P.   E.   R.

Michelson and Morely
The Speed Of Right

By Chatoyance


"It was precisely because the Three Day War utterly failed, and that all subsequent - and vastly more subtle - attempts to penetrate the Equestrian Barrier had failed, that the Human Worldgovernment finally realized they could do nothing. They could do nothing at all to Equestria itself, but far worse, it was more than clear that the forces of Equestria could do whatever they liked. The astonishing demonstration by Celestia just a few weeks after the Three Day War made that abundantly clear. So the issue for the World Government came down to sheer desperation. They wanted power over the situation, by any means possible.

They choose stealth and secrecy. As the Ponification Transformation Serum was being developed, Worldgovernment teams performed parallel development of their own, covertly, attempting to develop a means to control the transformation itself. They had early on determined that Conversion changed more than just hands into hooves, it changed every part of a human into an Equestrian, including the brain. This meant the transformation of human aggression into compassion, human territoriality and selfishness into altruism, and the human hunter-gatherer drive into a cooperative herd mentality. Converted newfoals were incapable of real violence, and of feeling the drives that made violence possible. This was a problem, since the goal was to have agents of humanity inside Equestria itself."

The young unicorn filly with soft violet curls for her mane and tail, paused and took a sip of water. Her name was Secretariat, and she was the Squamous City PER Baron's personal assistant and secretary. Because of recent events, he had asked her to recite something of the history of the PER, in order to raise morale, and to educate certain new recruits.

After placing her glass of water down on the podium in the central room, she looked out over the twenty-five ponies and two humans in attendance, and gave her best comforting smile.

"Ahem. That's better! Where were we? Ah...the result of all of that covert research was the development of a reverse transcriptase that, if administered prior to Conversion, would render a newfoal normal in every respect save one - the altered newfoal would retain a quasi-human limbic system that remained capable of violent behavior and violent emotions and thoughts. Trusted agents of the Worldgovernment were chosen for what was considered a suicide mission - to undergo Conversion, in order to infiltrate Equestria and be capable of striking directly at its heart - the princesses Celestia and Luna, if it ever became necessary. This effort was codenamed 'Hidden Dagger', and it did not turn out the way the Worldgovernment intended.

The original agents - we do not know their exact number, but we suspect it was between twelve and twenty-five - indeed ended up with a fully human capacity for violence, duplicity, deception and even brutality. However, each and every one of them, all hardened men when human, devoid of empathy or compassion - found a complete spiritual transformation during their Conversion Dreams. As one, when they awoke, they determined to serve Their Majesties with their unique skills, skills not known to the Equestrian existence, the shadowy, dark, covert skills of the most powerful and effective secret agents Earth had ever produced. They gathered together and decided to become Equestria's first and only covert agency, sworn to defend and protect the princesses and Equestria, but more than this, to further Celestia's clear goal - the complete Conversion of the human species.

Thus began the PER, four years ago. Since then, our numbers have swelled as recruits around the world flock to our cause. The Earth is a miserable place, and there are many who feel alienated, disenfranchised, and just plain angry, and who are driven to put a stop to the cruelty, inequity, and brutality of Man. Others come from more compassionate stances, and desire to save those who, for whatever reason, refuse to accept the Gift Of Conversion. PER recruits are incapable of violence, for we are all normal ponies, but we are all driven to serve the princesses in secret, behind the scenes, as a counter to the duplicity and secrecy of the humans. Only we, of the PER, are in position to do those things which further Celestia's goals that she cannot openly do herself. This is the nature of all covert action throughout history.

Yes... a question?"  

The man was tall and thin, and he had long, platinum hair. His pony name was 'Ginger', but he was still a human, Ginger Michelson, and he and his partner, Nutmeg Morely, had recently managed to save one-hundred and eighty-one misguided humans from the horrific doom of being... humans. This had been the greatest single success within the Squamous City PER, but it had also resulted in a virtual lock-down of the city, rendering all PER activity greatly constrained. A recent public denouncement by Celestia herself about the incident had shaken the young man's resolve in his own convictions.

