Cartwright was concerned, which was unusual as she was normally unflappable and never showed emotion even in the middle of that storm they had flown through last year. If Cartwright was unsettled, then whatever it was must be worst than skirting a hurricane and that said a lot.
Ernesto put the two cups of coffee on the neoplastic flight tray. Bertrand liked extra, extra, extra sugar, the man was working his way towards a case of the diabetes but, what the hey, it was his life, his cup of coffee. He was flight captain of the Auxesia, and while most of the airship was run by the AI system, an alert captain and crew was not only a good idea, it was what they were being paid the serious credits for.
"I think the girl is having some kind of breakdown. Either that or she's on drugs." Cartwright was the oldest employee in the Bertarelli Transport Division, and while she could be somewhat bitter and judgmental, she was also almost always right.
"She has been behaving strangely this trip. She drinks occasionally, but I've never seen her out of control even then. Naw... it isn't drugs. You really think she's having some kind of fit or something?" Ernesto tried to stir another packet of sweetener into the coffee for Bertrand, as soon as the crystals would no longer dissolve, that was when he could stop. The idea of it made his stomach turn, the captain liked coffee soda pop.
"I am just concerned that her father may think it has anything to do with us. These rich kids are always melting down, and no wonder, really, but the blame never goes where it belongs." Cartwright took a cup from the galley and poured herself a cup. Black, no sugar. Everything about the matronly woman seemed constrained.
"The shit always rolls downhill... or... so they say." Ernesto dropped his eyes at the brief glare from Cartwright. She considered such language unprofessional and made that opinion thoroughly understood. Somehow, the entire crew deferred to her, though they didn't fully understand why. She was just that way, despite being only an attendant. Well, Chief Attendant.
"Let us hope that this situation does not end up threatening our positions, navigator." Cartwright finished off her coffee with a quick jerk of her hand, and dropped the cup into the Recycler. Immediately, a swarm of microscopic machines began to break the cup down in order to build another, utterly new and clean cup. The system lowered water consumption on the airship dramatically.
"Um... yes." Ernesto gave the Chief Attendant a knowing nod and picked up the tray with the two coffees on it. He was careful to note the one of the left was Bertrand's... he'd made that mistake before and ended up feeling queasy after only one sip. How could that man drink that stuff?
Ernesto followed the smart green carpet through the wide dining lounge. Crystal glasses and goblets hung from racks in the silver and glassite bar. The tables were the latest designer fashion, as were the sculpted chairs, also done in green. Green was the Bertarelli family color, and it was everywhere on the sleek Lifting Body Airship.
He carefully made his way up the spiral staircase to the flight deck, and then to the flight cabin. Bertrand was having the AI tell him the usual status report. These were required every hour, on the hour, and were logged. The AI had a pleasant, soft voice, that of a young man just past the bloom of early adulthood. It reminded Ernesto of a lover he had once had, years ago in the Eurozone.
"Your Coffee. Sweet as soda and twice as revolting, just the way you like it." Ernesto balanced the tray on his knees as he sat and handed the coffee to the captain. "That stuff is going to kill you, you know. Sugar isn't good for you."
"I only wish it was sugar. This stuff is infinitely worse. Gives you tumors. But it tastes soooo goood." Bertrand took a very loud slurp of the syrupy mixture and enjoyed the grimace on his Navi's face.
"So, how we doin?" Ernesto took a sip of his own coffee. One of the benefits of working for an upper tier family was that the coffee was good. Sometimes it was even real. The Bertarelli's had some connection with Antarctica, and they got actually grown luxuries from time to time.
"The Auxesia is right on schedule and Little Bobby says she feels particularly good today. I haven't a clue what that really means, but I always just assume that it's the AI's way of saying everything is working right." 'Little Bobby' was the name of the airships primary AI system, not even Cartwright knew who had named the damn thing. "There is, however, quite something to see, out our nine. Check it out."
