A story of eight and one half ponies
Chapter Seven: A Cup Of Theodicy
Elijah Shaloe sat alone among 67,000 people and waited for Reverend Elymas to speak. The gargantuan Golgotha Covenant Harvest Megastry sermon hall arched overhead like a man-made sky. Huge nanostructured carbon tubule trusses rose up across the expanse of the great, flattened dome, meeting in the middle like the radial lines of a cosmic-sized spider web. The vast bowl of seats all faced a single, sculptured, golden dais, accessed by intricate, twin curving ramps. A lone podium was a tiny speck in the middle of the dais, a taller speck beside it was the Reverend himself.
Above the gothic dais and the ramps, the huge, holographic image of the Reverend hung in the air. He was depicted from the middle of his chest up, his smile the width of one and a half football fields. Reverend Elymas, his blond-and-gray hair perfectly styled, wore a fine, black suit. His genuine silk tie shone in the light, and his rings, when he raised his hand to calm the audience, were encrusted in gems. He was the pillar of the Megastry, blessed by god, with perfect skin, and perfect teeth, a truly perfect man.
Elijah lived for this moment; the moment when Elymas would speak, the moment when everything would become clear, when the world finally made sense. Here, Elijah could feel loved. Here, he could feel the joy of being surrounded by perfect fellowship, and perfect agreement. Together, the Megastry was one mind, one voice, one will; the will of God made simple and easy to understand, thanks to the great and powerful Reverend Elymas.
Elijah was not a stupid man. Unlike the overwhelming majority in the Megachurch, he knew quite well what kind of man the Reverend Elymas really was. He understood that the Reverend was a crafty, wretched scoundrel, and that the Megachurch preyed upon the innocent credulity of the masses in order to accumulate wealth from those that could afford it least. Elijah had no illusions about what the machine behind his religion did, or what it had been built to accomplish.
But that didn't matter because the result was genuine, and for him, it was the only joy he knew in a joyless world.
In that vast structure, when the music swelled, and the Reverend spoke, and the singers led the crowd, the love was real enough inside his heart, and he felt his God as a palpable thing; real and absolute and true. The fellowship that surrounded him, if for only that moment, felt real as well, and the ruins and the favela and the misery all vanished away to reveal a glimpse of heaven, a view of something better.
If such glory came because an evil man grew rich off the backs of the poor, so what? The Reverend would have a limited wealth in the end, while Elijah and the crowd would have spiritual riches to last eternity. When others of the congregation swooned over the mighty Reverend Elymas, Elijah just nodded pleasantly, to be nice. Nothing would be served by arguing against the man; again, it was the fruit that mattered, not the tree.
But one sermon changed everything for Elijah Shaloe.
Reverend Elymas had decided, at long last, to address the Emergence of Equestria. He had avoided the topic for some time, much to the surprise and disappointment of many in the congregation. If there was ever an event that needed addressing in a biblical light, it would surely be the sudden invasion of an alien cosmos that threatened the very existence of the world. This was not something that could easily be understood in terms of prophesy, there were no party-colored equinoid aliens in any chapter of the bible, or, for that matter, in any holy book.
How could such a thing be understood in the context of a all-knowing God? Surely, such a thing would have been important enough to mention, even as a footnote, in the bible.
Elijah himself wondered how Reverend Elymas would handle Equestria. A delusion sent by the devil? A weapon of Armageddon? The Equestrians were beasts of the field, would he cast their Monarch as the 'capital B' Beast, or as the great whore of Babylon? Hell rising up from below? There were so many possibilities, so many angles the Reverend could choose.
"There is, in this glorious world that God has given us," The Reverend began. "A people that needs our love, a people no less our brothers and sisters than any soul sitting here, in God's great cathedral here at the Golgotha Covenant Harvest Megastry. I speak of the rising of Equestria from the depths of the ocean, and of the peaceable natives of that distant isle!"
This was a great surprise to Elijah. This was unexpected. He had been certain that Elymas would denounce the strange creatures and their invasive realm.
"The love of our Lord knows no limit, no bounds. His love is infinite, as is the universe itself which he brought into being! I say unto you that Equestria is not some evil born from the devil, nor is it some terrible punishment; Equestria is a test, a challenge, and one that we must meet, one that we shall meet." Elymas paused to wipe his brow. The Reverend seemed weary and a little nervous, as though he had been leaned upon in some manner. Elijah wondered what had happened to him before he stepped up to the golden dais.
Elijah could also see that the crowd was confused - this is not what they were expecting, either. "Just as long ago, brave men of god sailed across the ocean to save the souls of primitive peoples on distant continents, bringing culture, and light, and God's mercy to them, so now we must see the plight of the Equestrian people -and they are people- before us!"
