A story of eight and one half ponies
Chapter Six: A Cup Of Identity
Ryan turned and saw four brutish men step out of the ruined building. The Tall One held a chain, at the end of which was a makeshift spiked weight. The Tall One began to spin the weight around by the chain. "You aren't getting away you fucking freak."
The Fat Boy held what had once been a baseball bat; hammered through the metal were several nails, none of which looked clean. He just giggled, a horrible sound.
The Quiet One held a long knife in each hand. He moved like a snake, and his eyes held no emotion.
The last of the men was a woman. She called herself Robert, and she had killed people for calling her a girl. She wore no shirt, her sweaty, filthy breasts swaying as she walked. She carried a rifle, and she was their leader. Until a few minutes ago, she had been Ryan's employer. They were no longer on good terms.
"You don't have to do this. You have more important things to do, Robert. I'll just go away, far away. You'll never see me again. I've been useful, until now, this isn't good business, Robert." Ryan backed up a few feet, his stance a half-crouch, his arms close to his jacket.
"This isn't a matter of business, asshole." 'Robert' was a very vindictive woman, and she was known for extravagant displays of displeasure. "You know damn well what this is about. And you know I have only one policy with regard to freaks like you."
Ryan rapidly scanned the environment. He was in an open space between the ruined buildings. There wasn't any place specifically to run; wherever he went, Robert and her goons would follow. They likely knew this area better than he did. They weren't going to let him go. He didn't want to use it. He didn't hate any of them, despite their narrowness.
Robert was the primary threat. He didn't want to do it.
"Spread." At Robert's command, the Quiet one began to slide to the left, trying to flank Ryan. Fat Boy stopped giggling and moved to the right. Tall stayed near Robert. For now.
"Robert, end this. Just let me go. I'm not worth it. I never did anything against you. I never let you down. This is just bigotry. That's all this is." Ryan had to try. He did not want to do it.
"Fuck you, freakshow." Robert waved her arm. Tall began to charge just as Fat and Quiet started to move in.
Ryan pulled the pistol from the pocket of his oversized coat, aimed directly at Robert, and blew her head apart.
"FUCK!" It was Fat Boy "FUCK! FUCK! FUCK!" He kept saying the word over and over like some kind of magic spell.
"The freak has a gun, god damn." Quiet was no longer quiet.
"Robert's gone. She's gone. She's just gone." Tall seemed in shock.
Ryan pointed his pistol at Quiet. "Your move." Ryan said the words as confidently and flatly as he could. He could feel his intestines knotting up inside, and it felt like he would soil his pants at any moment. He stared directly at each of the remaining three, one at a time, while holding his gun steadily at Quiet. Quiet was now the most dangerous of the three.
"Hey, Ryan, whatever, right?" It was Fat Boy. He wasn't anywhere near giggling at this point "It was Robert's issue, not mine. Each to his own, right? Dude?" Fats overstressed the last word, and Ryan felt anger rise to empower his resolve.
"Go. Now." Ryan hissed the words, murder in his eyes. The three fled, each in their own way. Fat Boy ran like a child. Tall carefully backed away, until he could turn and vanish inside the ruins. Quiet stood still for longer than Ryan liked. Quiet was sizing things up. Ryan stared back.
Quiet finally nodded and slunk away, using cover without even thinking about it, movements controlled and precise. Ryan never let his gun waver, pointing it the entire time at Quiet, then at the last place he had been visible. Ryan stood that way for several minutes.
Finally he lowered the gun. His arms shook, and his legs felt weak. Thank god he had managed to find that one, lone bullet in the dirt last week.
"Wakey-Wakey Eggs And Bakey!" Roselyn's Personapad had been singing loudly for some time. The holographic image of a cartoon chicken with a chef's hat floated above the pad, flapping its wings and swinging the wooden spoon it held in one claw.
Roselyn had not slept well; she vaguely remembered disturbing dreams and a bout of acid reflux. "Wakey-Wakey Eggs And Bakey!" She gave the etherial chicken a slap with her hand, which merely passed through empty air, but the pad recognized the action and the fowl spun around clutching a swollen cheek while crying loudly. Very satisfying indeed.
With the overly cheery wake-up call silenced, Dr. Roselyn Pastern set about her morning rituals. She took a swig of Nanorine, then waited the required twenty seconds for the molecular machines to destroy all of the bacterial biofilm in her mouth. She spat into her sink, and then washed her mouth out with water. It was a luxury to have extra water for such a thing, and it was absolutely one of the perks of her position. Water to drink; water even to merely wash out her mouth. Staff at the Bureaus were allotted double to triple the standard worldcorp allowance of water; Roselyn had up to nine quarts of potable water per day at her disposal. It was positively luxurious.
When she was dressed and groomed, Dr. Pastern made her way to the cafeteria. Breakfast was at seven, so she had an hour to get herself together. Roselyn had never exactly been a morning person, so every day she had trouble waking up. The early schedule was designed to prepare the applicants for what was almost certainly to be a rural, early morning lifestyle when they got to Equestria; it was clear that the corporate heads had no idea just how early the day began on a pre-industrial farm. That said, Roselyn was not complaining; having to get up at six was bad enough. She certainly wasn't going to set anyone straight on this matter.