Ernesto looked to the left side of the curving windows of the large flight cabin and saw, through clouds, the upper curve of a vast, shining dome passing far above even the highest cirrus. It must be well below the horizon, it was just so big, so incredibly huge, that even the curvature of the planet itself could not hide it. Most of it must be in space by now, above the atmosphere entirely.
It was Equestria, hundreds of miles away, and still it was visible. "How big is that thing now, anyway?" Last that Ernesto had heard, the dome that rose above the ocean was something like five hundred miles high.
"It is currently six hundred and thirty nine miles above sea level, which makes the whole thing one thousand, two hundred and seventy-eight miles in diameter. It's a sphere, you know, the rest is below, right down into the planet itself!"
It was their passenger, Venice Elspeth Bertarelli, and she was... smiling at them. She was on the flight deck. Smiling.
Inside themselves, Ernesto and Betrand quietly shuddered. This could not be good. It was never good when one of the owners bothered with them.
Venice walked to the windows and leaned on the long, curving, semicircular counter that ran just below the angled active surface display. She pitched forward on tippy-toes so that she could be closer to the windows, taking in the view of Equestria over the horizon.
"It's a Rucker Sphere. A dimensional interface between our universe and theirs. It's not really a sphere, we only see a sphere. It's actually a hypersphere! Isn't that simply amazing?" Venice turned and looked at the two men, a slight smile on her face, the kind a child would have. Both men felt the hairs on their necks stand to attention while a cold blood coursed through their veins.
"M-miss.... Bertarelli? Can we... c-can we help you?" Ernesto was trying to be calm. The last time a Bertarelli stood in the flight cabin half the airship staff had been culled. On the spot. They had been required to pay for their own passage the rest of the journey. One had simply walked out onto the wing and jumped.
"Yes, actually, you can." Venice stepped lightly over and plunked her bottom in one of the chairs. "Could I have a sip of that?" She nodded at Ernesto's coffee.
Ernesto's hand shook slightly as he handed his cup to miss Bertarelli. She held the cup to her nose and took a long sniff. "Huh. You know, I never bother to actually smell anything. I don't pay attention. I'm always off, away in some electric dreamland. I can really smell this. With my nose!" Again, the childlike smile. It was almost a grin.
Maybe the poor girl really was having a breakdown. This could be dead serious. Ernesto and Bertrand watched as she gingerly sipped the coffee. She made a face. "Eww... oh... I forgot. I don't like coffee. I think I like the way it smells though. Isn't that astonishing? It's possible to like the way something smells, but not like how it tastes!" She took another small sip. "Yup! I hate this stuff!" She handed the cup back to Ernesto, giggling as she did so.
Ernesto took his cup back and held it, not knowing what to say. They had ferried Roman Bertarelli's daughter to and fro around the world for several years. This was the first time she had ever spoken more than five words to any of them. It was certainly the first time she had showed anything other than aloof and cold disdain. She didn't seem like she was on drugs, as Cartwright had suggested. And she didn't seem like a person having a breakdown, she was calm and... nice.
It was deeply weird, and deeply unsettling.
"I just realized that I don't know your names. I've ridden on this airship for years, and I never once learned your names. That's... kind of mean, isn't it? I'm... I'm sorry. I've been kind of mean. No, that's not right. I've been very mean. Would you... would you be willing to... pretend, for just a little while, that I'm not mean?
So... hello! I'm Venice! Just... Venice. And you are...?"
Ernesto looked at Bertrand in panic. Bertrand was the captain, he was just the navigator. It was Bertrand's job to handle the important stuff. Bertrand stared at Ernesto for a moment, then finally spoke. "Introduce yourself to the nice lady already." It wasn't what Ernesto was expecting. Then again, he didn't know what he had expected to hear. Unsure, he turned back to Miss Bertarelli.
"Uh... hello? I'm Ernesto. Ernesto Tamayo. I'm the navigator. I chart our course." Ernesto glanced back at Bertrand, as if he expected the man to somehow fix the way in which the world had broken.
