most amazing person. The way she just helped that girl! And direct. Alexi liked a woman who knew what she wanted and said what she meant. She was what his grandmother had called a hyvä nainen, a good woman. Her heart was truly kind and...
Alexi rolled over on his other side. He would never get to sleep at this rate. All this was his fault. He had given the wrong impression. His love of grandiose gestures... biting that apple from her teeth - romantic, perhaps, but stupid. Stupid, stupid Alexi. She's a pony now. She's out of your species. She'll soon enough be out of your world, literally.
Of course. But... still... if he were a stallion....
Alexi buried his head into his pillow and softly screamed: Vittu tätä paskaa!
Dr. Roselyn Pastern was dreaming. In the dream, she was somehow aware that she had experienced the same dream before. It was familiar. The general was there. He was explaining about how she had been chosen because of her paper. She had written a paper about her experiences treating the victims of the attack on the nanofactory. The technicians had suffered nanocoversion of large patches of their skin and limbs. She had made the symptoms and treatment clear for the general, and he was convinced of her expertise.
She felt like a fraud. She wasn't an expert on any of this. But the job, oh the benefits! She'd be working directly for the military branch of the world corporation!
Suddenly she was in an office. It was incredible. Everything was so shiny and expensive. This was how the elite lived. Metal and glass and holographic decorations, fountains with running water and carpet. Oh, the carpet... and there was real coffee to sip. She signed the holodocuments, of course she signed the documents. The security clearance requirements rolled past forever and ever and...
It was the room. She knew this room. There were the five men. She couldn't remember their names. She never knew their names. They were ugly men, dirty and mean and frightened. They had been shaved bald, and bound into some kind of restraining mount, not quite a chair, not quite a table. Their vocal cords had been paralyzed so they wouldn't be bothersome.
They were corporate prisoners. It didn't matter what for. They were the property of the government now.
One was looking at her. He had a large body and a wide face. His mouth moved at her, soundlessly. Then she saw the large spoon-dropper in her hand. The shaft of the tube held a cherry red, viscous liquid. She saw her hand squeeze the injector bulb and the red fluid ran to the tip.
The man was crying, his silent mouth moving. The general was by her side, waiting. The lieutenant was telling the general about how Roselyn was not fully committed to the project, how he felt that she was a poor choice for a top secret project of such global importance. Roselyn knew what happened to washouts given Umbra-Cosmik-Magik level clearance.
She was afraid, she was so afraid.
The man's head was being held, his mouth open. Two blackmesh corporate soldiers held the man's bald head. She put the dropper in. The general was nodding. She squeezed exactly one ounce into the struggling mouth. The next man would get two ounces. They were trying to find something out.
The blackmesh soldiers jumped back. The bald man railed against his bonds. His face contorted, as if he were screaming, but all that came out was a soft hiss. Over and over the man hissed.
And then his neck started to extend. His fingers began to glue together. Parts of him began to melt, and he was hammering his body against the restraints, faster and faster and his face began to turn soft, like dough, and his eyes began to sink into the dough and the hissing became a gurgle and the man was jerking, jerking, his twisting limbs shaking so quickly and then his hands stopped changing, and his neck stopped stretching, and his eyes just froze there, half submerged into his head, and he stopped gurgling and he stopped shaking and the man was just quiet now, and she was there, looking closely at his face, what was left of it, and it looked partly human and partly like the aliens from the dome in the ocean, and she thought he was dead now, only she could tell that what was left of him was still breathing, and the thing just kept breathing and she made the lieutenant laugh at her because she couldn't stop throwing up, and throwing up and then there was nothing left to throw up but her body just kept doing it anyway and the lieutenant just kept laughing.