P.   E.   R.

Michelson and Morely
The Speed Of Right

By Chatoyance


"'Gladiola' Johnson is our new Fifth Column recruit, and she comes to us from Los Alamos." Baron Barnsour was at the podium again, with twenty five ponies and now three humans in the main room of the Enclave. The last month had been dreadfully dull for everypony, because of a great public furor over the mass conversion of a local high school. That furor had now been replaced by NEW furor over a political scandal involving a pants-less local corporate leader, a dead girl and a live boy. Instantly the extra Blackmesh security had been recalled, the road-blocks removed, and the portable prison towers packed up and ported away. Such was life in the fickle Amerizone.

Barnsour cleared his throat and continued. "Ahem! Well, not exactly Los Alamos... but somewhere close by, some sort of hush-hush WorldGov program of some kind, Mesa Science, or Black Aperture, or something like that. She's a smart one, ponies, and what with our current Fifth Column Infiltrators only one point away from their well-deserved ponifications, we need somepony new to fill up Rumpguard, once our own Ginger and Nutmeg get their hooves. Gladiola... anything you want to say to the herd?"

Gladiola was a brunette woman, of medium height and an efficient but friendly attitude. She wore modern business attire, skin tight with a high collar and holographic cuffs. During her welcoming party, many ponies had noted she had a hidden severe side to her, but that overall she seemed a tremendously competent sort.

She took the podium, and looked around the room. Ginger and Nutmeg stood in the back, as usual, the outlier humans that never quite fit in. They felt strangely invaded by this new recruit, which was silly, because they were one point each away from being ponies and out of the Fifth Column altogether.

"Hello, good ponies. And humans." This did nothing to win Ginger and Nutmeg's favor, they preferred the term 'ponies-to-be'. It didn't feel friendly to point out their deformity like that. "I am Gladiola. I chose that pony name, because I like the flower very much. My mother used to grow Gladiolas... though I cannot tell you more than that, because the reason is classified."

"Actually," Gladiola brushed a long strand of her brunette hair from her face "most of my life is classified, and I can't tell you anything about it. You may find that odd, considering the state of the world, and my choice to join the PER, but I am very good at keeping secrets. It is a matter of honor for me, and I think you will find that this trait in me will serve all of you, and this fine organization, as well as it did my previous... associates. Thank you for letting me join you. I look forward to many great successes together!"

The ponies of the Squamous PER gave the new recruit a warm round of hoof-stomping, but Ginger and Nutmeg merely tapped their feet impatiently. Something was off about this human, but they couldn't put their hoof on what it was. Maybe her smile was too perfect. Yes, that was probably it.

Worst of all was the round of hoof-stomping applause that followed her speech. When Ginger and Nutmeg had first been introduced, all they had gotten was a few isolated clops and several snickers. The pair immediately agreed to begin disliking her early in order to avoid the rush... which they privately hoped would happen sooner than later.

Barnsour took the podium once again, and various assignments were easily ignored until the very end when Team Rumpguard was mentioned again, startling Ginger and Nutmeg out of their constant daydreams about finally getting to be ponies at last. "It's about time," the Baron was saying "that our infiltrators finally got the chance to, well, infiltrate. Thanks to some fantastic intel brought to us by our newest member..." Barnsour nodded towards where miss Johnson stood "we now have the precise location and all the access codes to Fort Mankind."

Fort Mankind. It was somewhere in the desert surrounding Paguate, just five or six miles south west of Squamous City. Some thought had to be near the New La Joya Loop, others just as sure it was actually over near Rancho Grande instead. Finally, the location of their greatest enemy was known. The secret, primary base of the New Mexico HLF. For some time the room was silent, as the ponies stood shocked at the revelation. Almost everypony there had suffered the loss of somepony they cared about to these hairless, murderous, meat-eating monsters.

Ginger and Nutmeg felt dizzy and like they might throw up as the room suddenly exploded in hoof-stomping applause. This was not going to be a happy joy ride at all.

