Tales Of Los Pegasus


7. The City In Silver
By Chatoyance

Jorge Jeitson sat with his mechanical dog in a lawn chair on the sands of Redondo Beach, watching the gray tide roll in. He had made it to the future, not the future he had imagined in his childhood, but a fantastico futuro nonetheless. He had lived longer than he had ever thought possible, almost one hundred and eighty years. That was a respectable time, an increíble time, at least for a man.

He was a proud man, and a wealthy man - a very wealthy man - but money did not matter anymore. He rubbed his thumb over his creditstick like a worry stone, causing the holographic numbers of his balance to flash into existence and disappear over and over again. In the strange light that was both night and day, the green, spectral flicker of his wealth reminded him of a torch burning in his hand. So many numbers, so great an amount, useless now - there was nothing he wished to buy. There was nothing he would buy, ever again.

The mechanical dog was old too, a creature from a different age. It was a robot, and it looked it, not like the new artificial dogs, with their flesh and their blood and their soft fur - no, Astronio was metal and not so rounded edges and when he walked, the old máquina sounded like grinding and whirring and a hard catch in the left leg that no técnico had ever managed to truly fix.

Astronio had been named by Jorge's son, long, long ago. The boy had loved the stars and space and the thought of rockets and beanstalks and going to the moon someday. But there was no will to do these things, no profit for the Corporaciónes, so the poor boy's heart had been broken. He had named his son a king, El Roy, but Elroy had not become a king - in his sadness he had taken to the bottle and his fifth replacement liver had taken him with it to la tierra de los muertos. Only his pet lived on, the machine-dog that had so excited him and spoke of the future to him, the future he had so wanted to live in.

Jorge had kept the dog, it had lived an entire lifetime, if a short one, with his son, and it knew him and in its quantum brain, upgraded every year, it remembered. It remembered everything, perfectly, without flaw, in the way that men do not. Men recreate their memories each time they recall them, until the recreation is utterly different than fact, and without correction, all memories become lies in the end - Astronio kept Jorge's memories true for him, and constantly chided and scolded him, a thing he needed ever more as greater years had been gifted to him.

Wealth buys many things, among them the anagathicos, the drugs and genetic snippets of code that lengthened any life that could afford it. Replacement organs grown in vats, new lungs and heart and intestine and bone too. Jorge was a Ship Of Theseus - he called himself the same man, but every part had been replaced so many times that he sometimes wondered what of him truly was the original. The old paradox was silly, of course, a pastime for foolish philosophers. A man was what he said himself to be, and was always more than the sum of his parts.

Jorge missed his wife. She had lived as long as he, but she had gone with them, with the ponis mágicos. She had begged him to go with her, to have the transformación, the conversión, but he would not, and he would not accompany her to the Bureau, or see her off on the boat. Juana. He missed her, he had loved her, but he could not go. He could not see her that way, as an alien, as an extranjera leaving to the other world. His daughter, too, Yudí. They had gone together to be ponies, to be aliens and no longer humans, and he could not join them.

There were things a man would do, could do, and there were things no man should do.

"Hey, dog!" Jorge seldom called the creature by its name, though it was not out of disrespect. In his mind, Jorge felt that constantly calling the machine a dog somehow made it more so. "Remember the time the maid, she spilled the soup all over the table because she was so clumsy as a pony? Ha ha!" Their maid, who had been with them for so long, had been converted first. She had wanted to, and Juana had thought it a good idea, so that they could see for themselves what the process did, and what it meant. When she had returned, she had become an earthpony, the ones without horns or wings, with a coat and mane the color of red coral, and eyes like sapphires. She had renamed herself 'Rosey', after the color of her body and the roses she had grown in the Bureau, with magic, in less time than it took to make tea.

"R-r-r-aht did not happen. R-r-r-information is in-inaccurate, R-r-rorge."

The speech center of the machine dog was failing again, another thing the técnicos had never managed to properly fix. So much money they took, but the things they could not fix, the leg, the voice. "What do you mean, dog? I remember that as clearly as I remember my wife's face!" He said the words bravely, he always did, but the robot dog was infallible, or nearly so. His leg and his voice may have never been right, but the creature's memory was espléndido.