Roselyn got her usual cup of 'not entirely unlike coffee' and headed up to the rooftop of the Bureau building. This was also her morning ritual; the hot, soggy smog of San Francisco stung her eyes and face enough to wake her up. The aftermath of Hurricane Misha would be fading now, so things were doubtless back to normal up top. Roselyn remembered seeing the edge of the Barrier of Equestria through the clouds the day before; it was an amazing thing to behold. She tried to imagine what it would have been like in the days before the world was perpetually shrouded.
The door was ajar, when she reached the top, and a strange breeze blew through the crack. The breeze was cool and it did not sting. She heard voices outside. What the hell?
Roselyn, holding her almost coffee, opened the door to find a small crowd on the immense roof of the former AppleSoft complex. There was Dr. Chandra from 013, and the receptionist from 041 - and Grosvenor, the Bureau director was there, as well as many others from all the clinics in the building. Mixed in with them were an assortment of newfoals, as well as preconverted applicants. There was a gathering on the roof!
Then she looked up and saw what had drawn the crowd. She blinked several times, her eyes unaccustomed to both the light, and the view itself. The sky was blue, impossibly, utterly blue. The vast wall of smog that she could see encircling the horizon was steadily being removed by what looked like several organized armies of colorful pegasai. Each platoon flew in a tight formation, dragging a cone of smog behind them, as though they were peeling the sky. Occasionally one such platoon would divert away from the widening hole in the smog and drag their cone of dark cloudy matter off in the direction of Equestria, clearly visible now, over the horizon. It was incredible.
Pastern could see nearly the entire curve of the Barrier, now, rising up from somewhere beyond the curvature of the earth, out in the Pacific. The sheer size of the Equestrian shield was impossible to accept. She knew that it was over four hundred miles in diameter already, which meant that most of it hung out into near orbit. The top of that curve would be in vacuum, well above the atmosphere.
Even more astonishing, Equestria was clearly experiencing night. Beyond the shimmer of the soap-bubble dome, she saw a black sky, and what could only be a moon. The dome was a doorway into another reality, one larger than the size of the bubble itself, and her mind reeled at the thought that she was looking through a gigantic, spherical window into an impossibly vast, alien sky. Whatever angle one approached the gargantuan sphere, on the other side was only Equestria.
The Barrier of Equestria surrounded a hole in space and time, a spherical, hyperspace window into another realm. It was far too early to be pondering that. Far too early. Roselyn had to turn away and look out over the blackened ruins of San Francisco. She sipped her near-coffee. It had caffeine, that is what mattered.
Roselyn took one last look at the blue sky, and the curve of the barrier. She forced herself to look through the shimmering wall, where that impossible moon shone against the black. If it weren't so bright outside, she wondered if there would be stars in that sky. She would have to try to see if she could be on the roof when Equestrian night happened to coincide with terrestrial night, and find out. Now that the sky was going to remain clear, or so it seemed, standing on the roof had became much more interesting.
But it had also become more disturbing - as she moved towards the door, she took in the vast sweep of San Francisco; burnt, blackened, covered in ruins. Where the ruins and radiation zones allowed, tiny, clusters of pale structures stood out bright against the devastation; the favela, the world-slum. Endless ramshackle homes for the hordes of humanity. Nineteen billion people on one tiny globe. Roselyn had done the math - it was impossible to convert them all, unless production of serum was massively increased.
She could not save everyone. But she could help those who ended up in her care, in San Francisco Conversion Bureau clinic 042.
The 'animals', as Alexi had gotten the staff to refer to the Applicants, were queuing up breakfast. Roselyn was hungry. She went to pick up a tray. Oatmeal? No, she had that yesterday. Ooh! Pancakes! If they weren't hay-based she would have that. Actually, with enough syrup, she might anyway. Life was good in the Bureau.
"Dr. Pastern?" Bethany was touching her arm and seemed concerned. "We may have a problem with our first Conversion. I think you need to speak with him."
"Can't it wait? - I haven't had any breakfast, Beth!" Dr. Pastern looked very unhappy indeed.
"She says it's very urgent. Listen, I'll get Alexi to get you something and bring it in. Maybe you can eat while you talk to the patient? He's pretty insistent. What do you want to have?" Beth wasn't going to go away.
"Awww....crap." Roselyn hadn't had time to look over all of what was available. "No oatmeal. Pancakes, maybe. And I want some juice, too. And syrup! Remember syrup if you get the pancakes. Where is.... whoever it is?" Roselyn hadn't even had time to check her schedule yet. Dammit.
"His name's Ryan Niequist, 26, he's the short one with the attitude?" Beth was pulling Pastern out of line, towards the corridor that led to the infirmary and the conversion room.
How could she be expected to remember all the animals? That was Beth's job! Roselyn recalled Caprice's cute behavior the other day, before her conversion, and attempted pawing at the air like a kitten, while making mewling noises. "Are... you feeling alright, Ros?" Ok, that was embarrassing. "Uh...um, yeah sure. Fine. Just... never mind." Leave the cute stuff to the actually cute; Roselyn made a mental note to never try that again.
