P. E. R.
Michelson and Morely
The Speed Of Right
The man was in his late twenties, probably around twenty-seven or twenty-eight. He wore the style of clothing common to the Red-Level Twopers, the lowest level of the two-percent of the world that were employed. He stumbled out into the street, his head in his hands, moaning softly.
"My... job... I've lost my goddamn job... what now? What am I going to do? I can't pay for my sleeping locker... I'll lose my stuff, what little of it there is..." He was trying not to cry, but he was clearly aware what his future held. Within a day or two, he would be out on the street, a failed Twoper, unwelcome in the workzones, and even more unwelcome in the world-spanning favelas, where he would be seen as one of the rich, those that look down on the slum-dwellers and spit from their seats on the maglevs. It was over. It was all over.
No. Wait. The advertisement he had seen on his hyperlink, on that tiny one-inch holoscreen the other night, the Permitted Political Dissent, the kind the Ministry of Propaganda and Infotainment likes to allow occasionally so it doesn't seem like all media was totally controlled... what was it? Oh... yeah. Yeah! Would it... could it even work? Did such an organization really exist? Were they truly... everywhere?
He had nothing to lose, now. He didn't even know where a Bureau was, and in any case he had no credits to ride the maglev to get to one. Even trying to cross the city would likely be suicide once it was noticed that he was a twoper on the skids. He was willing to try anything.
The man walked out, as the advertisement had said, to the middle of the intersection, right at the center, the old, broken streets making a gigantic 'X' which he was at the very center of. He stood as tall as he could in his grief, fear and shame, and yelled in a loud, clear voice "CRUSADE ME!!!"
The sound of his call echoed down the lonely, decrepit streets. For a while nothing happened as the last of his voice repeated into the distance of the abandoned part of the city in which he stood. Then came the sound of... hooves, many, many hooves, clopping and clipping on the roadway, and noise made him suddenly realize what he had done and he began to nervously step backwards, his body preparing itself to run when...
The flasks and water-balloons and fragile plastic eggs rained down upon him smashing and breaking as they impacted his chest, his head, his arms, and twice, painfully, in his groin. He was soaked in purple goo, drenched in sparkling serum, bukkaked in oozing grape slime. Instantly his limbs began to swell, even as his flesh turned white as dough. His last thought before the anesthetic mercifully overwhelmed him was of his 'mommy', but it was far too late for mommies now.
Fifteen minutes later, from a pile of ripped and torn Red-Level Twoper clothing rose a sleepy-eyed stallion. He was lime-green with purple eyes and an olive mane and tail. The newfoal stallion blinked and yawned... and then smiled. He'd had the most incredible, beautiful dream. He suddenly realized he felt wonderful! That ache in his knee was gone, the tumors on his arm were gone... his front tooth was back... he was in perfect health! He felt happy and he was in perfect health!
The stallion tried to get up, but his legs, all four of them now, were new to him. He noticed, with some amusement, that he had hooves. More amusing was his tail, which he swished back and forth, hypnotized by the simple ability. Half a dozen ponies approached him now, from where they had been waiting, standing vigil over his transformation. It was likely they had cut his clothing off of him, so that it would not strangle him as he changed.
A dark blue stallion gazed down at him with friendly eyes. "Colt Creamello, Team Pauldron, Squamous City P.E.R. - Welcome to the Herd!"
Barnsour clopped up to the podium, a fierce look on his muzzle. He was a large earthpony, big of muscle and thick of limb. He always looked fierce, and his unshorn fetlocks suggested cave-pony ancestry, and only added to his aura of power, danger, and absolute command. He was Baron Buck Barnsour, a Copper Knight and the Local Authority for the Squamous City, New Mexico branch of the PER.
it was somewhat unfortunate, then, that his coat was a truly shocking hot pink, a color that was not in the least graced by a mane and tail of fluorescent yellow and ...puce. "ALRIGHT, SETTLE DOWN PONIES!" Whatever his coloration, his size and vocal volume was not to be argued with and not a single one of the twenty-five ponies and two humans in the room doubted his preeminence.
"First off - what I know you've all been waiting for - this weeks achievements." Barnsour took the mouth-written sheet from his secretary and placed it on the podium and squinted at it. "First up, Team Pauldron! Looking good, ponies... looking good... total of seventy-five converted this week, not as good as last week, but still, a decent showing. Let's hear it for Team Pauldron!"