To Elijah's astonishment, Reverend Elymas extolled the worth of the strange equinoids, and offered that they were brothers under the skin, with human souls. To prove this point he talked at length of the Conversion Bureaus, and how humans could be transformed, not by magic or technology, but by God's divine will, into the Equestrian form. Not once did he touch on how any of this related to the bible as such, though the Reverend used many quotations from it even so.
In the end, there was fellowship and song, but this time the message was that the next step towards the Kingdom of God would be a step taken with hooves, and that in saving the Equestrians, Man would also save himself.
Elijah sat stunned. He would have believed any other sermon on the matter but that one. The throng inside the cathedral accepted the word of Elymas without question, and no person Elijah heard seemed the least bit confused at the end. Elijah wanted to scream that none of any of this had any correspondence in the bible, that the whole thing seemed bizarre.
But he calmed himself. He remembered his true beliefs, his spiritual center. He was an intelligent man. It didn't matter. It didn't matter because there had still been joy and fellowship and that was the point of it all. An alien universe had crashed into the earth; he had faith enough to meet that challenge. It wasn't in the bible, despite God supposedly knowing everything. There must be a reason; that he, Elijah did not know it was his own failing, not God's.
The world was dying, misery was everywhere, and the worst happened to the most innocent people, yet God was supposed to be Good. It didn't matter. Elijah had faith that there must be a reason even for that, and it was not God's failing that the reason was unknown. The message was clear.
Equestria needed missionaries to spread the word, and Elijah was just the man to do that. He would do that. He would go to his equinoid brothers, and he would testify. Not because the Reverend Elymas wanted it, not because the throng supported it. He would do it because no one should go without the joy he felt from his relationship with the creator.
After all, only God could make such a beautiful land as Equestria.
Caprice was making a terrible mess of Alexi's fine, foam bed. Her hard, peach-colored hooves dug into the foam, and that dragged the blankets and sheets with them, untucking the whole thing. As she bounced and pranced, the bedding quickly became a snarled mess wrapped around her legs. "It's SOOOO Bouncy!" She giggled.
Alexi couldn't be angry, he was laughing far too much for that. Besides, it had been his choice to allow her to come inside to see his room in the clinic. She was curious about how he lived at the Bureau, and she had told him that one could tell a lot about a person by how they lived.
He hadn't expected her to start jumping on his prized bed, however. 'Ei itku auta markkinoilla' he thought to himself. No use making a fuss about it. Besides, she just looked so happy. It was worth the trouble of making the bed again later.
"Oh!" Caprice had finally noticed that her feet were bound up by the twisted bedding. "Help?" The look on her face, part dreadful shame at making such a mess, part ineffable joy at such childlike fun, was utterly endearing.
"It looks like the little pony is caught!" Alexi laughed menacingly. "Perhaps now, I shall tame her and she shall be the prize of my entire ranch!" He pretended to twirl an evil melodrama mustache.
Caprice looked down at her tangled feet, and blushed very red indeed. "You already know... that I am yours." A soft smile played around her lips.
It was impossible to play an evil rancher after that. "Come on, little filly, let us get your pretty little hooves free from what is left of poor Alexi's bed." She really had gotten the blankets somehow tied around her legs. He gently lifted one of her blanket-shrouded hooves, and worked the blankets and sheets gradually off of it. This caused her a loss of balance, and he found himself with a face full of pink coat, Caprice's ribs and underline pressed into his shoulder and cheek. The smell was sweet and light, her coat soft and warm. Wavy locks of intense peach mane fell and covered him, soft as sunset clouds.
The hoof was finally free, Caprice set it down carefully so as not to cause more trouble. Alexi moved to another leg, and wrestled the twisted bedding free. Somehow, she lost balance again, enough that her soft weight rested once more upon him. He felt her sniffing at his back and arms while he untangled her other hoof. She made soft sounds of approval.
"OK, enough of that, you are free, I think, and so you must come down from poor Alexi's brutally savaged bed." Alexi backed up in the small room so completely filled with rumpled bed and perfectly shaped pony. "Awww..." Caprice complained, as she struggled, wavering, to step off the mattress without falling. "A gentlecolt would come and steady me, so that I would not tumble!" She pouted at Alexi.
"I think you would tumble only if I came over there again, and we would both end up sprawled on the bed." Alexi looked severe. Well, as best as he could. It was not a convincing effort.
