A story of eight and one half ponies
Chapter Eight: A Cup Of Disbelief
The man shouting over the holoterminal at Alexi Venäläinen was the primary physician of clinic 078. His name was Prabhakar and he wanted Alexi to understand quite clearly that he did not only lack a supply of testosterone cypionate, but that if had possessed such a supply, Alexi would be the last human being he would be giving it to.
Dr. Pastern had not told Alexi what she wanted the male hormone for, but that had not mattered. Alexi knew his job in the world; there was always a need, and it was his gift, his ability, his calling to find a way to fulfill it. Procurement was a game, a puzzle to Alexi, one he found infinitely satisfying to solve. The challenge of acquiring the unacquirable, of pulling off a miracle when everyone thought it impossible was a thrill. But better still was knowing that he had succeeded in getting someone what they needed, when nobody else could. Alexi was not overly complicated in this aspect; he genuinely enjoyed feeling that he had made someone happy.
It was becoming clear that the Bureau clinics were not well stocked for anything beyond their primary function; what medical supplies were carried in their infirmaries varied less than he had imagined, and there was little beyond essential first aid.
Alexi would need to expand beyond the Bureau, and that almost certainly meant the black market. Alexi was no stranger to the underground economy, but since landing his position in clinic 042, he had tried, as much as he could, to put that part of his life behind him. While there were good people in the black market, there were also predators and thieves, and there was always an element of danger. Alexi did not like dangerous people; they tended to be impatient, easily offended, and their prices were always too high.
Dr. Pastern had been very insistent that this was an important matter, and Alexi felt that she was counting on him. He would not fail her.
Alexi dug under the frame of his large bed. While he had obtained the oversized bed for reasons of comfort, it had another value; things could be stored underneath it, back in the corner, where only someone willing to crawl could get to them. Using a small penlight, Alexi found the bluebox, and brought it out of the locked case he had stored it in.
The bluebox sang illegal streams of holographic data into the scanning plate of any hypernet terminal, allowing quantum encrypted access to sources and sites that mere knowledge of was a punishable offense. Alexi locked his door, but before he did so, he put a small button-beacon outside, in the corner of the doorframe. The beacon would interrupt and alert him to certain kinds of approach. Alexi also retrieved another device from under his bed; a scanning cloak. The small box constantly listened for any kind of searching pulse, and countered it with a reversed echo, returning nothing to the source. The world government had automated spies and tracking tags in every appliance, and in every product.
He was as protected as he could be. Alexi used arcane quantum incantations to open forbidden hypernet portals to the realm of the underground economy. It was technological black magic, and Alexi had once been a dark magician of some renown. There were those who he could contact, other magi, who would certainly be able to fulfill Dr. Pastern's request - but what price might be required was a matter of concern.
A face appeared, floating in front of the holoterminal. It was not a pleasant face, because it belonged to a person that had lived an unpleasant life. Alexi found himself recognized, with some surprise as to his call. Alexi had not parted on the best of terms with the unpleasant person whose face floated in front of him. Nevertheless, there was no doubt that this person would have whatever Alexi needed, and -somewhat frighteningly- it didn't matter in all the world what that need might be.
When Logan Bertram was very young, he loved sitting on the remains of the docks of the Lake Merced favela. The water here was not safe, of course, thus no one would ever think of swimming in it or drinking from it. The water was still very pretty though, and Logan would sit and allow the sparkles and ripples to lull him into a dreamy, hypnogogic state. In that warm, quiet, surreal place of mind, he felt the wonder of the world live in him.
Logan enjoyed the sensation that he was part of the life of the world around him; he felt like he was floating, a spirit unbound by flesh, one with all the insects and mutie-rats and people. It almost seemed as if the little chirps and squeeks were directed at him, as though the little creatures were talking to him.
One day, he half opened his eyes, as entranced by the hypnotic water as he had ever been. Logan had been imagining that he was transparent, ethereal, concentrating on all the happy feelings he could muster. He had sat away from the docks, perched on a large, broken machine. Through the thin strip where his upper eyelid almost met his lower, he saw a strange but marvelous thing. Several wild mutie-rats had drawn close, their normally skittish behavior forgotten. They all sat on their hind-quarters, as though in audience before him.
He felt as if he had become a peaceful Buddha, kind to all living things, and that the semi-circle of animals were there to pay respect to him for that achievement. In that moment, he became excited at the thought of having accomplished something amazing, and his inner peace rapidly changed to agitation. Though he tried to remain still, the curious audience of mutie-rats dispersed quickly, somehow aware of Logan's change of state.
It was too late. They were gone. But this experience convinced Logan that there was something magical in Nature, something precious beyond what he had imagined was possible.
Logan lived alone with his father in a government-issue trailer. His father had studied engineering and science once, and he had some kind of peripheral position within the world corporation. Logan was never completely sure what his father's job title was, but his dad was a very ambitious man, and was not overly limited by scruples. Logan's best guess was that his father was an informant and an agent provocateur for the corporation; paid to infiltrate various movements and social groups and sometimes to get them into enough trouble that their Disappearance would be seen positively by the populace.
