T H E C O N V E R S I O N B U R E A U :
The woman who was a sculpture moved clumsily, with a step, a scrape, and a clunk. Her companion, The Woman Who Was Not A Woman had felt increasingly annoyed at their slow pace, which is why the two had come to the Bodymod Mall.
They had traveled by bus. The bus was vastly more than merely a form of transport, for one thing, it was alive. For another, it moved through higher dimensional spaces allowing its passengers to cross between galaxies in a matter of minutes. But in every way that counted, it was ultimately a bus, and it was not the most elegant of ways to go from one place to another.
Neither the woman who was a sculpture nor the The Woman Who Was Not A Woman used anything so crude as money, but what they did use, which was time, they wanted to conserve to cover the cost of the new bodies they sought in the Bodymod.
The Bodymod Mall was a marketplace for shape and form, where any entity could find a new corpus to inhabit, or have the body which they already lived in reshaped. In an age where entire galaxies were suburbs and the real action happened in the Great Voids beyond the Local Group, having a fashionable physical form was de rigueur.
Troolie waited for the living sculpture to clump and drag herself over to the Pleasure Court. They had thought to get a sip or two of Intense Agony before visiting the shops. A little sharp pain always focused the mind so effectively, and in any case it was, after all, the fashionable experience right now. Things like Gentle Sweetness had gone out of favor centuries ago. It was difficult to be post human in the Galactic Republic. If it weren't for having a brain full of infoplants, it would be impossible to keep up with the current trends and metamemes.
Balunda finally made it to the Pleasure Court, her sculptured, neo-classical stone foot scraping the self-repairing tile. Together, she and Troolie got their Agonies, and suffered in silence, sitting in the floating sit-fields with the other mall patrons.
"I am so bored." Troolie was usually the wildspark of their outings, filled with news and excitement about the latest fashion. This was an unusual statement from the original Woman Who Was Not A Woman.
Balunda sipped at her Agony and cried briefly from the pain. She sniffled, embarrassed - showing any reaction to agony was so totally Old Organic. Fortunately, Troolie didn't seem to notice. If she had, Balunda knew she wouldn't hear the last of it for the next several minutes at least.
"Bored? You?" Balunda was genuinely surprised. There was no end to the wonders the universe held. Ever since Mankind had joined the rest of the cosmos, every second had been filled with new experiences and fantastic things to do and to see.
"Yes. I am bored. We've so done everything." Troolie downed the last of her Agony and barely twitched. She must have been in the sort of pain that would have killed any human from Old Earth, but it meant nothing to her.
Balunda had to admit that lately life had become fairly dull. The two had been companions for almost thirty-six hours now, and that was an exceptionally long time for any relationship to last anymore. They had done everything. They truly had.
They had partied in the Magellanic, They had partied in Pure Astonishment in the Great Void, and they had both put on different bodies for the Grand Galactic Gala. They'd known the forbidden pleasures of Absolute Despair, but had grown tired of even that. They had achieved Information Rapture at the Church Of Data and even spent those wild two whole hours with the Loathsomeness Twins engaged in the most extreme acts of Pure Disgust. That was a pretty wild time.
But now, the party seemed to be winding down. It was inevitable. Balunda waited for the break-up. Spending thirty-six whole hours with the same partner was itself a decadent act, and it couldn't hope to last. They'd done everything. Maybe the answer would be Relative Death and Reconstitution?
"Have you noticed those weird colored things?" Troolie was alert, now, staring with all of her many sensors.
The weird colored things turned out to be short quadrupeds. They trotted about on large fingernails, swinging long sweeping tails and grinned like they were insane. It was wild. Balunda had never seen anything like it.
She tried mentally sending an information request to the nearest quadruped, but received a 'not part of system' response. Her stone mouth hung open in shock. "Troolie. They aren't part of the Style."
The Style was the constant connection to the information flow of the thousand galaxies, and there was nobody, nobody who was not connected to it. It was everything. All fashion, all commerce, all reality itself.
"I know! Isn't it just wild?" Balunda had not seen Troolie this excited since they had first met while surfing the edge of Vague Detachment From Events. It was the cool persona to effect at the time.
"So how do we find out anything?" The problem seemed insoluble. There was literally no way to contact these cutting-edge, party-colored creatures of coolness.
The intractable dilemma was resolved, suddenly, when one of the quadrupeds trotted over and addressed them verbally, in person, in realspace. Troolie and Balunda were shocked by the audacity of the act.