"C-Celestia herself denounced... what we... what I did. I still feel confused about that. Shouldn't we obey our princess in everything?" Ginger was being remarkably restrained. His normally flamboyant personality had become so suppressed that his question was nearly a whisper.

Ginger's partner, Nutmeg, gave him a pat on the leg with her hand when he sat down. Since the speech by Celestia, he had been very down, and so had other members of the Squamous PER, including herself.

"The perfect question!" Secretariat positively beamed, as if she had been waiting for that very question to be asked, or something like it, which in fact she had. It was the point of the whole history exercise in the first place. It was the very core of the PER, in fact, and that was why Baron Barnsour had asked her to lecture the enclave.

"A great leader, a great ruler must operate on many levels at the same time. Every princess or king or emperor throughout the whole of Human civilization has relied on spies, agents and covert operatives. To the world they must say one thing, even while behind the scenes they must often do something entirely opposite, in order to achieve their goals. You have all heard the phrase 'An iron hoof inside a velvet sock?'" ... or something like that, she mumbled to herself... "Well, our Celestia must present the most velvet of appearances to the Humans at all times. She must appear vulnerable and gentle to assuage their xenophobic terrors, and seem at all times utterly devoid of guile in order to prevent open war between our two species. But She is by no means weak, as we all know."

Many heads, both pony and human nodded at this. Celestia was powerful beyond comprehension. She - and her sister - had the powers of gods. The were goddesses, but were so loving and kind that they called themselves merely 'princesses' and personally interacted with their creations. Everypony loved and respected the princesses.

"But what you may not realize, is that not all of the princesses powers are within Her. We are one of her powers, one of Her many tools, one that operates within the human world. Publicly She denounces us, yes, this is true. In public She decries us and condemns our existence. To the world, we are an embarrassment to Her... even an enemy."

Secretariat waited as the assembled PER shifted nervously.

"And THAT is EXACTLY what all the Humans MUST continue to believe! If She openly embraced us, if Celestia openly showed us anything but derision, then we would no longer be covert agents. That is what it means to be covert. Hidden. In the shadows. Secret. In denouncing us publicly, She gives us the gift of freedom to act, the freedom to further Her goals all while permitting Her complete deniability for our actions. This is how all governments throughout Human history have used covert agents, and here in the human world, would not Celestia be amiss in failing to make use of human tools? Celestia is brilliant!"

There was no dissension from that viewpoint.

"Celestia needs the human world saved, Converted, before all the poor Humans die. Can you imagine the sorrow She feels whenever any life is destroyed? But not all Humans are willing to take Her gift of survival. They know they will be destroyed as Equestria expands, and yet they spit at Her generosity. They are foolish creatures, as we all know. But if Celestia were to try to forcibly convert humankind, there would be war. That cannot be allowed! Obviously!

So that is why we exist, the PER, the Ponification for the Earth's Rebirth. Look at our emblem, look at it! Do you know what it means?

On the globe of the Earth, we see the origin point for the Emergence Of Equestria, there, in the North Pacific. On either side are two ponies, one an earthpony - though it could also be a pegasus with wings folded - and on the other a unicorn. The left pony has smiling eyes, closed tight. It is blind to all of our pasts, all of our regrets and mistakes and failings. It tells us that the PER welcomes everypony, and offers us redemption of both body and soul through Conversion, both that which we undergo ourselves, and that which we gift to others.

The unicorn has an open eye, wide and searching, to spot any threat to the princesses or to Equestria. The sharp horn is our sharp determination and a symbol of magic - the magic of friendship which we offer to all Humans in saving them from themselves. Would not a true friend save another friend even if that friend were too far gone to understand? Of course she would!