The metal dog tilted its boxy, plastic and chrome head and stared at Jorge with black camera eyes. "'R-r-r-ros Días Aún Para Venir', episode two-hundred-seventeen, R-r-r-rou are R-r-r-remembering the story where the ponified daughter was made fun of until she proved her worth by R-r-r-rescuing the father. Memory transsfeR-r-r-rence, Jorge."

Jorge hung his head. He had remembered it so clearly. He was sure it was not the holoprogram, but real life. Rosey had spilled the soup all over the table, and that was what had first made Jorge angry with the conversions. The ponies were clumsy, not like men. "Are you certain dog? I was so sure... I tell you this happened to us!"

"R-r-r-rit did not happen, R-r-rorge. I was present at the moment in question. Family membeR-r-r-s also present were: Jorge, Juana, Yudí, R-r-r-rosey. Time 8:22 PM, Thursday the seventh of March. Family was R-r-r-eating dinner, watching program 'R-r-r-ros Días Aún Para Venir', episode two-hundred-seventeen. Jorge R-r-r-remarked on how he was impressed that R-r-r-rosey never dropped anything despite also being a pony like the daughteR-r-r-r on the show. Rosey responded that she was natuR-r-r-rally gifted with balance now. Juana remarked that she..."

Jorge cut the dog off. It tended to ramble. It was pointless, to compete with a machine, with a living camera that caught every moment and never, ever forgot. It was just disconcerting. A man was his memories, was he not? But if even these could not be trusted, then what of the man?

The beer was cold in his mouth, which was good because the night was warm. It was difficult to think of it as night, because it was also day. Jorge raised his self-refrigerating can to the sky, and the ocean... and to the Barrier.

The ocean was gray and strangely quiet, for there was increasingly less of it for waves to form within. Behind and above Jorge was the dark of night, with a few stars not drowned by the golden sunrise beyond the sea. Ahead of him, beyond the beach, beyond the sea, was the impossible arch, the great curve that was the onrushing Barrier. It was the other world, in there, where Juana and Yudí lived now, walking on hooves with Rosey no doubt still attending them. It would be upon him soon. Jorge asked his dog for the time. Barely two hours left to go. Two hours until the strange universe rolled up the beach and over him, over the lawn chair, over the case of beer, over the dog. Two hours for a man and his best friend to live, and to die, together, and not alone.

Before the ponies, before the Austerity War and the Worldgovernment, Jorge had worked at Espacios' NanoEngranaje, a corporation before all the corporations merged and became the government of the entire planet. Espacios' NanoEngranaje made gears and tiny components so small that a stray breath could send billions of them to every corner of the room, or worse, far worse, into every lung. Jorge worked in a chair set into a big black ball that rose from the floor on a dais. Above the ball were countless wires and cables, and the inside of the ball was one great holoscreen.

Jorge was made telepresent into the world of the microscopic, where he operated factories no larger than a speck of dust making machine parts that were dwarfed by bacteria. He was a Digital Index Operator, and with his mind he moved countless graspers and cutters and welders and movers to make sure the tiny factories did their jobs without error. Sometimes, he would play in the tiny world, making sculptures of the parts that failed - statues of his family, of places he knew, of bridges and buildings, all so small that ten thousand of them could sit comfortably on the gaster of an ant.

Mr. Espacios, the CEO, appriciated him, and life was good. He made money upon money, investing in the economy of the small machines, and he was able to provide well for his family. They lived in the exclusive Cieloplataforma Apartamento in the pyramid-shaped New Aztlan Mircroarcology in Palos Verdes, and in those times his son was still a boy, and alive, and dreamed of space and the future.

"I want to be the first boy on Mars! I want to build a colony!" Elroy had pushed the comforter of his bed to form a rough cave, the folds of thick cloth supporting their weight enough for him to set up a miniature mars colony inside an underground cavern of his imagination. There his toys conquered the red planet, the astronaut toys, the space ships from countless programs, the rubbery alien monsters that the boy claimed were friendly Martians.

"And what will you do in this colony, then?" Jorge, like all fathers through all time momentarily had found a second childhood through the eyes of his son.

"Well..." The boy was a thoughtful one, and well read, perhaps overly so, but he was happy, and that made Jorge happy. "First we set up the oxygen converters. You gotta have oxygen!"

"So where does this oxygen come from?" His boy, playing with toys, worrying about such advanced concerns! Jorge felt proud.