"Hello! My name is Sweet Potato, and I'm a pony! I wonder if you might want to be friends with me? All ponies are friends, and we have fun and adventures together. If you wanted to, you could be ponies too!"
Troolie struggled to use her mouth for words. It was such an unusual and strange repurposing of the orifice. But the creature, the 'pony' had done it, and she would be Stored if she couldn't do it too. With some effort, Troolie managed to access an old Source that allowed her vocalized communication. "H-how? How do me be-come po-ny?" She had already decided. This was so totally decadent and wild. She had to be this pony thing. It was clearly going to be the next Trend, make no mistake about that.
"Oh! That's easy! Just gallop right over to the Conversion Bureau, that place, right there! You can be a pony in no time, if you want!" The little yellow and orange quadruped grinned at her with a look Troolie literally could not comprehend. It took her seconds to search it out. It was an expression of Genuine Helpfulness and something called Joy. Nobody did Joy anymore. It was so Old Organic.
Maybe that was the gimmick here. Maybe rolling around in the muck Oldstyle was Cool now! It was so decadent. It was almost naughty. Troolie felt a thrill.
"Troolie? What's the plan?" Balunda knew the signals she was getting from Troolie's Mindbook Source... it was clear the Woman Who Was Not A Woman was in Newstuff mode. Whenever Troolie went Newstuff, something wild was about to happen.
"Come on, Balunda! I can spot a new Trend an eon away, and this is colder than hot!" Troolie leapt out of the floatfield, and set off across the Mall to the quaint looking clinic that had sprouted up. The Conversion Bureau. Odd name.
Balunda followed. Scraping and dragging her sculptured form across the Pleasure Court tiles. Ponies, huh? Well, Troolie was the cutting blade of fashion.
Both galactic girls found themselves in a strange, ancient-looking waiting room. The only way they knew it was a waiting room was because Balunda had accessed the historical archives. No one waited for anything anymore. A pony at the desk had asked them questions, in real time, and told them to wait their turn.
Troolie was vibrating from excitement now. Waiting. That was new. It was so, so new. And real time communication. It was so incredibly slow and weird. It almost felt like Agony, only it was fresh and shocking. This was so Top Trend material here. She couldn't believe her good luck. This was totally Maser Edge.
Balunda, unable to bend sufficiently to use the... research indicated the term was 'chairs'.... in the waiting room had instead propped herself up against a solid wall. This was a totally unique experience. Nobody used solid walls anymore. Walls of light, of plasma, of infundibular plasmons, certainly. But this wall was solid, and it could be leaned against. Leaning was so strange. But it was also curiously entertaining.
A being arrived. Both Troolie and Balunda stared in total shock. It was a completely unadorned, natural human. Like the ponies, there was no connections to the Style. No extensions, projections, inclusions or modifications. This was a completely Old Organic human. It was so Icyhot it was almost obscene.
"Hello, I'll be your Dr. Pastern for today. I'll take you... um... Balunda, is it? You seem to be in the most need at the moment. Please come with me to the Ponification Room." The red-haired creature gestured, physically, with an arm. Balunda glanced at a fuming, enraged Troolie, and followed the Dr. Pastern For The Day.
Troolie had never experienced anything like it. She had been made to wait... that was totally Organoid. Next, she had seen her companion chosen before her, while she had been forced to wait even longer. One at a time! It was so Insane it was completely Slipstream. She was feeling things she had never felt before. She had to look them up just to give them names. 'Frustration' at having to wait, 'Envy' over her friend being picked first. It was already a banquet-orgy of new sensations. She was so going to take credit for finding this place.
An eternity later - nearly fifteen whole minutes - A small, pink pony trotted out and faced her. "Troolie! It's me! Balunda! This is so.... it's so.... wonderful!" The experience was the most completely new thing Balunda had ever known. She was completely isolated inside her own head, and utterly contained within a single body. She had four hooves, and a mouth, and she needed to eat food and drink water regularly! All of her sensations came from just one place - the body she wore! And on top of all of that strangeness, there was no Style, no connection, and only her mouth to talk with.
Troolie stared at her companion and practically overdosed on Envy right there. When the Dr. Pastern For The Day motioned towards the 'Ponification Room', Trooly nearly bilocated to get there.
The room was simple, plain, utterly Old Organic in style. It was beyond fashion, it was totally In The Void. The unmodified human asked her to sit - sit - on a flat table and drink, with her mouth, a purple fluidic compound. Was there nothing about this place that was not designed to destroy convention? It was soooo awesome that Troolie had no words for it.