The ride across the desert was low and smooth, and the plan was for the three infiltrator agents to be dropped off a half a mile from the abandoned aerostat hanger that was, apparently, Fort Mankind. Hinny the Gelding pulled the cart that the three human agents sat in, his pegasus powers strong as always. He didn't like to talk about how he got his unusual moniker, and his gruff rebuffs had left nopony daring to ask anymore. It was rumored that he had been caught by the HLF, but managed to escape - perhaps that is why he had volunteered for this mission.

Gladiola wore a pair of vaguely steampunk round goggles and sat up tall in the cart, admiring the wide desert. New Mexico had been spared much of the devastation that wealthier and more populated areas had suffered during the Great Collapse and the Austerity War - when there isn't much to begin with, there isn't much to lose. The desert was the desert, brown and wide and dead and dry. For all the world, they could be flying over the Amazon.

With the loss of fossil fuels - except for the unimaginably wealthy - airplanes and helicopters had been quickly replaced with slower, but much more economic aerostats. Lifting bodies, an advanced evolution of the zeppelin, were now the primary form of long-distance travel. The location of Fort Mankind was within the shell of one of the earliest transport companies, before they were all swallowed up by the World Corporation. The shiny metal enclosure was visible already, a spark of brightness against the endless ruddy brown.

Nutmeg, braced low against the forward wall of the cart to avoid the wind, had been wishing she possessed a pair of fancy goggles. "Hey, if we succeed, then the HLF will finally get it's Just Deserts, huh?"

Gladiola stared off into the horizon, it was uncertain if she had heard Nutmeg's attempt at a joke, and Ginger, crouched down close to his partner quietly put his face into the palm of his hand. Nutmeg was not good with humor, sadly, she seemed intrepidly unable to comprehend this little fact.

"You have a dry wit, I see." Gladiola had graciously deigned to respond to Nutmeg's attempt to break the ice. Apparently she had heard. Ginger saw Nutmeg look down and smile, glad at a response that for once did not consist entirely of a groan. Maybe this new Rumpguard recruit was going to be alright.

Hinny had landed in a wide, dry culvert. As the human infiltrators put on their packs and prepared for their hike to the HLF base, Hinny turned his head to Ginger and uncharacteristically had something to say. "Show those... clopheads... some of Celestia's Mercy for me, will ya?"

Ginger nodded an affirmative "I intend to earn my ponification ten times over today." He put a fierce tone in his voice, as best as he could. It came out more like a showgirl encouraging another dancer to 'break a leg', but it apparently got the point across, because Hinny smiled.

Hinny and the cart took off, low to the ground as before. The three agents were alone in the desert, half a mile from the camp of their sworn enemies, the enemies of all pony-kind: the Human Liberation Front.  

The air was dry and desperately hot, the perpetual, global smog layer did nothing to stop the burning of the sun.

They began their walk, already sweating.

The tiny camera that looked like a rock panned to follow them as the three PER infiltrators made their way to the front gate of the cyclone fence that surrounded the old airfield. They were three humans, eager to join the HLF in order to stop the unholy invasion of the pastel aliens from another universe. The party-colored monsters offers of peace and friendship, of salvation from a dying world, of joy, contentment, perfect health and endless abundance were an affront to everything humanity stood for. The horrific, happy horde must be stopped by any and all means.

"Alright, that's far enough, meat." The voice was young, tough, and filled with enough barely post-adolescent testosterone to fuel at least seven teen movies, and easily over a hundred short Clopfics. Where the two young HLF guardsmen had come from was a quandary, something the inbred look in their eyes suggested they were likely poor at.

Ginger, Nutmeg and Gladiola put their hands slowly up in the universal sign for 'I've watched a holo about guys with guns before' and waited for the inevitable searching and questioning to begin.