Bethany led Dr. Pastern to the infirmary. "Ryan? This is Dr. Pastern. I'll close the door, no one can hear anything outside, so you can tell her your problem. In a bit someone will be by with breakfast for her, just so you know." Beth left, and closed the door behind her.
Ryan was a somewhat short young man, with rather delicate features. He wore something like cargo pants and a bulky jacket with the arms cut off. His brown hair was irregularly cropped short, possibly with some kind of sharp rock, or an errant bit of metal from the ruins. He had considerable musculature in his forearms, Roselyn noted, most likely he worked out on a regular basis. He had the usual tumors, one on his forearm, another on his cheek. He also had more than a few scars, from their location and severity, they were likely the result of some fairly unpleasant encounters.
"I need to talk with you." The young man seemed nervous, even jittery.
"So I understand. I'm missing breakfast. You're scheduled for conversion in an hour. So, what's the problem?" Roselyn's stomach growled.
"It's... kind of private. I don't want anyone else hearing about this, OK? Patient confidentiality, it still counts, alright?" Ryan's eyes shifted left and right, as if scanning for some attack.
"Whatever it is, I'll try to keep it confidential. But you need to understand that if whatever your issue is affects your Conversion - such as forbidden implants or illegal augmentations, my PA is going to be there, and those sorts of things just pop right out during the process. She will see, because she'll be helping me. But don't worry, frankly I don't care about..."
"No. It isn't anything like that. Nothing like that." The man seemed even more nervous.
"O....Kay. Then, tell me what it is." Pastern sat down in an office chair next to a hypernet terminal and tried to relax. She was really, really hungry.
"Listen, I need you to answer something for me first." Ryan was staring at her now, fairly intently.
"Are you religious? What I mean is, are you with any of the megachurches, or the Islamic Republics, or anything like that?" Ryan sounded angry and strongly defensive.
"I don't see how that matters, but no. Actually, I'm pretty much an atheist, if that helps." Actually, Roselyn defined herself more as an agnostic, but atheist sounded cooler, and besides, technically, even if she did allow for certain...odd... phenomena, the strict definition should still apply.
Ryan looked relieved. He blew air out several times and slapped his leg, trying to calm down. "Ok. Ok, great. Great." Ryan paused a moment, considerably less agitated. "The goop - the stuff you use to turn people into ponies, OK? It works by DNA stuff, right?"
Pastern wasn't entirely sure where he was going, but she tried to follow along. "More or less. The ponification serum reconstructs human tissue into an Equestrian form using a template taken from the Equestrian equivalent of DNA. The nanomachine program starts with the patient's own nuclear material, then performs an iterative series of interpolations, gradually converting one template to the other, roughly speaking. Is that what you mean?"
"No. Yes. What I mean is, what you become is based on what you already have for DNA, correct?" Ryan seemed worried now. It showed in his eyes.
"Put simply, yes, that is correct. Even epigenetic traits can affect transformation to some extent; highly intellectual people are more likely to become unicorns, on average, that sort of thing. It's not any absolute guarantee. Oh!" Now Roselyn understood. THAT old issue. The kid probably wanted to be a pegasus or something. They always want to choose. "Listen, listen, I understand now. No, there is no way to choose which kind of pony you become. We can't make you a pegasus, or a unicorn or whatever." They always wanted to be those two, nobody wanted to be an earth pony.
"No! That isn't it. I couldn't give a damn about whether I have wings or can do magic or whatever!" Ryan's eyes flashed rage, briefly. That was kind of scary. "My problem has nothing to do with that."
This was getting nowhere. "Alright. Mr....Ryan." Pastern had already forgotten the man's last name, she needed food, dammit! "Just calm down, and just tell me, exactly, what you need from me. I'll keep it secret, if I can, and I won't judge you, I'm just here to do my job, which is to do Conversions. That's all. So just tell m..."
There was a knock on the door. "Just a moment, I haven't had breakfast and I am starving." Roselyn almost leapt at the door, and opened it. In the corridor was Alexi, with a tray.
"I got you pancakes, juice, a blueberry-like muffin and I threw in some berries. I don't know what kind. Oh! And I got you two containers of syrup." Alexi checked the tray in his hands "And butter. Is that good?" Roselyn felt like hugging Alexi, but she remained professional. Leave the cute stuff to the actually cute, she reminded herself.
"Perfect, just perfect. Thank you soooo much, Alexi." Roselyn feared the day that Alexi turned pony and left - she couldn't imagine clinic 042 without Alexi. Everything would fall apart. Food! She took the tray from Alexi. "Gotta customer, sorry. Bye!" Pastern closed the door solidly, then put her tray down on the counter next to the hypernet terminal.
In her seat again, she began squeezing butter out onto her pancakes. "OK, go ahead, just tell me what the problem is. Just go ahead, I've heard everything."
Ryan scratched the mess that was his hair. "Ok, doc. I'm a transman."
Except that. She hadn't heard that. 'Trans...man? Like a transhuman? Everybody's a little transhuman these days..." Syrup! Glorious syrup. Vaguely maple flavored but there was plenty of it. Oh, god that's good, she thought.
