P. E. R.
Michelson and Morely
The Speed Of Right
Grey Crusader laughed as he galloped, a special, evil, devious sort of laugh, the kind of laugh that supervillains are defined by, and mad scientists prefer nine to one. And the exception secretly envied the rest who could perform it.
He leapt out over the edge of the Tacksworn Corporation skyscraper, the distant street far below his unicorn body, the poisoned wind of the city streaming his white mane back over his flanks, his tail a comet of white silk behind him. Like all Equestrians, he was front-heavy, and his large skull angled over, dragging the rest of his weight into a plummet. Grey grinned at the onrushing street, the plasteel and crystalex of the building streaming by like a dark river.
He felt the touch of hooves on his shoulders, delicate and precise. Hushed Silence transferred her pegasus nature into the mass of the falling unicorn, and he became an extension of her, like a cart she might pull, or a chariot she might lift. The effort was all but thoughtless, instinctual, yet the result profound - Grey followed her arc upwards, falling no longer, his limbs splayed wide, his mad laugh become an uncharacteristic giggle, almost foal-like, almost innocent.
Grey and Silence rose above the buildings, cutting a lazy circle through the sky, searching. It was easy to become momentarily disoriented above the complicated mess that was a human city. Grey's sharp mind snapped to recognition, there, McKinley and Twenty-First... he motioned to Silence and tried to convey the location, but the wind was too loud.
Hushed Silence, wings spread wide nevertheless understood, she always understood, it was part of her specialty as one of the Nine. With a slight smirk she sharply jerked over into a twisting, G-loaded spiraling dive that left Grey shrieking with either horror or delight - and she knew from long experience that he would never reveal which it had been. Most likely both.
At the last moment, she reduced their speed and flared her pinions, bringing them to a butter-smooth landing on the wide ledge of what had once been the main offices of the Kahuna-Heisler corporation, back in the old pre-Collapse era. Grey pretended to stretch sore muscles, but he was really checking to make sure he hadn't wet himself. Not again. Never again.
Hushed Silence laughed softly to herself. She liked being able to occasionally catch the old bastard off guard. She walked to the edge of the building and looked down. It would start soon. The Final Battle.
"What the flying... muffin... are we doing here?" It wasn't so much a question as a complex cry of anquish, anger, confusion and astonishment. Nutmeg felt as if she had just been through the middle of a cyclone, and things were not merely moving too fast, they had reached escape velocity and entered hyperspace on route to Barnard's Star.
They had spent a single night in the Oklahoma City PER Enclave. The morning was a blur of food, secret schemes that entirely failed to stick in their memory, somehow agreeing to join in with... whatever was going on... and ending up in curiously loose and thin uniforms and nothing else. No weapons, no guns, not even a knife, and it was just now dawning on them that this really was supposed to be the Final Battle, in boldface capital letters, likely even italicized, between the Human Liberation Front and the Ponification for the Earth's Rebirth. "What The Muffin?" had entirely failed Nutmeg, and she felt compelled to use the very unpony-like "What The Fuck?" simply because nothing less could even hope to do.
There was never time for a single question, nor was there any hope of an answer even if the time had existed. They had both been swept along as if by a vast flood, only to be deposited on this street, at this time, next to this large cart full of stoppered flasks, vials, glass eggs and what appeared to be retrofitted, adapted super-soaker water guns, all filled to the brim with potion, and so hot with thaumatic radiation that Nutmeg already had small black spots on her hip where she had leaned on the edge of the cart. Nutmeg's head spun, and her hip, well, it kind of itched and burned.
"I hear both of you are just one point away from earning your hooves!" It was a red pegasus mare who looked just like the one on the posters they had seen in the barracks the night before. "STRAWBERRY JAM WANTS YOU!", and with the alluring pose and flagging tail, the innuendo offered an enticement to join the PER on multiple levels. "Just keep tossing, and I'm sure you'll be ponies before nightfall!" she winked at Nutmeg and Ginger, and went on her way, apparently to confer with another pony about a thing that needed to be done, somewhere.
Ginger shrugged his delicate shoulders. Somehow they had escaped a battlefield only to end up right in the middle of another. Nopony would tell them anything, but everypony seemed more than upbeat - they seemed almost jolly in fact, which made everything seem all the more surreal. Didn't they understand what battle meant? The HLF were not hoofing around, they had these nasty things called 'guns' and they made holes where holes shouldn't be. It was as if none of the ponies of the Oklahoma City PER understood any of this.