Logan's family always seemed to have a little more than others did. Logan's father made sure that he was educated, and long nights of study with his harsh, angry father had given Logan a knowledge of much more than simply his father's fist. Logan could read, he understood basic scientific concepts, and he had a concept of history and literature. This isolated him from the other children in the slums, and so he spent most of his time alone and close to home.
One place he would dare to venture was the ruins of an abandoned college nearby. In what was left of the campus, there were ancient books, many still in readable condition. But venturing there was dangerous, because there were bullies and thugs who would beat him if they could catch him. Logan was not an athletic child, nor was he good at fighting.
When his father would see the bruises and damage to his clothing inflicted by others, Logan could be sure to be beaten again, for being, as his father put it, 'a fucking goddamn pansy' and a 'weak little shit'.
But the college library provided Logan with his greatest happiness; fairy tales. He had found the works of L. Frank Baum; nearly two and a fourth of the 'OZ' books, and almost a complete copy of Tolkien's 'The Hobbit', and even three-fifths of Lord Dunsany's 'Book Of Wonder'. They were his greatest treasures.
Logan knew what his father would make of such stories; they weren't practical, they were silly and pointless and empty of any value that would gain status in the world. Logan's father had no patience for a child, he wanted a right-hand man to help him claw his way up. This is why Logan was very careful to hide his books under his bed, inside a hole in the floor. He made sure he was alone when he dared to bring one of them out in order to re-read it. He found ways to secret his books upon his body, and to quickly make them vanish if anyone should approach.
He was successful with this until one night his father came home early. Logan's father was drunk, intoxicated by slum booze made from fermented nutritive ration bars. Drinking slum booze was a favorite pastime in the favela, and everyone was asked to donate rations to make the awful concoction. Logan's father was angry and violent that night, for the men he drank with were the fathers of the boys who often beat Logan up. They had called Logan a sissy and suggested that the reason was clearly a genital deficiency in Logan's father.
Logan had been caught reading Ozma of Oz. In short order he was slammed against a wall, his bedroom was ripped apart, and his books found beneath the bed. Logan watched as his father destroyed his books in front of him, screaming at him for daring to even possess them. Gone forever was Ozma, and Dorothy, Bilbo and Thorin, Shepperalk the centaur, and the beautiful worlds that gave Logan his only true joy.
Of course Logan cried; the most precious things in his life were being taken from him, and he was powerless against the brutish monster doing it.
Things would be different now! Logan would learn to fight, he would study even harder, he would amount to something! Father had plans, he intended that Logan should join the infiltration corps, and work like a man. Logan should grow up and stop acting like a girl - if he didn't shape up, his father would beat the 'faggotry' out of him.
Soon, Logan's world consisted only of learning to fight and studying mathematics, science, and corporate policy. His father had dreams of climbing above infiltration one day, of becoming a full corporate employee, to have a position in a nanofactory, or a technology center. He expected nothing less of his son.
It was not long before the lake had no more power to grant Logan his magical moments of peace. The ashes of Middle Earth and the Gillikin country now tasted rotten in his mind. How stupid he had been. How ridiculous. The beatings convinced him of the solidity of reality. His father smacked the truth into him that all that existed was here and now, what could be taken and used. The only thoughts that mattered were rational; no one and no thing could be trusted, for the world was harsh, and everyone was out to benefit only themselves. There was no purpose to life except to survive and better oneself; and woe to any that got in the way. The population were useless eaters, and they could be controlled through belief and stories.
Whoever understood that, was deserving of power and position. Logan followed his father up the ladder.
When he was twenty-three, Logan had found himself part of the blackmesh armor division. This had greatly pleased his father. Logan patrolled the borders of the small worldcorp facility located in what had once been called the Presidio. Here order was maintained for the entire region; from this location the standard survival rations were initially distributed. Logan wore blackmesh armor and carried an automatic weapon; he was authorized to kill anyone without clearance who even appeared to be approaching from any direction within his view.
It was here that Logan had met Nicholas.
Nick was a little older than Logan, and he was very attractive. Although tough and strong, his face was delicate and had an almost elvish beauty. Nicholas stirred memories of long lost books within Logan, of fairylands and wondrous creatures. Logan found himself fascinated by Nicholas, and could not help taking glances at him, when he was sure it was safe.
One morning, Logan was alone in the base locker room. He was struggling to pull on his blackmesh top, the carbon-fiber based material tough and unyielding as always. He had the armored covering over his head, trying to wriggle his limbs into the right slots. Suddenly, he felt strong arms around him.
"You have been looking at me." It was Nicholas, and his voice was strange. Logan felt fear, and began to tremble, waiting for the blows to begin, the beating to start.
"I figure you owe me for the show." Logan found the blackmesh pulled suddenly down, his head popping out of the top, his arms still tangled within it. Suddenly, Nicholas kissed him.
Relationships were not permitted among the members of the division; it sometimes led to complications and problems the corporate masters did not want to bother with. If one of them quit the blackmesh, there would be no problem, but neither could. Nicholas, because he loved being a corporate soldier, and Logan, because of his father.