"Harumph!" Caprice easily trotted off the foam and tried to brush past Alexi, on her way out the door behind him. But when she was half way past him, she stopped, her body pressed against his. She nuzzled his backside with her crest.
Alexi gave her rump a light spank. "Out with you silly mare, Alexi has much bed to be making now." Caprice trotted on, but stopped briefly just outside the door to stick her tongue out at him. "Now there is a lady of refinement!" Alexi grinned at Caprice.
"Double Harumph!" was the response, and then the last Alexi saw through the door was her wiggling buttocks and sweeping tail. Alexi surveyed the damage. He would need to tear the bed completely down and make it from scratch. And he had just made it moments before Caprice had arrived! But, there was no time. He was needed on the breakfast line.
When Alexi arrived in the kitchen, Miriam was shouting instructions to Dorcas, as usual. Alexi was set to making hay pancakes; soon he was blending alfalfa and fescue into batter, making a pale green mixture. The pancakes cooked up the usual light brown, mostly, and in time he had a full steamer bin of them for the line.
Bethany appeared behind the line talking with Miriam. Miriam came over. "I need you to take a tray over to the infirmary. Dr. Pastern is tied up with a patient. She wants pancakes, and whatever else looks good. When you get back, I need you on the line, serving, 'kay?"
Alexi grabbed a tray and began filling it with breakfast items. After six months, he knew Dr. Pastern's tastes pretty well; he considered himself an observant man. She liked syrup, so he got her two containers. Too much is always better than not enough, he thought to himself. Juice - she always has juice, if she can get it. He considered adding oatmeal, but something told him maybe not today. But the muffins looked decent, and he threw in some berries as well. If she liked fruit juice, she would probably like berries. He couldn't tell what kind they were, but if she didn't like them, at least he tried.
He started to leave and then suddenly remembered - butter! Pancakes needed some butter. There, done. He saw that he needed to hurry - the breakfast crowd was overwhelming poor Dorcas. The infirmary. Alexi was on his way.
Elijah had done his best during orientation. He had tried to absorb all the details about this strange land of Equestria. Four races of pony-people inhabited it; ordinary seeming earth ponies, winged, flying pegasus ponies, unicorn ponies, and the curious rulers of the land, the two princesses, which embodied the attributes of the other types.
Elijah studied Equestrian language the most though. He made preliminary attempts to translate parts of the bible into Equestrian. He was constantly stumped. The Equestrian language had no words for 'God' or 'Heaven' or 'Hell'. But the most problematic absence was any word for 'sin'. Oh, there were words for 'wrongdoing', and 'bad' and even an equivalent to the word 'thief'. But there simply was no word that meant the same thing as sin. It would be hard to preach the necessity of a savior without the ability to convey a permanent spiritual stain that unless forgiven, would lead to hell.
The best he could come up with was 'bad-shame forgiven by princess would avoid the being locked-up in nightmare banishment place' which just didn't manage to convey the right tone, or message. Worse, the term 'nightmare' seemed to somehow literally refer to some kind of actual mare.
And what could he do to convince these Equestrians that they should follow the Lord, if the only equivalent word translated to 'princess'. Apparently Equestria had no kings, either. It appeared to be a matriarchal society; the two Princesses were believed to be physically immortal, and had ruled for at least a thousand years.
This must be some kind of fable, of course, with successive generations of... 'alicorns'... taking on the personae of 'Celestia' and 'Luna'. Of course the story that they literally controlled the sun and moon would also be a myth; he was dealing with a highly pagan civilization, and this steeled his resolve to set them straight.
Elijah's time in the Bureau was made even less easy because of Logan. Logan Bertram was a thirty-something that seemed to delight in debate, and the one person he enjoyed debating with the most was of course, Elijah. The man was impossible, and somehow always managed to be around wherever Elijah happened to be. Avoidance seemed impossible. It was as if God was personally testing him by throwing Logan in his path at every opportunity.
Logan didn't believe in God. No, that was insufficient; Logan actively, forcibly, vigorously Did. Not. Believe. In God, In spirits, in anything that he himself could not touch, taste, or explain. The sheer magnitude of his atheism, if made physical, would have dwarfed the Golgotha Covenant Harvest Megastry dome. The full depth of his skepticism would have drowned even Noah, Ark and all. Logan was a faith-seeking missile, targeted squarely at Elijah.
"You CAN'T just ignore the problem of evil, Eli-jah!" The way Logan said his name always made Elijah cringe a little "It isn't enough to just say that there has to be an answer, even if you don't know it! It's a matter of logic!" It was late at night, a week before their mutual Conversion day. They were scheduled to be Converted the same day. It must be some fate.