And below it all is a dropet - ponification serum - the great miracle that makes ponification possible. It is our tool, our method, our salvation, and our only weapon, for we cannot harm nor hurt, only heal. We of the PER heal the sickness of extinction by saving humanity from its own foolish pride. The wings on the droplet remind us that we save not merely the flesh, but also the soul.

We do the bidding of Celestia, never doubt it! Though She denounces us in the public eye, we know that when all is done, when the earth is destroyed utterly, when no humans remain alive, She will finally welcome us with open hooves and endless praise. We are Her trusted secret agents, and She cannot embrace us until our mission is complete. But on that day, that glorious day, when all of Humanity has become Pony, then will come our reward, and we will be paraded through the streets of Canterlot, covert agents no longer, but revealed as Equestria's greatest heroes!"

A roar of stomping hooves shook the building. Cheers and laughter sounded bold and glad. Of course. It all made sense now. It was so silly to have any doubt. If Celestia openly approved, it would be the end of every value the PER had to her. She had to denounce the PER. That was how being a secret agent worked.

Ginger, for his part, still had one more concern. After the excitement had died down, he approached Secretariat and asked, simply, "How do we know that Celestia really does want us to be her secret agents?"

The secretary blinked. "Because the original, genetically altered agents told us so."

Ginger and Nutmeg had been requested to lay low for the next month or so, because of the risk that somepony might recognize them. The streets of Squamous were being constantly patrolled by Blackmesh brought in from neighboring units, the high school had been entirely closed pending security improvements, and every part of the city's infrastructure was essentially on lockdown. The borders of Squamous now had checkpoints with full searches, including body cavity and radiation booths, and portable guard towers sat overlooking most intersections. The 'Shower Incident' had become news across the entirety of the Northamerizone.

Worse, the other members of the Squamous PER had begun to become resentful - their own operations and efforts had to wait until the fuss died down, which, apparently, would not happen any time soon. Many had taken a vacation of sorts; the leaders of Pauldron and Vambrace, Colt and Roan, had organized a trip to the local Dress Club, more to get away from the walls of the Enclave than to see ponies dress up in socks and sweaters.

Team Rumpguard was not permitted to leave the Enclave for even a small period of time. Boredom quickly set in, and Baron Barnsour noted this during one of his brief visits to check in on the essentially empty base.

"Ginger... Nutmeg."

"Baron!" The two Fifth Column Agents stood at attention, Nutmeg gave a little salute, though it was clear she didn't quite grasp how to perform it.

"It must be pretty difficult... to have to sit around... after such an... achievement." Barnsour looked around the empty halls of the Enclave. It was a pretty dreary place even at the best of times, despite the cheery PER motivational posters everywhere. "I wanted to offer you a kind of... escape. Additionally, you can still accomplish political acts for the benefit of the PER. If you are interested." They'd be interested, by now they must be going squirrel from the boredom of being stuck alone in the Enclave.

"We're interested!" Ginger and Nutmeg looked like excited little foals, except of course for the fact they were humans, adult humans at that, and - from a pony perspective - about as cute as two shaved gorillas. Which, to ninety-eight percent of their genetic structure, they, in fact, were.

"I've authorized you to have exclusive use of our two Full Immersion Cyberspace Pods. Normally, these are used by Puffpastry and Ricenoodle to fill cyberspace with PER propaganda, and to manage public opinion in the media. I have a slightly simpler task for you, but no less important!" It was vastly less important, little more than cyber-vandalism, really, but it would do to keep the pair occupied. "I need you to dive into the cyber world and perform conversions!"

"Conversions?" The thought made the two humans giddy "Is that even possible?"

"After a fashion..." Barnsour stared at the big poster on his left " cyberspace, every location uses avatars, representations within the artificial reality that users choose for themselves. I want you to get in there and ponify everything. The pods are already loaded with the tools you'll need, the interface is so simple a foal could use it..." In point of fact, Secretariat's little foal Seabiscuit had successfully ponified a famous chat node one evening when the pods had been unattended "... and beyond being mere fun" It really was a lot of fun "you will be helping to keep ponification in the minds of every user in cyberspace. I'm counting on you, Team Rumpguard!"

