P. E. R.
Michelson and Morely
The Speed Of Right
For decades now, endless miles of gray, dead wheat covered the astonishingly flat plains. There were no mountains, only the curve of the dead fields meeting a reddish-gray sky of perpetual smog. It was Assiniboia, Saskatchewan, the site of the Last Harvest, where a strain of genegineered wheat had promised total defense against all pests be they insect or bacteria.
The product had exceeded all expectations. Nothing organic could digest the wheat, nothing in the world. It would never rot, never decompose, and it was poison to all animal life. Wheat had finally been made safe from every pest, just as the original proposal had claimed. The wheat had dominant genes - within a fortnight or two, all wheat, everywhere on the Earth had become the wheat from Assiniboia. The genes had spread laterally to other crops as well, ending forever the plague of fresh vegetables, most fruits, and almost all animal fodder too. Finally, the world's crops were preserved from being lost. Forever.
For the nanofabrication industry, with the power to convert human waste into nutritious bars, disks and cubes, however, business had never been better. It became the most dramatic shift in wealth within a single industry ever recorded.
The lead genetic engineer that had created the Assiniboia Wheat lost his job, of course. Only reasonable, considering the extinction of all wheat and most vegetables and other plants and countless species dependent on all of that. He barely got a decent severance package. Fortunately, by the most amazing coincidence, there was an extravagantly enriching position already waiting for him in the completely unrelated field of nanofabrication. Thus those concerned for his well being can be assured that he made a vast fortune and in the end was able to live in a great mansion surrounded by Blackmesh guards and a surprisingly uninhibited entourage of nubile young girls and not a few boys - just for a change of pace.
One of the inevitable, cast-aside offspring of the sort of parties the wheat engineer indulged in grew up to be a brilliant genegineer in his own right, and as is often the case with youth, found himself angry and rebellious with regard to what his mother could not successfully prove was his father. The angry young genegineer turned his back on humanity itself, when he had the chance, and was one of the first to enter a Conversion Bureau. Recruited by PER, though no longer capable of black, undying hatred, he was still fairly miffed, which is just the drive needed to become the lead hacker on the Serum Weaponifization Team. His name was now 'Codepony', and when he was not trying to hack the nanotech inside ponification serum, he had the more mundane duty of seeing to its distribution from the main PER base in Assiniboia to the waiting enclaves in the rest of the world.
Today he had gotten a particularly large order, especially unusual considering that it was from Squamous, New Mexico. Two-hundred and fifty gallons of potion was an enormous amount - whatever project the PER was up to down there must be truly impressive. Nopony in their right mind would make an order of that magnitude without an astonishingly good reason, it was unthinkable. Therefore it must be important.
Naturally, he approved it.
"Are you sure this is OK? It seems like an awfully large amount of potion to me, Ginger." Nutmeg was worried, a feeling that had become as familiar to her as terror, disappointment, trepidation, outright jaw-dropping incredulity and all the other new colors that Ginger had brought into the palette of her life.
"Don't be a silly filly, Nutmeg." Ginger beamed reassurance like a fifty-thousand watt tower of confidence "Requisitions exist to be made, and we are, after all, true knights of the PER! You can't run a crusade without resources, after all!" Ginger was busy doing his toenails, a tasteful and delicate pink, as usual. The strangely sweet smell of polish filled the barracks.
"And you got approval for this from Barnsour, right?" Of course he did, of course he would... but it was just comforting to make sure.
"Umf." Ginger was having trouble with his little toe on the left side, fortunately he was astonishingly flexible. Ginger lay his leg over his neck, his foot dangling off away to the right, roughly at at eye level. This allowed him to reach up with both hands and paint the toe properly. Nutmeg always found herself staring in wonder when he did this, a free contortionist show is always good fun.
"Was that 'umf' yes... or 'umf' Don't Bother Your Pretty Head About It Because I'm Definitely Not?" The sinking feeling in Nutmeg's stomach had started to pick up speed, soon it would breach the mantle and dive for the core where the lava devils waited with sharp, gnashy teeth.
"Remember when we first arrived and were introduced?" Now that the left toe was painted, Ginger had lowered his left leg only to flop his right one over his neck. Apparently, anatomy was yet another thing Ginger was unafraid to push to the extreme.
Nutmeg had tried to block her memories of that day, but they came rushing back despite her effort. Ginger accidentally dousing the third recruit in potion was embarrassing enough, her own nervous inability to stop giggling every time she saw their hot pink leader was only topped by her initial effort to feed him a cube of sugar while cooing about what a pretty little mare he was. Oops.
"Barnsour himself told us that if we needed anything, we should just help ourselves. This is all perfectly legit." Ginger's other little toe was proving more troublesome, Nutmeg couldn't help but imagine what it would look like if her partner lost his balance on the bed and flopped over like a car tire that had rolled loose from some incompetent mechanic.