Some of them were even laughing! Oddly, they stopped the moment that Ginger or Nutmeg looked at them. Perhaps word had gotten out about what they had endured, and this sobered them. If so, then good, thought Ginger. Good.
Ginger looked at his partner in ponification. Nutmeg looked frightened and confused. What were they doing here? Risking their lives to finish off the dregs of the HLF because of some insane notion of honor? Yes, they had been useless, but the Squamous PER would have ended up... the way they did... whether they had been in that base or not. Gladiola could have gone alone and the result would have been exactly the same. They hadn't even made a decent diversion. Did they really owe Barnsour's memory anything in the end? Nothing about that battle would have changed one bit if they had never joined the Squamous PER.
One point. Why was that so important? Between them they had saved one hundred and ninety-eight lives, humans so foolish that they played football while the entire world was ending all around them. Hadn't they done enough? More than enough? Nutmeg could be killed in this battle. She had suffered enough, and truth be told, so had he. Ginger came to an uncomfortable decision. It bothered his deep sense of honor and duty... but it also served a higher calling too. They wanted to save others. Well, right now, Ginger wanted to save Nutmeg.
The answer was utterly simple. All they had to do was leave. They could go straight to the Bureau right now and... no. Nutmeg would put up a fight. She would argue him out of it, she would invoke honor and duty and he would end up agreeing with her. They reinforced each other that way, both so stubborn they kept the other from giving up.
They had a huge cart of potion right beside them. You can't talk while you're changing. It would be so easy. He could carry her away while she was transforming. Just pick her up while her body metamorphosed. It would feel a little icky, but... so what! Ginger picked up two flasks, one in each hand. Nutmeg had moved in front of him, her back was turned. Their uniforms were so loose and stretchy that there wouldn't even be the slightest worry over being restricted during Conversion.
Ginger raised the flask of purple serum he held in his right hand. All that would be required is one sharp smash and at that very moment the sound of heavy boots stomping, growing louder and louder filled the street. From around the corner came dozens of camo-wearing shapes running towards them. Ginger got a glimpse of guns and caps and canteens and dark glasses as vials and bottles spun in lazy, long arcs over his head. The battle had begun, there was no way to escape as ponies crowded in close to grab with teeth and hornfield at the contents of the cart.
Everything became a loud, screaming blur. Nutmeg was still there, in front of Ginger, he could tell that, as the forces met. Ponies had darted ahead towards the humans, bucking and butting them over. The sound of shattering glass was everywhere, tinkling and smashing. Ponies ran around, seemingly in every direction - it was hard to tell what was going on. Ginger threw his flasks in the general direction of the humans, in the close crowding, it was hard to see if he had hit any target or merely thrown wild. Nutmeg was tossing potions now, grabbing from the cart with her left and tossing with her right like a machine.
The sound of gunfire startled Ginger. Why hadn't there been any before? Perhaps there had been, and he simply had been too overwhelmed to even acknowledge it. At the battle in Squamous, they had hidden behind a workbench. Ginger was astonished at how confusing being in the middle of a close-quarters fight really was. How could anypony even know what to do? In the end he decided that all there was to do was just keep throwing and hope for the best.
It seemed like an eternity, yet in real time it was apparently over fairly quickly. A familiar sound of squishy, blorpy, splurty sounds filled Ginger and Nutmeg's ears as the cries and screams calmed and faded. In front of them were several dozen rapidly Converting former humans. Somehow, one had gotten within mere feet of Nutmeg's position. He - or she, it was impossible to tell at the moment - burbled and writhed, pale as dough. "Did I do that?" Nutmeg's query sounded like a small child unsure if they had done wrong or right.
A bright, brash voice interrupted "Excellent throwing arm there! Oh, you got that one, and a few others I dare say! You did well too! Good girl!" The pale blue unicorn stallion was looking at Ginger when he said the last. Clearly the long platinum hair and delicate build had confused him. That happened fairly often to Ginger, and for some reason, it always made him smile.
They must have gotten their points. More than. Ginger beamed at Nutmeg, as they looked out over what must be three dozen former HLF, all squirming and burbling as the nanotechnomagical serum did its work. Some of them had colorful coats already, and Ginger noted bright manes and tails shooting out here and there among the piles of forming ponies.
