T H E C O N V E R S I O N B U R E A U :
In her hand she held a tab of paper. It had been torn off of a flyer she had seen in a sandwich shop. It had a number, and an address on it. It also had a very tiny picture at the bottom, a silhouette of a stylized pony.
She was in her fifties, though she looked more like thirty-five. This was due to a combination of a life with few vices and a degree of overweight, the combination visually did her little harm. Her thin, dishwater hair was thinning, and it had never been truly attractive in all of her life. She was plain, as was her clothing, as was the guileless look upon her face.
She'd been searching for the address for what seemed like an hour, which was odd, because the downtown was not that large, and the location could only be on this block. On what must have been her third trip around the block, she found an alleyway that she was sure had not been there before. She shook her head, her mop of hair becoming even more disheveled by the act.
There was a wooden sign affixed to the ancient brickwork of the alleyway. It was an old-fashioned looking sign, carved and heavy. It was easy to read. In simple, carved letters followed by an arrow, it read
The arrow pointed into the alley. This was without question the place.
The alleyway did not look dark or intimidating. It was not dirty, either. Clearly someone cared to keep it clean. Neither was it filled with the homeless, nor was there any gang signs spray painted anywhere that she could see. At the end of the short alley, there was a space between the buildings, and in that space was a small shop.
The shop was odd, and looked like a tourist sort of place. It had a sort of 'Renaissance Faire' look about it, having been designed to appear something like a Tudor cottage. The first thing she thought was 'Ye Old Chocolate Shoppe'. That or the sort of store that sold expensive chachkis to wealthy people with more money than sense. The hanging wooden sign above and to the side of the door identified it as indeed, the 'Conversion Bureau', whatever that meant.
A job was a job, and Dawn Christina Geddes needed a job very much right now.
The door had no handle, but simply pushed open. It was a double door, divided in the middle, like something one might find on a farm, for a barn, perhaps. The large window in the front had a jaunty sign that proudly proclaimed 'OPEN'. There was a sign on the door too. It was a paper sign that simply said 'Now Hiring'.
As she entered the tiny shop, Dawn noticed a strange scent in the air. It took her several moments before her memory identified it. It was the smell of summer. The exact smell of a long, lazy summer from her childhood, where watered lawns and gardens of flowers would lovingly stroke the senses with an almost physical presence. 'Must be some amazing air freshener they have!' she thought. It had been a long time since she had smelled summer like that.
As the door closed, a small brass fixture on it jangled a small, hanging brass bell. The tinkle alerted someone in the back, because Dawn heard movement from somewhere. It was hard to see what it was that the shop actually did, because there was very little room to move within it. Everywhere were shelves, carved wooden shelves, and on them were the strangest assortment of artifacts Dawn had ever seen.
Here was a single shoe, made of leather, with a strange material on it - 'spats' came to her mind. Something nobody had worn since long before her birth. There was a bowling ball, and over there was a rusted shotgun. Dawn stared for some time at what appeared to be an authentic human skull, wearing a hat with plastic flowers on it. A child's wooden toy train sat next to a wedding ring with the most enormous diamond. A single bottle of perfume, with just a tiny slick left inside. A wooden pencil with one end chewed almost entirely off.
Each was tagged with a rather large paper slip tied to the object with a string. Dawn studied the tags. The one tied to the chewed pencil read
Accountancy, Anger, History
Dawn looked carefully at the pencil, the tag dangling down. It was old, and the end of it looked as if it had nearly been chewed in half. Odd thing to find on a shelf in a shop, she thought. Maybe this was an antique shop for rich weirdos? There was no price on the tag. Odd again.
There was a Nintendo Gameboy on the shelf above. Alright, she thought, not antiques then, at least not exactly. It was an old Gameboy, the original, black and white kind with the yellowish screen. The plastic screen was cracked. Dawn examined the tag.
Grief, Abuse, Despair
Dawn turned the tag over. There was nothing else written on it. Carefully, she put the Gameboy back on the shelf, next to the electric typewriter and the skateboard, where she had found it. In the reflection of the tuba, she discovered she was not alone.