"From the ice! There's ice on Mars, papa! Under the sand, so much ice! Because of the oceans!" Elroy was excited, as boys get, at the thoughts of wonder that fill their heads. "Mars used to have big oceans, long, long ago. They all froze and so we get these guys..." Elroy moved some tiny plastic astronauts to a place where the white sheet could be seen through the folds of comforter, doubtless a sheet of ancient ice in the mind of the boy. "... and get them to start turning the ice into water. Then we take the water and put it here..." Elroy moved his toothbrush case into place, presumably as a tank, or as some machine of his imagination, "...and it gets turned into air! Now we have all the air everyone needs! So the cave has air, now, and everybody can take off their helmets and bounce around!" Elroy was now moving the little astronauts in long arcs, as if the Martian cave was one big funhouse with a trampoline floor. "Wheee! Wheee! See? Because the gravity is less. There is less gravity so the guys can jump good!"

Jorge laughed. Oh, his boy was so happy then. He wanted to believe too, what the politicians said, that they would make programs to go to space, to go to Mars. They always said that. But he wanted it to be true, for his boy.

"We should have gone to Mars. We should have gone." Jorge took the last mouthful of his beer and began fumbling for another to open. It was his plan to be well and truly augmented by the time the Barrier hit. He knew it would not hurt, but the beer was not for pain. Even the strongest man can sometimes need for the help of liquid courage.

"Hey, dog! We should have gone to Mars! You hear that dog? We should have gone!"

The plastic and chrome canine studied Jorge with his electric eyes, his quantum chips struggling to determine a correct response, or if a response had been required at all. The dog knew it had been addressed, that the man designated Owner: Jorge was providing input, and that the input had been directed toward the dog alone, but the input was not a command nor was it a question. Briefly, the dog considered whether there had been an implied question as it re-parsed the sentences, but quickly determined that the content was an imperative declarative statement. Here the dog's quantum mind hovered for milliseconds, suspended between two equal options - saying nothing or making a Pleasing Interjection Of Camaraderie and Implicit Agreement. The tiebreaker was a directive from the Mood Assessment subsystem, which suggested that in times of stress, where drinking was involved, Camaraderie was the optimal response.

"R-r-r-rhats right, Jorge!"

The mechanical dog registered pressure along it's dorsal surfaces, it was being petted. "Good dog. You're a good dog."

Astronio initiated tail wagging, the artificial muscle cables moving the silver tail like a tiny flag. This seemed to please Owner: Jorge and counted as a successful Nonvocal Communicative Response. The dog's success metrics became further weighted with the appropriateness of this behavior. They were already at maximum, but Astronio still registered the function.

The Barrier loomed, it actually looked closer now, larger in the sky, taking up more of the sky, blocking out the night. The yellow morning in Equestria painted the beach in golden shades, and made Jorge's beer can gleam. He held his fresh beer up to the barrier, and that is when he noticed the spots.

Jorge's arm looked like a spoiling banana, black patches, streaks and spots speckled across it. He checked his other limbs, they too showed splashes of darkness, as though he had been lightly spattered with ink. It was the Mage Plague, the burning of thaumatic radiation, and he had been expecting it.

Astronio had spent an entire day interfaced with the Worldgov Bureau Mainframe Complex, working out an hour-by-hour detailed map of the strangely fractal way the magical energies pooled and overlapped and cancelled each other. That was how Jorge and his dog could be on Redondo Beach at all, on the last day, in the last hours, before Equestria arrived. Astronio had found the exact spot, the exact place on all the beach where there was a gap in the thaumatic field, a place where the energies cancelled each other right up until the Barrier wall itself hit. A safe spot, a relatively safe spot. If Jorge were to stand up and walk but two meters in any direction now, his skin would blacken instantly, and he would fall to the ground already dead. Where a human could still live, so could the quantum brain of an artificial intelligence. The mechanical dog knew to remain in place and to not wander.

It was at the quantum level that magic killed. It was why neurons perished first. The old scientist Roger Penrose had been right - the human brain was a quantum computer, performing simultaneous Q-bit calculations that were the basis of thought and imagination and awareness, all inside the microtubules deep within all living cells. But the microtubules of neurons were special, and the most vulnerable. Where magic lived, the dice that Einstein had disbelieved in no longer rolled normally, and when this occurred, the signals inside cells faded, and neurons died instantly.

And no biological creature on the earth had more quantum computing power than the primates, and of the primates, chief of all was Man.