"No, doc. What I mean is..." The boy paused, forcing himself to speak "I'm a transsexual. I'm a transsexual man. I was born a girl" He said the word in the same way one would the word 'monster' "I went on hormones as soon as I found out they existed. I take injections of testosterone any time I can score some." That can't be easy, out in the favela, Pastern thought. Medical supplies were all but impossible for the average person to acquire.
Hmm. She'd read articles about this condition before. Gender dysphoria, distinct from intersexuality, but related. Neurological intersexuality, that was it. Babies born with their gender identity centers wired for the opposite sex. Occasionally there would be physiological evidence too... little things in the morphology of the body. She called up the term on her terminal, after licking her fingers. Mmm, syrup.
Yes...that was it. Chemicals in the environment, certain epigenetic alterations, there was some evidence for heritability but it was faint... ah, here we go; neural interface development had demonstrated that some brains were just wired contrary to the body. Typical treatment... hormones, surgery, for the elite, of course. But for most people... black market hormones, back alley clinics and the usual street surgery the majority of Mankind could afford. Rough situation. But... these people were really desperate. Matter of life and death to them.
Then it hit her. Now she knew the problem. Ponification serum defined the physical sex of a newfoal based on the existing genetic template. This was a chromosomal issue. Ryan was worried that if he was Converted, he would end up as a mare, instead of a stallion, and would suffer his original insult of birth all over again.
And this explained his caution, with the questions about religion and such, too. When the megachurches had been forced to accept homosexuality, they had seized on transsexuals as the new cause célèbre. That explained all the fighting scars, too. Ryan must have had a very difficult life up until now.
"Ever since my first memory, I knew I was a guy, Doc." Ryan seemed to have relaxed a little more, he was beginning to open up a little. "Even when I was just a baby, my mom said I acted like a boy. I just liked boy stuff, and I was a tough little guy, always hitting things, I was pretty rough and tumble. I played with other boys. That's where I belonged."
Pastern was stuffing pancakes into her mouth. They were a little 'green' tasting, which meant they were probably hay or alfalfa pancakes, but after six months at the Bureau, she'd almost developed a taste for the things. Besides, syrup solves everything. This was her new personal motto.
"One day I cut my own hair short, and insisted that I was a boy. That got me kicked to the curb, and I never turned back. I've done whatever I had to do to survive. I won't lie to you, I've done some pretty... questionable things. But I'm not a bad guy. Not if I have a choice. I've never killed anyone...other than in self defense, anyway. I won't do harvesting work. But I have ferried." Ryan was referring to the underground organ trade. It made sense; it would be the one of the few options open to him to have access to medical supplies, such as testosterone and injectors. Harvesters forcibly took major organs from people, not caring if they lived or died. Ferrymen transported the living organs to pickup locations, where they could be purchased for the benefit of the elite.
For a moment, Pastern felt anger towards Ryan, but then, what would she have done, if work like that was her only possible hope? She re-read the section on the holoscreen about the level of desperation of the transgendered. It was described as a never-ending agony. Suicide was commonplace in this group. Only sex reassignment cured them, and the options for the majority of these people were limited or nonexistent. Apparently, before the collapse, this was not always so.
"I think I do finally understand, Ryan. First, it's OK. I don't have a problem with you at all, and I want to help. Secondly, this is new to me. You are my first transman, my first transgendered patient, so you need to bear with me. Lastly, I think we may just have an answer to this already, but if not, I'm willing to try to find one."
Ryan suddenly flopped over in relief on the examination table where he had been sitting. He let out a loud sigh. "Oh, god, doc, I can't tell you what hearing that means." Roselyn could see his face tighten, as if he was fighting back strong emotion. "God....damn." Ryan blew out a huge breath.
"I'd better explain a few things" Dr. Pastern paused to stuff some muffin into her face, and sip some indeterminate citrus-like fruit juice. "The ponification serum makes a mare or a stallion based on the chromosomes of the subject. In your case, we can assume that it is likely that your chromosomes are double-X, rather than X-Y, so that means that if I Converted you as is, you would end up a mare. Not what we want." Pastern tried to give Ryan a supportive smile.
"So what do we do?" Ryan was up on his scarred, muscular arms, looking at Dr. Pastern hopefully.
"Sex is not entirely determined by the chromosomes alone. There are many cases of people being born a specific sex and gender, and later in their life, it is found out that, say, in the case of a male, their chromosomes are double-X, or in a female, XY. They aren't dysphoric, they are happy with what they are, it's just that their chromosomes are the opposite of their sex and gender. This has disqualified more than a few athletes in the old days. They must have been terribly surprised."
"And terribly treated. Any chance I could have the right chromosomes already?" Ryan looked extra hopeful.
"While it might be possible, it isn't likely enough to get your hopes up I'm afraid. Sorry, Ryan." Dr. Pastern looked uncomfortable. "When ponification serum was first developed, it could only turn humans into mares. It was a bright red solution, unlike the universal, purple stuff we use now." She looked down for a moment, then raised her head. "It was based on only a few templates, all of them Equestrian females. That early serum worked, but it was discontinued." Dr. Pastern looked sad, now. "There are, however, some bottles of it still around. Won't help us, though."