Oddly, there was no blood, anywhere. Not a single pony body was on the ground that wasn't in the middle of the conversion process. There were no dead ponies. Not even a single injury. No... wait.... there was one of the PER, limping past, an earthpony mare, ivory with brown mane. "Heh... I stumbled and strained my cannon... derp!" The pony made an embarrassed silly-face and crossed her eyes briefly.
Ginger looked around. Not a single casualty beyond that. Nopony was hurt. This was more than a little... "GINGER! We did it! We WON!" Nutmeg was yelling and jumping up and down, her hands high in the air. Ginger looked down at the nearly complete former soldier at Nutmeg's feet. Nopony was rushing to cut the clothing off these soldiers. Ginger looked more carefully. The clothing the soldier was wearing was very loose and ill-fitting. The neck and arms were wide and soft and... stretchy. The fabric was not normal.
The former HLF were now beginning to sit up, giggling and laughing with joy. They looked silly draped in khaki and camouflage patterns. The patterns... the camo patterns... they weren't abstract shapes. Ginger had seen that pattern before. On the pants he had worn in Squamous. The shapes were olive, gray and brown pony silhouettes.
"Fantastic fucking job, you two magnificent bastards!" It was Grey Crusader. He had been literally dropped in by a pegasus mare who had apparently been... carrying him. "You've both more than made the grade! Congratulations!" The look on the gray stallion's muzzle, the look in his eye... Crusader was having a lot of fun with this. More fun than one would expect at the end of a battle.
Two ponies joined Crusader, one on each side. They held potion flasks in their mouths. "Guess what, kiddies? When I run the show, promises are kept. Punishments are swift, but rewards... AH! Rewards are even swifter. Gimmie that!" Grey snatched one of the potions from the pony on his right. In one incredibly smooth, practiced motion, he tossed the container. Ginger found he couldn't breath for a moment, the impact of the flask had briefly knocked the wind out of him. He managed to gasp, the air rushing back in, and looked down, his hand already going pale and numb where he had instinctively grabbed at the spreading, syrupy, bright red fluid that was melting his clothing and actively soaking into his suddenly pale chest and abdomen.
Ginger just barely saw Nutmeg go down, drenched in purple, before his vision failed, blackness enveloping the world. The laughing voice was unmistakably that of Grey Crusader.
Ginger had been sent to the principal's office. Again. It wasn't fair. It wasn't like Ginger was doing anything on purpose. The boys just kept attacking, they said the meanest names. They cursed and swore. All Ginger wanted was to be left alone. It wasn't even worth it trying to make friends anymore. Wasn't being quiet and staying away enough?
Ginger had learned to not try to hang out with the girls anymore. They just made fun too. Somehow it had all changed because of puberty. Before that, all the girls would play. They were best friends. They shared so much, all the same likes and dislikes, the same attitudes, they spoke the same language. Dad and mom always wanted Ginger to play with the boys. Boys were so weird. They made no sense. And they were really rough and sometimes even scary.
But the world had changed. Ginger hadn't. The boys kept trying to pick fights, to push and shove and hit. And they laughed while doing it. The girls became distant and the boys just kept pushing, pushing, hitting, hurting. Finally, Ginger had fought back. Not well. Not much. But it meant a trip to the principal's office.
It was a new principal. Two of them! They were both so beautiful! One of them was pale, with the most beautiful hair, long and flowing, the shade of sunrise and glory and joy. The other was dark, with dark hair long and sparkling with highlights. Ginger couldn't stop staring at the dark, flowing hair, so shimmery and lovely. If only dad and mom would allow long hair. Ginger envied long, beautiful hair so much.
The pale principal sighed. "What am I to do with you, hmm? I know you didn't mean any harm, not really. You all come in here so filled with charity and hope and kindness. You really believe, so strongly, that you are doing what I want, that you are really following the rules. I've given up scolding you. You just honestly don't know any better, and all of you really do mean the best."
"It does work to save them, Tia. I keep trying to tell you that you should just embrace this. It is their way, after all. Humans are the ones who started this, and it is part of their culture to sneak about taking choice from each other. At least in this, they are not taking life, but instead giving it. You really should be less grim. Discord had a point there." The face under the dark, sparkling hair smiled at Ginger. It felt like laughter itself to see that almost admiring smile.
"My little filly, I suppose you have done your best to do good as you see it, and it is clear that in your heart there is only kindness. Would you do me a favor for the rest of your life?" A swirl of morning mixed with sunset swept across half of the winged principal's long, graceful muzzle.