Venice nodded. "Ernesto. Hello, Ernesto. And you?" She looked at the captain.
"How do you do, Ma'am. I'm Bertand Cudicini, captain of the Auxesia. She's a good ship and I'm proud to be on her." Bertrand took a sip of his coffee. He was more experienced than the younger Ernesto, He'd seen something like this before. Occasionally, the owners liked to pretend they were human and mingle with the peasants. It was usually a one time thing. It mostly happened with older women, but he'd had an old guy do it once, when he first made captain, long ago. Just act natural, and things will go back to normal. They always did.
Venice nodded again, as if she were committing their names to her memory. "Bertrand. Pleased to meet you, Bertrand." She got up again and went back to the window. Distant clouds seemed to huddle near the impossibly large dome of the Equestrian barrier, far over the horizon, past the curvature of the world. The strange barrier shimmered in the light like a soap bubble, clear and pure and multicolored, unlike the gray sea and the poisoned sky.
"Ernesto, Bertrand... do you know what is going on with Equestria out there? I just found out myself recently. What do you know about it?" Venice looked serious, as far as either of the men could tell.
"It's the end of the world, or so the scientists say." Captain Bertrand had waited a beat for Ernesto to answer, but the Navi seemed stunned. "They say that thing will swallow the planet in five or six years. Seven at the outside. Everything it touches turns into more of it, more of their land. They seem nice enough, I don't think they intended this to happen. And they are willing to take us in, so they can't be all bad."
Now Ernesto had something to say. "Yeah, take us in as one of them! They say only their own kind can live in there. So you have to become one of them in order to get in there. They look like little animals, Bertrand. They're turning people into little animals!"
"What do you think about that, captain Bertrand?" Venice walked back and sat down once more. She leaned forward, her chin nestled in her hands, her elbows on the arms of her chair.
"It might not be so bad. They seem happy enough. And they have some kind of technology, or magic, or something, they live in houses, they have shops and farms and colleges and books. I've seen them do all kinds of things as easily as we do with hands. Sometimes better." Bertrand checked something on the wide, sweeping active surface, then turned back. The sun was getting lower in the sky. "The government certainly seems to be pushing everyone to go there. Where there's life, there's hope, right?"
"I've been learning a lot about Equestria lately. I've been watching a show about someone going through a Conversion Bureau. And at night, I've been downloading all kinds of information into my brain. I know how to read their writing now, and I can speak Equestrian... mostly." Venice made a strange, melodious string of sounds. "I just said that your mane is very handsome, Ernesto. And it is."
Ernesto was overly proud of his well-kept hair. But hearing such a compliment from one of the owners was... it made him uncomfortable, so he looked down at his hands and fidgeted.
"Captain Bertrand, how long until we reach land?" Venice sat back, crossing her legs.
"It's currently six hours to Bertarelli Aero in Marin. We should touch down very close to seven-thirty provided the wind stays constant." Bertrand checked the surface. "Yup, seven-thirty."
"How many people are on this ship? How many crew?" Venice rotated her chair to stare off at the dome of Equestria once more.
"Eleven, Ma'am. Me, Ernesto, Cartwright - she's the chief attendant, she has three stewards under her, we have two engineers, one bartender, and two maids. They're all good people." Now Bertrand was becoming uneasy. This was not at all sounding like the usual sort of experience he'd known in the past. Something was off about this situation.
Venice seemed lost in thought for a moment. "There. I've just accessed all of your files, backgrounds, accounts and life histories. Oh, Ernesto... I'm sorry to hear about your grandmother. And you've had a rough life, captain, haven't you?"
Bertrand was very nervous now. "It hasn't been that bad. I've had my share of good moments."
"Bertrand, Ernesto... there is only one thing that separates you from me, and that is wealth. Vast, unimaginable wealth. If you had my wealth, what would you do with it? Seriously, I want to know." Venice looked at the two men, apparently sincere.