"There are also people who have extra chromosomes, or mosaic genetics, where some cells are XX and others are XY, scattered throughout the body. And countless other variations. Basically, Nature makes a LOT of mistakes. We have to account for that here." Dr. Pastern called up an image on her screen, showing two containers, one pink, the other blue. "Epigenetic Governors. These overcome those problems. Pink forces female, blue forces a male conversion. If someone comes in here with Kleinfelter's, or a monosomy, or triple X, or whatever, we can force the determination that ponification serum makes. Wait... I actually have a corporate directive on this."
Pastern began searching through a database, Ryan looked on in interest.
"Ah! I thought there was something!" Pastern seemed triumphant. "I just never thought I would ever see one of you. No offense."
"None taken. If you can help me." Ryan smiled.
"Let's see....in the case of applicants presenting as.... ok.... ah...there we are. Hmmm.. Apparently the world corporation has strict rules about dealing with the transgendered, and you will be happy to hear they support you completely. I am directed to assist you to conversion to your preferred gender identity, if possible, unless it would cause injury or disruption to...." Pastern read for a bit. "Basically, you have the corporation on your side, even if I were not. But you're double lucky, because I am willing to help you. No reason for you to be miserable as a pony."
"So what do we do? Squirt some blue goop into the purple stuff and I come out a stallion?" Ryan seemed eager.
"That's one possibility. But I want to be sure before we try that. Your situation is not the usual case of genetic anomaly or intersex. It's likely your chromosomes are normal, you just grew up with a brain one sex, and a body the other. I don't know for sure if an epigenetic governor will be enough. I need to research this." Dr. Pastern thought for a moment. "Tell you what... how about we switch your Conversion with whoever's at 2:00, and maybe I can have an answer by then. Is that acceptable to you?"
"Absolutely, doc! I can't tell you how grateful I am for you handling all of this in the way you did. Man, doc, I'm really relieved." Ryan flexed his arms and neck. "Whatever you need me to do."
"One question, though." Pastern saw that Ryan had hopped down from the table and was at the door. "This is kind of last minute. Why didn't you bring this to me at the beginning of orientation? You've had two whole weeks!"
Ryan looked sheepish "I only found out about the gene thing today. I was surfing the net on the public kiosk and... it put me into a bit of a panic, to tell the truth."
"I understand. I'll do what I can. Hey, could you tell Beth to come here for me?"
"Sure doc!" Ryan grinned widely.
With Ryan gone, Pastern could dig into the rest of her breakfast with total dedication. If only they served bacon. Oh....bacon. Why did the Equestrians have to be vegetarian? it just wasn't fair.
Ryan entered the cafeteria. Breakfast was over; the staff was cleaning up. He suddenly remembered that he was hungry. Talking with Dr. Pastern had taken a long time.
An older woman was pulling a container of what had been oatmeal from the countertop.
"Excuse me?" Ryan interrupted the woman behind the counter.
"Can I help you" Ryan saw her nametag said 'Miriam'. He'd seen her before, he'd just never noticed her tag until now.
"I...kind of missed out on breakfast. I was in with Dr. Pastern and... well, is there anything back there at all I could have? I'm not picky. Anything would be fantastic. I'm really hungry." Ryan's stomach growled.
"Ah, what the hell. Let me look." The woman named Miriam began to check the boxes and bins that had formerly held the day's first meal. "I have some nice alfalfa left over!" Miriam held up a number of wilted stalks and grinned.
"I'm not sure I could chew that. Or digest it. Anything... human food?" Ryan felt a little silly. He probably could have waited to talk to the doc after breakfast. He had just been so worried!
"Ah!" Miriam had moved several bins to the side "I have some muffin remains and a cold pancake, willing to take them?"
"Oh, god yes. Please." After living in the ruins, even scraps from the Bureau kitchen equaled fine dining. Miriam handed him the food remains on a paper towel. Ryan dug in eagerly. The muffins were good, and the pancake really helped, even cold.
"I guess you were hungry. Sorry there wasn't anything better in here for you." Miriam went back to cleaning up.
"Thank you...Miriam. Thank you very much!" Ryan gave his best smile, before turning away.
The food helped. Ryan felt better now, both physically as well as emotionally. He had kept his secret for so long at the Bureau, it was a strange relief to tell someone. It made a huge difference that the person he had told was supportive, and wanted to help him. That was rare, so rare.
It had been very difficult to keep his secret at the bureau. His roommate, Nathan, was fortunately young and not the brightest. That helped. Ryan had needed to come up with some explanations for why he 'liked' to sleep with his jacket on. There had been that time Nate had entered their room when Ryan had taken off his jacket, thank god he hadn't unbound his chest. Fighting wounds were the excuse he had given, and Nathan had seemed to accept it. Many times, Ryan had considered getting a street butcher to hack the damn things off, but he knew what the likelihood of survival would be.
Even so, there had been times he had come very close.
Ryan rubbed the short hairs on his chin. He hadn't had a shot of testosterone in almost a month, and he could tell that his damn body was starting to reassert itself. If he could just get properly ponified, his problems would be over. He would have a male body, as he should have had from the beginning. Hooves were just a minor detail, compared to that.