They kept their romance as secret as they could, but such things can never truly remain so within a tightly knit company of men. Logan and Nicholas soon found themselves presented with a choice by their commander; break it off, or quit the division.
Logan had fallen in love with Nick, he had not felt so happy since his childhood, since his books and his moments by the lake. Nicholas lived for the blackmesh, and Logan lived for Nicholas. He would quit. Let his father be damned.
Logan found a home far away from both his father, and the base, a small shack which he gradually restored. For the first time in his life, Logan felt content. During the day, he would sometimes sit by the gray, dead ocean, and there were moments when the sparkling, oily waves almost entranced him. In the evening, Nicholas would come home, and Logan knew only joy.
As the year wore on, though, Nicholas began to come home less often. Apparently, the blackmesh were involved in night exercises, and there were changes going on. Something was happening in the world, and it was rumored that it was a government secret. Then, suddenly, there was no secret anymore; a small rift in spacetime had opened somewhere in the pacific ocean. A spherical hole to another universe had collided with the earth, or expanded from another realm, or something, and it was rapidly growing larger with every hour.
Nicholas came home hardly at all now; the base was on constant alert, the population in the favela worried. There were rumors that the strange bubble in the sea was dangerous. There were stories that some places were no longer safe to go, that a bizarre illness haunted them. Panic was rising, and the blackmesh needed to be ready to deal with the possibility of riots or insurrection.
Logan watched with fascination on the portable holoterminal Nicholas had brought home for them to share. The cosmic bubble had grown in mere months to over a mile in diameter, and there was no sign of it stopping. Choppers hovering near it recorded glimpses of green and blue inside, enhancement showed that within the sphere was a landscape, with mountains and rivers and forests. The world collectively drooled at the thought of such bountiful resources.
Thus began the first of several waves of religious fervor. The world was sick; some said it was dying. Surely these were the end times, and here, rising out of the sea, was a green and pastoral realm. Some called it the Rapture, some called it the thousand-year reign of peace, some thought that it was a gift from God. Religious ecstasy swept the globe even as the world corporation drew up plans to strip mine this new resource.
But so far, no physical object had penetrated the shimmering boundary of the sphere.
When the sphere was four miles in diameter and still growing, the world government announced that it had received some kind of message from the emerging cosmos. Robot probes would be permitted inside, but no human could enter.
Logan watched awestruck at the first images from the new realm. It was Oz. It was Middle Earth. It was every fantasy come alive, made real, and true. Green and lush and beautiful; the sight of it was so thrilling that it almost made up for the fact that he had not seen or heard from Nicholas in three months. The base was in apparent lockdown. Logan determined to wait; Nicholas would return, once the crisis was over. He would keep their home ready for his return.
But then, one night, only two days before his twenty-fourth birthday, two terrible things happened.
To Logan Bertram @ Quantumcode ++X++XX**X SECURE MESSAGE FOLLOWS:
I am so sorry I dragged you into a life of sin and degradation. I was consumed by Satan, and by worldly evil. I pray that you can forgive me. I have found a new life in the Reformed Designist Ministry, and have sworn my soul to Our Savior. You have surely seen the arrival of the Kingdom Of God, I pray that this will sway you to turn away from sin and repent your life.
Logan stared at the message on the holoprompt. It had interrupted the latest news that contact with the inhabitants of the new realm had been ongoing for almost a year; that their regent would address the world, and that the world government had come to some kind of a treaty or agreement with the aliens. As astonishing as all of that was, the breaking of his heart was all he could think about.
Logan cried and slammed the walls of his shack with his fists. The damn preachers had gotten to his Nicholas. They had preyed upon the fear generated by the new cosmos and stolen Nick away. Logan cursed such superstitious insanity, he cursed all gods and all faiths, he railed against the cruelty of such harmful stories and cruel myths.
Nicholas had spoken of being raised in a religious family. He had mentioned that he had once been religious. Logan rapidly became angry. How could Nicholas do such a thing? How could he let fear destroy the precious gift of love? How could Nick change like that? It couldn't be true. It just couldn't.
On the holoscreen, behind the floating rectangle that held Nick's letter, the face of a strange being addressed the world. She was not human; a long horn extended from her head. Waving colors took the place of hair on her scalp. The creature's eyes were huge and brightly colored, they somehow conveyed both gentleness and terrifying power. The entity was saying something about an agreement with the government of the world, about 'conversion' whatever that was. It made no sense. All Logan knew was that Nicholas was gone, his Nick was gone, just like his books, just like everything good had always been taken away from him. Punishment. It was punishment for quitting the blackmesh, for failing his father, again.
There was pounding at the door. Nicholas! It had to be Nick, there was nobody else who ever came by. Nick was back, he had changed his mind - it was clear that the strange bubble cosmos could not be some biblical event; weird large-eyed aliens lived there, not Jesus or God. Nick had come home after all. He had come to his senses!
Logan ran to the door and began unbolting it. Nicholas! Nick was here!
The fist slammed hard into the side of the Logan's head. The impact caused the delicate skin around his lip to be torn; beads of blood spattered onto his shirt and the ground. Logan knew that fist well. It belonged to his father. How could his father be here?