"We won't let you down!" Nutmeg gave her little, incorrect, salute again, trying very hard to be dutiful. Ginger struck a rather provocative pose and shouted "¡VIVA LA REVOLUCION!"

Barnsour smiled at his management skills. Keep 'em busy, and you keep 'em happy. He trotted off with light hooves, and hoped he could get to the Dress Club before Snowball the Winter Mare did her heavy clothing act.

The Propaganda Room was upstairs in the old building, and Nutmeg and Ginger went directly there, the steps creaking as they climbed them. Inside the room was an assortment of computers and other electronic devices, with large signs posted everywhere stating "NO MAGIC!" and "WATCH YOUR HORN!" - magic, especially the kind unicorns used, was utterly incompatible with complex electronics, causing them to fail, or even destruct in a shower of sparks. While pretty to see, it was a costly show.

The Immersion Pods had been crammed with pillows to make them more comfortable to the equinoid form. Ginger and Nutmeg spent time removing the pillows and resetting the contours of the chairs so that they could even enter. Once inside the pods, they gave each other a jaunty 'thumbs up' and lay back, only then realizing that it was probably a silly sign to give each other, considering that their entire purpose was to end the tyranny of thumbs once and for all.

It probably should have been thumbs down, mused Nutmeg, but that would look fairly disparaging. No thumbs? That would just be a fist and would seem aggressive. Some other finger? She could only think of one, and it was right out. Her revere was interrupted by the sound of Ginger over the pod's sound system "Hey, Nutty-buddy! Get in here, the Cyber is fine!" Nutmeg hated that pet name, but it wasn't worth arguing about at the moment. She activated the immersion systems, the pod closing around her. She adjusted the mindset - it was troublesome, because it had been adapted to fit the larger Equestrian skull. Eventually, she was tuned in, the device was turned on, and she was ready to drop out... into the cyberworld.

Nutmeg found herself, as she adjusted to an entirely new set of sensory inputs, inside the body of a young, muscular stallion. It must be Ricenoodle's avatar, and it was astonishingly realistic. Nutmeg began to cry, realizing that she was finally... a pony. It was so wonderful! She tried out her four new legs and whipped her digital tail around with glee. It wasn't a mare's body, but it was a pony body, and it was a taste of life to come. She had not been so filled with joy as far back as she could remember. Nutmeg galloped in circles, drunk with gladness at her new, computer generated body.

A lithe and exceptionally lovely mare strolled forward, her flanks swaying as she stepped, her tail high and proud like a flag. Her lovely wide eyes gleamed as her gentle smile broke into a wide grin. "YOO HOO!!! Nuuuut-megggg! Over here, you big, strong hunk of stallion you!"

It was Ginger. Had he known which pod was which before they had climbed in?

"Ginger!" Nutmeg was a little miffed that she had been stuck with the stallion avatar "Humph. You're certainly looking... mare-ish today!"

"Oh, thank you my good Nutty-wutty-buddy! You are ever so handsome yourself. You know, I've heard there is this thing called 'Cybering', which I believe is a means to... enjoy... these avatars to their fullest in ways which..."

"NO. Just no. Come on, we have a job to do." Nutmeg stomped off towards the doorway that led out of the circular, domed space that was their personal spawn chamber. The walls gleamed like polished glass, white and blank and spartan.

"Oh well." The dainty Ginger-mare sighed "Perhaps I can find one of these 'chat rooms' I've heard so much about!"

The large, rectangular doorway led to a vast, dark space that seemed to stretch on forever. Paths mazed through the dark space, around tall, abstract structures covered with logos, symbols, moving images and billboards. This was a representation of the hypernet which could be walked, or, as Nutmeg noted looking up, flown through as if it were a real place.

