T H E C O N V E R S I O N B U R E A U :
Andres Majano crept through the ferns of Coatepeque. He whimpered from fear, and pain. The echo of the bullet that had nearly hit him still echoed in his mind, the dark, swelling bruise across the side of his face throbbed where the Bastón had impacted his skull. As far as he knew, he was the only one of the members of the Transformación Departamento that had made it this far.
The new telón, the new Curtain Of Light was near.
They had appeared without warning, all over the world. In every nation, in every sort of place, even in the middle of the ocean the Curtains appeared. Flat, two-dimesional walls of light that hung in the air, or intersected the ground. They could be stuck through a mountain, or divide a building in a city.
Some were large, one was nearly a kilometer across. Others could be small, like the one discovered in a closet in England, barely large enough to serve a child. They were of odd shape; rounded smears of flatness, like paint spread across an invisible canvas, hanging in space. The Curtains were flat beyond flatness, truly two-dimensional.
The Curtains were like windows, or perhaps more like flat screen televisions. They displayed a flat, two-dimensional image of another world, a brighter world, a strange world, a world of magical creatures. The images were flat and lacked depth, but they were clear, and perfect, and most terrifying of all, they were clearly real.
Strange, colorful, horse-like creatures walked and flew with wings in the Curtains, and in their world stood thatched-roof cottages, impossibly steep mountains, and fairy palaces. There were unicorns too, and other creatures; dragons, manticores, things no person knew.
The small horses, ponies really, seemed to be the masters of the world of the Curtains, and it was they who lived in the cottages and managed their world. At first the Curtains had been greeted with wonder and awe. Some saw them as a sign from god, others as some strange new secret technology, perhaps stolen from the UFO's and used by the Americanos as some new ploy to frighten the people of El Salvador. But it became clear soon enough that the entire world knew the Curtains Of Light, and that they were beyond the works of Man.
The wonder had turned to horror when the first person, a child, had dared to touch a Curtain. The boy's hand had passed into the flat world, and he could not pull it back out. There was no sign of his hand on the other side of the Curtain, behind where his hand vanished into it. But inside the world of the Curtain, from his wrist on, was the bright blue hoof of a pony.
No effort could pull him free. In the struggle to tear him from the curtain, his father drew to close, and his shoulder became caught within it. He could not pull himself away, and with that he resigned himself to death. He demanded that the boy be freed, and the médicoamédica were brought, with shiny saws to cut the boy's arm free from the trap of the Curtain.
But the boy became afraid, and he had run from the doctors, into the Curtain. Entirely within, he had been transformed. He was now one of the intelligent horses, the ponies, and he claimed he was content.
His father joined him - what else could he do? - and together they faced the assembled crowd and proclaimed their newfound joy. Soon they were surrounded by the natives of that strange place, and then a dialogue had begun.
The ponies called themselves Equestrians. They had two rulers, princesses of day and night. The Curtains existed in their world as well, but they could not pass through them, though they could see the world of Men in them. Our world looked as flat to them as theirs did to us, and they claimed their realm as three dimensional as ours. The flatness was but an ilusión of the Curtains.
The father and his boy would be welcomed in the new world, as citizens. They were ponies now, and could not return in any case. But they were happy for this, for this new world, this Equestria, had no régime, no violentar, no Enforcers, no death squads, no hunger, and no torture. The world of the ponies knew nothing of dictators or war or poverty. It was a fairyland of kindness and socialismo, at least in spirit. There executions were unknown, and no pony wanted for anything.
This was when the trouble started, of course. Around the world, the poor, the disenfranchised, the desechado, the outcast began to run for the Curtains of Light. They sought the peace and prosperity denied them in the world of Man. The sought escape from the rich and the powerful and the violent. The price of being a pony was nothing compared to the relief from suffering that the Curtains promised.
This, of course, was too much for El Gobierno. The Governments of the world banded together to make the Curtains forbidden, to block them to wall them up, to prevent the people of the world from using them. They made great campaigns to reframe the Curtains as an evil, as maligno, as satanas, as a plague and a terror upon the world. The rich men did not want to lose their slaves, their workers, their peasants to the ponies.
Thus was born the revolution of the Transformación Departamentos, the Conversion Bureaus. Here, banded together those who would fight for the freedom and joy that the Curtains offered. Here was the movement to help the peoples of the world to win their way to a Curtain and pass through to the world of joy. Viva La Revolución!
Andres had been part of a group that had thought to make there way to the lake in Coatepeque. A Curtain was there, half in the water, and half on the shore, a great, rounded, irregular swipe of color dividing space. It was nearly fifty meters across in the long direction, and it had been where his wife had fled a month before.
But the Government had finally come to seal it away. Guard towers stood on the banks, and in the trees, and fences of metal and barbed wire stood now to keep the desperate away. Andres had been told that his wife, now an amber mare, waited for him day after day, checking the Curtain from her side, as she went about her new life there. Sometimes she would be seen with a basket from some market in the other world.
Occasionally the soldados would shoot with their guns at the ponies. The bullets would become the petals of flowers on the other side. No evil could cross the Curtains Of Light. Andres had been told that his Miranda would laugh at the soldiers, and mock them. Still, she waited for her Andres.
He could see, from where he crouched, the soldiers sitting, smoking and drinking by the gates. The tower by the shore panned the landscape with a spotlight, the moon being but a tiny crescent in the night sky. The darkness would help.
Inside the Curtain, all was light, for it was day in the pony world. Through the flat smear Andres could see distant mountains and blue sky, shining clouds and beautiful trees. There was a village close to the Curtain, and the ponies were going about their lives within it. Then he saw her.