"He was a nice kid. He's much better off now. Last I heard, he became a proficient flyer."
The man was young. He couldn't have been more than twenty five. His dark eyes and hair and faintly olive skin bespoke an Italian ancestry. He was shorter than Dawn, at just over five feet, and rather thin. "Hi! I'm Demetrius, you can just call me 'Mitri'. Follow me, and we'll get your paperwork sorted out, alright?"
"Um..." Dawn followed the young man "... actually, I'm here about the job. The flyer, see?" She held out the tab of paper she had torn off of the flyer from the restaurant to show 'Mitri'.
"I know, come on, let's get you signed up!" The young man didn't even look back, but just ducked around the shelves. Dawn followed. She really needed this job. She needed any job. Desperately.
"What... exactly IS the job? The flyer wasn't very clear, and with all the stuff on the shelves, I'm even more confused and..." Dawn joined Mitri at a counter in the back. Like everything about the shop, it was made of wood. Even the floors were made of thick wooden planks.
The counter was part of an inset, under a flight of unusually wide stairs that led away from the front of the counter, then back again over it and through the ceiling. There was a pair of brass, knob-topped theater poles with a velvet rope strung between just before the first step. Dawn didn't remember there being a second floor to the odd little shop, but then, what with the (presumably) faux thatched roof, perhaps there was room for an attic. Whatever was up there, they had the lights on full - a brilliant golden-yellow light shown down from wherever the stairs went.
"You found the flyer confusing? Oh. I'm sorry. I worked so hard on it too." Mitri looked genuinely sad about the matter, which was odd because the flyer had not seemed to be very elaborate at all. It had been a very simple, hand-printed thing with a number of small tear-off tabs at the bottom, not unlike a thousand other handmade posters. "I tried so hard to pick just the right words. I even gave it several tabs at the bottom, just to be silly. Also to make it seem more real."
"Wait." Dawn turned a skeptical eye towards 'Mitri' "Make it seem more real? Is this some kind of joke or something? I really need a job here. I'm just about to lose my apartment, and I have no savings. I'll be out on the street in less than a month. If this is some joke I..."
"Oh, Celestia, no! It's no joke, Dawn, I assure you. The job is absolutely real. You're already hired... if you want it, of course. You have to want it. That's really important." Mitri stared at her, with a curious look on his face. "Here, this is where you sign. I have a pen right here." He pushed a piece of paper across the counter. It looked like parchment. Following with the 'old-timey' theme, the pen was a feather quill pen sitting in a bottle of ink. Dawn stared at it. She'd always wanted to see one of those things for real. It was kind of cool, she thought.
Just a minute... "Hey! How did you know my name?" Dawn instinctively began looking at herself, checking her coat, her purse, just to see if her name was visible somehow. It wasn't. "Seriously, how... how did you know my name?" A chill went up her back. It was an odd sort of thing.
Mitri looked chagrined. "Sorry. That can freak people out. You need to be careful of that sort of thing on the job, OK? But don't worry if it happens. Things always work out. Mostly. It's a lot easier than it seems at first, you'll have to trust me on that." Mitri smiled at Dawn. "OK, let's get you signed up, and then it's right on to your first assignment. On the job training is the best with this line of work, believe me. That's how I got started, and see? It's finally full!"
The young man turned his back and lifted something off of the shelves in the alcove behind the counter under the stairs. It was a strange bottle, tiny and constructed of a delicate glass. It could have been a fancy perfume bottle, or perhaps some exotic liqueur. "This is my philtre." Inside the tiny bottle were what looked like three ounces of some strange, purple liquid. The fluid danced with tiny, sparkling lights. "My philtre. And it's finally full."
Mitri beamed at Dawn as if he had just won the lottery. "I don't understand." Dawn waited. Mitri just kept beaming. It almost looked like he was tearing up. "Listen, I don't know what is going on here, but you still haven't told me what this job even is, and somehow you knew my name but wouldn't explain how, and now this bottle... thing... I need a job really bad, but this is just getting out of my comfort zone. Maybe I should just leave."