"Where shall we start, my handsome stallion?" Ginger was getting into character a little too easily, Nutmeg thought.

"Stop that, will you? Luna's socks, Ginger, we're on a mission here!" Nutmeg still felt cheated out of the mare avatar. If she was going to get to experience being a pony before Conversion, she wished she could have had the complete experience.

"How about this place? I bet this sort of spot is just crying out for some serious ponification!"

Somehow, they had wandered down a strange-looking path and become hopelessly lost. The sky was now an eerie deep red, painted in white skulls and green biohazard symbols, with the odd violet thaumatic radiation symbol thrown in for good measure. The path had changed from blue neon to the kind of floor that would seem at home in some far-away place that a criminal might be banished to and then thrown in a dungeon in the place that they were banished to.

A large glowing sign floated in the sky above a scary-looking door that was less 'Come on in' than it was 'Welcome to Hell'. The sign said 'BOOZER'S BLACK MARKET MEMORY SWAP'

"Oooh! I know about these places! This is just perfect, Nutmeg!"

"What... what is all of this?" Nutmeg was not a happy little pony... stallion... right now, and this environment was positively terrifying.

"Puffpastry and Ricenoodle must have all kinds of secret access, or we would never have been able to wander in here. This is the black market, Nutmeg! The net under the hypernet, the secret world where anything real or important happens! The WorldGov has no power here! These are just the sort of humans that need our help the most!" The delicate mare was prancing and wiggling her flanks with glee. Nutmeg found herself feeling additionally uncomfortable for some reason she couldn't identify.

"Alright, alright... would you stop doing that?" Nutmeg noticed that her voice was the voice of a strong stallion too.

"Doing what?" Ginger was clueless... and to be honest, so was Nutmeg, who wasn't herself entirely sure what Ginger should stop doing.

"Never mind!" Nutmeg brushed past the exquisite mare avatar and headed for the terrifying door instead. "If we're going to do this, let's do this." Suddenly, Nutmeg found herself grabbed by large skeletal hands, and was surprised to find the bony fingers actually hurt as they clutched at her virtual body. Wasn't it illegal to inflict pain on the hypernet?

A booming, evil voice screamed out "RiCeNOOdle IdenTIfieD! AcCESS GRAntEd!" Nutmeg found herself tossed through the hellish doors and down a long and twisting slide that passed through surprisingly hot flames. At the bottom, she tumbled out onto a gray slate floor.

Standing up, she looked around to find herself in what appeared to be a recreation of a Pre-Collapse media outlet. It was like something out of a history holo. Around her, posters covered the wall promoting what at first she thought were bands, or perhaps holoshows. Rows and rows of bins filled with what looked like the old, flat, disk-based media once used long ago were being browsed by a strange assortment of avatars. There were ninjas and cartoon ducks, robots and anthropomorphic animal-humans and even a wire-frame of a vaguely human shape. In the back of the shop, under 'BARGAIN BIN' she noticed something that must be a representation of Cthulhu, only done in pink with a bright red bow.

It was a very odd cyber store.

Ginger had arrived, giggling and on all four hooves. He had surfed the twisting slide without falling over, and had finished with a pretty pirouette upon reaching the slate. "Hello!" she announced. He announced. It was almost impossible to think of Ginger as male any longer in this guise. He was always a little effeminate, Nutmeg mused, but freed from his human body, the strident effeminacy was melting into some even more unsettling natural femininity. Ginger was... whatever. The mission. Nutmeg struggled to put her mind back on the mission.

"Nutmeg? I was having fun on the slide, but... now I feel kind of nervous." There was a strange sort of feeling in the antique representation of a shop. It was a feeling of danger, of risk, as though they had entered a place they were ill prepared for, and well beyond their capabilities. It wasn't an obvious thing, the store was quiet and nothing seemed immediately threatening, it was just there, a feeling, underlying the very structure of the environment.