When it had been discovered that all three were packing guns in every pocket, place and location a weapon could be stuffed, and that their backpacks were essentially individual armories, the two young HLF guards relaxed completely. The guards had come to the conclusion that these were clearly people of like mind and like inclination, truly decent, worthwhile human beings. Nobody could carry that much hardware designed specifically for the purpose of mass murder and not be swell folks. "That's some nice ordnance you got there, damn..." the more sunbaked of the two guards whistled in appreciation, clearly in a much friendlier state of mind now. "You manage to bag any of those bastards recently?"

Ginger, always creative, decided to play it tough. "I shot a pale orange dam and blew her unborn foal right out of her belly. Damn thing bounced off the wall and messed up my best khakis." Ginger had completely captured the young guard's over-acned imagination, so he invented a fabulous finale. "I stomped that sucker flat."

They were so in.

Colonel Richard Coxiker was the head of the New Mexico division of the Human Liberation Front, his friends called him 'Dick' and, curiously, his enemies did too. He nodded with approval at the huge stash of pistols, shotguns, semiautomatics and grenades that the three new HLF recruits had brought. "Names!" he stated. He didn't ask questions, he was the sort of man who already had all the answers he needed.

Ginger smiled brightly. "My name is... Brad. This is Janet -" he pointed to Nutmeg at his side "And that is... Magenta." Gladiola gave a short nod to the base commander, and a brief worried look to Ginger for his ridiculous name choices.

"Brad, Janet, Magenta... welcome to Fort Mankind! You wouldn't be here if you didn't know what we do, and what we do is resist the alien invasion of Earth!" It seemed like every sentence Coxiker spoke ended in an exclamation point. Ginger - Brad - almost giggled at the thought of the man announcing a need to visit the restroom. "You lose anybody to the bastards, son?"

Ginger wasn't sure what he was being asked. Ponies didn't kill. Then it dawned on him that Coxiker meant ponified. Ginger did his best to look sad. And tough. Tough and sad. And inbred. "Lost my sister, sir. She was out trying to reach the maglev when a bottle of potion got her right in the tits. Total wet T-shirt contest, only she lost. Last I saw of those beauties, they were between her legs, her bein' a pony and all. Worst day of my life."

The Colonel was visibly moved. "A man loses his sister that way, he's got a fire down below that just won't go away. You'll get your chance for revenge here, son." Colonel Coxiker put his firm, strong, manly hand on Ginger's shoulder. Ginger tried very hard to look properly comforted, instead of improperly aroused.

"Get these soldiers bunked and trunked, and tell 'em the rules. Boehner! Stiffson! Hop on it!" Colonel Coxiker turned neatly and marched stiffly out. Ginger noted him as a hard man with a soft head.

"We'll, uh, take you to the barracks. Fall in - that means follow us, OK?" the two hard of thinking privates lead the trio into the bowels of the HLF base. They had successfully penetrated the enemy, and and a simple story of incest lost had lubricated their entry. Gladiola gave the quick-witted Ginger a nod of approval. Nutmeg trembled, astonished that they were all still alive.

They had been indoctrinated and educated, briefed and briefly debriefed (it was mandatory to take a delousing shower), and after a meal of Government Rations stewed with vegetables raided from a Conversion Bureau, the three infiltrators finally found themselves alone in the barracks, with some time to themselves before lights out.

"That Colonel, he's a real... something or another, isn't he?" Nutmeg had been uncomfortable around the commander of the base. She busied herself trying to see if bouncing could make her assigned bunk any softer. It didn't.

"Oh, I don't know..." Ginger sighed " another time, in another world, as a stallion...." There was no talking to Ginger when he was in one of those moods.

"I do know, and the transmission has been sent." Gladiola was, as always, efficient and focused. "The PER should know our precise location now, along with all of the intel I've gathered so far."

"You've gathered... intel?" Nutmeg looked up in astonishment. When had there been time?

"I recorded their rules, plans, the maps in the briefing room, The layout of the facility and grounds, the contents of several mission folders and a list of all personnel in the region. What did you get?" Gladiola was busy pressing buttons on a sub-miniature holocorder/transmitter that she had somehow managed to hide on her person even through the delousing procedure.

"I..." Nutmeg felt entirely outclassed "I learned that they... have a problem with lice?"