"Well... if I was wealthy, like you, I think I would get an airship of my own. I'd assemble a crew, people I know and like, people I've worked with in the past, and I'd take a tour of this old planet before it's gone. I'd go see the places nobody goes anymore, like Japan and the Amazon Desert and what's left of the Southern Eurozone. And Antarctica. I'd go there just to see the last forest. It's in a dome there, at New McMurdo. But in the end, miss Bertarelli..."
"Venice, Captain. Please just call me Venice. I really mean it. Venice. Both of you."
"Alright then, in the end, Venice, I would go to a Bureau and get ponified. Just before it all went. And then, I'd remember and tell others about the world and the things I saw. I'd keep earth alive that way." Captain Bertrand turned back to his active surface.
"Ernesto? What would you do with my money in the last six years before the end of the world?"
Ernesto shifted nervously, his eyes unsure where to look. "I'm not convinced they can't stop this thing, miss Berta... Venice. I still have hope that the government will find something that will fix it."
"Whether they do or not, what would you do with your next six years?" Venice leaned forward and gazed intently at the unsettled navigator.
"I... I would take my family and... I'd set them up in a really nice house. A grand house, not as big as yours, but big. And I'd spend time with my wife and my son. I'd take them places and get them the best of everything. And I'd get help for my Father, real medical help." Ernesto studied his shoes like a child, he was far outside his comfort range. "And... maybe I'd try to help others who were in a bad way, too. There's a lot of people who need help."
Venice looked uneasy at that last bit. "Would you go pony at the end, too, like Bertrand? I mean, if there was no way to stop the expansion?"
"I... I don't know, ma'am. Venice." This whole thing was very uncomfortable for Ernesto. He was wishing it would end, and that miss Bertarelli would just go back to being distant and aloof.
"Ernesto, Bertrand, I intend to do something... that could be a problem for you. But... now that we're friends, I don't want to leave you to face the consequences of my actions. You need to understand that I can't just walk out my own front door. I would be watched and guarded the moment I left my home. The closest thing to freedom I can have is when I am in transit on this airship. All of you are considered trusted, and the ship itself is tracked constantly. But there are no personal watchers, because it's expected that I would only ever go to places the elite would go, and those places are always secure." Venice locked her fingers together as she spoke.
"I want to go someplace my father would not approve of. I want you to land somewhere in an open part of San Francisco. The ruins of the docks, maybe, or the Panhandle. I intend to run away. But if I do this, all of you will have your lives destroyed for letting me do it. So I have a proposition. I will make every person on this ship wealthy beyond measure. I can do it now, right this minute. I have my personal accounts open, and I've also got all of yours. Even Rennie and Willis the engineers, even Tanya and Rumi the maids. All of you, everyone here. I can transfer more credits than you can even imagine. You could have your own airship, Bertrand. You could have your house and help for your father, Ernesto. Cartwright could get her son back."
Ernesto turned to Bertrand. "Cartwright has a son? I didn't know that? When did she have a son?" Bertrand shook his head, it was news to him as well, and he'd known Cartwright for years.
"You said we have six hours before we reach land. A little less now. Get everyone together and talk my offer over. With the kind of wealth I'm offering, being terminated and blacklisted won't matter, because you won't ever lack for anything ever again. At least for the next six years." Venice smiled at that. "I'll be in my cabin, finishing a show I'm watching. When you have an answer, contact me."
Venice got up and started to leave. She stopped and turned around. "If it isn't you, then it could be the ground crew that inherits my wealth. One way or another, I will not return to that mansion." Bertrand and Ernesto started at that statement.
"You're going to the Bureau, aren't you?" The question was simple, direct. Ernesto felt shocked that Bertrand was being so direct with miss Bertarelli.
"Yes, captain Bertrand of the splendid airship Auxesia. I am going pony. My father would never approve. He didn't even think to inform me that the world was ending. I don't think he believes it is. But that isn't the reason I am doing this. I'll tell you something." Venice walked back and leaned close to the old captain. "I've recently learned a very important thing. It's very hard to believe, but... money really can't buy happiness."