To die of magic was painless. The nerves went first, and with them all signal of pain. The spots appeared without warning, at most there would be a slight tingle or itch, and in the elderly, often not even that. Jorge was very, very elderly, though he did not particularly look it, and he felt not even a tingle.

But he did see the colors brighten, and he heard a faint musical sound that was not there. He knew well what that meant. He had researched it all very thoroughly. There could be no more gentle a death than the Plague of Magic, save that which might come in sleep.

That pony princess - she was a wily one. She must know that there would be those that would refuse, no matter what, those that would turn their back on her offer of sanctuary, those who would find the price too high. She came to Earth in compassion, this was what She always said. In the end, there would be no place left to run, and the Earth would be gone, but even then She had made it merciful. Always so terrifyingly merciful. An end without even the hint of pain, an end of bright color and soft music and the giddy feeling of being alright. Oh, but she was minucioso y atento. Even the tiniest details accounted for. A being that could raise the very sun? Of course she would account for everything. Jorge raised his speckled arm in a salute to her. A wily princess. As all rulers must be.

Encarnita, the maid, she had just returned. The family had needed to look after themselves for the fourteen days she had been away at the Bureau. Juana and Yudí had arranged for her return, Encarnita was part of the familia and she had done this also for them. So that they could see, and judge for themselves this 'gift' of the pony princesses. So they could see what it truly meant, by seeing it happen to someone they knew.

In the maids quarters, they now had bales of new hay, and oats and timothy and more. Yudí had always imagined having been born when earthly horses still could be had, so she had treated the return of the maid like the fulfillment of her wish for a pet. A pony was coming, and now the many rooms of the Jeitson apartment had become a tiny ranchero. Yudí had tied colorful ribbons on the bales, and put the Equestrian flag on the wall for Encarnita. It was understood that to become pony was to change citizenship as much as body, that the two were one and the same. Encarnita was legally an ambassador now, no longer human, she no longer was seen as a citizen under the Worldgovernment, but as a subject of Equestria. It was chilling to note that her green card would last beyond the Earth, itself.

When the door opened, they were all there, Juana and Yudí and Jorge and Astronio. Everyone felt that Astronio carried the boy in spirit, where his dog was, so was he. They were all there to welcome home Encarnita.

She trotted in with eyes like blue gemstones and her body and mane and tail the color of sunset, pinkish red, the color of coral. She was shy, at first, worried about what they would think, but Yudí had gotten down on her knees and embraced her and held her tight, and Juana had cried with how great the change was, and then at how pretty her hair had become and how slim and young she looked now.

Only Jorge had not been pleased, though he had tried to be, for the sake of the others. He did not see Encarnita in this strange beast, even though it talked with her thoughts, and knew all the family secrets, and claimed itself to be the person he had known. Encarnita had been a woman, and this was a mare, and that was not the same to Jorge whatever was said, and he knew that without any doubt he would prefer to die a man, than to become that which he was not.

Encarnita had taken a new name, as was the custom of the transformed in their new lives. In her classes at the Bureau, she had used the magic of the earthponies to raise flowers from the ground, and of course both Juana and Yudí wanted to see. There was a plant that the neighbor downstairs could never grow well, and it was sent for, and brought, along with the neighbor and Encarnita demonstrated why she had named herself Rosie Greenbriar - the plant grew suddenly, like a willful thing, green shoots and branches stretching out like verdant fingers as they watched, mouths open. The blossoms opened like little fireworks, pop, pop, pop, and this set all the women to clapping and Rosie swishing her long silken tail while grinning as though she had won the lotería.

No one could imagine how she could still perform her duties, and Yudí wanted to help her make dinner for fear that Rosie would be made to leave, and then there would be no magical pony maid, and life would feel empty then. But Rosie would have none of it, and shooed everyone from the kitchen, but all came back, even Jorge had, to spy on how a creature without hands or thumbs could make the evening meal.

Somehow Rosie had slipped on plastic coverings for her hooves and a cap for her mane, and an apron besides, and she balanced plates and bowls on her head and on her back with impossible grace. Yudí thought it was like a circus show from the old days, and Juana looked on in utter astonishment, for she had thought such things impossible. Rosie had stirred with a spoon in her teeth, and worked dough with her hooves and held a knife in her mouth chopping nearly as fast as she had with fingers. And when a thing was prepared, pony Rosie would flip the ingredients with whatever tool was at mouth into a bowl or a plate as though it were nothing.