Gladiola didn't seem to hear Nutmeg's response. I was probably for the better.

"I learned an important lesson about friendship!" Ginger was beaming now. "Even a despised enemy can have compassion for the grief of another!"

"You mean that little story you made up? You don't even have a sister, Ginger! And even if you did, you wouldn't be the least bit interested in her!" Nutmeg had meant it as a putdown, but somehow it hadn't come across at all as she had intended.

Ginger sighed again, picturing the big, strong Coxiker as an even bigger, stronger stallion. There was no doubt he was picturing himself as a mare. Nutmeg bounced on her bunk, it remained as hard as whatever Ginger must be imagining.

In spite of herself, Nutmeg liked Ginger. More than she wanted to. But Ginger would never be interested in her.

"So, if we've taken care of all the spying, when do we start Project Poke?" The mission had two phases. Phase one was Project Peek, which was to get inside and learn whatever they could. Gladiola seemed to have accomplished that entirely on her own.

Phase two was Project Poke, which involved the specially modified ordnance the PER team had brought. All of the weapons were loaded not with ordinary ammunition, but much less penetrative ammo that carried not lead or copper but concentrated potion. In effect, all of the weapons they had brought were paint grenades and paint guns, with the paint being ponification serum. It would be harmless, if uncomfortable, to the already converted, and with sufficient hits, thorough in dealing with those still suffering from terminal humanitis. The PER had been planning this mission for over a year.

The scheme was to simulate an open attack on the HLF base, once it had been precisely located and mapped out. The HLF would naturally rush to defend their base, and in the ensuing 'battle', the three human infiltrators could use the modified ponification guns to run about 'team-killing' the HLF from within. With a little luck, the entire New Mexico HLF could be ponies before nightfall, and many might even end up swelling the ranks of the PER after all was said and done.

"We have to wait for the signal from Barnsour. Don't worry, I'll let you know." Gladiola waved the tiny holodevice, before hiding it away.

The rest of the HLF troops were returning from the game of basketball they had been playing in the large aerostat hanger, apparently it was a nightly tradition with them. When all the showering was done, the barracks was quickly filled with snoring, exhausted humans. Ginger missed his room at the Enclave desperately. They were literally sleeping with the enemy, though not in the way that made for good fantasies. Ginger gave a little wave to Nutmeg, across the aisle, on an opposite lower bunk, and turned over to get some rest. The signal might come at any time, and it would probably be best to be refreshed.

Nutmeg couldn't sleep. It had been hours now, and all she could think of was how each and every one of the humans around her would be only too happy to murder her at the slightest hint of her true affiliation. These HLF soldiers truly believed death was preferable to ponification - there were many stories of HLF shooting their own, when a well-aimed flask began transforming one of them. They considered it a mercy.

Unlike Ginger, she had heard things about the PER, before her recruitment. There had been a news report about the aftermath of a battle between the PER and the HLF in the Southamerizone. The PER had come in waves, throwing potion, trying to convert the HLF who shot them as they came, the bodies of ponies piled up like the Amazonian dunes. The ponies always stopped to rescue the wounded or comfort the dying, but the HLF soldiers left their own if they fell from friendly fire, which was common in the confusion. The wounded HLF had been immediately ponified as much to save them from bleeding out, as for the goal of converting all of humankind.

Nutmeg despised the Human Liberation Front. To her, they represented the reason she had wanted to join the PER in the first place, and now she was sleeping among them, a tiny pony among hungry lions. She shivered with fear. If they could just do this, if they could just pull off this one mission, everypony would be able to sleep more soundly across the entire New Mexico region of the Northamerizone. As frightened as she was, this was worth doing.

Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed Gladiola staring at her from the bunk above Ginger. Gladiola held her tiny holodevice in her hand, and gave it a little wave. The three tiny hololights on it swung back and forth in the dark. She must have been given the signal. The PER were on the way even now.