"He was talking about the lunchroom! He was talking about sandwich fixings!" Nutmeg tried to see if she could get her leg over her head, the effort was as painful as the result was unsuccessful.
"Oh, you worry too much. I knew what he really meant. I'm sure everypony did." Ginger waggled his freshly painted toes at Nutmeg, the fact that they were next to his own head couldn't help but make her laugh. "Do you think ponies paint their hooves?"
The tall plumber in the spotless pink jumpsuit tromped down the long ramp into the dank boiler room of Squamous Valley High School - Home of the Squamous Fightin' Squaws - and joined his partner. "Here's the stopcock. Or is it a gate valve? I think I shall call it the latter, since the former suggest a rather unhappy ending to an otherwise pleasant evening." Ginger Michelson took off his bright red cap and used it to fan his long, platinum locks. "It's dreadfully stuffy and warm down here, my hair is a damp mass of sticky strands, and I swear I've been nowhere near the quarterback!"
Nutmeg Morely grimaced and took the metal part. She began to fit it into the existing system in order to complete the connection to the 250 gallon tank that they had - with the help of several brawny atheletes - wheeled in. Fortunately, this time the part was the right size and mated well with the existing pipes. She tried in vain to think of a way to announce this to her partner such that he would not respond with an innuendo and finally settled on "It's done."
"Oh goody! You really are indispensable, Nutmeg. This will be our greatest triumph, and it is all due to your inestimable skill at sticking one thing inside another!" Ginger grinned, his hand on his hip, the other brushing delicate wisps of hair from his eyes. Apparently the innuendo factor was entirely separated from reality, much like Ginger herself. Himself. Whatever.
Sodden with sweat, Nutmeg's rough, dark curls hung flaccidly down her grease-streaked face. Her previously green jumpsuit was now some shade of What Babies Do. The boiler room was not merely filthy in the conventional sense, rather it was a magical wonderland of schmutz, where mere filth was considered unworthy of residence within its gated community of slummocky defilement. She felt sure this was where the fecal fairies pranced in feculent, mucid passetemps of slubbery, stercoraceous scurfiness. It could be cleaner.
"So tell me again why we don't just get outta dodge right now?" Nutmeg realized that somehow grime had managed to get inside her jumpsuit, where it was currently exploring the topography of her personal landscape in a particularly investigative manner. Perhaps the purulence had evolved to sentience and had recognized in her a fellow entity - certainly it was trying to Make Contact.
Ginger was, of course, utterly pristine. At least his perfume helped overcome the stench of the boiler room. Pity it did so with the subtlety of a commando slitting an enemy trooper from stem to sternum - that perfume could be weaponized was a troublesome revelation to Nutmeg. "Nutmeg. Nut-meh-heh-hehg... no true artist would ever miss the opportunity to see the debut of their creation! Besides, we must be on hand in case anything should need adjustment or repair. Your marvelous skills will no doubt be needed to assuage the fury of the pipes, once the potion begins to spurt!"
Nutmeg tried to wipe the greasy sweat running down her face into her eyes only to realize that just made things worse. There was a cloth somewhere around here. "And while I'm doing that, you will be...?"
"Managing the situation, of course. From each according to their ability, to each according to their needs and all that! Say..." Ginger cocked an ear at the sound of a electronic horn "... it sounds like halftime is over! We should go and cheer our teams before theirs, and our, mutual victory - don't you think?"
"Mutual victory?" Nutmeg was puzzled.
"A victory for Celestia, is a victory for us all, Nutmeg! Show some team spirit! Rah! Rah! Sis Boom Bah! We've got a team that's backed by pride! There must be some Ponies on our side! Stand up and yell, for our victory tonight! Come On Ponies, fight! fight! fight!" It was really quite expertly performed - Ginger must spend an inordinate amount of time doing cheerleader practices. Nutmeg found herself more than impressed, but was left with a nagging question.
Where in Equestria had he been keeping those pom-poms?
The Squamous Valley Squaws had submitted to the White Skins in the end, and they returned dripping, covered in the sweaty scent of manhood in its prime. The game was over and it was time to hit the showers. Snapping towels licked out for their traditional prey, naked buttocks scampering for safety amidst the tiles. Grinning in the background, holding a ridiculously oversized wrench to a stall marked 'Out Of Service' stood a tall, platinum blond plumber in a pink jumpsuit. He was whispering into the delicate headset mostly covered by his long hair. "Wait for it... wait for it... Oooh! Oh... my!"
"Now? Should I do it now?" The whisper on the other end was frantic and unsure.
"No, No, not yet Nutmeg!"
"What was that then?"
"What was what, Nutmeg? Oh... oh my..."
"THAT! What's going on up there? Have we been seen? The adjustments aren't showing are they? Nothing's sticking out is it?"