Knowing she was being watched - for she could hardly miss it with all the gasps and talk and the door propped open - she talked about her time at the Bureau, and how she had been transformed, and how good the food was there, and how much she had missed everyone. She also spoke of Equestria, and of its beauty and how easy and good the life was there, and how everypony lived in harmony with no poverty or crime or sorrow.

When it came time to serve, she brought their plates on a tray on her back, and placed them without spilling, and it was amazing to watch. It was a gift she had said, and that of all ponies the earthponies were the best at it, never dropping anything if their attention was keen. With the perfect balance of a thousand trained acrobats and jugglers, who needed hands or fingers? To this, there could be no argument, because the evidence was the best show any had seen in their lives, and it was only the first dinner since her coming home.

By the end of the evening, Jorge knew that his family had been bewitched, the joy of running free and fast, of perhaps flying in the sky like birds or doing magic, the granting of peace and health and long life and harmony, all of it was too tempting, too good - and Equestria was coming. That no one could deny. It was coming and it could not be stopped and there was only early death for any who would not take the princess's gift.

Hold a carrot with one hand, but spank the burro with the other, Jorge's grandfather had told him. This was what the princess had done. A wily one the pony princess. Too ingeniosa for the likes of Man.

"R-r-r-rourty-rhree minutes and R-r-r-rifty-one seconds left, Jorge!"

Jorge was on his fourth beer now, he had been sipping, slowly, because he was not trying to get drunk. He liked beer, it was bad for his implants and replaced parts, and he had been forced to give it up for a long time. He was unsure how it would affect him now, and he wanted to take no chances. There was something he wanted to say. Something he needed to say, right to the princess's face, or as close as he could come.

There was a rumor, perhaps it was just a story, that the Barrier itself was somehow part of the pony princess, Celestia, herself. Or that it was connected to her somehow, or that she had made it, and it was hers. There was the belief among some that any person, human or pony, that could stand right near the wall of the great bubble, that Celestia could hear what they said. Even a whisper would be sent to her, close to the Barrier.

Jorge did not know if this was true. It might just be a wild tale, made up for the same reason that ghost stories were, to give a man the feeling that there was something more, that his voice might matter, that the universe was more than it seemed.

He had to pee, now, but he could not leave the area of the lawn chair. Jorge's arms were covered now, in dark splotches. He was amazed to find that some of them itched a little bit. He dared not scratch them, he knew what the black flesh meant, it was dead skin, and he did not want to have it peel like soft fruit from him. The colors of the sunrise beyond the Barrier were very bright now, as was the honeyed light that poured across the beach.

Jorge was not surprised to find that every part of him was covered in the spots, he had expected this too, but he was somehow disappointed. He had hoped that his little torero might have been somehow immune. His urine seemed dark. When he had finished, and straightened himself, he looked around, glad to see that he was alone. He did not want to talk to any ponies now - it could not be other men, not now, not in this place - for they would fill his time with efforts to save him, to change him, to convince him to change. Jorge patted the pistolete with but one bullet in his pocket. He intended no harm to any pony, but if they tried to change him against his will, he would not hesitate to prevent their success by eliminating the target of their concern.

"R-r-r-rorge! R-r-r-rorge!" The mechanical dog seemed almost plaintive.

"What is it my old friend? What has you upset?" Jorge carefully reclined again on the lawn chair, and took a sip from his beer.

"R-r-r-y memory is corR-r-r-rupted. Twenty percent degR-r-r-redation in tertiary quantum matrix. I cannot R-r-r-recover some files. Please advise. Please advise. Please..."

Jorge held his spotted hand around the dog's metal muzzle. It fell silent. "It is happening to you, as we talked, Astronio. Just as it is happening to me. Look, look at my hand my friend, at my arm. Just as this is happening to me, so it is happening to you, but you do not have skin. But you have quantum chips in you, and they die too, just as my flesh. We are in this together, you and I. We face fate beside each other as great men - and dogs - do."

The mechanical dog whirred and clicked for a bit as it wriggled, then it became quiet. "I R-r-r-remember. Conversation, yesterday, two-thiR-r-r-rty PM, I asked about what would happen. You R-r-r-replied..."