Logan suddenly found a knee and leg on his chest; it was hard to breath. A rough hand grabbed his hair and the world gyrated as his head was violently shaken. When his vision cleared, his entire world became the object inches in front of his nose. It was the barrel of a pistol. Behind the pistol, the red-faced, screaming mouth of his father shouted obscenities above him.
"Dad... how did you... please... what is this..."
"You filthy, fucking piece of worthless SHIT! You little cockmuncher, how dare you speak to me with that corrupted hole you call a mouth! I fucking should just shoot you, right here, right now. You little piece of shit!" Logan's father was apparently not particularly happy with him tonight. Logan's head spun. How could this be happening?
Logan stared at the grey metal of the gun. The barrel seemed so incredibly huge, like a cannon. He could smell the metallic substance of it. Suddenly warmth spread through his pants, down to his buttocks where they were pressed into the dirt floor. Some part of Logan's consciousness, in the middle of his terror, found it interesting that fear really could cause loss of bladder control. It wasn't just a myth or a fanciful story. Another part of his racing thoughts found it intriguing that he could think of such things abstractly in such a moment.
Logan had a very complicated mind.
"Your little boyfriend..." His father spat the word out like an insect that he had accidentally swallowed "...sent me a letter. DO YOU KNOW WHAT THAT LETTER SAID?"
Logan had a pretty good idea.
"Apparently MY SON is a dirty little cocksucking whore! Apparently, he's been shacking up in a little LOVE nest. It seems his faggot boyfriend found Jesus and wanted to make sure I knew, so I could help my son find Jesus as well. Isn't that just LOVELY? Huh, FAGGOT?"
Logan was having trouble breathing. The knee in his chest hurt. The pee was starting to turn cold and it itched. He couldn't believe that he could be aware of so many things all at the same time.
"DO YOU WANT ME TO HELP YOU FIND JESUS? Huh? You little shit? Do you? I can help you SEE JESUS RIGHT FUCKING NOW! Would you like to?" The barrel of the gun filled Logan's vision. It was as large as the sky. He could see the rifling inside it. He could practically taste it.
Logan suddenly went cold inside. The look in his father's eyes was death. Logan's mind came to a sharp, clear focus, bright as any star. "Wait? You mean that bastard Nicholas? That fag is STILL trying to fuck me over. Dad, dad, dad, how could you believe crap like that? Fuck, dad. THAT'S why you're here?" It was a gamble, Logan knew that. It all depended on just how much his father didn't want to believe. Logan was betting on the power of denial, the power of what his father wished to think. Belief was a tool to control the weak; his father had taught him that.
Logan knew his father wanted to believe that none of that was true. Logan knew he would live, or die, based on the strength of his father's need for denial. The gun remained, filling Logan's vision.
Suddenly, his father's face changed. The eyes softened, and looked askew for a moment. The lips changed from a feral grin to something almost contemplative. Logan could see the war inside his father through the expressions that subtly rippled across that face.
The gun withdrew, the pressure was removed from his chest.
"I don't know what's true. I don't want to know. If I ever see you again, I will kill you." His father stood in the doorway now, the gun in his hand. "Do you understand?". His voice was calm, as if he were talking about what to eat for lunch.
Logan understood. Clearly. He had no doubt or confusion whatsoever.
His father looked left and right quickly, then turned and marched at a quick pace back out into the dark night, out into the favela.
Logan looked around, everything seemed so normal now, except for the open door. The holoscreen featured talking heads discussing the address by the strange regent of Equestria. Logan's pants were wet and cold, but he was alive.
He had trouble sitting up. He felt like he was in some curious state of shock. He found himself terrified that his father might reemerge from the dark and decide to finish the job.
Logan grabbed what he could, and ran for his life.
Bethany was sitting at the front desk of clinic 042, chatting with the receptionist from 043. Her name was Hyssop, and she was on break. She had brought a cup of tea with her, which she occasionally sipped, balancing the cup expertly on the frog of her right hoof. Hyssop had undergone conversion about two months previously, but had chosen to remain at her clinic because she genuinely enjoyed the job... and because she was a little nervous about living in Equestria; she didn't know anyone there, and she was afraid of being alone in a strange land.
Alexi came walking out of the back. He waved to Bethany and Hyssop as he passed by. He had a strange expression on his face. He was carrying some kind of small device in his hand, which was beeping softly. He carefully opened the front security door, studying the small beeping machine the entire time.
Hyssop continued explaining about the problem that had happened the other day in clinic 012, involving a newfoal who tried to eat balogna, and ended up making a mess all over the...
Alexi came back through the security door with a bulky package under his arm. The little device was still beeping. "Alexi?" Bethany was curious, interrupting Hyssop's story.
"Just something for Dr. Pastern. However..." Alexi came to the desk and bent over, his face close to Bethany's. "This never happened. Nothing was delivered today. Understand?" Alexi wasn't being aggressive, rather he was pleading, begging.
"I saw nothing, nothing at all." Bethany was used to Alexi's ways, but above all, she knew that without his abilities, hardly anything would get done at 042.
"I wish we had an Alexi." Hyssop sighed. "We're always running out of, well, everything really."