"Faith isn't logical. Faith just is." Elijah was trying to be patient with Logan. Well, not entirely. The fact was that Elijah did enjoy prodding Logan a little more than he really should.
Logan slapped his head "Ahhh! Faith is just arbitrary belief. Piffle. You DO agree that for God to be God, he has to be all three things, right? Omniscient, Omnipotent, and Omnibenevolent - ultimately 'Good', right?" Elijah nodded. God could see all, he could do anything, and he was good. No argument there.
"So, Eli-Jah, If your god is omniscient, that means he already knows everything, including everything you will ever do, everything that will ever happen, and everything that ever already happened. That's what the word means. So, if he already knows, where is your free will? It's already decided. He knows what you will choose every time. So you have no free will. If you do bad, or good, how is it anything but fated? You get sent to hell, but you never had a choice. God already saw the future. That means the future is set!"
"Maybe God can just see what I might do?" Elijah was tired, but he still felt game.
"What you MIGHT do? How is making a guess being omniscient? Either God already knows, or he isn't much of a god, is he? He's supposed to be able to do anything - if so, why can't he see the future? But that's not the worst of it, Elijah - if god knows what you are going to do, if your choice is already made whatever you do, AND he sends you to hell, how can he possibly be good? What, he just makes people whose only purpose is to pack hell? How is that nice? How is that good?" Elijah was sure he saw flecks of foam coming out of Logan's mouth. Or possibly his nose. Probably both. It was kind of astonishing to see.
"Listen, Logan. I don't know why the world is filled with pain and misery. I don't know how God can be all-powerful and know the future and still let people fall into hell. I don't claim to understand such things. All I know is that God is love, and I know he loves everyone." There, that should settle things. Keep it simple and heartfelt. Surely even Logan could understand a heartfelt statement.
"Gahhhh!" Logan was slapping his head again. It was actually kind of fun to see him do that. "If God is good, shouldn't the world reflect that? Shouldn't life be good too? What point is there to crippling injuries even being physically possible? What is the good in blindness, or mutilation, or slow, horrible deaths? If God can do anything, how can he allow that? If he can see the future, can't he see this stuff and stop it? Why wouldn't he? Either he isn't all-powerful, or else he isn't all-good, or else he just plain doesn't exist!"
"Maybe God is testing us." Elijah waited for the tsunami of mouth foam to start.
"TESTING FOR WHAT?" Logan was pacing around the common room. "Testing for how much we can stand before we just HATE THE BASTARD?"
"PEOPLE ARE TRYING TO SLEEP!" Both Elijah and Logan realized that there was one person they couldn't win a debate against, and that was Beth, the receptionist. "ENOUGH!" Several of the Bureau applicants had their doors open; Ryan, the tough street kid, Tyler, the strange older guy, and Wildflower, the newfoal unicorn who was scheduled to leave for Equestria in the morning.
"Go to bed. Both of you! NOW!" Elijah sheepishly got up from the couch and went to his room. "Sorry... everyone." The fact was that he could have just left, but... he had gotten caught up in arguing.
Logan stomped off "This isn't over, God-boy!" That made Elijah chuckle. He'd certainly managed to rile Logan up. Heh.
Beth looked around the common area. "Show's over. Go to bed." Ryan closed his door. Tyler slunk back into shadow, his door creeping shut. Wildflower looked at Beth. "Thank you very much Bethany." The unicorn turned, her horn glowing. The door glowed briefly, while it closed behind her.
Elijah stumbled over clothing on the floor. His roommate, Jayden, was fairly messy, and left things lying around. He finally made his way to bed.
He sat in the dark, thinking. The fact was that much of what Logan said tested his faith, even if Logan himself was a buffoon. Elijah had often wondered how the world could be so cruel, so dark, so... arbitrary... if god was truly good. His only answer had ever been faith itself. He couldn't answer such questions, no one could, really. But it didn't matter. What mattered was that loving God made him happy.
Dr. Roselyn Pastern was searching the Vancouver Bureau database for any information, however peripheral, to the case of Ryan, her 'transman' patient. Somewhere, in one of the eleven Bureaus that had thus far been established, there must be something about a similar case. Her best angle of attack to the problem was the use of epigenetic governors. These chemicals installed methylated tags in specific places within the molecular templates the ponification serum used. This biased the resultant transformation towards male or female. Something similar happened when transsexuals took hormones, the epigenetic changes lasting a lifetime, once set.
Maybe that could be a direction to take? Sadly, hormones wouldn't last long if simply added to serum, the chemicals would be rapidly torn down by ravenous molecular machinery, empowered by Equestrian magic.