Venice turned and walked smoothly and speedily away. "Second to the right, and straight on till morning, captain!" And with that she was gone, down the hall.
Ernesto looked at Bertrand. "What was that last bit?"
Bertrand looked out at the sunset sky. The light made the great dome outside shine with all the colors of the rainbow, a vast, impossible, magical curve that swept the very stars. "I think Venice recently learned to clap her hands, Ernesto."
At that, Ernesto just looked lost.
"...and we're back. You are watching 'Going Pony', the super-exciting holoshow about what it's like to... go pony... Hee hee!"
Hee hee hee!
"And this is the star of my life, and also the show, Sunshine Laughter! Yayyy!"
Ohhh... that's really sweet, Rose. You must be the sun, then, of my life, my little shiny bright one.
"It's kind of a lovey-dovey sort of show, I should probably warn you. So if you like all the grim, awful-pony, mean drama stuff, this is definitely not the show for you. Once you go pony, it may not be gumdrops and suncandy..."
"Hey, I'm making this up as I go, alright? If you don't like suncandy then... rainbows. Gumdrops and rainbows. I kind of liked suncandy myself. Everypony is a critic, I guess. BLAAAA!"
Stick that tongue out closer, and I'll show you what it's good for.
"That a promise? Hee hee!"
Heh... oh, yeah, it's a promise. OK, OK, let's settle down now... OOF! Hey, that's my... what is that you just flopped over on?
"Those are your hocks. Right below your gaskins, right above your cannons. You still don't know all of your own parts, do you Sunshine?"
I was... kind of hoping you might give me a guided tour. Kind of explain things close up. Maybe in something other than English, like... the native tongue.
"I'll give you a native tongue."
That's kind of where I was going with that.
"Hee hee hee! Celestia, we're goofy today, aren't we?"
Yeah, we kind of are. But then, it's been a good day. I can't believe I managed to actually impress Breezy. Wow.
"Recap, if you've missed earlier, Sunshine here managed to seriously impress her flight instructor this morning. She pulled off a vertical lift off with barely a twitch of her wings, and she made it all the way to the clouds and brought down a chunk of one."
Well, it was smog, actually, and the first smog layer is pretty close to the ground, but I did get there, and I did bring down a little patch of it. It doesn't look so yellowy-gray close up. Still smelled though. But you can walk on it, just like a proper cloud!
"YOU can walk on it, my clever pegasus, us earthponies can't. Oh, I was sooo jealous. I wanted to walk on the cloud. Pout. Look, I'm pouting, see?"
And a pretty pout it is, too, Rose. Maybe I can stand on smog, but you can make strawberries, and those smell loads better! And taste pretty good too. That's also what happened today, earlier on 'Going Pony', Rose made strawberries grow and ripen, and Pony were they good! She's clearly going to be the big provider in our household.
"It was only six berries, Sunshine. But... I have to admit... they were pretty good."
They were fantastic, Rose. Let's see, what else went on today, to catch up our ponillions of loyal viewers?
Why not? I have no idea how many ponies even see this thing. Probably only ten ponies watch us. But hey, there's no way to know for certain, so why not imagine we're a huge hit? Personally, I like to pretend that we're the number one program on earth right now!
"Wow, wouldn't that be something if that were true?"
Even if it is, we'll never know. We'll be in Equestria in just two days. Think about it, Rose! Just two days, and we'll be in Equestria! I am sooo excited, how about you?
"You know I am! It's hard just to get through the day because of it. Two days. Two days, that's all I can think about. Oh! Oh! You should share your theory about pony magic!"
"The one you came up with after you did the vertical lift off, the one about the fields?"