The room filled with the sound of hooves pounding on the floor. Team Pauldron were the stars of the Squamous City PER. They always had the best scores of anypony.
Barnsour cleared his muscular throat. "Ahem! Well done... well done. Alrighty, then, next up, Team Vambrace! This week, a new high, sixty-nine conversions! Better watch out, Pauldron... these ponies are creeping up on your tails!"
More stomping followed as several members of Team Vambrace took bows or just grinned. "Yes, yes... good showing all around. Now!" Barnsour looked for his secretary, a young filly with soft violet curls for her mane and tail "Let's get down to business!"
"Your Baron... ish... ness? YOO-HOO!!! Sir Barnsour, Sir?" It was a rather tall, thin human with long, silvery-blond hair. He wore a bright pink tank-top and pony-patterned Khaki pants. "What about us? Fifth Column Infiltrators? Ponies-to-be, your invaluable fists to fight the humanist resistance?"
Baron Barnsour blinked, as if confused. "Oh... oh, yes. You. Ahem." He looked back at the scribed sheet once more, squinting more intensely. The sound of some ponies trying to hide their grins, a hoof to the ribs, could be heard in the silence. "Let's see now... ah, indeed. Team Rumpguard."
Grins became snide snickers in the back. Somepony else got chucked in the ribs.
'Ginger' Michelson and 'Nutmeg' Morely had been recruited three months previously. They had each been accosted on the street, in different parts of Squamous, and given the special Fifth Column recruitment spiel instead of the usual PER indoctrination. Barnsour needed new infiltrators, the last had endured enough and simply doused each other while out on a mission. They couldn't take the abuse and nonsense any longer and had simply chosen to go pony right then and there. He couldn't really blame them. There was little more dreadful than to be stuck being human in an organization dedicated, essentially, to the elimination of all humans. There was certainly little dating potential in the situation.
The pair had been assigned as Rumpguard, the Armor Code for PER human operatives, and had immediately chosen proper pony names for their future selves. As PER tradition required, they had kept their human last names, until the day they earned their ponification. At least, that is how it was supposed to work. Inevitably, the Fifth Column agents broke and just ponified themselves long before their score requirement was met because... why not? Nopony who agreed with the goals and mission of the PER would willingly remain human for long. It was difficult to keep the Rumpguard packed.
Barnsour had expected Michelson and Morely to Go Pony two months ago, but they seemed to have some bizarre kind of thick-headed honor that defied understanding. In three months they had achieved exactly nothing. Not a single conversion. Zero points. It wasn't for lack of trying. Ginger seemed to be the clever one, and his schemes were, if anything, passionately earnest, if remarkably lacking in rational consideration. Barnsour had no expectation that this week would be any different, and had wanted to spare the two. Frankly, he just wished they would cheat and 'fall on their potion' or something and get it over with already.
"Yes, yes... Team Rumpguard." More snickers, whickers and whinnies. "As of this week, oh... fifteen points! Well met, you two! It appears... " The PER Baron studied the shaky mouthwriting "... that the points have been assigned... seven to Ginger and... eight to Nutmeg. First points! Well, well. Congratulations to you both. Keep up the good work!" It was about time, but Barnsour couldn't help but feel some pride that his infiltration team had finally had any success at all. Since they were showing some potential, finally, he made a mental note to cancel Operation Tie Them Down And Pour Potion In Their Yap. For now.
The hoof stomps rattled the floor, a cacophony greater than the applause for either Team Pauldron or Team Vambrace. There were open laughs in the middle of it, but neither Ginger nor Nutmeg seemed to take notice. Ginger beamed and curtsied, Nutmeg gave a terse, almost shy salute.
When the fuss had died down, Barnsour turned to the assignments for the day.
It was an Orange Level Mall, more upscale than the usual shopping space for Red-Level workers. It had three tiers and large open spaces interrupted by holodisplays and a working fountain. Orange-Level workers marched from shop to shop carrying slowly filling bags. The food court suffered the dramas of Orange-Privileged teenagers, while the archaic arcade endured the spectral embrace of the shrivelingly aged who found some strange nostalgia in computerized games that perversely required the use of... hands. These were the sort of antique arcade machines that harbored diseases that had last known vector in the Cretaceous.
"Are you SURE you have every contingency planned for this time? I'm serious here, Ginger. Last time we barely..." Nutmeg's whispers carried the particularly jagged edge of the justifiably concerned.