But... Ryan had been taking hormones as regularly as he could, as soon as he was able. Pastern checked his file. He was twenty-six. He said he had been kicked out at a young age, and began hormones soon after. She tried to estimate how long he had been taking testosterone injections. From the clear masculinization of Ryan's face, musculature, and skin, it must have been a reasonably long time. Roselyn re-checked a few articles on the subject. He must have been on hormones for at least two years, and possibly as long as five.
That might be enough. Ryan's DNA would almost certainly have had countless genetic switches flipped towards the male, locked in place by methyl groups. The physical changes she could see were permanent. As long as his body's original estrogen did not flip those same switches back, Ryan's cells would be operating according to a male blueprint. Hormones! They were likely the answer. If she could dose Ryan with sufficient testosterone just prior to Conversion, and if she added the male epigenetic governor to the serum as well, it seemed reasonable that the transformation process would follow not only what was in Ryan's blood, but what had been set as the default in his chromosomes already, thanks to years of hormone use.
It could work. She certainly had found no other case like his to base any of this on; but then the Bureaus had only just begun. Someone had to be first, and apparently, Ryan was that test case.
Suddenly she remembered another test case, a large man strapped to a frame, a corporate prisoner, hissing in terror because his vocal cords had been paralyzed. She couldn't do this! What... if she was wrong? But what other option could she offer Ryan? Some days, her job was anything but simple.
Lynn's triple knock let Pastern know that her first Conversion of the day was here. Roselyn put her work for Ryan on hold, and switched to her schedule. She had been so absorbed that she had not even bothered to see who she would be converting today. Elijah Shaloe. 23. Male. No implants. That was unusual. Most people had at least one. Oh! She remembered him... he was the one that argued all the time with the other man.... Larry...or something. They went at it every day, always about religion. That was annoying.
Well, ponification would sort things out.
Pastern had gradually come to the conviction that Conversion seemed to be the answer to most problems. Unpleasant people became gentle. Mean people became kind. Selfish people... well, they didn't always end up any better, but they did seem to be less annoying at least. But then, there was the incident with Carmine yesterday. She didn't seem at all happy with her transformation. That had been very unpleasant indeed.
"Welcome to the Conversion Room, mister...Shaloe. I'm Dr. Pastern, and I'll be doing your ponification today. Lynn is my PA, she will prepare you....let me see... allergen group A, you're certainly an easy case...let's get to it then!" Pastern turned to the counter and took one of the three plastic cups she had set out earlier. Reaching into the cabinet, she took out Anesthesone Alpha, and measured out the appropriate dosage of the anesthetic drug to match Mr. Shaloe's body mass.
"Alright, Mr. Shaloe, I need to ask you three questions first, it's standard procedure." Lynn got her autocuff to test the man's blood pressure and vitals.
"Call me Elijah." Elijah smiled at Lynn. She seemed nice.
"All right... Elijah. First, do you understand that this procedure will transform your body entirely into a member of the Equestian species, and that they are a completely non-human equine race?" Lynn had Elijah extend his arm, so that she could place the autocuff correctly.
"Yes. I understand. It turns me into a pony." The autocuff began to squeeze Elijah's arm.
"Second question!" Lynn checked the readings, a little high, but that was to be expected, considering. "Are you fully committed to this transformation, and are you doing this freely, without coercion of any kind?"
"Well.... to be fair, if the scientists are right, what other option is there? Equestria will replace the earth, right?" Elijah watched the newsfeeds. "Still, I do want to do this. I think I can do some good over there." If Equestria was to be the new earth, it would need men of god to be willing to live in it.
"Fair enough. Last question then.." Lynn removed the autocuff from Elijah's arm. "Do you understand that this change of species is permanent, and can never, ever be reversed. It's a one-way journey. Are you OK with that?"
The permanence had been an issue for Elijah. But then were not all living things the work of God? Elijah knew his soul would be untouched. What matter that he was trading feet for hooves? The road to paradise could be trod by either. " I understand that this is permanent, and I accept that." Elijah felt nervous. But then, that was only rational.
"Alright, then. He checks out, Dr. Pastern." Lynn turned back to Elijah. "I need you to undress completely, then hop up onto the table here. The best position is laying on your side. Dr. Pastern will give you a cup of serum. It's a nanofluid, and you need to swallow it all, as much at once as you can. It's only three ounces, but you need to get every bit of it down. Any questions?"
"I have one question. Wildflower, Silverbell and other newfoals talked about having strange dreams during their conversions. Does everyone have dreams like that?" This was something that Elijah had become curious about; the newfoals described their experiences in terms that bordered on the spiritual.