Oh... oh yeah! OK, so I came up with this theory about how our magic works, alright? It was kind of bothering me, how it is that I can fly at all, and how picking up things with our hooves and heads is a lot easier than they taught us, and how it was even possible to lift straight up or hover by barely even flapping your wings, right? But then I saw Rose here step down on some dirt and little green shoots just started popping up around her hoof, and that's when I got the idea.
I think we put out fields, like force fields or electromagnetic fields or something like that, right? And I think that the stuff horn and hoof is made out of is the antenna. What's the name of that stuff... um... keratin. Hooves and hair and horns are all made out of keratin, this protein stuff, right, so...
"That Earth life, Sunshine. Earth animals use keratin. But we use alicorn. It's called alicorn."
Wait, that's what the princesses are. They're alicorns.
"That's what they're called in English, yes. But the word actually was an old word for the stuff unicorn horn was made of. Seriously, Sunshine, I read all about this. They just used the word to describe what the princesses are, only it's an error. But it doesn't matter really, it works, and it kind of stuck. Everypony uses it in the human world. So the princesses are alicorns, with wings and a horn, but the stuff our horns, wings and hair is made of is also called alicorn too."
"It was an error. A really old one. They started calling winged unicorns - which is what the princesses kind of are - 'alicorns' back before the Great Collapse. It was just a mistake somebody made and it caught on. But the historical meaning is unicorn horn... stuff. The stuff that unicorn horn is made of."
OK, whatever. My point is that I think that that stuff, the alicorn stuff, whether its a protein like keratin, or something totally different, I think it acts as an antenna for magic, for thaumatic energy. And that explains a lot of stuff.
Unicorns have horns made of it, and they're wired up to use that big chunk of... alicorn... and they can levitate stuff and do some spell-like things, right? And the earthponies, they have really heavy, thick hooves. Thicker than mine, thicker than Snowflower's, and I bet there's something different inside them too. But in any case, their magic comes out through their hooves, the biggest chunk of that alicorn stuff on their bodies. And us pegasai, we have hooves and we have wings, and the fine fluffy part of wings is made of that stuff too. I think pegasus wings radiate thaumatic radiation, channel it somehow, and their hooves do too, which is why we can fly and walk on clouds.
I think some kind of field or flow or something comes out from those points, because of the hoof-horn-hair stuff. And we can pick up stuff because we all have a little bit of the levitation ability like the unicorns have, only it's really faint and close in the rest of us. It's just enough to kind of make things stick to us a little, which makes carrying things on our heads and backs and hooves a lot easier. It's like we have sticky hooves, and sticky coats, sort of.
"Tell them about what you felt. When you did the take off."
Right! So, I was doing the vertical take off like Breezy showed us, and I noticed that the air was just whooshing down from my wings, like my wings were jump jets or something. Oh, it wasn't enough to account for me flying or anything, but there was definitely air moving once I decided I was going to fly. Flying must involve a lot of things, but one part of it has to be that we pegasai just somehow move air around us.
So, basically, I guess what I am trying to say is that I think we ponies use our hair, hooves, horns and feathers to channel, or broadcast, or convert thaumatic energy into stuff like motion, and manipulating matter and whatnot, and that the 'alicorn' stuff, whatever it is, acts as the antenna for it, and that thickness, shape and such affect how the energies can be applied. Whew. That's my theory.
"I think it's an awesome theory, Sunshine!"
You're my biggest fan, Rose! Likely my only fan, too. But that's enough. If I have you, then that's enough.
"Sunshine... little sweety."
Heh. OK, so what's up next on our next-to-the-next-to-the-last-day?
"Well, I want to check on my blueberries, they like lullabies before beddy time, and then we go to dinner."
Oh, could you help remind me? I want to ask Honeydrizzle how she got her cutie mark. She had it like day one. As far as I understand it, she woke up with it. I keep forgetting to ask.
"Well, we get talking with everypony and..."
Over the intercom, captain Bertram spoke for the crew of the Auxesia. They had deliberated for some time. One of the engineers was still a little raw about the proposition. The issue wasn't money but career, she really liked being a flight engineer. Bertram had promised her a place on the airship he was going to buy. They would take the offer. The only question was where to land.
