A story of eight and one half ponies
Chapter Nine: The Second Night
In the dark, in the locked and sealed Conversion Room, The red case sat. It too was armored, locked, and sealed, a sarcophagus within a room built to last Egyptian ages.
Within the red case, capped by a crystalline stopper, surrounded by dark gray shock-proof foam, rested the flask.
It was a single Erlenmeyer flask; clear, glassine, covered with text, measuring lines, and a symbolic representation of the Equestrian form.
Inside the flask was the reason for all of the seals, the armor, the shock-proof foam. Nine ounces of thick, viscous purple fluid slowly swirled, dimly sparking with fairy lights.
Submerged within the fluid, jostled and buffeted by Brownian motion, microscopic machines floated. They were the inventions of Man, made of metal, and plastic, and organic molecules, tiny clockwork demons capable of rewiring the stuff of life itself. Living inside of the machines, humming and singing through submicroscopic channels, coursing through miniscule ports and tubules, raged unearthly forces - streaks of color and wisps of etherial power; the concentrated magic of Equestria.
Three ounces a serving, three servings left; the recipe that made new life by remaking old life anew, sang quiet songs to itself, music that only those touched by magic could hear.
In the room, in the dark, in the case, the Erlenmeyer with nine ounces patiently waited.
Elijah the pony sat in the dark on the large, soft, lumpen mass that more or less resembled a sofa; his legs folded under him, his tail spread out behind. Pressed close to his hindquarters, pony Logan rested, still unsure of his new body. Elijah occasionally stroked Logan's back with his tail, sweeping it gently to and fro. Logan had let his head rest halfway between Elijah's croup and back, every time Elijah swept his tail, Logan could feel it impact his long neck. Both felt warm and cozy.
Logan had just finished telling his friend about his life, about how he had come to the Bureau, about what kind of pony he was. Elijah had nuzzled his head after that, reaching back to do so. Logan felt his ears being gently licked. It was an almost motherly gesture from Elijah, and it somehow made the sadness he had felt telling about his life fade away.
"Hee!" Elijah had let loose a soft giggle.
"What?" Logan opened his half-closed eyes, curious.
"Who would have imagined we'd have ended up here, now?" Elijah seemed mirthful, but also a little astonished.
"Yeah." Logan couldn't help but feel the same way. For two weeks they had been at each others throats, arguing constantly.
It had been three o'clock, earlier that day, when Logan had first awakened on the Conversion Room Table. Dr. Pastern and her PA Lynn were chatting as consciousness returned to him. They were talking about some old media which Lynn favored, but which Dr. Pastern had never heard of, and Lynn was trying to get the doctor to give it a try.
Logan had quietly moved what had once been his arms, sliding them across the table where he lay on his side. His arms were now his forelegs, and he saw that they were covered in short, grey hair, his coat was the color of a comfortable old sweater, the color of a summer raincloud. It was a lovely color, he thought. Manly, yet gentle.
Stallion-ly, perhaps. He would have to get used to a new lexicon now. He could no longer be manly, because he was no longer a part of the species of Man.
Logan didn't say anything at first. Lynn and Dr. Pastern were wrapped up in their discussion and that was fine - Logan didn't actually want them to turn their attention and begin to fuss over him yet. They were there, and that made him feel safe, but he wanted some time to just lay there and feel his new body, to say hello to it, to let it welcome him within it.
Logan studied his front hooves. He was afraid to move too much, for that would draw attention. His hooves gleamed in the light, smooth and hard and shiny. Gigantic fingernails, really, but more complex. He softly clocked them together, not enough to make a sound, but enough that he could feel the impact. Hooves were more sensitive than he had imagined, they were not just dead objects to support his weight, they were living parts of him.
He felt around with his awareness. Ears, tall and proud, stood high on his new skull. He moved them tentatively, fascinated by how the sounds of the doctor and her assistant changed as he did so. He could easily tell where the two were in the space around him, and the space itself, the room, had a presence and a shape derived from the echo of their voices. His vanished, human ears seemed poor in comparison.
The feel of his body, his shape, was so different. This was to be expected, of course, but the full impact of it surprised Logan. He could feel that the basic structure of his old body was still there, roughly, but the parts had different shapes now, some longer, like the bones in his lower legs, and some much shorter, like what had once been his shoulder and forearm. The strangest thing was that nothing of his new body felt 'wrong' or 'strange' - it must be that the internal 'map' of the body within his brain had also been changed, so that his new shape would be also his new 'normal'.