"Yes, yes, now you remember. Good. You must expect this to happen. It will happen more and more until the end. Try to be brave, my good dog. Remember, we stand together, here, together at the end, friends. Friends to the end." Jorge saluted the loyal machine with a grand wave of his beer. Some sloshed out and hit the machine animal. "Sorry, my friend. No - on second thought, that is your baptism! Baptized in beer! Ha ha ha!" Astronio was watertight, beer would not hurt the dog who could be immersed entirely, and washed easily for convenience.

"R-r-r-rorge?" The voice of the machine dog seemed strange. It was not overexcited or quiet, but strangely strained.

"Yes, dog?"

"R-r-r-rhat will R-r-r-rappen when we die?" The angular dog of plastic and silver stared at Jorge. It was the last question Jorge could imagine the machine would say. He understood that the artificial intelligences operated on the same principles as the human brain did, that they used similar mechanisms to achieve some kind of awareness that was not fully understood even now. But this was the first time the dog had ever described its own cessation of function as dying.

Juana had made a desperate attempt to get Jorge to change his mind and to go to the Bureau with her and their daughter. She had managed to get a unicorn medic to visit, from the Bureau, to try to convince her husband. The unicorn was a native, from the other world, and its name translated into English was Remedy Anodyne.

Remedy had become a medical unicorn after an adventure into a dangerous forest in her youth. There had been a fall, after being chased by a wild creature. Her brother had broken a leg, and she had tried to help. She had found herself pushing her unicorn power into her brother's leg, seeing the broken bone through the skin, and the damage to the tissues around it, and she had set the bone using that power that unicorns have to move things. But then, in the curious trance she found herself in because of her fear and desperation, she had somehow unleashed a power she did not understand and the bone had unbroken and become like new.

After the experience, Remedy had gained the strange mark on her flank that the ponies do when they have found their purpose in life, and thereafter dedicated herself to the noble cause of healing.

"Mister Jeitson, your wife has begged me to show you something that may help you to understand what ponification truly means. I am well trained and capable of complying, but I am concerned about the ethics of the matter. She desires that I show you what I see, as a unicorn with my abilities. I can do this, but I cannot do it long, and I cannot do it more than once. As you must know, magic is dangerous to earthly life, and especially so to human beings. The type of magic I must use is a form of mind magic, and it is generally disallowed except in emergencies. But your wife has convinced me of your intentions, and... well... I am committed to preserving life."

The unicorn mare seemed uneasy, but Juana had clearly worked her over. Juana was not a woman to be easily refused, not even by the strongest. "Mister Jeitson, only with your complete permission, I have the power to let you perceive the world as I do when I use my abilities to heal. Your wife believes that this is the only way to convince you."

Jorge had almost laughed. There was nothing he could be shown that would change his mind, he would not set foot even near the Bureau, and he would not accompany his wife even to see her off. He had made his position clear, but if it would grant her some small comfort, he could comply with this. To tell the truth, he was interested - to see through the eyes of magic! That was something, and he had lived a long time eager for interesting things.

"Do your worst, doctor unicorn, I give my willingness to this thing, whatever it is. But you must understand it will not change my mind, so that you do not get your hopes up, or my Juana's." Juana had smiled at this, for she was certain of very much the opposite. "What must I do?"

Juana nodded to Yudí, who left the apartment to the hallway, returning with two cages. In one cage was an Earthly mutie-rat. The rat was only barely altered, having two tails but being otherwise normal as rats go. It was a simple creature, and it sat in the cage looking up at the humans and the unicorn, before returning to the pile of sunflower seeds it had been given.

The second cage contained an Equestrian bunny - there was no other name for the thing. It resembled Earthly creatures only roughly, as did the ponies themselves - it was a brilliant white, and sat upright within its cage, peering intently at everything with eyes filled with intelligence far beyond any rabbit that had ever hopped upon terrestrial soil. The creature moved with purpose, and seemed disdainful and aloof. Jorge would not have been even a little surprised to have the bunny suddenly speak to him in English or Spanish.

"Mister Jeitson, sit quietly. I will apply my magic to your head, to the back and a little to the front, in what is called your visual cortex, and in the parts of your brain that process visual information. I can only do this for a short time, and I only dare to do it once, so you must pay attention to what I point out, and listen carefully so that you may understand what I am showing you. Do you understand, Mister Jeitson?" The unicorn seemed very ernest, her ears were low to her skull, almost in worry.