Nutmeg noticed that the frail mare was pressed against her muscular barrel, instinctively seeking pony comfort in her stallion avatar. This was not the Ginger she knew at all, and it made her all the more unsure herself. Right now she was missing flamboyant, over-the-top Ginger taking charge and always knowing what to do, even when he didn't.  

Ginger seemed positively subdued. Going by avatar shape, Nutmeg was clearly the strong one, so she resolved to play the part. She didn't like seeing Ginger looking uneasy. "Hey, there, Gingey! Stick with me, we'll see what kind of mischief we can get into! How's that?" Nutmeg's new, masculine voice sounded so strange to her - virtual - ears.

Ginger seemed to perk up at this. "O-Ok! Hee! Let's have some fun!" Her smile was playful, but still somewhat fragile.

Nutmeg decided it might be useful to find out what kind of store this even was. She trotted up to the nearest bin and raised herself on her hind legs, bracing with her forelegs over the edge of the bin. The physics routines were impressive in this simulacrum, she could feel something not entirely unlike the weight of her stallion body shifting, and there was even pressure sensation from her fetlocks on the edge of the bin. It all must be being transmitted directly into the motor centers of her brain inside the immersion pod. Or possibly her brain stem. Frankly, she wasn't sure how all this virtual reality stuff worked, come to think of it. In any case, it was not entirely convincing, but it was pretty impressive nonetheless.

Ginger clung close, quietly pressing into her flank for comfort. It was an odd sensation for Nutmeg, to be the strong one, to suddenly be the... leader... for lack of a better term. Their roles had reversed, and it was both fascinating and somewhat disturbing. She checked the square, flat packages to see what they were. It took some time for the reality of it to sink in.

Bathing In A Tub: Volume Three, Ages Two to Six

Eating Pie In A Restaurant

Double Battlefield Amputation: WARNING no anesthesia, no gimmicks, this is the REAL DEAL!

SeXXy Engrams: The best memories of the best porn stars! M/M, M/F, M/P, P/F and many more!

Twenty Eight Deaths: The Best of Death collection

I Gave Birth To Triplets! 48 hours of non-stop maternal thrills - now with Pain Plus for maximum sensation!

I Dismember Mama: murderers recall their best kills - Special Bonus Feature "My Execution!" Pay the ultimate price!

These were really memories. Human memories and experiences, recorded in real time, or in some cases, after the fact as vivid reminiscence. Of course, if it was possible to flood a brain with artificial experience, it would also be possible to record the brain having real experiences. This was a black-market shop selling forbidden or illegal experiences and memories.

One section caught Nutmeg's virtual eye, and she trotted over to it. Raising herself up again, she hoofed through a collection of pony-related disks. These had been taken from the brains of living, converted newfoals, and even from native Equestrians visiting Earth. Nutmeg found herself wishing she knew how to buy and use any of this - My Little Foal caught her eye, as did Hearts And Hooves In Central Park: A date with a special somepony.

With these recorded memories, anypony could momentarily live the life of anypony else. She could know what it really felt like to gallop down a street, or eat hay with Equestrian tastes and senses, she could experience all the joys of being Converted, now, immediately. The possibilities made her feel giddy.

"Nutmeg? What do you think?" Ginger interrupted her daydream of getting to experience pony life with a plaintive call. Nutmeg looked down. On Ginger's flank there was now a cutie mark, a clearly defined letter 'G'. "I did one for you, too." Nutmeg checked her own flank - on it was a large letter 'N'.

"I was just standing around, and I decided to try calling up the menu, right? And I found that there are all kinds of things you can do... so I... I gave us cutie marks that were the first letters of our names! Is... is that OK?" Ginger looked up with large pink eyes, wide with both hope and concern.