When she noticed her body had become unconscious, she decided to do some shopping on the Style, only to find she could not reach it. Her connections were being severed. This was so cryogenic. When the Dream started she tried, in vain, to Fastforward, but found she had no control whatsoever. Plasmonic - this was like total bondage and submission, beyond anything she had ever experienced. She was totally helpless without a safeword and the feeling was just beyond Quanticality. It was mega-superior.
Some sort of pony avatars seemed to be talking at her in the Dream. Troolie figured it was all just a barely sentient interactive segment, and tried to ignore the whole thing. Booorrring. Strange, though, the avatars seemed weirdly emotional about her lack of interest in them. What was the emotion she was getting? Pity? She'd have to look that one up. She'd gotten the word as the last result from her search effort just as her last connection was severed. Oh well. She could have them all reconnected again right immediately, after she was online with her flesh again.
Troolie woke up. For the first time in her existence, since she was removed from her vat, she... woke up. This was new. She was... what was she? Alive. She was somehow alive, really alive. She had to breath. She could smell and taste. There was no constant stream of information to base her identity on. She just was. It was kind of scary. But... she didn't really feel afraid. No.
Troolie felt... what did she feel? She had no words for it. She couldn't ask a Source for an explanation. There were no Searchers to tell her what she was experiencing. For the first time, she was having to experience things on her own. It was unlike anything she had ever felt before.
Dr. Pastern helped her learn to stand and to walk. It wasn't just downloaded into her. She actually had to learn. The experience made her brain feel itchy, somehow, but in a weirdly good way.
When Troolie finally made it out to the waiting room, she found her... what was Balunda to her? They had just been Style Companions. Short-term disposable connections to co-experience the Wildness. But... suddenly, Troolie felt something new. She didn't want to dispose of Balunda. Ever. She wanted to go on experiencing things with Balunda around. She didn't want or expect it to end. Everything was so strange now.
"Hi, Troolie! Guess what? I have a new name now! You can call me Meadow Muffin! I don't know what it means, but it sounds cute! I made it up from a list of name parts you can use! It's very fun!"
Troolie stared at Balun.... Meadow. Meadow was pretty. That was a new feeling. Pretty. Troolie found she liked pretty. That too was new. Maybe all of this Old Organic stuff had more to offer than being Wild. Troolie realized with a start that she didn't want to have to go back out there, to the Icyhot Galactic suburbs anymore.
"Oh, you look sad, Troolie. I can guess what you are feeling. Hey - get that, I can't tell, or know, I have to actually guess! It is so cool! Anyway, I felt the same way. I don't want to go back out there either. But it's OK, Troolie. They have that covered too. It's a pocket universe, built just for ponies to play in. They call it Equestria, and we can go there if... if you want." Meadow had a strange expression on her muzzle. Troolie had no way to interpret it, but if she had to guess, it seemed as if Meadow was worried about the choice that Troolie would make. Could it be that Meadow felt the same way, that she too wanted to remain together?
"I want to go, Meadow. If it means going with you." The words came out so easily. It felt so odd to do that, to just say the truth of what she was feeling. This was the most mind-exploding experience Troolie had ever known.
"Do... do you want to be...friends, Troolie?" The look of hope and... something happy... on Meadow's face was clear, somehow, to Troolie. Maybe she was getting better by the moment at this emotion-reading stuff. Friends. That was the word that the pony outside had used when it had first approached them in the Pleasure Court.
"I don't know what a 'friend' is, Meadow, but... if it means we get to stay together and do things together, then sure, I'll be your friend." Troolie was willing to try this, whatever it was. It just felt so... something.
"I've been learning about friendship while you were being converted, Troolie. It means just that, and more, too. It will be very fun. Come on, I'll help you pick out a new name, a pony name!" Meadow grinned. Somehow, that made Troolie feel strangely warm inside.
"You... will... help me?" Troolie rolled the unfamiliar concept around in her head. Help. Meadow would help her.
"Of course, Troolie! That's what friends do! They help each other! Let's pick you out a name, and then we can go to Equestria together and be friends!" Meadow turned to a strange object made of flat sheets held in some kind of binding. On the sheets was rows and rows of symbols. Troolie vaguely identified them as a pre-galactic information storage technique.
"I want... to be friends." Troolie didn't know what the future held, and that was a new experience too. Everything was so new now. She wanted to be friends with Meadow and go be together and share things and help each other in Equestria.
So they did just that.