Ginger wanted nothing more in all the world than to be a good girl and to obey. She nodded with conviction.
"Remember that love cannot live if it is forced. That's all, just that."
Ginger looked at her hooves, not quite ashamed, but aware that she had perhaps not been the best pony she could be. She wanted to please the princesses. Always. "I will remember that, princess Celestia."
"Be a good girl now!" Luna giggled after she said that. It sounded like bells.
"I will, my beautiful princess." Ginger blushed. She hadn't meant to be so direct about her fascination.
"Hah! That is one more for ME!" Luna stuck her tongue out at her sister. "Remember, foal, you are loved in return by the night!"
The principal's office had expanded, somehow, when Ginger wasn't looking. It was as big as the sky now, and caught between day and night. Once again darkness came, but after that, came the dawn.
Ginger's hooves were a brilliant white, and pearlescent. So was her coat, white as sugar, and shimmery like fine optic cable. She was still so sleepy, it was difficult to hold her head up off of her forelegs. She laid her head down on her foreknees and stared at where her hooves met her fetlocks through half-lidded eyes. She tilted her head slightly and smelled her own scent, her nose sniffing at her own silken coat covering her legs. It smelled so good, slightly sweet, delicate, feminine. She lay her head down again, rubbing her cheek against her foreknees, feeling the velvety softness that covered them.
After a short nap of a few minutes, she felt more awake. She discovered her ears and twisted them this way and that. Somehow it made her giggle to move them. She raised her head and gave it a shake. Her soft white mane swung and rippled as she moved. She tilted her head down slightly letting her mane hang so that it draped across part of her vision, like a blanket of hair, long and straight and lovely. It shone in the light, and Ginger simply could not help but laugh with delight.
She shifted her body, feeling a blanket underneath her. She was on a bed, the bunk she had slept in the night before. She looked around, buoyant with the most delightful, inexplicable joy. It was just there, a kind of inner fountain of happiness, bubbling over. She suddenly remembered, her thoughts beginning to clear - all newfoals feel happy when they wake up. Post conversion bliss. So that is what it felt like. It was wonderful. She wished everypony could feel it, all the time.
Nutmeg! Where was Nutmeg? Ginger swung her long neck around, towards the bunk that Nutmeg had used last night. There was a pony in it. She was a soft tan color, a warm pleasant hue that felt like contentment. It was kind of yellow, and kind of light brown, and just a little golden, too. It made Ginger think of custard, real custard. They'd had it once at the Enclave... sad thoughts began to appear, but the inner well of joy inside pushed them away. Ginger felt light and floaty once more.
That must be Nutmeg! The tan pegasus mare in the bunk with the beautiful dark crimson mane must be Nutmeg. Oh, she got to be a pegasus! Ginger felt so happy for her. She would get to sleep on clouds and fly in the bright blue sky! Nutmeg deserved that kind of freedom and beauty - Nutmeg had always been such a good pony.
Ginger called to her "Nutmeg? Ohhh... heloooo? Nutmeg? Wakey wakey! Can you hear me? You're beautiful, Nutmeg! You're a lovely pegasus, isn't that splendid?"
Nutmeg began to stir. Ginger saw her ears twitch. Yes, that was fun! Now Nutmeg was moving her tail. Oh! Ginger hadn't even thought of that. She turned to look back over her flanks, and swished her long, shining tail back and forth across the bunk. That was even more fun than her ears, but it made her thighs feel cold. She carefully tucked her tail in close to her flanks, feeling the silky smooth hair press delightfully against... places... that she would have to explore more carefully another time. They were really nice places.
"Ginger! Oh my sweet Celestia! Is that you?"
Ginger turned to face her friend. Her best friend, really. She'd never actually realized that. Nutmeg was her very best friend. She really was her sister. And now they could be sisters together, forever. Ginger grinned. "Hello little sister! You look so pretty - you should try your wings!"
"I have wings?" Nutmeg looked in delight at her new limbs, and hesitantly extended them. "Look! Look at that! I can move them! I'm doing that!"
"Of course you are! They're your wings. One day you'll be flying all around leaving your poor older sister behind..." Ginger let out a mock sigh of resignation, but the bubbly feeling inside wouldn't let her continue it for long. She found herself giggling. She just felt so silly and good.