What to do while he waited on Doc Pastern? He had finished all the orientation classes. He was still hopeless at writing in Equestrian, and the language itself was impossible to completely pronounce as a human. They claimed that this early training would help, once he had a new brain, but he couldn't see how. Maybe being remade forced the old brainbox to be more flexible or something. He hoped so.
Not wanting to sit in on a repeat of a class, Ryan decided to hang out in the common room. There might be someone to talk to. Not everyone took the same classes at the same time.
The common room was immediately after the entrance hall, where Bethany the receptionist had her counter. The cafeteria was off of that, from the cafeteria ran the corridor that led to the infirmary and the Conversion room. On the other side of the dining area of the cafeteria were the restrooms, complete with shower stalls and many sinks.
The common room had many doors, these were where the applicants stayed. Large pillows, folding chairs, and a nearly shapeless couch filled the common space. There had been occasional activities in the common space during his two weeks at the Bureau. There had been a sing-along, various readings of stories and poems, and one time they had played with an inflatable beach ball, tossing and bopping it from person -or pony- to each other. That had been great fun, until it busted.
The couch was occupied, Ryan recognized the man there; his name was Logan. Ryan remembered several nights filled with strong-worded arguments; Logan enjoyed sparring with another applicant named Elijah. The topic was always the same; religion. Elijah was fanatically for, Logan equally opposed. One night had been particularly spirited; Bethany had been called in to break them up so everyone else could sleep.
Logan was sitting on the lumpen mass of couch looking forlorn. "Dude, what's up?" Ryan offered a greeting.
"That superstitious fool is being converted right now. I hope Equestria can survive his kind." Logan reached down beside him, he had a cup of something on the floor beside the couch. He sipped its contents. "Fehhhh."
Ryan took a seat on one of the folding chairs. "Equestria's a big place, and getting bigger all the time, or so I hear." Word had come from pegasai traveling to and fro from their new homeland, and they had much to tell. The great Barrier expanding into the Pacific had a counterpart in Equestria, a vast bubble that held a view of Earth. The Equestrian counterpart sphere was smaller, but corresponded point for point with the one on Earth. They were the same spherical hole in space, seen from either side.
The Equestrian counterpart rose from the sands of a vast desert beyond the green that most humans knew from the initial probes that had been allowed in. The lands beyond that green country were constantly expanding, generating more world within the Equestrian Realm. As the population of Earth entered Equestria, it was sent to these new landscapes, to colonize and inhabit them. This was where the untold billions were going, and with their colonization, the green boundaries of Equestria, the nation, expanded as well.
The Earth was being devoured, digested; it became more Equestria in that other space. The scope of it boggled the mind.
"Our world is large enough, yet only a handful of men have brought down entire civilizations. Cortés versus the Aztecs, the Franciscans throughout the South American Zone, The Muslim takeover of Great Britain - all of these conquests ultimately started with just a handful of men. I fear for Equestria, if men like Elijah become ponies." Logan stretched his arms and folded them behind his head. "Fortunately, I will soon follow. Maybe that will balance him in the scheme of things."
Ryan put his arms on his knees and leaned over, staring at the floor. "You two have really gone at it. Eli is a bit of a religious nut, but...."
"You know he considers himself a missionary, right?" Logan sipped his -juice?- again.
"He seemed to figure that he could save a few pony souls over there, I guess." Maybe coming here to wait was not the best idea, Ryan began to wonder.
"Souls! Saving! There we go again. See, he's going to shove all of our human crap down the throats of this new species. Equestrians seem blissfully free from religion as we know it. They appear to be a quintessentially secular civilization! The very concept of a 'church' is as alien to them as having a tail is to us. The last thing they need is our poisonous, ridiculous beliefs!" Logan was fairly upset, it seemed.
"What about the two Princesses?" Ryan felt swept up in the argument. "They're like goddesses, dude. They raise the sun and the moon, they paint the sky with stars. Don't the ponies worship them?"
"They don't. Everything I've heard suggests that the regents of Equestria are not worshiped as deities. Shown deference, yes, but there are no cathedrals to Celestia or Luna, and no pony prays to them. They are only ever referred to as 'Princesses', not gods, not deities, not as spiritual beings. And as for the raising of the sun or moon - that's an old trick; the Egyptian god-kings pulled the same stunt - the only magic is being able to get up early enough." Logan had to take another sip, going on like that apparently took a lot out of a man.
Ryan wasn't one to leave a fight easily. "What about magic? Wildflower could lift things with her horn, and you were there when she changed that plate into a vase. Magic, dude!" Wildflower had been a newfoal unicorn that had shown surprising talent right from the start, she had since taken the boat to Equestria.
"That again. Listen...Ryan, was it?" Logan was sitting up, excited at a new challenge "There is no 'magic'. Magic is just a word that is being used to describe some technology we do not yet fully understand. We're dealing with a whole new universe out there, and it likely has different physical laws. We have no proof that what unicorns do is 'magic', it may just be illusion! Or, there may be some advanced technology, some kind of Equestrian implant or augmentation inside those horns..."