"That's... very nice, Ginger. Good girl!" Nutmeg had said it without thinking - Ginger just seemed so much like a foal right now. It didn't seem to bother Ginger at all - she did a little dance in place, whipping her tail around happily. No, HE did a little dance... oh buck it, thought Nutmeg. Cyberspace was stupid confusing.

"I found something else, too!" Ginger was smiling sweetly.

"What? What did you find, Ginger?"

"I found all the hacking tools. I can ponify things now! See?" Ginger pointed a hoof at one of the other customers. It was a large, horned devil, dark red with glowing yellow eyes. It wore cartoon combat boots and a small arsenal of cartoon weaponry on its back, a bandoleer crammed with bullets and stuffed with knives finished the look. Ginger... did something, something not visible within the virtual world and instantly the large, red devil fell to four dainty little hooves, having become a tiny, yellow filly foal with bright blue eyes.

The newly hacked foal looked around in astonishment, then the expression rapidly turned to anger, then bypassed rage altogether and made a rapid dash straight to Darkest Hatred. "WHAT THE FUCK? WHO DID THIS? WHO DID THIS FUCK-ASS PONY SHIT TO MY AVATAR?" These words would surely have struck terror into all save that the hack changed every aspect of the avatar so that the effect became a hilarious squeaking from what appeared as a petulant little baby pony. "I'M FUCKING SERIOUS! I'LL TRACK YOUR ASS DOWN IN THE REAL WORLD AND SAW YOUR HEAD OFF AND SHIT DOWN YOUR NECK, MOTHERFUCKER!"

Ginger could barely contain her - his - giggling, Nutmeg dragged Ginger by her tail all the way to the other end of the row of bins, then found herself giggling as well. Hacking was FUN!

The tiny yellow, previously demonic filly foal was galloping up and down the memory bins, trying to find whoever was responsible for the sudden and unwanted ponification. The foal stopped, glaring incredibly cutely, at Ginger and Nutmeg. Nutmeg froze as the foal slowly stomped forward towards the only other pony avatars in the room, ready to unleash cybernetic hell on the offenders.

"You too?" Ginger spoke up, suddenly his normal, sharp self. "We've just been hacked! Look at what happened to my avatar! And my friend - just look at her! She's a muffin' horse now!"

The tiny, incredibly angry little foal glared at them, but stopped its march towards them. "Did. You. See. Who. Did. It?" the words were terse and clipped, and coming out of the mouth of the sweet baby pony, utterly, completely adorable.

"I saw something!" Nutmeg ventured, trying her best to follow Ginger's lead "I thought I saw somepony run off that way!" Nutmeg motioned vaguely towards the other side of the virtual store with a foreleg. "Ooh! If I catch who did this I'm gonna... gonna... do bad stuff to them, oh, you can bet on that!" Nutmeg tried to look as fierce as she could and hoped it would be even more impressive transmitted through the ray-traced muzzle of a muscular stallion.

The little filly foal looked doubtful but turned to stomp off in the direction indicated. She stopped and looked back over her shoulder "Don't go anywhere. I don't trust you two one shit."

With the former demon currently distant, Ginger turned to Nutmeg and smiled, once again sweet and delicate. Nutmeg noted how relaxed and comfortable Ginger seemed, she'd never seen her partner quiet and calm for longer than a moment before. "Want to do one yourself, Nutmeg? I can show you how."

The system really was remarkably simple - merely thinking 'Menu' brought up a panel of icons that only the user could see, the icons could be selected by simply looking at them - a highlight followed the gaze - and thinking something vaguely filled with purpose, like 'Do!' or 'Now!' or 'Go!'. The word didn't matter in this case, it seemed, rather the system measured intention directly. There were several pony forms that could be injected to replace another user's avatar, several of them were representations of famous Equestrians, like Celestia, Luna, or her ambassadors. There was even a random icon that promised a unique ponification with each use.