The women had been silent now for a while. He had been noticed, he had moved too much, so his private time to assess himself was over. That was OK. He wanted to try to stand up now, anyway.
Logan didn't expect any cheers when he finally entered the cafeteria, on his way to his room, and he didn't get any. Everyone else, pony and human alike, would be busy now, taking orientation classes, or - for the converted - learning basic physical and grooming skills in the Bureau's shared training area. Logan himself could look forward to the latter, which permitted an additional week to stay at the clinic, the bill paid from the Royal coffers of Equestria. As a pony, he was now automatically a citizen of Equestria, a subject of the Princesses Celestia and Luna. At the end of that final week, he would have two choices; emigration or release.
He intended emigration. Logan had no remaining interest in Earth, and no reason to walk upon it any longer than he absolutely had to. He began to imagine the wonders he would soon experience, when he rode the boat to Equestria. The Bureau provided transport from a newly constructed pier near the complex, via several ships. The ships traveled out to a floating platform that had been towed and placed by the edge of the expanding Barrier, far out at sea. The other side of the barrier was desert, apparently, so it was a simple matter to trot up a ramp from the Earth side, and hop through the shimmering wall onto the sand. The Equestrian side had set up some kind of welcoming center there, with staff to assist newfoals to find places to live, jobs and...
Suddenly, Logan came muzzle to muzzle with pony Elijah.
Logan, startled out of his thoughts, jumped back, or tried to, and landed in a heap of legs and hooves and mane and tail. He briefly felt disoriented; he was still trying to learn how his new body worked. Gradually he understood that he was sitting, more or less, his rear legs splayed out, his front legs crossed over each other, and his still clumsy hooves somehow blocking each other. His tail hurt, because he had landed on it.
"Oh! I am so sorry! I wasn't watching where I was going and..." Elijah looked very embarrassed and worried too, he could see Logan struggling to figure out how to get back on his feet.
"Eli-JAH!" Logan was not as much angry as he felt ridiculous; in the Conversion Room, Lynn and Dr. Pastern had helped him stand, but now his hooves felt heavy and he wasn't sure which way to move anything. He felt like a helpless child instead of an adult.
"Just fall over on your side. Go on, it works, trust me!" Elijah seemed earnest enough. Logan didn't know what else to do, so he tried Elijah's advice. Laying on his side in the middle of the cafeteria floor, he felt even more ridiculous, but at least the pain in his tail was going away.
"Now, roll over onto your belly. Everything will make sense then. I promise." Elijah's voice was soft, even kind.
What the hell. Logan rolled over onto his belly; doing so uncrossed his legs, and just as Elijah had said, his limbs suddenly made obvious sense to him. Now he felt even more silly, because he couldn't imagine how he had been so confused but a moment ago.
"It's kind of like being a child again. I fell down the same way, and I felt confused. So I just gave up and fell over, and things worked out. It just takes a little time, that's all." Elijah smiled as Logan regained his hooves, and finally ended up standing again. "You look really amazing, Logan. Your mane is beautiful!" The look in Elijah's face was just so happy, Logan forgot how frustrated he had been just a moment ago.
"Um..." Logan's neck unconsciously bowed down a little, so he found himself looking up at Elijah. "I'm sorry for yelling at you. I guess I just felt angry for falling down like an idiot."
"It's OK, Logan. I probably shouldn't have gotten so impatient and galloped out to see if you were awake yet. I've been waiting to greet you after your conversion." Elijah just kept smiling at him. Logan figured Elijah probably didn't like him very much, what with all the arguing and all; what was this all about?
"Listen, Elijah..." Logan wasn't sure how much he wanted to say, but..."I'm really sorry for how I picked on you. I kind of had way too much fun arguing with you. I wasn't trying to be mean, honestly." Logan looked down at his hooves. "I... I've kind of been dealing with a lot of stuff, and you were just there and..."
"And?" The pause had gone on too long for Elijah.
"And..." Logan's voice lowered to a faint, somewhat squeaky whisper. "... and I thought you were kind of cute and I guess I just teased you by arguing with you because I couldn't say anything." Oh crap. That was stupid. It must be his new pony brain. Great, he was retarded. Just splendid. Logan became very red, and began to stumble as quickly as he could back to his room. How could he just say something like that?
He felt his tail being pulled. He couldn't move forward anymore. "Waipt!" Elijah's mouth was full of tail hair.
Logan turned slowly around. Elijah released Logan's tail. "Logan, wait. I knew that. I knew you were giving me a hard time because you weren't sure about me. I could tell you liked me, I saw the way you looked at me."