Alexi took the package to the infirmary. It was nearly two o'clock, Pastern might already be with her second applicant of the day. Alexi suddenly realized that he had been so busy working out a deal, he hadn't even remembered to do an announcement. That was his favorite thing! Maybe it wasn't too late.
Alexi put the small security scrambler in his pocket after shutting it off. He knocked on the infirmary door.
"Heya, Alexi! I'm about to do second conversion - shouldn't you be announcing our next pony?" Pastern finished closing down her hypernet terminal, storing her current state before shutdown. "What's up?" She had noticed the package under Alexi's arm, and the worried look on his face.
"Here. Put this in a safe place. Testosterone. I had to take a full box. It's a lot more than you'll ever need. I hope anyway." Alexi gave Dr. Pastern the box. "Listen, this one was a tricky one, so... I may need something a little more ...problematic later to settle the debt. Please tell me this was as important as you say?" Alexi looked concerned.
Pastern thought of putting the box somewhere in the infirmary, but reconsidered. It would be safer in the Conversion Room. "This may just save the life of a good man. That's all I can say." She owed Alexi that much, at least.
"Excellent. Good. Good." Alexi turned to leave. "This... never happened, right?"
"What never happened?" Alexi smiled at Dr. Pastern and walked off down the corridor.
Logan was hiding out in his room. It was nearly two, nearly time for his conversion. He had felt agitated for several days, a heady mixture of excitement, fear, fascination, and yearning. The sheer strangeness of the situation only now somehow became clear to Logan; in a few minutes, he would cease to be a human being.
It was a little like being on death row, Logan thought. Or maybe it was like facing some life-changing surgery. No. It wasn't like either of those, not really. It was unique, this Conversion. He knew he wasn't going to die; the Bureaus had not officially lost a single applicant - though there were rumors about the very first test cases not surviving, only rational, perhaps. Every person he had watched enter the Conversion Room had come out happier, healthier, and, well, nicer than before they went in.
But it was still a vast change. A change of species! An entirely new way of life. An entirely new... everything. A new body, new eyes, new senses, a new brain. Logan knew he would still essentially be himself, after, but he also had observed from others that he would be different in some ways too. Perhaps ponification was like having a stroke that changed personality slightly; the person is still the same person, but they are somehow also different. No, a stroke is damage, a loss. Conversion didn't cripple anybody, so it wasn't damage. But it was change.
Change is always a little scary, he thought. Who would he be after -
The voice over the loudspeaker was slightly out of breath, as though Alexi had just been running to get to the microphone. "AWWWWRIGHT, YOU PONIES AND PONETTES, and all you WANNABES out there, (your turn will come, give it time) WE ARE GOING TO HAVE A NEW STALLION IN TOWN, SO COME ON DOWN TO THE PONIFICATION PALACE, LUCKY GUY, LET'S HAVE A CHEER FOR THE ONE AND ONLY LOGAN BERTRAMMMMM!! Time to get your hooves on, dude!"
Logan heard a single, faint cheer from somewhere in the common space. He wasn't sure who it was.
Logan took one last look around the room he had spent the last two weeks in. He had nothing, just the clothes on his back, and a few basic necessities; several changes of underwear, spare socks, his toothbrush and paste, the cologne that Nicholas had once given him from the blackmesh base depot. Logan put them all into the ragged bag he had brought them in, and took them with him.
Crossing the common space, he saw a newfoal laying on the couch. The pony was tan with a white mane and tail. Logan hadn't seen this newfoal before. It must be... Elijah. Elijah had been the morning conversion. This was Elijah as a pony now. Logan remembered the lone cheer from the common area. It must have been him. "Hello, Elijah. How you feelin'?"
Large burgundy eyes looked up at him. The expression was kind but a little shy. "It feels really nice, Logan. It's new, but... it feels really nice." Suddenly pony Elijah gave Logan a confident smile that felt like sunshine and dandelions. Logan somehow felt better.
"I... guess I'll see you later, little pony." Logan walked a step and then stopped. He turned back briefly, suddenly ashamed of all the times he had argued with Elijah. "Thanks. Just... Thanks." Logan turned and headed for the Conversion Room, beyond the cafeteria. He had missed Elijah softly saying "sweet dreams" behind him.
In the cafeteria, Logan held his ragged bag of personal possessions over the large garbage bin. He wouldn't need any of these things any more. These were the last traces of his earthly life, other than the clothing he was wearing. He dropped the bag in the bin. Suddenly, he thought of Nicholas. Anger took him, and he marched out of the cafeteria.
Lynn was at the large metal door to the Conversion Room. "Ah, mister Bertram, come on in, and let's get you converted. Today is your day!" Lynn ushered Logan in, and closed the door behind her.
"Let's see, Logan Bertram, age 24, male, two blackmesh security tags, on in the wrist, one in... the buttocks, apparently. A subdermal cranial jack, inductance style, no other major augmentations, correct?" Dr. Pastern was busy with her terminal.
"That's correct, Dr. Pastern." Logan lifted his arm so that Lynn could take his vitals. He felt the autocuff begin to squeeze at his arm. "Doctor, could I ask you a question?"