"Dude- Wildflower's vase is sitting right over there! That's no illusion, look at it. You were there!" Ryan gestured towards the small bookshelf between two applicant rooms, on the top stood Wildflower's creation, filled with wilted stalks of hay.
"Then there's a molecular reconstruction beam implanted in unicorn horns. Or they act as an antenna to control some technology stored in Equestria itself. Some kind of 'Krell Machine', or maybe transporter beams or some such. But it isn't magic!" Logan was passionate, if nothing else.
This wasn't fun anymore. Ryan had other things to worry about. "Fine, man, whatever you say. I choose to believe that it's magic." Ryan got up to go... pretty much anywhere else.
"See, belief! That's the problem in the first place! If you rely on belief, you rely on arbitrary notions that..." But by then Logan was out of earshot, because Ryan had made for the entrance hall. He passed Bethany's desk.
"Everything work out between you and Dr. Pastern, sweety?" Beth was nice enough, if a little bossy, Ryan thought.
"She's working on my problem. She says she'll do her best to help. I just have to be a little patient." Ryan figured he might go for a walk.
"If anything can be done, Dr. Pastern will make it happen. She really is an excellent physician. Whatever your problem is, if there is an answer, she will find it."
That was good to hear. Ryan certainly hoped so.
Outside Clinic 042, Ryan found himself in the vast, echoing caverns of the former AppleSoft complex. A dry fountain with dead trees was illuminated by the morning light coming in through large windows crisscrossed by gigantic, diagonal support beams. That way led to the west entrance of the Bureau.
Metal stairs wove their way up to hanging levels within the huge structure, there, other clinics within the Bureau had their locations. Past them, all the way to the top, was the roof. It was a bit of a climb. Ryan could use the exercise, he felt the need to work his muscles and push himself; it cleared his mind. The roof then.
Ryan set foot on the first step and began climbing the stairs, past the levels of additional Bureau clinics. He remembered his childhood, back in Los Altos and Mountain View. His mother had tried to understand him, at the least she had indulged what she perceived as his 'tomboyishness', but his father... his father had been as bigoted and narrow as Robert.
Robert had been a good employer, for a while. Ryan had dutifully played ferryman, transporting organs to the agents at the docks. Many elite lived on enormous artificial island-ships, far out at sea; their agents were always searching for the things they wanted. Working as an organ ferryman made it possible to get medical supplies, and without regular testosterone injections, Ryan's traitorous body would revert. It was bad enough not having a penis, and having to strap his moobs down. But long enough without testosterone meant having a period and that was the ultimate indignity. No man should have to endure that.
Ryan would rather suffer another gunshot wound, than to have to deal with that. It wasn't just that it was messy and uncomfortable, it was that it denied his very self. It denied his very manhood. It was the ultimate insult that his cruel body could hurt him with.
Ryan picked up the pace, breathing hard. He liked to work his muscles, he wanted to be as strong as he could possibly be.
Robert had found out. Ryan hadn't expected such a strong reaction from the woman. She lived her life as if she were a man; Ryan figured that if anyone could have understood, it would have been his boss. But Robert had very strong ideas of what was right and what was wrong, it seemed. Apparently, it was right to take a male name, and be as butch as possible, but only if one never crossed the line between the sexes. For Robert these were acts of female empowerment, somehow, and she was very clear that she was a woman and extremely proud to be so.
When she had found out, by accident, about Ryan, that is when it had been decided to permanently terminate Ryan's contract. Ryan hadn't wanted to shoot her. She had really helped him, when he was utterly lost. But she just wouldn't let him leave alive. What was her deal? Why was it such a big issue that he didn't consider himself female, that he knew he was a man, whatever his stupid body was shaped like? Why should she care so much?
Why should anyone? Humans were insane. That was the only answer that Ryan could ever come up with.
The door to the roof opened to a strange sensation. It was cool. Almost chill. San Francisco was always sweltering, baking under a cloud of smog transparent to ultraviolet and infrared, if not to ordinary light. But there was no smog, and the heat was gone; blue sky stretched as far as Ryan could see. But that was not the most amazing sight.
A second morning was breaking within the vast arch that was the Barrier of Equestria.
Ryan walked quickly to the rail. There, beyond the curve of the world, inside that impossible dome, a yellow sky brightened slowly as a second sun rose into it. Ryan looked to his right, where Earth's sun was more than halfway to the zenith, then he looked south west again, towards Equestria, out in the Pacific. A second sun. It was bright, but unlike the sun above him, the Equestrian sun did not blind his eyes. He stared for a moment at the strange disk, and the bluing sky beyond it. Equestria looked like some kind of freeway tunnel into another world.
Ultimately, that is more or less what it was.
Somewhere, under that second sun, in that impossible land, was a second chance for Ryan. He thought about what it would mean to finally have his gender and his physical sex correspond with each other. He would just be normal. No more struggles, no more suffering, just normal. Like any other guy.
Well, like any other stallion. There was the whole non-human aspect. There was that.
But it didn't matter. Not really. Gender was identity, and identity trumped physiology. That was how Ryan knew he was a man, despite the contradictory opinion of his current body. His soul was male, if his body fit that, he wasn't overly concerned what species it was. Besides, he had to admit, the phrase 'strong as a horse' had to have once had a reason to exist, even if there were no horses on the Earth he could afford to see.