"That's actually something I've been trying to research." Dr. Pastern carefully poured three ounces of the purple nanotechnomagical serum from the large Erlenmeyer flask into a white plastic cup. When she was done, only 15 ounces remained in the flask. Pastern carefully stirred the nanofluid into the anesthetic with a crystalline rod. "Every applicant I have asked thus far had reported a compelling dream. What is even more curious is that all the dreams seem to share common elements. If you are willing, I would like to hear about anything you may experience during your conversion. I am thinking of doing a paper on the topic."
Elijah took the cup from Dr. Pastern. "Of course, doctor. If I can remember anything, I'll tell you about it."
"If the others I've talked to are any indication, you will definitely remember. The experience seems to be quite provocative, even life changing, and..." But by then Elijah was unconscious. The process was beginning.
Elijah was running across a vast field of green. Everything seemed soft and hazy, as though the world were made of clouds. Elijah could feel the wind in his face, and a great sense of speed. He had never felt so free, so light, or so powerful. The flat green plains sped past, gaining clarity and detail as he ran. It was a field of green fibers - grass! This must be what grass looked like. There were little yellow flowers in the grass. They became a blur as he found himself running even faster.
A great mass was moving towards him. It was composed of countless similar shapes, in all the colors of the rainbow. As they approached, running with him, Elijah saw that they were horses. No, not quite, they were like the idea of horses, somehow, sleek and perfect and beautiful. He found himself surrounded now, by the lithe, delicate shapes; long necks and graceful bodies pounding hooves as they ran. It was then that Elijah noticed that he himself was like them, he was one of them, his own hooves hammering the grass, his tail a flag in the wind.
He and the herd of unearthly creatures were running towards a brightening horizon, as though running from night into day. The world grew brighter and brighter until Elijah thought that he could not bear such brilliance, yet he was not blinded, and his eyes did not hurt him.
Suddenly, the green field abruptly ended, the horse-like beings parting on either side of him, fading into somewhere his eyes could not follow. Elijah found himself running on air, his hooves moving silently. He had passed into a vast chamber, larger than anything he had ever seen. It was a sky, and it surrounded him in every direction, above and below. Half of the immense space was a sky of night, the other of day, and inbetween a twilight band of many colors. Elijah felt weightless, and his eyes searched for anything that could help him determine up from down.
He somehow knew he was not alone. A tremendous presence was there, filling the shining space he floated through. Finally, he saw. Two impossibly huge shapes, one bright, the other dark, came into focus, each as large as worlds. He had seen these beings before, on the newsfeeds; the two princesses of Equestria, Celestia and Luna. Elijah was filled with wonder and awe, but curiously he felt no fear. He should feel fear at such a sight, he thought, but he did not. Instead he simply marveled.
Instantly, Elijah found himself sitting. He was at a table, staring at a delicate, porcelain cup. Golden liquid filled the cup. It smelled wonderful. "More tea?" The voice was soft and gentle, yet unutterably powerful. Elijah raised his gaze to see a silver teapot, glowing with a gentle light, hovering over the cup in front of him. Behind the teapot, across the small table, sat Celestia, beside her was Luna. Now they were of normal size, only twice as large as himself.
"It's really very good tea. Tell me what you think of it." Celestia's voice was warm and comforting. He felt as if he were sitting with close friends, friends he had known all of his life.
Elijah looked down again at the cup. In it, the golden tea smelled of flower-covered meadows and soft, warm breezes. He didn't know how to drink from the cup, because he had no hands, only hooves. He was still a horse...no, he was a pony. A pony stallion, sitting on a short, padded stool. Elijah thought of trying to use his front legs to lift the cup, but that seemed improper. You don't drink tea with your legs.
"Go on! Thou shalt find it delightful!" It was Luna, her voice kind, but more commanding.
Elijah looked up. The two princesses waited, patiently. What was he to do? Finally, Elijah did the only thing he could think of, he lowered his head and took a sip from the cup as it sat on the table. "Good!" It was the voice of Celestia.
Warmth filled Elijah's belly, and spread through his limbs. The tea was indeed good, beyond good. It filled his senses; the flavor permeated his being. It spoke of beautiful forests and endless grasslands, of high peaks and exquisite, clear skies. But it also sang; of close friends and warm embraces, of quiet moments of peace, and gentle hours of perfect contentment.
Elijah started from his reverie and looked up suddenly. "You are God, aren't you?" Elijah bowed his head, and began to pray.
"Oh, stop that. We'll have none of that here." Elijah found himself staring at Celestia. "It's very hard to enjoy a nice cup of tea with fuss like that going on."