Venice changed her clothing while she discussed the plan with the captain. She settled on a blue jumpsuit - for some unfathomable reason, jumpsuits were in or something with the lower working grades this year, so she reasoned that it would be the perfect outfit to fit in out in the lowborn world. Under the blue jumper she wore a white, antique silk blouse - the jumper was scratchy and she did not fancy having to feel uncomfortable for any length of time.
As she was changing, she noticed a lump on her right knee. It was a tumor. She hadn't been bothering with her daily Malignostat-XP for some time. Venice felt stupid. People who didn't take their 'Stat, ended up with tumors. The world was a toxic place. Inside she laughed at herself - her body was a gallery of the most expensive augmentations credits could buy, yet she had a tumor on her knee because she couldn't be bothered to take the most common medication on the planet.
It didn't matter, though. This body could get all the tumors it wanted, she was trading it in very, very soon. As soon as she could possibly arrange. Still, it must be a very fast growing one for her not to notice it until now... or had she really been that oblivious, wrapped up in her little, oh so precious, holoshow?
She was really going to do this. Jump ship, run away from Daddy, from wealth and privilege and technology to go be a pony? It was so incredible. Venice felt giddy and light headed. Her carefully constructed, utterly controlled life just thrown away, just like that, on a whim. Ooh, that would make a good pony name. 'Whim'. Or maybe 'Whimsy'. 'Whimsicality'... no, that was too long. But she was definitely acting without planning every last detail for the first time in her memory. Just jumping ship! Incredible!
Bertrand and Venice finally settled on Hunter's Point. It was a lot further south than she wanted, but it was wide, flat, and more importantly, far enough away from the Blackmesh bases to allow the crew to escape into the world and not be caught. The disappearance of one of the wealthiest women in the world along with her flight crew would raise endless suspicions. They all needed time to use their newfound wealth to protect and establish themselves.
Speaking of which - Venice reactivated her connections to her accounts and the accounts of the crew. She quickly set up a transfer protocol, the moment she was on the ground and free, the entirety of her personal fortune would be divided among the crew of the Auxesia, all in untraceable accounts. Fox had taught her many things, playing with accounts being one of the more valuable. Huh. She'd never gotten back to her little codemonkey. It was too late now to send him anything. No, that wasn't entirely true.
I have decided to go pony. Seriously. And I think you should too. Face it, the technological Singularity is not going to happen. The world is ending. There is only five or six years left. But that is not why I am doing this. Listen, I am going to do something I've never done with you. I am going to be honest.
I used you, and I think you used me too. I never liked you, and I never valued you beyond your usefulness to me. I am sorry for that, Fox. That was wrong. I think that the next stage of human evolution isn't becoming a machine, I think that there is far more to gain in becoming Equestrian, and not just mere survival.
The Equestrians have something to teach us, Fox. Friendship. Caring. Love. These things are more important than wealth, or power, or the best implants. I can see the entire EM spectrum, but I tell you truthfully, there is more to see in the eyes of somepony you care about, than in all the wavelengths of our cosmos. Yes, I said somepony, and I meant it.
Thank you for all of your help and service to me. I should have treated you with more respect. With any respect. Please forgive me.
It wasn't much, and it wasn't as good as she wanted, but... at least she wasn't leaving without saying anything. Plus, it would likely be discovered when the big investigation started - every one of her contacts would be grilled, it was inevitable - and this letter would provide the context that should get the airship crew out of suspicion of wrongdoing.
Actually, there needed to be more for that. Venice shook her head at how slow she was being. This wasn't like her not to be completely sharp. She drafted a number of other letters, simple statements of her intent to be ponified, and put them on time delay so that they would be sent three weeks after today. By then, she would be long gone in Equestria.
She couldn't decide what shoes to wear for her last journey as a human. The red shoes or the black shoes? Suddenly she picked one of each. Red on one foot and black on the other! Hee! Now that was whimsy!