"Don't be silly, Dawn! You're here. You wouldn't be here if you weren't here for the job, would you? Of course you wouldn't. The only other reason you'd be here would be if you were a client. You're not a client. Not yet. You came in with my flyer. You're here for the job. You're hired! So, sign here, and let's get started training you on your new career!" Mitri put the little bottle back on the shelf tenderly, as if it were the most precious thing in the world.
"Listen, I'm really sorry if I've been overly concerned with my own stuff. I'm not usually this way, I assure you. It's just that I'm so excited. You'll understand someday. I just got promoted, Dawn! Promoted! I get to go upstairs! I've been waiting for this for soooo long. Just forever." Dawn cocked her head, the claim seemed dubious. How long could a twenty-something really have been waiting for a promotion? The young have such a skewed sense of time, Dawn thought. Forever. Dawn knew a thing or two about having to wait forever.
Suddenly she realized that she had signed the parchment. Dawn Christina Geddes. She'd done it without even thinking about it. She'd just signed, just like that. The fear of being homeless in less than a month must have seized her unconscious mind. It was a scary thing. Oh well, no harm. If this job turned out to suck, well, she could just quit. No biggie. Dawn studied the parchment, though. It was weirdly blank. All it said was 'The Conversion Bureau' and below that a line on which to sign. Nothing else. "Don't you want my ID?" The question seemed especially strange considering that this 'Mitri' already somehow knew her name.
Mitri laughed. "No... No. You're already known. Come on, I'll show you the ropes."
"Wait! You still haven't explained what this job even is! What am I supposed to do?" Dawn followed Mitri, gesticulating wildly.
"That's what I'm going to help you with right now! Come on, we need to get to the hospital. That's where our client is, see?" Mitri held a small tag. It had been rolled up inside a scroll. The scroll was made from parchment. Dawn did not see what was written on the scroll. The tag was just like the ones affixed to all of the objects on the shelves, only there was no string tied through the little paper eyelet at the end of the tag. Mitri handed the tag to Dawn. The tag said
The Canberra Hospital
Fear, Loss, Guilt
Dawn looked up from the tag. "I don't understand. Seriously. I have no clue at all what is going on."
"You will, Dawn. That is what training is all about, right?" She couldn't exactly argue with that. "Now hold on to that tag. Don't lose it! That's rule number one - don't lose the tag. It is a real pain to get it replaced, and sometimes it comes too late. We're on the clock here. So keep the tag safe. Let's go." Mitri headed for the door.
"Hey, wait! Maybe you should keep the tag if it is so important, I mean I just..." Dawn began to protest, but she was quickly interrupted.
"You have to learn, Dawn. It's your first day. You have to do the job to learn the job. Keeping track of the tag is part of the job. Now come on." Mitri began striding to the door again.
"Wait! WAIT!" Dawn nearly shouted the last.
"What is it now? Can't we just talk while we walk?" Mitri tapped his foot impatiently.
"This address... Canberra. That's in Australia! Unless there is some street called Canberra that I never..."
Mitri walked to the door. "Just come out here, will you? You have a job to do."
Outside seemed like a very good idea to Dawn at this point. This had entirely gone too far. This Mitri was a kook with his 'philtre' and all, the shop was odd to say the least, and not once had a single reasonable question even come close to getting answered. Outside indeed. It was quitting time for this silly job!
Dawn stepped out into the night. That was very strange. It had been noon when she had entered the shop. She had only been inside the 'Conversion Bureau' for, what, a handful of minutes? A half hour at the most? It couldn't be night.
The city was gone. Her city was gone, anyway. She was standing on a pathway that led around a tall building, unmistakably a hospital. A green, park like lawn dotted with trees spread out into the darkness. The air smelled of new scents. It was impossible. It was utterly impossible. Dawn looked back at the shop. It faced the path, inset into the park, nestled between trees. She checked the foundations. They were old and had clearly been part of the ground for years. A small part of the path branched off and ran straight to the front door of the little Tudor cottage.
"Don't think about it. It's easier that way. Seriously. Just roll with it. It's the only thing you can do." Mitri started walking towards the imposing hospital. "Come on, we're on the clock here. Hospital clients are always clock deals. So hurry up!"