"I... wouldn't exactly say that... Nutmeg. Goodness!"
"It's fine, fine, Nutsy, just hold your horses a little longer... longer still. Longest yet. Oh... my."
"Alright you apes!" The coach was not a happy man, the Squaws were not known for winning and everyone seemed to want to blame it on him for some reason. "What the fuck went wrong out there? Shlomovitch! Get your damn panties off and get soaped up! Friedmann, Epstein what the hell happened? You call that defense? They blew you off like toothless Trixie when the Fleet's in town!"
"Come on, Coach!" Kaplan was a quarterback, but he felt the Coach was being too hard. He was the last to step into the flowing water. "We did our best out there! They always rape us on the third down! They did their best!"
"Now." Ginger stepped back into the corner, so that there was no possibility of anything splashing him.
The nozzles of the showers turned a pale purple. The stream did not have to be pure, undiluted potion so long as the flow was continuous. Minimum exposure was the only issue. The new, stable anesthetic worked rapidly, with the boys slumping down on the tiles. Coach Rosenberg saw his entire team slowly collapse and dashed in to catch Leibowitz as he fell. The violet, sparkling spray instantly drenched the Coach, and he too stumbled and fell asleep.
The Squamous Valley Squaws and their coach blanched white as dough in the flow of tinted water. Within minutes, their bodies looked like sacks of angry snakes as muscle and bone dissolved and reformed, writhing and squirming under the pale, fruit-soft flesh. Their limbs swelled into bulbs, from which smooth hooves soon extruded, even as their heads expanded and necks lengthened, large new eyes forming and rising like bubbles in a doughy sea.
Ginger looked on with unhidden envy. It would be so easy, so simple to just step forward, to walk into the pale purple streams and... no. No. It wasn't honorable. Nutmeg was still down in the boiler room, and neither had yet earned the right. They could be ponies only when they had saved enough humans from inevitable doom. There were only two years remaining before the earth was annihilated. Somepony had to save these fools. Somepony had to rescue them from their denial and arrogance.
It was difficult being a freedom fighter, Ginger reflected. Unlike those they saved, it would be a long time before they would know the freedom of the sky, the freedom of perfect strength, or the freedom of real magic. Ginger sighed. At least the team would know these things. Such lucky stallions they were.
By now, their coats had come in, in every shade of the rainbow, and long tails and manes had spooled out. They were wet but perfect stallions now, and it must be exactly the same in the shower room for the visiting team. Ginger touched the small contact on his headset, ready to tell Nutmeg to stop the flow, when a gaggle of young girls ran in. What the...
The lead girl had a holocamera, clearly this was some kind of high school prank. The girls stopped, aghast at the scene. "Oh. My. God. What is this? Some kind of a joke?"
"What the shit? Stuffed animals?"
"Those bastards must have heard about what we were planning and they put stuffies in here! They're somewhere laughing their asses off at us right now!"
"Jesus, Libby, those aren't stuffed animals. They're real, or artificial or something, but whatever they are, they're alive!"
"Those are alive? They could drown!"
"No way, it's only a shower, dipstick."
"We gotta save them, Libby! Come on!"
"Oh, Christ... Judith, go get the rest of the girls, we can't do this ourselves."
Ginger watched with unabashed glee as the girls, other than Judith, who had left, attempted to move the ponies, heedless of the spray. As they slowly fell and began to change, Ginger reported the event to Nutmeg, and asked how the potion was holding out.
"We've still got plenty. 250 gallons is a hell of a lot, Ginger. Are you serious? There's more coming?"
There was indeed. Twenty more young women entered, and seeing their friends having some kind of fit, ran as one to help them. Soon they too were soaked and changing.
Ginger reached into the pockets of his jumpsuit and pulled out thick, neoplastic gloves and a razor knife. The jumpsuit itself was lined with neoplastic, as were his shoes and socks. "Cut the flow! I'm going in!" When the water had turned completely clear, Ginger stepped over the bodies, slashing necklines, pants, and anything else the least restrictive that threatened the health of the squirming, flopping shapes.
By the door, he radioed back "Start it up again!" The flow turned pale purple once more, and the bodies of the women completed their change, beautiful manes and tails growing out before Ginger's envious eyes. It was too much. He had to leave.
Walking away from the building, Ginger noted more students and faculty running toward where he had just left. "Just let it run, Nutmeg. Rendezvous at base. Repeat, Rendezvous at base."
The response was slightly garbled by static "What.... leave... you sure?... Ging..."
"Leave, get out, run, vamoose, skedaddle, move it Nutsy!" Tears filled Ginger's eyes now. All those new ponies. All the new unicorns and pegasai and earthponies, all the saved lives, all the beautiful new lives, and he wasn't one of them. Not yet. Not.... yet.