"But... you're... I thought I'm supposed to..." Elijah felt confused.
"Did you like the tea?" Celestia seemed amused, but also serious.
"Y-yes... it was wonderful. It was the best thing I've ever tasted." This was true. It was also the best feeling Elijah had ever felt. He thought he had known what peace was, what contentment was, but that one sip had put everything he had ever felt to shame.
"I like it too." Celestia smiled at him.
"But... I don't know what to do! Aren't I supposed to praise you? Aren't I supposed to worship you? What do you want me to do?"
"Thou may bow if thee wish, should thee meet us one day. Did thee like the tea?" Luna studied him with curious eyes.
"Yes, I really did. I wish I could drink it every day."
Celestia leaned over, as though imparting some great secret of the universe itself. "Then that is what you should do."
Elijah looked down, into the cup, where an amount of golden liquid remained. More was poured in. Elijah lowered his head and...
Elijah felt strange. He was lying on his side, falling in and out of consciousness. His legs felt numb, but sensation was returning. He craned his neck to look at his feet. It took more time than it should have, as if his neck was much longer than it had been. He had no feet! In their place were shining new hooves.
No, wait. Those were but his front hooves. Elijah could make out a second pair of hooves beyond the first. In place of arms he now had front legs.
He really was a stallion.
He was covered in a light tan coat, the color of sand. The short hair that covered his limbs felt warm and comfortable. Elijah twitched his tail without thinking; he was amazed at the sensation. He began flopping his tail up and down, making a swishing thump each time it impacted the table. He felt the shock run up his spine.
The face of Dr. Pastern came into view, bending over to meet his gaze. "How are you feeling?"
Elijah made mumbling sounds. He concentrated on his mouth. It was new. He could feel that his tongue was much longer, to fit his much larger jaw. His back teeth felt huge and flat. His front teeth were smooth and something was missing. Canines. That's right, he was a compulsory vegetarian now - there was no need for pointed teeth shaped to tear and rend flesh.
With some effort, Elijah began forming words. It became easier the more he used his new mouth. "Aygn fygn. Aymm fyme. Fine. I am fine."
"Excellent! Welcome to... to the herd, I suppose." Dr. Pastern seemed to think her quip was clever. "You're an earth pony, in case you are curious. Sorry, no horn or wings, but you do get fantastic strength and endurance. Supposedly, earth ponies have some kind of power over living things; I guess you'll find out about that eventually on your own." Pastern gave Elijah a light pat on the rump. "Just rest for a bit, until you feel ready to try to stand up.
"I... had a dream, doctor. No. I had a vision. It was a vision." Elijah could still taste the supernal tea in his mouth, he could still smell it in his nostrils. "Did... did I disappear or anything?"
Dr. Pastern laughed. "Heavens, no! That must have been a hell of a dream. I assure you that you've been on this table all the time, just like everyone else." Pastern peered intently at Elijah. "Lynn, take down that the subject has a tan coat, white mane and tail, and... burgundy eyes. Reddish brown... no, use 'burgundy', sounds prettier. Um, handsomer." The doctor gave Elijah a wink.
Ryan carried his tray, looking around the cafeteria. He wanted to talk with Dr. Pastern, to see if she had discovered anything that might help his... situation. The peach pony he had met on the roof was sitting with the Bureau... handyman? That must be the Alexi she had mentioned. The two seemed to be laughing about something. Ryan felt his usual, brief wave of envy regarding any man who could live a normal life. Well, as normal as any man could, in a world filled with magical ponies.
A new pony had joined the lunch crowd, to much fanfare. That would be the one called Elijah, taking unsteady steps into the cafeteria, supported by Lynn. Morning Conversion meant a lunchtime hurrah, as everyone seemed to want to watch the newest newfoal taste their first bites of pony food. It was pretty interesting. Watching animals eat just seemed to be something humans liked to do, and there was the fascination of imagining possessing new senses. Ryan had tried a taste of hay, and he couldn't imagine ever liking the stuff. Yet, apparently, newfoals had their sensations so altered that they couldn't get enough of it.
Perhaps 'First Meal As A Pony' was the lure of exploring a new world, open only to the Converted. A world made wondrous again, through fresh, new eyes. Or in this case, tastebuds.
Doc Pastern was nowhere to be seen. Hmm. There was one place he could try. The infirmary. He could also try knocking on the metal Conversion Room door. Ryan carried his tray down the corridor.
Both doors were closed. Ryan balanced his tray on one hand and gave a knock on the infirmary door with his other. "Just a moment!" It was Dr. Pastern.