Ryan liked the idea of being strong.
"Hello." The voice was soft, delicate. Ryan turned to see a peach colored mare with a deeper peach mane. She was the one called 'Caprice'. He had whistled when one of the staff had bitten an apple she held in her mouth. That was a cool gesture, he had thought.
"Hi. You're Caprice, right?" Ryan always tried to be friendly, but his situation had made him of necessity a little distant. It was no use getting close to anyone - his history would inevitably cause trouble at some point.
"I am indeed! Whooo!" Caprice took in the astonishing vista of distant Equestria, far across the sea. It was full daylight now, the sky of the magic realm almost matching the terrestrial sky. "That's...home." The pony said the words reverently, but also with a dawning realization; it was indeed going to be forever more, home.
"Are you eager to go to Equestria?" Ryan was making small talk, he wasn't always sure what to say to others.
"No, not exactly." Caprice looked up at Ryan, her emerald eyes shining in the light of two suns. "I do want to go there, I want to live the rest of my life there, of course, but..." The equine looked down briefly. "...I am... waiting for someone. Until the last moment that I can. If they join me, I will have no regrets going... home." She seemed to be trying out the word, as though it had never had a meaning for her until now.
"The guy you were eating with last night?"
Caprice blushed, something she was getting used to now. "Yes. Alexi. I care very much for Alexi."
"He would be a fool to let such a lovely filly go." It seemed the right thing to say, and, Ryan had to admit, for a nonhuman creature, she was not unattractive. He supposed he should start to try seeing that more, considering what he would hopefully be in but a few hours.
Caprice looked at Ryan and smiled, but then looked puzzled. She sniffed the air. She looked at Ryan. She looked more carefully. Caprice lowered her head for a moment, a strange expression on her muzzle. Suddenly she brightened. "Everyone has something they seek in Equestria. I wish with all my heart that you find what you seek as well." She gave Ryan a soft, almost motherly look, and Ryan felt a very hard, cold part of himself warm.
The peach pony turned and left for the door.
Ryan wasn't sure what had just happened, but he had a suspicion. He had seen that look of puzzlement before, but never followed with kindness or love. Equestrian senses. They were better than human senses. Somehow, that newfoal had read Ryan, spotted him, discovered some anomaly about his body that gave his history away.
The old feelings of fear and anger rose in Ryan. But she had not reacted in horror, she had not given him grief. Her words were kind, and the look she gave him, it was something he had never considered possible upon such awareness; acceptance. Total and complete acceptance, devoid of judgement. No... there was judgement, he thought, but it had been decidedly in his favor. That was new.
He had not needed to plead his case, as with Dr. Pastern. Caprice had just offered support, as though his situation were commonplace. Dr. Pastern probably would have accepted him without preamble too, now that he considered what had happened. Was this just the sort of person Caprice was, or was it true that ponification changed people... for the kinder?
Ryan turned back to the south west. Equestria's sun was higher in its sky now. Ryan's stomach gurgled. The Earth's sun was at the zenith. It must be lunchtime. Ryan didn't want to miss a second meal.
Dr. Pastern was frustrated. The directive was clear enough, she should assist any individual such as Ryan to achieve their preferred gender identity as a pony. But trying to find information on the appropriate way to actually accomplish this was seemingly impossible. She had searched all the available literature on the condition, but it all related to standard, human transsexualism, and not to the issue of gender specification with regard to ponification.
There were the usual articles on the early tests, on the red serum that only created female Equestrians. She found information about the issues of chromosomal anomalies, and the development of the epigenetic governor additives. Hadn't anyone, in any clinic, at any bureau ever had to deal with this before? It seemed impossible. But then, the percentage of transsexuals in the population was low, they were fairly rare, and the Conversion program had only existed officially for six months.
Would the use of an epigenetic governor be enough? She knew nothing about what kind of options existed beyond the barrier, in Equestria. If the governor failed, Ryan would be stuck forever -as far as she knew- inside the body of a filly, and that, for most true transsexuals, was tantamount to a death sentence. Ryan would not tolerate a lifetime like that, if he was at all typical; his story would likely end in suicide. She had to be sure.
If Ryan had been a male-to-female transsexual, the solution would be easy. Clinic 016 had some of the old, discontinued red serum, one dose would solve everything, another victory for medicine. There was even a case report from one of the eastern zone clinics about just such a circumstance. But a female-to-male, nothing. Nothing yet, anyway.
Pastern had to face the fact that her Ryan might just be the first transman in ponification history. She just HAD to get this right.
Behind her, Lynn was checking their first conversion of the day, the man that had taken Ryan's place. Elijah would be waking soon, and needed attention, Roselyn would have to put Ryan's issue on hold again. She didn't know what to tell him. She had promised to help him, and so far, she was failing. He would almost certainly confront her at lunch.
Pony Elijah was beginning to awaken. It was almost lunchtime. Elijah was her patient at the moment, she needed to concentrate on his needs for now.
What on earth was she going to do about Ryan?