Nutmeg crept out of her bunk as quietly as she could to kneel by the side of Ginger, who was fast asleep. She reached out a hand and gently shook the tall, thin man. He was a sound sleeper. She gave him a stronger shake. He mumbled something that seemed to be about taking a little foal to its first day at school. Ginger was a mystery to Nutmeg. He could brash, bizarre, unrealistically sure of himself, but he was, if anything, kind, and very, very dedicated. With a hand now over Ginger's mouth, Nutmeg gave him a serious shaking, and he startled awake.

When she felt certain he would not speak, she pulled her hand back, and gave a little point of her finger straight up. Ginger instantly grasped that her gesture referred to Gladiola in the bunk above. Ginger nodded and stared at Nutmeg as she climbed ever-so-quietly back into bed. All three were awake now, alert, and ready. It was a small advantage, but it might be everything.

When the alarms rang out, and the order to scramble to defend the base came, Gladiola, Ginger and Nutmeg made sure that the weapons they grabbed came from those they had brought. The new weapons had been racked with the others, but the three agents knew what to look for - each had been marked with three black horseshoes somewhere on the weapon, usually on the stock. It was common for HLF to mark kills in this manner, but the altered ordnance had the horseshoes in a particular pattern, close together like a cutie-mark.

Gladiola took two MTAR-28H Micro Tavors with standard holographic tracking sights. The way she held them suggested she knew more about such things than Ginger or Nutmeg had imagined. They had been given a very short weapons class by a visiting, still human, PER weapons specialist before Operation HLF, but they had never gotten down how to build and unbuild even the simplest weapons. They at least managed to learn how to hold various guns and had practiced shooting them, but it was clear they would never, not ever, win any marksmanship awards. That was one good reason for backpacks full of automatic and semiautomatic weapons.

Ginger and Nutmeg picked up a... gun... each, that for the life of them they could not remember the name of. It was not too heavy, it spat potion-bullets like rain, and they knew where the safety and the trigger was. They knew which end the bullets came out. Good enough, they reasoned.

Colonel Coxiker was in his element "Matrix, Michell, O'neil - Take the front! Rhodes, Lee, Hauser - I want you watching our six! Benez, Ryback, Hiler, Fenix and Santiago - get your asses out there! Where's Cole and Baird? Freeman! Find Cole and Baird, and dammit, get Hayabusa, Kane, Drake, Croft and Threepwood and tell them to watch the perimeter! Move, people!"

It was not a surprise at all that the three new recruits were left unnoticed. Ginger and Nutmeg stationed themselves well behind the others, behind a wide workbench that had once been used in the servicing of aerostatic craft. They did not see where Gladiola had gotten to.

"I'm really scared." Nutmeg was shaking as she stared plaintively into Ginger's pale blue eyes.

Ginger winked and gave a reassuring smile, though he was not truly hiding that he too was terrified. "Team Rumpguard is not blasting off this time." Nutmeg couldn't help but return a smile at the reference. Despite his oddness, she was grateful to be partnered with Ginger. If only he would even notice her. Nutmeg shook her head. What a crazy thing to be thinking at a time like this!

The first shots made both of the agents jerk with surprise, it had been so quiet just a moment before. More shots rang out, little firecracker sounds from the front, louder ones from the side. The PER must be attacking, or mock-attacking - hopefully they were staying in some kind of cover and out of range. It was horrible to imagine any of the ponies they knew being shot by these murderous humans.

There was one thing they could do to help. Reduce the number of humans, and they had the tools to do just that. Unfortunately, they did not have the training, the skill, or most importantly, the courage. Crouching low behind the wide workbench, shielded by the heavy metal drawers that formed its base, they pointed their guns over the countertop and pulled the triggers blindly. They had to hit some of them. The guns sprayed potion pellets like hoses, and most of the HLF was directly in front of where they were.

The guns rattled and fought their grip like angry animals, and it was everything they had to prevent the weapons from jetting out of their hands entirely. They tried to sweep the weapons back and forth, as best they could while staring at their boots. The noise was deafening and soon they found themselves screaming at each other in tune with the sound of the discharge. They were still screaming long after their guns had run out of ammunition and they found themselves staring at three pairs of boots instead of just two.