The door opened. "Ah... I kind of expected you. Come in Ryan, I have a possible solution, but we need to talk about it. Mind eating lunch in here?" Ryan didn't mind at all. He was far more interested in what Dr. Pastern had to say.
"OK, Ryan," Pastern took a bite of her veggie-burger. "Here's the deal. You, apparently, are the very first recorded female-to-male transsexual in the history of the Conversion Bureaus. Congratulations on making history."
"It's not an honor I really want to have." Ryan always squirmed a little inside, whenever his... situation... was put into concrete terms. He liked to try to ignore it as much as possible.
Pastern drank some kind of orange beverage. Soda? "There was a case back east of a male-to-female, they used the old experimental serum, she turned out fine. But that won't work for your case. I have to lay it on the line; we're in uncharted territory here." Pastern put down her food and looked directly at Ryan. "I wish I could guarantee that things will work out. I wish I had some precedent that applied here. The rock bottom fact of it is that whatever we do is going to be an experiment, a best guess. I can turn you into a pony, that is not an issue. But the sex you will end up as - I honestly think I have an answer that could work. But you need to understand that I cannot promise you that it will work. I'm sorry."
Ryan clenched his fists. It was hard to hear that. But it was clear that Pastern was doing her best. "I understand, doc."
"Now, you could wait. You've done your two weeks, you could come back for immediate Conversion at a later date. Maybe someone else would have played guinea pig in that time. Maybe there might be a breakthrough. But there is a risk with that." Pastern ate some more of her vegetarian burger. "Currently, supplies of serum are limited. I don't expect that will always be the case. But I don't know for sure. You could end up waiting a long time for ponification. Maybe indefinitely. But it is one option."
Ryan thought about his 'career' under Robert and the gang, as well as all the other organ traders he had worked for. The harsh world outside the Bureau doors made it a struggle just to stay alive. How nice things had been inside the clinic, how beautiful the holograms taken by probes inside Equestria were. He couldn't go back. Not to that dark world. Not ever.
"Doc...Doctor Pastern?" Ryan thought once more, just to be sure. "Let's make history."
"Alright then!" Pastern seemed glad of his choice. "First off, just how long have you been taking hormones, and how regularly were you able to get them?"
The common space was dark and quiet. Most of the applicant dorms had their doors closed, or only slightly ajar. A sound of snoring came surprisingly loudly from one room, even through the closed door. Goodness, Elijah thought.
It was the middle of the night. Elijah had found he couldn't sleep. During the day, during both lunch and dinner, it had seemed like every soul in the clinic had congratulated him on his ponification. And of course, he had made a very special friend that afternoon. That had been unexpected, but it had made Elijah very glad. Every day now was a new cup of tea, he thought to himself. He must remember to bow his head and drink deeply.
It had truly been such an exciting day. A wonderful day. So much had happened. So much had changed. Elijah's mind raced. Maybe thinking of a name would help him relax enough to sleep. He wanted a proper Equestrian name, if only he could figure one out.
Elijah was laying with folded legs on the large, lumpen couch. He now realized how it had become so shapeless; countless pony bodies had found uniquely Equestrian ways of using the battered piece of furniture. Hooves were harder by far than feet, and the couch had doubtless suffered many insults from ponies simply getting on or off.
A clopping step filled the silence. It was a pony trying to walk softly while still unsure of its new legs. Elijah turned to see that it was pony Logan, come to join him. Apparently Logan couldn't sleep either.
Logan came over to the couch. Elijah shifted and made more room.
Logan carefully put his new hooves up on the couch, and half lifted, half rolled his pony body onto the worn cushions. He flopped, only slightly out of control, up tight against Elijah's hindquarters. Elijah shifted uneasily; Logan squirmed to allow Elijah to raise his tail so that it wouldn't be pinched. Elijah then let his tail drop across Logan's spine.
Elijah stroked Logan's back gently with his tail. "I am so very happy that you're here." Pony Logan gave him a sweet, friendly smile and nuzzled Elijah's flank. "Me too."
"Logan?" Elijah looked back at the gray stallion pressed against him. "Could you... tell me about your life, about how what brought you to the clinic? Now that we're friends..."
Logan interrupted Elijah "The very best of friends!" He gave Elijah another nuzzle on his flank.
Elijah continued: "... the very best of friends," Both stallions smiled. "Now that we are, I really want to know all about you."
Logan thought for a moment. "Well, for me, my journey here kind of started with my father trying to, well..."
"Trying to what?" Elijah could tell that the memory somehow hurt Logan.
"He kind of... tried to kill me."
Elijah, understandably enough, gasped at that.