Oh, crap. Apparently he wasn't able to get away with anything! Logan just sighed. But then he brightened. Elijah wasn't running away.
"Elijah?" Logan lifted his head and looked straight at Elijah's beautiful face. Those intense burgundy eyes!
Elijah just walked forward, past Logan's head and neck, and placed his head over Logan's back. It felt warm and completely comforting. Logan's quick mind instantly sussed what it was; this was a pony hug. With no arms, this is what ponies did to hug. Logan followed Elijah's example and lay his own head across Elijah's back.
There they stood for a long time.
Logan broke the warm silence first. "I guess... you like me, too?"
"I like you too, Logan."
Of course he did! He had argued right back. He could have left at any time. But he stayed and kept it going. Elijah must have felt unsure about Logan, just as he felt unsure about Elijah. Their arguments were just a way of feeling the other out, seeing if any interest was being returned! Logan felt happy. Very happy.
Falling down had been the best thing he had done so far in his new body. It had led to this.
It was all such a happy memory, even if it was so new.
The old couch was soft, it was the middle of the night, and Logan and Elijah were feeling tired. It had been a big day. A wonderful day. They had truly met each other for the first time, with no barriers, honestly and openly, though it had taken being ponified to get there. Logan snuggled into Elijah's hindquarters, his head upon his back.
"Logan?" Logan raised his head. Was he too close? Elijah's head was an inch from his, neck bent back to meet him. Elijah stretched just a bit more, his lips meeting Logan's. It was a sweet kiss, gentle and simple. The two stallions smiled at each other.
"Would it be OK just to stay like this for awhile?" Elijah's voice sounded sleepy.
"I'll probably fall asleep on you." Logan had snuggled his head back into the curve of Elijah's back.
"That's exactly what I..." Elijah yawned. "...would like best."
Dr. Pastern didn't need her Little Golden Books tonight. She was laying, still in her clothes, on the foam bed that Alexi had obtained for her, months ago. And she was happy. More than happy.
She felt ecstatic! Triumphant! Today had been a special day. Two straightforward conversions, no problems, and the best part of all, she had come through for Ryan! She had, as far as she could tell, made history. She had discovered a means to assure the proper conversions of female-to-male transmen. But mostly, she had saved the patient she knew, Ryan Niequist, age twenty-six, male. It had been one hell of an incredible day.
Briefly, Roselyn imagined taking the serum herself. She enjoyed the image in her mind of standing on new hooves on green pastures. It was right there in the Conversion Room. It would take all of fifteen minutes.
Suddenly, a darker thought invaded her mind. If only she had known all of this seven months ago. No, there was nothing she could have done, even if. She was as much a corporate prisoner as those men, in that situation. The ones that had received a sufficient dosage had survived, for a time, as mares of course. The original, red serum was created using only female Equestrian templates.
But they hadn't survived. Dissection of the specimens was needed to establish the totality of the transformation. Pastern shuddered and turned on her side. At least she hadn't had to participate in that. Not directly.
But she had been forced to study the slides, cross-sections, and tissue samples. They had to know, they had said. They had to completely understand before committing the world, the entire species, to Conversion. They had to know that it worked, how well it worked, that Celestia was telling the truth.
And once she was in, there was no way out again.
Her work had helped to establish some of the procedures for all of the Conversion Bureaus. Hers was a tiny part, a small part of it all, but not insignificant. Dosage, efficacy, she had even contributed a tiny amount to the final programming that the nanofluid used to do its job. Not an important section of the programming, but still.
No matter how she tried to see the value of it, the faces of those five men still screamed silently at her. Oh, Celestia. Oh, dear, sweet Celestia.
Roselyn had come to see the regent of Equestria as what she was claimed to be; a living goddess. She hadn't deliberately chosen this view, it just gradually happened to her. Roselyn had become fascinated with the holoimages of the alicorn during her time working with the secret nanotechnomagical research program; her position allowed her access to images and information that the public never got to see.
Roselyn had watched the probe's feed showing Celestia making the Equestrian sun rise into the sky. The world government had firmly censored those images. Only the highest clearance was allowed to know that those images even existed. She had used her situation to study them. After all, if the nanomachines were supposed to be powered by magic, then she needed to understand what magic was, that was her excuse.
Over and over she had obsessively studied the available material on Celestia. She had memorized her face, the details of her crown, the expressions in her eyes, the ethereal rippling of the arcane energy field that stood in place of a mane. There was no deception, no mistake. Celestia was not just an ordinary creature. She was something profoundly more. Something more than flesh and blood.