The third pair of boots was just a mite disquieting for the two PER agents, especially since the boots were pointed at them, and almost certainly indicated a person standing right beside them, looking down on them. This could be a problem, they decided, and since it would almost certainly be the kind of problem that would end in neither of them ever seeing Equestria, they reasoned it was better to just fall silent and keep staring at the floor since looking up would just be even worse.

After some time had passed, Ginger and Nutmeg realized that they were still alive, and more importantly, there were no more shots ringing out. Instead, the room seemed filled with squishy, burbling noises like nothing so much as several dozen bellies being blown raspberries upon, mixed with what seemed to be either a gargling contest or a sudden, universal attack of the runs.

Slowly they raised their heads together to find Gladiola was the third pair of boots, and she was now loudly shouting to the rest of the PER that everything was safe, and that the HLF had been successfully overtaken from within.

"WE DID IT!" Ginger and Nutmeg shouted, jumping up and down, hugging in triumph! They had saved the day and earned their ponifications and protected the entire PER and...

"No, actually I did it. You... did that." Gladiola pointed at the dripping purple row of splotches that ran from one side of the walls of the hanger to the other, all well above the heads of any human, however tall. The walls were dripping with potion, the entire contents of both Ginger and Nutmeg's guns. Not a shot could have possibly hit anyone.

The pair looked down at the writhing bodies of the former HLF, white as dough, squirming like sacks filled with snakes. Gladiola was now moving efficiently from body to body, using a rather imposing military knife to slash open any restrictive clothing, so that the rapidly forming newfoals would not suffer from strangulation.

Nutmeg hung her head. They had been useless. Worse than useless - what if they had accidentally hit Gladiola? She was clearly the only decent agent in the room. If they'd accidentally struck her, they would all be dead now, shot by angry HLF soldiers. The horror of how close they had come to catastrophe due to their own incompetence made Nutmeg feel ill.

Ginger just slumped his delicate shoulders, and let his gun fall to the ground. He understood the same thing. They were useless failures in the one time it had truly counted.

The brand new ponies were waking up now, filled with that special flush of feel-good chemicals and neurotransmitters that some called the post-conversion ponygasm. They were all smiling, they couldn't help it really, wiggling their ears and playing with their tails. Some were nibbling or licking at their hooves like foals. The burst of joy would fade down to a general feeling of contentment in about a half an hour, but for now, the former, fierce, ruthless Human Liberation Front warriors were giddily recounting how wonderful their life-changing meetings with Celestia and Luna within their Conversion Dreams had been, and crawling closer together to admire each others new bodies, and to exclaim about how wonderful they felt.

Ginger and Nutmeg let themselves slump down to the floor, back to the workbench, and put their heads on their knees. Nutmeg briefly put her fingers in her ears to try to blot out the sound of happy, euphoric ponies being so damn excited and glad about everything, but it didn't work. For a brief moment, she caught herself sympathizing with the former HLF - all the chirpy, syrupy joyfulness made her want to shoot every last one of the damn ponies.

Nutmeg caught herself at that. Jealousy and feelings of personal worthlessness had overcome her, and it shocked her. She tried to be happy for all the freshly created newfoals. That worked about as well as putting her fingers in her ears.

"Hey, you two. Enough sulking. We have a bit of a problem we need to deal with here." Gladiola stood over them again, looking very, very serious. It was the kind of serious that faces display just before words come out describing how mommy won't be coming home ever again, or how that one time without the condom apparently did count.

Ginger stood up first, and helped Nutmeg to her feet. "What... what is it, Gladiola? What happened?"

Gladiola looked out over the base full of newfoals. She did something amazing with her gun that reminded both Nutmeg and Ginger of an action holo, there were things clicking and snapping and ka-chunking and on the whole it was pretty cool and incredibly professional. There was absolutely no doubt that Gladiola knew guns. "These HLF guys were really good."