"Sister?" Nutmeg was puzzled for a moment. Then she smiled. "OK, sis!" Nutmeg had once wanted Ginger to want her, as a boyfriend would, but deep down, she knew that would never happen. Somehow, Ginger had turned out as a mare. It suited her. Of course it suited her. It was what she really was, all along. The excursion into the virtual world had proven that. Nutmeg remembered how content, how relaxed, how... herself... Ginger had been in that illusory mare's body. A sister would be fine. It would be wonderful to have Ginger as her sister.
"I love you sister!" It just came out. She couldn't help it. Nutmeg just felt so incredibly open, so utterly bouncy inside.
"I love you too." Ginger's words sank into Nutmeg's very heart. Ginger really did love her. She always had. Nutmeg thought back to all the things that Ginger had done to comfort and protect her. Ginger made a very good big sister.
"What now, big sis?" It was fun to state it out loud. Big sis. Nutmeg had always taken comfort in solid definitions and well defined relationships and situations.
Ginger stopped and thought for a moment. This was a completely new life. In her old life, she had been put in charge by circumstance. She really didn't want that anymore. "Nutmeg?"
Ginger looked at her sister with pleading eyes."Could you be the big sister? I want to be the little sister. Please. Pretty please?"
Nutmeg stared. What an odd... "Of course, Ginger. I'm the big sister now. I'll take care of you, so you don't worry, alright?" It felt right to say that. Nutmeg wanted to protect little Ginger. She somehow felt stronger and more confident just thinking that way.
Ginger instantly relaxed. There were almost tears in her eyes. Actually, looking closer, there really were. "Thank you big sister! Thank you! Yay! Yaaaaayyyyy!!!" Ginger was practically singing her 'yay' and her tail was wagging so hard it made slapping noises on the bunk.
Ginger used her foreknee to delicately dry her eyes. "So... big sister? What now?"
Nutmeg raised her long neck up straight and tall. "First we find some food - I don't know about you, but I am starving!" Newfoals were always hungry right after conversion. Ginger enthusiastically nodded agreement, grinning with happiness at the thought.
"Then," Nutmeg flexed her wings "we fly this coop and head straight to the nearest Bureau, and from there to Equestria. Where we belong."
Ginger laughed with delight and clumsily clopped her hooves together attempting applause. She really was a little filly, inside. And it was wonderful to see her so happy at last. They knew where they were going, and they were done with what they'd been. They knew what they wanted, and they'd forget what they'd seen. The future was certain, and they had time to work it out.
Grey Crusader sent two of his toughest to make sure that the pair from Squamous made it to the local Bureau safely. It was probably unnecessary, but he was a pony who liked to be sure about things.
"Do you want the results from the hazing?" Grey frowned at Silence. She was an insolent little pegasus sometimes.
"Not hazing! Wargame! It was a wargame, useful training for both our regulars and those three dozen pathetic human recruits! Just because it was blanks and potions doesn't mean it wasn't a legitimate military..."
"Hazing. You just enjoy making humans dance. We could have ponified those recruits the usual way. You're a twisted son of a bitch, Grey." Hushed Silence blinked at him. Her muzzle showed not the slightest hint she believed anything else.
"Yeah, damn straight I am. Hard as cock during mating season, and cold as ice in winter." No, she didn't see. Good. He'd never hear the end of it if she really knew. He had an organization to run. He couldn't afford anypony seeing him as less than a hard-assed commander. The last thing he needed was word to get out that he had arranged something like this just to help two mixed-up ponies feel better. Fucking hell. Sometimes he wondered if the alteration the WorldGov had done to him was failing. He'd end up a syrupy sweet pony someday, and then what?
Silence turned away, the report tucked under a wing. "Don't worry, oh fierce and terrible Grand Master - I'll make sure those two get to Equestria safe and sound."
Dammit. She knew.
One: The Big Respawn,
Two: Euphrosyne Unchained,
Three: Letters From Home,
Four: Teacup, Down On The Farm
The Conversion Bureau Novels:
27 Ounces: A story of eight and one half ponies
The Taste Of Grass
The Conversion Bureau: Code Majeste
The Conversion Bureau: The 800 Year Promise
The Conversion Bureau: Going Pony
The PER: Michelson and Morely
The Reasonably Adamant Down With Celestia Newfoal Society!
The Short Stories:
Her Last Possession
The Conversion Bureau: PER Equitum
The Conversion Bureau: Brand New Universe
Tales Of Los Pegasus
The Non-Conversion Bureau Fanfics:
The Ice Cream Pony Summer
Around The Bend