"Call me Jorge, unicorn doctor. I am ready, and I will pay attention. I see this as a rare opportunity that I would not miss for all the world. Please, show me wonders." Jorge sat back, his attention fixed on the Equestrian animal. He had seen the ponies before, but never had he seen any other animal from the strange world on the planet's doorstep.

"Very well, Jorge. Let's begin, shall we?" The unicorn medic seemed more relaxed now, less concerned now that he had given his consent and had shown real interest in the procedure.

"I am sending my field into your brain, now... Jorge. You may feel a slight tingle or hear soft sounds, that is normal."

Jorge felt a strange feeling at the back of his head, like the feeling of someone staring at him, only much more intense. He did hear soft, musical sounds, like little bells far away, and the colors of the floor and the room and the animals seemed somehow more intense.

Then it hit, like an electrical shock that moved through his very self, and he saw.

The Equestrian bunny was glowing, inside, like it had a large LED inside it. As he stared in astonishment, Jorge realized that the glow was not uniform, it was brighter in the head and somewhere in the middle of the animal. But most amazing of all were the filaments, like threads or webs of light buzzing and pulsing and moving within the creature and along every part of it. The patterns illuminated the internal organs, and Jorge could see through the creature in some direction he could not point.

Covering the whole of the creature was a layer that matched every contour of it, a thin, glasslike, almost blue shell, as though the bunny had another, translucent bunny superimposed upon it, that moved as it moved and sat as it sat.

"That is life, Jorge, that is the stuff of magic itself. In your language, you are seeing the bunny's soul. What you are looking at is the shadow of the bunny in dimensions you do not know of, a space that is other than either your universe or mine. It is an extropic place where things never end, and never vanish, and all information, however small, is retained. The best I can translate our term for it would be... um... Ideal Space. No, that is not quite right. I don't have a good way to..."

Jorge waved his hand, flapping it so as not to move too much and break whatever link made this possible. "You need not explain further. I understand completely, I assure you."

The unicorn nodded. "Now, look at the Earthly creature, the 'mutie rat', Jorge."

Jorge turned his attention to the little rat with two tails in the second cage. It sat there nibbling seeds. "What happened? Is the show over?" Jorge was gravely disappointed and wanted to see the marvelous patterns and spectral sights once more.

"No, Jorge, compare the two. Go ahead."

Jorge looked, slowly, so as not to break the strange magic, from the bunny to the rat. The bunny was a marvel of glowing forces and energies moving and swirling but the rat was somehow empty. Jorge noticed that everything looked dark, dim, as though the room had been cast into shadow, except for the bunny, which was like a lamp in that darkness.

But there was a brighter light still, and Jorge slowly turned his head to see it and it was bright, bright beyond measure. It was the unicorn doctor, Remedy. She was a blinding mass of rippling colors and nets of energy, and she too had a glowing shadow of not unlike blue that sat as she sat. From her horn, which was almost too bright to look upon, streamers and ribbons of light twisted and writhed as they passed from her into Jorge's own head. He was seeing magic, he was seeing the magic of these creatures, of these ponies, in the way that they, or at least this trained unicorn, saw them.

Jorge looked at his wife, Juana, to tell her of the miracle of these marvelous things, but she was standing in the dark, and she was dark too, like the rat in the cage. Dark and hollow, nothing moved within her, and no light shone. Jorge looked down at himself, sitting on the floor, at his hands, at his legs - dark, empty, hollow.

Astronio was there too, and he was no different. All was dark and hollow, except for the unicorn and the bunny and... Jorge looked up, suddenly, to the window. Light, supernal light, came from beyond the walls. As he looked with all of his attention in the direction of the new light, the walls of the apartment began to become transparent, and he could see a great sphere, half in the Earth and half above, far out beyond the sea. It pushed against the dark emptiness, a lamp in the strange, dim twilight.

Jorge's special vision suddenly ended. The power was gone. His head ached now, like a migraña, and the light seemed too bright and he felt ill, like he might throw up.

"I'm very sorry, Jorge. The magic is... it is toxic to your brain, and... do you have any of your human medicines for headache to give him?" Remedy had turned to Juana and Yudí. "He will likely feel unwell for a few days. Make sure he gets enough rest, and I would recommend fruit and vegetable juices, and tea, as much as he will tolerate."