Dawn's mind choked. This must be night, and it must be Australia, and she was in Canberra, and this was real and it couldn't be real, yet the shop was right there like it had always been there and maybe it was only...
"Come ON! Your client is waiting. He's a little boy. Little boys never like to wait!" Mitri was tapping his foot again, standing a ways down the path. Dawn had no idea how to get home. She had no idea of anything anymore. But she had always been good at playing along with a situation. This was clearly a time to use that ability. She caught up to Mitri.
They walked towards the hospital. Dawn felt inside her coat - much too warm a coat for the current temperature. In her city it had been cold and daytime. Here the night was warm and humid. Inside her coat pocket was the tag. Good. She hadn't broken rule number one.
"Mitri, what do we do? Why are we here?" Somewhere in the back of her mind, Dawn felt like she should be screaming, or having a fit, or otherwise not being calm. That was reasonable. But she felt strangely stable. Perhaps impossibly so, considering the situation. That in itself should be making her freak out. But... she wasn't. She just, somehow, wasn't.
"We're here to see our client, Graeme. That's kind of a nice name, don't you think? I wonder what name he'll pick after. I always wonder that on the way to see a client. Before I even meet them, that's the best time really. After you meet someone, you start learning about them, and then your guesses become more and more educated. Less mystery to it all then, you know." Mitri smiled again, and quickened his pace. Dawn followed.
By now, she really should have been out of breath. That was odd. One more odd thing to the list. She couldn't maintain a brisk pace, not with her heart condition. Yet, it seemed no trouble tonight. If anything, walking fast felt good. Maybe Australia had better air or something. No, that was crazy. No, again. What was crazy was this night. Day. Whatever.
By now they were inside the hospital, and facing a desk with several nurses. "Well, go ask." Mitri waited impatiently.
"Ask? Ask what?" Dawn was confused. Again.
"Where Graeme is. What room he is in. We can't visit him unless we know the room, now can we?" Mitri seemed like all of this was the most normal thing in the world.
"Should we even be doing this? Just visiting some little boy in a hospital? We don't even know this child! What will his parents think? What will I tell them at the desk?"
Mitri sighed. "Of course we should be doing this. Graeme is our client. You still have the tag, right?"
Dawn put her hand back inside her coat. She took out the tag and showed it to Mitri. "There you go. Right there. 'Graeme Cowan, Age 8, The Canberra Hospital'. What hospital is this?"
Dawn looked above the desk. "The Canberra Hospital." She felt like a dunce as she said the obvious words.
"So don't keep little Graeme waiting. Go ask what room he is in. Go on." Mitri folded his arms.
Dawn put the tag back in her coat pocket. She went to the desk.
The receptionist at the desk stared at her. "Isn't that a bit of a heavy coat? Aren't you hot?"
Dawn shook her head. Then she thought about it. It was warm. And humid. "Yes, yes, I am very hot. It's... it's warm today. Tonight." She took her coat off and held it in her arms. "I'm here to see Graeme. Could you tell me what room he is in?"
The receptionist stared at her for a while. "It might help to know his last name?" She smiled a tolerant smile.
"Um... Cowan. Graeme Cowan. He's... he's eight. Age eight. The Canberra Hospital." Dawn felt completely out of her element, and utterly nervous. She tried to get the hair out of her eyes. It fell back in. The heat and the humidity was not helping.
The receptionist punched things into her computer. Suddenly her expression changed. "Oh... I understand now. I take it you just arrived, on a flight?" Dawn numbly nodded. It was as good a thing for the receptionist to think as any. There could be no doubt she didn't sound Australian in the least, and wearing a cold weather coat must have seemed very odd.
'Room 332, children's ward. Follow the green line to the elevator, then keep following the green line on the third floor. If you get lost, you can ask someone there." The receptionist, who Dawn noted was named Evonne from her badge, tapped a bit more on her keyboard. "You may not get in, at least immediately. So be prepared for that."
"Thank you." Dawn walked back to Mitri. "Room 332. Follow the green line. I feel really strange about this."