That seemed an odd statement to make. Ginger offered "They can't be that good... they're all ponies now." He grinned, but the look from Gladiola was cold. Quickly he added "Because of you, of course. You're better. That's what I mean. You're obviously better!" That didn't help either.

"You... you two have anyplace to... go? You have any friends at any other Enclave?" Gladiola scuffed her combat boot on the floor and looked up.

"Um... no. Not really. We figured we'd just go back home after..." Ginger paused, then looked angry "...Come on, I admit we were completely crap back there. We failed! I admit that! But that's no reason to suggest we shouldn't even show our heads again! I'm not saying that Barnsour won't have us cleaning the toilets with a brush held in our teeth - but ponies forgive, Gladiola! Come on, that's just mean, seriously, that is just..."

Gladiola just kept staring at Ginger. Her face was blank and impassive, and somehow that was the worst possible expression. Ginger stopped ranting. "What... exactly... do you mean by 'they were good.'" Nutmeg began to look like she was about to cry, a feeling that was welling up in Ginger now, too.

"Let's..." Gladiola looked uncomfortable, like she had been put in the position of having to take care of Someone Else's Pets. "...round up our new herd, here. I need you to help me shepherd them out the back - and ONLY the back - way. Get them together, I'll find a transport, and bring it around the back. REMEMBER!" Gladiola grabbed Ginger's face and stared hard into his damp eyes "ONLY the back. Don't let them look out the front... or out that side, either. Get 'em together, and get them out back, UNDERSTOOD?"

Ginger and Nutmeg understood.

The former HLF newfoals had been released near the Conversion Bureau in Albuquerque. It had taken nearly an hour to get the last of them loaded into the electric troop transport, and another hour to make it out of the desert, through the ruined part of old highway forty, and finally to the city. Gladiola had raided the HLF treasury, and split the wealth between them, half for her and the other half generously given to Ginger and Nutmeg together.

Technically, Operation HLF had been a complete success. The primary base of the Human Liberation Front had been conquered and sacked, and every member of the violent humanist group transformed into gentle, loving, innocent newfoals. The HLF would no longer bomb Conversion Bureaus, or shoot pegasai out of the clouds for sport, or perform horrible experiments on captured Equestrians in New Mexico. Not for a long while, anyway, and considering the state of the world, there wasn't a long while left. Humans and ponies both could feel safe from terrorist violence in the streets, and humans could go to the Bureaus without fearing traps and roadblocks and being gunned down as 'traitors to Mankind'. It had been a great success, one that would save countless lives both pony and human. A splendid success. The greatest achievement of the Squamous PER. Or at least of Gladiola Johnson.

The last they saw of Gladiola, she was heading north, vehicle recharged and credit stick in hand. By then, the faint, diffuse glow of morning was beginning to tint the dark, globe-spanning smog layer above them.

Ginger fingered the silvery credit stick aimlessly as the very last agents of the Squamous, New Mexico PER sat together in the doorway of a long-closed restaurant across from the WorldGov Vehicle Charge Station. Nutmeg was tucked in tight, pressing into him, shivering despite the overly warm, post ecosaster night air. Ginger held his partner tight, as he had been for several hours now. At least she had stopped sobbing. It was hard not to cry himself, when Nutmeg was doing it. Ginger looked at the holographic display on the credit stick. The number was larger than he knew how to pronounce without thinking about it. Even at Maximum Inflation prices, they would lack for nothing for the rest of their human lives.

Which could not, cosmologically speaking, be longer than two years at most.

That meant, they had agreed, that they had two years in which to redeem themselves. Two years in which to honestly, legitimately earn those last two points between them. And if they could not, if they truly could not even manage that little, then they deserved to let the Great Barrier of Equestria sweep them away, or burn them with the 'mage plague' of thaumatic radiation. They owed that much to the memories of their vastly braver, much more worthwhile PER comrades.

Two points. It was harder than it seemed.

Michelson, Ginger: 099                     Morely, Nutmeg: 099

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