"Oh, my little nutty-buddy, you really should learn to trust in..." Ginger adjusted the lace-covered apron he wore over the logo-imprinted corporate jumper he wore. Naturally, it was a woman's jumper. At least he had no shadow this time.
"DON'T call me that! I hate that! I am not your little 'nutty-buddy'. The name is 'Nutmeg!' The only one with nuts here is..."
"YOU really shouldn't... Oh, look, we have our first customers!" Ginger hissed the last word, a universally acknowledged code for shut the fuck up.
"What... what the hell is this?" The blonder of the two young women gawked openly at the checker-draped table and the large banner that hung suspended between two poles. In a mall where holodisplays and glowing lightsculptures were the norm, this display was positively a joke. "Are you for, like, serious?" The less blond girl was incredulous.
"HEELLOOOOoooo!!!" Ginger's robust greeting sent the women into fits of laughter. "Welcome to the Horsie Challenge! We're going from mall to mall to find out if ordinary people like YOU can tell the difference between Horsie-Cola and new DIET Horsie! Big Credits! Big Prizes!"
"You have got to, like, be totally kidding me. You have like, no budget. I've seen better signs on glory holes in the bathroom." The blonder woman tilted her head to one side.
"No way!" The not-as-blond woman did not seem to accept her companion's reasoned statement. Less blond's rebuttal appeared to carry the perspicacious weight of sage cogitation behind it.
"Way, Charlene. The bar down in G-sector? The one with all the Yaoi boys? That one." Blonder suddenly took argumentative sente and exquisitely demonstrated the power of factual evidence upon spirited discussion.
"Like Bull. You wouldn't have the balls." Although unverified by medical examination, Charlene did seem to have a convincing and substantive counterargument in play.
"You don't know what I got, Girl, and whatever I got, you can just suck 'em." There simply is no way to defeat solid reasoning of this sort - Charlene was clearly stymied. Game, set, and match. That's all for today, we hope you enjoyed Great Intellectual Debates Of History. We now return you to your regularly scheduled...
"Why not try sucking back a nice, cold Horsie! If you can tell the difference between regular Horsie and new Diet Horsie, you could win... a brand new AIR YACHT!" Ginger positively pranced with excitement. Nutmeg cringed... there was no way they could back up such an offer.
"Shyeah, like a two-credit promotion like this could possibly ever deliver on that." The blonder woman seemed ever so slightly doubtful about the scenario Ginger had presented. "What-ever. Give me the fucking soda, pretty boy. I always stick whatever a Yaoi-boy offers into me." The woman downed the presented cup with a savage jerk of her head. "So, if I taste the other one, any chance of you letting me taste anything else you got, sweet cheeks?" Ginger looked scared as the young woman panned her gaze down from meeting his eyes to another spot below. Ginger felt like three small animals were desperately trying to burrow up into his abdomen to escape predation. He was not far wrong.
"Eeep." Ginger backed up while the blonder woman grabbed one of the cups arranged on the cloth covered counter and shoved it at her companion. "Don't blow this for me, Charlene, suck it down for the team. Like you did in the closet with Thad."
"Fuck you, Daph, you whore." While Charlene had technically not been accurate in her response, she had been not entirely misrepresented her companion either. Nevertheless, Charlene was, if anything, a team player, and proved her worth and general toughness, by immediately downing the proffered cup, slamming it into her gullet like a liquid puck into an over-painted hockey goal.
Nutmeg held her breath. Nothing happened. Nothing... happened. Ginger really had taken care of everything.
Blonder, 'Daph', leaned over the table and lasered sultry eyes into Ginger's crotch. "If you want anything else... sucked down... just let me know, Yaoi-boy." The young woman raised her eye-lasers to attack Ginger's horrified gaze. Blonder strutted off, her hindquarters performing some kind of ass-semaphore the message of which was almost certainly not child-friendly, unless one included within that the intent to actually make a child.
"Are you OK?" Nutmeg had never seen Ginger frightened, much less horrified. He was always the one with the grand schemes and no concept of danger. It was unnerving to see the PER Knight reduced to cowering revulsion.
"Fine. Two down." Ginger squeaked the words, and managed to breath, with some effort. "Fine young ladies, don't you think?" Ginger had a remarkably powerful capacity to interpret reality in kinder terms than it usually deserved, even under the most trying of times. Since they were not at the moment under threat of losing their lives or their limbs, Nutmeg decided that this talent was almost sweet. It was decidedly Pony.