"Come on, it will all make sense in the end. Honest." Mitri headed off to the elevator. "Well, come on."
There was, really, nothing to do but follow through. This was something strange and weird and curious, and Dawn knew she could never turn her back on it. She had waited her whole life for something to happen, something, anything that would be interesting, truly, deeply strange. Something more than just a life of ordinary things in an ordinary world. In a way, one of her deepest wishes was coming true, right here, right now. This was an extraordinary moment, and it was going on all around her, and she was a part of it. Her heart had begun to beat with excitement now.
On the third floor, the green line led to the children's ward, and finally to room 332, critical care. The smells and sounds of 'hospital' were all around; the scents of plastic and alcohol and cleaners and chemicals, the sounds of machines and footsteps and a Quiet That Wasn't Quiet. Once they were stopped, but after a stumbling exchange they were let through. Mitri remarked that it probably helped that Dawn seemed so unsettled, she appeared all the more like a worried relative.
"Part of the job is learning to be what people need to see. If you can be what they expect, then there is almost never any trouble." Mitri winked at her, as if this was a great wisdom imparted to a special student. Dawn just shrugged and made a mental note of it. She might as well, asking the young man anything directly had been a bust.
The room was dark, and empty, except for a very sick little boy. He was asleep, and very pale, He had no hair. The first thing that Dawn thought of was cancer, childhood leukemia or maybe a kid with a brain tumor or something. He was drooling out of one side of his face, which sagged down. Stroke, perhaps?
"Dawn." Mitri was suddenly very serious. "Take out your tag. Read what is on it again. Do it now. The three words under his name and location. It's always three words."
Dawn fumbled with the heavy coat in her arms. There inside the pocket was the tag. "Fear, Loss and Guilt. What does that mean?"
"You have to talk to him, Dawn. He'll have something there, some object. It could be a toy, it could be a watch, a coin, a rock, anything. But it will be important to him. You have to find that object. That's what he has to give up." Mitri took the tag and held it. "But you also have to get him to drink... this." The young man pulled a small vial out from his own, thin jacket. If you do, he will feel better and get stronger. He'll be completely well, completely healthy Dawn. But once he drinks it we only have fifteen minutes. You have to understand that. Fifteen minutes. That's all. Remember that."
"Fifteen minutes. I'll remember." Dawn was doing her very best to roll with the situation now. "Wait, fifteen minutes for what?"
"You have to get him into the Bureau by then. You have to get Graeme into the Conversion Bureau before the fifteen minutes are up. You have to do this, do you understand? So he can get to the stairs. It is absolutely vital that you get him to the stairs before the fifteen minutes is up. Is that clear?" Mitri crossed his arms.
"No it isn't at all clear! I have to find some object that matches these three words on... the tag, then I have to get this kid to swallow some goop inside that vial thing, and then I have to frog-march him back to your shop within fifteen minutes? No, forget it! What's in this stuff anyway? Poison or something? What the hell is going on here?" Dawn was panting now. She was starting to break, and she could feel it.
Mitri sighed and shook his head. "I expected better. I really did. The scroll said you were a natural. The princesses are never wrong. Alright, I'll just tell you. If you're a natural, then I can just tell you."
"Tell me what? NOW you decide to tell me anything? OK, then tell me!" It was getting harder and harder to speak in whispers in the dark room. Dawn stood, coat in hand, and waited.
"Dawn Geddes, I knew your name because I was sent a scroll telling me all about you. I made the flyer and posted it where you would find it. That was all... arranged. I don't know how. That's not my job." Mitri looked briefly at the boy. "We are here to offer this boy a better life, a life he richly deserves. I don't know what you will find out when you talk to him, but it will be something bad, and he will have suffered, and he will deserve better. Your job is to deliver that better to him, and that starts with this little bottle here. This cures anything. Anything. Everything. But it doesn't work if he is burdened by regrets, or sorrows or baggage. You can't just shove it down his throat. It doesn't work like that. That's why you have to find the focus of what holds him here. That's the object. It's always some dumb thing. They pour their hearts into clinging to it, but it really represents what weighs them down. With me so far?"