Now the two polygon-packed psudo-ponies were on the hunt, looking for the next user they could ponify. As they studied the environment, Nutmeg used one of the icons in her interface to change several posters on the wall to pictures of ponies. By now they had moved some distance away, and when they looked back at the bins they had been at, they saw a likely target. It was the wireframe avatar, green and spartan, perusing the bins that had pony memories.

Ginger noticed that the user was selecting and purchasing a package that, as they crept closer, turned out to be 'Greatest Pony Hits'. It was a collection of carefully selected experiences and memories of Equestrians, both newfoal and native. It was possible to see the track listing, which included both innocent... and spicy selections. Perfect! Both Ginger and Nutmeg were over the moon at the sight.

“Aha!” Ginger popped out, filled with excitement and bravado, his light red pony avatar graced with pink mane and tail “I see that you’ve decided to try sampling some pony memories!”

“Oh really?” Nutmeg, light brown with a black mane, leapt forward beside her partner “Let’s see what they’ve bought!”

“Why it’s 'Greatest Pony Hits!'” Ginger was practically prancing now, around the wireframe man “I’ll bet you just can’t wait to try out track seven, mating season, can you?”

“Listen, get out of my way!” The wireframe avatar growled at them with a vaguely mechanical voice.

“Has my squire hit a nerve?” Nutmeg, having started to enjoy her more dominant role, had forgotten that Ginger was the Knight and she the squire, but Ginger seemed fine with the statement. If anything, Ginger seemed happier.

The wireframe humanoid did not respond, but instead tried to make his way down the aisle of bins, away from Nutmeg. Ginger had galloped to the end of the aisle and blocked the user. “Why settle for mere memories when you can have the real thing?” Ginger was carried away now, and began flicking her - his - tail suggestively.

“Leave me alone,” The wireframe man was suddenly calm. “I won’t ask again.”

“You dare threaten a knight of the PER!” Nutmeg was acrimonious!

Both ponies began circling around the wireframe. Remembering an ancient, Pre-Collapse cartoon, Nutmeg, giddy with the feeling of cyber-hacker powers, began to perform an ancient routine. “Prepare for trouble…” While she spoke, her interface was up, and she was selecting various icons, to see if one might work. 'Clown Pony' almost took effect, but was roundly defeated by some protective counterprogram. She began trying others in desperation. This wireframe needed ponification, now!

“Make it double…” Nutmeg's mouth dropped open in happy surprise - Ginger knew the same ancient cartoon! Of course she would! He would. Whatever. It was just his style! This was brilliant! They liked the same things, it seemed!

The wireframe man had stopped, frozen. By the time they realized that the cause of his immobility was that he was busy doing some hacking himself, it was too late. He hadn't done a thing to the look of their avatars. As they shot like missiles into the skull-filled, blood red sky above the roofless virtual store, it dawned on them that more than appearance could apparently be hacked. Function could be altered, too.

The wireframe had changed the way gravity affected them, reversing it. The store became a tiny rectangle increasingly swallowed in the endless, icon-laden space. There was nothing they could do. Checking their interfaces, they found not a single icon that represented control of local physics parameters.

It was then that they realized, with some unhappiness, that they did not know how to disengage from the simulation. There had to be an icon for exiting, but... they couldn't find it. They'd been in such a rush to get started that the idea of studying a manual had just seemed boring.

"Eventually, it has to boot us out. We'll hit some kind of barrier, or limit, or run out of memory or something. If nothing else, somepony will find us and pull the plug. It'll be okay, Ginger!" Nutmeg was trying to be the strong stallion again for her partner, the little filly was crying, apparently uneasy in an endless, shrieking void of grinning skulls and blood.

Ginger sniffed and worked to form a fragile smile. "Team... Team Rumpguard is... blasting off again!"

She was just so darn cute. He. He was so darn cute. "Muffin!" Nutmeg swore.

Cyberspace was stupid confusing.

Michelson, Ginger: 099                     Morely, Nutmeg: 099

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