"So, the time delay activation code really does work. It's amazing, Ginger. To think of what we can accomplish with potion that can be programmed to go off whenever we want. We might earn our ponification today, at this very mall!" Nutmeg felt something not entirely unlike hope for the very first time since she had joined the PER. Ginger's plans were finally working!
"Time delay?" Ginger was still in some kind of horrified shock, the kind little girls get when the 'special' uncle reveals what he's really hiding inside that suspect box in his lap.
"Yes, I've heard rumors, but I had no idea that you had managed to score some. Time delay potion. I can't believe it. You really came through this time, Ginger." Nutmeg began arranging more cups, carefully pouring out sparkling purple serum into each one.
"I don't understand. It should have worked." Ginger's fingers dived like frisky dolphins through the ocean of his long, silvery-pale locks.
"What do you mean, Gingey?" A vaguely uncomfortable feeling began to rise in Nutmeg like spoiled food just beginning to announce that the rest of the evening will not, in fact, be spent in comfort rather than hunched over a porcelain altar praying for a swift death.
"I mean, those two should be ponies now. Or at least well on their way. I just don't understand."
"Ginger pony, tell me true now, the potion was hacked to have a time delay, wasn't it?" The familiar horror was settling in, combined with a strange, uncomfortable, vaguely fecal whiff of relief - Ginger hadn't thought past the initial concept, but at least they weren't having to run for their lives.
"Time delay? Oh no. Of co-ho-ho-hourse not! That hasn't been perfected yet, silly filly." Ginger was just barely beginning to regain his usual, bouncy self. "Codepony at the dispensary told me the time delay thing just wasn't happening, so he offered me 'Delay Potion' instead. If I understood correctly, this was supposed to be paralytic, freeze them up in place for a few minutes. Then we just stack them up like cordwood under the table and let the change happen! That's what the banner is for, see? I kick this lever, and the banner falls over, hiding everything from the security cameras. The we just raise it back up, and two new ponies walk away, nopony the wiser!"
"Don't you think that security might catch on after the second or third time that the banner collapses and ponies start wandering the mall?" Nutmeg was becoming furious. Now things were feeling familiar. "I thought you promised you had every angle worked out on this one!" Nutmeg was rapidly beginning to come to the conclusion that the only angle in this was ninety degrees, and described the shape of her head for going along with this in the first place.
"Oh, Nutmeg, I truly think you underestimate just how boring staring at sections of a mall all day really is. The mind wanders, thoughts drift away to thoughts of strong backs, and tender hooves..."
"The security system isn't staffed with humans, Ginger. It's all AI's now, all machine intelligences. That's their entire existence, staring at the mall. That's all they have to do with their time!" Thank Celestia the hacked potion had failed. At least they could leave intact, even if the entire operation was a failure.
"That's just even MORE boring, Nutmeg! Those poor artificial intelligences must be soooo miserable. I'm sure they're playing cards or something just to cope!"
"They don't have bodies, Ginger, they can't play cards! They can only watch. It's all they can do! Enough, we're leaving. Pack this crap up. The mission's a bust. I'm calling this operation. Let's get out of here before..."
That was the exact moment the two 'Fine young ladies' had returned, only to fall down - white as dough - less than three feet from the Horsie-Cola table, already beginning to change. The sirens were wailing now, of course, because the AI security had nothing better to do than to perform their programming. Already the Blackmesh would be on-route to bolster the number that could be heard goosestepping their way closer and closer.
Blonder was going to be a pegasus, not-as-blond was joining her, wings sprouting in sync, a matched set to the end. Or more accurately, the beginning.
Nutmeg bodily threw Ginger under the lowering security door before diving through herself, the smooth floors made dragging the tall man simple as she pulled him behind her all the way down the Equal-Access ramp and into the maglev station. With Ginger finally on his feet, the pair managed to board the nearest car just as the security system began shuttering the entire facility. Fortunately, the maglev was on a separate system and pulled smoothly out of the mall station only to thrust down into the underground tunnels like some dream taken from Freudian psychology.
"Well I'll be a mule's cousin! 'Delay' potion. Of course! I did misunderstand!" Exclaimed Ginger.
"What.... what... what is it now?" panted an exhausted Nutmeg.
"I guess they really did get the time delay potion to work after all!" Ginger was beaming "Just not very well!"