"Certainly... um, just a moment, allergen type... C. Need to bring out the other anesthetic. Good thing I double checked, huh?" Dr. Pastern messed about with cups and bottles while Logan waited. "Alright, then. All set except the pouring of the serum. What's your question?" Pastern turned to look at Logan.
"You've probably seen a lot of people go through here... how much do they change, up here?" Logan pointed to his head.
Dr. Pastern smiled. "Actually, Logan, they don't change 'up there' at all, really. All the change seems to happen here." Pastern jabbed her finger a few times at the center of her chest. She thought for a moment then adjusted her finger slightly more to the left. "Ok, here, to be more accurate." Only a physician would worry about that level of detail in a gesture. Logan somehow found the behavior comforting, considering what was about to happen to him.
"If you had to sum up how ponification changes people, how would you describe it?" Logan was undressed now, at Lynn's urging, and was lifting himself up on the table while facing away from it. He struggled to keep his shirt more or less draped over his crotch; he felt embarrassed to be so exposed.
"Well... that is a question." Pastern had poured out exactly three ounces of the purple serum into a white cup, the large Erlenmeyer flask now had only twelve ounces remaining inside of it. "If I had to pick one word, I would be easiest to just say 'nicer', but that is not a very clear answer. Hmm. I think I would have to say that ponification makes humans into something closer to what they like to pretend they are, but which history has shown that they just plain aren't." Pastern turned and brought the white cup over to Logan, who was now sitting on the table.
"Human beings like to imagine that they are noble, honest, giving, compassionate, loyal, rational, reasonable - all that good stuff. Idealistic notions of what a 'good person' is. But we really aren't those things." Pastern swirled the contents of the cup. "We want to be, we always want to be, but fifty thousand years of evolution out on the veldt, fighting the world and each other says otherwise. Ponification makes humans become something that actually can pull off all of those ideals. This cup... " Dr. Pastern held up the white cup and studied it. "...gives us would-be angels some wings to lift us out of hell, I suppose."
Logan took the cup that Dr. Pastern offered. "I don't like the religious imagery, but... thanks, doctor. I get the idea. I'll lose the violent ape inside, but the essential 'me' will stay the same. I never much liked that side of me anyway."
"Drink it all down, fast as you can, Logan. It acts fairly quickly, and you need every drop."
Logan studied the cup for a moment, the purple liquid shimmered and occasionally sparkled. A faint whiff of artificial grape tickled his nose. As the nanofluid swirled, Logan remembered Lake Merced. He remembered the mutie rats and how innocent and peaceful he had felt. Instantly, he downed the cup.
Sickly sweet goo slid down his throat; his mouth filled with false grape flavor, before it suddenly went numb. His throat followed, suddenly devoid of sensation. Logan felt his head falling, but he did not feel it hit the table.
"Alexi? I am concerned about you. Please tell me what is wrong." Caprice had pushed her way into Alexi's room, he was surprised that he had failed to lock it. He always locked his room. Worry about his recent deal must be distracting him even more than he thought.
"My little peach princess, of what do you speak? Alexi is fine. Beyond fine!" He brought his most formidable deflection smile out and wore it upon his face.
Caprice looked down, her face pouting. She shuffled her front hooves. "Always tell me the truth, Alexi. I always tell the truth to you."
In his entire life, Alexi had never felt such shame. "I'm... I'm sorry Caprice. I did not want to worry you. I do not want to bring you any unhappiness. I promise I will never keep anything from you again." Alexi meant it; he didn't entirely understand all the reasons why, but he could not even imagine lying to her ever again.
Caprice brightened. Alexi's heart felt a thousand times lighter.
"I had to get something for Dr. Pastern. What she needed was very difficult to find, so I resorted to some of my old business partners, from before I joined the Bureau. They are not nice people, muruseni, and if I cannot find a way to pay them back, things will not go so well for me I think." Alexi shrugged, but his face showed concern.
"If anyone tries to hurt you, I will kick them with my hooves." Caprice was utterly serious, but it was hard for Alexi to keep from smiling at this. If anyone came, they would come with guns, and the last thing Alexi wanted was to have Caprice anywhere near him then. Still, she was just so darn... ahem, Alexi thought to himself.
"What do they want?" Caprice looked up, her bright green eyes shining.
"That is a problem. A big problem." Alexi ran his fingers through his blond hair. "They want a red case. They want twenty-seven ounces of pony serum, packed in the original case. I was stupid. I told them that it was a possibility when it is not. And now, Alexi is in very big trouble. This is why I did not tell the truth originally. It is my fault, and I guess I must find a way out of this."
Caprice studied Alexi with such intensity that he felt worried for what she might do. "You are not alone in this. You always try to help others whatever the cost. It is one of the reasons I desire you. Do not be afraid. I will protect you." With that, Caprice suddenly turned and left, leaving Alexi without words. She will protect me? he thought. This was not good. These men were not nice men. She could be hurt, even killed.
Now Alexi had something far more important than his own measly life to worry about. He should never have told her. Stupid Alexi. Stupid.