His Miranda, it must be. An amber mare, a pony, sitting staring through the Curtain. Andres wanted to wave, but the thought was insane. It was many meters to the Curtain, past armed men and fences too.
But Andres had a plan.
He circled in the dark around the lake, always in the trees. When he was a third of the way around the water, Andres moved to the edge of the trees and studied the shoreline. The Government had only recently begun to try to seal off the Curtain at Coatepeque. They almost certainly had been spread thin, trying to contain the other curtains across the land. If he was very lucky, the soldiers would not have the fancy night vision goggles. Upon this, Andres was betting his life.
Carefully, he crept, flat to the sand, across the span to the water. Like a caimán, he slipped silently into the dark lake, and began his long, careful swim. From time to time he floated upon his back, breathing in shallow, quiet gasps, always moving towards his goal, The Curtain.
The otherworldly daylight spilled out, shining upon the water. Andres hoped that the brilliance would hide him, and blind those who watched and carried the guns.
When he had finally reached the edge of the great Curtain of Light, he found his plan was in jeopardy; the curving swipe of the strange, flat window hung above his head, over the water. It had looked from afar as if he could just swim into the pony world, but this was not to be. He would have to make it to the shore, where the flat splotch curved down and into the ground, to the place where anyone could walk across. This was why the soldiers were not worried about the water.
Following the line of the Curtain above him, Andres made his way as quietly as possible towards the sand where the fences stood and the soldiers drank and swore. When he was but a handful of meters from the shore, he paused, in the water, his toes barely touching the shallow lakebed below him. Andres planned out his move.
Again, he was swimming, moving in the water, until his feet were solidly on the lake floor, and he was crawling in the water, creeping closer and closer, like a Comando. His plan was simple. He would rise suddenly from the water and bolt through the Curtain like a rabbit. Nothing could stop him.
But a meter from the shore, Andres stood, slowly, carefully, for the soldier's backs were to him, and their attentions were upon their drink and their stories. He took a quiet, dripping step, and then another. He did not see the bright, red point of light on his thigh.
At first there was no pain. He simply fell, wondering why he had done so. The sirens were screaming now, and the soldiers were running away from the Curtain, thinking of an attack from the front, beyond the fences.
Andres tried to stand, but his right leg would not obey him. He began to crawl, a crude, three-limbed splashing struggle to make the shore and to drag his trailing leg into the daylight of the other world. This time he saw the red point trace across the sand. A sniper, in the tower. That is why he was trailing dark ink from his numb leg. This was why he felt so strange, the shock beginning to overcome him.
Andres leapt forward like a frog, pushing with his good, left leg. The sand where he had been exploded with the impact of a shot from the tower. Andres found himself within a meter of the Curtain, his mare wife Miranda aware of him now, watching close by, on her side of the curtain. Her vast, green eyes widened as she saw him struggle to rise again.
Another shot, this time Andres knew he had been hit in the middle, somewhere, and it was not good. His leg was beginning to sear with pain, but he knew that this was nothing to whatever had been done to his body. He began to drag himself, and felt sand pushing up inside him through a hole that should not be there. The screams and yells of the arguing soldiers had changed. They now were running back to the Curtain, and when they arrived, all hope would be lost.
Andres head swum, and he felt as if he were sunk in thick mud. Every motion was slow, and he could barely think. He felt cold, so cold, even in the warm and tropical night. Finally he fell, the shock overcoming him. But his hand and arm had fallen through the Curtain. It was now a leg and hoof.
The amber mare took that leg in her teeth and began to pull. As she pulled she screamed, and other ponies of her world galloped to her side and took hold of what they could to help. Andres felt himself being dragged through the sand, just as the soldiers arrived. Of course they would take his legs and pull them. The pain from his injuries instantly overwhelmed the shock and snapped him back to horrified consciousness.
The nightmarish tug-of-war continued, to the soldiers it was a game. They cared only to win, and nothing of pain or suffering. The ponies pulled with all of their might, and it was more than that of the soldiers, standing on the sand. But for Andres, each second was agony beyond measure. He was sure his intestines were dragging behind him.
Now the soldiers from the tower had arrived, and they began to overcome the ponies. Andres felt his consciousness slip from him like a fish freshly caught but loosely held. It would be no use. The soldiers would win, and there would be no reunion of pony husband and pony wife.
Through the haze of his pain, Andres saw a unicorn arrive. It's horn glowed with a strange light. Suddenly the tug of war turned, and he was pulled with speed through the Curtain, several soldiers with him. They all fell upon the cobblestones of the pony village. The other side of the Curtain divided the village square, night shining beyond, the contorted faces of the screaming, cursing soldiers filled with rage at their loss.
Andres the pony stood, a fine stallion. Beside him stood also two soldiers, now stallions themselves. Andres could feel the change in his heart. He felt light, and inocente, and devoid of all malice or anger. The former soldiers looked at themselves and then at Andres. The grovelled at his hooves and begged his forgiveness, their own hearts changed utterly, no longer soldiers at all.
And then Miranda was upon him with pony kisses and licks and nibbles upon his ear, and the pony citizens cheered and danced and congratulated them both on their reunion.
Now they would be together, forever, in the world without soldiers, or poverty, or fear.
For the first time, Andres felt sorry for the rich and powerful men that ruined the lives of so many. Lost in their darkness of power, they had no brightness in their lives. It was sad.
For there was light in the world now.
The Curtains Of Light.