But maybe! Turning back for one last look, the crowd pushing its way into the building was larger than before. They must be stacked like cordwood in there.
Baron Barnsour clopped up to the podium, a fiercer than usual look on his muzzle. "ALRIGHT, ALRIGHT! SETTLE DOWN PONIES! I SAID SETTLE DOWN!"
"First off - I won't make you wait, not after THIS." Barnsour clopped his hoof down on the big button on the podium, behind him on the portable holodisplay was the latest news report. The sound was muted, but text streamed by at the bottom: SQUAWS WHIPPED LIKE PONIES IN GAME, NOW REALLY ARE.
Barnsour looked at the screen, shook his head, and turned back to the assembled members of the PER. "Achievements for the week. Team Pauldron! Twenty-five? Twenty-five? Are you muffin' kidding me?"
Hinny the Gelding stepped in front of an upset Colt Creamello. "It was a tough week, Baron! We had real trouble with..."
"I don't want to hear it, Hinny. And that goes for you too, Dapple!" Dapple Grey had started to object, but instead lowered his head. The fourth member of Team Pauldron, Perliono Mustang, just stared at the floor as if the spots and splotches on it were an ancient language that held the secrets of how not to suck.
"Alright.... next... " Barnsour was not a happy pony today, it seemed. "Team Vambrace. What have we here?" Barnsour checked the paper on the podium. "Thirty conversions. You beat Pauldron, I'll give you that. That's all I can give you. I don't know what I can say, ponies, step it up! Step it up!"
Sorell and 'Withers' Sabino simply looked sad. This was not going to be easy.
"And now we come to the new shining stars of the Squamous PER. I gotta admit, I'm as surprised as anypony, but... there you have it, right there on the screen. Let's have a big round of applause for this weeks star team, Ginger and Nutmeg, Team RUMPGUARD - ONE HUNDRED AND EIGHTY ONE CONVERSIONS!!!"
Both Team Pauldron and Team Vambrace sagged where they stood. The rest of the ponies in the headquarters just stared, still unbelieving, even after a day of holonews and wailing sirens scanning the streets. The two humans. The two bloody humans. Team Ass Protection. Impossible.
But then the thunder began. It started with Skewbald of Team Vambrace and spread to the crowd. The building began to shake with the furious stomping of hooves, an earthquake of applause, astonished, miffed, and yet proud, too.
Ginger beamed, as if he had won a beauty contest. Nutmeg shifted uneasily, smiling despite herself, her hands clenching and unclenching, not used to actually succeeding at anything.
"So.... one hundred and eighty one points. How are you going to divide that, you two? One of you going to go pony today then?" Barnsour found himself caught up in the moment, even he was grinning. It was, after all, quite an achievement.
"Um..." Nutmeg spoke quietly "We... we always try to divide things equally."
"That is right!" Ginger glowed with excitement "Right down the middle, because we're a team!"
"So..." Barnsour tried to work out the math, but he was not very good with a pencil in his teeth. His secretary quietly crept up and told him the score, she had worked it out in her head. "Um hmm... you're kidding. You're not kidding."
Barnsour wore an expression that would be at home on a sad clown who had just gotten the news that his mother had been killed by a dog, and then found out the dog was HIS dog and would need to be put to sleep.
"So..." He began "...that's... ninety-nine points for Ginger... and... ninety-nine points... for Nutmeg. Um. Well. Congratulations, you two. I guess. If that's how you want to do it..." He trailed off. He'd so been looking forward to being able to recruit new Fifth Column Infiltrators. Well, one point. One little point... Ah!
"I've got a great idea, everypony!" The Baron was smiling again "What say we just spot Team Rumpguard those silly two points and have ourselves a grand old PER conversion celebration!" This brought the house down with applause and happy laughter. It was always a great party when their own got converted. It was just what everypony needed.
"NO!" Shouted Ginger and Nutmeg together. "Thank you, but we can't accept. Not yet." Ginger was his usual earnest self, honorable beyond all reason, just like his partner "We must earn our ponifications, that was the rule, and we follow the rules, right Nutmeg?"
"RIGHT!" It was clear that Nutmeg was unhappy at this, but she was every bit as honor bound as Ginger. "Gingey and I will just have to earn those last points another day. We insist. No special favors for us. We are proud to be part of the PER, and we won't sully the honor and tradition of the Squamous Enclave by taking points that are not rightfully ours!"
Twenty-five pairs of pony eyes stared at the two incredulously. Some muzzles gaped. Finally, Baron Barnsour cleared his throat. "Ahem... well... I... see." He shook his head once again. "Very well then, until... one more point... each. Indeed, how hard can it be?"
Twenty five ponies laughed heartily at this. After a score of one-eighty one, what pony dared argue?
Ginger smiled proudly at Nutmeg.
Nutmeg looked uncomfortable. One point. Foal's play.