Jorge was crying now, and Juana fell to her knees to comfort him as Yudí went to the cabinet with the medicines.

"Do you see, my love, my dearest love? I do not want to lose you. You are my heart, my life, how can you do this thing you plan? How can you plan to die, now that you know that in death there is nothing noble? Please, please, please come with your family to the Bureau. Live with me, be my powerful stallion!"

Jorge had pulled himself loose, and gone to his study, twice shaking Juana from his arm as she tried to hold him. He slammed and locked the door, and would not come out. Juana and Yudí both pounded on the door, and yelled and cried, but still he would not come out. A man has his pride.

Soon, the tiny pills were pushed under the door for him, and he was grateful for them, for his head hurt terribly.

When he finally did leave the study, the apartment was empty, save for the dog, and a note. His wife and daughter had gone to the Bureau with the unicorn, and he could join them at any time. But after fourteen days, they would go by boat to Equestria, and if he did not meet them, it would be unlikely they would ever meet again.

Twice, he had almost gone, once after waking from a terrible nightmare, another time when the complete meaning of what he had seen fully grew within him and his heart was crushed in terror. But a man has his pride and a man has his courage, and if a man gives in to terror, then he is not a man, any more than if he breaks his intention.

"R-r-r-ren rinutes, twenty-two seconds, Jorge." The dog had brought him back to the present. His arm felt wet. Briefly Jorge wondered if he had spilled his fifth beer during his reverie. His arm was wet with a yellowish but clear liquid, seeping from the blackened, dead flesh that striped and painted large areas of his limbs. He felt the dampness everywhere now, and with it a terrible weakness. It was hard to concentrate, and he felt like he wanted to sleep. The strange, musical sound was everywhere now, but it did not come from his ears.

"Damage to R-r-r-remory and simulation of consciousness at cR-r-r-ritical levels, Jorge. Functions aR-r-r-re failing, R-r-r-rorge. I am dying. Please R-r-r-elp me. I am dying. Please. Please. R-r-r-rorge. Please, Owner: Jorge."

The dog was shaking now, internal motor systems confused by erroneous signals competing for processing dominance.

"H... How much time, now? Dog?" Jorge realized he had dozed off, or something like that, and his beer had fallen from his grasp to spill on the golden sand.

"R-r-r-ree R-r-r-rinutes, R-r-r-rorge, N seconds, N seconds, N seconds, Threeeeee.... R-r-r-reeeee...." Astronio had stopped shaking, his voice increasingly failing.

It was time. Jorge wondered if he still could do it. He felt so tired, so peaceful. The music sang to him inside his head. Angels and birds lived in his skull now. En la tierra de los muertos, los pájaros hacen sus nidos en los cráneos. No, no... he had to do what he had planned. He had to face her, he had to face her like a man.

Jorge struggled to lift himself from the lawn chair. His efforts left strips of his dead skin behind on the arms of the chair, they looked like burned strips of steak.

He fought to his feet and stood as tall as he could, which was not as tall and straight as he wished. It was hard to think. It was hard to understand anymore. It felt so peaceful, everything was soft and warm, and there was no pain. It was time to sleep. But then Jorge remembered the dark, and what the unicorn had shown him. The fear clutched his heart and it made him more alert.

The Barrier, oh, the Barrier, it filled the world, it filled the senses - nothing could be that large, nothing could be that vast. The wind had picked up, Jorge hadn't noticed when, but he felt it now, howling in his ears. He could see the base of the vast golden wall of morning that approached him now, a rushing wall of light as big as the world, taking the sea away as it came. There was no time left. The wall would be upon him in but a moment now, a moment in which to do what he had to do, to say what he had come to say.

"CELESTIA!" Jorge shouted into the onrushing wind, toward the wall of light and color and music.

"CELESTIA! HEAR ME! I AM JORGE! I AM A MAN AND I LIVED UPON THE EARTH!" Jorge's vision had become blurred and his legs were beginning to shake, his internal motor systems confused by erroneous signals from his failing brain. "I am a... man... and... and... I... I lived... I lived..."

Jorge Jeitson fell to his knees just as the Barrier swept up the beach from the last of the ocean that had been taken into it.

"I... lived..."

And then the wall of light hit, and everything was silver, and the silver shrank to a point, and then the point vanished.

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