Dawn nodded. It sounded like gobbledegook, but they were in Australia and this was Weird Times. "So what's the deal with the fifteen minutes?"
"Once you give him the potion, this stuff..." Mitri waggled the vial in front of her eyes. It appeared to be filled with the same purple stuff that had filled Mitri's own 'philtre' earlier. In the dark it glowed, and the little lights inside it swirled like pixie dust. "...you have fifteen minutes in which he can transform. You have to get him to the stairs before then. The stairs are part of Equestria. That's where they lead, straight up to Equestria. Each step helps the transformation. The higher he goes, the more he changes. By the top, he'll be a complete, perfect pony that can..."
Dawn was already down the hallway, heading for the big double doors. The nurse saw her fast walk and asked what the matter was. "I just can't take this! I just can't accept..." Dawn waved her off, and felt tears in her eyes. This was just too much. It was just too much. Potions and ponies and steps and transformations. It was insane.
She felt like throwing up. The restrooms were there. She entered the women's restroom and went into a stall. She couldn't throw up. She felt like it, but it just wasn't happening. She tried to calm down. Water. Maybe water. Dawn turned to the sinks below the big mirror. On either side were sanitary hand driers.
Dawn turned the tap. Cold water. She bent down to splash some on her face. She felt hot, she felt frightened, and she had just plain had too much. As she lifted her head she looked into her eyes in the mirror. And she froze.
The face looking back was not fifty. It wasn't thirty five. It was still a little overweight. But it could not be older than twenty five. Just like Mitri.
Dawn stared at her face, dripping cold water onto the floor. She stared at her hands, turning them over and over. They were young hands. She was young again. The fact of it overwhelmed her. She began to cry, then to laugh. She was crying and laughing and suddenly noticed the dark-jacketed, thin frame of Mitri behind her.
"You're in the women's rest room!" was all she could say.
"And you're young again, aren't you? I was saving that little surprise for the end, but now you've gone and spoiled it." Mitri leaned against a stall, arms folded.
"But... you're in the women's rest room!" It sounded as inane to her ears as it must have to his. She just couldn't process things right now.
"Explain this. Tell me what could transport that shop to the campus of a hospital in Australia, make you young again, provide this potion... " Mitri had unfolded his arms and brought forth the little vial, giving it a tap with his finger "... which cures anything at all mind you, and on top of all of that, led you to me exactly as if it had been fate itself. What could do that?"
"Nothing! Nothing could do all that stuff. It's impossible. All of this is impossible!" Dawn looked helplessly around, but there was nothing there but stalls, Mitri, and the mirror that told her she was young again. "It would have to be freaking magic!"
Mitri tapped his nose with a finger. He stared at her earnestly.
"Magic. You can't be serious. Magic is real?" Dawn clung to her last shred of sanity.
"Yes, Dawn Geddes. That is what I am telling you. Magic is real. There is a magical land out there called 'Equestria', and it's filled with unicorns and pegasai and dragons and fairies and I don't know what else. The people there are all ponies. Not like ponies here. Better. Cuter. Intelligent, tool using equinoids. Magic ponies. They have princesses that are basically gods. Goddesses. And they reward nice humans that deserve better. I don't know all the reasons why, I just know that they do. Has something to do with the fact they can't reproduce, and so they recruit. Maybe. It's all real, and it's happening now. As it has happened since the beginning of time." Mitri paused, trying to judge Dawn's reaction.
"P-ponies. You said transformation. The potion will turn the kid into a pony. A magic pony. And then he climbs those stairs and goes to live in the magic land of ponies. That's the deal?" Dawn felt like she was adrift on an endless ocean of madness.
"Just about. The transformation starts on those stairs. You have to get him to the stairs before the fifteen minutes is up. Otherwise, you have it in one." Mitri smiled, faintly.
"Why not just take him to the shop and then give him the potion?" It was an obvious question.