It was five o'clock. Dr. Pastern had asked Alexi to not do the usual conversion announcement at four, he had seemed disappointed but had understood.
Since the package had arrived, Dr. Pastern had called Ryan in for small injections. Pastern had found that normally, transmen took 50 to 100mg of testosterone per week, but that some went as high as 250 to 1000mg. There was a downside to that, however, in that large amounts of testosterone are converted by the body into estrogenic compounds, doing exactly the opposite of what the patient wanted. There was a delay, however, before the body could do this chemical reversal, and that was what she was counting on.
Since Ryan was at the end of his two-week orientation, and he did not feel safe trying to live outside of the clinic on his own, he had committed to being converted this day. After considering things, Roselyn had reasoned that continuing Ryan on hormones was pointless, after five years on them, he was as ready as he was going to be. But she wanted to make sure of two things.
Roselyn wanted to have so much testosterone in Ryan's blood and tissues that the ponification nanomachines would be strongly persuaded that the subject was male even if there was conflict in their initial chromosome analysis. She also wanted to give any 'loose' or missing methyl tags an extra boost on Ryan's chromosomes, insuring that all the 'build as male' genetic switches were fully set. It was likely they already were, but Ryan's history of hormone use was spotty, because he had difficulty at times acquiring the drug.
By five o'clock, any ordinary physician would be worried for Ryan; his testosterone levels were exceedingly high. In hours, his liver would begin to break the chemistry down into estrogen-like compounds; but Ryan wasn't going have that liver shortly, nor would his health be an issue; he would be remade into a member of the Equestrian species.
Roselyn had done everything she could. She had dosed Ryan's cup of serum with male epigenetic governor. She had dosed Ryan with a high level of testosterone, he was feeling it; woozy, aching muscles and back, soreness in his gums. The time for Conversion was now.
"Ryan, this is it." Pastern handed Ryan Niequist the small white cup that contained his future. The contents were not purple now, but a deep midnight color, the result of the governor additive. It still smelled of artificial grape. "I did my best, Ryan, I really did. I honestly think you have an excellent chance of coming out of this a proper stallion."
Ryan sat naked on the conversion table. He had not wanted to undress and unbind himself; but momentary shame was better than having his transforming body strangled. Lynn had given Ryan a blanket to hold over himself instead, it was kind of her, but in the end pointless - whatever happened, Pastern and Lynn would see his body when he fell unconscious. What the hell, he thought. It was the last time he would ever have to deal with his traitorous chest, and his absent manhood. Let the malicious flesh have one last hurrah.
"Doctor Pastern. Lynn. I want to thank you for everything. I know you tried your best. I know I kind of put you on the spot, by not telling you about myself until it was too late. Sorry about that." Ryan looked down at his enemy, his body. His breasts, his wide hips. All the things that denied his identity as a man. "Whatever happens, I know you did your best." He looked up at Dr. Pastern. "Thank you."
Ryan tilted his head back and downed the cup in one quick swallow. He quickly flipped onto his side, and lay still. "Doc?"
"I just wanted t...."
For a moment, nothing happened.
Then, Ryan's skin began to turn waxy. Small waves began to ripple under the skin, as though Ryan's body were a pond into which Dr. Pastern had thrown a stone.
Lynn bent down to examine Ryan's hand. The flesh of his fingers began to flow, like melting candles. The fingers drew together, pulled by squirming tissues, and became one. The back of Ryan's hand softened, and began to stretch. Waves of muscle, fat, blood and skin flowed down Ryan's arm, adding mass to his lengthening hand. His thumb submerged like a small, pink whale diving into a fleshy sea. Soon, the metacarpals in Ryan's hand fused to become the cannon and splint of an equinoid foreleg.
As Lynn watched, the pulsing bulb that had been Ryan's fingertips began to extrude a hoof. As the hoof extended from the blob of flesh, she could see the formation of the coronary band, and then the periople, trimming the upmost edge of the hoof. Lynn had never really looked that closely at how a hand changed into a hoof before. Every Conversion seemed to offer some unique new experience for her. One day, she knew, all of these astonishing things would happen to her own body.
It was a thought that always filled Lynn with awe.
"Lynn!" Dr. Pastern was pointing. "I think it's going to work!"
Both women crowded together, peering intently into the shadowy thighs of the rapidly forming equinoid. "Check the posterior." Lynn went around the table and began to report. "There's complete closure, and descension of the labia...they're forming a scrotal sac. Just as it normally happens in the womb. I'm not seeing testes yet, but they've got a ways to go through the body. What's going on from your view?"
The problem of view could be solved by lifting Ryan's leg up and away, but Dr. Pastern did not like interfering with the conversion process. She had nightmares of inadvertently shifting limbs out of joint during transformation, leaving the patient permanently crippled or deformed as a result. Instead, she tried to see under the leg, into the space between the thighs as best as she could. "Something...something's protruding. It still looks a bit clitoral, but...no, it has a fully formed urethra in the middle. Almost in the middle. The tissue is forming around the urethral channel, I think it looks clear. I wish I had a better view, dammit."