Celestia could literally control the fundamental forces of the universe she presided over. If that was not a deity, it was the closest thing to it that Roselyn Pastern could imagine.
Roselyn had no idea if this alien goddess heard the prayers of any creature. It was Roselyn's deepest secret that she sometimes prayed to Celestia. In her imagination, in her thoughts, she told Celestia about anything good she might have done to help others, and she begged forgiveness for what she had done in the past. For those men.
She was deeply embarrassed and ashamed of this quirk. It was foolish, stupid, childish. It was insultingly unscientific. Roselyn certainly would never admit to believing in any deity to anyone. There was no basis to even think that Celestia would hear her petty thoughts, or that she would even bother to if she could. Roselyn wasn't even a pony. She was just another killer ape monster from the human world. Those poor men. How could she imagine any mercy for herself?
Damn, this had been a great day. Why did she have to think about that? Why did that old memory have to come back now, right after she had finally done some real good?
Sleep. She just needed some sleep. Roselyn began her nightly routine, undressing, brushing her teeth.
The room was dark now. She curled up around her pillow, holding it across her chest as if it were a doll in her arms. She hugged it tight. She had done good today. She had helped Ryan. She had been useful. She had been compassionate. Why was it never enough? Oh, Celestia, I did good today. I helped a man become his true pony self. My work will help others in the future. I will never stop trying to help. Please, someday, someday... can you let someone like me go home too?
Alexi could not sleep. He wanted to sleep. But he had gone too far, and he knew it. The Unpleasant Man would not negotiate. He never negotiated. There was no way to get a red case. He knew that, why did he say that he could? How could he have been so stupid?
He had just wanted to help Dr. Pastern. She had said that it was really, really important. The most important thing, a man's life. How could Alexi fail that? Never let it be said that Alexi Venäläinen would stand by and let an innocent die. His mother, god rest her soul, would never forgive him. It had just happened so fast, over the terminal. That unpleasant man, he scared Alexi.
And now he had gotten Caprice mixed up in it. He never should have told her. He could have protected her if he had just answered her "I will lie to you any time I want!" or "Go away you stupid pony!" but he had not. Why hadn't he? Stupid, stupid Alexi. You think you will have a relationship with this girl. But she is not a girl. She is a mare, and you are a foolish human man. Alexi buried his head in his pillow.
Alexi's bed did not seem grand tonight. It seemed far too large for such a small man, and far too good for such a stupid man.
But mostly it just seemed empty. So terribly lonely and empty.
Caprice deserved someone better than him. He knew that. She would find some good and kind stallion in Equestria. Some strong pony that could keep her safe and protect her. If protection was even needed in Equestria, of course.
He should break it off. Alexi thought about it. Yes, he should tell her to leave him alone. Then she would be safe. Somehow, he must find a way to make her dislike him. Then, when the inevitable happened, she would not be hurt. It was the only loving thing to do.
Not that he loved her, of course. No. It was the... responsible thing to do. That was it. Alexi would do the right thing.
He turned over again in his bed. The thought of telling Caprice to go away cut him like a sword.
Alexi was not getting any rest tonight.
Pumpkin Licorice snuggled close to Caprice in the dark. That was her new name, her pony name, much better than 'Sharon'. They had kept their mattresses together, it was just so nice. Caprice had said it was natural, too. "We are ponies, now, not humans. It is natural for little animals to cuddle together, and are we not little animals?" All Pumpkin knew for sure was that she felt safe and warm with Caprice. Caprice was so nice!
Somewhere inside her, Pumpkin imagined her growing foal. Lynn had offered to scan her and tell her whether it was a colt or a filly, but she had asked her not to. She just wanted to do this like any other pony, and somehow using technology just seemed... wrong somehow. Whatever her foal was, she would love it.
Pumpkin liked to daydream about playing with her foal. Mostly she imagined having a filly, and they would run across wide green fields, and nibble flowers together. Her favorite image was having her little filly curled up beside her, sleeping. Just like her and Caprice, now. It was such a sweet image, it made her heart skip.
She really liked being a pony, she decided. It was the best thing that had ever happened to her. She pressed in a little tighter to Caprice; she could hear her heart beating now. It was so warm. So soft, the smell of her beautiful peach coat.
Dreams of running with her foal began behind Pumpkin's eyelids. In the dark, the little pregnant filly softly smiled.