Venice looked at herself through the cameras in the cabin. In the images at the edges of her visual field, she noted the wild-looking figure she made. Short, ragged hair, forehead implants, a blue jumper and mismatched shoes. She was a proper lowborn now, just another human among billions. It was a scary, exciting feeling.
The great airship sank in the night. It was pitch black, the ship was running silent, with no visible lights whatsoever. The AI was using infrared to guide and land the Auxesia. The crew wore nightvision goggles in the utter blackness. They had scanned the area before, to make sure there were no gangs or other worrisome types in the vicinity.
Venice strolled through the hallways of the airship, to her it was as if she walked in daylight. Her Nightwanders gave her vision far beyond that of any human who had ever lived. She noted the reflection of her own glowing warmth off the walls and turned to see her own footprints behind her, glowing markers on the carpet. Her body shone like a diode in the infrared. She walked in light, like an angel.
She shook her head. No, she was far from an angel. Until now, if anything, she had been just the opposite. But like Celestia had told Rose - all we have is now, and tomorrow. Venice stood up straight. Now, she would become something better. All it took was the choice to commit to a new life. If Rose Vale could do it, If Lavender and Newmoon could do it, then she could too. The first step in going pony was not drinking serum. It was the choice to be something better than yesterday.
Suddenly, she started giggling. She wasn't sure why. And that was kind of nice. She was just... giggling. Maybe it was because of the finality and seriousness of what she was doing? No, that wasn't it. Was it because she was afraid of the unknown? No, she wasn't afraid. She knew she probably should be, but she wasn't. She felt... light. New. She felt... new, and it tickled, somehow. It tickled, and she was giggling.
Venice rounded the corner and descended the wide stairs that led to the main hatchway. The crew was there, waiting for her.
"Venice. We're all equal now, Ernesto. Actually, no we're not. You are the rich people, and I'm poor now. I don't have any money at all as of... now. There. It's all transferred. The account information will be in your hyperlinks, just look for it. It's encoded, but you'll see it plain as day."
The crew looked dumbfounded. Some checked their personal links. Cartwright swore softly. One of the maids whistled. Venice turned to Captain Bertrand.
"Hey, buddy, can you spare some credits for a poor girl down on her luck?" She smiled, at first. Suddenly it was a grin. It kind of hurt her face. It was her first grin. According to the camera above the hatch, she looked quite ghoulish, all glowy teeth and wide glowing eyes in the infrared, but she didn't care. In fact, it made her grin wider, which hurt her cheeks even more.
"If you need a job, I'm trying to find a maid for my new airship." Bertrand smiled back at her. He started to reach out, but then pulled his arms back to his sides.
Venice suddenly found herself stepping forward and embracing the old captain. She gave him a warm hug before she knew what she was doing. Everything was so new, now. "You're the only person who ever thought enough of me to offer me a real job. Thank you."
As she pulled away, Bertrand had the strangest feeling that she wasn't joking. "I hope you'll be happy as a pony... Venice."
"I think I will be, cap'n." Venice walked down the ramp and stood on the blasted, darkened ground. She looked back at the crew. Suddenly she bowed, grandly, like an actor on a stage, her arm sweeping wide. "Here's to me, and here's to you, and here's to love and laughter - I'll be true as long as you, and not one moment after!"
This brought a laugh from the eight assembled crew members. "Good luck." Ernesto waved in the dark, his goggles slipping down his face.
Venice slipped into the night. She had six miles or so to cover, through the bombed out ruins of San Francisco.
It wasn't until she found herself laying on the ground on a mound of filth, her nose filled with the smell of decay, waiting for a noisy, drunken rape gang to parade past, torches blinding her nightvision, that she realized she could have just had them take her to the much better of the two original Conversion Bureaus in relatively pristine Vancouver. They could have landed right in front of the place, and she could have simply strolled in right then.
It was going to be a long six miles.