Lynn felt like they were announcing a race. In a way, they were. It was a race to see if Ryan's male genitalia would form completely before the transformation process ended. The prize was Ryan's life. If something serious went wrong, the result could be catastrophic. The urethra could be closed off, there could be hypospadia, or Ryan could simply be left with ambiguous genitalia. A thousand terrible things could go wrong. Some of them potentially fatal down the road.
"Any testes?" If Ryan's ovaries expressed themselves into the newly formed scrotal sac, changed into testes, that would be a sure sign that a vast number of unpleasant outcomes would be averted. This was what happened in normal development; all creatures start out as proto-female, maleness being essentially a prenatal mutation of that stock form. Here, Pastern and Lynn were seeing that process happen rapidly in an adult creature. Dr. Pastern suddenly realized that she should have been holographing all of this. What a waste.
"No. Nothing yet." Lynn crossed her fingers. It was silly, but somehow it helped, emotionally.
Lynn stood up. The process seemed essentially complete. All that was left was the creation of coat, mane and tail. "I don't think we've got a complete boy here. No testes. There's a scrotal sac, but..." Still, she kept her fingers crossed. She wasn't willing to give up hope for Ryan yet. "How's he doing in the penile department?"
Pastern considered. "As far as I can tell, that worked. We have complete enclosure of the urethra, or at least it seemed that way until everything was covered up by prepuce." Pastern thought for a moment. "I won't be happy until I hear he can urinate properly. If he can't... it'll mean surgery. That won't be happy."
Conversion had been so easy until Ryan. A cup of goo, sit back and watch, it always turned out right. They had both gotten into the habit of treating the extraordinary process almost as a lark. Pastern felt some shame at how she had treated such total transformation; joking and making bets on what race of pony a patient would become. For the first time in over six months, it truly hit her just how incredible, how tremendous, Conversion really was.
It was so easy to make even the miraculous commonplace. Somehow, the human mind just does that, she thought. Man is the animal that makes miracles blasé.
Ryan's coat began to spring up, growing out all over his body. His head was clearly masculine, with the long, straight nose indicative of an Equestrian male. Hair began to cover his naked, fleshy head, short awn hairs followed by longer, thicker guard hairs. Ryan was going to be a dark gray pony, almost black. His coat glimmered softly in the light.
Lynn made one more check of Ryan's posterior. Nothing. She felt sorry for the young newfoal. Even if he were to be the equivalent of a gelding, hopefully everything else would work correctly.
Ryan's mane and tail spooled out, long strands of robin's egg blue, streaked with golden yellow. It looked like morning rising over a dark landscape. Lynn thought it was quite striking.
It was an hour before Ryan awoke. He was groggy, as all newfoals are at first, but soon coherent. Of course, his first question was whether or not Dr. Pastern's experiment had worked.
Dr. Pastern made a careful examination of Ryan. As far as she could tell, Ryan had become a normal stallion, with two important omissions. "It's OK, Doc. Really. This is closer than I ever could have hoped. This is as close to being myself as any guy like me could hope for. Seriously. You came through for me. I can... live with this." Ryan looked earnest, but Roselyn still felt bad. She really had wanted to come through for the poor man.
Ryan wanted to try standing on his own hooves. Pastern wished for him to wait a little longer, but he really seemed to need to assert some personal control over his new body, standing on his own hooves seemed to mean that to him. It took some effort to get him off the table, as weak as he was, but Pastern and Lynn worked together to ease him down.
As they slowly slid his hind quarters off the table, he put his rear hooves on the floor for the first time. As he did so he let out a loud yelp of pain. Pastern and Lynn froze instantly, supporting the newfoal. "What is it, what's happening for you?" Pastern's mind began to race over the horrifying possibilities. What if her efforts had rendered Ryan's bones weak, and one had broken? What if his urinary system was closed off, or twisted up, or his bladder had torn inside his body?
"Oh... oh god, here it goes again..." Ryan yelped once more, even more loudly. There was a tear in one of his bright blue eyes. "Oh god, oh god, oh god." Ryan lowered his head to the conversion table, breathing heavily, obviously in great pain. "Do you want to get back on the table, do you just want to remain here? What do you need, Ryan?" Lynn was quite worried.
"Stay... here. For now." Ryan panted the words. He seemed to be gradually breathing more easily.
"Can you give us any idea of what is wrong? Try to tell us what you are feeling, Ryan." The newfoal stallion was becoming very heavy to support, and Roselyn was not sure just how long she could keep holding his weight, as he lay half on, and half off of the table.
"Heh." Ryan was still in pain, but now he was grinning. "They dropped."
"They... Lynn! Of course! Can you see? Check it!" Lynn was closer, she tried to tilt her head down enough to observe under Ryan's tail. Ryan obligingly lifted it.
"We have balls. Repeat, we have balls!"
It was dinner, outside, down the corridor, out in the crowded cafeteria. The place was noisy, as usual, with trays clattering, humans and newfoals laughing and talking, and the sounds of people eating. All of this was eclipsed by a single word, shouted loud enough to penetrate even the armored walls of the Conversion Room.
It was Ryan's screaming voice: "YESSSSSS!!!!!"