"You think you can carry him out of here without anyone noticing? Do you think they would let you? He can't walk, you know. He's paralyzed on the left side. I asked." Mitri stepped forward. "Besides, you have to talk to him first. You have to find out what is keeping him here. You have to find the object that he is focused on. Like all the others in the Bureau?"
"What if I don't? What if I just run screaming from here?" Dawn almost whimpered the words.
"Then the boy dies. Probably. He doesn't look like he has very long to me. They don't send scrolls unless the situation is urgent. Something will happen. Maybe the hospital gets blown up, I don't know. I just know something will happen. Something bad. That's why the call came to rescue the kid. That's how it works." Mitri went to the sink and washed his hands. "Do you want the boy to croak?"
"No! Of course not!" Dawn felt angry. "But you're asking a lot of me. Why didn't you just tell me all of this back in the... Bureau thingie? How do you expect me to just accept all of this?"
"Look in the mirror again. That happened the minute you signed the contract." Mitri finished drying his hands.
"What if the boy doesn't want to be a... a pony? What if I miss the fifteen minutes?"
"Hmmm... let's see... life - and probably imminent death - as a paralyzed eight year old, or running about free and healthy as a magical pony in a magical land filled with wonder and love. Oh, I forgot to mention - the reason they can't reproduce and need us? They are immortal. Every pony in Equestria gets to live forever, for real. The place used to be called the Elysian Fields. Get the idea?" Mitri leaned against the wall.
"Heaven. You're saying heaven. Heaven is for ponies only?" Dawn stared at Mitri.
"Pretty much. You can put your religion to bed. There is a happy land, far, far away, right up those stairs, and it isn't for the likes of us apes. But we can earn a ticket. I just earned mine. One drop for ever person I send up those stairs. One drop in my philtre for every person I convert. My philtre is full. I get to go be an immortal pony. Your philtre is sitting on that shelf back in the shop, and currently it is empty. Your first drop is in that hospital room."
Dawn had to wait to let that sink in. "Maybe I don't want to be a pony! Maybe I like having hands!"
"It's pony or dead forever." Mitri scratched his nose. "Apparently, Earth is a bad place for bad creatures. We aren't in a hostile universe of struggle and sorrow for nothing. Our universe is a dumping ground for the scum of the multiverse. We don't even rate knowing why we're being punished. But the Princesses... they disagree. They think that the... Judge... makes mistakes. And so they set up the Bureaus. Lots of them. I don't know how many. Bureaus to save those who deserve to be saved."
"And that includes... me?"
Mitri looked at his feet. "Apparently. If you are up to the job. You gotta earn your wings to get to heaven. So, is that little boy going to bite the big one, or are you an employee of the Conversion Bureau?"
Dawn thought about it. The weight of it. The scope of it. Hundreds, maybe thousands of Bureaus, all trying to save the lost from extinction. Agents just like Mitri, going to people from all walks of life, trying to convince them to let go of what holds them to earth, and then to take the potion. To climb the stairs. All on the word of scrolls that... appear. Or get tossed down the stairs, or something. There was so much to understand still.
"Clock's ticking. Hospital runs are always issues of time. Always. It isn't always like this. Sometimes it's easy. Sometimes it's not. Sometimes it's downright dangerous. But when you succeed, when you send a pony up the stairs, when you get that drop in your philtre... I can honestly tell you it is worth it." Mitri took Dawn by the shoulders "They smile, Dawn. After they are completely pony, at the top of the stairs, just before they step up into that world up there. They smile. They smile so big, so perfect, so happily. You can't believe it. You have to see that smile. If you do anything in your life... you have to see that smile at least once."
Dawn looked down at her hands. Her young hands. "Hands for hooves, huh?"
"And mortality for paradise. If you have magic, hands are kind of superfluous, don't you think?" Mitri went to the door. "So, are you the next employee of the Conversion Bureau?"
Dawn looked around at the bathroom. She thought about the world, about Earth. All the misery, the wars, the sickness the pointless horror of it all. She looked in the mirror. Real magic. Real heaven. Equestria. Pony heaven. In that sense, she would be a pony angel, if they had such. She imagined the sick boy as a healthy, immortal pony running happily through green, Elysian fields.
"I'll do it."